Micheál Martin: FF will seek interim report from commission of investigation

Fianna Fáil will also seek to ensure that the activities of the IBRC Wealth Management Unit are covered, as it might be argued it is a separate legal entity to IBRC

Micheál Martin:  ‘As a democratic society we have to wake up and understand that a free and diverse media is essential and it cannot be taken for granted.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Micheál Martin: ‘As a democratic society we have to wake up and understand that a free and diverse media is essential and it cannot be taken for granted.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

On May 6th Fine Gael and Labour TDs were instructed by the Government to vote down a Fianna Fáil motion calling for an independent commission to investigate sell-offs by IBRC. Four weeks later, having constantly fought off calls for a proper investigation the Government has eventually conceded.

What is striking about this belated U-turn is how the Government continues to say that there is no evidence of anything of legitimate concern having happened.

At every stage it has sought to cover up and deflect inquiries about major transactions which have cost the public millions.

It has tried everything to make the controversy simply go away.

It has remained silent as one immensely powerful man and his representatives worked to stop journalists reporting words spoken in Dáil Éireann.

It had nothing to say when an honourable and highly respected Dáil deputy, acting in the public interest and showing great responsibility in her use of evidence, was called a liar and the receiver of stolen goods.

It has expressed no concern whatsoever about the substantive issue of how much money may have been lost by IBRC through failure to maximise return on the sale of assets or through the levying of unreasonably low interest rates.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has been particularly dismissive of all concerns as they have been raised. He followed a policy of giving as little information as possible to Deputy Catherine Murphy.

As he admitted in a letter to me on Wednesday he gave me an untrue answer in the Dáil when disclaiming knowledge by his Department of the Siteserv deal through IBRC board papers.

The Taoiseach himself hid from the public for over a week before emerging to dismiss people as hysterical and to refuse to express any concern with the actions or power of Denis O’Brien.

Given this record, the simple fact is that there is no basis for believing that the Government is interested in finding and exposing matters of legitimate concern to the public in the operation of IBRC.

There are a number of potential loopholes in its terms of reference which we will seek to have amended next week.

We will be demanding that the investigation consider possible lapses in corporate governance in IBRC and deals agreed but not finalised before the appointment of the special liquidator.

We will also seek to ensure that the activities of the IBRC Wealth Management Unit are covered, as it might be argued that it is a separate legal entity to IBRC.

In order to ensure that there is no possibility of relevant information being hidden before the general election, we will seek to have an interim report presented to the Oireachtas and to limit the Government’s ability to manipulate the timing of the publication of the report.

The issues of public concern do not, of course, stop with this Commission.

It is now plain for anyone to see that we are at a defining moment for freedom of speech and media diversity in our country.

The aggressive attempt to stop discussion of what are by any reasonable definition matters of justifiable public interest is unprecedented since independence. The Government’s refusal to assist journalists and public representatives fighting to defend the public is deeply disquieting.

Slowly but surely over recent years we have seen a greater concentration of media ownership than ever before. Through a wide range of national and local radio stations and newspapers we have come to the point where one media owner has a level of power which at least deserves debate.

Ownership at this level carries with it an immense influence if only through the number of journalists who either work in the group or feel that they may need to at some point.

As a democratic society we have to wake up and understand that a free and diverse media is essential and it cannot be taken for granted.

This Commission, if its terms of reference are amended, is important – but it is only one part of a wider debate which is urgently needed.

Micheál Martin TD is leader of Fianna Fáil

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