O’Brien controversy: Courts to decide on right to report

‘Irish Times’ and RTÉ seek to publish privileged Dáil comments by Independent TD Catherine Murphy

Denis  O’Brien secured an injunction preventing RTÉ from broadcasting a report on the substance of the subject at the centre of Independent TD Catherine Murphy’s comments. That order was also directed at any person or media outlet on notice of it, including The Irish Times. Photograph: The Irish Times

Denis O’Brien secured an injunction preventing RTÉ from broadcasting a report on the substance of the subject at the centre of Independent TD Catherine Murphy’s comments. That order was also directed at any person or media outlet on notice of it, including The Irish Times. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The media’s right to publish statements made in the Dáil will be tested in the courts as senior members of Government and Opposition defended the use of parliamentary privilege on matters of public interest.

The Irish Times and RTÉ are to apply to the High Court for permission to report a Dáil statement made by Independent TD Catherine Murphy about businessman Denis O’Brien’s banking arrangements with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

Ms Murphy, an Independent TD from Kildare, made new claims about Mr O’Brien’s arrangements with IBRC under Dáil privilege on Thursday.

Lawyers acting on Mr O’Brien’s behalf claimed the details were covered by an existing temporary injunction the businessman succeeded in getting after High Court proceedings last week.

Mr O’Brien secured an injunction preventing RTÉ from broadcasting a report on the substance of the subject at the centre of Ms Murphy’s comments. That order was also directed at any person or media outlet on notice of it, including The Irish Times.

Terms of reporting

The Irish Times will be applying to the High Court on Tuesday to clarify the position in terms of reporting Ms Murphy’s statements in the Dáil.

The Irish Times believes it is vitally important that we publish a matter of public interest raised in our national parliament, and will apply to the court for confirmation we can do so,” said Editor Kevin O’Sullivan.

In a statement, RTÉ said it is also applying to the courts on Tuesday “for permission to broadcast statements made in the Dáil by Catherine Murphy, TD”.

James Morrissey, a spokesman for Mr O’Brien, said the businessman is entitled to privacy in his banking affairs.

He accused Ms Murphy of being “dishonest in her conduct” and “peddling . . . illegally procured information which contains falsehood”.

“The Dáil is a bit of a talking club, they want their own rules for themselves,” he said. “It is important that people stand up for democracy, inside the Dáil as well as outside the Dáil.”

Public domain

In response, Ms Murphy said she stands by her right as a TD to put information that has come to her into the public domain.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said “Dáil deputies have privilege for specific reasons of public interest and when they use it for that reason, they are entitled to be heard”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the media’s inability to report Ms Murphy’s comments would “cause concern” for members of the Oireachtas and said the use of privilege was an “important hallmark” of a functioning democracy.

The Government decided against recalling the Dáil from its break next week to discuss the issue, but chief whip Paul Kehoe said time will be made available when the House returns on June 9th.