Supreme Court dismisses businessman Denis O’Brien’s appeal over Dail statements

The Supreme Court has dismissed businessman Denis O’Brien’s appeal over statements made in the Irish parliament about his banking affairs.

The court, sitting in Galway, delivered its unanimous judgment on Mr O’Brien’s appeal against the High Court.

The High Court action arose from statements made by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty in the Dail during a debate in 2015.

The statements were made after Mr O’Brien was granted an injunction against RTE in April 2015, which prevented it from broadcasting details about his banking affairs.

Mr O’Brien said the statements made by the two deputies interfered with the court’s decision and damaged his constitutional rights.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) said the TDs did not breach the rules.

However, Mr O’Brien said the manner in which his complaint was dealt with breached the committee’s own rules.

After the High Court rejected Mr O’Brien’s case against the Dail, the Supreme Court heard his appeal.

On Tuesday, the court ruled that any interference by the court in this case would be “impermissible under the constitution”.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke said: “Mr O’Brien sought relief in respect of two different types of claim.

“The first concerns directly statements or utterances made by two deputies in the Dail.

“The second concerned the manner in which the CPP dealt with a complaint which Mr O’Brien had made in respect of those utterances.

“In its judgment, this court identified two significant barriers to the justiciability of issues arising from a set of restrictions derived from the actual wording of the relevance of sub-articles of Article 15 of the constitution which confer significant privileges and immunities on the Houses of the Oireachtas.

“The court has concluded that the challenge which Mr O’Brien has sought to bring to the decision of the CPP involves, in substance, an indirect or collateral challenge to the utterances of the deputies themselves.

“The only practical consequence of a successful outcome to proceedings such as this would be that it might lead to a reconsideration by the CPP of its decision in respect of Mr O’Brien’s complaint.

“If that should lead to a different result, then a court would have been at least indirectly or collaterally involved in dealing with utterances made in the Houses.

“In the court’s view, such course of action is impermissible under the constitution.”

He said that the court also noted that there is a constitutional obligation on the Oireachtas to provide protection for the constitutional rights of citizens for matters which happen in the Houses.

Welcoming the decision by the Supreme Court, Mr Doherty tweeted: “Over the moon as Supreme Court dismisses Denis O’Brien’s appeal about comments made in the Dail by myself and Catherine Murphy.

“Common sense prevails.”

Ms Murphy tweeted: “Obviously delighted with today’s Supreme Court ruling which reinforces decision of both CPP and High Court, that myself and Pearse Doherty did not abuse parliamentary privilege.”