An application by businessman Denis O’Brien for court orders aimed at compelling a Dáil committee hand over to him minutes of two of its meetings last summer, plus other documents considered by the committee for those meetings, has been struck out at the High Court.
The meetings concern decisions by the Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) that Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty had not breached standing orders governing debates in the Oireachtas in their remarks concerning Mr O’Brien’s banking affairs with State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.
The discovery application was brought in preparation for Mr O’Brien’s High Court action against the CPP and State over those speeches. A hearing date for that action has yet to be fixed.
In his proceedings initiated last June, Mr O’Brien claims there is a “clear public interest” in the courts determining whether Dáil utterances by Ms Murphy and Mr Doherty in May and June 2015 respectively effectively determined his legal action against RTÉ aimed at restraining publication of details of those banking affairs.
He claims the defendants permitted the utterances be made in breach of his right to fair procedures and rights of privacy and access to the courts and in breach of standing orders regulating debate in the Oireachtas. This amounted to “unawarranted interference” by the Oireachtas with the operation of the courts “in a purely judicial domain”, it is alleged.
The claims are denied.
When Mr O’Brien’s discovery application came before Mr Justice Seamus Noonan yesterday, he was told by Michael Cush SC, for Mr O’Brien, it could be struck out, with costs “in the cause”, meaning the costs of the application depend on the outcome of the case.
Sara Moorhead SC, for the defendants, previously indicated they would not voluntarily hand over the documents and would oppose any application aimed at compelling them discover the documents as there were “significant issues” involved.
In his discovery motion, Mr O’Brien sought discovery of minutes of two meetings of the CPP held on June 10 and July 1, 2015, any documents put before those meetings or circulated to CPP members in advance of those meetings; and any draft minutes or other records by the Clerk of the CPP of those meetings.
Also on Tuesday, after Mr Cush and Ms Moorhead indicated they hoped to reach agreement on a timeline for exchange of pleadings, the judge adjourned a motion for further directions in the case for two weeks.
In his action, Mr O’Brien complains utterances by Ms Murphy on May 6, May 27 and May 28, and by Mr Doherty on June 9, forced him to concede in the High Court on June 10 that the entire script which he earlier sought to prevent RTÉ publishing, and which he had sucessfully injuncted, was by then in the public domain.
His lawyers formally complained to the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Ceann Comhairle about both TDs’ actions and were formally informed on June 15 the CPP had found Ms Murphy had not breached standing orders as her utterances were made “on the floor of the House in a responsible manner, in good faith and as part of the legislative process”.
In addressing Mr O’Brien’s claims that the utterances breached the terms of a High Court injunction, the CPP said any such finding was exclusively a matter for the courts.
On July 3, the lawyers were told the CPP had concluded Mr Doherty’s “exercise of his constitutional freedom of speech” in the Dáil fell outside the scope of, and did not contravene, the standing order regulating debate in the House.
Mr O’Brien alleges, as far as he is aware, that the CPP received no submissions from either TD about his complaints before making its findings and, if it had, he was given no opportunity to respond to such submissions in breach of his right to fair procedures.
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