Denis O’Brien: ‘I have never experienced this level of hatred’

‘It has been suggested that my banking affairs are of public interest. I refute that’

Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

I woke up in Haiti on the morning of April 29th to a phone message saying that RTÉ had sent me a letter with questions regarding my confidential banking arrangements with Anglo Irish Bank/ IBRC. My immediate reaction was astonishment that RTÉ could be used in such a way, so deliberately, to set out to damage me.

I had been a customer of Anglo Irish bank since 1990. It was a very good relationship. I had always repaid my loans and all interest and met all my promises and undertakings. I was a performing borrower paying a full margin.

What shocked me most of all was that someone would take files from a major Irish bank, tamper with them and leak them to RTÉ. In turn, RTÉ was seeking confirmation from me, via questions contained in a letter, to enable them to broadcast this information. In essence, this is what this whole storm and controversy is all about.

Sitting over breakfast in Haiti I knew I had an immediate decision to make. Would I let the matter go or should I allow RTÉ to breach my privacy and broadcast details of my confidential relationship with Anglo Irish/IBRC? It was one of those nanosecond decisions. For me this was an intrusion too far. Over the past several years, some of the media in Ireland has become more and more vicious and invasive and this was a deliberate attempt to misrepresent my personal banking relationship.



Whether it was the original Anglo Irish Bank or now IBRC in liquidation, the same level of confidentiality in a fiduciary relationship between a customer and the bank should apply in perpetuity. Maybe I am old- fashioned but I operate on the basis that a client's relationship with its bank is at all times confidential. Where would we be in Ireland if four million people had to make public all their banking relationships?

I instructed my solicitors to seek an immediate injunction preventing RTÉ from broadcasting what was being presented as my banking information and relationship with Anglo Irish Bank. Before the hearing of the injunction proper, Independent TD Catherine Murphy stood up in the Dáil and disclosed some of the confidential information in spite of an undertaking from RTÉ not to publish. This created some of the confusion which followed.

RTÉ deliberately put all of the confidential information into the body of their court documents, which meant that if my application for protection was to have any meaning I also had to seek an order restricting reporting of the court proceedings and what was in the court papers.

The injunction hearing against RTÉ went on for five days and during that time my solicitor kept me updated. He informed me that RTÉ’s lawyer was pulled up on several occasions by Mr Justice Donald Binchy for encroaching in open court on confidential aspects of my banking relationship without referring to the reporting restriction.

A week after the injunction had been successfully granted by Mr Justice Binchy, Deputy Murphy mysteriously obtained copies of the same or other files in the intervening period. Since then, she has repeatedly made erroneous and untruthful statements about my banking relationship.

Not for one minute did I ever allow external access to anyone to my private banking files. The only conclusion is that they were taken from Anglo Irish Bank/IBRC without the permission of the liquidator. In other words, they were stolen. I have listened attentively to what Deputy Murphy has had to say in the Dáil. I get the distinct impression that she is uncomfortable about the exact provenance of the materials in her possession. I have not heard her say that she unequivocally stands over the information she has recited nor has she claimed that she is dealing in irrefutable facts. As an aside, if I had found banking files belonging to someone, I would have handed them over to the individual involved immediately. Instead, Deputy Murphy has used the files to attempt to damage me and to gain notoriety and political advantage for herself.

Since late last week politicians of all persuasions have sprung out of the woodwork and said it is “essential for a democracy” for TDs to be allowed to say things under privilege and for them to be reported by the media. Does it not matter whether what is being said is true or false? Does it not matter if there is a court order in place? I agree that Dáil privilege is an important component of our democracy; however, there is a parallel duty of care on the TDs and Senators to use this privilege with integrity under the guidance of the Ceann Comhairle. If there was respect for court orders we wouldn’t be in the position we are in. A position which has been created entirely by Deputy Murphy’s deliberate breach under Dáil privilege of a court order of which she was aware.

What is particularly curious is that Deputy Murphy is persistent in her claims even though I have made clear that what she is saying is untrue. Why doesn’t she show me what files she has? Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has been particularly strident in support of Dáil privilege. Politicians are elected by the public. Would the Fianna Fáil leader like to lead the way and encourage all Fianna Fáil TDs to make public their banking files since 1990 to RTÉ and then have them distorted?

It has been suggested that my banking affairs are of public interest. I refute that. Where does public interest begin or end? I am a private citizen. Can I presume my medical records will be sought, twisted and turned for public consumption next, just as happened with my wife’s medical records at the Moriarty tribunal in 2002?

Ansbacher names

What I find curious is that Deputy Martin would lambaste Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald for releasing the names of individuals wrongly associated with the Ansbacher tax-avoidance scheme. I have never seen the Fianna Fáil leader as animated as he shot from both barrels last December in the Dáil at Deputy McDonald over the totally unacceptable releasing of alleged “Ansbacher names” of former cabinet and Fianna Fáil colleagues. I have real sympathy for those named.

Furthermore, I read Michael McDowell’s comments over the weekend and they need to be taken with a grain of salt. He worked for months for the Moriarty tribunal for free and never sent them a bill. Also, he was on a long-term retainer from Independent News & Media and Tony O’Reilly for many years. He always has something to say about me but underlying everything you have to look at his agenda, which he always fails to declare.

The man and woman on the street can draw their own conclusion. If one looks at what has happened since 2010 in Ireland, we have seen many terrible situations: the pain of people who have lost their jobs, homes, self-esteem and confidence. The ill-fated policy of Nama and other institutions, selling off parcels of loans to foreign, bottom-fishing funds.

Many decent people who had loans transferred to Nama, or had loans with Anglo Irish Bank/IBRC were thrown to the wolves. I do not know anybody with a mortgage or business loan who would be able to pay their loans on receipt of a sudden and unexpected demand.

There were commercial borrowers employing thousands of Irish people who were good borrowers and it is immoral how they have been treated. I was in the fortunate position to be able to meet all my obligations in full. Speaking from a business perspective, we have seen a whole community of business people and entrepreneurs whose lives have been ruined by the miserable behaviour of these institutions and our Government’s policy of selling them down the river. I have known people who took their own lives, people who lost everything including their homes and their marriages. Also many people who have had nervous breakdowns. The toll all this has taken on the “community” that makes up our country is quite shocking.

I think it is regrettable that there is such a feeding frenzy to spread rumours and selectively leak information to point- score, challenge a competitor or simply do somebody down. It is done behind the cloak of secrecy and anonymity and the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Social media being used for this purpose is crowded with cowards.

When the foreign buying of Irish assets was at its height, I decided to buy a number of companies to keep some of them Irish, to preserve and grow employment and to seek opportunities for these businesses to develop in Ireland and overseas. These included Siteserv, Topaz, Beacon Hospital and others. These were consensual deals with founders, management and lenders. A friend of mine over dinner one night said: "Don't bother buying anything in Ireland: you will get dog's abuse." His words are ringing in my years as I write this piece.

Coincidentally, Deputy Murphy has also been vocal about the Siteserv transaction. To be categorical, we have nothing to hide and would welcome an early review of this. Preferably, Siteserv would be reviewed first by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill and the contents of the review made public immediately.

I always firmly believed that this country would emerge from recession quite quickly because of the immediate spending cuts and real Government action to meet the troika plan. I also had confidence in the Irish work ethic and the large numbers of very able young Irish women and men.

At a particular point in time when foreign multinationals were at their most nervous about their deposits in Irish banks I decided to be contrarian. I took a decision that Digicel would repatriate its cash deposits from US banks amounting to more than $600 million and place them with two Irish banks as a vote of confidence. Both banks asked my permission to tell a small number of foreign clients of this decision to help stop further outflows and this was granted. At that time, and subsequently, I was talking up Ireland internationally as a recovery story. I wanted to make a significant financial gesture of support at home. This was to show solidarity with Ireland but also to support the efforts of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in stabilising the Irish banks and slow future outflow of deposits.

I have been dragged into a media frenzy because of RTÉ’s attempts to publish my private bank details and Deputy Murphy’s desire to distort them.

I have never experienced the level of abuse, venom and hatred resulting from taking a stand to protect privacy in relation to my financial affairs.

Over time I do really hope that the anger and nastiness which fuels the current discord will abate and be replaced by a positive and constructive outlook for the country. I will always be proud to be Irish, optimistic and a republican with a small “r”.