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Denis O'Brien hides behind media gag       printable version
29 May 2015 filed by editor - General, Journalism

Denis O'Brien, owner of Ireland's main newspapers, has used a court injunction to prevent remarks made in the Dail being reported in the Irish media.

However, a speech made by Independent TD Catherine Murphy can be viewed and heard on youtube and on the Oireachtas website.

Murphy yesterday spoke about the relationship between Ireland’s leading media owner, Denis O’Brien, considered one of Ireland’s richest men, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Her speech contained the following comments:

“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% when IBRC could, and arguably should, have been charging 7.5%.

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

“We also know that Denis O’Brien felt confident enough in his dealings with IBRC that he could write to Kieran Wallace, the special liquidator, and demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement be continued.

“We now have Kieran Wallace, who has been appointed by the government to conduct the IBRC review, actually joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the high court to seek to injunct the information I have outlined from coming into the public domain. Surely that alone represents a conflict”.

Murphy suggested that the Irish people have been subsidising O’Brien’s interest payments on massive loans for no clear reason.

The Guardian newspaper reported: “...her remarks were not reported in Ireland because lawyers acting for O’Brien argued that the details were covered by a high court injunction obtained by O’Brien against the country’s main broadcaster, RTÉ, last week.

That injunction prevented RTÉ from broadcasting a report relating to O’Brien’s private banking affairs with IBRC. It was imposed despite RTÉ contending that press freedom, public interest and legitimate journalistic inquiry should be paramount.

“But the extension of the terms of that injunction to cover a parliamentary speech has shocked the Irish media community, not to mention the public.”

The Guardian report concluded: “So there it is. The owner of the bulk of Ireland’s media outlets is using an injunction to prevent reports on his affairs appearing in the rest of the media he doesn’t control.

“Clearly, there are questions to ask about the press freedom implications due to Ireland’s lack of media plurality and diversity.”

Speaking on RTE, NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley said that faith in the media would be “shattered if proprietors and editors did not challenge threats to parliamentary democracy and freedom of expression”.

Mr Dooley said: “It is gravely concerning that media organisations felt constrained from publishing the comments, made under Dáil privilege, by Deputy Catherine Murphy concerning financial matters relating to Mr Denis O'Brien and his alleged relationship with IBRC. 

“The fact that the national public service broadcaster was constrained from broadcasting material freely available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and that other print and broadcasting organisations felt similarly constrained, raises fundamental questions about our parliamentary democracy and the right of the media to report freely on parliamentary proceedings.

“A courageous stand in defence of the right to report parliamentary proceedings would have served the public interest. Faith in the media's ability to do its job will be shattered if this challenge is not faced head on. This is a defining moment for the media in Ireland.”

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