Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Reckless TD' used Dáil privilege to frustrate court order, O'Brien claims

Media tycoon Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg
Media tycoon Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg

Shane Phelan and Andrew Phelan

Lawyers for Denis O'Brien have claimed Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy acted "in total and reckless disregard" for the businessman and the judiciary of the State.

The allegation was made as Mr O'Brien began a High Court action against a Dáil committee and the State, claiming comments by two TDs effectively determined the outcome of legal proceedings he had taken against RTÉ.

Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke
Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke

Opening the case, Michael Cush SC, for Mr O'Brien, said the businessman had gone to the High Court in May 2015 seeking orders restricting the broadcaster from disclosing confidential information relating to banking arrangements with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).

But it is claimed Ms Murphy deliberately used parliamentary privilege to frustrate a court order restricting publication of the banking information and to usurp the role of the court.

Mr Cush claimed her comments in the Dáil, and subsequent remarks made there by Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, effectively put into the public domain all of the information Mr O'Brien had sought to injunct.

It was Mr O'Brien's case that the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and the courts was breached by the TDs.

Mr Cush said the proceedings were unique in the history of the State as they involved an intervention in the Dáil determining the outcome of a court case.

The telecoms and media tycoon's case is against the committee, the clerk of the Dáil and the State and is expected to last seven days.

Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh was told Mr O'Brien would be the only witness and would give evidence tomorrow.

Mr O'Brien is seeking a declaration from the court that the Constitution vested in the courts the exclusive right to determine the outcome of the proceedings with RTÉ.

He has also sought a declaration that the "substantial effect" of the comments by the two TDs in May and June 2015 was to decide the outcome of that case, and that they were guilty of "an unwarranted interference with the operation of the courts in a purely judicial domain". A further declaration is sought that the actions of the TDs breached his Constitutional rights.

The businessman also wants the court to declare that the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) made an error when it cleared the TDs of any wrongdoing.

"It is the function of the courts to determine the boundaries of legislative power and of judicial power," said Mr Cush.

"Mr O'Brien is asking the court to determine the correct demarcation between the two."

Mr Cush argued that in this case the two TDs had trespassed into the judicial domain.

They weren't prevented from doing so by the Dáil and there was no remedy when complaints were made to the CPP.

Mr Cush said an application for an injunction against RTÉ had received widespread publicity and Ms Murphy would have known about it when she spoke in the Dáil during a debate about the purchase of services company Siteserv by a Denis O'Brien-owned company Millington.

The barrister read a transcript of the debate, on May 7, 2015, into the court record, outlining details of alleged banking arrangements between Mr O'Brien and IBRC.

Further claims were made by Ms Murphy on May 27 and 28.

Mr Doherty gave a detailed account of alleged banking arrangements in a Dáil contribution on June 9 that year.

The court heard the CPP ultimately determined Ms Murphy had not breached standing orders as her utterances were made "on the floor of the House in a responsible manner", and that they were made "in good faith".

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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