Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has defended her actions in the Siteserv affair in the face of implicit criticism from a High Court judge and an attack on her conduct by businessman Denis O’Brien.
Ms Murphy insisted she used parliamentary privilege only “very sparingly on very rare occasions” and “always in pursuit of transparency, accountability and the national interest”.
Mr Justice Brian Cregan’s final report to the Government prompted a statement from Mr O’Brien in which he accused the TD of abusing Dáil privilege as a “tool” of political weaponry.
“Deputy Murphy contrived a politically motivated campaign of falsehoods and baseless allegations with others for political gain. Not surprisingly, she steadfastly refused to co-operate with the commission she was responsible for having established,” Mr O’Brien said.
But Ms Murphy was defiant, saying the judge was clear in his findings about the 2012 sale of the building services company to Mr O’Brien: “The phrase ‘tainted with impropriety’ is mentioned on 44 separate occasions in the body of the report.”
In a report last September, the judge said the deal was based on “misleading and incomplete information” that Siteserv provided to Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the nationalised former Anglo Irish Bank and the company’s main lender.
“The report is clear that the integrity of the sales process was undermined from the start and the deal was not commercially sound,” Ms Murphy said.
The inquiry followed a Dáil furore over the €119 million loss incurred by IBRC after the Siteserv sale to Mr O’Brien.
“I make no apology for raising matters of serious public concern under privilege in the Dáil and the Siteserv deal was a matter of serious public concern,” Ms Murphy said.
The exchanges came after the judge said anonymous information “risked undermining the constitutional protections of certain witnesses” to cross-examine their accusers.
Mr Justice Cregan’s remarks were seen as implicit criticism of Ms Murphy, although he did not name any particular TD for making anonymous claims.
However, Mr O’Brien accused the TD of abusing Dáil privilege “to make totally false and malicious allegations” and claimed the ultimate cost of the inquiry to the State, private companies and individuals would be greater than €50 million.
Ms Murphy claimed in the Dáil the interest rate on Mr O’Brien’s IBRC loans was “extremely favourable”. But the judge dismissed assertions Mr O’Brien received a “favourable interest rate” and found no evidence of “improper or unduly close” relationships at the time with top IBRC executives.
“The commission completely exonerated me of any impropriety or wrongdoing,” Mr O’Brien said.
“In the future, there should be a mechanism in place by which a commission could seek Dáil approval to stand down its work in the event that a person making unsubstantiated allegations under Dáil privilege refuses to give evidence and fails to furnish documentary evidence supporting the allegations.”
Ms Murphy said: “The biggest loser in all of this was the State, given IBRC could have recovered up to €8.7 million more than the €44.3 million it agreed to accept in settlement of Siteserv’s indebtedness.”