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Court ruling: Media free to report Dáil comments about Denis O'Brien's debts

Judgement in the O’Brien versus RTÉ is also likely tomorrow.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated 8.43pm

THE HIGH COURT has said that an injunction granted in favour of businessman Denis O’Brien was not intended to restrict the reporting of utterances in Dáil Éireann.

Judge Donald Binchy said today that it was never the intention that any order made by the court would restrict the right of Dáil deputies to speak as they see fit or the entitlement to report it fairly.

In effect, it clarifies the media’s right to freely publish statements made in the Dáil by independent TD Catherine Murphy about businessman Denis O’Brien’s finances.

The judge’s ruling came as Denis O’Brien’s legal team raised its intention to make an application to the High Court seeking to clarify the ‘demarcation’ between the respective roles of courts and Oireachtas.

RTÉ and the Irish Times were represented in the High Court to seek clarification on their abililty to report Murphy’s comments in the Dáil.

Denis O Brien Court Case. Deputy Director RTÉ's Deputy Director General and Managing Director of News and Current Affairs Kevin Bakhurst outside the court today. Source: Photocall Ireland

It follows an injunction granted in favour of the businessman against the broadcaster in relation to details of his debts to IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank.

O’Brien’s legal team led by Michael Cush SC told the High Court that it was never their intention to stop TDs from making comments in the Dáil.

David Holland SC for RTÉ described the position of O’Brien’s legal team as a “spectacular climb down”.

O’Brien’s legal team had warned reporters, including TheJournal.ie, following our publication of Murphy’s comments in the Dáil on Thursday that publishing the comments would be a potential breach of the temporary injunction obtained on 21 May.

Denis O Brien Court Case. Independent TD Independent TD Catherine Murphy speaking to reporters outside the High Court. Source: Photocall Ireland

Catherine Murphy TD welcomed the clarification from the High Court this afternoon saying it vindicates the rights of elected representatives and the media.

“The substance of my concerns has always been to have a full, competent & independent inquiry into the wider governance issues in IBRC & I will continue to pursue that through the appropriate democratic channels available to me in the Oireachtas,” she said.

A Government spokesperson also welcomed the ruling this evening:

The right of Oireachtas members to exercise privilege is constitutionally protected and this has been reaffirmed by the Judge. It is important that right is exercised responsibly and in the public interest and that the media are free to report fairly on such statements.

RTÉ’s managing director of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst said the ruling sent an important message about the rights of the media to report privileged comments in the Dáil.

Redacted

The media were restricted from reporting some details of the 21 May injunction judgement. Legal teams for O’Brien, RTÉ and IBRC returned to court this afternoon to discuss what elements of the judgement could be made public.

Darren Lehane on behalf of O’Brien argued for a number of elements from Judge Binchy’s judgement to be redacted. He described these requests as ‘minimalist’.

The arguments were opposed by David Holland SC who said that an “avalanche of information” had come into the public domain in recent days and that this needs to be considered.

He said that public comments on behalf of O’Brien which accused Catherine Murphy TD of being a liar have “changed this whole case into an entirely different realm of public interest.”

Holland requested that the judge consider this when deciding on redactions.

The parties will return to court tomorrow morning with Judge Binchy saying the public interest in the case means he would like the judgement to be made as soon as possible. 

In a statement this evening, RTÉ welcomed the judgement.

“Judge Donald Binchy publicly acknowledged it was entirely understandable that RTÉ brought the application to the court to get necessary clarity,” it read, adding that the judge “previously granted an injunction against RTÉ preventing it from broadcasting any confidential information of Denis O’Brien’ personal banking details with IBRC which remains in place.”

It concluded:

Most importantly, RTÉ very much welcomes the fact the judge clarified that both comments made in the Dáil in the past and future comments in the Dáil are covered by privilege, and that media, including RTÉ are free to report them.

Read: Denis O’Brien has blocked the broadcast of an RTÉ news story about him >

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Rónán Duffy

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