From top: Tom Lyons and Ian Kehoe outside the High Court last Friday; Marian Finucane (left) and her panel on yesterday’s RTÉ Radio One show, from left: Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, Irene Sands, Fergus Finlay Larry Donnelly and Eoin Fahy
On RTÉ Radio One’s Marian Finucane show yesterday…
The newspaper panel – Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, Chairperson of the National Women’s Council of Ireland; Fergus Finlay former, CEO of Barnardos and former spin doctor for the Labour Party; Irene Sands, barrister; Larry Donnelly, Law Lecturer NUI Galway; Eoin Fahy, Chief Economist, KBI Global Investors – discussed the recent failed defamation case which businessman Denis O’Brien took against the publishers of the Sunday Business Post, Post Publications Ltd.
The segment took eight minutes.
Last Friday, a High Court jury, by a majority, found that articles published by the Sunday Business Post in March 2015 – about a seven-year-old Government-commissioned PwC report – were not defamatory.
At the outset of the item on the matter, law lecturer at NUI Galway Larry Donnelly said he thought the jury’s verdict was a victory for “rigorous”, “objective” and “critical” journalism.
In relation to reports that the costs of the case will amount to €1million – for which Mr O’Brien must pay – Mr Donnelly said this was an “extraordinary” figure, though admittedly not for the billionaire.
He also raised an article by Eoin O’Dell in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post in which the Fellow and Associate Professor of law in Trinity College Dublin argued that the case should never even have made it to the High Court under the Defamation Act 2009.
Mr O’Dell’s article, Mr Lawlor explained, said the act provides for other means to achieve early resolution of defamation cases.
Ms Finucane, in response said:
“Everybody is entitled to their good name and they really are and people feel it, very deeply, if somebody has a go at their good name.”
On Twitter, Mr Lyons noted:
CEO of Barnardos Fergus Finlay said he didn’t know Denis O’Brien well but he worked with the businessman briefly some years ago in relation to the Special Olympics and he thinks he’s “done a number of very great things with his money over the years” – a point to which Ms Finucane replied “indeed, yeah” before Mr Finlay said he was especially referring to people with intellectual disabilities and “stuff he [Mr O’Brien] should be really proud of”.
Mr Finlay went on to say:
“I said this to somebody last week, if you want to bring the National Children’s Hospital in on budget, on time and no messing about – put Denis O’Brien in charge of it cause he has those kinds of skills.”
“And I guess he has done things that, shall we say, are controversial but he seems to feel, I just don’t understand how somebody who is as rich as he is can’t let anything go. He must have terrible nightmares at night and must be constantly worried…”
Ms Finucane said:
“The thing about it is, if you were constantly being insulted and…”
She was interrupted by Mr Finlay who said he didn’t realise he was fat and bald until he discovered social media before saying his salary has previously been reported and he said one just has to read the dog’s abuse they get. He even suggested to Ms Finucane that she would understand this.
But she replied:
“I don’t read it.”
Mr Finlay went on to note that the Sunday Business Post, in yesterday’s paper, listed the 22 legal actions he’s taken against media outlets in the High Court.
He said, in the context of this list, his advice for Mr O’Brien would be to “get a life”.
Ms Finucane said:
“Well, he’s just not going to allow people to undermine his integrity…”
Later, barrister Irene Sands said:
“Mr O’Brien is entitled to bring suits, if he has the money to fund them, fair play to him, let him knock himself out but I do agree with Larry, I think it’s a very good day for the press in general and I do think they were vindicated…and I think the press took a very important stance and ultimately it came out in their favour.”
Just before the item wrapped up, Mr Finlay said that had the case against the Sunday Business Post not gone in the newspaper’s favour, “there would have been a real possibility, I suspect, of the Sunday Business Post going to the wall”.
Ms Finucane said:
“Right, well we don’t know that, we don’t know that.”
But Mr Finlay said if it had happened it could have had serious consequences for media ownership concentration in Ireland.
And Ms Finucane replied:
“Well, I mean that’s not what was on his mind. What was on his mind was his good name and he’s entitled to it.”
Ms Finucane added that Mr O’Brien is “noted for his generosity…particularly in Haiti”.
Last week, when Michael McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, made his closing submission to the jury, he recalled how solicitors acting for Mr O’Brien had initially accused journalist Tom Lyons of criminality and acting illegally by publishing the contents of the PwC report which looked at the top 22 borrowers of six banks at the time of the property crash.
Mr McDowell said Mr Lyons was accused by Mr O’Brien of acting with malice and “consciously” deciding to damage Mr O’Brien.
The barrister said Mr Lyons and his editor at the time Ian Kehoe had thought about omitting Mr O’Brien’s name from the coverage out of fear of litigation but decided against this in the interests of transparency.
Mr McDowell said the SBP refused to take “the RTE approach” – in reference to evidence Mr Lyons gave about being told by RTE not to mention Mr O’Brien when he did a radio interview about his articles back in 2015.
The senior counsel also explained that Mr O’Brien initially said he didn’t know if he was one of the top borrowers in the PwC report as he had never seen the report.
Mr McDowell said Mr O’Brien said “it’s not beyond Mr Lyons” to just insert Mr O’Brien’s name randomly.
But, Mr McDowell said, once an excerpt of the PwC report was presented to the jury – after Mr O’Brien finished giving evidence – Mr O’Brien “changed his tune completely” and identified himself as number 10 on the redacted list of borrowers.
Mr McDowell said Mr O’Brien had effectively accused Mr Lyons of perjury and said Mr O’Brien had a “casual relationship with the truth”.
The above claims made against Mr Lyons were not recounted during the Marian Finucane discussion.
Listen back in full here from 37.50.
Previously: Closing Arguments
There you go now.