Burton and Varadkar defend the right of Dáil privilege

Tánaiste says that parliamentary privilege is a cornerstone of any democracy

The Tánaiste and a senior Fine Gael Minister have defended the right of TDs' Dáil speeches to be reported freely as the row over publishing comments about businessman Denis O'Brien's banking arrangements continues.

A spokesman for Joan Burton said last night: "The Tánaiste believes that the constitutional protection for TDs and Senators to speak freely in the Dáil and Seanad on matters of concern – and for the media to report it – is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy."

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar echoed the comments, speaking ahead of attempts by media organisations today to seek confirmation that Independent TD Catherine Murphy's statement on Mr O'Brien's dealings with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) can be reported.

“Parliamentary privilege is a keystone in any democracy and what is said in parliament should be reported without fear,” Mr Varadkar said.

READ MORE

“But it is also important that politicians do not abuse privilege, particularly when it relates to someone’s personal or private information.”

Mr O'Brien, who secured an injunction against RTÉ, writes in today's Irish Times claiming that files were taken from IBRC, tampered with and leaked to RTÉ. Turning to Ms Murphy, he said she had "mysteriously obtained copies of the same or other files" and used them "to attempt to damage me and to gain notoriety and political advantage".

He said he had gotten the impression Ms Murphy “is uncomfortable about the exact provenance” of the material 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.”

Ms Murphy will be represented in court, having retained Ross Maguire SC.

“I’m very confident about my sources, I don’t have a concern on that,” she said. “You make a judgment call on all these things. I continue to be satisfied that the information I have is robust.

“There was a lot of criticism about parliamentarians prior to the crash about groupthink and not asking questions. I just feel a sense of obligation to follow through on this,” she added.

Mr O’Brien also says he decided to be a “contrarian” at a time when multinationals were at their most nervous about deposits in Irish banks. “I took a decision that Digicel would repatriate its cash deposits from US banks amounting to over $600 million and place them with two Irish banks as a vote of confidence.”

Labour’s Ruairí Quinn called for “urgent steps” to be taken to correct what he described as a “clear legal mistake” by the courts. “The courts have got this wrong, in my humble opinion,” he said.

Mr Quinn said Mr O’Brien had taken an action against RTÉ to prevent the broadcast of a particular programme.

"Instead the interpretation of the court's decision has resulted in the Irish media being prevented from reporting a speech in the Dáil made under privilege. Ireland is a republic where there is a clear separation of power between the judiciary and parliament."

Mr Quinn said it was the duty of the press to report on what is said in the Dáil.

He said the consequences of the legal decision would appear to have undermined TDs’ right to avail of the protection of parliament in the interest of the common good.

The Irish Times will make a submission to the High Court today, separately to RTÉ, seeking confirmation that Ms Murphy's speech can be reported.

Mr Justice Binchy will preside at a hearing at 11am.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times