His Master’s Voice: Denis O’Brien (top) and James Morrissey (above)
What constitutional crisis?
Denis O’Brien’s tireless spokesman James Morrissey went on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke [hosted by Keelin Shanley] this morning to put forward his client’s case for wishing to prevent media outlets reporting Catherine Murphy’s speech to the dáil yesterday.
Keelin Shanley: “We spoke to Fianna Fail TD Billy Kelleher who has called for the Dáil to be recalled to discuss the restrictions on reporting what Independent TD Catherine Murphy said in the Dáil yesterday, in relation to Denis O’Brien and his dealings with IBRC and of course it can only be recalled by the Taoiseach. Well, James Morrissey, advisor to Denis O’Brien has contacted us and he joins me now on the line. Morning, James Morrissey. I suppose your reaction to what Billy Kelleher had to say and what he said was that the fundamental principal of a TD being able to stand up, to speak on an issue and that that could then be reported is the cornerstone of our democracy. He said anything that undermines that is an attack on democracy. What would you say to that?”
James Morrissey: “Well there’s only one thing that deputy Kelleher left out in his interview with you on that issue. And it was: does that allow Dáil privilege to include people to say whatever they like about people – be they correct or incorrect. And I think it’s a little bit rich of Deputy Kelleher to call for the Dáil to be recalled and, as I understand it, Micheal Martin has called for the same. They never did that when this country was going down the tubes and we were losing tens of tens of billions and I think that Dáil privilege most certainly has a very, very important role in our society and in our democracy but I don’t think it should be allowed be used, or abused, where falsehoods are represented or misrepresented as facts, as has happened in the Dáil in the last 24 hours.”
Shanley: “Well, I mean we are injuncted on this. We cannot go into what is or isn’t being said in the Dáil. Just remind us why Denis O’Brien went to court in the first place, to seek the injunction.”
Morrissey: “On a point of principle on the basis that every individual is entitled to privacy, in relation to their banking affairs.”
Shanley: “And in fairness, on the issue of Dáil privilege, I mean Billy Kelleher was very clear in saying that he absolutely believes that there should be a sanction on any TD who abused Dáil privilege. He said it was something that needed to be respected. But the basic issue there of one body of the State, the courts, being used in order to prevent another body of the State, the Dáil, elected by the people, from being reported by the media. Is that not a worrying development in terms of democracy?”
Morrissey: “There always has been a separation of powers. But a fundamental core principle of a democracy is the right of every individual to their good name and reputation and privacy in matters that are private.”
Shanley: “Ok, now, writing on the issue in this morning’s Guardian newspaper, Roy Greenslade said that 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, that he doesn’t control. Clearly, he says, there are questions to ask about press freedom implications due to Ireland’s lack of media plurality and diversity. What would you say to that?”
Morrissey: “Well, Keelin, at the end of the day, the largest media entity in Ireland is RTÉ.”
Shanley: “But the idea that RTÉ in this particular case has been injuncted, has been silenced on this issue. I mean do you think that there is a worrying issue here, the fact that it’s being reported by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian. Do you see any issue around that?”
Morrissey: “Well I think Roy Greenslade has, if you look at his record, it’s a little bit dubious on some of the arguments he’s taken up on issues in the past. But to the core issue: every individual, and I repeat, are entitled to their good name and reputation and privacy. Would you like to see your banking matters being published in a newspaper? I wouldn’t. And I think the vast majority of people wouldn’t. If there is wrongdoing involved – let that be examined and investigated. But until such, as there’s a view that there is wrongdoing involved, then a person is entitled to their good reputation.
“And, you know, when Billy Kelleher speaks about, oh a need for this and recall the Dáil, you know, and powerful people, I think it’s important to mention, and it would be a celebratory fact if it was an IDA-backed company, but Denis O’Brien employs in and around 10,000 people both directly and indirectly in this country and he’s entitled to invest and he’s entitled to have his leading bid for a company accepted.”
Shanley: “But James, just to go back, I mean what relevance is it how many people he employs in this country? I mean we’re talking here about press freedom. We’re talking about somebody with huge power, who owns half of the media and is preventing the other half from reporting…”
Morrissey: “No I think you’re missing my point. I was just saying when Billy Kelleher talks about powerful people. A powerful person has the same rights as a person who’s not powerful and that is a democratic right to their good name and reputation and not to have it sullied in the Dáil. And I think, to be brutally blunt about it, the Dáil is a bit of a talking club. They want their own rules for themselves and I think, to be fair, it’s important that people stand up for democracy inside the Dáil, as well as outside the Dáil because that’s the basis on which they get elected.”
Shanley: “I think, in fairness, that is what Billy Kelleher believes he’s doing today. I mean he’s saying they’d like the Dáil to reassert its validity as a chamber of free speech and he says, you know, today it’s one powerful person, a powerful entity, tomorrow it’s another powerful person and another powerful entity, where does it end?”
Morrissey: “Well this country has gone through a lot of traumas in the last 10, 20 years. Traumas that have caused huge hardship to people, huge problems in our hospitals, in our healthcare…”
Shanley: “And did silencing reporters help this?”
Morrissey: “…I don’t ever remember Billy Kelleher calling for the Dáil to be recalled.”
Shanley: “But, James, isn’t that the very point there, that you need the media, you need freedom of the press to address issues like this. How are you linking this to the idea that it’s good idea to silence reporters?”
Morrissey: “No, no, no. I’m. Keelin, I think… you keep asking me the same question. The bottom line is a person is entitled to privacy in relation to their financial affairs. That goes to the core of it.”
Shanley: “Even if it means that we, the citizens, do not hear what is being said in our Dail, our elected Dail?”
Morrissey: “But if somebody, if somebody stands up and utters falsehoods and tries to have them represented as facts. So that’s fine? That newspapers can publish those falsehoods? Because newspapers want to publish them? Where does democracy go then.”
Listen back in full here
Earlier: Always A Privilege
Yesterday: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate
In response to Mr Morrissey’s interview, Catherine Murphy responds:
“The people that continue to accuse me of falsehoods refuse to provide evidence to refute any of the issues I’ve questioned in the Dáil. My entire line of questioning on this has been to ask the Minister to give us all the pertinent information so that we can be assured that citizens were not disenfranchised as a result of any deals that may have been done.”
Morrissey says @CathMurphyTD has been “peddling false information” that was “illegally procured” about Denis O’Brien.
— Mark Tighe (@marktigheST) May 29, 2015