Tuesday 20 March 2018

Oireachtas members to defend O'Brien's legal action

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

An Oireachtas committee has vowed to "vigorously defend" its members in response to legal action initiated by businessman Denis O'Brien.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) has agreed to bring a motion before the Dáil to secure the support of members. It is not known if there will be a debate on the legal action taken by Mr O'Brien against each member of the CPP, as well as the State and the Attorney General.

Mr O'Brien is believed to be taking issue with the CPP's findings that Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy did not abuse Dáil privilege when making allegations about him in the chamber earlier this year.

At a two-hour meeting in Leinster House yesterday, members were given a legal briefing surrounding the High Court action initiated by Mr O'Brien.

It is understood that members were instructed not to make any further action against Mr O'Brien in the public domain.

However last night, Ms Murphy released a statement strongly defending her actions.

She said: "It is extremely disappointing that the National Parliament and elected representatives are having to obtain legal advice on foot of a threat to the constitutionally protected parliamentary privilege, which is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.

"I reject any accusation that I interfered with the legal process. At all times I carried out my job as a public representative in the public interest."

The legal team that briefed the CPP yesterday were senior counsel Sara Moorhead and barrister David Fennelly.

They were assisted by members of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor's Office.

There was widespread condemnation of Mr O'Brien's legal action against the CPP after it ruled Ms Murphy was not in breach of Dáil privilege when she highlighted the communications tycoon's banking arrangements with the bailed-out bank in the chamber.

Ms Murphy raised questions over whether Mr O'Brien had received preferential treatment from IBRC.

Mr O'Brien denies this claim.

Ms Murphy had been highlighting what she believes are questionable transactions between IBRC and Mr O'Brien before news of the legal action surfaced in the public domain.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called the legal action a "threat to democracy".

The Cork TD also called on Mr O'Brien to "back off" when the controversy emerged in the summer months.

Mr O'Brien's lawyers claim that the Oireachtas procedures do not prevent abuse of Dáil privilege.

The CPP members included Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, along with Fine Gael TDs Joe Carey, Martin Heydon, Dinny McGinley. Labour's Emmet Stagg and John Lyons, Fianna Fáil's Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Independent TD John Halligan are also members.

Mr O'Brien is the largest shareholder in Independent News and Media (INM), which publishes the Irish Independent.

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