Editorial: ‘More explanations needed over Facebook and Kenny’
‘There is no point in having an inside track unless you run on it.” These words of a wise, battle-hardened but unnamed Irish politician belong to the last century. But they still have resonance about realpolitik and the way of the world.
Thus Facebook, arguably the most powerful company in the modern world, has considerable political clout. And we should not be too surprised that it will use such clout to promote and defend its considerable global interests.
Today we learn from reports in London, relating to court documents in California, that former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was rated “a friend of Facebook”. These reports further suggest Mr Kenny was prepared to use his influence at EU level for Facebook.
The news has incensed advocates of data protection who have complained about what they see as an unduly “cosy relationship” between the Irish Government and the world technology giant that is Facebook.
There are a number of important facts to be put into the mix here. Facebook currently employs 4,000 people in Ireland and that number will soon grow to 5,000. Ireland is the largest centre for the tech giant outside of California and that level of good employment is considerable, and it also enhances spin-off jobs in a sector which is at the cutting edge of economic development and very precious to Ireland.
The documents and resultant reports relate to a time in 2013 when Enda Kenny was Taoiseach and Ireland held the rotating six-month EU presidency from January to June of that year. The report notes that Facebook believed Mr Kenny was thus in a pivotal position to influence EU law-making on data protection which was being framed at that time.
We must also note that the presence of Facebook in Ireland, along with other leaders in that sector, means Ireland has been given the duty to lead regulation in that sector for the entire European Union. That is an onerous responsibility.
In fairness to Facebook, it argues that the reports appear to be a selective leaking of court documents in California relating to an involved court case being taken against it.
We have not yet heard Mr Kenny’s side of things but he has been challenged to give a full explanation by a former senior government colleague in that period, Labour leader Brendan Howlin.
The Government has argued it enjoys an appropriately good relationship with Facebook, as a major investor in this country, as it does with all such companies. But the Government equally insists it discharges its data protection duties impartially and friendship with Facebook cannot be conflated with alleged favourable treatment on data protection issues. The issue must also be seen in the context of Facebook trying to win friends and influence people in power across many jurisdictions. There are accounts of contacts between it and the UK finance minister of that period, then chancellor George Osborne.
Such contacts are the stuff of daily business and politics. But we need fuller explanations.