Catherine Murphy ‘fully entitled’ to refuse to disclose sources regarding Siteserv transaction

Some witnesses argued that the TD had waived her privilege by providing witness statements, but this was rejected by her, with the Cregan Commission agreeing

The Cregan Commission has found it had no powers to compel Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy to appear before it and give evidence, and that she was “fully entitled” to refuse to disclose sources of information she gave on the Siteserv transaction.

The report of the commission today details at length its interactions with Ms Murphy, as well as the “instrumental” role played by her and other politicians in bringing the commission into existence.

Even though it wanted to “obtain the identity” of her sources so they could be directed to appear before the commission and provide evidence, and be cross examined, it shows that ultimately all parties to the commission’s proceedings agreed that she was “fully entitled to refuse to disclose” her sources after she cited parliamentary privilege.

However, her Dáil submissions on the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien and her failure to appear and give evidence — which she has argued is to protect her sources — were strongly criticised by some witnesses.

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One witness, former Siteserv chief executive Brian Harvey, said during testimony that allegations she had made regarding his borrowings from IBRC were “despicable”, “ridiculous” and “outrageous”.

He expressed the wish that she “be dragged in here by the balls of her feet to account for these statements”.

Her contributions in parliament were criticised by some witnesses, including former IBRC executive Richard Woodhouse, who in testimony said it seemed to him that she and Pearse Doherty, the Sinn Féin finance spokesman who also consistently raised the issue in the Dáil “were fanning the flames of conspiracy or an issue that they were claiming as fact” and “rattling sabres and forcing the Government of the day into a tighter and tighter corner”.

He alleged that she “has done untold damage to our careers” which he resented.

In a statement issued through the Social Democrats press office, Ms Murphy said the report was a “devastating chronology” of the Siteserv deal which “reveals the integrity of the sales process was undermined from the very start”.

She said it was a “clear vindication of my decision to raise issues, surrounding this deal, under parliamentary privilege in the Dáil and I now urge the government to urgently act on its important recommendations”.

She said the seven year stretch it took for the commission to publish its report is “evidence that the manner in which public inquiries are undertaken by the state is broken and needs urgent reform”.

“The biggest loser in all of this was the State, given IBRC could have recovered up to €8.7 million more than the €44.3 million it agreed to accept in settlement of Siteserv’s indebtedness.”

The report reveals that the issue of Ms Murphy appearing before the commission became a drawn-out saga. Due to her role in events leading up to its establishment, a witness request was requested and submitted, followed by a request that she give evidence to the Commission.

However, the Kildare North TD invoked parliamentary privilege and told the commission that she would not give evidence and would not reveal her sources, citing confidentiality. Mr Doherty similarly submitted a witness statement but claimed parliamentary privilege.

Correspondence between Ms Murphy and the commission continued for some time, with Ms Murphy being directed in February 2019 to attend the commission.

The report makes clear that her attendance became an issue for some witnesses. “The issue of whether Deputy Murphy should give evidence became the subject of correspondence not only between the Commission and Deputy Murphy, but also between the Commission and a number of witnesses”. She was invited to give evidence in July of 2019, but did not attend, instead sending a letter outlining that she didn’t want to give evidence because she wanted to protect her source and keep them confidential.

After reviewing case law, the commission found that Deputy Murphy “is fully entitled to refuse to disclose the source or sources of her information” and that its jurisdiction to issue directions to her was “ousted”. This extended to statements outside of the house which elaborated or explained her utterances in the Dáil, and her witness statements, which some other witnesses submitted “go beyond elaborations on, or explanations of, what she said in Dáil Éireann”.

Some witnesses argued that she had waived her privilege by providing witness statements, but this was rejected by her, with the commission agreeing. Ultimately, the commission decided that it could complete its investigation properly without obtaining any further evidence from her.

Given that “most, if not all” of her witness statement is based on information whose identities were withheld no cross examination of this information was possible. In these circumstances, the report states, the commission “treated the information contained in Deputy Murphy’s witness statement on the same basis as information from other anonymous sources and has not accorded any evidential weight to it”.

Nonetheless, the report states that the commission has investigated the allegations made and obtained the evidence of relevant witnesses “insofar as it has been able to do so”.

Mr Doherty, speaking before the report was published, also said the report raised questions about “how we’re carrying out investigations in this country. And there needs to be a real hard think about that again, because there is a need at times to have these types of investigations.”

Asked about the report today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the findings “would give cause for concern in respect of the behaviour of certain individuals, how certain information was concealed from the bank, even from advisors at certain points in time, and how there was a below the surface operation in relation to the sale of Siteserv”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times