Miriam Lord: Chilling effect of fear of litigation can be petrifying

Department found documents when Murphy’s questions started hitting headlines

Independent TD Catherine Murphy pictured outside Leinster House before the start of the debate on IBRC. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Independent TD Catherine Murphy pictured outside Leinster House before the start of the debate on IBRC. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

They were falling over each other in the Dáil in their efforts to be flexible.

Just like they had been in the IBRC, apparently, when business swashbucklers were reviewing their humungous loans and seeking favourable leeway from the dying bank.

Take Enda - ever flexible and forthcoming when it comes to answering questions in the House, according to himself.

“I’ve been a supporter for a very long time that Dáil questions being answered should be answered as fully and completely as possible” said the Taoiseach, without a hint of a smile.

That not only got the biggest laugh of the day, but also drew a rare round of applause from those members of the opposition who hadn’t already passed out.

That remark from Enda did not come with the benefit of punctuation.

Was it “Dáil questions being answered should be answered as fully...” or “Dáil questions, being answered, should be answered as fully...”

Perhaps he meant “when being answered”. Which isn’t too often, these days.

And there was the Minister for Finance, who has been “very flexible” in drafting the terms of reference for our latest Commission of Investigation.

Michael Noonan, marvelled Enda, has even gone so far as to say that if certain transactions fall outside of the specific timeframe, then “the flexibility is there to follow those particular transactions through.”

Noonan proved that he is flexible by going into the chamber at teatime and correcting the record. (Although he had little choice and he can read things out very fast when he wants to.)

The Minister had, in all good faith, given deputies a bum steer when answering questions about whether the Department of Finance possessed documents relating to specific IRBC meetings.

Then all of a sudden they were found, just around the same time that Catherine Murphy and her difficult questions were hitting the headlines.

Which is how coincidence happens, really.

“How did these infamous minutes suddenly appear?” marvelled Murphy, later in the evening.

As for the Opposition, members were anxious to be flexible but not entirely happy with the terms of reference of the commission looking into certain matters involving IBRC and Denis O’Brien, among others.

Right. We are going to plunge in now and report something which was said about Denis.

Deep breath.

Here goes.

Happily, we have privilege (Enda said he this knew all along, although he didn’t feel the need to say it publicly when it might have shown leadership). Nevertheless, that awful chilling effect brought on by fear of litigation can be petrifying, even with a good cardigan.

Catherine Murphy referred to it during her contribution. She began by referring to last week’s court upheaval over her recent airing of O’Brien’s unmentionables in the Dáil, with subsequent legal missives fired on his behalf in all directions, cautioning media outlets against reporting this.

In the last 12 years, Catherine chillingly reminded the chamber how Denis has launched 24 separate cases against publications and individual journalists in this country. She found it odd that people representing the businessman could call her a liar and a thief, “yet citizens were restricted from hearing or reading what I had said...”

But in the Dáil chamber, Fine Gael backbencher from West Cork, Jim Daly, stood up and bravely declared that he doesn’t know Denis O’Brien from Adam.

A downright lie, surely? Everyone knows Denis.

Furthermore, added Daly, in the course of a sterling speech in support of the billionaire, he believes O’Brien is currently the victim of “a witch-hunt”.

How dare he.

Denis has nothing to do with the occult and he never has, apart from the occasional box of Black Magic at Christmas.

Hope that makes things clear.

As for the gratuitous mentions of Mr O’Brien during Leaders’ Questions, that was all the fault of Fianna Fáil.

Enda was not best pleased. In fact, he was so miffed he threw back in Micheál Martin’s face the stringing remarks that departing senator Averil Power made about his leadership and Fianna Fáil’s role in the same sex marriage referendum.

“It ill behoves you Deputy Martin to come in here speaking about leadership, because you did not do anything to further the cause of those who sought equality in marriage over the last month. In fact, the Yes for Equality people had to put up the Fianna Fáil posters down the West while your party sneered and jeered at a Senator who was explaining the importance and the value of that vote.”

This didn’t go down well with Micheál and the troops, who know too well that the vast majority of the Fine Gael backbenchers hung back and did very little during the campaign as well.

Timmy Dooley was incensed. He didn’t think much of Enda’s credentials in the history of the same-sex referendum .

“Sure, you pushed Ursula Halligan out of the way!” he shrieked, referring to the infamous flowerpot incident when the Taoiseach had been reluctant to give a view on the issue.

But back to the Commission, which he is delighted to see underway because it means his government will be able to wash its hands of the IBRC affair for the foreseeable. It will become “the sole responsibility of the member who is conducting its business, and that member will conduct his or her business in the way that he or she sees fit within the context of the general terms of reference” said the Taoiseach.

“But let me repeat again that no justice in this country is a pawn of any Minister and no justice is a pawn of any Government.”

To which Billy Kelleher whooped: “Plenty of pawns of Denis O’Brien over there.”

Scurrilous stuff.

And them all just back after a full week off – for what reason, nobody knows.

But that’s privilege for you.