‘O’Brien should not attend economic fora’

Billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien should not be invited to future government-sponsored economic fora, Europe Minister Lucinda Creighton has said.

However, she defended Enda Kenny appearing with Mr O’Brien at the New York Stock Exchange last week and said the Taoiseach was there at Mr O’Brien’s invitation.

She said: “I wasn’t comfortable with his attendance at [the Global Economic Forum] in Dublin Castle on the last occasion and I wouldn’t be in the future”.

She hoped he would not be invited again “because of the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal”.

The tribunal findings were extremely serious and she did not think anybody in government could afford to brush them aside, but events organised by Mr O’Brien to generate business for Ireland were important, she said.

“On the New York visit in particular, Denis O’Brien, along with Bill Clinton, organised a very successful business and investor forum, which the Taoiseach attended in New York last month, and has been working directly with Bill Clinton on a number of initiatives that are designed to promote trade in Ireland, investment in Ireland, and we are clearly very committed to ensuring that as part of the recovery process we can continue to do that.

“I don’t in any sense diminish the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, I think they are extremely serious, but Denis O’Brien’s role in his engagement with Bill Clinton in particular and with Irish diaspora and potential investors is an important one and I don’t know that at a time like this we can afford to turn our back on it.”

The tribunal reported last year that two payments worth £500,000 by Mr O’Brien to the former Fine Gael communications minister Michael Lowry in the years after Mr O’Brien’s company, ESAT Digifone, won the bid for the country’s second mobile phone licence in 1996 were related to the licence process.

Mr O’Brien has contested the findings.

However, she said it was important not to undermine the work he was doing in promoting trade and investment for Ireland.

“We appreciate it’s very important for the country at a time like this.”

Mr O’Brien, who is a tax exile with a large number of companies in Ireland, has been instrumental in setting up the organisation Ireland Inc and the Irish American Business Association. They have set up Ireland Day, which made its debut at the New York exchange with Mr Kenny in attendance.

According to information on its website its core objective is to promote Irish, Asia-Pacific and Irish-American business interests through its public policy and legislative advocacy and lobby groups at the highest level.

Mr O’Brien sold Esat to British Telecom for €1.9bn in 2000 four years after winning the licence. He set up Digicel, which provides mobile phone services to more than 11m customers across 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Pacific.

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