Last week was a bad one for NAMA as it was revealed that an internal investigation by the Agency led to the uncovering of what was alleged to be a breach of its security with confidential details of loans being leaked by a former employee. NAMA has sued the employee, Enda Farrell and his wife Alice Kramer, it has also referred the matter to the Gardai and to the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes who incidentally is not commenting on the matter. NAMA is not commenting further on the matter saying it is sub judice and indeed it has been fast-tracked to the Commercial Court division of the High Court for hearing. It remains unclear what NAMA is doing to minimise the commercial impact of the alleged leak, which has the potential to cost the Agency and its stakeholders a lot of money.
A bad week for NAMA, but then yesterday, Ireland’s most-read (still) Sunday newspaper insinuates that earlier this year when challenged with a list of 60 questions, NAMA responded by reporting the newspaper to the Press Ombudsman. Yes, that’s what Brendan O’Connor insinuates in yesterday’s Sunday Independent, that the Sindo submitted a written list of 60 questions to the Agency in May and lo and behold, what did NAMA do, but complained of a separate matter involving the Sindo to the Press Ombudsman. We don’t have a list of the Sindo’s 60 questions but with such a volume of buckshot it is no surprise that some of the questions touched on the transparency and probity of NAMA’s dealings, something that is now set to take centre-stage as the Enda Farrell court case plays out.
To be clear when the word “insinuate” is used here, it is acknowledged that Brendan O’Connor writes in an introduction to a paragraph “Let me stress that the previous piece being brought to the Ombudsman was not connected in any way to the serving of the 60 questions on NAMA” but then goes on to write “It just all happened at the same time. So get the picture clear in your head before we go on. NAMA is arguing with us about an article. We, as part of our ongoing campaign to find out more, on your behalf, about this State agency, ask it a comprehensive list of questions for another article. NAMA refuses to answer even one of the questions and in and around the same time tells us that it is bringing the previous matter to the Press Ombudsman. The questions were about stuff like probity and NAMA staff’s potential conflicts of interest, among other things”
He goes on to write about “other odd behaviour from NAMA”. So it was “odd” that NAMA would make a complaint to the Press Ombudsman? Or it was “odd” that NAMA would make the complaint at that time? The article leaves open the suggestion that NAMA has abused the press complaint system by making a complaint to suppress or silence a newspaper from going about its business.
As for the NAMA complaint to the Press Ombudsman, NAMA is not commenting save to say its dealings with the Ombudsman are confidential. Not so the Sindo which has reported on the complaint at least twice, once by Ronald Quinlan and yesterday by Brendan O’Connor. What was the nature of the complaint and what article – Brendan O’Connor refers to a single “article” yesterday – was complained about? We don’t know but we do know that NAMA was unusually upset at reporting in the Sindo in February 2012 that it had jeopardised 230 jobs at a Google facility in Dublin. NAMA took the unusual step of issuing a press statement the next day in which it said “This story is completely inaccurate and misleading. NAMA wishes to state that no effort was made by the Sunday Independent to check the allegations being made with NAMA through its Press Office before the story was published and no opportunity was afforded the Agency to reject the allegations being made.”
If this was indeed the “article” then a timeline of publication in February, an informal complaint to the Sunday Independent in February/March and exchanges to resolve the matter in March/April followed by a conclusion in May that NAMA was not going to get satisfaction from the newspaper resulting in a complaint to the Press Ombudsman in May hardly makes the timing “odd” Trying to cack-handedly connect the 60 questions with the suggestion of a retaliation by NAMA to the Sindo’s valiant attempts to bring transparency to the Agency’s operations, and then trying to capitalise on the incident as somehow usurping the scoop at the Sunday Times in which the original Enda Farrell story of his purchase of a NAMA property was uncovered, stinks of the worst goal-hanging excesses of lazy journalism.
UPDATE: 17th September, 2012. It has been pointed out that there is generally a maximum three-month window between an article being published and a complaint being made to the Press Ombudsman John Horgan, which if the original article at issue was indeed the Sindo story in February 2012 would mean the deadline for making a complaint would expire in….. May 2012!
UPDATE: 17th September, 2012. A credible source has said that the article complained of by NAMA to the Press Ombudsman was NOT the Ronald Quinlan article on Google or indeed any other article by journalist Ronald Quinlan.