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High Court rules media free to report Dail comments on Denis O’Brien banking arrangements


Denis O'Brien

Denis O'Brien

Denis O'Brien

THE High Court has clarified that RTE and other media outlets are free to report on comments on businessman Denis O'Brien's banking arrangements made by Independent TD Catherine Murphy in the Dail.

Justice Donald Binchy said it was never the court's intention to impact on speaking rights of members of the Oireachtas when granting an injunction to Mr O'Brien to stop RTE broadcasting details of his personal business dealings with the Irish Bank Resolution Company (IBRC).

Speaking under Dail privilege last Thursday, Ms Murphy said she understood the businessman was paying 1.25pc in interest – when IBRC "could and arguably should have been charging 7.5pc".

She added that with outstanding sums of more than €500m, the rate he paid is “not an insignificant issue for the public interest”.

Today, it emerged during the hearing that Mr O'Brien intends to take a case against the State in order to clarify separation of powers between the judiciary and the Oireachtas.

Mr O'Brien's barrister Michael Cush conceded that the information given in the Dail is widely available on the internet.

He said it was not Mr O'Brien's intention to restrain what deputies can say in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

However, he pointed to Dail standing orders which he said should have been applied to prevent Ms Murphy from detailing Mr O'Brien's personal bank details to the Dail.

He said Ms Murphy acted with "disregard" and in "flagrant breach" of Dail standing orders.

RTE's barrister David Holland said Mr O'Brien was under the wrong assumption that the national broadcaster was trying to attack him.

Mr Holland also said Mr O'Brien's accusation that Ms Murphy lied to Dail gave the case a new element of public interest.

On 21 May, Mr O'Brien and the IBRC were granted orders by the High Court preventing RTÉ from broadcasting a report about Mr O'Brien's personal banking arrangements with the bank.

When granting the order, Mr Justice Binchy also ruled that none of the contents of his judgement can be reported until legal teams have agreed on which parts of it should be redacted.

Ms Murphy read a statement in the Dail last Thursday which referenced Mr O'Brien's dealings with the IBRC. Many media outlets did not publish her comments, amid concerns that they would breach the High Court order if they did so.

But now there is clarification on the issue.

"We are now aware, for example, that the former CEO of IBRC made verbal agreements with Denis O’Brien to allow him to extend the terms of his already expired loans," Ms Murphy said last Thursday.

"We also know that the verbal agreement was never escalated to the credit committee for approval.

"I am led to believe and I would welcome, Minister, clarification of the rates applicable at this time: that the extension also attracted some extremely favourable interest terms. I understand that Mr. O’Brien was enjoying a rate of around 1.25pc when IBRC could, and arguably should, have been charging 7.5pc.

"Given that we are talking about outstanding sums of upwards of €500 million, the interest rate applied is not an insignificant issue for the public interest," the TD added.

"We also know that Denis O’Brien felt confident enough in his dealings with IBRC that he could write to Kieran Wallace, the special liquidator, to demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement could be continued.

"We now have Kieran Wallace, who has been appointed by the Government to conduct the IBRC review, joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the High Court to seek to injunct the information I have outlined from coming into the public domain. Surely, that alone represents a conflict."

Ms Murphy has welcomed the High Court clarification today.

“The substance of my concerns has always been to have a full, competent and independent inquiry into the wider governance issues in IBRC and I will continue to pursue that through the appropriate democratic channels available to me in the Oireachtas, ” she said this afternoon.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has also welcomed today's ruling.

The High Court adjourned today to 2pm to consider publication of Mr Justice Binchy’s original judgement.

More to follow.