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Archive for April 13th, 2013

Headscratcher of the Week

ABFILogo

“There is no proven link between alcohol consumption and marketing and sponsorship” Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland on 12th April 2013 responding to calls for a 1% levy on sponsorship to help fund research into alcohol-related illnesses

So I suppose the ABFI would disagree with this line from the campaign by the Irish broadcasting and newspaper industry last year

“Sales of companies that advertise aggressively during a recession rise 256 per cent more than those who don’t”

In fact, you’d wonder why drinks companies advertise or market themselves at all, at all…

Death knell of old media of the Week

“that the broadcast treatment of current affairs, including matters which are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate, is fair to all interests concerned and that the broadcast matter is presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcaster‘s own views”

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, that august body which in July last year said of Denis O’Brien “the Authority determined that Mr. O’Brien does not control IN&M.  Rather he has a substantial interest in the Company, as that term is defined in the Policy.” has this week produced a new set of guidelines for broadcasters.

The nation’s most popular presenter – yes, his ratings are only 170,000 viewers but that’s because the complete clowns responsible for scheduling at TV3 stick it on at 11.15pm each night, when most of us have gone to bed – Vincent Browne may have to consider his future in broadcasting, because it is the expression of his own views which forms 50% of his appeal, with the filleting of explainers providing the other 50%. Under new rules, which are seemingly operational now, Vincent will have to be very careful to avoid expressing his own views, and the betting is that he will be as unsuccessful as a first-timer on that game where you have to speak for 60 seconds without saying “em”. This week he poked fun at the new rules, laughing it off saying “someone else (wink) might say”, but these new rules will hamstring him. Maybe time to abandon broadcasting and embrace narrowcasting on the web, where the BAI and communications minister Rabbitte are powerless.

Divided opinion of the Week

EverybodysGotToLeaveSometime

“As a matter of recorded fact, Thatcher was a terror without an atom of humanity” Music legend Morrissey

“Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism. The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy.” Nancy Reagan widow of former US president Ronald Reagan

“Tramp the dirt down..Thatcher described Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”. I was there. I saw her lips move. May she burn in hellfires” British MP, George Galloway – the phrase “tramp the dirt down” is lifted from the Elvis Costello song of the same title – lyrics here. Margaret however has the last laugh on this one, as she’s going to be cremated according to reports.

“She did a great deal for the world, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Solidarity, she contributed to the demise of communism in Poland and central Europe” Lech Walesa, Polish trade unionist and champion of freedom

“The passing of Baroness Thatcher draws to an end a remarkable life devoted to the service of the United Kingdom. She was one of a kind: tough, possessed of a supreme intellect and driven by conviction. The entire country is indebted to her for all that she achieved. I know that her accomplishments will not soon be forgotten by a grateful nation.” Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson

“Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.” Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

Former British prime minister died this week from a stroke whilst staying as a guest of the Barclay brothers at the Ritz in London. She was 87. Reaction to her death was mixed with a small number of spontaneous street parties and the ascent in the charts of the Wizard of Oz standard “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” grabbing headlines contrasting with generous and statesmanlike statements. Aside from the media here, there was generally a sense of “Sad that a former British political leader and mother had died but meh”

Playing card of the Week

No39NoLess

Sean Dunne might portray himself as the Ace of Spades in the NAMA most-wanted list, but it seems he is lowly number 39 on NAMA’s league table of biggest borrowers which would place him in the four rank. Now, you might all recall that Saddam Hussein was the Ace of Spaces, el numero uno but can you remember those at positions 38-42? There were three anonymous Ba’ath Party regional command chairmen and the minister of higher education and scientific research. And that’s where Sean Dunne is ranked. These are the NAMA top debtor rankings – Sean owes NAMA €185m and is believed to owe €400m overall to creditors including Ulster Bank.

NAMALeagueTable

Transparency call of the Week

EhmIsNotAnAnswer 

US daytime TV star, Judge Judy was in Dublin this week when she picked an award from the enterprising students at UCD. Not surprisingly, given how good TV has been to her, she called for proceedings in some Irish court cases to be broadcast. One day, maybe. But meantime, we might settle for the Court Service providing some basic information about its court cases. Take this one, reported on here, where NAMA was shown as suing an individual only identified as “STACK GEMMA”. Seems that Gemma is in fact a solicitor, and the Court Service has now changed the respondent to “STACK IN HER CAPAC AS LPR KEVIN FITZSIMONS DECSD GEMMA “. Because the Court Service doesn’t provide ANY additional information on its court cases, other than that shown on its website, poor Gemma has suffered suspicion for a couple of weeks that it is her personally that NAMA is suing.

Table of the Week

AdvertisingMarketSize

RTE commissioned a “aren’t we great” report from PwC in advance of announcing what are likely to be record losses for 2012. The PwC report supports RTE’s whinge that its funding has been substantially cut in recent years, and it seems that there has been a cut of 20% between 2006-2011, and tries to “big up” RTE’s performance and its contribution to the nation. It is an unashamed promotional report despite its claim of independence and it arouses suspicion that the results for 2012, which are expected to be announced imminently, will be worse than ever with a deficit of €50m and a loss on the pension fund in the tens of millions. There are some interesting statistics in the report though, and above we see the collapse in the advertising market between 2006-2011. And below we see the breakdown of that advertising, with the Internet contributing to old media’s woes by taking spend away from traditional media.

AdvertisingMarketSizeComposition

The report also sets out RTE’s competitors though there are glaring omissions like TV3, TG4, UTV and Distilled Media, publishers of Daft.ie and TheJournal.ie – it was interesting to see that half of Google’s worldwide revenue arises in Ireland, though we all recognize that is for tax avoidance reasons. Also interesting that the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Mail on Sunday only generate €19m in Irish revenue.

RTECompetitors

Quote of the Week

“I am the most guilty man in the house [Dail] for speeding over the years. More guilty than anyone else for speeding, I am very honest and open, but I don’t have to answer those questions” Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae responding to Juno McEnroe’s survey of TDs and whether they’d sought or had quashed penalty points for driving offences

Political correspondent at the Irish Examiner, Juno McEnroe, has been doing some real journalism as he investigated how widespread the quashing of penalty points has been in the Oireachtas. He contacted all TDs and most responded, though there were notable senior exceptions including An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. He uncovered one case where penalty points were imposed on the wife of a TD because the wife had failed to send a document to the Gardai saying it was not her, but her husband driving at the time the offence was committed. In other countries, this investigative journalism would have led to wall-to-wall coverage in broadcast media but in Ireland, the death of Margaret Thatcher (87) dominated reporting. In the UK recently, a minister and his former wife were both jailed when they proactively sought to mislead the police by having penalty points allocated to the wife who hadn’t committed the offence, but in Ireland, there was more deafening silence when the same result – penalty points being imposed on the wife of the true culprit – occurred with Andrew Doyle and his wife, though they both claimed it was because of an oversight .

The Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae was one of the 166 not to respond to questions, though he refused in his own unique way.

Economic development of the Week

ExtensionLoanRepayment

If you start off with the proposition that the national debt is fixed, then the only way to cushion the effect of living with and repaying the debt is to get an extension of time or a reduction in interest rates. Yesterday, the group of finance ministers from the 27 EU countries, known as “Ecofin”, agreed to extend the period over which Ireland repays its €45bn EU component of the €85bn bailout by seven years. No word on interest rates, yet, but Minister Noonan is heralding the agreement and claims that the only ratings agency to continue to rate our sovereign bonds as junk, Moody’s, will soon restore our investment grade rating. This should all be good news, as it does indeed cushion the effect of the debt which is predicted to peak at 121% this year. But the view on here is (a) with NAMA crystallizing loan losses at IBRC debt will rise to 123% and (b) it doesn’t address calls about repudiating some of the debt.

Lotto numbers of the Week

6 and 9

Last Saturday’s Irish Lotto draw has resulted in some additional winners. The Lotto draw overseen by a representative of KPMG, had a ball with the number 9 printed 12 times on it. Because of the risk of confusion between 6 and 9, this particular ball was underlined to make it clear it was number 9, but one of the 9s on the ball had the underline on top indicating a 6. Punters eagerly watching the draw were confused when the presenter called the ball initially as a 9 and then as a 6. The An Post National Lottery Company issued a notice in which it acknowledged the mistake but promised to pay out to ticket holders with either a 9 or a 6 and acknowledged that the mistake is estimated to cost a maximum of €54,000. Neither the Lottery nor KPMG were answering follow-up questions about responsibility – my theory is this is the KPMG auditor in a former life.

Ecumenical matter of the Week

“That”

On 10th April, the Central Bank issued a new commemorative €10 coin (price €46) featuring an impression of James Joyce and a line from Ulysses. Somehow a small mistake by the bank of inserting the word “that” into one of the two sentences of Ulysses text, generated headlines worldwide – at one point, it was the fourth most popular story on the BBC’s website.

Now, the old media can sometimes be sniffy about careless grammar standards in the new media, which is rich. And on here, a variety of forums are consulted on matters of grammar and language generally. And so, in this case, the community at English Forum was asked about the erroneous addition to Joyce’s script on the coins produced by the Central Bank. Sadly, even the new media can get sniffy and it seems some people can take offence at being challenged, with a response from here to the last comment below, suppressed, when all it did was link to the BBC World Service “Using English” sub-website and pointed out that collective nouns, like bank, take singular verbs when the noun is considered as a unit rather than a group of individuals.

ThatWouldNotBeAnEcumenicalMatter

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Extension

There is intense anticipation in Ireland, the US and elsewhere about Sean Dunne’s financial affairs, and as part of his bankruptcy application in the US state of Connecticut, he is required to provide extensive information on his financial affairs which will include a “Schedule of Assets and Liabilities”, a “Means Test” and a “Statement of Financial Affairs”

Yesterday in the Connecticut bankruptcy court, the lawyer acting for Sean requested an extension of time to file these all-important documents, which were due yesterday. The requested extension was to 27th April 2013 and the extension was granted by the court.

In making the application, Sean’s lawyer, the award winning James Berman said:

“Although most of the information required for the Schedules has already been assembled, Mr. Dunne and his professionals require the requested extension due to the extent and complexity of Mr. Dunne’s  historical  financial affairs  and the necessity to review and translate the information already assembled into the form required by the Schedules.”

There are fingers being tapped in anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic.

[The application for the extension and the granting of it are available here]

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TroikaOfLaw

It has been over two years since the Moriarty Tribunal issued its final report – available here. In the Dail, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on 23rd March 2011, the day after the report’s publication

“I have read the key points of the report. It is a serious report and makes particular recommendations. In consideration of those key points I have asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and to the Garda Commissioner for their consideration”

The greatest impression of the report on the public consciousness might be the relationship between former communications minister Michael Lowry and telecoms businessman Denis O’Brien during the award of the State’s second mobile phone licence in 1995. But there were other elements to the report and one involved entrepreneur Ben Dunne and a property he owned on Marlborough Street in Dublin city centre which was rented to Telecom Eireann, a state company ultimately under the aegis of Michael Lowry as communications minister.

The Tribunal heard from estate agent, Mark Fitzgerald, managing director of Sherry Fitzgerald and son of Garret Fitzgerald, former Fine Gael taoiseach, of alleged attempts by then-minister Lowry in 1995 to influence the estate agent which was acting as arbitrator in setting a new rent for the building. It was alleged that on at least two occasions, then-Minister Lowry had sought to influence the boss of the estate agency to double the rent from IRL 5 to IRL 10 per square foot. Ben Dunne owned the building and had donated  large sums to the Fine Gael party, the political party of which Michael Lowry was then a member, and Ben Dunne had also directly benefitted Michael Lowry through the payment for building works at Michael Lowry’s home in Tipperary.

The Moriarty Tribunal report published in March 2011 says in paragraph 13.50 in relation to the rent review on the property on Marlborough Street

“Indeed, what was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr Dunne and Mr Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”

It should be said that the Moriarty Tribunal was, like the other tribunals, not a formal court process in the traditional sense. Although a senior judge chaired the Tribunal, it did not have the same standards of evidence and process as a court, it was inquisitorial rather than overseeing plaintiff and defendant arguing as adversaries. However, it would appear from at least one subsequent court case, where Michael Lowry was unsuccessfully suing journalist Sam Smyth for libel, that the Tribunal is not legally worthless. Judge Kearns said in his High Court judgment

“But of course tribunal hearings and findings may be reported upon by the media and tribunal findings may certainly provide a roadmap or trail for other bodies or persons with an interest in the subject matter of inquiry, be it the Oireachtas, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or litigants who engage in private litigation. Shorn of this characteristic, the function of tribunals would be rendered totally nugatory and pointless. The critical consideration in the cases cited above is that tribunal findings do not of themselves constitute material of probative value in such proceedings. They may however point to sources of evidence which may then be accessed in that separate context.”

It should also be said that specific dramatis personae, notably Michael Lowry and Denis O’Brien, reject in strong terms, the findings of the Tribunal.

But let’s ignore the O’Brien/Lowry angle of the Tribunal’s findings here. What about the Dunne/Lowry/Fitzgerald findings? Yesterday, Ben Dunne himself, called into RTE Radio’s Liveline show where he offered his views on bankruptcy and bankruptcy tourism. Ben strongly suggests that borrowers should be proactive, and in that context the following was broadcast:

“Can I just make one point about being proactive [Yes Ben] When the Tribunal made a finding against me that I was a corrupt man [Yeah I remember that one] I immediately said “I would be, I hope that my file is sent to the DPP” and to the best of my knowledge the file was sent to the DPP and that’s what I mean by being proactive. [And have you heard from the DPP] Never heard a word from the DPP [And do you expect to hear from the DPP] The point I am making is [Do you expect to hear from the DPP] I don’t know.  I mean I am one of those people they can walk up to the door right now and say they want to see me. That’s life. Nothing that I have done is a hanging offence and in fact I have done nothing wrong in my opinion. But I did say, this is how proactive I am. I did say to the Tribunal and to the chairman at the time and I think I said it on your show  “Send my file to the DPP” [Yea, I remember that] And they did send it. Many years later I am still walking around and I haven’t been handcuffed or arrested.[How do you know that it hasn’t been sent] I am not a hard man to find [but how do you know that they sent it] I haven’t a clue. Listen, I have no say in what tribunals do” Ben Dunne speaking on RTE Radio Liveline (aka Joe Duffy Show, Talk to Joe) on 12th April, 2013 (about 1:02:00 into the podcast, available here)

So, more than two years after the publication of the Moriarty Tribunal report, and after the report was given by An Taoiseach to the DPP and An Garda Siochana, Ben Dunne says he has not heard from the DPP, or presumably from the Gardai.

This is unfair on both Irish society and Ben Dunne (and indeed Michael Lowry and to an extent, Mark Fitzgerald). Remember, Ben Dunne hasn’t been convicted of anything and he says he doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong but he still has a report of some considerable standing, making serious findings against him. How difficult can it be for the Gardai to investigate the matter, take statements from Messrs Lowry, Dunne and Fitzgerald and to decide if an offence has been committed?

Justice minister Alan Shatter is regularly asked for updates on the Garda investigation of matters arising from the Moriarty Tribunal and keeps saying that the Gardai are still investigating and liaising with the DPP, and the latest one month ago is that the Gardai are liaising with the DPP before taking a decision whether or not to launch a full investigation! On 12th March 2013, Minister Shatter responded to a parliamentary question in which he said “the Report of the Moriarty Tribunal has been examined by the Garda authorities and the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions has now been sought by them, with a view to determining whether or not a full Garda investigation should now be commenced.”

Something is putrid here. Either the Gardai are underresourced or incompetent, or for whatever reason, not doing their job, or the DPP is underresourced or incompetent, or for whatever reason, not doing its job. We have a separation of powers of sorts between politicians and the police service and the DPP and there may be a reluctance to hold either to account by politicians, particularly in a case which has a political angle and where there may be accusations of political interference. But if ministers cannot hold them to account, who can? Will Minister Shatter call in an independent investigation service, perhaps from overseas? It would be uncomfortable to think that the Gardai or DPP can be forced to dance to the tune of the media, but at what point can we conclude their performances are just undermining trust in public institutions; have we already passed that point?

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