Sunday 23 October 2016

Injunction 'never meant to prevent reports from Dail'

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien

A HIGH Court Judge has said it was never his intention that an injunction preventing RTE from reporting on businessman Denis O'Brien's personal finances would restrict media outlets from fairly reporting on comments made in the Dail.

The remarks were made by Mr Justice Donald Binchy yesterday after both RTE and the Irish Times returned to court seeking clarification on an injunction granted last month preventing RTE broadcasting a report relating to Mr O'Brien's private and confidential banking affairs with Irish Banking Resolution Corporation.

Both media outlets said the clarification related to their desire to publish comments made before the Dail on May 28 by Independent TD Catherine Murphy about the businessman's alleged banking arrangements with IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

Michael Cush, senior counsel for Mr O'Brien, told the court that his client was seeking a variation of the order to allow the TD's comments to the Dail, the accuracy of which Mr O'Brien disputes, to be published.

It was never his client's intention to prevent the TD from making comments in the Dail and it was accepted under Article 15 of the Irish Constitution that all comments made in the Dail enjoyed full privilege.

Ms Murphy's Dail speech was broadcast on Oireachtas Television, on social media including YouTube, and were published by foreign media outlets, counsel said. This put the matter in the public domain, counsel said.

READ MORE: What Independent TD said in the Dail last week

Counsel said Ms Murphy's speech was "in flagrant breach" and "in conscious disregard" of Standing Order 57 of the Houses of the Oireachtas by making comments on something that was before the courts.

Mr Cush said his client intended to bring proceedings against the State seeking clarification on the demarcation between the roles of the Oireachtas and the courts.

David Holland, senior counsel for RTE, said it was RTE's position that the variation proposed did not go far enough, given that further comments may be made about the matter in the Dail.

He also said a number of media outlets received letters from Mr O'Brien's solicitors stating publication of the statement would breach the injunction. He described the decision by Mr O'Brien to seek to vary the order today as a "spectacular climb-down".

Mr Cush rejected this and said his client's position had been consistent throughout.

Michael O'Higgins, senior counsel for the Irish Times, said reporting on what was said in the Dail was essential to newspapers.

The three-day hearing had been told Mr O'Brien wanted to restrain publication of the broadcast report because it breached his privacy rights and would cause him incalculable commercial damage.

IBRC supported his case. RTE opposed it on grounds including the right to freedom of expression and public interest. It also argued the courts should be slow to interfere with legitimate journalistic judgment.

The matter is due to return before the court today.

Andrew Lynch: Page 14

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