Mail article a grubby insult, says O'Brien

6/2/2013 Denis O Brien, arriving at the Four Courts yesterday(Wed) before giving evidence during the opening day of his High Court Libel action for damages.Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

BUSINESSMAN Denis O'Brien told the High Court yesterday that an article about his efforts to assist after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was spiteful, grubby and offensive.

THE article in the 'Irish Daily Mail' was the opinion of writer Paul Drury but it was based on poor research and was littered with mistakes, Mr O'Brien said.

Published by the Mail publishers, Associated Newspapers, on January 22, 2010, the article was headlined: "Moriarty's about to report, no wonder Denis O'Brien's acting the saint in stricken Haiti."


Mr O'Brien, chair of the Digicell Group whose global interests include hundreds of millions of investment in the mobile phone infrastructure in Haiti, says he was defamed in the article because it meant his involvement in the Haitian relief effort was a hypocritical act primarily motivated by self interest.

He claims it meant his work in Haiti was an "ingenious feint" designed to distract attention from the pending final report of the Moriarty Tribunal into payments to politicians which made findings adverse to Mr O'Brien over the awarding of the country's second mobile phone licence but which the businessman disputes.

He is seeking damages over the article which he says caused him distress and injury to his character and reputation.

The Mail denies his claims and says the article was a piece of opinion honestly held and based on facts the author honestly believed were true.

On the first day of the case yesterday, Mr O'Brien told the court that Digicell had invested heavily in Haiti before the January 2010 earthquake. His company was one of the largest employers, with 880 people. When news of the quake broke, he travelled to the capital Port au Prince. His focus initially was the company's staff, seven of whom had lost their lives. After helping them, it was a question of assisting the wider community, he said.

During these first few days, he gave an interview to RTE's Charlie Bird who Mr O'Brien had assisted in getting onto a flight there because there were huge difficulties in doing so. He returned to Ireland on January 19 and three days later, the Mail article was published.

"I thought it was a spiteful article and he [Paul Drury] had no idea what was happening in Haiti. It was really offensive, I thought it was grubby in the sense the journalist was trying to make out that I was only there for public relations reasons because the Moriarty Tribunal report was coming out. I thought that was an insult."

He believed a reference about him "popping up" alongside Charlie Bird was incorrect as he had at most spent 10 to 15 minutes with Mr Bird over several days. If Mr Drury had rang his office, he would have been told Mr O'Brien had a closer interest in Haiti, visiting it every five or six weeks before the quake and 29 or 30 times after it.

The case continues.