Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell may have made defamatory comments when he linked two Sinn Féin TDs to the murder of prison officer Brian Stack, the parliamentary legal team has said.
Opinion given by the parliamentary legal adviser Ramona Quinn is to be considered at a meeting of the Committee on Procedures (CP) on Wednesday.
Ms Quinn was asked to consider whether Mr Farrell abused his privilege when he named Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris in the Dáil and asked both men to make statements about the killing of Mr Stack who was shot in 1983 and died 18 months later.
Mr Farrell, a Dublin Fingal TD, said afterwards that it was his “firm belief” that he did not abuse Dáil privilege in naming the two deputies.
The legal advice, seen by the Irish Times, says the comments by Mr Farrell “at its highest point” could be interpreted as “implicating the named deputies in the murder of Mr Stack”.
It added: “Alternatively, they could be construed as indicating that the relevant deputies hold information in relation to said murder.”
The comments were not defamatory in themselves but may have a secondary meaning which amounts to “defamatory innuendo”, the advice says.
The publication of the statements by Mr Farrell rather than the published words are key to this point.
Ms Quinn adds: “While it is for the CP to determine, in my opinion and in light of the above, it would appear that an utterance in the nature of being defamatory may have been made by the Deputy in question.”
The committee will also be asked to assess if the comments were a breach of Dáil privilege. When considering this, the legal advice says the committee must assess whether Mr Farrell acted in the public interest in making the comments.
Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris were two of four names included in an email sent by party leader Gerry Adams to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan about the murder of Mr Stack.
Mr Adams had made a personal explanation in the Dáil on December 9th outlining his knowledge of the murder. On completion Mr Farrell said Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris should be given an opportunity to address the House.
The Fine Gael TD said he intervened to allow for the Sinn Féin TDs a chance to speak, insisting many members were aware they had been named in correspondence.
Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris said the comments were “politically opportunistic and a cynical attempt to exploit the business of the House”.
If he is found to have abused his privilege, Mr Farrell will be asked to withdraw the comments, clarify his statement and if he refuses to do so, he will be reprimanded. The final decision will be a matter for the committee.
Meanwhile, the committee has issued all TDs with a reminder that members are prohibited on naming persons outside the House during debate.
This has always been the case but the committee said it was important to remind members in light of the judgement in the case of Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins. The court found in favour of the Oireachtas but the committee has stressed TDs must protect the constitutional rights of persons outside the House.