Yesterday’s unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court that members of the Dáil enjoy the protection offered by the shield of Dáil privilege must be welcomed. Any other ruling would have ushered in a dangerous culture of silencing debate and questioning in the most important forum in our democracy.
Our parliament, our capacity to hold those involved in matters of important public interest to account would have been emasculated. That would have been unacceptable.
That events at a state-owned, taxpayer-rescued bank were the issue that provoked the challenge by businessman Denis O’Brien must deepen that welcome. If the Dáil cannot consider, and be reliably informed of, events at a State-owned bank then we would have reached a very peculiar pass.
This is the second significant defeat for billionaire Mr O’Brien in recent days. Last week, The Sunday Business Post successfully defended a libel action he brought against the newspaper.
Just as it took considerable courage to defend that action, the Dáil deputies who raised the issues that led to yesterday’s ruling — Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Social Democrat Catherine Murphy — persisted when most of their colleagues thought silence the better option. Their courage deserves acknowledgment. Like all victories, yesterday’s
ruling brought obligations too. It underlines the importance of Dáil privilege but that it should be used only in the most careful and certain circumstances.