Dáil told of ‘chilling effect of powerful individuals’

A former senior AIB employee was placed on the boards of three of Denis O’Brien’s companies after the billionaire businessman received loans from the bank, the Dáil has heard.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy yesterday raised questions around the provision of an AIB loan to Mr O’Brien.

Speaking under privilege in the Dáil she also raised the “chilling effect of powerful individuals” on the media and others in this country.

During a discussion on the Commission of Investigation (IBRC) Bill 2016, Ms Murphy said at a time when the business sector was “screaming that it could not get credit just to get staff paid”, an AIB loan was paid to Mr O’Brien to “help facilitate the purchase of Siteserv”.

“It is interesting to note that the AIB group chief credit officer at the time the loan was advanced went on after leaving AIB to join the boards of Siteserv, Topaz, and the Beacon Hospital, all owned by Mr Denis O’Brien.

“Why was that? My point has always been that while there may be perfectly legitimate answers to these questions, they stand out as very obvious questions to ask,” she said in relation to Mr O’Brien, who also owns a number of Irish media organisations.

She said it had been just over a year since she raised “a complex web of cosy relationships, outrageous financial dealings and convenient transactions that benefited far more than others, all at the expense of ordinary citizens” which she believed was in the public interest.

“I have since discovered a whole other world that I did not know existed”, she told the Dáil, adding that she and her staff had been put under “immense pressure”.

Ms Murphy told the Dáil “there can be no doubt that the chilling effect of powerful individuals is a problem in this country and certainly it has appeared to be the case that the thicker the wallet, the thinner the skin.

“Our defamation laws, as they stand, allow that to be the case. Aside from the chilling effect, there is also very real concern regarding media ownership.

“Even an adverse or a satirical comment will invariably produce a writ to RTÉ. Then we wonder why we do not see programmes by the likes of Prime Time about particular individuals, whether or not about this particular topic. That definitely has to be questioned,” she said.

She called for the establishment of a commission on the future of the media in Ireland which the National Union of Journalists has already lobbied for.

“We should not just heed that call, we must commit to providing for that to happen as a matter of urgency,” she said.


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