Saturday 20 January 2018

Dispute over Dáil privilege takes new twist

Opposition claims row is 'constitutional crisis' and urges Kenny to act

Businessman Denis O’Brien
Businessman Denis O’Brien
15/5/'07 Catherine Murphy Kildare North leaving court in Dublin today. PIC COLLINS PHOTOS
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The Government has again rejected demands for the Dail to be recalled this week as the political storm involving businessman Denis O'Brien intensifies.

The Opposition is calling on the Taoiseach to intervene to resolve what has been described as a "constitutional crisis" involving the Houses of the Oireachtas and the judicial system.

But the unprecedented legal battle took a new twist yesterday after Mr O'Brien's spokesman claimed the information read into the Dáil record by Catherine Murphy was "stolen" and subsequently "altered" before being handed on to the Dail deputy.

Three media outlets will tomorrow seek clarification from the High Court over the reporting of a Dáil speech by the Independent TD in which she makes claims about Mr O'Brien's relationship with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

Although the claims were made under Dáil privilege, most media outlets have opted not to publish the details due to a High Court injunction on May 21.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe yesterday described the issue as "extremely serious".

Read more: O'Brien spokesman clashes with FF leader over airwaves

"I do not believe it is tenable that media outlets in Ireland cannot report on what is taking place in our parliament, and media outlets outside of Ireland can and are. That is not acceptable," he added.

The Fine Gael politician, however, said court action being taken by media outlets such as RTÉ and the print media should be respected.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe insisted that the Government is deeply conscious of the need to protect the rights of TDs.

He said the matter will be discussed on June 9, when the Dáil is due to return from a week of recess.

"There is a legal battle going on here, I'm not going to get involved in that as it is outside of the Oireachtas," Mr Kehoe said.

"We are absolutely conscious of the need to protect freedom of speech and protecting the democratic rights of members and we are keeping a close eye on what's going on here."

Mr O'Brien's spokesman James Morrissey told RTE radio that Ms Murphy's statements were "fundamentally wrong" and that Mr O'Brien will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the privacy of his finances.

"There were documents stolen. And they were amended and altered and they were presented to Catherine Murphy," Mr Morrissey said.

"I think the big issue here is do you concede to pressure that's out there or do you stand your ground and say, 'I am a private citizen, and I am entitled to privacy in my financial affairs'?"

It has also emerged that Mr O'Brien personally wrote to the Kildare TD accusing her of deliberately undermining the decision of the High Court by making her contribution in the Dail last Thursday.

Read more: John Downing: High Court must decide on a conflict between Dáil rights and the rights of a citizen to privacy

"I will be writing separately to the Ceann Comhairle but it is a worrying day for the democratic institutions of this State when a member of the Dáil deliberately undermines an order of the Judiciary of this State," Mr O'Brien wrote.

Ms Murphy yesterday tweeted to say that she was aware of the contents of the letter through media reports but had not personally received it.

Ms Murphy has also come under fire from former IBRC chairman Alan Dukes, who described her claims as "downright, plain wrong".

But Ms Murphy yesterday insisted the sources who gave her the information about Mr O'Brien are "very reliable" and that she double-checked the accuracy of the information before speaking in the Dáil.

"Parliamentary privilege is there for a good reason. It's there to protect the public interest," she said, adding that the Dáil should be recalled to deal with the issue.

"In a situation where there is a constitutional crisis, I can't see why for the life of me, you wouldn't want the Dáil recalled."

In relation to Mr Dukes's comments, Ms Murphy said she was surprised by his intervention, adding that the remarks "really went beyond and into the outrageous".

Irish Independent

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