Holding court: Denis O’Brien’s long list of legal actions

Case taken against former TD one of several High Court proceedings taken since 2010

Denis O Brien: Initiated 12 legal cases against media organisations relating to coverage of his affairs and four against the Revenue. Photograph: David Sleator

Businessman Denis O'Brien, who this week issued proceedings against former TD Colm Keaveney, has initiated 21 sets of proceedings in the High Court since 2010, an examination of the High Court website shows.

O’Brien, who is by far the largest owner of private media in the State, has initiated 12 cases against media organisations relating to their coverage of his affairs, as well as four cases against the Revenue Commissioners, two against the Moriarty tribunal, one against the Dáil, one against Keaveney, a commercial case involving a lease and a case against a lobbying firm alleging a conspiracy to damage him.

The records do not show instances of where he threatened legal action. Last year the satirical website Waterford Whispers News removed an article about O’Brien following a threat of legal action.

The records show that O’Brien did not have any proceedings issued in the High Court in 2014, so he averaged more than three cases each year for each of the other years. Meagher Solicitors, a firm run by Paul Meagher, is the law firm most used. O’Brien also uses William Fry, and in two cases, Eames Solicitors.


O'Brien, along with politician Michael Lowry, was a defendant in a case lodged in March 2013 by the State. This case is connected with pending litigation arising from the 1995 mobile phone licence competition which was won by O'Brien's Esat Digifone, at a time when Lowry was minister for communications.

Two of the losing bidders, Persona and Comcast, are suing the State and alleging corruption. O’Brien and Lowry were joined to the Persona case and are defendants in the Comcast case. The two sets of proceedings were lodged in 2001 and have yet to come to trial. The Persona case may yet be withdrawn.


April: Against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the

Irish Daily Mail

. The case led to a €150,000 defamation award in 2013. (Meagher) October: Against the Moriarty tribunal. An ex-parte application was refused. November: Against the Moriarty tribunal, alleging a breach of fair procedures. A 2011 decision against him was appealed to the Supreme Court. (Meagher)


April: Against Penfield Enterprises, publishers of the


magazine. The case has not proceeded. (Meagher) May: Against Independent Newspapers and journalist

Sam Smyth

. The case has not proceeded. (Meagher) December: Against the Revenue Commissioners. The case concerned his tax residency in 2000/2001. A judgment in his favour in 2013 saved O’Brien from a €57 million capital gains tax bill arising from the sale of Esat. (William Fry)


June: Against BT Communications Ltd, in relation to a lease at Grand Canal Quay. The case was struck out. (William Fry) October: Against Independent Newspapers and commentator

Elaine Byrne

. The case has not proceeded. (Meagher) October: Against journalist

Eamon Dunphy

, who up to 2011 had a radio programme on Newstalk, a station owned by O’Brien. The case has not proceeded. (Meagher) November: Against the Revenue Commissioners. The case did not proceed and may be linked to the one listed above. (William Fry)


March/April: Against Times Newspapers and journalist

Mark Tighe

. There was a vocation sitting hearing and a later full hearing. An injunction was granted preventing


Sunday Times

publishing in full a report concerning certain business and bank dealings involving O’Brien and businessman Paddy McKillen. (William Fry) July: Against the Revenue Commissioners. This was an unsuccessful appeal against a Circuit Court decision concerning the right of the Revenue to query O’Brien about tax issues associated with the 1999/2000 tax year. Judgment was given in January of this year allowing the Revenue to pursue its inquiries. However, as noted above, the High Court has already ruled that O’Brien’s tax residency was Portugal, not Ireland, in the 2000/2001 year. September: Against the Revenue Commissioners and two named Revenue officers and again liked to the capital gains tax issues arising from O’Brien’s sale of Esat. Articles about the issue appeared in the

Sunday Business Post

, the

Sunday Independent

and the

Sunday Times

. O’Brien is seeking damages for alleged improper disclosure of information. Revenue says the information came from a public hearing. The case is pending. (William Fry) October: Proceedings issued against Post Publications Ltd and the

Sunday Business Post

. The two sets of proceedings were lodged over two days, and neither was progressed. It is understood a settlement was made.


No proceedings were issued on behalf of Mr O’Brien.


April: Against Post Publications Ltd. The matter was not progressed. (Meagher) April: Against RTÉ. This case caused huge controversy after Mr

Justice Donald Binchy

granted an injunction preventing RTÉ broadcasting certain information about O’Brien and his dealings with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC). When TD

Catherine Murphy

subsequently spoke in the Dáil about the matter, it was alleged that the injunction covered reporting her remarks, a position that was described as a constitutional crisis.

The Irish Times

and RTÉ went to court to have the matter clarified.

The judge said it was never his intention that his order would apply to reporting on the Dáil. June: Against the clerk of Dáil Éireann, the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges and all its members. The committee rejected claims by O'Brien that statements made in the Dáil about O'Brien and the purchase by him of Siteserv, which had loans in the IBRC, by deputies Murphy and Pearse Doherty, constituted an abuse of privilege.The case is pending. October: Against Red Flag Consulting, Gavin O'Reilly, Karl Brophy and others. This is another high-profile case involving a USB stick containing material about O'Brien that the businessman says he was given anonymously and the contents of which, he claims, are evidence of a conspiracy by the defendants to damage him. The case is pending.


April: Against

The Irish Times

. The case concerns reporting on the transaction whereby O’Brien bought Siteserv. May: Against former Fianna Fáil deputy Colm Keaveney. The case concerns a speech made by Keaveney in the Dáil concerning O’Brien, a draft of which was on the USB key that features in the Red Flag case. O’Brien is claiming defamation.

In December last Keaveney issued proceedings against Independent News & Media, of which Mr O’Brien has been the largest shareholder since 2010. Keaveney is alleging he was defamed in an infographic accompanying a news story concerning the Red Flag case that, he claims, suggested he was part of a conspiracy to damage Mr O’Brien.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent