Dáil Diary no 42 - 11 June 2015
#IBRC Behind Bureaucracy and Secrecy, our Government takes best care of Big Business…
In 1808, a famous writer, Walter Scott once said –
‘O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!’
How relevant this is to the way our Government operates today. Here’s my Dáil contribution this week on the IBRC Investigation. -
“We are discussing the terms of reference of an inquiry into the State's alleged preferential treatment of the private sector, in particular deals that may have cost the Irish taxpayer substantial sums of money. It is a bit like the US military holding an investigation into the causes of violence in the Middle East.
The Government is unashamedly neoliberal, as was the one before it. It is not a wild statement to say it has shown preferential treatment to the private sector at the expense of the taxpayer. The most straightforward definition of neoliberalism is putting the interests of big business and profit before those of the public and working towards abolishing the social state model and the notion of public services being a public good. To quote Dr. Julien Merceille of UCD: "Neoliberalism Irish-style' has borrowed elements of US neoliberalism, such as public-private partnerships, privatization of public services, low corporate and individual taxation, low level of government expenditures on social programmes and light regulation of the financial system."
I mentioned the honourable Denis O'Brien in this Chamber about nine times last year and I was nearly run out of the place when I did so, because it was bordering on illegal. On 9 October I raised the possibility with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, that things may not have been transparent and fair in terms of how Denis O'Brien purchased Siteserv and then got the water contract and that everything may not have been as clean as it should have been. The Minister said, "The Deputy is fundamentally, absolutely, completely and wholly wrong." When he was in opposition he was formidable and eager for power to be held to account, but he lost his taste for that when he got into power.
The next day The Irish Times, and the Irish Examiner covered what I said in the Dáil, but I received a phone call that afternoon from a journalist who told me I would not read any more pieces about what I raised. He told me several news outlets had been contacted and warned that under no circumstances should they quote what I said again. I did not read any more about that in the newspapers, but I read an article the following Monday written by Mr. Dukes, a former Minister, who protested a little too much and said all decisions of IBRC were motivated by the mandate to secure the best possible return for the State and taxpayer from the management and disposal of its assets, and that I should withdraw my comments. This was all very interesting.
It is to the great credit of Deputy Catherine Murphy that she was so obstinate and kept going for so long in the face of difficulty in trying to get to the bottom of what she was attempting to look into. We should be concerned that an Independent Deputy without a large amount of resources carried out the job she did while the media could not do so. What kind of media do we have in Ireland? Do they serve the public well? Do they hold power to account?
Dr. Julien Merceille, who I mentioned, did some research into how the media handled the issue of austerity. He examined two of the main broadsheets - a term that is probably too expansive now - The Irish Times and the Irish Independent and how, over a three year period, they dealt with austerity. It turned out that, of the opinion pieces and articles written on austerity over a three year period, only 3% of them thought that austerity was a bad idea and unfair. That is pretty scary.
The fact that the honourable Denis O'Brien has such control over the media has to be a worry for our Government. It should be a worry for any Government. A good, independent and strong media would be worth its weight in gold to this country because I do not believe we have one. It would make such a difference to how things are done in the public and private sectors. It would be brilliant. Given that it is very difficult for newspapers to make money today, we should consider sponsoring some independent media to give them a chance and not have them dependent on big business for advertising or the need to have 28 page property supplements. Such a policy could create media that would have the clout and power to hold power to account.
We are discussing the alleged preferential treatment of the private sector, in particular deals that may have cost Irish taxpayers startling sums of money. I worked in the business sector for most of my life. I probably have more information than I want on how things work in this country, including how the banks and big business works. I have many a tale to tell, which I will not start tonight. The number of people who have complained to me in the past couple of years about trying to buy assets from financial institutions controlled by the State, including NAMA and banks, but have not been able to do so despite being prepared to pay more than others, is frightening.
I have some strong evidence of it which I am not going to reveal now. I was also shocked at how NAMA, the National Asset Management Agency, operated. I understood NAMA was going to hold assets until their value recovered and would not offload stressed assets for less than what they were worth. Some of the apartments I built have been sold for €100,000 each during the banking crisis, Apartments which I could not build now for €200,000, even if I got the land and the money for nothing.
Take for example some of the transactions in NAMA. A six-storey office on Mount Street was sold to a US fund, Northwood Investors, for €27 million in 2012. Northwood Investors then flipped it and sold it on for €42 million two years later. The Forum building in the IFSC was sold by NAMA to a US private equity firm, Atlas Capital, for €28 million in 2012. It flipped it two years later for €37.8 million. Dock Mill on Grand Canal Dock was sold by NAMA to Chris Jones developers for €1.3 million in 2013. From the company’s own figures, it spent €1.4 million on this asset and sold it on for €13 million. NAMA sold company loans of the McGarrell Reilly group for €220 million in 2014 to Lone Star which flipped them this year for €350 million, a profit of €130 million in little over a year.
Deputy Clare Daly referred to Independent News and Media, INM, considering spending €100 million on an investment. This is the same Independent News and Media that got a write-down from the banks of €138 million last year, €60 million of which belonged to AIB which is owned by the taxpayer. How in God’s name could this Government allow the State-owned bank give a write-down of €60 million to Denis O’Brien’s controlled INM when he is valued at approximately €5 billion? I would love the Government to explain that to me because I do not understand it.”