Denis O’Brien replies to Village article

Denis O’Brien sent the following letter to the Village editor in response to an article published in the November 2011 issue of the magazine. The letter is published without comment and will also be reproduced in our January 2012 edition.

Mr. Michael Smith
Village Magazine
Ormond Quay Publishing
6 Ormond Quay Upper
Dublin 7

12th December 2011

Re: Article in Village Magazine – October November 2011 issue

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing to you in respect of an article published on Page 17 of the most recent publication of the Village Magazine (issue No.15). This article was entitled “Denis O’Brien, a complicated career and dubious ethics”.

I am a staunch supporter of the right to freedom of expression. However, this right is subject to certain necessary standards in terms of fairness, accuracy and balance. The right to one’s good name and reputation is equally as important as the right to right to freedom of expression.

The sole comment offered to the reader in relation to Esat Telecom Group Plc. is that I “became a Portuguese resident and avoided £55m in taxes otherwise due”. This is not accurate. I was a resident of Portugal prior to the sale of the Esat Telecom Group.

The reference to my resignations from positions with Bank of Ireland, Norkom and other entities infers that there was a story behind this decision. The simple fact of the matter is that my own business commitments were such that I felt unable to give the time and commitment to external non executive positions.

However, it is when your publication came to describe the opinions of the Moriarty Tribunal that the inaccuracies were most evident. You described the Moriarty Tribunal as “a Judicial Tribunal”. This is a completely inaccurate description. I am surprised that you, a qualified barrister, made such an obvious error. Tribunals of Inquiry such as the Moriarty Tribunal form no part whatsoever of the administration of justice in lreland. They simply are not part of the legal process. The Supreme Court has delivered judgment after judgment (see the Murphy case and Bovale Developments by way of example) where they have been at pains to clarify this misconception. Although the Chairman of the Moriarty Tribunal was a High Court Judge, he most certainly did not sit in this capacity. The standards of proof and evidence applicable in the Irish Court process were jettisoned by modern day Irish Tribunals. It is for this reason that the opinions of Tribunals of Inquiry (and they are simply that- opinions) are deemed “wholly devoid of legal consequence” and “sterile of legal effect”.

With regard to the Tribunal’s opinions in respect of the second mobile phone licence process, it is a matter of fact that not a single witness gave evidence before the Tribunal in ten years of public sittings that Michael Lowry interfered with or acted improperly in respect of the licence process. Evidence was given to the Tribunal by (amongst others) seventeen respected and senior Civil Servants, five Government Ministers, one former Taoiseach, two senior officials from the Office of the Attorney General, one Senior Counsel to the Irish State and one senior official from the European Commission. Every one of these witnesses testified unequivocally that they had no knowledge of any interference in the licence process on the part of Michael Lowry.

This is to say nothing of the evidence given to the Tribunal by Professor Michael Andersen of Andersen Management International; the consultants who designed and conducted the licence process. (I attach a copy of the full statement of Professor Andersen as opposed to the redacted version made public by the Tribunal)

The article goes on to address opinions made by the Tribunal in respect of ”payments” (it incorrectly refers to the Tribunal having “found”; the Tribunal did not make findings of fact but rather issued opinions).

For the record, I made no payments to Michael Lowry, nor did I support any loan related to him. It was proven without question that Michael Lowry did not receive a single cent out of any of the transactions referenced by the Tribunal in its final report. Those are the facts. That was the evidence. The Tribunal’s report was concerned with neither facts nor evidence.

I take very serious objection to the use of the word “corruption” in the context of my involvement in the licence process. This Moriarty Tribunal (very deliberately) made no reference whatsoever of corruption in any aspect relating to me when it came to publishing its report.

Your article later goes on to refer to evidence given to the Moriarty Tribunal by Mr. Barry Maloney. The simple fact is that if this supposed conversation between us from late 1996 was such an issue for Mr. Maloney, then he should have immediately brought it to the attention of the Esat Digifone Board and the company’s Solicitors. He did neither.

As regards Sam Smyth, Today FM has gone on record (through then CEO, Willie O’Reilly) on the reasons for Sam Smyth’s departure from Today FM. The reasons were entirely operational ones and related to falling listenership figures. The decision to terminate Sam Smyth’s relationship with Today FM was taken by Today FM management. I was not involved.

I have written to you in the hope that you will consider the matters that I have raised and perhaps promote more fairness, accuracy and balance when dealing with such matters in future.

Yours sincerely,