The tabloid journalist-turned-PR-man who stands accused in legal action of writing secret Dail speeches
Red flag, the company at the centre of last week’s sensational High Court application by businessman Denis O’Brien, is no mere public relations firm, its overwrought and grandiose mission statement suggests.
“Red Flag advocates for positive relationships with governments and media, investors and influencers ... We engage on behalf of clients at every level and through every strategically important medium — Legislatures, Executive Bodies, Media and Regulatory Authorities — and with every relevant stakeholder — internal and external, national and international.”
Red Flag’s oily smooth but saturnine CEO Karl Brophy must have bristled at the dismissal of his consulting fiefdom as a “PR firm.”
Mr Brophy’s clients in PR have included British American Tobacco, for whom he has provided public affairs consultancy. Many blue chip PR firms eschew dealing with the tobacco trade.
Even as a tabloid hack, where he began his career, Brophy, colleagues remember, had the airs and graces of someone who believed he was slumming it as a mere reporter. And he had bullish, and many believed, overweening ambition.
Denis O’Brien, one of Ireland’s richest men, has now begun a legal action accusing his firm Red Flag Consulting of “conspiring” against him.
The High Court heard evidence last week that the firm had allegedly assembled a dossier on him — which Mr O’Brien, who hired a private investigator, received last Friday week on an anonymously-posted memory stick.
The High Court heard that one of the documents on this dossier was a draft speech for the Fianna Fail TD Colm Keaveney that contained “precise words and phrases” written by Mr Brophy, who is a former Fine Gael press officer.
Mr Brophy has had previous brushes with the businessman. O’Brien won €750,000 in libel damages following a story Mr Brophy wrote in the Irish Mirror back in 1998. The story had the ignominy of being one of the biggest libel awards in the history of the State.
But Mr Brophy went on to grab himself a rung on the corporate ladder at INM. In 2010, Gavin O’Reilly, who was then chief executive, offered him the job of director of corporate affairs and content development, offering him €300,000 per annum.
He enjoyed a generous car allowance and flew business class for INM.
Editors in the group at the time were taken aback when O’Reilly gave the spin doctor a ‘content development’ title. It is always viewed as unorthodox and considered not best practice to effectively combine PR and content in one role.
Gavin O’Reilly is now chairman of Red Flag Consulting.
In 2012, against a backdrop of a bitter boardroom battle as Mr O’Brien upped his stake in INM, Mr Brophy was made redundant. He sued. He alleged in the High Court that Mr O’Brien was behind the decision to dismiss him because of their history and because he had been appointed by Gavin O’Reilly.
Vincent Crowley, who replaced Mr O’Reilly as chief executive, testified that he made Mr Brophy redundant as a “cost saving. He also testified that Gavin O’Reilly and Mr Brophy had spent significant time and effort looking into a view that Denis O’Brien’s borrowings with Anglo Irish Bank were non-performing, hoping to put it into the public domain. (The allegations were not true — Mr O’Brien was a performing borrower.) The case was settled.
As part of the settlement, Mr Brophy accepted that Denis O’Brien had “no hand, act or part” in the decision to make him redundant. The case did reveal some fascinating details including bizarre texts exchanged between Mr O’Brien’s spokesman James Morrissey and Mr Brophy.
Mr Morrissey had complained there were clear signs of “a vendetta” in INM against Mr O’Brien. As part of the exchanges revealed in court Mr Morrissey referred to Mr Brophy’s father, Michael, a former senior executive and editor with INM including roles at the Irish Daily Star and the Sunday World. He suggested in the text, opened in court, that Michael Brophy had been “digging the dirt” on Denis O’Brien. One text from Mr Morrissey said: “Karl — truth comes hard to you ... When you stop telling lies about me I will stop telling the truth about you.”
The court later heard that Mr Brophy replied to the texts stating he didn’t know what Mr Morrissey was on about and it was inappropriate for Mr Morrissey to try to “bully me through text messages”.