#Redacted: “One thing you can not do is silence the national parliament…”

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:

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…

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…

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  • Robin Keogh

    Yes well is all kicking off down here in Dublin big time. There are three issues, first the injunction itself which is perfectly honourable as any citizen can obtain an injunction and if granted has to be adhered to.Second there is the issue of Catherine Murphy’s comments in the Dail chamber which appear to be protected under the constitution, but there is a view that the constitution protects her and her right to put the information on the record. Thirdly, and the tricky bit, is the question as to what is the point in having a situation where a private citizen can win an injunction only to have that injunction effectively and legally overturned in the context of Dail privilege? That will make up part of the courts time tomorrow and arguably be robustly asserted by O’Briens solicitors. My own view on this is that RTE and the Irish Times et al. took the easy or overly cautious way out, they could have ran with Murphy’s comments as a story within a story and enjoyed the protection of privilage because the constitution does not set down criteria as to how Dail speeches can be covered nor does it prevent the msdia or any individual from regurgitating information already on the Dail record.

  • mickfealty

    Easy, but potentially costly. I suspect they may have concerns about the veracity of Deputy Murphy’s information and weren’t up for going Route One.

  • Brian Walker

    Jaw dropping stuff. Whether Ms Murphy’s allegations are
    right or wrong. they are out there in the public domain in the Dail record. The idea
    that any Irish financier could win a
    case like this after all the rackets
    that were exposed over Anglo-Irish , Allied Irish etc beggars belief. The affair exposes one of the disadvantages of a written
    constitution. In the UK parliamentary privilege is a convention regulated by parliament
    itself – fairly strictly in fact . The Trafigula case showed how it could override
    a super-injunction. Efforts to injunct
    the Daily Telegraph over exposing MPs’ expenses
    foundered even though the dossier was stolen goods. The interlocutory injunction
    will surely be overturned. Won’t it? Well wont’ it? I can’t hear ye!.

  • the rich get richer

    I don’t know if you can silence the National Parliament !

    But Denis O Brien has made a pretty good job of buying it !

  • Nevin

    Could the ECHR silence the parliamentarians? This snippet from the Examiner:

    The video and transcript are also on oireachtas.ie, but Leinster House officials have “no plans” to take them down.

    Meanwhile, a constitutional lawyer has suggested Mr O’Brien may need to go to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent TDs and senators from discussing the matter under privilege.

    Barrister and UCD lecturer Paul Anthony McDermott said this is because the courts are unlikely to rule against parliamentary privilege, meaning he may have to put in the application to protect his privacy as there “does not appear to be a remedy under Irish law”.

    He said the row is “unprecedented” and will have wide-reaching consequences.

  • chrisjones2

    …my violin and onion are fair worn out

  • Jag

    If a MLA speaking in the Stormont Assembly provided details of the seven extant super injunctions in Northern Ireland, would the NI media be able to report those details? Would the NI Assembly record be able to show the detail of what was said?

  • Jag

    There’s another O’Brien penned article in the IT today – 1800 words in which he seems to accuse Micheal Martin of being a hypocrite, Catherine Murphy of a “desire to distort” the details of his dealings with Anglo (and of chasing “notoriety and political advantage”), he accuses the former Attorney General of having an agenda and RTE of being “used” to attack him. Denis seems to feel like Custer surrounded by Arapaho on Greasy Hill.

    Poor Denis, he was warned – “warned” I tells you – that he would receive “dogs abuse” if he invested in Ireland, but valiant Denis, he persevered and invested in Siteserv regardless (which has gone on to become a golden goose after it subsequently won a state contract to install water meters).

    Of course on one level he is right and his banking details should be private. But come on, his own Sunday Independent reported he had around €500m of loans with Anglo in 2012, that makes him a big borrower of a state-owned bank. Even if the current allegations are wrong – and Denis, Alan Dukes and the former Anglo CEO do claim they are false – then surely Denis understands there is a public interest in airing them, investigating them (which should take five minutes) and if they are wrong, then Denis’s stock and reputation rises.

  • Jag

    One political aspect of Denis’s platform in the Irish Times today is his praise for FG and his venom for FF and SF.

    He says “I always firmly believed that this country would emerge from recession quite quickly because of the immediate spending cuts and real Government action to meet the troika plan.”

    He also says ” I wanted to make a significant financial gesture of support at home. This was to show solidarity with Ireland but also to support the efforts of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in stabilising the Irish banks and slow future outflow of deposits.”

    He is highly critical of Michael Martin and in my view characterises Micheal as a hyprocrite for Micheal’s contrasting stance on MLM’s disclosures in the Dail last year about FF politicians who allegedly held off-shore bank accounts which may have been used to evade tax.

    And Denis concludes with a kick on the ankles for SF ” I will always be proud to be Irish, optimistic and a republican with a small “r”.”

  • Robin Keogh

    Sorry, I didnt post the link because I support hism I posted it because I thi nk its pathetic. I have zero sympathy for him. His media empire in Ireland is I believe the biggest threat to Irish democracy we have evr had in the state. I just posted the link for info puposes.

  • Robin Keogh

    Troll on Chris

  • chrisjones2

    How is that trolling

    He referred to O’Briens self serving article in the Indie and I commented that my violin and onion were worn out.

    If you don’t understand the meaning of that, I can understand As a member of SF perhaps your sense of humour chip has been destroyed during reprogramming. All that blood and SF hypocrisy can be so corrosive

  • chrisjones2

    Well the HOC certainly could. With the Stormont County Council I am not so sure. But then who has those super-injunctions and who are their friends on the Hill

  • mickfealty

    Fine, but can I remind you both this is not for man playing either… I’ve quoted the extract from the IT piece in which he takes Martin to task for what he alleges to be a hypocritical stance in relation to Mary Lou’s privileged but false accusations against several businessmen and former FF colleagues of Mr M.

    I’m not forcing people to be nice, just to keep some focus, please?