British Spies And Irish Oligarchs

While Europe burns, Ireland stinks. At least that is the impression one gets from recent revelations by the more principled members of the mainstream press as they tentatively feel their way through the litigious minefield sowed by those at the pinnacle of the country’s business classes. We may not be a Russia, a nation largely lacking in democratic and judicial accountability, but there are certainly those who regard our politicians and courts as little more than corporate assets to be acquired and utilised as needed.

Peter Murtagh presents the details of a shocking investigation by the Irish Times newspaper, a lengthy story that involves a foreign journalist-cum-spy seeking access to the very heart of our republic while possibly answering to interested parties here at home:

“For many years, Mark Hollingsworth has used his role as a journalist and author to spy on people and inveigle information useful to his wealthy clients. Hollingsworth is the only person known to have obtained directly from Red Flag Consulting the dossier at the heart of Denis O’Brien’s legal action against the company. An examination of his career and modus operandi illustrates how he operates.

When he came to Dublin in 2015 asking people about O’Brien, zoning in on the businessman’s critics and seeking to identify their sources of information, he didn’t tell anyone that he was working with a corporate intelligence company. Instead, Hollingsworth said he was working for the Sunday Times but that newspaper has since effectively disowned him.

Not long before he came to Dublin, Hollingsworth was paid £22,000 (€26,000) by an intermediary acting for the London-based Irish developer Paddy McKillen.

But the Irish journalists and politicians interviewed last year by Hollingsworth, either on the phone or in person – and at least one of them inside Leinster House, as confirmed last week in the Dáil by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy – knew nothing of his past and his links to the rich and powerful, let alone to a private spying company.

To them, he was, at least initially, just another, slightly other-worldly and mildly plummy, English journalist interested in, as he put it, an Irish oligarch.

In fact, Hollingsworth is at the nexus of a group of people, some of whom, but not all, connected to Denis O’Brien, whose relationships and interests may converge or diverge depending on the circumstances, but who are part of a background mosaic to one of the most unusual cases ever before an Irish court.

Hollingsworth’s role is central to the legal action O’Brien has taken against the Dublin headquartered PR firm Red Flag. His centrality is due to Hollingsworth being the only person known to have obtained, directly from Red Flag, the body of evidence that found its way to O’Brien.

It is this dossier, says O’Brien, that prompted him last October to start his legal action against the company and named employees, seeking, but not getting, one of the most extreme tools available to a litigant – a civil law search warrant. This would have allowed his agents to enter Red Flag’s offices and seize anything which they believed added weight to his accusation that he was the victim of a criminal conspiracy, defamation and malicious falsehood.

Instead, O’Brien was granted an order effectively preserving evidence that might support his claim of an illegal conspiracy against him and of defamation.”

The whole piece is quite incredible. Even more incredible has been the blasé reaction of many in the Irish general public to the revelations. It seems that Seán and Síle Citizen have become so familiar with incidences of malfeasance by those working in our corporations, government and legal community that there are no more reserves of shock and outrage left to draw upon. We have become inured to the mé féin culture that defines the upper echelons of our society. Tales of corrupt tycoons and politicians, lawyers and gardaí, are so common as to be the norm. If even the charities are up to their necks in criminality, with executives sand trustees siphoning off funds to feed exorbitant salaries or lifestyles, then what hope is there?

Meanwhile, also from the Irish Times:

“As climbdowns go it was at the lower end of the scale, but the consequences could be far reaching. It emerged this week that Frank Daly, the chairman of Nama, wrote to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) last March to say that Northern Irish businessman Frank Cushnahan might have contravened the Ethics in Public Office Act when he was a member of its Northern Irish advisory board of Nama between May 2010 and November 2013.

What is significant about Daly’s letter is that it knocked on the head the notion that the controversy around the 2014 sale of its Northern Irish assets has nothing to do with Nama.

The agency had stuck grimly to this line ever since it emerged last July that some £7 million in fees associated with the sale were diverted to an Isle of Man bank account for the benefit of some unnamed individuals.

Nama maintained the issue was nothing to do with it. Its line was pretty simple: they were just the seller and whatever shenanigans did or didn’t go on between the buyer and its advisers were no concern of theirs.

It may have been a legally correct position, but it did not fit well with the notion of Nama as an agent of the Irish State. Neither did Nama’s refusal to appear before the Stormont committee investigating the deal.

Mick Wallace, the TD who first raised the story in the Dáil, has been vindicated and Nama can no longer assume it will get the benefit of the doubt regarding further allegations by Wallace and other critics – such as this week’s claims around the sale of the Garda offices on Harcourt Street.”



  1. I think the mé fein critique is flawed, it’s a distraction from the ultimate causes. It’s definitely a problem with the petite bourgeoise but that’s not surprising, nor is it really the problem and we’ve seen it before.

    The media is entirely corporate, from top to bottom. Investigative journalism has been annihilated. The rabid anti-Corbynism from the Guardian is totemic of how far the rot has penetrated. So if you are not seeing outrage, your own direct experience with media coverage of water protests should explain why.

    In a society where few and fewer have the resources to be a mé feiner it cannot be the sole explanation. But it does give us a nice target to focus our angst and anger on. A target irrelevant to the reformation required.

    Our views have largely been shaped by WW2, Cold War, Decolonization and now GWOT. I would suggest that the present more closely parallels the revolutionary periods of 1848, the Gilded Age and early 20th century class struggles rather than to the revolutions of the past 70 years. The fundamental problems of poverty, destitution and state brutality obtain. The obsequy and prognostications of the punidtry are the same. The psychologies of the owner and client classes are very similar. Sure they’re even suggesting virtually the same remedies as then. Beatings will continue until morale improves.

    I’m optimistic though. The vast majority of GenXers (more so in the states) were got by Cold War world views and can’t be reached. But those growing up since the fall of the Berlin wall didn’t. We’re getting GWOT now but the kids are learning more of the truth about the Cold War. The stuff that the left were told was propaganda and lies back then. It is very clear from the Democratic primary results that those under 40 largely get the problem and the solutions. I see a very strong progressive primary challenge for Clinton either in the Democratic primary in 2020, and from a third party candidate. I would not be surprised if Clinton was defeated in a Dem primary in 2020. But I wouldn’t put money on it 🙂

      1. The Chartists, Levellers, Quakers, the communists & anarchists of the early 20th century, the trades union movement. I would say that it is more the degree to which the oligarchy is entrenched in the state, business and military. The clubs that worked for the empire continue to operate.

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