Just to bring you up to date with what they are now calling the redacted crisis (see our report on Friday), here’s a fascinating three way conversation between RTE presenter Richard Crowley, Denis O’Brien’s spokesman James Morrissey, and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.
Update: Scroll do down to see the legal correspondence in which Denis O’Brien’s legal representatives threatened Broadsheet.ie’s hosts.
It seems to me there’s a few things worth noting. There’s a tension in this story between O’Brien’s claim for privacy, a wider issue of public interest, and the law under the written Constitution of the Irish Republic.
As alluded to on Friday we simply don’t know whether the views expressed by Deputy Catherine Murphy are true or not. She certainly made them in the teeth of a court injunction against RTE’s report on the matter. The parallels with the Mary Lou case are there to be drawn.
What pushes this case further is the perceived challenge to parliamentary privilege that the threats to Broadsheet.ie on Thursday night posed to other media organisations. But as former Irish Attorney General and Minister of Justice Michael McDowell noted in the Irish Times on Saturday:
Insofar as information in her speech remained private at the time the High Court order was made against RTÉ, it is now in the public domain and is available internationally to all and any media (including social media, where it is all the buzz), and to any banker, any business competitor of O’Brien, or anyone thinking of doing business with him.
The only people in the dark about what she said in her speech are those who must rely on the mainstream media in Ireland for their information and only for as long as those media remain uncertain as to whether they can lawfully carry her speech or comment on its contents.
Those media now have the option of returning to the High Court for clarification as to whether they can carry Deputy Murphy’s Dáil speech (as The Irish Times will be doing next week) or else of taking their own advice and following the lead of the Guardian.
We now also have the ridiculous situation in which O’Brien’s spokesman uses the airwaves to condemn Deputy Murphy for “peddling lies” in the Dáil but listeners are not told what her allegation is and are in no position to judge for themselves whether the spokesman’s strident condemnation is itself true or not. That is pathetic and ludicrous.
The issue is probably beyond any reasonable doubt, because the whole Irish constitution is codified and written down in one place. As Senator Thomas Byrne noted yesterday on Twitter, it is exceptionally clear in its original Irish version:
— Thomas Byrne (@SenThomasByrne) May 31, 2015
“Saor ar chúrsaí dlí…” in my own reading translates as privilege being ‘free from all courses of law’. That’s presumably what led to the Broadsheet boys and girls to publish the Hansard report verbatim. And, since Roy neglected to give them a mention, yesterday’s Sunday Times…
New media guidelines to be brought to cabinet this week will recommend 20% limit on ownership but not retrospective pic.twitter.com/NA2y0eZX7g
— Frank Fitzgibbon (@FrankSunTimes) May 31, 2015
Some have suggested that the Fianna Fail leader is hypocritically supporting Deputy Murphy when he attacked Sinn Fein’s Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald for similarly using Dail privilege to make disclosures.
But Martin made it pretty clear in that interview yesterday what the front line in this case actually is. Addressing Morrissey he said:
…it’s absolutely essential that you back off from this. One thing you can not do is silence the national parliament or silence the rights of Dáil deputies, whether you like what they say or dislike what they say.
Constitutionally you cannot do that and nobody, and I’m talking to people across the country, they’re very upset and angry with what is going on. They do not like it.
Fear stalks the land in terms of the journalistic landscape by the way, litigations left, right and centre – it’s a very unhealthy situation, there’s a very unhealthy atmosphere out there in our democracy.
Here’s my own extended thoughts on the matter…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty