The High Court clarification on media reporting of Dáil comments by Independent TD Catherine Murphy about businessman Denis O'Brien's financial affairs has been welcomed by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.
Mr Howlin, speaking on his way into Government Buildings on Wednesday, said he had anticipated the clarification issued by the High Court on Tuesday surrounding the terms of an injunction.
“I greatly welcome it…It really is important that the constitutional position that allows members of both Houses of the Oireachtas to raise matters without fear or favour and for those to be reported faithfully in the public media, is one of the bulwarks of our democracy.
“I am very glad that it has been absolutely safeguarded. I didn’t doubt it, but it’s good that it’s now formally done.”
Meanwhile, Mr O'Brien wrote to Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett on Tuesday complaining about Ms Murphy's speech about his banking arrangements with the Irish Bank Resolution Company (IBRC), formerly Anglo Irish Bank.
Mr O’Brien has invoked the Dáil’s Standing Order 59, which entitles a person named in the chamber to make a submission in writing to Mr Barrett.
The Standing Order deals specifically with privilege and what are described in Oireachtas regulations as “utterances in the nature of being defamatory”.
The matter will be referred to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP), which has powers to investigate claimed abuse of privilege and recommend sanctions.
Mr Howlin said it would be “no bad thing” for the issue of privilege to be examined by the Oireachtas.
“It is important that the Oireachtas itself would set its own rules to ensure that these things are done properly, that members would know that they’re on safe ground when they’re acting, and citizens would also be protected from the abuse of such rules, which can happen.”
Mr Howlin said the Dáil and Seanad should undertake an examination of the area, adding that any right had to be tempered with responsibility.
“I’ve always been a champion of the Dáil and Seanad and its powers to be the people’s tribune and to hold all institutions of the State to account, and that has to be done in a very transparent way.”
The CPP ruled last December that Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald had abused privilege by naming alleged tax offenders, but it did not have the power to implement further disciplinary procedures.
The committee has since sought legal advice about how it can impose more effective sanctions if similar instances arise in future.
Referring to the CPP’s ruling on Ms McDonald’s action, Mr Howlin said: “That finding didn’t have teeth”.