Billionaire businessman, Denis O’Brien is in deep trouble and he knows it.
It seems that the Moriarty Tribunal has found that O’Brien’s Esat consortium was illegally issued with the state’s second mobile phone licence because he, O’Brien, had a corrupt relationship with former Fine Gael minister, Michael Lowry (Sunday Times).
Mr. O’Brien has adopted a two pronged strategy of defence. He has launched a strong attack on the Tribunal while at the same time appealing for public support by claiming that his campaign is in the public interest as well as his own.
His first action was to publish a series of advertisements in various newspapers attacking the alleged extravagant expenses indulged in by tribunal lawyers.
Last Sunday he ramped up his campaign by giving a series of interviews in the following newspapers. The Sunday Times, Sunday Independent (O’Brien holds a 26% stake in Independent News and Media), Sunday Tribune (O’Brien holds a major stake in this newspaper, by proxy, through INM’s stake in the Tribune) and the Sunday Business Post.
He accuses the Tribunal and others of the following:
He believes the tribunal is “out to get a scalp” in order to justify its costs, which are expected to reach 100m.
He claims there was no need to investigate the awarding of the licence because it had already been investigated four times by the European Union, by the senior counsel, investigated on behalf of the Department of Communications and investigated by the Attorney-General’s office.
He claims that this is a very dark period for justice, that it’s rough justice akin to the miscarriage’s of justice in the UK like the Guilford Four.
He asserts that articles written by journalists like Matt Cooper and Sam Smyth were off the wall, crazy theories fed to them by O’Brien’s competitors for the phone licence.
You may as well be reading the Beano as reading the Irish Times on matters relating to the Tribunal according to O’Brien. He further suggested that Irish Times journalist, Colm Keena, is incompetent and not up to the job of covering the tribunal.
On the night O’Brien received the preliminary findings he told a friend he was in shock.
They’ve damned us all, he said. They’ve damned the licence, they’ve destroyed the civil service, they’ve destroyed Lowry and they’ve destroyed me.
These people [the Moriarty lawyers] need to be made to look ridiculous.
O’Brien also alleged that former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, made a political decision in 2002 to keep the Moriarty Tribunal going to embarrass Fine Gael.
According to O’Brien the Moriarty tribunal, which has cost him €12m in legal fees to date:
Is out of control and the procedures it is allowed to use are more akin to those found in a military dictatorship. It’s unheard of. I mean it’s Burma.
O’Brien also sees himself as a champion of the people and a patriot to his fingertips.
He’s fighting for the good name of civil servants who may be accused of corruption.
People who are halfway through their career would be impugned; I am taking a stand for the civil servants.
He’s fighting to save taxpayer’s money.
People say [I] did two judicial reviews, but they were mainly to stop the tribunal from running up costs.
He’s fighting for Ireland’s reputation.
Ireland’s reputation would be severely damaged if the Moriarty Tribunal’s final report concluded there was wrongdoing by civil servants in the granting of the state’s second mobile phone licence. If the final report concluded that the process of awarding the licence was corrupt, it would be devastating.
To borrow from Shakespeare – The billionaire doth protest too much, methinks.
O’Brien’s strategy of trying to save his own skin by crying crocodile tears for Mother Ireland is as old as the hills but it is very surprising to see Elaine Byrne of the Irish Times apparently adopt the same attitude.
Byrne seems to suggest that it might be better if the Moriarty Tribunal didn’t make any adverse findings against the State. She writes of embarrassment, perceptions on the international stage and suggests that the final findings will be practically irrelevant anyway.
She ends her article by asserting:
The challenge is to distinguish between systemic and individual corruption; petty and grand corruption; moral and legal corruption; and rumours and reality of corruption.
This is classic Irish denial of reality. Let’s get lost in a deep, long drawn out and totally irrelevant discussion on the different forms of corruption. That way we won’t have to face the brutal reality of any adverse findings from the Tribunal.
The real challenge is, for the first time in our pathetic history, to actually act on any adverse findings. To immediately prosecute and punish all those found guilty of corruption.
I won’t be holding my breath.