Lying to tribunal over leak is black spot on my record
Leaking was the first mistake. The monumental mistake was the next one – denying it when first asked about it, writes SARAH CAREY
I’M REMINDED of that Julie Burchill line, where she said she had to give up writing after she wore out the “I” key on her typewriter. Today I have to write about me and my mention in the Moriarty report. There are two issues. One is the work I did for Esat Digifone and the other is the issue of leaking documents.
The first issue is pretty straightforward. In 1995 I was 23 and the “marketing co-ordinator”, a relatively junior position, of Esat Telecom, which meant I helped organise marketing activities like corporate events for customers, advertising or product launches. I also dealt with the relationship between Esat and the Department of Communications, which was extremely fraught.
At the time Esat Telecom was trying to bring competition into the fixed line market. It had the backing of the European Commission but no support whatsoever from the civil servants at the department, who were busy protecting Telecom Éireann’s patch.
At one point the department wrote to our legal department insisting that Esat Telecom was operating in breach of its licence and should be shut down. Only the support of the European Commission bought Esat enough time until the entire market was deregulated years later. In the meantime Esat was compiling a bid for the mobile phone licence.
So I suggested to Denis O’Brien that showing up at Fine Gael fundraisers, typically lunches for £100 a head, would be a handy way to meet ministers so we could improve the company’s profile.
We began attending these lunches and truly, in a world where transparency is demanded, nothing could have been more transparent than 10 Esat executives arriving at a hotel with several hundred Fine Gael supporters in the hope of getting 30 seconds with a minister to explain what Esat was doing.
This campaign culminated in sponsoring a golf tournament for £4,000. Initially we were going to have a sign at the golf event announcing Esat’s sponsorship and then O’Brien changed his mind about that. So a letter from me to Phil Hogan, who was running the event, requesting the return of Esat’s logo, is mentioned in the report.
I know this system of corporate fundraising for political parties leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths but I really don’t think anyone has any ethical issues to answer here. These events happen regularly, and in the case of the lunches everyone could see who was attending them. It couldn’t have been more transparent and I’m completely comfortable in standing by these normal corporate and political activities.
At this stage, I think it would be better if they were completely banned because then we’d be liberated from the innuendo and accusation that applies to them.
The business of the leaking is different. To help aid my memory in evidence, the tribunal sent me a file of documents listing all the donations Denis O’Brien had made to all political parties over the period from 1994 onwards, mostly when I didn’t even work for him.
Every few months I’d flick through this file and get madder and madder that I was being dragged through a horrible legal process to explain a £4,000 golf sponsorship that was being inflated into something sinister, while here was evidence that O’Brien was giving money to other parties and thus putting this £4,000 into a slightly different context.
In particular there was one letter from Michael McDowell thanking Denis for a £15,000 donation to the Progressive Democrats and saying: “I will drink a toast to your health this Christmas.” Here was a £15,000 donation to the PDs that was being kept secret while I was enduring pretty aggressive meetings with the tribunal over £4,000.
So damn my weakness and stupidity, I gave in to temptation and arranged to meet Stephen Collins, then with the Sunday Tribuneand now of this parish. He published the letter and the list of all the other donations.
Justice Moriarty has made it clear that the Progressive Democrats were furious about the leak and had protested strongly to him about it.
Leaking was the first mistake. The monumental mistake was the next one – denying it when first asked about it. Obviously I didn’t want to get in trouble about it and as far as I could see, everyone was leaking like crazy.
Often, the leaks were statements containing unproven allegations that damaged people who could never defend themselves. I had leaked something that was true and that none of the parties disputed. O’Brien gave the money. The PDs received it and were grateful.
A few days later when the tribunal wrote again to my solicitor I told him I was the culprit.
Then I ended up in the car park of the Four Courts with a senior counsel telling me that by denying the leak I had obstructed the tribunal, which was a criminal offence and that I could be jailed.
At the very least, I could expect to pay my own costs in the tribunal and indeed might have the costs of their investigation imposed on me. Furthermore, since I falsely instructed my solicitor my legal team was firing me as a client and told me to get further advice elsewhere.
Since then I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the stupidity of my actions and feel genuinely ashamed about the lie. I should have admitted it straight away and for someone who preaches regularly about the necessity of honesty, it’s a black spot on my record.
All I can say at this remove is that every lesson I’ve learned has been the hard, horrible, humiliating way. In the greater scheme of things, and in the context of Moriarty’s report, my part is peripheral, and yet, not my finest hour.