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High Court

Denis O'Brien alleges that TDs prejudiced his case against RTÉ with Dáil speeches

O’Brien’s case against the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privilege began at the High Court this morning.

Denis O'Brien Denis O'Brien Mark Lennihan / AP/Press Association Images Mark Lennihan / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

DENIS O’BRIEN’S HIGH Court case against a Dáil committee has begun.

The action concerns certain statements made about O’Brien’s business dealings in Dáil Éireann by TDs Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty. The businessman alleges that those statements breached his constitutional right to privacy.

O’Brien is expected to take the stand over the course of the action. He claims the statements made by Murphy and Doherty were prejudicial to another legal action he had taken against RTÉ.

Those statements were subsequently declared to be protected under privilege by the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privilege, the committee against which this current action is based.

O’Brien’s case against the Committee concerns the fact that the Committee ruled that the two TDs’ statements did not breach Dáil rules. He maintains that they did.

The entire action is expected to take six days to process before Judge Úna Ní Raifeartaigh. Denis O’Brien is set to be the only witness called. This is projected to happen this Thursday, 1 December. O’Brien’s evidence is expected to be brief.

Separation of powers

In his opening statement, counsel for O’Brien Michael Cush said that his client contends that the utterances made by Murphy and Doherty in the Dáil served to “very substantially determine another case before the courts in which my client had already secured an interlocutory injunction”.

Cush suggested that in such cases it was his client’s contention that “priority vests in the courts, and not the Oireachtas”.

He said that the case is a most unusual one, in that both sides are relying on the separation of powers of the judiciary and the Dáil enshrined within Article 15 of the Irish Constitution.

“No one has ever complained before that the utterances of Dáil deputies have determined the outcome of a court case,” said Cush.

A principle enshrined in the Constitution cannot be relied upon to usurp the separation of powers. This is one of the very rare occasions on which this applies. If this court agrees it is entitled to intervene and in fact is obliged to do so.

The statements made by Murphy were made in Dáil Éireann on 6 May 2015 in a debate on the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien. O’Brien’s case is that certain utterances made by Murphy served to render an injunction he had taken against RTÉ obsolete.

That action against RTÉ was lodged in April 2015 and concerned the state broadcaster’s reporting on his banking relationship with Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (formally Anglo Irish Bank).

Cush said that his client infers from Murphy’s statements on that date that “Deputy Murphy was aware that the other case was pending, and also that she had a degree of familiarity with it”.

“We allege that her utterances breached the confidentiality of our client.”

The specific utterances made by Murphy to which O’Brien objects are those concerning the expiry of certain loans he held with the bank.

“No one could interfere with Deputy Murphy’s initial statements regarding Siteserv as to whether or not they were in the public interest. We accept that they were,” Cush said.

In saying that Mr O’Brien’s loans had expired, that is the objectionable conduct we are alleging.
That is exactly the kind of confidential information that our client was seeking to protect by injunction.

At the time a judgement had yet to be issued in the case of O’Brien’s action against RTÉ.

“At the end of that Dáil debate the RTÉ injunction had to be lifted,” said Cush.

Everything that the case set out to achieve was undone by Deputies Murphy and Doherty.

Cush likewise cited certain tweets sent by Murphy, and her uploading of her Dáil speech of 6 May to YouTube, as having exacerbated that breach of confidentiality.

The case continues.

Comments are disabled as legal proceedings are ongoing

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