O’Herlihy thanked Deenihan for ‘terrific’ help in getting access to Ministers

Correspondence reveals extent of broadcaster’s lobbying for tobacco firms

Bill O’Herlihy: Ash Ireland accused him of having a “conflict of interest”, due to his PR firm’s claim to be advisers to the Government. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Bill O’Herlihy: Ash Ireland accused him of having a “conflict of interest”, due to his PR firm’s claim to be advisers to the Government. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Mon, Sep 9, 2013, 01:00


Broadcaster and public relations executive Bill O’Herlihy told Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan he had been “terrific” in his help in gaining access to Government ministers on behalf of the tobacco industry.

Mr O’Herlihy had sought Mr Deenihan’s assistance in securing a meeting for industry representatives with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

Mr O’Herlihy has long links with Fine Gael and was one of former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald’s “handlers” in the 1980s.

In June 2011 he had a conversation with Mr Deenihan about tobacco smuggling and forwarded him a document on behalf of the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee (Itmac), which he represents.

“I am extremely grateful for all your help. You have been terrific,” he wrote in an email to Mr Deenihan.


Irish Film Board
Mr Deenihan appointed Mr O’Herlihy as chairman of the Irish Film Board in March this year.

Documents obtained by The Irish Times under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that Mr O’Herlihy lobbied various members of the Government on behalf of the tobacco industry, including Mr Deenihan, although tobacco smuggling is not part of his portfolio.

In November 2012 Mr Deenihan wrote to Mr Noonan to state that he had been approached by Mr O’Herlihy regarding tobacco smuggling.

When contacted by The Irish Times about his lobbying of Mr Deenihan, Mr O’Herlihy said: “Jimmy Deenihan has made clear to me he is totally opposed to cigarette smoking but it is important that each member of the cabinet is aware of the massive scale of cigarette smuggling.”

Mr O’Herlihy also stated he had not contacted the Minister in relation to tobacco smuggling since becoming chairman of the Irish Film Board.


Meeting
Mr O’Herlihy’s firm, O’Herlihy Communications, has represented Itmac for five years. He was present at the meeting between the tobacco industry and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Noonan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter earlier this year on the subject of tobacco smuggling.

The meeting angered Minister for Health Dr James Reilly who declined to attend and has expressed a desire to “declare war” on the tobacco industry.

In May Mr O’Herlihy was criticised by the anti-smoking group Ash Ireland for claiming on his PR company’s website that it acted as “official advisers to the current and past government”. Ash Ireland claimed it was “a totally unacceptable and disquieting conflict of interest”, if he was representing the tobacco industry at the same time.

The claim in relation to the current Government has since been removed from the website.

Mr O’Herlihy insisted he only acts for the tobacco industry on the issue of tobacco smuggling.

However, he wrote to Mr Noonan and to Brian Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, in January this year, not only in relation to tobacco smuggling, but also in relation to the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).

The implementation of the tobacco directive was a key goal of the Irish Presidency of the EU and, in particular, Dr Reilly.

In June the European Council reached agreement on a ban on menthol and other flavoured cigarettes and mandatory health warnings covering 65 per cent of all cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco.

In his letters, Mr O’Herlihy argued that the health warnings move would push consumers “from legitimate products” to smuggled tobacco.

Mr O’Herlihy also stated that “the weight of evidence” suggested the availability of menthol cigarettes did not increase “youth initiation” of smoking, and that there was not a “shred of evidence” that a ban on slimline cigarettes would serve any public health purpose.


Campaign
He defended the letters, stating they were “entirely in line with our campaign on smuggling”.

The European Parliament was due to vote on the TPD last month but it has been postponed until next month, a move which supporters say will give tobacco companies time to lobby MEPs before the vote is taken.

Mr O’Herlihy also wrote to the Taoiseach and Mr Noonan on the issue of tobacco smuggling praising both politicians in correspondence.

A spokeswoman for Mr Deenihan said he frequently received representations on behalf of many issues not directly within his remit as a minister.

“Minister Deenihan neither commented on nor endorsed the points made in the correspondence. His office simply forwarded it to Minister Noonan. Minister Deenihan has no further comment,” she said.