Denis O’Brien sues Revenue for breach of privacy

Businessman claims organisation provided details of his tax affairs to the media

Businessman Denis O’Brien is suing the Revenue Commissioners claiming they breached his privacy by providing details of his tax affairs to the media. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Businessman Denis O’Brien is suing the Revenue Commissioners claiming they breached his privacy by providing details of his tax affairs to the media. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

Businessman Denis O’Brien is suing the Revenue Commissioners claiming they breached his privacy by providing details of his tax affairs to the media.

He claims the alleged disclosure arose from a document Revenue provided to certain news organisations during a case arising out of his tax liability for 1999/2000 relating to the sale of his shares in Esat Telecom to BT Hawthorn Ltd.

Revenue deny his claims and say almost all the information came from a public High Court hearing.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott on Wednesday ordered Revenue, in advance of the main case, to provide discovery of certain information to Mr O’Brien concerning disclosures made to the media. He refused discovery in relation to certain other categories of information.

The judge said the case arose out of an appeal by Mr O’Brien against a tax assessment raised by Revenue.

The matter went to the High Court on a “case stated” issue as to whether an Appeals Commissioner was correct in holding that a house he owned in Raglan Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, was not his permanent home for the relevant tax year for the purposes of the Ireland/Portugal Double Taxation Convention.

The court found in Mr O’Brien’s favour in September 2013.

Mr O’Brien then sued Revenue, one of its inspectors of taxes, Michael K Brennan, and Revenue solicitor Etáin Croasdell, claiming the disclosure of certain documents to members of the media during that case breached his constitutional right to privacy.

He claimed articles in the Sunday Business Post, Sunday Independent and Sunday Times contained information on his private tax affairs which related to an in-camera hearing before the Appeals Commissioner.

He alleged the Sunday Independent article contained information not opened in court.

The Sunday Times had information and photographs said to have been taken from the “case stated” before the High Court, It also had a quote from “a source” saying the reason it took so long for the case to reach court was because of disagreement over the wording used to refer the case to the court.

Mr O’Brien said it was apparent from the three separate newspaper articles, as well as from another on thestory.ie website, which published an article with information allegedly supplied by the Sunday Times, that the case stated details had been provided to members of the press.

He said Revenue owed him a duty of care not to disclose his confidential information and its two officers, Mr Brennan and Ms Croasdell, owed a commensurate duty.

Misfeasance

Mr O’Brien seeks damages for misfeasance in public office because, it is alleged, the defendants acted knowingly or with reckless disregard, or indifference, and/or conducted themselves in a manner which wa outside their powers by deliberately imparting information to unauthorised personnel.

He claims it was done in an attempt to portray him as being deliberately obstructive and of failing to comply with his obligations in relation to presentation of the High Court case.

Revenue said it regarded the release of a copy of the case state details to be entirely proper. The hearing took place in open court and the entire process was conducted in public in accordance with law.

Mr Justice McDermott, in his judgment on the discovery application, said Revenue solicitor Ms Croasdell had, in correspondence with Mr O’Brien’s lawyers, stated she had supplied a copy of the case stated to journalists.

She said it was a matter of public record, read in open court, and was not confidential information. She also said it was “surely in everybody’s interests that court proceedings are accurately reported”.