Published on 29 May 2015

Denis O’Brien injunction: what damage to Irish democracy?

It is fundamental. It is the bedrock of any society claiming to be democratic. And in the Republic of Ireland it has been wiped away at a stroke.

What our democratically elected representatives say in parliament is privileged. Whether it’s correct or not, the media can, should and must report it and more so where it is in the public interest.

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And Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien’s (pictured above) dealings with the publicly-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IRBC) are, many would argue, a matter of public interest.

Public money from the bank – said to be at least €500m. And public money going to Mr O’Brien in loans, and it’s claimed very favourable rates of interest on those loans, if what was said in the Irish Parliament is true.

Denis O’Brien denies the story but – whether it’s correct or not – it could hardly be more in the public interest. And yet the Irish public are largely denied hearing, seeing or reading the allegations made by the TD (MP) Catherine Murphy yesterday in the Dáil.

As you might expect, nothing substantive has appeared in the Irish newspapers and radio stations that the Malta-based billionaire owns and controls. While the Irish Independent, the country’s biggest selling newspaper, reports on the existence of the row – it doesn’t mention the contents of the speech.

His lawyers have also issued an injunction against the wider Irish media – including state broadcaster RTÉ. They have been prevented from reporting yesterday’s speech – even though it was said in the country’s parliament by an MP.

They successfully argued that the remarks in the Dáil were covered by a previous injunction, which was granted when the broadcaster was previously planning to cover the story. RTÉ’s arguments about press freedom and legitimate journalistic inquiry on behalf of the public were rejected.

Catherine Murphy’s allegations

So for the record, Irish readers and others, these are the key passages of Catherine Murphy’s allegations:

“We are now aware…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…

“I understand that Mr O’Brien was enjoying a rate of approximately 1.25 per cent when IBRC could, and arguably should, have been charging 7.5 per cent.

“Given that we are talking about outstanding sums of upwards of €500m, the interest rate applied is not an insignificant issue for the public interest.”

At the time of writing, the rest of the Irish media are yet to report fully on the speech – although some have carried a link to a transcript of the speech on the Oireachtas website.

Mr O’Brien claimed in a statement yesterday that the information is false – and that this amounts to an abuse of Dáil privilege.

He is widely held to be Ireland’s richest man.

The entire sorry saga raises disturbing questions about the influence the wealthy can exert over bedrock freedoms in a supposedly democratic country.

It will also leave the Irish public questioning whether it is in their interests to have large swathes of their country’s media concentrated in the hands of one person.

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29 reader comments

  1. thesmallfella says:

    Good article, Alex, well done. And much needed here in Ireland where our journalists must look wistfully at both you and your colleagues in The Guardian. Many, many Irish people are very exercised by this and are discussing it in great detail on sites such as politics.ie.
    As you say “the media can, should and must report it and more so where it is in the public interest” but not, it would seem, here in Ireland.

    1. PaddyThePlasterer says:

      The bloggers of this world will expose the DOB’s….
      Who controls the media is the question… Éire sadly is still covered in brown envelopes…

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks for printing this – the Irish people are being sold down the river by our government etc. and the people, although protesting, are not being listened to.

  3. Robert Donnelly says:

    It is unfortunate that myself and other Irish citizens must hear what one of our TDs has said, in our Oireachtas, from international news sites.

    The original injunction should never have been allowed as it completely undermined journalistic practise.

  4. John s says:

    When freedom of the press is taken away what are we left with ? A dictatorship ? We have lost our democratic rite to free speech .next our rite to assemble and march will be taken also where is it going to end?.

  5. John Kiely says:

    I hope you will spread this story to other news outlets worldwide. Catherine Murphys allegations are all over Facebook thank God for social media.

  6. anon says:

    re a parallel operation in a parallel universe so to pseak
    is there no way to establish an outlet where we would all know the material came from “reputable” sources if you know what I mean? there might be a pressing need to establish something for the UK in case current UK Government ideas on gagging the media somehow (hopefully not) get through Parliamentary scrutiny? not thinking of wikileaks

  7. Thornbird 11 says:

    One of the more interesting contributions afterwards was a lengthy statement by the former CEO of the bank, a Mr Aynsley, who dealt at length with many issues but avoided the substance of the allegations made by Ms Murphy, thereby giving them a significant amount of credence.

  8. Ciaran Tierney says:

    Thanks Alex, good piece. It is scary that people who rely on the mainstream media for news have no access to Catherine Murphy TDs disturbing allegations in the Irish Parliament.

    When the concept of Dail privilege no longer exists, as was proved by pieces being erased last night and this morning, it is a sad day for democracy (and journalism).

  9. wayne keady says:

    Thank you for this article . I hope other media outlets world wide report this aswell . Everything is been slowly taken away from the irish people . Our freedom of speech . Or right to peaceful protest . Which our government are trying to rush a terrorism bill through thd dáil do that the protesters can be branded terrorist and dissident . Ireland isnt a democracy but a dictatorship in which enda kenny is the leader !!!!

  10. Tom says:

    Thanks for highlighting this Alex, a little more research would show you that Mr O Brien and the Fine Gael party in Ireland are joined at the hip.
    Fine Gael ensure Mr O Brien gets great deals on companies he wishes to aquire with debt write offs being the norm, we had a tribunal about Mr O Briens dealings with certain Fine Gael Ministers into the awarding of a mobile contract from the state which made Mr O Brien hundreds of millions the last time Fine Gael were in Government, more than 20 years later when Fine Gael got back into Government again we find ourselves with the same people involved in more dodgy dealings.

  11. Richard Keogh says:

    It is a sad indictment of the state of the Irish media that one of the only media outlets here that published the details of what Catherine Murphy had to say was Waterford Whispers News, an Irish version of the Onion! Investigative Journalism long ago finished in the Irish media, they report what they are told they can report and when they dare to challenge authority they find themselves sacked like Gemma O’Doherty was by the Indo.

  12. Kate says:

    The shocking corruption in Irish politics is enabling grand theft of Billions from our flailing economy. Denis O’Brien not only resides outside the jurisdiction to avoid paying tax, but is the recipient of very generous write offs of hundreds of millions of euros. The taxpayer of Ireland pays this, while he banks the profits. Look up #siteserv and his interest in the Beacon hospital, his gagging of the other half of media in Ireland. He owns and controls the media really through INMG. This scenario has impoverished Irish people, infringed on our right to free press and created a breeding ground for utter enslavement of poor and lower middle class Irish people. I would appeal to the World press and media to investigate and expose the powerful people in Ireland enabling the greed of Denis O’Brien. What we have here is no longer a democratic society, but a house of Parliament and country in the clutches of a thieving regime.
    Thank you for highlighting this, I feel I’m in NorthKorea with the censorship and proaganda.

  13. Maria says:

    Keep digging Alex there’s lots there! Thanks

  14. Brendan O'Neill says:

    Well said sir and a fantastic article, yes we are led to believe we are in a republic and free speech and all that goes with it but we have been sold down the river by this Government who don’t have a mandate they broke every promise they made before getting into government and there only concern is to big business and there cronies as far as I can see

  15. Matt Humphries says:

    Refreshing to read an unbiased and unabashed view of the corruption and hidden missdoings that were and are still happening in this little country. The power of the dollar has eroded democracy here. We have people paying through the nose for the sins of others. A banking system greasing each others paws. Every shoddy deal is kept secret, or buttered up to look good, only resulting in another scam. Sold off our airline, our oil, our forests, our gas, now it’s the start of our public transport system,. But topping it all is to again charge for water. We pay through tax, levies, universal service charge, 66%of our motor tax went to the newly established Irish water. Total so far €800m. The people who are assigned the top positions are friend and relatives or old cronies. While the culprits of the banking collapse enjoy huge pensions and some have even been appointed to the boards of Denis o brien. The country is a joke. But we are not laughing

  16. Louie Lambert says:

    Democratic?Ireland?You’re having a laugh surely.The only democracy you have in this corrupt cesspit of a country is that which suits the politicans and the wealthy.The rest of us are forced to live off the scraps that fall from their table.

  17. Francis says:

    No Irish media reports on DOB for fear of being sued by him

  18. D is illusioned says:

    The determination of Catherine Murphy to get answers to genuine concerns about Denis O Brien and siteservs connection to IBRC deserves great credit. She is a real hero and puts the Government of Enda Kenny and Joan Burton to shame.

  19. jim says:

    We are talking about a court injunction. The media’s desire to speculate does not trump proper due legal process.

  20. Cormaccurran says:

    Alex great article . Dennis o briencannot be allowed strangle irish media .continue to report on this story because the papers in ireland are in a strangle hold .do this for the people of ireland .

  21. joby1957 says:

    Great question … by Channel 4 – Alex Thompson’s View

    The Irish People these past seven years are constantly been kicked from all sides of the Political & Financial divides that includes Our Own Government or is it the unconstitutional EMC (Economic Monetary Council) creating Austerity measures to keep innocent Irish People penniless, the Irish Banks, after bailing them out – they are robustly proceeding with more and more Home Repossessions 500,000 in total.

    Our Garda Siochanna have now gone Political, our Civil Law Constitutional Court Jurisdiction are now being interfered within the Castlebar Courthouse, RTE losing their Public Interest case with Denis O’Brien and our judiciary granting an injunction against RTE from showing their program and now even stopping reporting on Dail Debating Matters The one last iota of democracy it seems we have left here in Ireland – That Dail Privilege where Truth Can Prevail for the better in seeking the Public Interests regarding IBRC deals.

    The truth from our Past and Present Dail Leaders can and will prevail when our present Taoisigh and Tainiste’s finally realise their political game styles of Governance of National Finance Matters are coming to an end by their own hands.

    Next question … on TTIP>

    Is The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) already being implemented these past seven years in Ireland under a different name of course e.g. Austerity by their design?

  22. patrick says:

    Good on you.. our media in ireland is a joke… keep up the good work..

  23. Stevie Mac says:

    Well done Alex Thompson.
    It’s also of the utmost importance that the public is made aware of O’Brien’s membership of the Bilderberg group.
    Lost Sovereignty is planned for all Countries via currency collapse and the various Emergency Powers Acts to be implemented as a response.
    Agenda 21 is being accomplished unnoticed by the sleeping Western World and Ireland is a simple canvas sketch of what awaits us all.

    Sadly, your last paragraph re’ the Irish Public questioning what’s going on does not hold sway. The recent Yes vote is proof of that.

  24. John says:

    Thanks very much Alex. We desperately need investigative Journalist’s like yourself over here. The shabby tabloids have made their way over (Sun, Mail – the latter read by an enormous amount of the Irish public, who are unaware that for decades and decades, it’s been a virulent anti-Irish ‘Newspaper’ – ie: when the film ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ won an award a few years ago – The UK edition screamed, on the cover, “Ban this IRA recruitment propaganda filth Now!” – whilst the Irish edition (front page also), was drooling in its enthusiasm for the film and Award – Both on the same day.
    We’re left with the rag that is ‘The Irish Independent (Sunday edition even worse) – of which O’Brien has a stake in (as well as a host of ‘local’ weekly ‘Papers – and a wide range of Radio Stations.
    It would be interesting for you (and quite possibly some of the above people who’ve made comments) – as to how he originally made his money – via a deal involving the purchase/sale of a Phone Company, years ago – and shady rumours that persist to this day. – And last year the awarding of a Contract to install water-meters throughout the Country – despite his Company putting forth the 3rd highest bid, and not being officially existent/solvent at the time.
    And there won’t be many questions asked or answered by The Irish Times – once a proud paper – now run by a Unionist, and for instance recently ran a prolonged ‘NO’ campaign via a number of its Journalists and guest ‘Opinion’ Writers, prior to the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum.

    I dearly hope that RTE will have his Injuction overturned – and the Irish People, who have suffered hugely with 7 years of Austerity – can finally see O’Brien for what he is – a Shyster.

  25. Peter martin says:

    Thank you for writing this article.Ireland cannot be regarded as a democracy. It’s media are owned and operated by one and one person only,namely Denis OBrien , formerly Irish but with current Maltese citenship to avoid Irish taxes. He has effectively gagged the Irish parliament, alledly bribed ministers and got his hands on lucrative government contracts which established his present huge wealth.Today, all Irish media are silenced and it stands to reason that such a country cannot be classified as a democracy. It’s a dictatorship.

  26. Susan duffin says:

    Thank you very much for reporting this- please keep up to date and publish whatever you find, and do some dogging yourself if possible. The censorship over here has gone crazy, we need articles like this to show those who are not on the internet the real story.

  27. Marie Quinn says:

    This is a great piece you have done a really big thanks to you for having the guts to do what our gov. Would not do

  28. Peter says:

    Thank you Alex, Our democracy has been slowly eroded for many years by crony capitalism and now free speech is in a very bad place.

    It is very sad that we have to depend on social media and the international media in order to get to the truth and any chance of financial fair play in our society. The right to financial privacy on loans from a liquidated bank which is owned by the Irish people is non existent in my view.

    Also the Government has no issue rifling through peoples privacy and financial affairs when it comes to implementing austerity, very different rules for the middle and working class no mercy, no exceptions when bringing down the austerity hammer on those who cant afford the best legal protection. The Golden Circle in Ireland is alive and well despite the havoc it has wreaked on us.

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