AG aiding former INM directors in private capacity with High Court

Government permitted Paul Gallagher deal with outstanding cases after his appointment

Attorney General Paul Gallagher: prior to his appointment, he  acted for INM in 2018 when it sought to block the appointment of High Court inspectors. Photograph: Alan Betson

Attorney General Paul Gallagher: prior to his appointment, he acted for INM in 2018 when it sought to block the appointment of High Court inspectors. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Attorney General is acting in a private capacity for former directors of Independent News & Media in their dealings with High Court inspectors who are investigating the company’s affairs.

The inspectors were appointed by the High Court following a request from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the State authority responsible for enforcing business law.

Following questions on Wednesday from The Irish Times, it emerged that the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, was granted permission by the Government to deal with a number of outstanding cases after his appointment.

Asked about Mr Gallagher’s continuing work on the INM case, the Government’s spokesman said: “Prior to his appointment in June 2020, the Attorney General disclosed that he had a few existing litigation commitments to complete and received the Government’s permission.”

The spokesman’s statement did not elaborate on any other ongoing continuing litigation work undertaken by the Attorney General, who attends meetings of Cabinet and is legal adviser to the Government. He is also legal adviser to each Government department and certain public bodies, and represents the State in legal proceedings.

Independent News & Media

The INM case, ongoing for several years, is the ODCE’s biggest and most high-profile current investigation. The court inspectors are barrister Seán Gillane SC, who specialises in criminal law, and Richard Fleck, a UK-based solicitor and corporate governance expert.

Mr Gallagher, a senior counsel who also served as attorney general between 2007 and 2011, acted for INM in 2018 when it sought to block the appointment of High Court inspectors.

INM is known now as Mediahuis Ireland after the 2019 takeover of the company by a Belgian media group in a deal that led to the departure of the billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien, who had been its dominant shareholder.

Mr Gallagher is understood to be acting for a number of former directors in INM including one, Dr Len O’Hagan, who remains on the board of Mediahuis Ireland. He is not representing the company itself in the inquiry, it is understood.

Asked about Mr Gallagher’s work on the case, a spokeswoman for Mediahuis Ireland said the company had no comment.

Alleged data breach

The work of the inspectors continues in private, so Mr Gallagher has not appeared publicly for his clients.

The ODCE asked for inspectors to be appointed after a year-long investigation into matters raised in protected disclosures made in 2016 and 2017 by INM former chief executive Robert Pitt and former chief financial officer Ryan Preston.

The inspectors’ inquiry centres on an alleged 2014 data breach involving emails belonging to lawyers, senior journalists, former INM executives and public relations figures when Mr O’Brien was the company’s main shareholder.

The High Court has heard that back-up IT tapes from INM ended up in the hands of third-party companies for “data interrogation” on information relating to 19 named individuals, who became known as the INM 19.

Some of the INM 19 individuals had come into conflict with Mr O’Brien, who then owned 29.9 per cent of the company and whose close associate Leslie Buckley was chairman of INM until March 2018. INM blamed Mr Buckley for the data breach. He has denied any wrongdoing.