Brophy sees red over INM Red Flag reports

Founder of lobbying firm files defamation claim over Sunday Independent coverage

Precisely one year ago this week, Denis O’Brien charged into the High Court screaming blue murder about an alleged “conspiracy” to defame him.

He claimed it involved a dossier on him held by lobbying firm Red Flag Consulting, its founder Karl Brophy, chairman Gavin O'Reilly and several of its senior staff. They all deny any wrongdoing. The case is ongoing.

Fast forward 12 months, however, and the kicking shoe is firmly on the other foot.

Brophy, who soldiered for O'Reilly in his family's battle with O'Brien over control of Independent News & Media (INM), this week filed a defamation claim of his own against INM over its background reporting of the Red Flag case.


Brophy is not suing O’Brien, nor is it alleged the billionaire had any influence over the Red Flag reporting. The respondents in Brophy’s case are listed as Independent Newspapers, INM and Internet Interaction.

Rather disappointingly, the last entity isn’t as racy as it sounds. Internet Interaction is part of the group’s digital publishing division.

While O’Brien isn’t involved in Brophy’s defamation case, there is still a certain symmetry to the whole affair, as the billionaire sues Brophy who then sues INM.

O’Brien is, of course, INM’s main shareholder and is viewed in some quarters as the listed company’s spiritual patriarch.

It appears the Sunday Independent really boiled Brophy's brew with a couple of articles last October, in particular a less-than-flattering profile of the Red Flag founder that derided Brophy as a "tabloid hack".

Forensic imaging

The article made various references to Brophy’s past career at INM, which ended in jig time after O’Brien got the keys to the front door in 2012.

Brophy later sued INM over the circumstances of his exit, although that case was later settled with him accepting O’Brien had “no hand, act or part” in the decision to end his employment.

INM, for its part, accepted Brophy hadn’t engaged in wrongdoing.

Brophy is reputed to have hired Belfast brief Paul Tweed, the José Mourinho of libel lawyers, to represent him in his defamation action against INM.

Meanwhile, the O’Brien-Red Flag case is due a mention in the courts shortly, as some Red Flag staff appeal orders for the forensic imaging of their mobile devices. This could yet get more interesting.

In the meantime, O’Brien appears to be keeping busy on several fronts.

The Digicel telco founder was apparently in the company of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt this week. On Wednesday night, Bolt – who is sponsored by Digicel – tweeted a picture of himself with O'Brien, Digicel group chief executive Colm Delves, and Digicel's regional Caribbean chief Vanessa Slowey.

“Just chilling with the big boss himself,” tweeted Bolt.

There are new nicknames for O'Brien all over the place this week. One minute he's the "big boss", the next he is "FOB" – Friend of Bill [Clinton] O'Brien has been prominent in the US media again this week over his links to the Clinton Foundation. Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to smear his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, over the nature of O'Brien's relationship with them.

Hot on the heels of a first tranche that emerged on Tuesday, a second crop of emails between O’Brien and the Clinton Foundation surfaced in the US on Thursday.

Legal documents

They contained further colour on O'Brien's efforts to use his Clinton connections to get State Department help to land his "silver chicken" private jet in earthquake-stricken Haiti in 2010.

Haiti is one of Digicel’s most important markets, and O’Brien and the Clintons have been prominent in efforts to bring relief to the nation.

In the latest emails, O’Brien told his Clinton contact that he was “personally flying to Haiti with medical supplies” and needed a landing slot, as well as a regular slot to bring in communications equipment.

The risks for Digicel operating in frontier nations such as Haiti were further highlighted in recent days, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which wrought destruction on the area last weekend.

Digicel Haiti was on a deadline this week to file crucial legal documents as part of (yet another) legal case.

Digicel is suing a US company over allegations the American business is making money bypassing its network.

Digicel’s lawyer asked the court this week for an extension to file the docuements, “due to the influence of Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean area and Florida over the past week”.

Deadly storms abroad, legal storms at home.

Life is rarely dull for the various companies linked to O’Brien.

Footnotes . . .

According to reports on Thursday, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor had "strips torn off her" by Fine Gael TDs at a party meeting on Wednesday night over the performance of her department and its agents in spreading jobs around the State.

Mitchell O’Connor, by all accounts, was just as combative in return.

The Minister was in chippy form on Tuesday, at the department's post-budget briefing in Government Buildings. The Irish Times asked her why Cabinet had chosen to kick the can down the road on a new tax regime for share-based payments – one of the most pressing items on the budget wish-list of the business community.

John Halligan, the Waterford Independent TD and Minister of State for Training and Skills, looked at me from the top table like I'd just lit a crack pipe.

“Share-based payments?” Halligan murmured to his boss, Mitchell O’Connor. “What is he on about?”

There was, briefly, some consternation and a brief huddle between Halligan, Mitchell O'Connor and Minister of State for Employment and Small Business Pat Breen.

“Share options,” I clarified. “I’m asking why the Government didn’t bring in a new tax regime this year for staff share options. The tech industry wanted it.”

A brief semblance of recognition flashed across Mitchell O’Connor’s face.

The share options issue would be addressed in Budget 2018, she said, before her mood appeared to darken. Eyeballing her inquisitor, the Minister wanted to know why we were not talking about all the “positive things” in the budget.

She then proceeded to waffle on about a series of unrelated topics from Brexit to agri-food, while still doing the eyeballing.

Whatever else Mitchell O’Connor might or might not be, she is no shrinking violet.

Are there a few Cork lads at heart in the Italian business media?

The Spanish low-cost carrier, Volotea, this week launched a new weekly service from Cork to the Italian city Verona (of Romeo and Juliet fame).

Before it was announced here, however, the new route was launched for the Italian press.

Alto Adige, a local news website did a glowing write-up on the new air link, replete with some picture postcard images from Ireland’s second city.

“L’isola di Cork . . . ” gushed the story.

The island of Cork?

They only wish, boy . . .