INM saga drifts on and catches more people in its tentacles
Cantillon: PR executive James Morrissey latest to become entangled in ODCE inquiry
PR adviser and Newstalk director James Morrissey was copied in on an email sent by former INM chairman Leslie Buckley to shareholder Denis O’Brien. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Emerging revelations from the Independent News & Media saga, like a giant drifting jellyfish in a tempestuous sea, are catching more and more people in their tentacles, as Minister for Communications Denis Naughten found out with this week’s news disclosed by The Irish Times.
Eoghan Ó Neachtain and Nigel Heneghan, acting for INM back in 2016 when the company was trying to buy Celtic Media Group, are not the only public relations executives to have become entangled in the year-long investigation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan.
Among one of the nine communications from former INM chairman Leslie Buckley to the company’s biggest shareholder, Denis O’Brien, that Drennan claimed in court papers could amount to “inside information”, potentially breaching stock market rules, was an email on which PR executive James Morrissey was copied.
Late on November 28th, 2016, Buckley’s personal assistant emailed O’Brien information that Buckley himself said the board had considered to be “price-sensitive information” that “must be disclosed to the markets without delay”.
The information related to answers to questions asked by Irish Times journalist Mark Paul about a row between Buckley and then INM chief executive Robert Pitt on the price to be paid for the proposed acquisition of Newstalk, a radio station owned by O’Brien’s company Communicorp.
Buckley sent O’Brien a copy of the statement that would be released to the stock exchange at 7am the next morning. He told him that he was sending a copy of the statement to Morrissey as well, court records show.
Drennan points out in his lengthy affidavit supporting his application to have High Court inspectors appointed to INM that Morrissey is “a public relations agent and long-term paid spokesman” for O’Brien.
More significantly, the corporate watchdog points out that Morrissey is also a director of Newstalk, the subject of the row that prompted the company’s statement to the stock market.
In addition, Drennan identified evidence of further disclosures of confidential INM material to external parties, including long-time O’Brien associate Paul Connolly, now an INM board member again, Dominic Shorthouse, an adviser to Mr O’Brien, who was working on behalf of Communicorp in discussions with INM about the proposed Newstalk acquisition, and Dermot Hayes, an executive at O’Brien’s investment vehicle firm Island Capital.