Archive for February, 2008

Ahern’s gamble

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We knew this was coming. Ahern has decided to take a case to the High Court and is challenging aspects of its investigation. Ireland.com reports:

Today, lawyers acting for Mr Ahern in the High Court in Dublin secured leave to seek a judicial review challenging the handing over of specific documents, including advice from a banking expert.

Despite the political tension surrounding the work of the tribunal, Mr Ahern insisted today’s action referred to legal technicalities and said he plans to appear as a scheduled witness at the tribunal next week.

Mr Ahern later told reporters: “These are a few technical legal issues where my legal team advised that I have absolutely no alternative.”

The Taoiseach, who was not in court, is also seeking to prevent the tribunal questioning him on statements made under the privilege of the Dáil parliament.

“They (his legal team) say the Dáil privilege, which has always been challenged by politicians, and the other two issues are related to professional advice that my legal team got independently, and the tribunal are seeking that advice,” said Mr Ahern.

“The legal team say that that is not proper procedure and the third point is, where the tribunal have independent legal advice, financial advice, and they won’t give it to my people.”

He is seeking legal privilege over the documents, which he believes should be subject to the same immunity as if he were a witness before the High Court.

Brian Murray SC, for the Taoiseach, maintained that the tribunal has no right to question statements he made about his personal finances under privilege in the Dail, even if they were repeated elsewhere.

He also secured a temporary stay on a production order until Thursday afternoon, when the matter will come back before the High Court.

The documents, which contain advice from banking expert Paddy Strong, had been due to be handed to the Mahon Tribunal at 4.30 this afternoon.

During the ex-party application made by the Taoiseach’s legal team, Mr Murray said the Taoiseach is also seeking the discovery of documents from the planning tribunal in relation to allegations regarding foreign exchange transactions.

Mr Justice Bryan McMahon said the Taoiseach has an arguable case.

The Taoiseach, who sat in the tribunal witness box over several days in September and December, is due to appear before the Mahon Tribunal again for two days on February 21st and 22nd.

Last month, the government narrowly won a Dáil vote on a motion supporting the Mahon Tribunal after a heated debate by TDs.

The government motion urged the tribunal to continue its work and said it looked forward to receiving its report as soon as possible.

The motion also condemned the leaking of tribunal documents as a breach of confidentiality and said it infringed the rights of those affected.

Bryan McMahon is an interesting character. Kerry born, son of a writer, and appointed to the High Court last year (from the Circuit Court on May 2, just before the General Election). He was also appointed to the board of the Abbey Theatre by fellow Kerryman and Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue. I digress.

Ahern is clearly again trying to delay the tribunal. He has done so for 3 years, and he is continuing to do so. I get the feeling that they are trying to throw as many legal challenges at the tribunal as possible, and hoping that one will stick. The Dail privilege of statements made outside the Dail is nonsensical.

The reference to a Dail speech was highlighted by Irish Election, I especially like this bit from September 2006:

The Taoiseach: I know the law, although I am not an expert on every aspect. However, many years ago my tax advisers checked the issues in detail on the basis that it was a loan with interest. Subject to correction, I believe that the rate throughout the loan period was 3% — the interest rate that a person would have received on a deposit from 1993 or 1994. It was calculated yearly, and the total interest would be more than €20,000. I receive an annual figure from my tax adviser. It was calculated over the entire period on that basis. I paid capital gains tax and gift tax. It is not appropriate for me to spell out what I paid, but I assure the Deputy that I did so following advice.

An annual figure from your tax advisor? Really? Can we see that? Can we discover it? You paid capital gains and gift tax? Really? Can you show us the receipts? Will Revenue agree?

Do we need a ‘green revolution’ to get Ahern out of office?

Blog awards

Monday, February 11th, 2008

The shortlists are up. I have been nominated in the best news/current affairs blog category. Cheers to the person who nominated me :).

I guess I should do some link whoring or something to all the other nominees. I am a regular reader of many, so do check them out:

Best Blog Sponsored by PutPlace

Best Photo Blog Sponsored by Pix.ie

Best Arts and Culture Blog Sponsored by Poetry Ireland

Best Political Blog Sponsored by Digital Revolutionaries

Best Group Blog Sponsored by Salesjobs.ie

Best Personal Blog Sponsored by Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Group

Best Use of Irish Language in a Blog Sponsored by Edgecast Media

Best Technology Blog Sponsored by Bitbuzz

Best Designed Blog Sponsored by BB Gardens

Best Sports and Recreation Blog Sponsored by Boards.ie

Best News/Current Affairs Blog

Best Specialist Blog Sponsored by iQ Content

Best Newcomer Sponsored by Edelman Dublin

Best Business Blog Sponsored by FirstPartners

Best Music Blog Sponsored by DownloadMusic.ie

Best Food and Drink Blog

Best Crafts Blog Sponsored by This Is Knit

Best Popculture Blog Sponsored by Weeno Media

Best Blog from a Journalist Sponsored by RedFly Marketing

Canon 20D testing

Monday, February 11th, 2008

So I bought the Rymus 20D, and have taken a few photos to try her out.

As always, Puds makes a good subject.

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Chilling out:

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Demetrius and Dunlop

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

After a thorough investigation, the Mahon Tribunal has found that Frank Dunlop redacted references to a Fine Gael activist he called “Demetrius”. Who on earth was it?

Faking Facebook

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

What a curious thing. This week someone by the name of Simon Coveney, and using a picture of a TD of the same name, joined the Resign, Mr Ahern Facebook group. Interesting, I said to myself. I wonder if that could be the same guy. He did post about broadband over on Damien Mulley’s blog just last week, so it’s not impossible that he has just joined Facebook.

But being the nosey guy I am, I looked at his friends, whose friends I in turn looked at. Before I knew I had a smorgasbord of Irish celebs – many of whom keep their friends list public, but their profiles private. Either it’s a really big spoof, or they haven’t figured out that I can see their friends lists.

Coveney (or whoever setup the profile) has six friends.

Robbie Fox (Renards) (62 friends)
Declan Gill
Gerald Kean (Lawyer to the stars)
Gayle Killilea (Wife of Sean Dunne)
David McWilliams
Tara O’Leary

But dig a little deeper into the friends of friends, and all of a sudden there’s the entire Sunday Independent crowd. Hmm. I have deep suspicions. Many of the profiles on the face of it are fake, the photos look like promo shots rather than personal photos (though I can hardly talk)… maybe some are real, maybe some are fake, maybe they are all real.

Maybe someone should make a graphical representation of who knows who. Other profiles that I came across on my travels…

Leigh Arnold (Surgery soap?)
Izabela Chudzicka (Er know that name from somewhere)
Gordon D’Arcy (Rugby)
Barry Egan (Sindo)
Glenda Gilson
George Hook (Really? Looks too young)
Brian Ormond (Not locked down, looks legit)

Glenda Gilson’s profile (is it real?) has 189 friends, including:

Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle) (129 friends)(Friends with Graham Norton who cleverly turned off the setting of seeing his friends)
Gordon D’Arcy (No sign of Brian OD)
Andrea Roche
Brian Ormond

But what is interesting is seeing who mixes with who..

Barry Egan (20 friends) is friends with

Gavin Lambe Murphy (Who has 35 friends? That all?)
Paddy Casey (looks fake)
George Hook (the son?)
Robbie Fox

ARGH the list goes on…take a nose for yourself.

Update: Hmm. Within minutes of this post, Barry Egan asked to be my friend. Is this the work of Chancerdom, or Twenty perhaps?

Politics and Facebook

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

The Resign, Mr Ahern Facebook group, started back at the start of December, has just passed 1,500 members. It is certainly a milestone, and certainly the biggest Irish-oriented politically oriented group I have come across.

Following requests from members for some form of physical protest against Mr Ahern, I have put a date of Saturday April 12 out there for people to think about. I invited the entire group to attend, of whom 62 have said they will go, 156 may turn up, 348 people won’t turn up, and 1,220 have not yet replied. If 50 people turn up, I will be more than happy, but obviously the more the better.

I have the assistance of another member, in Co Meath, who has offered to help with organising any event that may take place on that day.

One of the things that members have requested is that it be apolitical – that is no hijacking by political parties like the Socialist Workers Party, Fine Gael, or anyone else for that matter.

I agree, any hijacking would lead to a pigeon-holing of the event as party political, when it is in fact the opposite.

While people who are protesting may be, and are likely to be, members of political parties (it is something you can’t get away from), but the group is composed of an interesting cross section of ages and beliefs – so all are welcome.

I don’t expect any protest that occurs to have any real affect, at least not initially. But I do see the point in doing something. For too long Irish people have sat back and complained about low standards in public office. Always giving out but never doing anything about it. Well what better way to spend your Saturday afternoon? Supping lattes, or supporting a cause you always talk about but never act on?

If you are not on Facebook, but are interested in the concept, or have something you want to contribute, drop me a line.

gavin AT gavinsblog DOT com.

The provisional date and time is Saturday April 12, 12 noon, Dublin.

Mahon wiki

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

I just found out that the Mahon wiki is displaying incorrectly in IE6 and IE7, and can’t figure out why. Any suggestions?

PJ Mara and Norman Turner

Friday, February 1st, 2008

What’s the connection? The Irish Times reports:

It is not clear why Turner, a British national whose mother was from Cork, wants to have an Irish passport. Turner was a director of a number of Irish companies, and took up residence here during the 1990s when he was seeking to promote a hotel, conference centre and casino project in the disused Phoenix Park Racecourse.

The project, promoted by the Sonas Consortium, would have involved very significant investment. The accounts of Ariadler Holdings, which managed the project, show that £2.33 million (€2.96 million) was spent on promoting it in the period from last 1993 to December 1995. However, it foundered when the government refused to issue a casino licence.

The setback did not arrest Turner’s career. In 2005 Midia had plans to float a company called First Croatia Properties (FCP) on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market. However, the flotation was cancelled after the company said a US-based fund had subscribed €83 million, more than FCP was seeking to raise on the markets.

Midia is currently involved in a large biotechnology park project in Croatia.

British Companies Office files show that in 2003 John Patrick Mara, son of the former Fianna Fáil press officer PJ Mara, was appointed a director of Midia Investments Ltd. The other directors of the company were Louise Turner and Steven Turner, understood to be Turner’s daughter and son.

The company was dissolved a few years later, seemingly for failing to lodge accounts. It is not clear that it ever traded.

PJ Mara acted as press officer for the Sonas consortium in the 1993/1995 period, having resigned his position with Fianna Fáil.

We all know who Mara had close connections to, and more recently was still involved in helping Fianna Fail get re-elected. We should also not forget what Judge Flood had to say about Mara.

Second interim report: 10-02

During the course of his employment as a Press Secretary, his financial remuneration was not sufficient to meet his immediate financial requirements, and he experienced financial difficulties. He said he received assistance from his friends, Mr. Oliver Barry and Mr. Dermot Desmond, in the form of loans. There was no formal structure to these loans. There was no interest charge, nor was there any fixed schedule for repayment. Those making the loans did not intend that the sums advanced would be treated as gifts by Mr. Mara, but were content to receive their money back, once Mr. Mara was in a position so to do.

Yea. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I wonder Ahern got the idea…

In relation to Century Radio, it was alleged by James Stafford:

1. Mr. Oliver Barry had informed him in 1988, prior to the issue of the franchise to Century by the IRTC, that there was a rumour at the time that Mr. Burke and Mr. Mara expected to receive payment of £90,000 for the independent television licence, £75,000 for each of the Dublin radio licences, and £25,000 each for the local radio licences;

2. Mr. Stafford had indicated that Mr. Barry informed him in 1990 that Mr. Mara was seeking a sum of £30,000 from Century; and

3. Mr. Stafford had been requested to pay £30,000 to Mr. Mara by Mr. Dermot Desmond in September 1990.

So the Tribunal did a trawl on Mara’s accounts post 1988. They sought details of all accounts held within or without the State after 1988. Mara responded with a schedule of accounts. But woe was he, he “forgot” to mention the Pullman Limited accounts on the Isle of Man.

Flood didn’t think much of Mara’s story:

10-11 The details of this company available for inspection by the public at the Companies Office would not have revealed any connection between this company and Mr. Mara. However, it was the case that Mr. Mara was the beneficial owner of this company and that his interest was held in trust for him by a trust company called Europlan Trust Company (Isle of Man) Limited (Europlan Trust).

10-12 Europlan Trust transferred funds from the Isle of Man to the account of Mr. Mara and his wife, at Bank of Ireland Private Banking, and it was named as the transferor in the record of this transfer, which appeared in the body of his Bank of Ireland monthly statement of account for the month of March 1994. This statement was included in the documentation which had been provided to the Tribunal, not only by Mr. Mara, but also independently by Bank of Ireland.

10-13 The existence of Mr. Mara’s offshore account in the Isle of Man had not been revealed in either of the affidavits of discovery sworn by him, or in subsequent correspondence. The first acknowledgement by Mr. Mara of the existence of the Pullman account was ultimately made to the Tribunal in the days leading up to the taking of his oral testimony before the Tribunal in July 2001. By way of explanation for his prior non-disclosure of this account, Mr. Mara told the Tribunal that he had forgotten about it, and was reminded of it by the Europlan Trust reference in his Bank of Ireland monthly statement.

10-14 In view of the specific requirement imposed on Mr. Mara by the Order made against him for discovery of documents in connection with offshore accounts, the Tribunal believes that it is unlikely that he could have forgotten about the existence of an account which had been opened by him in the Isle of Man. This is manifestly so given the steps which would have had to be taken to form a company there and to maintain an account in that jurisdiction, given the level of turnover in the account between August 1993 and October 1997 and given the fact that Mr. Mara had used Pullman as a vehicle to bill for services within the jurisdiction as late as September 1997. The Tribunal does not accept Mr. Mara’s explanation for his failure to disclose this account to the Tribunal. In its review of the documentation discovered to the Tribunal by Mr. Mara, the Tribunal did not find any link between Mr. Mara’s financial affairs and any payment to him, which could be attributed to the franchisees of licenses issued for independent broadcasting from 1988 onward.

Ultimately the Tribunal could not reconcile the conflicts in evidence given in relation to these allegations. But it did make a finding concerning Mara’s accounts.

7-13 The Tribunal is satisfied that Mr. P.J. Mara failed to co-operate with the Tribunal by:

(a) Failing to provide the Tribunal with details of an account in the name of Pullman Limited, operated by him at Royal Bank of Scotland in the Isle of Man, when swearing his Affidavit of Discovery made pursuant to an Order of the Tribunal requiring him to discover, inter alia, any such account.

How close were Turner and Mara? What exactly was the nature of the relationship between Turner and Ahern? For what did Turner need an Irish passport? More and more questions…