Bill O’Herlihy lobbying firm says it no longer has Government links

Veteran broadcaster attended meeting between Taoiseach and tobacco industry

The public relations company owned by veteran sports broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy has withdrawn a claim that it advises the Government after being accused of a potential conflict of interest by an anti-smoking group.

Mr O’Herlihy confirmed yesterday he attended the meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny held with a delegation of senior tobacco industry figures earlier this month. His company, O’Herlihy Communications, advises the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee.

The company’s website had claimed that staff “have worked in government at the highest levels” and that “we have been official advisers to the current and past government”.

The latter assertion was removed last night after a query from The Irish Times .

Mr O’Herlihy was media adviser to Fine Gael under Garret FitzGerald in the 1970s. He was recently appointed chairman of the Irish Film Board.

Earlier this month, Ash Ireland wrote to Mr Kenny suggesting Mr O’Herlihy’s claim to be an adviser to the Government and to the tobacco industry constituted a breach of EU guidelines and was “a totally unacceptable and disquieting conflict of interest which warrants investigation and clarification”.

'Carried away'
Contacted yesterday about this, a spokesman for Mr O'Herlihy said the statement online was not correct and the wording would be changed.

“It sounds like someone got carried away while designing the website,” he said.

Letters seen by The Irish Times show Mr O'Herlihy made pre-budget pleas to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton last November not to increase the price of cigarettes.

“Excise increases merely generate greater sales for illegal cigarettes,” he argued in the letter, adding: “Ireland, with the most expensive cigarettes in the EU, is fertile ground for criminals who trade in smuggled cigarettes.”

Mr Noonan said yesterday he attended the May 7th meeting with the industry because of concerns about smuggling and the loss of revenue to the State.

“There are literally millions of cigarettes being sold in the country and we’d like to do something about that to reduce the incidence of it because there’s a huge loss of revenue to the State,” he said. He declined to answer when asked if it would result in a drop in the price of cigarettes and tobacco.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times