Bula paid Bill O'Herlihy to lobby for Iraq
JODY CORCORAN and DON LAVERY BROADCASTER Bill O'Herlihy, a public relations executive, has confirmed that his fees for lobbying Irish politicians and Government officials to lift sanctions on Iraq were paid by Bula Resources, the Irish oil exploration company of which former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds is a former chairman.
Mr O'Herlihy was hired by controversial Iraqi businessman Riad El Taher between 1998 and 2000, after introductions were made by Brid Rosney, the former special adviser to President Mary Robinson.
Ms Rosney yesterday confirmed that she had met Mr El Taher when he visited the United Nation some time in the late 1990s.
Ms Rosney, who is now RTE's Director of Communications, had continued to work as an adviser to Mrs Robinson when she was appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, before subsequently taking up employment withO'Herlihy PR.
Mr El Taher, who is based in the UK, was at the centre of controversy last week concerning claims that money illicitly siphoned from the UN oil-for-food programme by Saddam Hussein was used to finance anti-sanctionscampaigns.
Mr El Taher is chairman of the UK-based Friendship Across Frontiers organisation which lobbied Irish and UK politicians to have the UN sanctions lifted.
The oil-for-food programme was set up in 1995 amid fears of a humanitarian disaster after the first Gulf War. Under the scheme, Saddam was allowed to sell limited qualities of oil to pay for food and medicine for the Iraqi people.
Between 1998 and 2000, Mr El Taher used the services of Mr O'Herlihy's reputable PR firm to seek to influence several high-profile Irish politicians to support the campaign to lift sanctions.
An estimated ?80,000 was paid to the O'Herlihy PR during that period, or around ?3,000 a week.
Yesterday Mr O'Herlihy told the Sunday Independent that his company's fees were paid by Bula Resources, although he thought the final bill was closer to ?50,000.
As part of the campaign, several Irish politicians visited Iraq in 1998 and in 2000. Mr El Taher has said that the politicians paid their own way.
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds last week confirmed that he had visited Iraq in 1998 for "humanitarian", rather than for political or economic reasons.
"I spoke out against how the sanctions were affecting children. There were hundreds of them dying every month at the time," he said.
In March 1999, Mr Reynolds became chairman of Bula when the board was restructured and four membersresigned.
Some time after Mr Reynolds humanitarian visit to Baghdad in 1998, Mr El Taher became a director of Bula.
Bula terminated its consultancy contract with Mr El Taher in March 2002. He had been employed to oversee Bula's bid for a drilling licence in the Block 4 oilfield in Iraq.
Following the reports in the Guardian, Mr El Taher yesterday issued a statement, saying said that over the years Friendship Across Frontiers "organised many visits for MPs, TDs, MEPs and Church of England bishops. Indeed over the years, FAF have lobbied numerous MPs, TDs, and senior Government officials both in the UK and Ireland. None was offered or suggested any financial inducement for their visit or stand against the sanctions regime."
Mr El Taher added: "FAF did not require substantial funds to run its campaign due to the limitation of activity to lobby and to hold publicmeetings at the House ofCommons."
Yesterday, sources close to Mr Reynolds said he "doubted very much" if Mr El Taher's fees were paid for by Bula.
However, Mr O'Herlihy said: "That is correct. The bills were paid by Bula." He was unsure about how much had been paid saying: "About ?50,000 may be more accurate, but I don't know."
He added: "There was nothing secretive about it. El Taher made it clear to us that the bills would be paid by Bula as there was an association between himself and Bula. It was entirely above board. I didn't care who paid the bills as long as they were paid."
Mr O'Herlihy said Mr El Taher wanted to draw the attention of the Oireachtas in Ireland to the plight of Iraqi children caused by UNsanctions.
He said: "It was a humanitarian information campaign. They wanted the sanctions lifted and they were drawing attention to what effect the sanctions were having on children. We would arrange meetings for him, sometimes he specified who he wanted to meet, to advance the humanitarian case."
Mr O'Herlihy added that his company did not get all its fees as there was a "deficit at the end".
A High Court petition to have Bula wound up is to be heard on Thursday, February 26 next. The Office of the Director of Corporation Enforcement is also investigating the delisted company.