O’Brien row: Review to see if IBRC rates ‘reasonable’

Scrutiny of IBRC transactions entitled to examine rates charged to large borrowers

Reaction to High Court ruling by Mr Donald Binchy that an order made by him preventing publication of financial information about Denis O’Brien wasn't intended to prohibit fair reporting of any utterances of the Dáil. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The Government-appointed investigation into transactions at the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation is examining interest rates provided to borrowers to assess whether they were “reasonable”.

The Department of Finance has said the review of all IBRC transactions, established following controversy over the sale of Siteserv to a company owned by businessman Denis O’Brien, is entitled to examine interest rates charged on loans to large borrowers.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy claimed in the Dáil last week Mr O’Brien was paying a 1.25 per cent interest rate to IBRC when he could have been expected to pay a 7.5 per cent rate. Mr O’Brien denies this, and says Ms Murphy is “peddling” false material.

The terms of reference for the review, which is being carried out by Kieran Wallace and Eamonn Richardson, the special liquidators of IBRC, say it can examine “all transactions, activities and management decisions” which result in a loss of at least €10 million to the taxpayer or if they “are specifically identified as giving rise to potential public concern in respect of the ultimate returns to the taxpayer”.

Transactions, activities and decisions relating solely to the acquisition of assets by Nama are excluded.

Asked whether interest rates are being examined, a spokesman for the special liquidators said: “As part of their review, the special liquidators will examine the levels of interest rates applied to the loans of borrowers across the bank and whether these were reasonable in the circumstances that pertained.”

Mr Justice Donald Binchy said in the High Court yesterday his order preventing the publication of financial information about Mr O’Brien was not intended to prohibit fair reporting of any of Ms Murphy’s statement in the Dáil.

The Government said it “welcomes the clarification” by the judge. “The right of Oireachtas members to exercise privilege is constitutionally protected and this has been reaffirmed by the judge. It is important that right is exercised responsibly and in the public interest and that the media are free to report fairly on such statements.”

A spokesman for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said he welcomed Mr Justice Binchy’s move, adding that Mr Noonan was on record saying TDs are entitled to be heard when they use privilege for reasons of public interest.

Other Fine Gael Ministers also welcomed the clarification, but one added privately that the House should not become a “place where politicians can make allegations against private citizens with impunity”.

The lack of a sanction against Sinn Féin’s Mary-Lou McDonald for naming former politicians who were accused of having offshore bank accounts to evade tax “lowers that bar”, the Minister added.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Binchy will today issue a judgment outlining the reasons why he granted a temporary injunction to Mr O’Brien against RTÉ.

The judge ruled on the injunction on May 21st, but did not publish the reasons for his decision pending redaction of sensitive information.

On Tuesday, Mr Justice Binchy expressed the view that, following information shared on the Dáil record by Ms Murphy, it seemed there was no purpose served by any redaction.