Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett has said a decision by businessman Denis O’Brien to sue the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and its members, including himself, is “outrageous” and that the Oireachtas body will defend itself.
Mr Barrett, who is chairman of the CPP, said he was “absolutely astonished” by Mr O’Brien’s actions which were “totally out of order” and that the committee had done nothing wrong against the billionaire businessman.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Barrett questioned the validity of the lawsuit.
Mr O’Brien accuses committee members of being “guilty of an unwarranted interference” in the operation of the courts and of breaching his constitutional rights. His lawyers criticise the committee’s decision that Independent TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty did not breach privilege when they made claims in the Dáil about Mr O’Brien’s banking arrangements with IBRC.
Mr O’Brien argues that parts of the Constitution — which guarantee to defend a citizen’s personal rights —were not upheld by the committee. He claims allegations made against him by TDs in the chamber were an attempt to determine a case pending before the courts against RTÉ.
Commenting on the lawsuit, committee chairman Seán Barrett said it was “totally out of order”. He said that Mr O’Brien had initially taken a case in the High Court against the Houses of Oireachtas Commission, which Mr Barrett also chairs. When it emerged the top level committee had nothing to do with his concerns, the businessman “switched” to suing the CPP.
Mr Barrett said: “The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is there to deal with complaints or wrongdoing or whatever.
“We considered this [the TDs’ comments] very carefully and we came to a conclusion that there was no breach of standing orders. And being dragged into the courts over an examination by a committee as to whether there was room for the complaint to be upheld. It was outrageous.”
Asked if he was taken aback by being sued by Mr O’Brien, Mr Barrett said: “I’m in the Dáil since 1981 and I’ve never ever come across this sort of carry on where you’re trying to take a committee [to court] that is there to examine complaints in a non-bias fashion which is representative of all parties in the Dail.
“I was absolutely astonished that somebody would drag us into the High Court because of the decision we took based on the standing orders of Dáil Éireann.”
“He’s entitled to take a lawsuit if he so wishes. But I just don’t understand what is the problem. That’s it.”
The committee was notified of Mr O’Brien’s High Court case from William Fry solicitors on July 14 but its members were only informed last Friday. The case is listed for mention on October 7. Each of the 10 committee members is individually listed as a defendant as are the Attorney General, the Clerk of the Dáil and staff with the committee.
Mr Barrett said the committee would “of course” defend itself. He defended its actions as well as his role as Ceann Comhairle.
“What did the committee do that looked at Denis O’Brien? What did we do against him? We didn’t say anything against him.
“There are rules and regulations in relation to things raised in the Dáil. And it’s an established fact that you don’t accuse people of wrongdoing in the Dáil by name because they’re not there to defend themselves. All these things are set in procedural matters.
“But if somebody stands up [and says] ‘I’m led to believe that’ and they say something, it is very difficult to say ‘well you shouldn’t have said that’”.
Mr Barrett said it was his job as Ceann Comhairle to make sure people’s good names are protected in the Dáil.
“In this instance, there was nothing that I could do in my imposition because a charge wasn’t being made.”
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