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Leah Farrell
sunday interview

'Until we start making rules, keeping rules and holding people to account, we will have a corruption problem'

In a wide-ranging interview, Catherine Murphy talks Siteserv, talking under privilege and the Social Democrats.

CATHERINE MURPHY HAS carved out a reputation in politics as a woman in dogged pursuit of something, and she’s not giving up on it.

While she has been in politics since the 1980s and a serving TD since 2005, her name has become synonymous with pursuing issues of national importance.

Her statements in the Dáil have caused quite the furore, resulting in a High Court judge stating that as an elected representative she has the right to speak under privilege in the Oireachtas.

This year, she has pushed the IBRC/Siteserv Commission of Investigation and ensured special legislation be introduced so Judge Brian Cregan can get on with that work.

The investigation centres around the sale of certain loans held by IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, including the controversial Siteserv deal.

The inquiry has hit some speed bumps along the way.

So does the Kildare deputy ever just feel like just having an easy life instead?

“The easy life would be to drop it, but that isn’t what we are here for. We are here to properly represent people,” Murphy says as she sits down for the Sunday Interview with

24/9/2015 Social Democrats Candidates Catherine Murphy TD Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Siteserv inquiry 

“One thing I think we should all learn from the [commission] process is if you want a successful inquiry you have to keep the focus very narrow. The problem was we started with the focus that everything be included and, in actual fact, there wasn’t enough consideration about the timeline and the workload that would be involved,” she said.

The terms of reference have now been narrowed and the first thing up for investigation is the Siteserv deal.

There were 38 transactions in total – six with writes offs of over €100 million… the top 12 transactions account for €1.3 billion in write offs. It’s an easy word to use but those “write offs” account for [Irish] people having to make up the shortfall,… When we talk about shortfalls, we are talking about Mr and Mrs Citizen.

“My concern all along is that [those people] deserved to be front and centre… to making sure we got the best outcome possible to reduce the amount of debt for people.”

The inquiry was established as a result of statements and queries Murphy raised in the Dáil. 

Last June, she stood up in the Dáil and under Dáil privilege spoke about businessman Denis O’Brien and his dealings with IBRC.

Catherine Murphy TD / YouTube

But she is surprised that all her investigative work also resulted in a High Court legal challenge.

After speaking in the Dáil that day, her parliamentary assistant was approached by someone who told her Murphy was after “dropping bombs” in the Dáil.

Murphy had claimed businessman O’Brien received “extremely favourable interest terms” from IBRC when repaying loans.

Murphy said she understood O’Brien was paying 1.25% in interest – when IBRC (formerly Anglo) “could and arguably should have been charging 7.5%”.

She said that as there are outstanding sums upwards of €500 million, the rate he paid is “not an insignificant issue for the public interest”.

The Moriarty Tribunal Businessman Denis O'Brien PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Murphy said she had no idea her comments would cause such controversy.

“There was nobody in the press gallery. It was five minutes at the tail end of a fairly robust Leaders’ Questions. The journalists had all gone over to look at the banking inquiry.”

When asked was she ever worried about what followed she said:

I was seriously worried that it was being interpreted in that way by media outlets. I felt like it was very clear cut and thankfully the judge came out and clarified. I think privilege is very important.

After Murphy made her comments, many media outlets reported on the claims made in the Dáil. This resulted in O’Brien’s legal team threatening some publishers with an injunction if the article was not removed.

O’Brien’s lawyers said the content of the material uttered in the Dáil by Murphy “breached the terms of a High Court injunction dated 21 May, granted by Mr Justice Binchy” in the case of O’Brien v. RTÉ.

However, Justice Binchy clarified in the High Court the injunction granted in favour of businessman Denis O’Brien was not intended to restrict the reporting of utterances in Dáil Éireann.

Speaking under privilege 

A complaint was made to the Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) following her disclosures. However, it found Murphy had not abused privilege.

She said she was speaking on a piece of legislation associated with a process she describes as “very unsatisfactory”, adding she did not know it would cause “all the furore”.

She said the the inquiry is not about one individual, but is there to serve a purpose.

Front and centre in all of this: there was a bank that people acquired and that bank was nationalised in 2009.

There has been the most appalling price paid in terms of services, in terms of people’s lives, the erosion of people’s livelihoods… Did we get the optimum outcome for these assets, regardless of who is at the centre of this? For me, that is the number one priority. It is not about the individuals involved.

2/6/2015 Denis O Brien Court Cases Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy speaking to reporters outside the High Court in relation to the Denis O Brien case. Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

Anti-corruption agency

As well as her work on the commission, the Social Democrat’s joint party leader has also pushed for the government to implement its plan for an independent anti-corruption agency.

In response, last December, Taoiseach Enda Kenny listed off several pieces of legislation the government has passed in office that deal with improving standards in public office. 

However, Murphy says the idea is not dead in the water just yet.

It is gaining some ground, as in it was accepted on the grounds of the charities motion we put forward.

This motion by the Social Democrats and the Green Party calling for greater accountability and transparency into the charity sector passed without vote in early July.

She said she still believes that corruption is common in everyday life and politics.

It is, and mainly because we have a society based on relationships, not on rules. No one put it better than Niamh Hourigan in her book Rule Breakers: Why Being There Trumps Being Fair in Ireland, where she said we have a clientele system where the politicians practice politics by doing a favour for a constituent, the constituent returns the favour at the next election… those relationships don’t stop at constituent level – they continue on into the corporate world, into the civil service or whatever.

“Until we get to the point where we have a different type of politics – that is about making rules, keeping rules and holding people to account – we will continue to have a problem.”

.  Social Democrats. Pictu Social Democrats. Pictured (LTOR) Anne-Marie McNally (Dublin Mid- West), Catherine Murphy TD and Glenna Lynch. Sam Boal Sam Boal

Bizarre meeting in Leinster House

Drama may well follow Murphy as one of the most bizarre stories involving the TD broke just this month. The Irish Times has reported that Mark Hollingsworth, an experienced journalist and author, tried to ascertain from Murphy and others their sources of information on O’Brien. The newspaper described him as having a ‘long-standing relationship’ with a business intelligence company who he was “working in concert with”.

Hollingsworth told Murphy and a number of journalists that he was working for the Sunday Times newspaper and was writing a profile on businessman Denis O’Brien. The newspaper has since denied they were involved in the matter.

It’s believed that Hollingsworth is the only person known to have obtained a dossier from consulting and PR firm Red Flag which is at the centre of the billionaire’s legal action against the company.

The Red Flag dossier controversy kicked off after O’Brien received a computer memory stick containing documents about him.

It comprised 80 media articles and other documents, including Dáil transcripts about the Siteserv transaction.

It’s claimed it was sent to him anonymously.

A spokesperson for Denis O’Brien said in a statement that the USB stick contained “very serious false allegations”.

O’Brien proceeded to take legal action against Red Flag, claiming that the dossier amounted to a conspiracy against him.

I raise the Hollingsworth incident in the interview, jokingly reassuring Murphy that I am, in fact, a journalist with She laughs and says she now gets that a lot in interviews.

Murphy said she knew nothing of Hollingsworth’s links or past when he first contacted her. After doing some research on him, she discovered he had worked as a journalist.

“He was just very persistent. We said we would deal with it when we got back [from holiday]… he said he was coming over to interview others. We checked him out, he said he was writing piece for The Sunday Times… so we thought that legitimised it.

Looking back on it now, he was inconsistent. He was telling different people different things. He said he was doing an article and then a feature for the magazine, so it varied.

He made an appointment and met in LH2000 in Room C on the Leinster House complex.

He wasn’t particularly friendly, he was awkward. There were only two questions he pursued – what was my motive for raising the issues, which is fair enough, as my motivation has been put on the public record…

“Then he kept asking about my source, so I kept saying ‘sources’ in the plural, and he just wasn’t moving on from that. He must have asked that several different times. I thought for a journalist this was completely inappropriate.

I have made a commitment to people that if they came to me with information then that information would be dealt with in a confidential way. Of all the people to understand that I thought it would be a journalist, and coming from a journalist this just doesn’t sit right.

Questioning Murphy’s sources

She said the interview ended fairly swiftly, but that was not the final contact with Hollingsworth. He continued to ask the same questions by email after the Leinster House meeting.

A couple of emails were exchanged after we met and one of the emails reiterated the sources question again – he was too obvious.

It was when the Red Flag dossier thing came out was when we realised.

“It is an exceptionally odd thing to have happened,” she concluded.

The Guardian reports that Hollingsworth said he was asking about sources in order to write about whistleblowers and their motivations. And he was quoted as saying it was a matter of public record that he had contributed articles to the Sunday Times.

Local issues

It’s not just banks and inquiries Murphy is interested in. While it may put her in the headlines, she said there are other issues she has been vocal about that might not get the same attention. Housing is one of them.

She began to see an issue in the housing sector back in her constituency in north Kildare during the recession.

Intel had hired 4,500 construction workers at the height of the crash resulting in every available rental property in the area being taken.

‘Ireland’s national pastime is crisis management’

What drives me absolutely nuts is that we end up with a crisis because we failed to plan and anticipate.

Murphy said it is “almost a national pastime that we do crisis management”.

While saying she welcomed Housing Minister Simon Coveney’s new action plan, she said the crisis was “completely predictable” and “completely avoidable”.

Murphy said the impact of homelessness is something that should never be lost on people and is something she sees every week in her constituency office.

Just look at the damage that has been done particularly to children, the stress levels of people. Functional families come into you and they say ‘I can’t believe this has happened to me. This is just not something that would have ever been on my radar to happen to either me or my family. I am not the typical person that becomes homeless is what they say to me’.

“I don’t know how many boxes of tissues I have gone through in my office or the oceans of tears being cried by people that are just coming in and sobbing their hearts out, both men and women.”

One-year old

So what next for her party that has just turned one year old?

From September, the Social Democrats are starting a party membership drive around the country and they have finally got permission to hire staff.

Murphy said they did well in the last election for a new party, with the three incumbent TDs topping the polls.

“To found a new party, find candidates, to get all nuts and bolts organised for a general election – looking back on it, our timelines were very tight, but I am proud the role our candidates played.”

The next focus is building on that for the next election. And who will lead the party in the next election? That is a matter for their party members, said Murphy.

There’s so much work we are just happy dividing it out. We need to allow the membership decide those sort of things. That will be part of some of the rules and regulations we will be considering in our next conference at the end of the year.

Read: ‘I was shocked when I was told I had an alcohol problem. I thought I was normal’>

Pearse Doherty: ‘Despite my passion to be part of Sinn Féin, being a TD is something I may regret’>


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