The people of Ireland are being denied the right to know about serious allegations being leveled at prominent Irish businessman and billionaire, Denis O’Brien because of a High Court injunction forbidding RTE from broadcasting a programme about his controversial purchase of the infrastructure and utility support company, Siteserv. The same company which got the contract to install meters for Irish Water.
RTE are believed to have investigated his dealings with the liquidator of Siteserv, Kieran Wallace as well as CEO of Irish Banking Resolution Corporation, Mike Aynsley.
O’Brien’s road to fortune began when, according to the Moriarty Tribunal, he almost certainly greased the palm of Government Minister of Communications, Michael Lowry in 1995 securing a lucrative mobile phone contract called Esat Digiphone.
Allegations of similar behavior when buying Siteserv were aired in Dail Eireann yesterday by TD Catherine Murphy. She defied the High Court injunction by invoking Parliamentary or Dail privilege,
So here are the words spoken in the Dail yesterday by Catherine Murphy.
Deputy Catherine Murphy : I move:
- That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 in order to make an addition to the First Schedule, to expand the areas under which an examination under section 9 may be conducted, and to provide for related matters.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Bill 2015 proposes to extend the functions and powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General to cover IBRC. It was the Taoiseach who first suggested that the Comptroller and Auditor General review the Siteserv sale process at which time it was pointed out to him that the IBRC does not come within the Comptroller and Auditor General’s remit. With this Bill, I am attempting to address that problem by broadening the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The reason I anticipate the need to involve the Comptroller and Auditor General, if not a full commission of inquiry which latter might well be a better option, is that the Government has got this matter badly wrong. That is not least because most of the key players in the Siteserv saga have links with KPMG and the eventual purchaser and vice versa. It is a web of connections and conflicts that requires outside eyes to unravel.
I have no doubt that the special liquidator is more than capable of carrying out such a review, but his direct involvement in the sale process, his relationship with the eventual purchaser of Siteserv and his current actions in the High Court in supporting Mr. Denis O’Brien against RTE place him in a position where there is, at the very least, a perceived if not an actual conflict of interest. The review is not confined to Siteserv, but that is the transaction that prompted a review in the first instance. I worry about the transactions that have been excluded from the review given what that 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, we must know what those 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 am led to believe and would welcome clarification by the Minister that the rates applicable to the extension were extremely favourable. I understand that Mr. O’Brien was enjoying a rate of approximately 1.25% when IBRC could, and arguably should, have been charging 7.5%. Given that we are talking about outstanding sums of upwards of €500 million, 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, the special liquidator, to demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement be continued. We now have Kieran Wallace, who has been appointed by the Government to conduct the IBRC review, joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the High Court to seek to injunct the information I have outlined from coming into the public domain. Surely, that alone represents a conflict.
In documents released to me under freedom of information, the Minister, his officials, the Central Bank and even the troika acknowledge that IBRC – the former Anglo Irish Bank – is no ordinary bank and that there is a significant public interest as the bank was fully nationalised and was in wind-down mode. They all accept that this is the people’s money we are dealing with and that there can be no dispute regarding the public interest in this. The same materials obtained under freedom of information detail instances where the Minister can specifically intervene and issue a ministerial order that material matters have a significant public interest. Included in these material matters are instances that are outside the ordinary course of business. I argue that what I have outlined here regarding verbal deals and extensions etc. are outside the normal course of business and ask the Minister to exercise his right to intervene in the current proceedings to defend the public interest.
I have a motion on the Order Paper signed by the majority of Opposition Members calling for a debate on the proposed review. I note that 45 Members have signed and more are welcome to. When I tried to raise the matter on the Order of Business, I was silenced and told to take it up with my Whip. I am the Whip of the Technical Group and I had raised the matter at the weekly Whips’ meeting. The Government Chief Whip told me that the Government would not be altering the KPMG review and that it would not provide time to debate this issue. He suggested that we use Private Members’ time. This is not just an Opposition issue; it is an issue for the whole House. It is an issue of serious public concern involving public money. If the Minister opposite, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, got his hands on an extra €20 million, he would not have to think too hard about how to spend it. I urge the Government to reconsider this matter and to give the Bill and the motion the time they deserve. It is in the public interest to do so.