Denis O’Brien case over Dáil speeches set for November

Businessman says comments by Catherine Murphy, Pearse Doherty affected RTÉ legal action

Businessman Denis O’Brien’s action against a Dáil committee over speeches made in the House concerning his banking affairs has been fixed for hearing on November 29th.

On the application of Eileen Barrington SC, for Mr O'Brien, and Sara Moorhead SC, for the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges and the State, High Court Deputy master Angela Denning made directions for exchange of legal submissions between the sides.

Both sides have liberty to call witnesses in the case but have not indicated so far if they will do so or, if they will, whom they intend to call.

In his proceedings initiated in June 2015, Mr O'Brien claims there is a "clear public interest" in the courts determining whether Dáil utterances by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty in May and June 2015 respectively effectively determined his legal action against RTÉ aimed at restraining publication of details of his banking affairs with State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.


The committee later decided neither TD had breached standing orders governing debates in the Oireachtas with their remarks.

Mr O’Brien claims the committee and State permitted the utterances to be made in breach of his right to fair procedures, his rights of privacy and access to the courts and in breach of standing orders regulating debate in the Oireachtas.

‘Unawarranted interference’

This amounted to “unawarranted interference” by the Oireachtas with the operation of the courts “in a purely judicial domain”, it is alleged.

Mr O’Brien alleges utterances by Ms Murphy on May 6th, May 27th and May 28th, 2015, and by Mr Doherty on June 9th, 2015, forced him to concede in the High Court on June 10th, 2015 that the entire script which he earlier sought to prevent RTÉ publishing, and which he had sucessfully injuncted, was by then in the public domain.

His lawyers formally complained to the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Ceann Comhairle about the actions of Ms Murphy and Mr Doherty and were formally informed on June 15th 2015 the committee had found Ms Murphy had not breached standing orders as her utterances were made “on the floor of the House in a responsible manner, in good faith and as part of the legislative process”.

In addressing Mr O’Brien’s claims the utterances breached the terms of a High Court injunction, the committee said any such finding was exclusively a matter for the courts.

On July 3rd, 2015, Mr O’Brien’s lawyers were told the committee had concluded Mr Doherty’s “exercise of his constitutional freedom of speech” in the Dáil fell outside the scope of, and did not contravene, the standing order regulating debate in the House.

Mr O’Brien alleges, as far as he is aware, the committee received no submissions from either TD about his complaints before making its findings and, if it had, he was given no opportunity to respond to such submissions in breach of his right to fair procedures.

The claims are denied.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times