O’Brien ‘disappointed’ at second court defeat

Denis O’Brien has said he is “disappointed” at his second court defeat in five days, but accepts the Supreme Court’s ruling in his case against the Oireachtas.

The Supreme Court dismissed Mr O’Brien’s appeal over statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

Mr O’Brien is facing potential court costs of €1m on foot of the defeat, which would be on top of the estimated €1m bill from his unsuccessful High Court action against the Sunday Business Post last week.

The Supreme Court, sitting in Galway, yesterday delivered its unanimous judgment on Mr O’Brien’s appeal against the High Court.

The High Court action arose from statements made by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty in the Dáil in 2015.

They made the statements after Mr O’Brien was granted an injunction against RTÉ in April 2015, which prevented it from broadcasting details about his banking affairs.

In a statement, Mr O’Brien said: “While I am disappointed with today’s decision of the Supreme Court, I fully respect its ruling.”

“The case concerned the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges’ consideration of my complaint about the conduct of certain Dáil members in revealing private and confidential banking information of mine in 2015.

A consequence of this decision would seem to be that an elected representative can make any allegation about any citizen in Dáil Éireann — be it true or untrue, defamatory or otherwise, without sanction. I fear that this leaves Dáil privilege open to further abuse in the future.

“It was acknowledged in the High Court judgment in this case that the law concerning parliamentary privilege and the regulation of members’ conduct in the Houses of the Oireachtas warrants a review. I hope that the legislature carefully considers the clear suggestions for reform in this area, as counselled by the High Court.”

The TDs at the heart of the case gave a broad welcome to the judgment.

Ms Murphy said it was a “really important judgment in terms of the balance of power.

“What I was raising was very much in the public interest and that is how I was acting at all times,” she said.

“What’s most important is the Constitution is very clear that the parliament has privilege. This decision is not important just for today, but how the parliament functions into the future.

“So even though the subject matter is about one individual, this is much bigger than that, it is about making sure there is a balance of power and that when there are issues of public interest they can be raised in the Dáil. It is appalling if you are in a scenario where there are issues of public interest that couldn’t be raised.”

Mr Doherty, who is Sinn Fein’s finance spokesman, said he was “absolutely delighted” at the judgment from the Supreme Court.

“I think it’s a good day for parliamentary democracy, it’s been a good week for freedom of the press, and I shudder to think if both these judgments today and the one of the Sunday Business Post if they had gone in the opposition direction, there would have been an enormous chill effect on parliamentary debate and in relation to press coverage and reporting of important matters,” he said.

“Today has been significant in that one of the key things that has come out of this is the privilege disposed on TDs is sacrosanct and cannot be adjudicated by the courts. We take very, very seriously and use very, very scarcely.”

Thankfully now the High Court and the Supreme Court has refused to overturn the decision by the CPP and has dismissed Denis O Brien’s claim,” he added.

Additional reporting by Fiachra O Cionnaith

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