Sunday 17 December 2017

Debate in Dáil would be stifled if O'Brien wins case, court is told

Denis O’Brien outside the Four Courts. Photo: Collins Courts
Denis O’Brien outside the Four Courts. Photo: Collins Courts

Andrew Phelan and Shane Phelan

Businessman Denis O'Brien is seeking to influence the freedom of future debate in the Oireachtas, the High Court has heard.

Dáil debate would be stifled if Mr O'Brien won his case, as anyone who sues to prevent the publication of material would be able to "put the Oireachtas on notice", it was claimed.

The arguments were put forward by Maurice Collins SC, representing the Attorney General and the State, on the fifth day of Mr O'Brien's action over comments by two TDs who revealed his banking arrangements in the Dáil.

The telecoms and media tycoon is seeking declarations from the High Court that the TDs interfered in injunction proceedings he took against RTÉ in May last year.

At the time, Mr O'Brien secured an injunction blocking the broadcaster from revealing details of his banking arrangements with IBRC.

But he claims those proceedings were usurped when Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty divulged the information at issue in the Dáil.

Mr O'Brien has sued a Dáil committee, the Clerk of the Dáíl and the State, asking the court to censure the two TDs and declare that a committee which absolved them of any wrongdoing erred in its findings.

In oral legal submissions yesterday, Mr Collins said the court was being asked "to delineate what could and could not be said in future Oireachtas debates in the Dáil and the Seanad".

He said the court was being "asked to create a form of prohibited parliamentary speech" and to say that the mere issuing of a writ creates "a zone" restricting parliamentary privilege.

He claimed the case taken by Mr O'Brien involved "a series of superficially skilful subterfuges and sidesteps".

The barrister said the court was being asked to fall down "a wormhole into Wonderland" where words mean what Mr O'Brien and his counsel, Michael Cush SC, says they mean.

Mr Collins said the court was being asked to find that constitutional provisions did not mean what they say.

He said the "powerful non-amenability" to the courts which TDs enjoy in relation to comments in the Dáil was there "for the people" and a "cornerstone of democracy".

It protected parliaments and deputies, freeing the legislature from shackles which would apply in respect of comments outside the Oireachtas.

Mr O'Brien had acknowledged his proceedings were seeking judicial condemnation for Ms Murphy and Mr Doherty, he said. But Mr Collins said Mr O'Brien could not seek for the court to censure the two TDs.

"No authority outside the Oireachtas is empowered to pass judgment on what has been said by a member in the House," he said. "No authority outside the Oireachtas is empowered to say what can or cannot be said by a member of the House."

Earlier, counsel for the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP), Michael Collins SC said Mr O'Brien's legal action was effectively asking a judge to "draw a line" on the floor of the Dáil and tell TDs they could not go beyond it.

He said Mr O'Brien was asking Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh to "take over the role" of the committee.

Mr O'Brien had said one of the reasons he had brought the case was that he wanted the court to reprimand the TDs for their comments, because the CPP had not done so.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News