'Line crossed' when media tycoon O'Brien's banking details revealed
One of Ireland's richest men has asked the High Court to rule that a line was crossed when two elected representatives disclosed details of his banking affairs in parliament.
In a case which strikes at the separation of State powers, telecoms and media tycoon Denis O'Brien is suing the entire Oireachtas after remarks made under parliamentary privilege last year.
In a rare public appearance, the billionaire who controls a sizeable section of Irish media outlets was cross-examined for an hour and 20 minutes about his claim that two TDs acted "recklessly and maliciously" in disclosing his affairs by using parliamentary privilege to "usurp" a High Court order barring publication.
He also referred to death threats made against him and his family around the time of the affair.
"As a citizen, I went into court to get an order that was deliberately unravelled by two members of the Oireachtas," he said, adding he expected the High Court order to be watertight.
"Instead it was completely porous because of members of the Oireachtas."
There was standing room only in the packed court 29 in Dublin Four Courts for the hearing, which had drawn a small band of disparate protesters who later heckled the businessman as he left.
Last year, Mr O'Brien sought an injunction preventing State broadcaster RTE from reporting on what he claims are stolen files of his banking records with the State-owned IBRC, formerly rogue lender Anglo Irish Bank.
The Dubliner, who lives in Malta, said two TDs - Independent Catherine Murphy and Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty - knew exactly what they were doing when they later read details of the file into the public record.
"One deputy was tweeting and speaking at the same time," he said, comparing personal banking details to medical records in terms of confidentiality.
Dressed in a dark suit, pale blue shirt and blue tie, he told the court: "I am here today to see if there is a way for this to never happen again for any citizen."
Barrister Michael Collins SC, for the Oireachtas, said the order never applied to the parliament.
"I subsequently learned that," accepted Mr O'Brien.
"But at the time I thought that the High Court order would not be unravelled by another arm of the State - in this case, the Oireachtas.
"I would have thought that Dail deputies and members of the Oireachtas would have respected an order of the High Court."
At the time, Mr O'Brien wrote to a number of media outlets telling them they could not publish the remarks made under parliamentary privilege because of the High Court order.
His barrister Michael Cush SC has referred to the resulting confusion and "constitutional crisis".
Under questioning, Mr O'Brien agreed he was asking the High Court to express its disapproval of the Oireachtas for allowing the disclosures to be made and make an adverse finding against the two TDs involved.
Furthermore, he agreed he wanted the High Court to find "a line had been crossed" and for a "judicial condemnation" to be issued to the parliament.
"Hopefully, if I am successful it will never happen again," he said.
"It will change things for the future."
In one reference to his written testimony, Mr O'Brien - the sole witness in the case which is expected to last a week - said he had received two death threats on May 31 last year around the time of the disclosures.
The testimony refers to one unnamed person referring to a "chilling fantasy ... about slitting my throat".
The individual alleged he was a former member of the French Foreign Legion and said: "I'm pretty good with a sniper rifle and this c***'s got a big head."
Mr O'Brien agreed he was not suggesting the threats came from anyone connected with the case.
He reported the incidents to the gardai on June 5.
Asked why he would not individually sue the two TDs at the centre of the case, Mr O'Brien said he had taken legal advice on the matter and could not answer the question.
Asked if he would sue them if he could, he replied that he did not know, but later said it was unlikely when pressed if his current High Court case was about preparing a path in that direction.
The case continues.