Judgment in O’Brien case shows ‘parliamentary privilege is sacrosanct’

Businessman says he is disappointed at decision as it suggests TDs could say anything

Catherine Murphy said parliamentary privilege was an important aspect of Ireland’s system of democracy. Photograph: Collins

Catherine Murphy said parliamentary privilege was an important aspect of Ireland’s system of democracy. Photograph: Collins

 

The two TDs who made the allegations about businessman Denis O’Brien in the Dáil in 2015 have welcomed Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling as a strong vindication of the constitutional protection for parliamentary privilege.

For his part, Mr O’Brien said he was disappointed with the ruling and the consequence of it was that an elected representative could say anything they wanted in the Dáil about any citizen.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy was the first TD to disclose details under privilege in the Dáil on the sale by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation of building services company Siteserv to a company associated with Mr O’Brien. She alleged the deal was done on very favourable terms to Mr O’Brien’s interests.

Responding on Tuesday, Ms Murphy said parliamentary privilege was an important aspect of Ireland’s system of democracy and one which is constitutionally protected.

“The CPP found that I had not abused parliamentary privilege in making a speech which was very squarely within the public interest and that I acted in good faith at all times. I am pleased that both the High Court and now the Supreme Court have upheld that decision,” she said.

She said it was “hugely incumbent” on elected representatives to recognise that such privilege must only be exercised with great responsibility.

The other Dáil deputy, Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin, also said he was “absolutely delighted” and said it was a big week for parliamentary freedom.

“This judgment makes it clear that parliamentary privilege is sacrosanct. The onus is on us to use that privilege very selectively,” he said.

In a detailed statement, Mr O’Brien said he fully respected the ruling. “The case concerned the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges consideration of my complaint about the conduct of certain Dáil members in revealing private and confidential banking information of mine in 2015.

“A consequence of this decision would seem to be that an elected representative can make any allegation about any citizen in Dáil Éireann - be it true or untrue, defamatory or otherwise, without sanction. I fear that this leaves Dáil privilege open to further abuse in the future.”

He said the High Court acknowledged that the the provisions or parliamentary privilege warranted a review. “I am satisfied that it was right for me to ask the Court to rule on these important issues,” he said.

“I will fully consider the judgment and its implications in due course.”