Friday 15 November 2019

Dail opposes Denis O'Brien request for voluntary disclosure of documents

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien

Mary Carolan

THE Dail is opposing a request from businessman Denis O'Brien for voluntary disclosure of documents for his legal action over speeches made in the House about his banking affairs with State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

Mr O'Brien claims there is a "clear public interest" in the courts determining whether speeches last summer by Social Democrats TD, Catherine Murphy, and Sinn Fein TD, Pearse Doherty effectively determined his action against RTE aimed at restraining publication of details of those banking affairs.

He claims the Dail, its Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) and the State caused and permitted the utterances to be made in breach of his rights of privacy and access to the courts under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights; his right to fair procedures; and of the standing orders regulating debate in the Oireachtas.

This amounted to "unwarranted interference" by the Oireachtas with the operation of the courts "in a purely judicial domain", it is alleged.

The claims are denied

When the case was mentioned to High Court Deputy Master Angela Denning yesterday, she was told there is a dispute over the discovery of documents sought by Mr O'Brien's side. No details of that were outlined in court.

Eileen Barrington SC, for Mr O'Brien, said the State had delivered its defence and her side was seeking voluntary discovery from the CPP but was told that would not be forthcoming.

Sara Moorhead SC, for the Dail, said there were "significant issues" involved which would take time to address.

Her side would not be making voluntary discovery and Mr O'Brien's side would have to seek discovery orders which the State would oppose.

There was "nothing particularly urgent" about the proceedings, counsel added.

The Deputy Master fixed February 9 to deal with discovery applications by either side.

Mr O'Brien initiated his action against the Dail, the CPP, Ireland and the Attorney General last June arising from his complaints that Dail utterances by Deputies Murphy and Doherty had prejudiced, and effectively decided, his pending action against RTE.

He complained both TDs made their speeches after he initiated court proceedings against RTE on April 30 last aimed at restraining publication of details of his banking affairs with IBRC.

Comments about his banking affairs continued to be made after he obtained injunctions restraining publication of details of those, it is also claimed.

Utterances by Deputy Murphy on May 6, May 27and May 28, and by Deputy Doherty on June 9, amounted to abuse of parliamentary privilege and unconstitutional interference by the Oireachtas with the courts, he claims.

The utterances led to his being forced to concede in court on June 10 last that the entire script which he had sought to prevent RTE publishing,  and which he had also successfully injuncted,  was by then in the public domain, it is claimed.

His lawyers formally complained on his behalf from May 28 to the Ceann Comhaire and Deputy Ceann Comhairle, initially about Deputy Murphy's actions and later also about the actions of Deputy Doherty, it is claimed.

On June 11, the lawyers learned from an Irish Times report their complaint about Deputy Murphy was rejected, it is claimed.

They were formally informed on June 15 the CPP had considered their correspondence and had found Deputy Murphy had not breached standing orders as her utterances were made "on the floor of the House in a responsible manner, in good faith and as part of the legislative process". 

In relation to Mr O'Brien's claims the utterances breached the terms of the High Court injunction, the CPP said any such finding was exclusively a matter for the courts.

On July 3, the lawyers were told the CPP had concluded Deputy Doherty's "exercise of his constitutional freedom of speech" in the Dail fell outside the scope of, and did not contravene, the standing order regulating debate in the House.

Mr O'Brien alleges, as far as he is aware,  the CPP had received no submissions from either Deputy in relation to his complaints before making its findings.

If it had, he was given no opportunity to respond to such submissions in breach of his right to fair procedures, he claims.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News