Memoirs of a Ganley rapporteur, albeit confidential

 

From the perspective of the present, a stint within a forum sponsored by Rivada Networks was rather an eye-opener

I RECKON I am the only Irish Times columnist that has worked for Declan Ganley. It is probably a safe enough bet that I will hold that distinction for some time to come.

Between 2005 and 2007, Ganley’s organisation, Rivada Networks, sponsored the Annual Forum on Public Safety in Europe and North America at my alma mater, the University of Limerick, where Ganley is a director on the University of Limerick Foundation Board. The forum brings together various “policymakers, political and military leaders” to discuss, among other things, “important public safety matters, such as crisis management, interoperability and border security”.

I was a PhD politics student at the university and was recruited to the forum as a rapporteur. I attended the various sessions and discussions and subsequently provided detailed written reports which were distributed to nominated governments and legislatures. I signed a comprehensive confidentiality agreement which precludes me from disclosing information which is not already in the public domain.

With that very much in mind, attendance at the forum was an “interesting” experience. An eye-opener. Intriguing. Beguiling. The then minister for European affairs, Noel Treacy, addressed the forum in 2005 with the words: “Events demand that we are prepared to manage crises. Remember our top priority – the top priority of any government – is to protect our citizens. I commend the focus of this forum and congratulate you all on the work done.”

Oh, the irony.

Indeed, when Treacy referred to “the challenges that we face together”, he probably never envisaged that a second Lisbon Treaty referendum would come into that category of challenges. Dick Roche, Treacy’s successor as current Minister for European Affairs, is highly unlikely to be “honoured to have an opportunity to address this forum” anytime soon.

Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea also made a speech. This is not publicly available but, Willie, I’d love a copy and would be happy to quote liberally in any future columns.

In 2006, the then minister for justice, Michael McDowell, addressed the forum on counter-terrorism in the European Union. McDowell told participants that “the amount of meaningless ‘EU speak’ is alarming to say the least”.

The keynote speech of the Irish politician that graced the opening session of Ganley’s forum in 2007 is not in the public domain. Last year’s workshops discussed such matters as the “local/national challenges vs EU challenges in Europe” (by way of example).

It appears that the forum did not convene this year. It is conceivable that other international-related matters may have distracted Ganley’s attention and, very possibly, our Ministers may not have been as generous with their time. But, Declan, I’m available if you need a rapporteur again, preferably though without the constraints of a confidentiality agreement. Columnists like to share any “interesting” insights they may have with their readers.

For three years, members at the highest level of government spoke in glowing terms of Ganley’s Forum on Public Safety in Europe and North America. (The confidentiality agreement prohibits any identification of the “senior police officers, policymakers, business people and scholars” who also attended). Attendees have included the “deputy assistant secretary of defence strategy, plans and resources, US Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence, Homeland Defence”, an admiral of the US Northern Command, and others.

Here’s the thing though. Pre-Lisbon referendum, government ministers had no objection to the US government contracts secured by Rivada Networks when delivering keynote addresses to Ganley’s meeting of minds on international security issues.

But post-Lisbon, they have – in the strongest of terms. Are our Ministers in the habit of bestowing conferences with the vestige of political authority without due recourse to verifying the credentials of such events?

It all suggests a rather unco-ordinated and hypocritical approach by Government. This is the real challenge of the second Lisbon referendum next autumn – co-ordination and communication.

Lisbon was, in part, a vote against the political establishment and consequently a vote for those not perceived, in the traditional sense, as politicians.

Privately, key political figures in the Yes campaign are apprehensive about their ability to attract financial support for a second referendum.

Political parties are economically under pressure as it is, never mind the recession which will prevent any patriotically inspired donations. The critical local and European elections next year, in advance of Lisbon II, will further deplete the already diminutive financial resources of the parties.

A clear communication strategy on the Lisbon Treaty will not just cost money but also commitment. Robust comments by Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell last Sunday on Today FM were indicative of such an approach. Mitchell’s call for political parties to put aside their petty differences and adopt a unified campaign in Ireland’s national interests is what we need to hear more of. (Particularly from his own party.)

Following the exile of ancient Roman politician Marcus Tullius Cicero, his house was demolished and replaced with a statue of Libertas, the goddess of freedom. It later turned out that the statue was stolen and that Libertas was not all that she seemed. Cicero described the Libertas statue as a “polluted, pilfered prostitute” which represented the moral lapse of the republic.

A second referendum campaign presents the opportunity for politics to rebuild trust in public life. So, let’s get on with it then.