Thursday 14 December 2017

Man who says no

Millionaire and Fianna Fail supporter in the past is a pillar of the anti-treaty push

John Mulligan

Had it not been for next week's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Declan Ganley, who co-founded the Libertas think-tank that's campaigning for a 'No' vote next Thursday, would likely have remained a curio in the shop window of business journalism.

Stories abound of his enterprising forays as a very young man into former Soviet states as the empire collapsed, trading in metals and lumber.

He has spoken freely of his youth: 18-hour days spent cutting turf near the family homestead in Galway to make money for the summer, tending bar and working on construction sites in London, before quite suddenly making it big.

The 39-year-old is sharply dressed, articulate and no doubt true to his conviction on Europe, albeit striking a rather solitary pose as business groups largely lend support to the crucial vote.

But Mr Ganley could go down in history as having spearheaded an embarrassing defeat for the government.

Yesterday, a new poll suggested a massive swing in support for a 'No' vote next week and Mr Ganley could well be saying "I told you so" in seven days.


The government will not thank him for it, nor any other EU government, as a rejection of Lisbon threatens to scupper major reform plans. One equally wonders what effect, if any, it will have on Mr Ganley's business endeavours this side of the Atlantic.

Born in London to Irish parents, the family returned to Galway when Mr Ganley was just 13.

A school oddity there, no doubt, with his London accent, he has recounted stories of buying and selling shares at the local bank during lunch, having secured permission from his headmaster.

This, and a cornucopia of similarly colourful reminiscences, make for good yarns, but, as with much of Mr Ganley's past activities, it's difficult to separate truth from whatever embellishment from various sources may have sneaked in along the way.

Friends and acquaintances have said that Mr Ganley, who espouses strict honesty in his dealings, has never claimed to have done anything or attempted anything that he has not actually done.

From trying to arrange insurance for western satellites that would be launched on Russian rockets (a business idea that never got off the ground), to being part of a consortium that attempted to secure Ireland's second mobile phone licence, Mr Ganley has had his fingers in many pies.

But the question remains as to exactly how Mr Ganley has, and does, generate his wealth and income.

Little concrete trace has been unearthed, for instance, of his past exploits in Latvia or Russia, although the businessman did list an address in Riga on his London-based Ganley International firm back in 1995.

The Russian forestry business he established in 1991, Kipelova, is said to have burgeoned to employ 6,000 people and to be the largest privately run forestry operation in the country when it was sold in 1997 to Renaissance Capital.

Renaissance was co-founded in 1995 by US businessman Boris Jordan, who is of Russian extraction, and is the one-time chief executive of Gazprom Media and director general of its NTV television network.

Mr Ganley, who is a member of the Reserve Defence Forces and wants Ireland to abandon its neutrality, has never disclosed how much he made from selling the business.

However, he does say that he made €50m from the sale of his stake in Broadnet, a European cable company established in the mid-1990s and backed by US cable giant Comcast.

Mr Ganley's adventures have brought him to places that at one time or another have certainly been off the tourist trail: Iraq, Bulgaria and Albania to name a few.

A Fianna Fail supporter in the past, he has also brushed up against some of its ultimately less savoury characters, such as Liam Lawlor, although there has never been, and remains no suggestion that Mr Ganley was ever involved in anything untoward. Mr Ganley's connections to the US military via his Rivada Networks communications corporation, which boasts senior former generals and admirals among its non-executive directors, have made him easy prey for innuendo.

Conspiracy theorists have had a field day, preposterously suggesting that his Libertas campaign might be funded by the CIA.

But the problem with conspiracy theories is that the truth is often extremely mundane.

One also imagines that if Mr Ganley had such strong connections in the intelligence agency that he'd be busy trying to get them to stuff the money into Rivada rather than Libertas. And that he'd be keeping a much lower profile.

Meanwhile, Mr Ganley has never divulged the extent of his own wealth. He lives in a sumptuous Galway pad once owned by the singer Donovan, and has thrown lavish parties for the great and good.

It's been claimed that he's worth up to $300m, while NUI Galway Societies' arm gushed in 2006 that he was the city's first billionaire -- a claim that's most certainly not true.

Whatever his personal wealth, he could probably have done without the €5,000 worth of business consultancy services he received from PriceWaterhouseCoopers when named the 2005 Junior Chamber Galway Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

The following year, Mr Ganley said that if he had the opportunity, he'd like to work with the European Commission or Parliament.

He described them as "quite dysfunctional" and in "drastic need of accountability, focus and vision".

After his objection to the Lisbon Treaty, don't expect the Commission to be opening any doors, but perhaps the people of Galway might just consider him as an MEP.

Mr Ganley once said that the people he'd most like to share a dinner table with are: Jesus Christ, Socrates, Constantine, Charlemagne, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson.

Born in the eighth century, Charlemagne is credited with undertaking major European economic, political and educational reforms during his reign and helping unite western Europe for the first time since the Romans.

Mr Ganley's European legacy may not be as long remembered, but don't expect European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to be accepting dinner invitations any time soon.

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