No Dáil recall to discuss ban on speech

Demands for an emergency recall of the Dáil as a parliamentary privilege controversy centring on billionaire tycoon Denis O’Brien raged were rejected by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

A day of fast-paced political and judicial manoeuvres saw the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin insist the situation was so serious that TDs needed to debate its consequences next week when the Oireachtas is due to be on holiday.

But Mr Kenny, the only person with the power to assemble the Dáil, refused.

The controversy erupted after Independent TD Catherine Murphy made allegations about Mr O’Brien’s business arrangements with IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, in the Dáil on Thursday.

Mr O’Brien insisted that Ms Murphy’s information is false and accused her of abusing parliamentary privilege.

As the furore grew, RTÉ said it would return to the courts next Tuesday to press for it to be able to broadcast Ms Murphy’s comments.

Mr O’Brien insists that the matter is covered by a temporary injunction he won against RTÉ in the High Court last week.

Labour said that bringing the Dáil back from holiday would be an “empty gesture” because Mr O’Brien and RTÉ are set to return to court.

However, FF leader Micheál Martin urged an emergency recall of TDs to “reassert the basic principle that Dáil speeches and the reporting of them are protected by absolute privilege” as he said media outlets had been “silenced” over reporting legitimate Dáil business.

“It is unprecedented that a matter of serious public interest raised in the Dáil cannot be aired or reported on by the national broadcaster and other media outlets,” Mr Martin said,

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton warned of a “chilling silence” hanging over the matter, stating: “What I would like to see now is all 166 TDs standing up and defending the right of individual TDs to comment and to raise issues of public interest and public concern.

“We need to know where the Taoiseach of the country stands, he has been in hiding.”

Ms Murphy stood by her claims, stating: “I would not have done this willy-nilly, I thought about it, I double checked and triple checked my sources and I am confident to the extent that I can be confident that this is information that does require to be inquired into.”

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “It is a really big deal when there is any attempt to stop an elective representative to speak fully and freely in a democratic assembly. It’s a really big deal when limits are put on the freedom of the press.”

Oireachtas authorities said they had not been contacted by representatives of Mr O’Brien regarding the links on their website to Ms Murphy’s remarks in the Dáil.

Leinster House sources said that Mr O’Brien had two weeks to complain to the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges if he feels Ms Murphy made false allegations about him.

Finance Minister Micheal Noonan signalled support for Ms Murphy as he branded her an “effective” TD, adding: “Dáil deputies have privilege for specific reasons of public interest and when they use it for that reason they are entitled to be heard.”

A spokesperson for Mr O’Brien said that every citizen was entitled to their good name and privacy.

An RTÉ spokesperson said: “RTÉ is on record expressing its disappointment at the original court injunction of May 21 preventing the media coverage of this issue.

“RTÉ has consistently maintained that greater levels of disclosure is in the public interest; however, we have complied fully with the court’s decision.”

Barrister and UCD lecturer, Paul Anthony McDermott, said Mr O’Brien may ultimately need to go to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent TDs and Senators from discussing the matter under Oireachtas privilege.

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