The secretive history of Bilderberg

Fuel for a thousand "one world government" conspiracy theories...

The secretive history of Bilderberg

Conference Centre Hotel in Chantilly, VA | Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles

While most of the population of Ireland will be out enjoying the intermittent, meagre sunshine this Bank Holiday weekend, three of our most illustrious citizens are cooped up in doors in a Marriott Hotel located in an obscure town in Virginia.

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, Kingspan's Gene Murtagh and twentysomething tech billionaire Patrick Collison are the trio availing of the opportunity to swap business cards with, and bend the ear of, some of the biggest players in European and North American politics and industry.

The 2017 edition of Bilderberg, long a byword for secret societies and globally conspiratorial behaviour, wraps up its four-day sojourn in the western Fairfax County spot of Chantilly today and we are, as per usual, none the wiser about what went down in those hallowed conference rooms.

The Mullingar head of Europe's biggest airline has been making his third appearance at the meeting, while Murtagh's invite shows how closely his Cavan-based construction company is aligned with tech leaders such as Facebook and Apple.

 

Patrick Collison, who runs soaring online payments platform Stripe with his younger brother John, is one of the few millennials in the conference room at the age of 28.

In March, the Limerick-born, San Francisco-based siblings joined the Forbes Rich List elite for the first time.

The pair landed in joint 1,795th place out of 2,043 billionaires with an estimated fortune of $1.1bn (€1.02bn) each. The 26-year-old John was the youngest self-made billionaire on the list.

While John won't be accompanying him, Patrick has been able to enjoy the company of perennial attendee Henry Kissinger, right-wing tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, IMF head Christine Lagarde and more than 120 other movers and shakers from 21 countries across Europe and North America.

So what exactly is Bilderberg? It has always been tough to parse the fact and fiction when it comes to the summit. Fidel Castro once accused it of “ushering in a world government that knows no borders and is not accountable to anyone but its own self.”

American radio host, author, conspiracy theorist and documentary filmmaker Alex Jones, speaks to the media outside the Grove Hotel, Watford, where The Bilderberg Group summit meeting was held in 2013.
Picture by: Nick Ansell/PA Archive/PA Images

First held in the titular Netherlands hotel in 1954, ostensibly to foster better relations between Europe and North America, Bilderberg has been an annual, travelling summer affair in the six decades since.

The fact that it brings together (on invitation only) some of the most powerful political and financial leaders on the planet for a spot of behind-closed-doors hobnobbing and potential global policy discussion has been raising concerns since it properly entered the public consciousness around the turn of the century.

No reporters are allowed, no minutes are taken, no votes are cast and no report is written up for public distribution when all is said and done.

It is, quite simply, the elite of the elite whispering amongst themselves. Most certainly about matters that concern us all.

The Irish trio this year have agreed to the Chatham House Rule, which states that:

"Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s) nor of any other participant may be revealed.

"Thanks to the private nature of the conference, the participants are not bound by the conventions of their office or by pre-agreed positions. As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights."

In terms of the Irish presence at these meetings of the powerful, we haven't always had a huge look-in, but a few notable names have RSVP'd in the past.

As far back as the '80s, the late Garret FitzGerald was an enthusiastic Bilderberger whilst serving as Taoiseach.

Since then, several other former Attorney Generals have been invited to the gathering: Paul Gallagher, who attended twice and was also in attendance when the Irish government agreed on the bank guarantee; Peter Sutherland, who retired as chairman of Goldman Sachs International in 2016 and is now a UN Special Representative for International Migration; and former Tánaiste Michael McDowell.

Outgoing Finance Minister Michael Noonan made an appearance last year.

In 2014, Simon Coveney was invited as Ireland's then-Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Coveney became Minister for Defence that July.

In the past, the seemingly premature invitations extended towards both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have raised eyebrows.

Bill Clinton attended the 1991 meeting, whilst he was the Governor of Arkansas. He was elected as US President the following year.

Tony Blair attended Bilderberg in 1993, four years before he became UK Prime Minister.

Conference organisers have dismissed the theory that people are being handpicked for top positions. Instead, they say, they merely have excellent talent spotters. That said, Leo has never had an invite...