The hashtag #redacted has been trending in Ireland for the last few days, because [redacted], the Irish Silvio Berlusconi, obtained an injunction – the full content of which remains secret! – to prevent RTÉ from broadcasting a documentary which, in part, looked at his financial dealings.
Catherine Murphy, independent TD for Kildare North, attempted to raise this in the Dáil, and was ruled out of order.
She introduced a Private Members Bill.
Speeches given in the Dáil are Constitutionally protected, subject to parliamentary privilege.
Article 15.12 of the Irish Constitution provides as follows:
All official reports and publications of the Oireachtas or of either House thereof and utterances made in either House wherever published shall be privileged.
RTÉ, the state broadcaster, will not report on the content of that speech, because of [redacted]’s injunction. Many newspapers, likewise, have not reported the contents. (Er, I should point out, [redacted] owns many Irish newspapers. And broadcasting outlets. Did I mention the Irish Silvio Berlusconi?)
At least some other outlets are apparently going to court next week, to clarify the terms of the secret injunction and to ask the court, pretty please, if it’s all right to report on the contents of a speech given in Dáil Éireann.
This… is pretty serious. The phrase “constitutional crisis” has been mentioned, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.
In other news, entirely unrelated to [redacted] the Dáil will shortly debate a bill limiting ownership of Irish media by any one individual to 20%. Reportedly, this will not effect Denis O’Brien.
“This bill extends the functions and powers, or seeks to extend the functions and powers of the C & AG [Comptroller and Auditor General] to cover IBRC. It was the Taoiseach that first suggested that the C & AG review the Siteserv sale’s process and it was then pointed out to him that IBRC does not come within his remit.”
“With this Bill, I’m attempting to address that problem by broadening the remit of the C & AG. The reason I’m anticipating the need to involve the C & AG, if not a full Commission of Investigation, which may well be a better option, is because I believe the Government have got this badly wrong, not least because most of the key players in the Siteserv saga have links with KPMG and its eventual purchaser and vice versa, is a web of connections and conflicts, that requires outside eyes to unravel.
I have no doubt that the special liquidator [Kieran Wallace] is more than capable of doing such a review but his direct involvement in the sale process, and his relationship with the eventual purchaser of Siteserv, and his current actions in the High Court, in supporting Mr O’Brien versus RTE, place him in a position where there is, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest, if not an actual conflict of interest.
The review is not confined to Siteserv but it is the transaction that prompted a review. I would worry about the transactions that have been excluded from the review, given that what we now know, that in the final months before prom night, the relationship between the department and IBRC had completely broken down.
“If deals were being done without the knowledge or input of the minister then we need to know what they were. We are now aware for example that the former CEO of IBRC made verbal agreements with Denis O’Brien to allow him to extend the terms of his already expired loans.
We also know that the verbal agreement was never escalated to the credit committee for approval. I’m led to believe, and I would welcome the minister clarifying, the rates applicable at this time, that the extension also attracted some extremely favourable interest terms.
I understand that Mr O’Brien was enjoying a rate of around 1.25%, when IBRC, and arguably, when IBRC could, and arguably should have been charging 7.5%. We are talking about outstanding sums here that are upwards of €500million. The interest rate applied is not an insignificant issue for the public interest.
We also know that Denis O’Brien felt confident enough, in his dealings with IBRC that he could write to Kieran Wallace, as the special liquidator and demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement could be continued.
We now have Kieran Wallace, who’s been appointed by the Government to conduct a review into the IBRC review, actually joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the High Court and seeking to injunct the information I’ve outlined from coming into the public domain – surely that alone represents a conflict.
In FOI documents released to me, the minister, his officials and the Central Bank and even the Troika acknowledge that IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, is no ordinary bank and there’s a significant public interest because the bank had been fully nationalised and was in wind-down mode.
They all accept that this is the people’s money that we’re dealing with and that there can be no dispute regarding the public interest in this. The same FOI materials detail incidences where the minister can specifically intervene, and issue an ministerial order that material matters have significant interest. Included in these material matters are incidences that are outside the ordinary course of business.
I would argue that what I’ve outlined out here regarding verbal deals, extensions, etc, are outside the normal course of business and I would ask the minister to exercise his right to intervene in the current proceedings and defend the public interest.
“I’ve a motion on the order papers, signed by the majority of the Opposition – 45 members have signed it and more are welcome to – calling for a debate into the proposed review. When I tried to raise it on the order of business, I was silenced and I was told to take it up with my Whip. I am the Whip of the Technical Group and I did raise it at the weekly Whip’s meeting.
The Government Chief Whip told me that they would not be altering the KPMG review, the Government would not be giving time to debate this issue and suggested that we use Private Members’ time.
It’s not just an Opposition issue, minister. This is an issue for all in this house. It’s an issue of serious public concern where there is public money involved and I know, if you got your hands on maybe and extra €20million, I don’t think you’d have to think too hard on how to spend that money. I urge the Government to reconsider this and give the Bill and the motion the time they deserve. I believe this is in the public interest. Thank you.”
Note: The above can be found archived on kildarestreet.com. I would link to the speech on the official Oireachtas website, but they still use Lotus Notes for their back-end database (in 2015! I know!), so searches don’t work well and are liable to failure.
And, er… Twitter. Facebook. politics.ie… But not in the newspapers. They’re still #redacted