Nexus Ireland – Relationships that Rule

Nexus Ireland
[This article was original published at Nexus Ireland, 9 Nov 2013]
Russell Brand’s manifesto for a “revolution of consciousness” has, it seems, opened space for an important debate about revolution and democracy. Unfortunately the UK press remains, for the most part, stuck on Brand’s disenchantment with a particular mechanic of democracy – voting. Yet few have offered the revolutionary generation a convincing reason why they should engage in a “tacit act of compliance” for a multi-party democratic system with no significant “distinctions between [political] parties.” 

Citing anecdotal evidence, Brand highlights a particular problem with capitalist democracy – the tendency of power to concentrate: “Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party.” An observation that couldn’t be more timely, coming as it does when the trial of News International’s Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson is getting into full swing.

Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, is a neighbour of Prime Minister David Cameron, and, it is said, they are on such good terms, she even lets him ride her horses (one of which was lent to her by Scotland Yard). Apparently, Brooks was introduced to Cameron through her husband, who was “one of his school friends”. For his part, Coulson, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, was made director of communications for the Conservative Party in 2007 and later appointed by Cameron to be his chief media spokesman.
Cameron, a former head of corporate affairs with Carlton Communications (since absorbed into ITV), is said to have had 26 meetings with Murdoch’s executives in the 15 months after assuming office. Now those same executives are accused of “conspiring to illegally access voicemail messages on mobile phones” belonging to celebrities, politicians and a murdered child.
A couple of fair questions might be, how did the UK’s various centres of power get to be such good friends without us knowing? Why did it take a government inquiry to make these private relationships, which clearly intersect with the public life of government, public?

These relationships are not, for the most part, even secret. Many of us are aware of at least a few of these connections. The politically astute among us perhaps know tens if not hundreds of similar ones. However, there is dramatic difference between what is public knowledge and what is common knowledge. Which is why understanding the nexus of power is a source of power in itself. Knowing who knows who is part of the skill in being a lobbyist or a political journalist. Which is partly why so many former politicians find themselves becoming lobbyists.

As an example, consider how political sketch writer Miriam Lord displays her own insider status, by making purposefully vague hints at the inner workings of government. Following Enda Kenny’s public reaffirmation of Ireland’s “pro-business ethos and environment” for the benefit of the world’s tech companies and money markets, Lord made obtuse reference to Mary O’Rourke’s son’s predicted reaction. But how many of you know that Feargal O’Rourke is, not only son to our former Minister for Education, but, according to Bloomberg, the “grand architect” of corporate tax avoidance in Ireland? Or that he also advised Charlie McCreevy, and his own cousin, former finance minister Brian Lenihan? O’Rourke has also been known to write the odd piece for Lord’s paper, the Irish Times.

Some of you may remember that RTE’s chairman Tom Savage made headlines last year when he, as director of the organisation that broadcast the Prime Time Investigates programme ‘Mission to Prey’, was asked to assure the public there was no potential conflict of interest in also being the founder of the media management and coaching company that assisted the man defamed by that documentary. How many of you know Savage founded the Communications Clinic, which represents many influential people and also advises political parties, along with his wife, Irish Examiner columnist Terry Prone? Their son, Anton Savage, managing director of the company and former columnist for the Sunday Independent, is also, as it would happen, a presenter for TV3 and hosts a radio show on Denis O’Brien’s TodayFM.

Are you aware that two of the most senior positions in finance and law in Ireland are held by two brothers? Patrick Honohan, a former economic advisor to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland in September 2009 by Brian Lenihan. His brother, Edmund Honohan, is Master of the High Court.
There is not inherently anything untoward about the existence of these connections. It is in some senses the natural order of things. Children of politicians are exposed to the inner workings of democracy at a young age, as such, the gravitational pull is no doubt much stronger than those of us who have never spoken to a politician. It is possibly the same genetic interplay that causes, so often, CEO’s to sprout baby CEO’s to run the family empire. This is not to over emphasise the significance of familial ties in politics, but it should at a very minimum be transparent. As the US has shown, even in a country with a much more evolved level of transparency, two family dynasties are, come 2016, in a position to govern the country for 28 years. It may still “take a Clinton to clean up after a Bush.”The consolidating of power into networks can happen in the most ordinary of ways. No one bats an eyelid when a teacher marrys another teacher, or a doctor another doctor. Finding a companion at work is a fairly normal occurrence. So it’s no surprise Lucinda Crighton is married to a Senator, who also acts as spokesperson for Crighton’s so called group of “Fine Gael rebels”. And few of us would be shocked to hear Enda Kenny is married to Fionnuala Kenny, a former press officer for Fianna Fail and a former boss of RTE public affairs.

Ireland’s nexus of power, where it does have, let’s say, a clear undemocratic characteristic, is epitomised by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s sticky web. The Mahon Tribunal, which set about investigating payments to politicians or officials in connection with land rezoning, would end after over 10 years finding “Ahern gave untrue evidence about the source of over £215,000 lodged in bank accounts connected to him.” Frank Dunlop, the man who originally “spilled the beans” on the “network of corruption” back in 2000, was said to have been “well placed to act as a lobbyist for developers” having previously been a reporter with RTÉ and having served as both Fianna Fáil and government press secretary.

As it happens, following the publishing of the tribunal’s findings, RTÉ, our public service broadcaster, chose former presenter Mike Murphy to interview Ahern, in what can only be described as a friendly chat. Murphy was formerly a director of property development firm Harcourt Developments, which is now working with state owned property agency NAMA to manage it’s property portfolio (Harcourt’s chairman Pat Doherty, incidently, was recently snapped alongside Edouard Carmignac, who’s company Carmignac Gestion is, according to the Irish Independent, “the second-largest holder of Irish bonds”). In interview with the Irish Times, Murphy was asked to comment on the fact Harcourt had, in the past, made substantial donations to Fianna Fail, to which he responded: “When you are developing a site like Park West, and you are seen to be a large-ish entity, you are moving into a neighbourhood where you are expected to look after people.”In 2010 TASC’s ‘Mapping the Golden Circle‘ revealed the intersections of various banking, business and public authority boards, which suggested, even given our limited population and the seemingly few degrees of separation on this island, power and influence in the key institutions that had a hand in our boom and bust were concentrated and circumscribed to the extent that a network of just 39 people “held positions in 33 of the 40 top private companies and state-owned bodies.”

This is exactly the sort of public knowledge that should be common knowledge. You should not be pressured into voting by people who won’t at the very least explain to you exactly who you are voting for. To this end, I want to suggest a crowd sourcing of our collective knowledge. If we were all to share those elite connections we are aware of, the combined picture would no doubt shine a light on Ireland’s nexus of political and economic power. A task becoming increasingly important as the limited means of government transparency shrink even further. Then at least, we can democratise knowledge of the system, if not the system itself.For those of you on Twitter, you need only send a tweet to @nexusireland or #nexusireland, describing the connection and, ideally, providing a source. Alternatively, you can email at nexusireland(at)gmail.com. The results of which will be shared, collated and progressively mapped to eventually form an online visualised database, searchable by anyone with access to the web.

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