WAS THE blundering performance put in by Catherine Murphy in the Denis O’Brien/Siteserv saga one of the reasons for the change in the Social Democrats leadership and the elevation of Holly Cairns?
Murphy’s image has changed from whistleblower against the ogre, O’Brien, to one of a politician on the run since Justice Brian Cregan’s reports last year and this into the IBRC sale of Siteserv to O’Brien in 2012.
While the 2022 Cregan report made critical comments about the “impropriety” of some aspects of the sale, he specifically dismissed Murphy’s charges against O’Brien. But Murphy went into high-dudgeon mode and claimed that the “damning report is a clear vindication” of her raising the issue under parliamentary privilege (see The Phoenix 23/9/22). This included her allegation of insider trading before an announcement of a deal organised by Davy stockbrokers and, secondly, that the interest rate on O’Brien’s loans was favourable. Cregan threw out both these charges by Murphy.
An Irish Times editorial noted the judge’s rejection of Murphy’s allegation of a favourable interest rate but added that she claimed vindication in other (unspecified) areas and that Cregan said she had been entitled to refuse disclosure of her sources.
However, even the sympathetic IT was forced to record that, in his final report last month, Justice Cregan bemoaned the fact that he faced real difficulties investigating claims by anonymous sources that turned out to be untrue “in implicit criticism of Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy”.
This time Murphy remained mute until O’Brien lambasted her use of Dáil privilege and her claims by anonymous sources. In response, Murphy issued a curt statement referring to 44 references by the judge to “impropriety” in the deal but conspicuously omitting to repeat her specific claims against O’Brien.
Another IT editorial repeated Cregan’s strictures about reliance on anonymous information to set up future inquiries but argued that nothing should be done to prevent politicians defending anonymous sources. The editorial expended much legalese waffle about how to conduct inquiries, avoiding any value judgements about Murphy’s behaviour.
It is hardly the case that Murphy’s long-time political accord with the IT’s answer to artificial intelligence, Fintan O’Toole, is the reason for the paper’s softly-softly approach to Murphy as most media adopted much the same line between Kildare North’s Jeanne D’Arc and the beastly O’Brien. But when the Soc Dems held its inaugural conference in 2016, it opened with “keynote guest speaker, Fintan O’Toole” addressing the theme of “Why Ireland needs social democracy”. In the years leading up to the Soc Dems creation, O’Toole exchanged documents and discussions with Murphy about the need for such a party in the Dáil and they share a political background as Workers’ Party activists back in the day.
Murphy surprised many in the party and elsewhere when she considered standing for the post of ceann comhairle in early 2020 as government coalition negotiations were at the talks about talks phase. That the saintly Murphy should consider abandoning the position of dual leadership of the Soc Dems just five years into the party’s existence was a little disillusioning for many Soc Dems members.
The ceann comhairle position carries a salary of €227,448, with pension rights accruing over a possible 10-year period as it guarantees a return to the Dáil without the bother of getting re-elected. It is possible, but unlikely, that this most rewarding post will be dangled in front of Catherine Murphy again, which makes the TD look like the Oireachtas equivalent of Rory McIlroy.