Colm Keaveney asks for Dáil backing in legal case

Former TD is asking Oireachtas to cover his legal costs in lawsuit by Denis O’Brien

The Dáil's committee on procedure and privileges will tomorrow consider a request for help by former TD Colm Keaveney, who is being sued by billionaire Denis O'Brien.

Several TDs, including Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and People Before Profit's Bríd Smith, have backed the former Labour and Fianna Fáil TD's request that his legal costs be covered by the Oireachtas.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Keaveney argues that the constitutional protection of Oireachtas privilege is expressed under section 114(1) of the Dáil’s standing orders.

This protection, says the former Galway TD who lost his seat in the February general election, extends to the private papers of TDs and former TDs if prepared for Dáil business or in their role as public representatives.


In his legal action against Mr Keaveney, Mr O'Brien claims a speech he made in the Dáil last year was defamatory, calculated to damage him and was an abuse of Dáil privilege.

In that speech, Mr Keaveney said “criminality” had been uncovered by the Moriarty tribunal, “which confirmed the largest single act of public corruption in monetary terms”.

“Where is the Garda investigation?” he said. “Where is the Criminal Assets Bureau? Why is the [DPP] not seeking to prosecute the criminality that was identified?”

A draft of Mr Keaveney’s speech was sent before delivery to the public relations consultancy Red Flag. It rewrote parts, but the version delivered by Mr Keaveney was the original and did not include Red Flag’s suggestions.

In issuing legal action, Mr O’Brien demanded that Mr Keaveney publish an apology in advertisements in national and international newspapers. He said the comments made were malicious and worthy of exemplary damages.

It is understood that Mr O’Brien will argue that by sending the speech to Red Flag, Mr Keaveney effectively published it outside the Dáil and that it is therefore not covered by Dáil privilege.

Mr O’Brien is separately suing the Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP).

In his letter to members of the CPP, Mr Keaveney wrote that there had been “much discussion recently about the level of abuse masquerading as political debate”.

Ms Smith said the committee should meet Mr Keaveney, and that he certainly had her support in the matter.

Mr Ryan said Dáil deputies’ “rights to privilege are fairly cast-iron and are to be protected”.

“The fact that a draft script of something was given out before being made in the Dáil under privilege shouldn’t undermine what one says to the Dáil and the principle of privilege in my view,” he said.

“The general approach of any Oireachtas body would be to defend and protect the right to privilege.”

Hear legal advice

Independent TD Kevin “Boxer” Moran said privilege “has to be protected” and he wanted to hear advice about Mr Keaveney’s position from lawyers for the committee.

A similar position was adopted by another Independent, Tommy Broughan. The former Labour Party colleague of Mr Keaveney said Dáil privilege was a "very precious right [that] had to be used with great sensitivity and awareness".

Mr O'Brien's separate action against CPP is based on his claim that it failed to protect his rights as a citizen by not finding that TD Catherine Murphy abused Dáil privilege when making allegations about him, in the Dáil.

These allegation related to his acquisition of Siteserv and his relationship with IBRC.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times