Glasses will be raised to Denis at the Four Courts this Christmas

MONEY can’t buy you happiness — that’s the phrase that keeps coming to mind when I think of Denis O’Brien. What an annus horribilis 2015 has been for the billionaire.
Glasses will be raised to Denis at the Four Courts this Christmas

Wherever he turns it’s been a miserable twelve months whether it’s the New York Stock Exchange, the Dáil, the media, even I reckon on the streets of Ireland.

Wouldn’t you just want to give the man a massive hug, in fact a collective national group hug is what is needed here. The poor fella. What good is it topping rich lists and flying the world in your executive jet when you can’t seem to get the affection and respect of your home nation? Is it a step too far to suggest that we need to nominate a “December is for Denis” month in an effort to get some affection back into this relationship where the trust has been so badly damaged.

It’s not altogether unusual that when someone feels their basic human needs are not being met, they can go about it in all the wrong ways and this, I guess, is a classic case of that. Let’s face it, solicitors letters, judges and senior counsel really only, how shall I put this, create a certain kind of mood music. Discordant. There is no doubt though but that he will be the subject of numerous festive toasts down the Four Courts this Christmas. He’s brought a mini boom all on his own down there this year.

He has also succeeded in creating a unity between journalists and politicians who both feel under threat from the might of O’Brien. Prior to the relatively recent concerns expressed about the concentration of his media ownership, or his propensity for suing journalists, worry seemed to be confined to a relatively small circle. Those that were in that circle were largely afraid to speak out for fear of litigation.

The public, even those who may not be that interested in current affairs, must wonder what’s going on emotionally with this man whose name keeps cropping up with alarming regularity in relation to what your mother might have called “the wrong sort of attention”. What people have paid notice of though is what many regard as an attempt to muzzle our elected politicians when speaking in the Dáil chamber.

It is usually a good thing, a sign of affection or respect, when someone becomes known in Ireland by their first name, and let’s face it, this man is a massive success internationally and someone whose achievements should be a cause of national pride. But now when people use that first name it’s to say something like: “Don’t tell me Denis has been at the solicitors again.” There are four separate cases currently ongoing in the Four Courts. As I type he’s been in the news, so far this week alone, for a court outing where he is alleging conspiracy to damage him personally and commercially, against Dublin PR company Red Flag Consultants.

In the second case involving our national parliament we learned that the Dáil is opposing a request from him to provide documents for his legal action over comments made in the Chamber about his banking affairs with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Court to protect or defend your reputation is an almost sacred right, but in the long term getting a reputation as a serial litigant doesn’t make for what we might term a good collective community spirit. He’s a great sport fan, is Denis, and to put it another way, how hollow a victory is it to win the game but completely lose the dressing room?

It must be a relief, in a way, for Denis to be a tax exile, and spend quality time in places where they appreciate him properly for all his attributes. Just last October, in an elaborate ceremony, he was given an honorary Order of Jamaica, something along the lines of a British knighthood for his “sterling contribution to the development of the telecommunications industry in Jamaica”.

He’s probably wondered, more than once, whether he’d ever have made the cut if we had such an honours list here. After all our Fine Gael Taoiseach knows that simply to be photographed alongside Denis, or to invite him to an official event, can cause a serious political storm.

It was Queen Elizabeth who brought the term “annus horribilis” into popular usage when she said in a speech that 1992 was not a year she would look back on “with undiluted pleasure”. That year saw, amongst other disasters, Prince Charles separate from Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson grace the tabloids topless and having her toes sucked by her “financial adviser” and Windsor Castle almost burned down.

But the Queen is a tough old bird and with good advice she managed to turn things around rather incredibly. If Denis manages to curb the serial legal habit he might take a leaf out of her book.

After all he looms so large over Irish society now, and owns so much of it, there must be loads of people who are positively disposed to him in terms of receiving a monthly wage packet and having a steady job. I’m thinking about employees of Independent Newspapers, Newstalk, 98FM, Today FM, Spin 103, the Beacon Hospital, Ballynahinch Castle and Siteserv, although this is by no means an exhaustive list.

There is also the Topaz service station chain owned by Denis which just last month had its takeover bid for Esso approved by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The deal will see the brand employ 2,000 across Ireland with a turnover expected to be around 3.5 billion.

He also gives generously to the sporting, cultural and charity sector. Surely Irish soccer fans must feel a residual gratitude that could be easily enough re-ignited given the vast sums Denis contributed to the salary of Giovanni Trappatoni. In fact someone like FAI chief executive John Delaney and some others like him could become an official “DOB Ambassador” and spread the good word.

Giovanni Trappatoni

Giovanni Trappatoni

DENIS does have a mountain to overcome when it comes to worming his way into the national affections, that’s if he gives a fig about such a thing. But you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to wonder at what sort of needs and vulnerabilities are driving someone who seems to have his legal team as his number one speed dial.

There is also, of course, the not insignificant matter of the Moriarty Tribunal and its findings in relation to Denis and the second mobile phone licence to his Esat Digifone consortium in 1996. To borrow again from the therapy world, attempts to “bury” issues in your life inevitably mean that they come back to bite you on the bottom.

But back to Queen Elizabeth. In that speech she gave she also said that no section of the community has all the virtues, neither does any have all the vices. But she added that we are all “part of the same fabric of our national society”. In other words it was far better to pull together than apart. It’s a good lesson.

It’s been a miserable 12 months whether it’s the New York Stock Exchange, the Dáil, the media

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