At least five former Fine Gael aides are working as public relations advisers to the tobacco industry in Ireland, Britain and Brussels.
The industry has increased its lobbying activity not just on the issue of cigarette-smuggling but also in response to plans by the EU and national governments to tighten controls on tobacco products.
In Ireland, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has promised to introduce plain packaging on cigarette boxes.
Over the past year, the lobby group has secured meetings with a number of Government Ministers and officials, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in spite of a World Health Organisation convention which recommends interactions between governments and cigarette-makers take place only in public.
Meeting with Taoiseach
Television sport presenter and PR adviser Bill O’Herlihy is the most prominent former party figure involved in lobbying Government Ministers, in his role as adviser to the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee (ITMAC).
Mr O’Herlihy was present for the meeting between the Taoiseach and senior tobacco industry figures in Government Buildings last May. This was the first time any Taoiseach held formal talks with the industry. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter also attended the meeting. Before last year’s budget, Mr O’Herlihy wrote to Ministers arguing against an increase in the price of cigarettes.
Another former Fine Gael aide who works for the industry is Kevin Gilna, who was senior adviser to John Bruton when he was taoiseach and later as EU ambassador to Washington. Mr Gilna’s company, Transatlantic Public Affairs, provides services for Philip Morris International, the world’s biggest tobacco company.
In the UK, Transatlantic worked on a campaign to defeat the last Labour government’s plan to introduce a point-of-sale ban on tobacco products. Central to the campaign was engagement with shopowners’ organisations such as the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) to highlight the trade in illicit tobacco.
The Irish branch of NFRN, which has 400 members, is currently active in highlighting the prevalence of tobacco-smuggling in the Republic. It said it didn’t receive any funding from cigarette companies.
Mr Gilna said in an email that he was “not in a position” to provide any details on the industry. Philip Morris headquarters in Switzerland confirmed that Transatlantic advises it in Ireland “on a range of topics”.
The government affairs manager of Transatlantic, James Geoghegan, who also worked for Mr Bruton in Washington, referred queries to Mr Gilna.
Roy Dooney, who was a special adviser to Mr Bruton for seven years, said he worked as an external consultant to Transatlantic. He referred further questions to Mr Gilna.
Former Fine Gael press officer Karl Brophy confirmed he provides public affairs services for British American Tobacco (BAT). Mr Brophy said his contacts were in Brussels and he didn't report to BAT's Irish subsidiary, PJ Carroll.
Mr Brophy, who was once a senior executive at Independent News and Media, is a former partner at Hume Brophy, which worked for BAT in the UK on the campaign against cigarette displays in shops. Hume Brophy says it no longer worked for tobacco clients.
While the meeting between the tobacco industry and the Taoiseach was largely about the illicit trade, cigarette company bosses took the opportunity to reject proposals in a draft EU tobacco directive to ban menthol and roll-your-own products. They also wanted the Government to reject measures in the draft directive on standardised and plain packaging.
At the time, O'Herlihy Communications said on its website it was officially advising the Government, an assertion that was withdrawn after the firm was contacted about it by The Irish Times.
Anti-tobacco groups subsequently complained to the Taoiseach that the meeting appeared to breach EU rules on contacts with the tobacco industry.