Denis O’Brien wants courts to ‘censure’ two TDs over Dáil statements

Businessman tells High Court he received death threats

Businessman Denis O’Brien arrives at the High Court where he is giving evidence in his action against the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) and the State. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Businessman Denis O’Brien has told the High Court he wants the courts to “censure” two TDs over statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs and to lay down a line beyond which Dáil Deputies cannot go.

Asked had he ruled out suing the TDs themselves - Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty – he said it was “probably unlikely”.

He said he wanted the courts to deplore what had occurred in the Dáil and he considered both TDs had acted “recklessly and maliciously”.

The point of his case was not to have all Dáil deputies “learn a lesson”, rather he wanted them to “respect” what happened in the High Court, he said. These two TDs had “disrespected” the High Court.

Asked by Michael Collins SC, for the Dáil Committee for Procedure and Privileges (CPP) , did he want the court to lay down a “marker” for TDs as to what they can and cannot say in the Dáil, he said that “may be very wide”.

He was saying, if a citizen has a court order, a Deputy cannot intervene. Deputies have to be “responsible” and the court should lay down a line beyond which they cannot go, he said.

When Maurice Collins SC, for the State, put to him the purpose of his action was to punish the two TDs and restrict Dáil speech, Mr O’Brien said counsel was trying to make victims of the two TDs when he, Mr O’Brien, was the one who was wronged. He said his banking details were stolen, given to a TD and then released into the public domain while a court process was ongoing.

He disagreed what he was seeking was “punitive” and said it was not “harshly punitive”. He hoped if he was successful, this would never happen again and “will change things for the future.”

Earlier, Mr O’Brien said he had received threats to his own life and to that of his family in May 31st 2015 and had reported them to the gardaí. He could not pinpoint what prompted the threats to be made by two people, he told his counsel Michael Cush SC.

Under cross-examination by Michael Collins SC, for the CPP, he said he was not suggesting any TDs were involved in making those threats.

Mr O’Brien has concluded his evidence in his action alleging the two TDs “clearly disregarded” the constitutional separation of powers between parliament and the courts when they made statements in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

He also claims the CPP failed to “properly police” Deputies Murphy and Doherty in relation to their statements made respectively in May and June 2015.

He wants the court to declare those statements amounted to “unwarranted interference” with the judicial domain because they were made after he had initiated legal proceedings against RTÉ aimed at restraining it broadcasting information about his banking affairs with State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.

On Thursday, Mr O’Brien, the sole witness in the case, said it was important for an individual and for a country’s reputation that banking details remain confidential.

His concern was, despite his having taken proceedings in the High Court to prevent publication by RTÉ of his banking relationship with State-owned IBRC, details of his banking relationship were outlined “two miles away” in the Dáil.

“As an individual and citizen, I want the court to determine whether a court order can be relied on or whether someone can get up across the city and unravel that.”

He was concerned the two TDs had not been censured by the CPP over their statements and had not been subject to any adverse comment by government.

Under cross-examination by Maurice Collins SC, for the State, he was asked why a court reproof was different from a reproof by the CPP. He said the first thing was the two TDs “knew exactly” what they were doing.

He had complained to the CPP and after it dismissed that, “obviously we took these proceedings”. He agreed, even if the CPP endorsed his complaint, he would have taken legal proceedings.

He agreed part of the reason for this case was to get some form of judicial disapproval for what the TDs did.

He said the wrong done to him was disclosure of his private banking information and what he wanted was “much wider” than to have the court condemn the two TDs over their utterances. What he wanted was, if a citizen gets a court order injuncting the giving out of information, that stands and no one else can disclose that information.

When Mr Collins said Mr O’Brien’s own counsel had accepted the injunction he got against RTÉ was not intended to apply, and did not apply, to the TDs, Mr O’Brien agreed. He said the information that was sent to RTÉ eventually made its way to the Dáil.

He hoped, if he won, people’s privacy would be respected and their private banking matters would not be ventilated in the Dáil. It could be someone’s medical records the next time, he said.

Earlier, Mr O’Brien told Mr Cush he considered it would be bad for a country’s reputation if banking matters were not kept confidential and believed it was wrong to ventilate his personal banking details in the Oireachtas.

He said, if you’re a short-term or long-standing customer with a bank, you are discussing your private and business affairs and that travels for the rest of your life. There “is nothing more confidential” than banking details, along with medical records.

He said banking confidentiality is important for the country as a whole and it would be “a pretty extraordinary” situation if banking details were disclosed and that was why he sought a court order against RTÉ to stop that, for privacy reasons.

It was “even more important” that court orders be obeyed and not undone by a political purpose, he said. In this situation, his lawyers got a court order and, two miles away, information that was part of the order was read out in the Oireachtas.

That meant no one would have any protection if they went to court if any court order could be broken by a member of the Oireachtas. It would be very bad for any country to have a situation where a court order could be unravelled by a different part of the same country. People would take a view of that country, it would be on a checklist of things you would look at before investing in that country and you would see that as “a considerable weakness.”