Republic of Ireland news

Denis O'Brien loses bid to sue State and Dáil over banking affairs

Denis O'Brien took action after banking details were revealed in the Dáil 
Michael McHugh, Press Association

BUSINESSMAN Denis O'Brien has lost his High Court action over statement's made in the Dáil by two TDs who disclosed details of his banking affairs.

A judge upheld parliamentary freedom of speech and the separation of state powers after telecoms and media tycoon Denis O'Brien took legal action against the entire Oireachtas, following remarks made under parliamentary privilege in 2015.

The billionaire, who controls a sizeable section of the Irish media, said the TDs acted "recklessly and maliciously" in disclosing information using protection afforded to parliamentarians to "usurp" a High Court order barring publication of his financial records.

Ms Justice Una Ni Raifeartaigh said the framers of the Irish constitution had created a strong set of privileges and immunities for parliamentary speech and the court did not have a role in policing such utterances.

She added: "The language used to describe those privileges and immunities, in my view, signals the importance with which freedom of speech in the Oireachtas, and therefore in the Irish democratic state, was viewed and I have reached the conclusion that none of the issues in the present case are justiciable in the present case."

Mr O'Brien sought an injunction in 2015 preventing state broadcaster RTE from reporting on what he claims are stolen files of his banking records with the state-owned IBRC, formerly rogue lender Anglo Irish Bank.

The Dubliner, who lives in Malta, said two TDs - Independent Catherine Murphy and Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty - knew exactly what they were doing when they later read details of the file into the public record.

He also referred to death threats made against him and his family around the time of the affair.

The High Court judge acknowledged parliamentary speech could be damaging and dangerous to individuals.

She concluded: "However my understanding of the Irish constitutional provisions is that the courts simply do not have a role in policing parliamentary utterances except perhaps in some extremely exceptional and limited circumstance of which the present case is not one."

The judge said the fact there cannot be immediate recourse to the courts placed a heavier burden on the legislature to ensure that constitutional rights are respected.

She called for a review by a committee of the Irish parliament considering whether and when a Dail deputy may reveal matters before the courts which are the subject of an injunction protecting their confidentiality.

Ms Justice Ni Raifeartaigh said that should consider the role of the Speaker, the Ceann Comhairle, and how a Dail committee should deal with such an event.

She noted some ambiguity around the procedures concerning such speech.

"Judicial intervention in this area would not constitute the restoration of a constitutional equilibrium disrupted by the parliamentary utterances, but would itself constitute a disruption of the equilibrium established by our constitution.

"If there is to be a signal sent out to prevent future revelations in the Dail of private information or material the subject of injunctive relief granted by a court to an individual citizen, any such signal must come from the court of public opinion and the Houses of the Oireachtas, but not from the courts of justice."

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