Creighton defamation case begins
Property developer Michael O'Flynn has told the High Court he was "absolutely shocked" when he heard Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton, now a Minister of State, refer to him when talking about low standards in public life during a radio interview two years ago.
Mr O'Flynn said he never did anything in his life to bring down standards anywhere and, to this day, took exception to the remarks made by Ms Creighton, now Minister of State for European Affairs.
He was giving evidence today on the first day of his action against the Minister alleging defamation. The case is being heard before Mr Justice Eamon de Valera and a jury.
Mr O'Flynn, (55), a father of four from Cork, alleges defamation arising from Ms Creighton's speech to the MacGill Summer School on July 20th, 2010 on the subject of "Standards in Public Life and Accountability".
In that speech, Ms Creighton said there can be no room in Fine Gael for "cute-hoor politics". She said Fine Gael in government must be "much more than Fianna Fáil light" and cannot condemn Fianna Fáil for entertaining developers in the Galway Races tent while on the other hand extending the "biscuit tin for contributions from high profile developers who are beholden to Nama".
Mr O'Flynn also alleges defamation against Ms Creigton in an interview with her that same day on RTÉ radio's News at One in which she said Mr O'Flynn had supported a Fine Gael fundraising golf classic a few days earlier in the K Club when he was one of the top ten indebted developers to Nama.
Ms Creighton made further defamatory comments in an interview a couple of days later with The Irish Times, he also alleges.
Mr O'Flynn claims she caused words to be published which meant, among other things, he was not upstanding, Irish life had been tainted by him, he was responsible for low standards in public office and he had received large sums of money from Irish taxpayers through the Nama process.
Ms Creighton denies the words were defamatory, pleads they were statements of an opinion honestly held and is also relying on the defence of fair and reasonable publication. She denies Mr O'Flynn's reputation has been damaged or that he has been brought into odium, ridicule or contempt as a result.
Mr O'Flynn is chairman and managing director of the O'Flynn Group of companies which, the court heard, employed around 1,000 people at its height and now employs about 200 people mainly in Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe.
When Nama was set up by the previous government, some of his companies' loans were transferred to the agency and Mr O'Flynn said he had "no say" whatsoever over those transfers.
He had co-operated fully with Nama and was in the final stages of the process, he told his counsel Declan Doyle SC. All his companies were trading and he was also heavily involved in activities outside work, including fundraising for UCC and Crumlin children's hospital, he said.
While he had never engaged in political activity, he was a supporter of democracy and had supported "all parties bar one", he said.
He said he responded to requests for support from parties rather than him approaching them. "I never supported a party to get something," he said.
He said he was approached by the national office of Fine Gael to support the K Club golf classic in July 2010 and paid €1,500 to be part of a team which included his local Fine Gael TD Michael Creed and GAA manager Mick O'Dwyer. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, then opposition leader, and Phil Hogan TD were among the other teams at the event, the court heard.
Mr O'Flynn said there was extensive media coverage about his attendance at that event with people "hiding in the bushes" at the K Club, he said. The impression was given in the coverage, particularly from one Sunday newspaper, there was something wrong with him being there, he said.
"I felt the publicity around it should not have had to do with me, I was invited and the fact I was there should not have become such an issue it became," he said.
When he heard Ms Creighton's radio interview, he was "absolutely shocked" because it was suggesting his presence at the event had brought low standards, he said. "I have absolutely never done anything to bring low standards anywhere," he said.
He was shocked he could be attacked in this way as he was not in public life or politics and felt he was being "used as a pawn", he said. "I treasure my reputation and you do not attack people in that way and try to stand it up for your own gain."
Ms Creighton's comments impacted not just on him but also his wife, four grown children and his siblings. "I do not want them feeling I did something wrong. I was deeply offended and hurt over what was thrown at me."
The hearing continues tomorrow.