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A Spin Cycle Goes into Overdrive – Summary of O’Brien Interviews

Read more about: Broadband and Telecoms, Comment, Corruption, Ireland, Irish Politics, Media, News, Scandal, Tribunals     Print This Post

So, ‘turns out that Denis O’Brien has done interviews with all the Sunday broadsheets, The Sunday Times was just the first to update its website, hence was the centre of all the talk online, including my earlier post.

Yes, the O’Brien spin cycle has gone into overdrive. Apart from the (Murdoch-owned) Sunday Times’ interview mentioned earlier, he sat down with the Sunday Business Post – owned by Thomas Crosbie Holdings, The Sunday Tribune and The Sunday Independent. Worth mentioning -O’Brien holds a 26% stake in Independent News and Media, which has a 33% stake in The Tribune, INM owns the Sunday Independent.

A few quotes from each interview are below, though it’s worth reading them all…

The SBP gave the story serious prominence, it got the second headline and main image. There was a news story covering the contents of the interview on the front with the interview itself on page 13.

A balanced and direct interview headlined “‘They are looking for scalps’” with John Burke, their Public Affairs Correspondent, included quotes like:

“If the tribunal holds this conclusion in its final report, O’Brien warned the consequences could be very serious. ‘The reputation of Ireland will be severely damaged… this is the first time in the history of the State that a group of civil servants have been accused of corruption”.

“This weekend O’Brien criticised the State for failing to foresee the risk of criticism of civil servants who could be ‘impugned’ if the tribunal finds against them. ‘I am taking a stand for the civil servants… the State only realised lately it needed to get up off it arse’, he said in reference to a decision to lift a waiver of privilege over legal advice which the State had received in 1996.”

“… [O'Brien] believed the manner in which the tribunal was being run suggested to him that the tribunal ‘had an agenda’”

Although The Sindo ignored the story on its news pages – the ‘Exclusive’ from Niamh Horan about how Robbie Keane’s missus “got her figure back” must have bumped the Moriarty Tribunal stuff – it had what is probably the most confrontational interview of the lot. Liam Collins’ interview, printed in Q&A form on page 19 in the Analysis section under the disappointingly sympathetic headline ‘I deal with something on the tribunal every day. Every day‘ includes quotes like…

…Michael Lowry had no hand, act or part in the issuing of the licence and the crazy theories that were written in newspapers by people like Matt Cooper and Sam Smyth were basically off-the-wall and proven to be all wrong now. That’s hard for them to take, but I don’t blame them because they were relying on what they were being fed by the people who had lost, so that’s journalism. But we all the time said that is not true, okay? It’s absolutely not true. From 1995 until now we said that it was all untrue and we now know it’s totally untrue and what we’ve proven, right, is that those allegations are completely wrong.

LC: But if you’ve nothing to fear, why are you concerned?

DO’B: There no sense of proper justice here and if anything this is rough justice akin to what happened in the in the Seventies and Eighties. This is a very dark period for justice.


These people [tribunal lawyers] are somehow above the normal ways of doing business. And don’t forget, they have thrown rocks at everybody else on how other people do business, but when they overbill they don’t refund.

LC: You have instigated a fair number of court cases over the years that delayed the tribunal’s work…

DO’B: We didn’t want to waste money – Doncaster Rovers has probably cost the State €5m. We said all along, ‘There is nothing in this. Michael Lowry had no hand, act nor part in this; every witness said he had no hand, act nor part in this, but you still want open hearings’ — so we went down for judicial review.

LC: What about your own relationship with Michael Lowry before and since?

DO’B: What relationship… Jesus.

LC: You met him for a pint in Houricans (in Leeson St).

DO’B: Everybody met him for a pint — okay. Sorry. Michael Lowry is fighting his own battle and I have my own battle. That’s as far as it goes.


LC: Would you not accept what Judge Michael Moriarty says, that he wants to get this over and done with.

DO’B: It’s time versus your reputation. I would go for my reputation any day.

LC: When you did get the licence, you went to Portugal as a tax exile and now you are giving out about taxpayers’ money. . .

DO’B: That has nothing to do with it… I live wherever I want to live. I didn’t have to come back and co-operate with this tribunal… I am entitled to my opinion. If I think that money is being squandered I think I should put up my hand and say, ‘This is absolutely wrong’. Because they are looking for some scapegoat here… They’ll be saying, ‘Jesus, it was Denis O’Brien who got the licence; if he didn’t win the licence, we would never have needed to set up the tribunal.’ I mean, for God’s sake.

LC: If you set up a tribunal you have to have an outcome.

DO’B: No, you could turn around and say there is nothing untoward here. Now that is a brave thing to say, the gutless thing to do is… throw it at people and pin it on them. The 9/11 Report took 18 months; this thing is going 12 years… it feels like a lifetime.


LC: But the Moriarty and the Mahon tribunals have unearthed corruption.

DO’B: I’m focused on my tribunal, the work of other tribunals is something else and I’ve given an example of Morris, which I believe is a well-run tribunal — this case is completely different, it’s much more personal.

He also had a go at Colm Keena of the Irish Times one of the countries best tribunal journalists. He’s thinking, “best get the shovel out and undermine their coverage before they can pick apart everything I’ve said in the Sunday papers on Monday”, I suppose.

The Tribune stuck the story at the top of the front page – though it was the second story – under the headline “Tribunal like military dictatorship – O’Brien”. I shall only print the questions from that interview (their website seems to be down) read them…

How do you view the Moriarty Tribunal at this point?

Have you brought your dissatisfaction to the attention of the tribunal?

Why have you launched the advertising campaign highlighting the kind of expenses claimed by some tribunal lawyers, including the famous expenses for Beligian chocolates?

In your personal view what is the legal team trying to do in all this?

What was your reaction to allegations made against the civil service?

So where do events go next, in your view?

A very significant event at the tribunal has been the disclosure of legal advice from Richard Nesbitt SC, dated 1996, that the awarding of the phone licence to Esat Digifone was legal. What is your reaction to that developement?

How much weight do you put on the Nesbitt advice?

In your view why was the Nesbitt advice not disclosed earlier?

While they are not public yet, what is your view of the tribunal’s provisional findings in relation to you?

If the Moriarty tribunal goes on until 2011, what do you think it will cost?


His attempt to portray himself as the saviour of poor anonymous civil servants is disgusting, if they’re to blame for corruption, if they’re compliant, so be it.

Liam Collins of the Sindo was right to draw attention to the clear hypocrisy of a tax exile talking about trying to save the State money.

O’Brien claims that we’ll be in a worse position if we expose corruption than if we don’t – spin of the lowest order – a meagre attempt to save his own skin.

He knows he is in real trouble if the tribunal publishes these findings officially – this is a pre-emptive strike.

All this is sympthomatic of the political classes wilfull ignorance (at best) of corruption for the last number of decades.

Oh, and -

In ten years time nobody will be behind bars.

- but that’s a given, right?


INM is struggling at present, its share price has fallen 85%+ in little over 18 months. The two main shareholders are butting heads over corporate strategy, Denis O’Brien is looking to restructure INM and get rid of any loss-making parties, CEO Gavin O’Reilly in not in favour of such drastic action. Negotiations between the two parties are on-going.)

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3 Responses to “A Spin Cycle Goes into Overdrive – Summary of O’Brien Interviews”

  1. # Comment by Tipster Jul 27th, 2009 09:07

    Nah. In ten years time a journalist will be the only person to have been jailed for their role — and that will have been for breaching legal privelege or confidentiality, or for refusing to reveal the identity of a source for a story they wrote.

  2. # Comment by Daniel Sullivan Jul 27th, 2009 11:07

    The problem is that if the tribunal has made a finding and that finding is the basis of probabilities that aren’t that readily discernible from the evidence then it would be the judges acting on the basis of knowledge or impressions outside of the tribunal itself. I wonder will the same folks who objected to the recent gangland crime bill with the argument that we shouldn’t convict people on the basis of the say so of a Garda superintendent who knows what he knows be raising concerns we shouldn’t have tribunal findings not on the basis of anything concrete but on inferences made by the judges that they know what they know.

    The linkage with corruption appears to be that civil servants gave the license to O’Brien because they were in thrall to Michael Lowry, which seems very odd to say the least. Irish political history is full stories of the civil service stalling, blocking and negating the work of ministers. That civil servants would do something like this because they thought Michael Lowry was the messiah is beyond belief.

    This goes to the heart of the tribunal process as distinct from a trial in a court, in a court it has to be beyond reasonable doubt, in the tribunal setting it was more lax. The idea being that the balance of probabilities might suffice for a finding. Yet surely something like civil servants being enamoured with a minister and doing what they thought might please him is more improbable rather than probable? Is it possible? I would say barely so, but probably? Surely not.

    Yet if we are to accept the idea that civil servants do what they think the minister would find pleasing where does that leave the Monica Leech contracts investigation. The notion there is that since nothing concrete was found demonstrating overt interference by the minister it must have been all above board. And here in the case of Lowry if there is nothing concrete we should make inferences that it wasn’t above board. In effect we will have multiple different standards operating on the same set of circumstances which is precisely what all the ethics legislation since the 90s was supposed to eliminate.

  3. # Comment by Fran Jul 27th, 2009 14:07

    Something stinks. If Denis O’Brien had nothing to hide, why all the doctored letters to and from solicitors? Why withhold correspondence from the Tribunal until a disgruntled third party forced his hand? This round of interviews he did yesterday is a last act of desperation. The chickens are coming home to roost and Denis is determined to roast ‘em before they squawk.