There was an interesting article in the Sunday Independent today surrounding a legal case involving Karl Brophy.
It is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s one of the first times I’ve seen someone who is traditionally referred to in articles as “a spokesman for Denis O’Brien”, instead being referred to as “Businessman Denis O’Brien’s spokesman James Morrissey”. Rarely if ever do you see the name of spokesmen, though I am not sure what tradition in journalism means that is the convention.
Of course James Morrissey rings lots of bells, not just for his involvement in the early days of the Sunday Business Post, along with others such as Aileen O’Toole and current Sunday Times editor Frank Fitzgibbon. But also there was the infamous Mespil Homes deal as blogged about on this website back in 2009 and on my old blog earlier in 2009. So who is he?
James Morrissey is from Kiltimagh, County Mayo, and studied commerce at UCD. He worked in the showband scene and at the music magazine Spotlight after leaving UCD. He left Independent Newspapers in 1989, where he had variously worked on the business desk for over 10 years – becoming involved in the development of the Evening Herald as a tabloid and became close to Tony O’Reilly during the 1980s. He eventually became deputy business editor of the Indo before leaving to co-found the Business Post in 1989. He also wrote a book on the battle to take over Irish Distillers, which was published by The Kerryman in 1989. As one would imagine, and given his interest in the showband scene, he was reported to have a close relationship with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.
In July 1992 he joined Gilmore and Associates, just prior to the Mespil Homes deal with Irish Life. He was one of many members of Irish society who purchased apartments at the Mespil complex in 1992. Michael “Fingers” Fingleton, then managing director of Irish Nationwide, and for whom James Morrissey was a spokesman, also availed of a purchase (though it emerged that Fingleton had broken rules on borrowing from his own building society). Mr Morrissey (along with his wife) bought the apartments along with his associates, Brendan Gilmore and Michael Holland (of New City Estates).
Brendan Gilmore also acted as a financial adviser to former INM CEO/chairman Tony O’Reilly back in the day.
Indeed New City Estates essentially organised the purchase of all 299 apartments, financed by First National Building Society (whose managing director Joe Treacy also bought six apartments himself though with loans from Ulster Bank). Of course there was nothing illegal in the Mespil deal – New City Estates organised a consortium who purchases the apartments from Irish Life – the controversy only arose because the apartments were sold from under the feet of the tenants, many of them pensioners.
In December 1993 when it was reported that Mr Morrissey had been appointed to the Customs House Docks Authority, he was described as “a financial consultant with Gilmore Associates”.
It was reported in 1993 that James Morrissey approached publican Dessie Hynes in October 1992 to see if he wanted to purchase. Management were reported to be looking for 10% of the rent, so Mr Hynes ended up only buying five apartments through ODOM Ltd. Mr Morrissey also approached broadcaster Marian Finucane and her husband, on behalf of New City Estates, to see if they would be interesting in purchasing – ultimately one was purchased by the broadcaster (she in 1996 sued Independent Newspapers for defamation in relation to an article about the deal – the case was settled soon after).
In 1994 he was appointed to the board of Bula Resources – a company also later associated with Albert Reynolds. In late 1995 Mr Morrissey joined PR company Murray Consultants (where Frank Dunlop and Ita Gibney had worked previously). By 1999 Mr Morrissey was representing JMSE as a PR spokesman during the Flood Tribunal. Mr Morrissey started working for Fleishman-Hillard Saunders in April 1998, and joined the board there in 2001. In 2004 he also joined the board of Newstalk (News 106 Ltd), one of Denis O’Brien’s companies. He also self-published several books, including one on the history of the Fastnet lighthouse in 2005. Interestingly the same year James Morrissey was acting as spokesman for Atlantic Philanthropies at the height of the Centre for Public Inquiry/Frank Connolly affair.
By 2007 Anthony O’Reilly was threatening legal action against Mr Morrissey (who was by then representing Mr O’Brien), accusing him of defamation in relation to a report into IN&M that had been ‘leaked’ to the media. Mr Morrissey denied the accusations and hired Belfast solicitor Paul Tweed to defend himself.
When it emerged in 2009 that Michael Fingleton had received a €1m bonus just after the bank guarantee, all questions were directed to Mr Morrissey. During the property boom, Mr Morrissey was involved with Bernard McNamara in Varleigh Limited, a company which owes its banks €63m (assets in Tallaght were valued at €59m but this is likely to have now fallen).