HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has intervened in the constitutional crisis over Dail privilege by insisting politicians should be free from the threat of legal action when speaking in the chamber.
However, Mr Varadkar warned that politicians should be “careful” not to abuse the privilege by revealing personal information that might be false.
“I would agree that Dail privilege is unrestricted and should be. The Constitution is clear on that, but politicians need to be careful not to abuse it – particularly when it comes to personal information or allegations that might be false,” Mr Varadkar told the The Herald.
Tanaiste Joan Burton also broke her silence to insist Dail privilege – and the media’s right to report on it – was a “cornerstone of our democracy”.
“The Tanaiste believes that constitutional protection for TDs and senators to speak freely in the Dail and Seanad on matters of concern – and for the media to report it – is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy,” the Tanaiste’s spokesperson said.
The minister and Tanaiste’s comments come as RTE lodges paperwork with the High Court seeking to clarify if it can broadcast a Dail speech made by Independent TD Catherine Murphy detailing businessman Denis O’Brien’s banking arrangements with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).
Fianna Fail called on the Houses of the Oireachtas to join the High Court case taken by RTE, the Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post.
Fianna Fail Senator Thomas Byrne said the restriction on RTE preventing the station from airing Ms Murphy’s comments was a “gross violation of the independence of Dail Eireann and the right of its elected members to speak on matters of public importance”.
An Oireachtas spokesperson said this was a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which is made up of elected representatives.
Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher said Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s silence on the issue was “very serious and is compounding the Constitutional crisis we’re facing”.
Yesterday, former IBRC chairman Alan Dukes insisted none of the bank’s customers received preferential treatment based on who they were or the size of their loans.
Mr Dukes said customers were treated on a case-by-case basis, but the State-owned bank’s ultimate goal was to make a “maximum return” for the taxpayer. Mr Dukes questioned whether Ms Murphy would accept the outcome of review of IBRC transactions established by the Government.
The review was initiated after Ms Murphy raised concerns over the sale of Siteserv to a company owned by Mr O’Brien.
Former attorney general Michael McDowell also weighed into the debate and said comments made by politicians under Dail privilege should “trump” private interests. He believed the court order stopping RTE from broadcasting details of Mr O’Brien’s personal bank arrangements did not cover Ms Murphy’s Dail speech.