Wednesday 23 May 2018

O'Brien seeks findings that would 'effectively undermine' parliamentary speech, court told

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien

Tim Healy

Businessman Denis O'Brien is seeking findings that would be "entirely destructive of" and would "effectively undermine" parliamentary speech, the Supreme Court has heard.

Maurice Collins SC, for the State, said Mr O'Brien had brought proceedings that would indirectly substitute the courts instead of the Dáil as arbiter of "appropriate or inappropriate" parliamentary speech. It relates to comments in the Dáil about his banking affairs by Pearse Doherty and Catherine Murphy.

Lawyers for the businessman rejected the claims.

Mr Collins says proceedings were brought over the manner the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP) handled Mr O'Brien's complaint over the TDs' statements to the Dáil in May-June 2015.

The CPP dismissed the complaint, which the businessman has challenged in judicial review proceedings.

Yesterday saw submissions on the second day of the appeal against a High Court decision rejecting Mr O'Brien's case.

Mr Collins said the CPP was an agent of the Oireachtas, and under sections of the Irish Constitution, any decision the committee made could not be challenged before the courts.

Counsel said the State's argument was even stronger than the Supreme Court's 2014 judgment in favour of a Seanad committee against former senator Ivor Callely over his expenses.

The court ruled the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests was entitled to conclude Mr Callely had in 2008 misrepresented his normal place of residence as being in Bantry, Cork, rather than Dublin when claiming expenses.

Earlier, Michael Collins SC, for the CPP, said any finding the committee's decisions could be the subject of court actions meant any protection under Article 15 was "wholly illusionary".

In reply to the State and the CPP's submissions, Eileen Barrington SC, for Mr O'Brien, said the State respondents were making "a stark case" which was rejected by her client, who was directly affected by "an abuse of privilege".

Mr O'Brien claims the CPP failed to obey its own rules when dismissing his complaints about statements.

As a result, the courts should step in to ensure vindication of the rights of a non-member of the Oireachtas, he claims.

He also claims there was no evidence the TDs acted in good faith and responsibly when they made the statements.

In his action, Mr O'Brien claims statements made by the two TDs after he secured injunctions against RTÉ restraining it publishing details about his banking affairs with IBRC were an unwarranted interference in the judicial domain.

This was because the statements revealed most of the information subject of the injunction, which made the court proceedings pointless.

Following the conclusion of submissions from both sides yesterday, the seven-judge Supreme Court reserved its decision.

The Chief Justice Mr Frank Clarke said it might take some time before the court was in a position to deliver its judgment.

Irish Independent

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