The news that an obscure MP, Owen Smith, was challenging British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for leadership of the party set bells ringing in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork. People wondered if this was the same Owen Smith who worked as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry before becoming an MP in 2010.
It was. Back in 2008, having spent some time with the US giant Pfizer, Smith became director of corporate affairs, including internal communications and public affairs, of another of America’s giant pharmaceutical industries, Amgem.
The Californian company had plans to develop a billion-dollar project outside Carrigtwohill, a small East Cork village, but in October 2007 changed its mind after falling foul of a US-government investigation into one of Amgen’s most famous anaemia drugs, Aranesp. Whistleblowers claimed that use of the drug increased the likelihood of death for cancer patients.
The catastrophic upshot was that the company pulled the plug on the construction of a bulk manufacturing facility at Carrigtwohill. The much-promised jobs for 1,100 people never materialised, and plans that would have changed the face of East Cork disappeared in a puff of cigar smoke.
To make matters worse, Amgen was hit with a m fine for ‘pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety’. American prosecutors said in court that the non-approved use of the drug was undertaken in order to assist Amgen’s efforts in securing market share from Johnson & Johnson’s similar anaemia drug, Procrit.
All of which raised an intriguing question: what role (if any) had Owen Smith, then UK and Ireland head of Amgen corporate affairs, in carrying out the momentous decision to abandon Carrigtwohill?
Certainly, the bitterness engendered when Amgen axed the giant Carrigtwohill project continues to this day and Michéal Martin, who was the FF Enterprise Minister at the time, remains the target of much of that anger.
Political opponents accused him and his party of holding back, for political purposes, information concerning Amgen’s future in Ireland. Many people also felt that he didn’t do enough to save the project.
Interesting, too, that neither then nor now did FF politicos inform the public of the reasons for the controversial pull-out. Martin’s sidekick, junior minister Michael Ahern was so circumspect in his comments that his failure to provide details earned him the nickname of ‘Minister for Silence’.
The only material on the collapse that Fianna Fáil permitted to circulate was public relations guff about a US Medicare decision that supposedly hit the production of Amgen’s top drugs.
It is only now, years later, that the people of East Cork are getting the low-down on an American betrayal of local people who invested time, energy and aspirations in the project. Cork County Council, for instance, sunk €6m in road and water development at the site.
Indeed the Fianna Fáil government was astonishingly successful in concealing the truth. The reason for the disaster was attributed to ‘the result of accumulative events’ and, said FF, neither it nor the government should be blamed for anything.
And while the line that was hawked through the media related to something about ‘international commercial events’. Minister Martin was philosophical about it all. ‘You win some and you lose some’, he commented at the time – which was a sort of non-critical, ‘what-me-worry’ reaction to the disaster.
But angry Carrigtwohill villagers continue to describe the huge, half-finished site as ‘an unsightly mess’ and a reminder of the total failure of American capitalism to bring the billion-dollar project to fruition.
They also consider the abandoned site as testimony to a promise of 1,100 jobs that never saw the light of day, of disgraceful marketing practices that shamed America and embarrassed Ireland, of astronomical criminal fines, and of a culture of secrecy that was adopted by the Fianna Fáil government to keep people in the dark.
And now, with a former Amgen PR chief challenging the leadership of the British Labour Party, the controversial biotech firm, with all its drama and controversy, is likely to burst upon the public domain – again!
ALL AT SEA
The Irish Naval Service can take justifiable pride in rescuing more than 10,000 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. The crews receive €50 a day tax-free on top of their wages for their noble efforts. But now the Jolly Jack Tars, who carry automatic weapons in order to protect their Haulbowline pals engaged in rescue missions, are demanding more loot.
Organisations such as PDFORRA and RACO, which represent men and officers, believe they should get ‘an additional armed overseas allowance’, worth an extra €28 a day. They point to the risk involved in taking knives and things from suspected people-smugglers.
Sadly, our esteemed Taoiseach and Minister for Defence, Enda Kenny, told them to get stuffed, the matelots that is!
Bishop of Cloyne, William Crean, recently made an interesting observation at the ordination of nine seminarians as deacons in Maynooth. He declared that politicians and media in Ireland were seeking the destruction of the Catholic Church, and its elimination from public debate. ‘They believe it stands between the people and Ireland becoming a progressive society,’ he said.
Last week, brothers-in-parliament Michael and Danny Healy-Rae defended their high attendance rate at funerals in Kerry. The Healy-Raes said they were not ashamed and pointed out that they also went to funerals outside Kerry, even though there were no votes to be had. ‘The truth is, I do know everyone whose funerals we attend. We do know the people. We do it out of manners and respect. It’s not all about votes,’ said Michael Healy-Rae.
The comments reminded this scribe of that great Cork Fine Gael Minister, Paddy Hegarty, RIP, who also was an untiring and prodigious funeral-goer. On an occasion that our paths crossed, we asked the minister if he knew the deceased. Paddy said no, he didn’t, but on seeing the large crowd decided to pay his last and only respects.
He also was a follower of that rather odd custom involving a reciprocal or complementary relationship in activities relating to the burial of the dead. ‘If you don’t go to other men’s funerals, they won’t go to yours,’ he cryptically explained one cold morning in a graveyard near Cloyne.
The good man was also of the opinion that there was nothing like a morning funeral to sharpen the appetite for lunch. Clearly a politician who thought deeply about the significance of funerals, he had a humorous take on them. His favourite comment at lugubrious events concerned an old time FG mentor.
‘The reason so many people showed up at his funeral was because they wanted to make sure he was really dead!’ he used say, with a perfectly straight face.