In the Dail this week, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan provided details of the PR expenditure at the NTMA, an umbrella agency which encompasses NAMA. We learned that Gordon MRM, the PR agency most associated with NAMA, received just over €200,000 a year during the past three years or a total of €660,000 to the end of February 2013. This company was re-appointed to the role after a competitive tender process involving four other companies, at the end of 2012. It has done a reasonable job of promoting NAMA during the past three years, and it must be said that aside from the Enda Farrell affair, NAMA has emerged reasonably unscathed in terms of its reputation, though credit for that clean sheet is broad-based. If only Gordon MRM could gets its archive of press releases on its website to work…
But what was unexpected in Minister Noonan’s response is the NTMA has also engaged the British PR company which is the respondent in a Paddy McKillen defamation action in Dublin’s High Court. Powerscourt has been paid just over €250,000 in the last 3.5 years by the NTMA though €160,000 was spent in 2010 alone. On 27th February 2013, developer and businessman, Paddy sued Powerscourt and one of its executives, Conal Walsh in Dublin’s High Court.
A statement was made by Powerscourt on 30th November 2012 on behalf of the Barclays – the two brothers fighting to take control of three London hotels in which Paddy McKillen has a 36% stake – a statement which contained something which Paddy regards as, according to the Sunday Independent, “defamatory of him as they questioned his motivation for bringing proceedings before the UK Court of Appeal” in the latter half of 2012. You might recall that following Paddy’s defeat in the London High Court last August 2012, he was firstly hit with legal costs which have been estimated at €25m. We learned from the Sunday Times recently that Paddy sought what was described as an emergency loan of GBP 5-5.9m last October 2012 at IBRC; approval for that loan application was given by IBRC though it seems that Paddy funded those partial legal costs from elsewhere. Paddy sought, and was granted, permission to appeal the UK High Court judgment, the appeal was heard at the start of February 2013 and a judgment is expected any day now.
Paddy is, at present, complaining that there is what is described by the Irish Times as a “sustained strategy” against him involving NAMA and the Department of Finance. The NTMA’s engagement of Powerscourt may just exacerbate that sense of grievance Paddy is suing associates of the Barclays as well as Powerscourt and its executive for defamation in Dublin. Separately, he is suing NAMA for breach of confidentiality and privacy. He has launched legal action against the Sunday Times and one of its journalists Mark Tighe over a story which a judge has partly injuncted. And any day now, he will learn the outcome of his appeal against a UK High Court decision.
The NTMA expenditure on PR emerged from parliamentary questions asked by the Sinn Fein jobs and enterprise spokesperson, Peadar Toibin and are here:
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will provide, in tabular form, a list public relations companies that received payments from either the National Assets Management Agency, the National Treasury Management Agency, the National Development Finance Agency, the State Claims Agency or the National Pension Reserve Fund; the overall cost of these payments from each agency named and the level of payments made by each agency to each company listed in respect of work carried in the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013. [21365/13]
Deputy Peadar Tóibín:To ask the Minister for Finance the number of companies or individuals that recently tendered for the renewal of the public relations contract for the National Treasury Management Agency; and if the NTMA secured a reduction in the rate charged in the previous contract. [21366/13]
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 145 and 146 together.
The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) does not maintain an internal press office. Instead, its internal communications resources are supported by an external service provider (appointed following a public procurement process) – currently Gordon MRM – in order to offer a full press office and communications service (including out-of-hours contacts for the media) across all the NTMA’s business areas: Debt Management, National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), National Pensions Reserve Fund, National Development Finance Agency, State Claims Agency, NewERA and, during 2010 and 2011, the Banking Unit.
These arrangements were initially put in place during 2010 in light of a significant increase in the volume of domestic and international media queries being received by the NTMA and associated bodies. In September 2012 the NTMA retendered for the provision of these services. A total of five companies submitted tenders. Following the tender evaluation process the NTMA awarded the contract to Gordon MRM in December 2012.
The initial contract, in place to end-2012, was based on an hourly rate for services provided. During the term of this contract a 20% reduction in the hourly rate was agreed with effect from June 2011 until the end of the contract. The new contract, which commenced in January 2013, is based on a fixed fee and it is anticipated that this will result in a significant reduction in the overall fees paid by the NTMA.
NAMA draws on the NTMA’s shared services in a number of areas including its outsourced press office facility. NAMA reimburses the NTMA in respect of the costs of these services attributable to NAMA.
The overall costs incurred for the provision of the services above (excluding VAT) were as follows:
2010 – €207,255*
2011 – €205,388 (of which €112,353 was charged to NAMA)
2012 – €223,723 (of which €142,653 was charged to NAMA)
2013 – €24,488 (to end-February) (of which €12,000 was charged to NAMA).
* In 2010 costs were not specifically attributed to NAMA. NAMA was charged a proportionate share of the NTMA’s third party service costs which included Gordon MRM.
In the light of the sovereign debt crisis the NTMA also engaged Powerscourt – a London based communications consultancy – for international communications initiatives in the funding and debt management area. Total costs (excluding VAT) incurred for the provision of the services provided by Powerscourt were as follows:
2010 – €160,334
2011 – €74,395
2012 – €10,257
2013 – €12,103 (to end-February).