It would make for a good t-shirt slogan
“Our Taoiseach went to Davos and all he talked about was communications investment in Burma and Bill Gates’s foundation”
When Enda Kenny was on his feet in the Dail on 12th February 2013, responding to questions about the forthcoming G8 Summit in Fermanagh, he rambled on about world affairs and meetings and mentioned his recent trip to Davos in January 2013 for the annual World Economic Forum. You can read what he said here but in the dozen sentences on Davos, he mentioned two topics only – communications investment in Burma (Myanmar) and Bill Gates’s foundation’s crusade to eradicate polio.
Now we know Digicel’s Denis O’Brien was at Davos, we know Digicel is pursuing a once-in-a-lifetime mobile phone licence in Burma, and we know that An Taoiseach has stated he accepts the conclusions of the Moriarty Tribunal in their entirety, a Tribunal whose report made adverse findings against Denis O’Brien who rejects those findings. We also know Burma is a pretty nasty place though it has been opening up in recent years and the military’s grip on the country has been relaxed, and just this week, the EU voted to lift all sanctions on Burma with the exception of the arms embargo and embargo on equipment which might be used for internal oppression.
We know that Digicel has recently won through to the final round in the competition for two mobile phone licences in Burma, and that in June 2013, the two licences will be awarded to two companies from the field of just 12 applicants whittled down from 20. Digicel has said that it may invest USD 1bn in Burma if it is awarded one of the licences. Whilst Digicel is a sizable company providing communications services in the Caribbean, central America and around the Pacific, this licence in Burma would double the subscriber base. It’s huge. It has been confirmed that Digicel does not have a presence in Ireland, doesn’t invest here, pay taxes here or employ people here. It is headquartered in the Caribbean.
After Enda Kenny made his statement in the Dail on 12th February, 2013, he was questioned by the Opposition and ultimately refused to say if he met with Denis O’Brien or representatives of Digicel or representatives of the Burmese government or president. An Ceann Comhairle said An Taoiseach was not required to provide that information under Standing Order 34 governing the conduct of Dail business. Standing Order 34 says “Relevancy of Questions: Questions addressed to a member of the Government must relate to public affairs connected with his or her Department, or to matters of administration for which he or she is officially responsible (including bodies under the aegis of his or her Department in respect of Government policy).”
So, the Opposition submitted a Freedom of Information request, seeking An Taoiseach’s diary for 21-27th January 2013, a period which covered the Davos meeting on 23-27th January 2013. In addition it sought briefing notes for Burma and lists of attendees at certain meetings. Today, we have the response which is attached in full here.
First, let’s play a game. Which of the meetings detailed by An Taoiseach below do you think would give rise to his statement in the Dail on 12th February 2013 “When speaking to people in Davos, the issue of the opening up of Myanmar, the former Burma, arose. It is a country of which we do not have great knowledge, although there were real connections between Ireland and Burma as it was called. That country of 60 million has a huge range of natural resources, yet some 58 million of its people have never had access to communications. That country will move from what might be termed ground zero to cloud computing and cloud access straight away. The scale of the investment there will be enormous”
In the response to the Freedom of Information request, it is stated that An Taoiseach did not meet with Mr Denis O’Brien. This wasn’t asked in the Freedom of Information request. In the parliamentary questions that were disallowed, An Taoiseach was asked “if he had discussions or other interaction with Mr Denis O’Brien, the chairman of Digicel Group at the recent Davos summit” and “if he had discussions or other interaction on the subject of Myanmar (Burma) at the suggestion of Mr Denis O’Brien, the chairman of Digicel Group or his representative or representatives, at the recent Davos summit” and “if he had discussions or other interaction on the subject of Myanmar (Burma) at the recent Davos summit with representatives of the government or president of Myanmar” [ends] So in the FoI response, we have an answer to a question not asked, on An Taoiseach’s own terms. If the PQs were disallowed under SO 34, but An Taoiseach was now willing to provide a response, then why not respond to the PQs as posed?
So, it is stated that An Taoiseach did not “meet” with Denis O’Brien but we do not how wide that term “meet” is, and whether or not An Taoiseach had any interaction at all with Denis, as was asked about in the parliamentary question.
The response to the Freedom of Information request refuses to provide names of people at the IDA event on confidentiality grounds and says there isn’t a record of attendees at a lunch.
So, the mystery deepens. With whom was Enda Kenny talking “when speaking to people in Davos, the issue of the opening up of Myanmar, the former Burma, arose”
I doubt that you have heard the end of this matter.