O'Brien sues after articles on banking crisis 'injured his reputation'
Businessman Denis O'Brien has alleged a number of newspaper articles defamed him by portraying him as one of the "developer kings" who "destroyed Ireland and bankrupted its banking system".
Mr O'Brien is suing Post Publications Ltd, publishers of the 'Sunday Business Post' (SBP).
He was in court number 25 of the Four Courts when the hearing opened at the High Court yesterday before Mr Justice Bernard Barton and a jury.
Luán O Braonáin SC, for Mr O'Brien, said that the case concerned articles published in the SBP on March 15, 2015, including a front page article which referred to a "secret" report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), called "Project Atlas", into Ireland's banks.
The article was headlined "22 men and €26 billion" and the subheading was: "The secret report that convinced Cowen the banks weren't bust."
Above the headline was a stamp with the word "Confidential" and a strapline, "The files they don't want you to see", counsel said.
Beside the headline and below the words "Top Secret" was a list of names, including Denis O'Brien's.
That meant that Mr O'Brien was among the "they" referred to in the strapline, counsel said.
He said that the article stated the PwC report "shows how just 22 men ended up owing €25.5bn to their banks" and named Mr O'Brien as one of the 22.
It was Mr O'Brien's case that the articles identify the 22 with the downfall of Ireland and the bankruptcy of its banking system and mean certain things that injure Mr O'Brien's reputation. The defence does not rely on a defence of truth, counsel added.
He said the Sunday Business Post is a well-established Irish newspaper which, during 2014 and 2015, had a combined readership of 113,000 for its print and online edition.
These articles took up a lot of the March 15, 2015, edition and were portrayed by the newspaper as "a big story".
He said that the world economy went bust in 2008, the Irish banks were guaranteed and later bailed out by the State and those events were part of the focus of the articles which particularly addressed Project Atlas.
He said that Project Atlas involved examination by PwC of loans and the PwC report was put together to let the regulator and government know what the story was.
The Sunday Business Post articles became a source of concern for Mr O'Brien because they portrayed him as "one of the developer kings who destroyed Ireland and bankrupted its banking system and as someone who had overborrowed in a disturbing way", he said.
The articles also meant that Mr O'Brien was someone whose identity as a borrower from the Irish banks was a "dark" secret that had to be suppressed and was now being revealed in a "daring expose", he said.
If a person has a bank account, they are entitled to confidentiality and that is not unusual.
But the articles do not deal with that kind of confidentiality, they convey there is some sort of secret designed to be suppressed, he said.
The case continues.