The Uber FilesHow a US multinational tried to put the squeeze on the Irish government

Published date11 July 2022
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
"You'll recognise the text," he wrote

Fine Gael had backed the "sharing economy" in the manifesto, the stated aim being to place Ireland at the fore of digital innovation and promote "safe and reliable" regulation.

When then taoiseach Enda Kenny published the document on St Valentine's Day six years ago, this may well have appeared like just another bland election promise to keep pace with the internet revolution. But the San Francisco-based company claimed privately to have written some of it at least, backing up Moran's assertion that Fine Gael's document would not come as a surprise.

The public commitment from Fine Gael after overtures from Uber came despite friction between the company and Irish regulators who were opposing its efforts to rewrite the rules of the game.

Moran started working for Uber in 2015 at a time when the company believed it had "reached a block" with the National Transport Authority, the body which oversees the taxi sector, and was trying to circumvent it with mainly Fine Gael ministers, political advisers and top civil servants.

As Kenny campaigned to "keep the recovery going" in the wake of the financial crisis, Uber said in an internal report: "The current largest party - Fine Gael - published their election manifesto and included text we supplied them on the sharing economy."

These records are among a cache of more than 124,000 files leaked to the Guardian and provided to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network of reporters involving more than 100 media groups including The Irish Times, the Washington Post and Le Monde.

Political acceptance Known collectively as "The Uber Files", the records cast a light on the company's campaign around the world to boost political acceptance of a cab-hailing app that was making fast inroads in hundreds of global cities but faced challenges in many countries, Ireland among them.

They consist of emails, iMessages, LinkedIn and WhatsApp exchanges between top Uber executives and with private lobbyists working for the company, as well as memos, presentations, notebooks, briefing papers and invoices. They span the period from 2013 to 2017, providing insight into under-the-radar lobbying tactics in countries such as Ireland as Uber tried to break down regulators' resistance to services that defied the established conventions of the taxi industry.

Uber expected the Fine Gael document to mention the sharing economy because of Moran's contacts with Andrew McDowell, Kenny's economic adviser and a key member of the taoiseach's tight inner circle. Moran told Uber he sent a text to McDowell when the manifesto was published "to see if we should come out specifically to support [it] or just continue with supportive briefing more quietly. No reply yet."

But that was not the only line of contact. Uber executives met Kenny at the World Economic Forum in Davos - the Swiss ski resort that hosts business and political leaders every year - the month before the election. Uber briefing notes for talks with the taoiseach said "our ask" included "manifesto commitments from the major political parties to foster innovation and sharing economy - ideally, with specific reference to transport".

Uber's primary focus was on Fine Gael, the party which was apparently best-placed to win the election. But some in Uber also saw potential for the taoiseach to convey support for the company with his EU counterparts.

One 2015 file mentions the possibility of Uber's then chief Travis Kalanick visiting Ireland for a meeting with Kenny, not long after an Uber jobs announcement.

"He'd get a very warm welcome," wrote Mark MacGann, the Irishman who was Uber's chief European lobbyist.

"It would also create a strong ally within the European PM [prime ministers'] network, on whom we could then rely to support us in public and behind the scenes with fellow centre-right leaders. Just a thought."

In Davos preparing for talks with the taoiseach, one Uber executive wrote: "Enda Kenny matters and we should not be late for that meeting." Another file said: "We have to make a big push with government to get reform (after the impending elections), or else withdraw from the country. The meeting in Davos with Enda Kenny will be important in this regard."

Despite tensions with the Irish regulator and its opposition to an Uber pilot scheme in Limerick, the company's internal note on the Davos meeting said the taoiseach's response was positive: "Enda Kenny was generally supportive, but said nothing would [h]appen by the election. He did however propose a pilot in Limerick after that - or to be more accurate said that should be possible."

Moran, a former senior banker, had run the Department of Finance for two years, becoming the first outsider to do so after his appointment by then finance minister Michael Noonan. The two men are from Limerick, living at one point in neighbouring estates. Moran's top role in the department placed him in the epicentre of power as the Fine Gael-Labour coalition battled to overcome the financial crash. He resigned unexpectedly in 2014, saying his work was done, but kept his high-level contacts in Merrion Street.

After leaving the department Moran established a consulting business - Red House Hill International, an unlimited company which has no requirement to publicly file its financial accounts - advising private clients including Uber and lobbying government on their behalf. After one meeting for Uber with the top civil servant in the Department of Transport, he described playing the "honest broker" in the discussion.

Contacts between Moran and Uber was initiated by MacGann, who indicated that Uber was interested in his links with the minister.

"John, if I was theoretically going to create some significant jobs in, let's say, Limerick, how could I get in touch with Michael Noonan to give him the news before it, hypothetically, got leaked to media by local real estate people? Much appreciated," wrote MacGann in April 2015.

Moran's response was clear: "Easy. You could just give me a heads up and I'll ring him or text him. If it were one of the others then you might need to reach out to their advisor or private secretary. More importantly if you are thinking [L]imerick and need help, I am happy to chat."

Special access

The records show Moran claimed special access to Noonan in his work for Uber - in effect a back-channel - saying, when preparing an Uber event in January 2016 to launch its Limerick service centre, that he could drop a "separate note" from the company to the minister's...

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