Irish media tycoon loses case against MPs over banking details

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Denis O’Brien, the Irish media and telecoms tycoon, has lost a case in the Irish courts that had raised questions about freedom of speech and created a mini-constitutional crisis when it emerged two years ago.

The High Court in Dublin on Friday dismissed a case brought by Mr O’Brien over revelations made by two MPs under parliamentary privilege relating to his private banking arrangements.

He had asked the court to reprimand the MPs over their statements, which he claimed were based on private information. The judge, Una Ni Raifeartaigh, said the Irish constitution prevented the court from adjudicating on “utterances” made in parliament.

The case was part of a legal fight by Mr O’Brien to prevent the publication of details of his banking arrangements with Irish Bank Resolution Corp. That state institution contains the rump of Anglo Irish Bank, which triggered Ireland’s financial crisis in 2008.

The businessman is often described as Ireland’s richest man, with a fortune estimated at around €6bn. He owns the Digicel telecoms network in the Caribbean and is the largest shareholder in Independent News & Media, the group that owns the Irish Independent, the largest-circulation daily paper.

Mr O’Brien had sued RTE, the state broadcaster, in 2015 to prevent the airing of details of his banking arrangements. Two MPs subsequently revealed some of those arrangements in the parliament. He had argued that those statements amounted to “unwarranted interference” in his case against RTE.

Mr O’Brien’s case against the MPs caused a furore when it emerged in 2015, with legal experts saying it was unprecedented in its implications for parliamentary privilege, which gives MPs immunity from prosecution for statements made in parliament.

In her ruling, the judge said the courts “simply do not have a role in policing parliamentary utterances”, and that assuming such a role would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Pearse Doherty, one of the two MPs against whom the action was taken, said the High Court judgement provided “absolute clarity and lifts the concerns of [MPs] raising issues of national importance” in parliament.

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