Our parliament cannot be silenced

WHEN a person stands for election to any forum they can expect a considerable degree of scrutiny. Their objectives are questioned. Their record and abilities are examined in an intrusive and unforgiving way. If they have skeletons in the cupboard, even very small ones, they will be dragged into the full, merciless glare of public judgment and criticism.

If a person offers themselves for election to a national parliament that process is even more relentless.

Not only do their peers assess them, their political opponents are happy to undermine them in more or less any legal way.

So, when a person is elected to a national parliament it is a considerable achievement. It is also an honour but most of all it is an endorsement.

It is an expression by the electorate of trust and faith, and that they believe that the elected individual is capable of participating in the democratic process and is committed to it.

It is a given that they have the work ethic, integrity and to enhance that process.

Because we are human we do not always honour the process by making perfect choices all of the time but we generally manage to exclude the very worst charaltans through either luck or judgement.

Most of our Dáíl members are decent and reliable people with objectives as pure as those most of us share.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy seems to be one of those deputies so when she uses one of the great gifts of our democracy — parliamentary privilege — to raise an issue she believes to be of public concern then the very least she is entitled to is the support of her colleagues and the robust protection of parliament.

If her motives are questionable or the statements she makes inaccurate the Dáil, as it showed recently, can deal with the matter appropriately.

Ms Murphy has made claims in the Dáil about businessman Denis O’Brien’s banking arrangements with IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr O’Brien has already won a court order to gag RTÉ preventing the national broadcaster reporting on these matters.

Mr O’Brien is already embroiled in considerable contovery over the sale of Siteserv to one of his companies.

He was also the subject of very negative judgements by the Moriarty Tribunal though he has challenged that process and rejected its findings.

He is the most powerful media owner in this Republic and has the means to quickly resort to court actions.

Ms Murphy’s claims were met by an immediate denial from Mr O’Brien, who said the information was false and that publishing it was an abuse of Dáil privilege.

His lawyers claimed the details were covered by a temporary injunction secured.

Most newspapers would like to publish Ms Murphy’s Dáil remarks but, as a High Court order exists, it might prove financially ruinous to do so.

Mr O’Brien is not a reluctanct litigant. Nevertheless, living in a democracy is a gift that sometimes comes with a price and in this instance that price seems to be facilitating a free and inquiring parliament.

Mr O’Brien has already silenced our national broadcaster, it would be an outrage and a threat to democracy if he managed to silence our parliament.

It would be an even greater outrage if our politicians allowed him to do so.

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