Taoiseach had ‘no private meeting’ with Denis O’Brien in Davos

Varadkar says decisions on media ownership should be ‘independent of politicians’

Leo Varadkar said he only bumped into Denis O’Brien in Davos. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Leo Varadkar said he only bumped into Denis O’Brien in Davos. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted he did not have a private meeting with businessman Denis O’Brien when he attended the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He bumped into Mr O’Brien in a corridor, they exchanged pleasantries and that was the extent of it, he told the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar claimed there had been some “false reporting” about their interaction at the conference in early February.

But he said “for clarity, I did not have a private meeting with Denis O’Brien in Davos. No meeting was scheduled. We did not sit down together across a table or sit down together at all.

“He was in Davos. I was in Davos. I ran into him in a corridor. It was very public. We exchanged pleasantries and that was it.”

Questions

Mr Varadkar made his comments after he was challenged by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett during questions about a proposed media merger between INM and Celtic Media Group and a controversial phone call between Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and a lobbyist.

Mr Varadkar said politicians should not be involved in deciding what the appropriate percentage of media ownership a company should have.

“It would not like to see Ministers adjudicating as to whether 27 per cent is okay but 28 per cent is not, or to be in that space.

“These things should be independent of politics and politicians. They should be determined by a body such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission when it comes to a merger such as this “with the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) have a role too”.

Mr Barrett had made reference to Mr O’Brien in remarks about a lack of media plurality in Ireland and “the data breach involving journalists’ and barristers’ emails” at INM.

He said Mr O’Brien, “one of the richest men in this country dominates or owns outright” a number of national and local newspapers and radio stations.

Freedom of journalists

The Dun Laoghaire TD claimed direct interference in the freedom of journalists to write, and cited calls for then INM journalist Sam Smyth to be moved off his coverage of the Moriarty tribunal.

“Mr Smyth subsequently lost his job.”

Mr Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he was concerned about “the monopoly of one individual over the Irish media” and if he proposed to do anything about it.

He said: “To add to that, Mr O’Brien is a tax refugee. Then the Taoiseach has private meetings with this guy in Davos. It is extraordinary.”

The issue was raised in the Dáil last month by a number of TDs and questions were asked about his “impromptu meeting” with Mr O’Brief.

The Taoiseach answered the questions about formal meetings with Facebook and other major companies but not about Mr O’Brien or any other informal contacts.