Wednesday, 18 April 2018
This is a very troubling story which, undoubtedly, raises questions for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, about his discussion with a person acting on behalf of INM in connection with the attempt to take over Celtic Media. This all happened in November 2016. The Minister gave advance notice to the PR executive, acting on behalf of Independent News & Media, of his plan to refer the takeover to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
We understand that the Minister, when speaking to this individual, understood he was working on behalf of INM. The engagement between them and the Minister's decision to refer the proposed acquisition to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland was then a subject of an email sent by the PR company to the chairperson of INM, and this email was subsequently forwarded to Mr. Denis O'Brien. This email stressed that the information contained within it should be treated with the strictest of confidence, which is at variance with the Taoiseach's assertion that all this had full public purview and that it was not confidential at all.
We also understand that the PR company in question did not log the engagement with the Minister with the lobbying registrar, as it should have done. As the Taoiseach knows, this is a legal requirement under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. This law is designed to protect the public interest and ensure transparency in the lobbying process. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, of which we spoke yesterday, has expressed concerns about the sharing of insider information and, perhaps, breaches of stock market rules. All this gets very murky in its totality.
There are very serious issues over the concentration and consolidation of media ownership and, by extension, power in this State. We are all conversant with that. I am sure I do not have to remind the Taoiseach that, in the past, interactions between a former Minister and a powerful interest in the media and a proposed acquisition spawned the Moriarty tribunal. Indeed, that tribunal is one of the reasons people distrust powerful politicians and the political process itself.
Let me put a couple of questions to the Taoiseach - ones he has failed to answer so far. He said the Minister contacted him last night to tell him the story would appear in the paper. Am I to take it from that that this was the first time he had knowledge of the conversation between the Minister and the person acting on behalf of INM? The Taoiseach says he has not had sight of the affidavit. He does not need sight of the court affidavit to put to the Minister, Deputy Naughten, the very obvious questions that ought to be put to him.