Dáil committee set to back Keaveney in O’Brien legal case

Former TD being sued by businessman over allegedly defamatory comments

Former TD Colm Keaveney is set to receive the backing of the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges in defending himself in the legal action against him by Denis O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien claims that the former Fianna Fáil and Labour Party TD for Galway East, who lost his seat at the general election, defamed him in comments made in the Dáil in 2015.

During his comments, the TD referred to Mr O’Brien’s acquisition of SiteServ, and also the adverse comments made about the businesssman in the report of the Moriarty Tribunal.

Mr O’Brien demanded initially that Mr Keaveney apologise and also take advertisements in international media outlets to restore, as Mr O’Brien saw it, his damaged reputation. He also demanded exemplary damages be awarded to him, to be paid by Mr Keaveney.


Mr Keaveney denied defamation and causing any such damage to Mr O'Brien and argues that his comments were protected by the privilege from legal action afforded by the Constitution to members of the Oireachtas.

It is believed that Mr O’Brien holds that because a version of Mr Keaveney’s comments were shared with people outside the Dáil before he made his remarks, they were in effect published without the protection of privilege.

This contention related to Mr O'Brien's action against the public relations consultancy Red Flag, which was sent a version of Mr Keaveney's Dáil speech before it was made. Changes to the speech suggested by the company were not, in the event, taken up.

Mr O’Brien’s case against Red Flag returns to the courts next month when the issue of costs for parts of the action to date in which Mr O’Brien has not been successful will be decided.

In parallel, the businessman will seek to progress his claim for discovery of documents held by Red Flag which he hopes will reveal the PR firm’s client on whose behalf it assembled a dossier of mainly newspaper cuttings, many of which do not show him in a good light.

The dossier, he argues, is defamatory, extraordinary and evidence of an illegal conspiracy against him. Red Flag denies this.

Mr O’Brien has already initiated legal action against the Dáil committee over its failure, as he sees it, to uphold his reputation by sanctioning TDs over comments made about him in the Dáil.

The businessman has actions initiated, or thresatened, against several others people and companies, including The Irish Times.

On his action against Mr Keaveney, which he had initiated formally in the courts, the committee is likely to underwrite Mr Keaveney’s defence against the businesman, reputed to be a billionaire.

The committee’s consideration of Mr Keaveney’s position was prompted by the former TD writing to it seeking assistance on the basis that the businesman’s case centered on comments made in the Dáil and was therefore by implication a challenge to the Dáil and to the Constitution.

It is understood Mr Keaveney has been supported by his former colleague, Eamon Ó Cuív TD.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times