Tuesday 25 June 2019

The naïve child who became Mr No

He is Ireland's ultimate international man of mystery. Acres of newsprint may have been dedicated to multimillionaire Declan Ganley since he burst on to the political scene four years ago, yet the public still knows surprisingly little about the man dubbed "Mr No" for his opposition to successive EU treaties.

Few people are aware that he is a paintball fanatic who lives in a former centre for bewildered alcoholic priests.

Neither will many know of the strained relationship he enjoys with many of his neighbours, nor about his efforts to keep his business dealings away from prying eyes.

That so little is known about the 43-year-old's personal life and business interests is no accident.

Ganley, whose personal fortune is estimated at over €40m, is the ultimate political outsider and an extremely combative individual who guards his privacy zealously.

Journalists asking questions about his financial affairs and those of his Libertas movement are routinely batted away and treated with suspicion.

Born to Irish immigrants in Watford, outside London, in 1968, Ganley's family returned to Ireland when he was 13, but he still retains a distinctive English accent.

When he finished his Leaving Cert in 1987, he followed in his father's footsteps by getting the boat to England.

He started out working as a tea boy at an insurance brokerage in London, but he saw the opportunities which lay in the break-up of the Soviet Union -- and made a fortune trading in Siberian aluminium and Latvian timber.

His next big venture took him to the US, where he set up Rivada Networks, a telecommunications firm which won contracts worth $55m (€44m) from US military, law enforcement and emergency service agencies.

However, much of his dealings on both sides of the former Cold War divide remain shrouded in mystery.

When RTÉ's Prime Time probed his business interests, including those in Eastern Europe, he slapped them with a lawsuit.

And the fortunes of Rivada, where Ganley is still chairman despite disposing of his 58pc shareholding, also remain a closely-guarded secret. The company is registered in the US state of Delaware, which does not require the publication of annual reports or accounts.

Another business, Ganley Corporate Management, is owned by a holding company registered in the Caribbean island of Nevis, where there is no requirement to file annual reports.

Ganley is not averse to playing up to his mysterious reputation -- joking that his opponents call him a CIA agent when he is in Western Europe and a KGB agent in Eastern Europe.

The uncompromising attitude Ganley has brought to debates on the fiscal treaty is typical of his approach to life in general.

Not only does he butt heads with government ministers and business rivals, he also does not shy away from conflict in his home life in rural county Galway.

Locals in the tight-knit community of Abbeyknockmoy, where Ganley lives in the impressive Moyne Park mansion -- previously home to folk singer Donovan -- say the Libertas founder has enjoyed a somewhat testy relationship with some of his neighbours.

Ganley has lived there with his American wife Delia, with whom he has four children, since the mid-1990s and although the couple have another home in Washington DC, Ganley is an Irish tax resident.

A series of planning disputes have inflamed passions in the area and earned Ganley the nickname "Lord Moyne" among some in the community.

Not long after moving in, Ganley successfully blocked plans for houses to be built near the 40-acre estate.

But in return he had to endure a fisheries board investigation after an erroneous complaint that he was stocking his pond with fish imported from Russia.

Hostilities escalated when Ganley sought planning permission for a helicopter pad and an 11.5 million litre man-made lake.

Another flashpoint occurred when some of the neighbours gathered for a meeting in the local pub -- the Derreen Inn -- to discuss their problems with Ganley.

He got wind of the meeting, marched into the pub, turned off the television and told them: "Anything you have to say to me, say it to my face."

In a further escalation, Ganley alleged to authorities that there was an "unauthorised gravel pit" in the locality in which animal slurry, unused silage and an old car had been dumped.

Ganley has no major involvement with the local community in Abbeyknockmoy and did not enjoy universal support in the area when he unsuccessfully ran for the European Parliament in 2009.

But one group of people who are welcome in Moyne Park are members of the Reserve Defence Forces. They are invited to dress up in military fatigues, shoot each other with paintball guns and have a barbecue afterwards.

"He socialises only with a select group of people on his property, playing war games. I know people who go out and skirmish with him," said a local source.

Ganley's fondness for the military dates back to his time when he joined the FCA -- the Reserve's predecessor -- as a teenager in Glenamaddy and went on buses once a month to Renmore Barracks in Galway for training. He is still on the books of the Reserve Defence Forces in Galway and has gone with them on artillery shoots in the Glen of Imaal in the Wicklow Mountains.

Ganley's outsider status was cemented in his teenage years when his family returned to Ireland, settling in Glenamaddy, Co Galway.

His accent was not the only thing that marked him out as different at the Coláiste Seosaimh secondary school. He didn't play Gaelic football as most young boys his age did. Instead he was more likely to be found reading the Financial Times or selling turf to make money.

He also steered clear of alcohol and remains teetotal to this day.

Ironically, his current home was used by the Catholic Church as a cure centre for alcoholic clergymen in the late 19th century.

With his referendum campaigns, Ganley has liked to portray himself as a thorn in the side of the political establishment. But in his past life, he was close to Fianna Fáil.

He was a member of the Fianna Fáil Abbeyknockmoy cumann from 1995 to 2000 and also attended meetings of the party's Galway East constituency body.

Records show he gave the party a donation of $25,000 (€20,000) at a fundraiser in New York in 1996. He also hired the late Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor to act as a lobbyist for him in Albania, where they both had business dealings. At the time, Lawlor's reputation was still intact and he had yet to be exposed over his involvement in planning corruption.

But Ganley drifted away from Fianna Fáil without giving a clear reason -- one possible cause was that the party was backing neighbours who were complaining about him.

Records also show that Rivada and its joint venture Rivada Pacific spent $300,000 (€240,000) lobbying the US government and federal agencies for mobile communications contracts.

That spending is known about as it had to be declared by law, but there has been considerably less transparency surrounding the funding for Libertas, the vehicle Ganley used to shock the Irish political establishment with the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

Libertas had a turnover of €1.4m approximately in 2008 and €3.2m in 2009. However, in the face of repeated questioning, Ganley has never provided details on where exactly all of the money came from.

Weak legislation means the source of this money has not had to be revealed.

Ganley himself got around restrictions which would have stopped him from personally donating more than €6,300 to Libertas by declaring €200,000 he gave the organisation to be a "loan".

He eventually provided proof that the cash was a loan and not a donation, but not before much to-ing and fro-ing with the State election spending watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Ganley's secretive nature has caused widespread puzzlement in political circles and his current campaign also has many observers scratching their heads. Many believe it would be more logical for a man who previously talked about his desire for a United States of Europe to campaign on the Yes side -- given the fiscal treaty is all about binding EU members closer together economically.

His stance has people asking if the latest campaign is just a giant ego trip for a man of obvious intelligence who enjoys picking fights with his opponents, or if it is being used to set the stage for another run in the European elections in two years. Perhaps he may even go forward in the next general election.

Ganley has not ruled any of these options out -- and true to form his ultimate goals remain unclear.

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