” A quantum leap will be involved in going from no communications to all the modern methods of communication” An Taoiseach Enda Kenny on 30th April 2013 in the Dail responding to questions about his previous statement that he had discussed communications investment in Burma, whilst attending the Davos gathering in January
“It could be a quantum leap – Myanmar could jump 50 years all in one move” Digicel chairman, Denis O’Brien in September 2012
If you were around in the early 1980s, you’ll know we didn’t have iPads but made do with the zany inventions of Briton Clive Sinclair. In 1984, he unveiled his Sinclair QL computer which was the latest development after his ZX-80, ZX-81 and Spectrum. The “QL” stood for Quantum Leap, and because the press liked to take the mickey out of Clive and his many – mostly disastrous, at least financially – inventions, they pointed out that a quantum leap was, in chemistry, one of the smallest movements physically possible. The Sinclair QL was Clive’s last foray into computers, and to this day, whenever someone mentions “quantum leap” I think of what a tiny movement it is.
Both An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Digicel chairman Denis O’Brien seem to believe Burma or Myanmar is set for a “quantum leap” in communications. But what we’ve wanted to know for two months is whether they have more in common, and specifically if An Taoiseach had any dealings with Denis or his company at the Davos gathering in January 2013.
On 12th February 2013 An Taoiseach gave the Dail a summary of his visit to Davos and mentioned two matters and two matters only – communication investment in Burma and Bill Gates’s crusade against polio.
Since then, the Opposition has been trying to find out who he discussed communications investment in Myanmar with, and specifically if it was with Denis O’Brien, the man against whom the Moriarty Tribunal made adverse findings which An Taoiseach accepts in their entirety but which Denis rejects. It might be politically fatal to An Taoiseach to, on one hand embrace a Tribunal’s findings which painted Denis in a very dim light – findings rejected by Denis – and on the other hand, be somehow supporting Denis’s overseas business.
There have been all sorts of parliamentary questions and even a Freedom of Information request since February but yesterday, An Taoiseach was cornered in questions to An Taoiseach and faced questioning from Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, extracted below. In summary, An Taoiseach denies “meeting or connection with Digicel in Davos” and says he “had a visit from a [unspecified] company interested in Irish potential in the area” and he “discussed the matter briefly with a member of one of the international telecommunications companies”. He later appeared to confirm that “international telecommunications” company as Ericsson.
It might seem a flimsy basis to form 50% of An Taoiseach’s summary of his doings in Davos, but he has answered the question. And it is on the record.
Deputy Micheal Martin: The Taoiseach let it slip in the Dáil the last time this issue arose that he had been taking an active interest in the Burmese mobile telecommunications situation during the Davos forum. He did not have time to follow up on that matter in the House, but will he explain why he was having discussions on this issue? Were they entirely coincidental or was he particularly interested in the Burmese situation?
The Taoiseach: In respect of telecommunications and Myanmar, I had a visit from a company interested in Irish potential in the area. I had an engagement with it about the possibilities it sees for Irish involvement in trading with a country that has enormous resources and has distinct possibilities for a trading nation such as this country. I have never been there. I discussed the matter briefly with a member of one of the international telecommunications companies in Davos, who attended the IDA-sponsored function where there were 40 chief executives of international companies. In Myanmar, less than 2 million people have had access to mobile communications out of a population of 60 million. A quantum leap will be involved in going from no communications to all the modern methods of communication. In many ways it will be a social experiment for a people who have had centuries of limited capacity to connect around the world.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The previous time the Taoiseach referred to discussions in Davos with people about the opening up of telecommunications was in the context of the G8 summit. I remind him that he said:
“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.”
That is what the Taoiseach said on 12 February. He clearly recognised a big investment opportunity in that regard. Will he elaborate a little more on whom he discussed those matters with in Davos? He said it was a member of an international company. Does he recall who it was or who they were? I ask that because I understand that Digicel, the company controlled by Denis O’Brien, is pursuing one of the two telephone licences currently on offer in Myanmar. Did that form part of the discussion?
The Taoiseach: In response to another of the Deputy’s questions, I had no meeting or connection with Digicel in Davos. The chief executive that I spoke to was from a different company, from a northern European country with very significant international and Irish interests in telecommunications. Our discussion arose at the IDA-sponsored investment and continued investment in Ireland event. The company in question is Ericsson.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: What was the name of the company?
The Taoiseach: Ericsson.