Friday 20 April 2018

I have nothing to apologise for, columnist tells Denis O’Brien libel trial

Businessman Denis O'Brien arriving at the court today
Businessman Denis O'Brien arriving at the court today

Tim Healy

IRISH Daily Mail columnist Paul Drury told the High Court today he did not have anything to apologise for over an article he wrote about businessman Denis O'Brien.

He also stood over his opinion that Mr O'Brien used his presence in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there as part of his public relations offensive against the Moriarty Tribunal.

Mr Drury (55) strongly disputed assertions that he had not properly researched the article before it was published on January 22, 2010.

He was under cross examination on the fifth day of Mr O'Brien's libel action against Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, two editors and Mr Drury over the article headlined: "Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O'Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti."

Mr O'Brien (54) says the article accused him of being a hypocrite over his efforts to assist the relief of Haiti where Mr O'Brien's telecommunications company Digicel has substantial interests.

He says it meant what he was doing in Haiti was motivated by self interest and designed to deflect attention away from the Moriarty Tribunal report which contained findings adverse to Mr O'Brien but which he strongly disputes.

The newspaper and the journalists deny the claims.

Mr Drury told Paul O'Higgins SC, for Mr O'Brien, that he could not remember how many press statements he had read which had been issued by Digicel in relation to the earthquake before writing his article but he knew there were a number sent to the Mail on which it partly based some of its news reports about the quake aftermath

He rejected Mr O'Higgins' assertion that he was not meticulous with the facts.

Mr Drury said his research included articles from online newspaper and media articles, in particular the American Forbes magazine which contained a detailed interview with Mr O'Brien in which he spoke about his involvement in Haiti.

Mr Drury insisted what he was doing was commenting on facts which were true. He likened his role as a columnist to that of Eamon Dunphy or Johnny Giles commenting on a football match. They don't ring the Ireland manager to ask why he picked a particular player or team before they comment on it, Mr Drury said.

He "categorically denied" any suggestion that he repeatedly failed to give accurate facts in his article.

He agreed it was a serious thing to say of someone that they were looking at the deaths of 300,000 people in the Haitian earthquake to deflect attention from what was happening in Ireland (with the tribunal).

"I think it was a serious thing to say but I did not say that, what I said was he (O'Brien) had landed in Haiti and what was doing was laudable.

"What I did say and I make no apology for saying it, is that having done that, Mr O'Brien decided to use his presence in Haiti as part of a PR offensive to help portray him that would not be in the unpleasant light he was about to be portrayed by the Moriarty Tribunal".

Referring to references in the article about interviews Mr O'Brien gave to Charlie Bird from Haiti, Mr Drury agreed it was Mr Bird who sought out the businessman for those interviews. But they would not have been done without enormous efforts on the part of Mr O'Brien and Digicel, including assisting in flying Mr Bird into Haiti, he said.

He disagreed that he distorted facts on which the article was based including that Mr O'Brien used his involvement in other charities like Concern and Amnesty International as photo-opportunities. What he had said was that these presented opportunities for photo ops.

Paul Field, editor in chief of the Irish Daily Mail at the time the article was published, told the court he absolutely believed in what Paul Drury had said in the article when he made the decision to publish it.

Earlier yesterday, Mr O'Higgins cleared up confusion which arose on Tuesday over when Charlie Bird was in Haiti after the quake.

Solicitor for Mr O'Brien, Fergus Foody, had told the court he had seen a broadcast by Mr Bird on January 15 while an earlier witness, Dominic McSorley, a director with the aid charity Concern, had said he had arrived on the 17th.

Yesterday, Mr Higgins SC said Mr McSorley had accepted his evidence about the date was in error and it was agreed on all sides Mr Bird had arrived on the 15th when his first TV report was broadcast.

Mr O'Higgins said therefore Mr Foody had been perfectly correct in saying he arrived on the 15th.

Mr Bird was in court yesterday to hear the clarification given to the jury and he left immediately afterwards.

The case continues.

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