Claims of Attorney General conflict of interest rejected by Government

Leaders sharply criticised for allowing Paul Gallagher to represent former INM directors

The Government has dismissed claims of a conflict of interest in Attorney General Paul Gallagher’s work for private clients in a company law inquiry into Independent News & Media, saying High Court inspectors and the State’s corporate law enforcer were independent in their functions.

In a statement issued on Thursday night, after the Opposition claimed that Mr Gallagher was conflicted, the Government also said his private work had ceased.

Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats sharply criticised Coalition leaders for allowing Mr Gallagher, a senior counsel, to continue representing former INM directors in their dealings with a High Court inspection sought by the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Mr Gallagher had a large business law practice before he became Attorney General last year, the second time he has held the office.


“Prior to his appointment in June 2020, the Attorney General disclosed that he had a few existing litigation commitments to complete and he informed the Government leaders prior to his appointment,” the Government said.

“In the normal course of events these professional obligations would have been discharged in a short period of time following his appointment. Due to the Covid pandemic, there were delays in the hearings of cases, so it was not possible to discharge these professional obligations as early as anticipated.”

The Government added that “the Attorney General has no continuing private professional obligations” but it did not say when such obligations ceased and it did set out the extent of Mr Gallagher’s private work.

Russian oligarch

The statement was issued in response to questions from The Irish Times in which the Government was asked whether Mr Gallagher’s private client work on a €2 billion case involving a Russian oligarch was ongoing.

He has represented plaintiffs in a long-running action taken by Russian chemical group TogliattiAzot (Toaz), one of the world’s largest ammonia producers, in which they claim an Irish company engaged in “corporate raiding” against it.

The defendants include Dmitry Mazepin, the Moscow-based majority owner of another ammonia producer, Uralchem. He was a member of the Kirov regional Duma for the United Russia party of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Attorney General worked in recent months on “aspects” of the Toaz action involving an injunction because he had committed to clients to see out that part of the case, it is understood. A judgment is awaited.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny said Mr Gallagher’s involvement in the INM case “screams of a conflict of interest” and called on the Government to provide a full account of his private case work.

Grossly inappropriate

In the Dáil, Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall said it was “grossly inappropriate” for the AG to be engaged in such work.

“We have the Attorney General, the State’s top lawyer, acting for a number of former company directors of one of the biggest media companies in the country in a case which emanated from an inquiry by the State’s corporate watchdog. You could not make it up,” Ms Shortall said.

However, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended Mr Gallagher. “I’m absolutely certain that the Attorney General will be very careful to avoid any conflict of interest or any perception of a conflict of interest.”

Referring to the INM inquiries, the Government said the 2014 Companies Act provides that the Director of Corporate Enforcement “shall be independent” in the performance of statutory functions.

“Furthermore, the inspectors appointed on the application of the ODCE are entirely independent and report to the High Court, not to the ODCE. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has no direct function in such matters.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times