Tag Archives: Denis O’Brien

Denis O’Brien (top), his barrister Paul O’Higgins SC  (above) and Tom Lyons, former business editor of The Sunday Business Post


In the High Court.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for Denis O’Brien, continued to cross-examine the former business editor of the Sunday Business Post Tom Lyons before the former editor of the newspaper Ian Kehoe started to give evidence.

Mr O’Brien is claiming he was defamed by the newspaper on March 15, 2015, when My Lyons and other journalists reported over six pages on an unpublished PwC dossier into Ireland’s banks which had been given to the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen in November 2008.

The newspaper reported that the PwC report revealed 22 men and their associated companies owed Irish banks €25.6billion when the property bubble collapsed.

Mr O’Brien was number ten on the list of 22.

One of Mr O’Brien’s complaints is that he was wrongly “lumped” in with a “gang” of “developer kings”.

This evening, Ann O’Loughlin, in The Irish Examiner, reports:

Mr O’Higgins also played an interview given by Mr Lyons to RTE’s This Week radio programme on March 15th 2015, the day the articles were published.

Mr Lyons denied that showed his attitude in 2015 was that a small group of the biggest bank borrowers had disappeared off “into the sunset” and left the people of Ireland “holding the baby” at the time of the financial crisis in 2008.

He said he made no reference to Mr O’Brien during the interview and had no opportunity to outline what was said in the articles about Mr O’Brien, which was his loans were performing in 2008 and he went on to repay all his debts.

The interviewer had asked him, before beginning to record the interview, not to make any reference to Mr O’Brien because the lawyers had said “not to go near him”, he said.

Articles in newspaper were about Ireland not Denis O’Brien, former editor tells trial (Ann O’Loughlin, The Irish Examiner)

Denis O’Brien’s barrister Paul O’Higgins SC and journalist Tom Lyons

Today in the High Court, Paul O’Higgins SC, for Denis O’Brien, is continuing to cross-examine the former business editor of the Sunday Business Post Tom Lyons.

Judge Bernard Barton told the jury at the outset of this morning’s proceedings that it’s likely he will give them their instructions next Wednesday.

Mr O’Higgins told Mr Lyons that he wanted to go through the details of the SBP articles – spread over six pages and about a November 2008 PwC report on Ireland’s biggest borrowers – from March 15, 2015.

In respect of page one, Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons about his and his then editor Ian Kehoe’s decision to write the strapline ‘Confidential: The files they don’t want you to see”.

He put it to Mr Lyons that, according to the SBP, the “they” was supposed to be a reference for “the Government”.

Mr Lyons confirmed this.

Mr O’Higgins asked if that was the SBP’s position, why didn’t they “say that”. Mr O’Higgins asked why they didn’t make the word “confidential” smaller and write “The ‘Government’ files they don’t want you to see”.

Mr Lyons said they thought their headline sufficiently represented their story. He also said it was “clear from the articles” who commissioned the PwC report – the Government.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that there was a serious crisis in September – before PwC could do a full evaluation on what Ireland’s bank securities were worth. He put it to Mr Lyons that the Government considered that it had to “move”.

Mr Lyons said the Government “didn’t have a full picture of what was going on” until “suddenly one day” they realised that Anglo Irish Bank was “within hours of going under and other banks were close behind it”.

Mr Lyons said then, on September 30, 2008, night of the bank guarantee, with “very unclear information” the Government decided that the entire country would guarantee the banks.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that this was “potentially a very costly thing from the Government’s point of view”. Mr Lyons agreed and said Ireland guaranteed something like €440million.

Mr Lyons agreed with Mr O’Higgins that people were being told this was a “liquidity problem”, as opposed to a “solvency problem” and that “the banks were grand”.

But he said “more sophisticated” people knew more than the public. He said, as an example, businessman Dermot Desmond, wrote a letter within weeks of the guarantee saying “this guarantee isn’t going to solve this” and that the problem was greater than everyone thought.

Mr O’Higgins recalled a RTE Prime Time interview given by the then Financial Regulator Patrick Neary who told those watching that “Ireland’s banks were the best capitalised banks in the world or Europe”.

Mr Lyons said he remembered it and how it sent out the message “everything is grand”.

Mr O’Higgins suggested to Mr Lyons that there was “significant scepticism” surrounding this at the time.

Mr Lyons said he didn’t agree entirely and said when people heard – from leading people in finance and politics – that the entire country was backing the banks “I don’t think everyone would be skeptical, I think some people would be skeptical.”

Mr O’Higgins said, following the guarantee, “most banks recovered briefly and then began to fall again”.

Mr Lyons said he wouldn’t say Anglo Irish Bank recovered. He said “they were fiddling the books” and recalled how the lender was “getting €7billion from Irish Life & Permanent”.

“There was an arrangement between Anglo and Irish Life & Permanent which made it appear that Anglo Irish Bank’s customer deposits were €7.2billion greater than they really were.”

He said: “Anglo was lying to everyone, it was lying to the stock market, it was lying to the public, it was lying to anyone who dealt with it.”

He also mentioned there had been subsequent convictions in respect of this.

Mr O’Higgins suggests that the newspaper’s articles main focus was on Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Lyons disagreed and said there might have been more focus on Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland but this was because they were bigger banks. He said, for example, EBS was a smaller entity so there was perhaps less coverage about it.

Mr O’Higgins put it Mr Lyons that a lot of information about the banks was known publicly in 2012 – and that a lot was actually known from 2009.

Mr Lyons asked him to specify what information he was referring to.

Mr O’Higgins said he was referring to “issues in relation to the fact the banks were in much more trouble than they thought” and that “there had been a series of peculiarities in Anglo Irish Bank”.

Mr Lyons indicated that the detail in the PwC report about which he was reporting – and, by extension, the Sunday Business Post articles – wasn’t known.

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons if he believed everyone “dutifully reads all their Sunday papers from beginning to end”.

Mr Lyons said for a paper like the Sunday Business Post, which tends to be read by people who are in business, he suggested they would.

Mr O’Higgins put to Mr Lyons that this was “interesting” and asked “so it wouldn’t matter” what page a story was placed on – front page, back page, etc – “because it’s all going to be read”.

Mr Lyons said: “What I’m saying is, when it’s a good story, our readers will follow it through.”

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that the hypothesis of his articles was that the PwC report “painted everything in rosy terms when it was nuclear”.

Mr Lyons said, based on his reading of the report, it painted Ireland in “big trouble” and that it stated Ireland could lose €10.6billion.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that he was saying that the PwC report “wasn’t worth the paper it was written on”.

Mr Lyons replied: “No, it was clearly worth something.” Mr Lyons said what the report was, was “overly optimistic”.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that either he was saying the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen – in November 2008 – was “well warned and used the PwC report to tell the truth to the Dail” or he was saying “PwC came nowhere near to describe to the scale of the problem”.

Mr O’Higgins told Mr Lyons he “can’t have it both ways”.

Mr Lyons said the PwC report did come nowhere near the scale of the problem and that this is clear because of the subsequent €64billion EU/IMF bailout.

Mr O’Higgins raised the fact that the PwC report identified five high-risk borrowers. Mr O’Higgins suggested that the point of the SBP articles was to suggest it was “ludicrous” to identify five when it was clear these people “nuked” Irish society.

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons if he believed PwC was “right or wrong” to identify five high-risk borrowers.

Mr Lyons told Mr O’Higgins, rightly or wrongly, the PwC report did identify five high-risk borrowers.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that he had a degree in history and economics and asked if he could understand his question: was the PwC report right in identifying “only” five high-risk borrowers.

Mr Lyons said: “Was it right or wrong? It did.”

Mr O’Higgins quipped that Mr Lyons might “not get a fifth journalist of the years award” if his language skills drop.

Michael McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, told Mr O’Higgins there was “no need to be rude”.

Mr O’Higgins asked the question again.

Mr Lyons said: “It was wrong. Obviously there were more than five [high-risk borrowers].”

Mr O’Higgins asked when he [Mr Lyons] said it was wrong that there were “only” five borrowers in the high-risk category, was he saying this was right or wrong.

Mr Lyons replied: “I’m saying this is what PWC said.”

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons why did he “waste so many words” and not just say “PwC identified five high-risk borrowers” as opposed to “PwC only identified five high-risk borrowers”.

Mr Lyons said it was a matter for the jury.

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons about his use of the term “telling and disturbing” when he was referring to the numbers contained in the PwC report and the “individual stories”.

He asked Mr Lyons why the numbers were “telling and disturbing”.

Mr Lyons said because the numbers were “very big” and that it was “disturbing” that anyone would owe so much money to a State-owned bank which had been “nationalised, had committed fraud, and had cooked the books”.

Asked about the “individual stories” being “disturbing”, Mr Lyons said it was disturbing to think anyone would owe very large amounts of money to a bank which had been nationalised, committed massive fraud and “had essentially been shown to have lied left, right and centre”.

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons if he was saying it was “disturbing” to owe money to Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Lyons clarified he wasn’t speaking about “every borrower” from Anglo Irish Bank”.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that much of what he had reported in the Sunday Business Post articles of 2015 was in an article he co-wrote in the Sunday Independent in 2012 with Nick Webb – about Anglo Irish Bank’s top 13 borrowers.

Mr Lyons said not all of the 13 people in the Sunday Independent article made it into the list of 22 drawn up by PwC. He mentioned Paul Coulson as an example whom Mr Lyons said was “like Mr O’Brien a successful, respected businessman”.

Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Lyons “what was wrong with his [Mr O’Brien’s] borrowings from Anglo?”.

Mr Lyons said: “From Denis O’Brien’s perspective there was nothing wrong with his borrowings from Anglo Irish Bank.”

Mr Lyons said from the public’s perspective Anglo Irish Bank was a bank which had been nationalised and committed fraud. He said that was “disturbing”.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Mr Lyons that yesterday Mr McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, asked him [Mr Lyons] if his articles were defamatory and Mr Lyons said no.

Mr O’Higgins put to Mr Lyons: “You’re saying that even though the individual stories are ‘telling and disturbing’ …you’re saying that’s not reflecting on the person or not casting a shadow on the persons concerned.”

Mr Lyons said: “No.”

Mr Lyons said what happened in Anglo Irish Bank wasn’t Mr O’Brien’s fault.

He added: “Sure he hadn’t a clue.”

The case continues.


Earlier: ‘A Crazy Conspiracy’

From top: Sunday Business Post; Tom Lyons and Denis O’brien; the Banking Inquiry’s core book of evidence related to PwC 

This morning Paul O’Higgins SC, for businessman Denis O’Brien, continues his cross examination of former editor of the Sunday Business Post about his articles on March 15, 2015, pertaining to a 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

Mr O’Brien claims the articles were defamatory of him.

The Sunday Business Post denies this.

The confidential PwC report was a Government-commissioned report in which PwC listed the top 22 borrowers of Ireland’s six banks in 2008. The Sunday Business Post reported that PwC recorded Mr O’Brien as No.10 on the list.

In November 2008, after getting the PwC report, the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen told the Dail that Ireland was right to guarantee the banks in September 2008.

He also told the Dáil that there was enough money in Ireland’s banks for the next three years.

The Sunday Business Post reported that the PwC report showed it believed – in its worst case scenario – Ireland’s banks would lose €10.6billion.

Ireland would eventually go on to get a EU/IMF bailout for €64billion in 2010.

The jury in the High Court, before Justice Bernard Barton, has heard that the Sunday Business Post reported in one of the articles:

“[Denis] O’Brien he went on to repay all his debts to Anglo. He is one of AIB and Bank of Ireland’s best clients.”

It’s also heard, on a number of occasions this week, how Mr Lyons destroyed his copy of the PwC report on St Patrick’s Day 2015 by putting it through a shredder in the offices of the Sunday Business Post.

He said he did this to protect his source as he believed the document was traceable.

Mr O’Higgins SC, for Mr O’Brien, quipped yesterday that this was like the “St Patrick’s Day massacre” – a reference to St Patrick’s Day in 2008 when €3.5 billion was wiped off the value of stocks on the Irish Stock Exchange.

A common refrain from Mr O’Brien’s legal team is that they have not seen the PwC report.

When it was put to Mr Lyons by his own counsel Michael McDowell SC that it was Mr O’Brien’s case that he was “the odd man out”, that he should never have been put in the articles with the other 21 men – and that to do so was “defamatory, gratuitous, unnecessary” and done of out of “malice” – Mr Lyons said: “Jesus, that’s nonsense.”

Mr Lyons also said he found it “shocking” that Mr O’Brien said he wouldn’t put it past Mr Lyons to just stick Mr O’Brien into the articles.

Mr Lyons rubbished the suggestion that Mr O’Brien was the victim of some kind of “crazy conspiracy” cooked up by him and the former editor of the Sunday Business Post Ian Kehoe.

The jury has also heard that at the time that the articles were published – in March 2015 – the Banking Inquiry was under way.

It heard that the inquiry contacted Mr Lyons for a copy of the PwC report.

But, at this point, Mr Lyons said he had already destroyed it.

Asked earlier this week if he was surprised when the inquiry asked him for the report, Mr Lyons said:

“It did surprise me. I had this suspicion they hadn’t got it. It was a gut instinct. But when it came out that they hadn’t got it, I was very surprised.”

Further to this…

In PwC’s core book of evidence for the Banking Inquiry – which is publicly available online – one section of it’s evidence appears to match the headline figures reported by the Sunday Business Post on March 15, 2015.

The item is headlined:

The top 22 exposures across the six institutions we have reviewed total 25.5 billion of which 13.7 billion (53%) is in Anglo and 8.1 billion (32%) in AIB.

Although redacted, the list of the amount owed by the 22 borrowers in the Banking Inquiry’s PwC summary (page 155) matches the amount owed reported by the Sunday Business Post here

The PwC core booklet can be viewed here in full

The case continues.

Update: Meanwhile, in the High Court

Yesterday: “He Thinks It’s All About Him”

Meanwhile, In The High Court

Journalist Tom Lyons (left) and businessman Denis O’Brien


This morning/afternoon.

The High Court, Dublin

Yesterday: Meanwhile in The High Court

uusinessman Denis O’Brien going into the High Court this morning

This afternoon, in the High Court, businessman Denis O’Brien finished giving evidence in his defamation case against the Sunday Business Post.

Mr O’Brien is claiming he was defamed by the newspaper on March 15, 2015, when the then business editor Tom Lyons reported over six pages on an unpublished PwC dossier into Ireland’s banks which had been given to the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen in November 2008.

The newspaper reported that the PwC report revealed 22 men and their associated companies owed Irish banks €25.6billion when the property bubble collapsed.

Mr O’Brien was number ten on the list of 22.

One of Mr O’Brien’s complaints is that he was wrongly “lumped” in with a “gang” of “developer kings”.

He also disputes the figures which Mr Lyons attributed to Mr O’Brien and has said Mr Lyons should have rang him on the Friday before the article was published and asked him if he was “overstretched” or if he had “over borrowed”.

Mr O’Brien has claimed Mr Lyons never put these specific claims to him.

The jury in the High Court last week heard about a separate article Mr Lyons co-wrote with Nick Webb in April 2012, while he was working at the Sunday Independent, which was about a different PwC report on Anglo Irish Bank, and which Mr O’Brien also said contained incorrect figures.

The print article was headlined: “Anglo’s top 13 buccaneer borrowers.”

Mr O’Brien, on Thursday, told the court that he believed he had taken no action over this 2012 Sunday Independent article which revealed his confidential bank details.

On Friday, Mr O’Brien then told the jury that, contrary to what he had said the day before, his understanding was that his spokesman James Morrissey had actually engaged in lengthy correspondence with the Sunday Independent over the 2012 article and that he had, he believed, received an apology from INM’s then group managing editor Michael Denieffe.

But this morning, the jury heard this apology had nothing to do with the article co-written by Mr Webb and Mr Lyons in 2012.

Michael McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, read out correspondence between Mr Lyons and Mr Morrissey ahead of the 2012 article in which Mr Lyons sought to get some information from Mr O’Brien to put into the article.

Mr O’Brien agreed with Mr McDowell that the response from Mr Morrissey was essentially a “get lost” response. But Mr O’Brien said it was “polite”.

Mr McDowell also read out correspondence between Mr Morrissey and Mr Webb after the article was published.

Mr Morrissey had criticised Mr Lyons in his correspondence to Mr Webb and claimed Mr Lyons had acted unprofessionally.

Mr McDowell said this amounted to an “attack” on Mr Lyons.

Mr O’Brien said: “No it was pointing out the obvious.”

He said it was “ridiculous” to pose questions about his banking in the first place as he was never going to give any answers.

Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that this represented the “height of hypocrisy”.

Mr McDowell said Mr O’Brien previously “went to some considerable length” in his evidence to say that the Sunday Business Post never contacted him about Mr Lyons’ story in 2015.

Mr McDowell asked how he could “reconcile” telling Mr Lyons and Mr Webb to “get lost” in 2012 with his criticism of Mr Lyons in 2015, saying the journalist didn’t contact him for comment – when Mr O’Brien would never have commented anyway.

Mr O’Brien said he was glad Mr McDowell mentioned the matter and again said Mr Lyons should have contacted him on the Friday evening before the Sunday Business Post article, and asked him specifically if he was “overstretched” and if he had “over borrowed”.

But when Mr McDowell asked him again if he would have responded to Mr Lyons, Mr O’Brien said: “The answer is no.”

Mr O’Brien said Mr McDowell was “mixing apples and oranges”.

Mr O’Brien said: “Why would any citizen of this country answer questions about their bank accounts?”

“Why would anyone discuss their private banking matters with a journalist… you’d want a bolt missing from your head to do that.”

He said it was “none of his business” and that if Mr Lyons asked him about this “visa card”, the answer would be the same: “It’s private”.

Going back to the 2012 Sunday Independent article, and the correspondence between Mr Morrissey and Mr Webb, in which Mr Morrissey accused Mr Lyons of being unprofessional and conducting himself in an unacceptable manner, Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he was now “whinging” in the High Court claiming he had been defamed when he was “quite happy to defame somebody else in correspondence”.

Mr McDowell put to Mr O’Brien that he was accusing Mr Lyons of unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour because he didn’t put a specific figure [about his banking] to Mr O’Brien – a figure he never intended on confirming, denying or correcting.

Mr O’Brien replied: “That’s correct.”

Mr McDowell put it to the Mr O’Brien: “You’ve told the jury that you wouldn’t answer the question.”

Mr O’Brien replied: “Whether the number was right or wrong, I wouldn’t have answered it.”

Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that it was “utterly dishonest” of Mr Morrissey to defame Mr Lyons to his employers for failing to put an exact figure to Mr O’Brien when he knew Mr O’Brien wouldn’t comment.

Mr O’Brien said Mr Lyons got the wrong number and he shouldn’t have published any figure if it was inaccurate.

Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he didn’t see the PwC report on Anglo Irish Bank which the Sunday Independent article was based upon.

Mr O’Brien confirmed this.

McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he then couldn’t have known if Mr Lyons quoted accurately from the PwC report or not. Mr O’Brien said: “No”.

Asked again why he believed Mr Lyons had been unprofessional in his conduct, Mr O’Brien replied: “Because he published the incorrect information.”

Asked again why he didn’t give any information to Mr Lyons, following on from his requests, Mr O’Brien replied: “Because it’s none of his business.”

Mr O’Brien repeated again that to ask about his banking affairs is “grossly unfair” and an “invasion of privacy”.

Mr O’Brien said whether the figure was right or wrong, he wouldn’t have commented on it.

Asking Mr O’Brien how wrong the Sunday Independent figure was, Mr O’Brien wouldn’t say and asked Mr McDowell if he was now trying to invade his banking details.

Mr O’Brien carried on refusing to tell Mr McDowell “how wrong” the figure in the Sunday Independent was.

He said: “I don’t mean to be rude but it’s my private banking matters. I have a right to privacy as a citizen, it’s grossly unfair.”

Mr McDowell further read out the response Mr Webb sent to Mr Morrissey in 2012 and into which he copied Declan Carlyle, who was an executive at INM at the time.

The jury heard Mr Webb told Mr Morrissey that his claim Mr Lyons had acted unprofessionally was “completely unacceptable” and that it was being rejected out of hand. Mr Webb said it was “baseless” and “defamatory” of Mr Lyons.

Mr Webb also said it was a “disgraceful slur” on Mr Lyons and he asked that Mr Morrissey “desist from disseminating this defamatory material forthwith”.

The jury also heard Mr Webb told Mr Morrissey that Mr Lyons had acted as he should have and it was he [Mr Morrissey] who gave “perfunctory answers”. Mr Webb asked Mr Morrissey if he’d like to send figures, they could run a clarification.

Mr O’Brien told Mr McDowell that he believed the latter comment was said “tongue in cheek”.

Mr McDowell asked Mr O’Brien if he had seen Mr Webb’s correspondence, in which he accused Mr O’Brien, via Mr Morrissey, of defaming Mr Lyons.

Mr O’Brien said he did.

Mr McDowell then asked Mr O’Brien how he then could have given evidence that he had got an apology from Mr Denieffe over the 2012 Sunday Independent article.

Mr O’Brien said: “Because Mr Morrissey told me that.”

Mr O’Brien said the correspondence in relation to Mr Denieffe was related to an entirely different matter. He said he had apologised to the court, that he was trying to be helpful last week and that he may have confused matters further – for which he was sorry.

Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he must have known there was no apology over the 2012 article.

Mr O’Brien said that, last week, he said he wasn’t sure about the apology and that he had said he would have to check – which he has since done and that is why Mr McDowell’s solicitor had been contacted about the matter overnight.

Mr McDowell said that, far from INM giving an apology to him, they [INM] gave him “both barrels” over to the suggestion Mr Lyons had behaved wrongly.

Mr O’Brien said: “I’m saying to you there was another matter and other correspondence which led to an apology.”

He also again repeated that Mr Lyons had no right to ring anybody up and ask them about their private banking matters.

He said it wouldn’t happen in the UK and it shouldn’t have happened in Ireland.

He said it was “extraordinary that this journalist would be that ballsy” to ask about his banking and then, Mr O’Brien claimed, get the numbers “wrong”.

Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he was refusing to divulge “how wrong” Mr Lyons was alleged to have been. He also said it was in the public interest to know about the insolvency of Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr O’Brien said it was his private business and said “we’re verging on voyerism, trying to find out what my banking details are, it’s not fair”.

Mr McDowell said the following to Mr O’Brien: “I’m going to put to you now that the fact that Anglo Irish Bank, at the time the PwC report was done, was hopefullsesy insolvent but pretending that it was solvent through the agency PWC report.

He added: “You were among the top 22 debtors of the Irish banking system at the time and one of the top 13 in Anglo Irish Bank, for which the taxpayer was going to carry the burden afterwards. Are you saying that that was an entirely private matter?”

Mr O’Brien said he was never a burden on any bank or IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

He added: “I became a customer of IBRC in 1990. I’m not responsible for them going into liquidation.”

Mr McDowell said Mr Lyons believed, and still believes, that the Irish public deserved to know that a huge amount of indebtedness was concentrated on a small number of people.

Mr O’Brien said they were going to disagree on this.

At one point Mr Justice Bernard Barton intervened to say the jury needed to fully understand a point which was being made by Mr McDowell.

Mr McDowell told Mr O’Brien he made a very serious complaint against Tom Lyons and his professional conduct in a letter, for failing to put a figure to Mr O’Brien – a figure which Mr O’Brien has since claimed was wrong, without now telling the court how wrong it is.

And, Mr McDowell said, Mr O’Brien is now complaining that he wasn’t contacted in 2015, in relation to the Sunday Business Post article, even though he would have likely said ‘no comment’.

Mr O’Brien said his first complaint is that Mr Lyons should never have published any number and, secondly, the figure that he did publish was “absolutely wrong”.

Mr O’Brien went on to compare the Sunday Independent and Sunday Business Post articles and said it was totally different to be called a “buccaneer” [in Sunday Independent] as opposed to being referred to as a member of a “gang” [in Sunday Business Post].

Mr McDowell read out the Oxford dictionary definition of “buccaneer”:

“A pirate, originally one operating in the Caribbean. A person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way, especially in business”.

Mr McDowell continued: “Are you seriously saying ‘buccaneer’ in the Sunday Independent was more complimentary than ‘gang’ in the Sunday Business Post?”

Mr O’Brien said he was. He said ‘buccaneer’ is the name of a sporting club in Galway and “not a derogatory term in my mind”.

He went on to say there was “no comparison” between the two articles and to compare them was like comparing “chalk and cheese”.

Mr McDowell also listed Mr O’Brien’s property interests in Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Spain – following on from Mr O’Brien giving evidence that he is not a property developer but a property investor.

At one point, Mr O’Brien quipped that Mr McDowell knew more about his property interests than he did.

Mr McDowell said he was depending on information in the public domain and Google.

Returning to the 2015 Sunday Business Post article, Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that, in 2008, PwC prepared a report for the Irish Government in which they indicated, among other things, first of all that the banks were claiming to be in rude health.

Secondly, in the report, PwC put together a list of 22 – not 21, not 23 – of people who they said were the top borrowers from the Irish banks.

Mr O’Brien said: “We don’t know this because I’ve never seen the PwC report.”

He said the court is “naked here today” because Mr Lyons destroyed his copy of the report after publication of his article.

Mr O’Brien claimed PwC would also never have used the words used by the newspaper to describe him.

Mr O’Brien said the article was a “hatchet job” and became “more salacious” as it continued over a number of pages in the newspaper.

Just before Mr O’Brien finished giving evidence, the judge again asked Mr O’Brien if it was his position that he basically told the Sunday Independent to get lost in 2012.

Mr O’Brien agreed this was the case and said his banking affairs were none of Mr Lyons’s business.

The judge asked Mr O’Brien if he would have taken the same approach if Mr Lyons contacted him in respect of the Sunday Business Post article.

Mr O’Brien said it would have depended on the question.

He said if he was told he would be described as a property developer and someone who had a detrimental effect on the country, that he was “overstretched”, he would have said that wasn’t true.

Mr Lyons has started to give evidence this afternoon.

Asked by Mr McDowell if he [Mr Lyons] believed that Mr O’Brien could have “brought down the country” when he wrote his article in the Sunday Business Post in 2015, Mr Lyons said: “No that’s ridiculous, no individual could bring down the country. That’s just ridiculous.”

Of his story based on the 2008 PwC report in the Sunday Business Post in 2015, Mr Lyons told the jury it was something which was “incredibly serious”, of “huge public interest” and that the newspaper took the matter “very, very seriously”.

He also said the list was created by PwC and the sequence of people was put together by PwC.

Asked why the Sunday Business Post reported the names of the 22 borrowers and their indebtedness contained in the 2008 PwC report, Mr Lyons said: “We felt that this was demonstrative of the concentrated risk in banks.”

He said it showed the banks were lending too much to too few people.

Asked if this was his judgement or PwC’s, Mr Lyons said it was PwC’s.

In relation to Mr O’Brien’s view that his banking interests are his private affairs and not of public interest, Mr Lyons recalled that Mr O’Brien mentioned his credit card details but went on to say this is not what the Sunday Business Post was reporting on in 2015.

Mr Lyons said he “couldn’t care less if Mr O’Brien pays for Netflix or Sky”.

He said the PwC report was about “big picture numbers” and that the report was paid for by taxpayers which the Government “used to say we’re not in trouble, let’s go with the banking guarantee, everything’s fine”.

He said the context of the report was the biggest financial crisis in the world, not just the biggest financial crisis in Ireland.

Mr Lyons said he accepted Mr O’Brien’s view but, in his opinion, the PwC report was an “important document prepared by the State into what happened in the banks and public interest trumps one man’s opinion”.

Mr Lyons also said that he and his editor Ian Kehoe did have a conversation about whether or not they should have included Mr O’Brien’s name in the list.

He said: “But we said either it was in the public interest or it wasn’t. He [Denis O’Brien] was in there, we had to leave him in there.”

He said the debate over whether to publish Mr O’Brien’s name or not came about because “it’s fair to say, he sues a lot of journalists”.

Mr Lyons said there was a “fear factor there around him”.

But, he said himself and Mr Kehoe decided: “no, we’ve got to be brave here, we’ve got to include him”.

He said they couldn’t leave Mr O’Brien out and treat him as a special case over any possible fears that to include him would harm their future careers.

To further contextualise his point, Mr Lyons looked directly at Mr O’Brien when he said, by way of an example, this could have been a real fear if he were to ever potentially go back to work in either Newstalk or Today FM – radio stations which are both owned by Mr O’Brien.

Mr Lyons said the newspaper “reported faithfully” what was in the PwC report.

The court has heard that the banking inquiry, which was taking place at the time of the publication of the Sunday Businss Post article in 2015, requested of Mr Lyons a copy of the PwC report.

But, at this point, Mr Lyons had already destroyed it, to protect his source.

Asked if he was surprised when the inquiry asked him for the report, Mr Lyons said:

“It did surprise me. I had this suspicion they hadn’t got it. It was a gut instinct. But when it came out that they hadn’t got it, I was very surprised.”

The case continues.

Earlier: Like You Were Walking Onto A Yacht


This morning.

The High Court, Dublin.

Denis O’Brien arrives to give evidence in his defamation action against The Sunday Business Post for including him in a series of articles on a PwC report into the 2008 banking crisis.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, in The High Court

Newspaper did not apologise to O’Brien over 2012 article (RTÉ)

Previously: You Probably Think This Song Is About You

Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Don’t you?

Don’t YOU!?

This morning.

The High Court, Dublin.

Following yesterday’s Carly Simon-based courtroom drama, Denis O’Brien arrives to continue giving evidence in his action against The Sunday Business Post over articles published on March 15, 2015 giving details of a critical  2008 report by accountants PwC into Ireland’s banks.

Yesterday: Meanwhile, At The High Court

Leah Farrell/RollingNews


Ah here.

Thanks Postman Pat (see comments).


This afternoon.

Mr O’Brien has claimed the articles in the Sunday Business Post were malicious and that the newspaper souped up and exaggerated a story based on a PwC report to Government about Ireland’s banks and their biggest borrowers.

Under cross-examination, he claimed Mr [Tom] Lyons moved from one newspaper [The Sunday Independent] to another [The Sunday Business Post], brought his files, rewrote the story and turned it into something else. He said the journalist blamed 21 people for bringing down the country, and stuck him into the middle of it.

Denis O’Brien says he did contact INM about 2012 Sunday Independent article (RTÉ)


This morning.

Denis O’Brien arrives at the High Courtn to continue giving evidence in a defamation action against The Sunday Business Post.

Mr O’Brien’s lawyers told the jury they should award Mr O’Brien “substantial damages to reflect the seriousness of allegations made” in a number of articles in the newspaper almost four years which gave details of a 2008 report by accountants PwC into Ireland’s banks.



Mr [Michael] McDowell SC asked Mr O’Brien to point out where the articles suggested that he personally was responsible for any wrongdoing.

He quoted the Carly Simon song “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” and suggested it applied to Mr O’Brien who seemed to think people would believe everything in the articles referred to him.

Mr O’Brien said he was not aware Mr McDowell was a music buff, to which Mr McDowell replied that he was a great fan of music station 98FM.

Denis O’Brien denies he is ‘self-obsessed’ in his view of SBP articles (RTÉ)

This afternoon.

The Puerto Rico Convention Centre, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Beleaguered, debt-soaked humanitarian Denis O’Brien addresses the the third meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Action Network on ongoing hurricane recovery needs facing Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Antigua.

The CGI Action Network brings together leaders in government, business, and civil society to “develop strategies and solutions to address hurricane recovery needs facing the region, while laying the foundation for a more resilient future”.

Just ask Haiti.


Related: Shaky Foundation

From top: light blue areas are where Eir has ‘committed’ to commercial rural deployment plans, amber areas are the target areas for the state Intervention of the National Broadband Plan and blue areas are where commercial operators are delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services; Catherine Murphy in the Dáil last night

Last night.

A Social Democrat motion calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland” was debated in the Dáil.

Social Democrat co-leader addressed Minister for Communications Richard Bruton about the “laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process”.

Investors in the only consortium left in the process include Denis O’Brien.

Ms Murphy said:

“Although the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has not been in his current role for very long, I know he appreciates that the national broadband plan process has been ongoing for several years but many people in modern Ireland still have limited or no access to the tools required to participate in a modern society and economy.

It is crucial that we deliver broadband to such people. However, I cannot emphasise enough that we must do so through an unimpeachable process in which the veracity of the winning bidder and its ability to deliver long term are verified as well in a way that focuses on the net result for consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and broadband speed.

There is no point going ahead with the process if an average household will not be able to afford to connect to the infrastructure that is finally put in place or the network ultimately proves inadequate.

This must be about empowering our citizens to connect to a globalised world in their business and personal endeavours.

The process must guarantee the ability of the winning bidder to deliver the project or else the Exchequer will end paying by way of a State subsidy and-or citizens will pay the price of not being able to connect to broadband.

We must remember that if the contract is awarded, it will run for a considerable period of time. If we do not get it right, it could be very problematic to reverse it and doing so may involve the payment of compensation.

The old adage is that one must learn from past mistakes, yet nothing in the broadband process to date gives me confidence that we will not repeat current and past mistakes when it comes to the tendering process and the eventual awarding of the contract.

The results of the clearly flawed process for the development of the National Children’s Hospital are coming home to roost, involving colossal cost overruns, deadlines that have been missed on more occasions than I care to count and serious frustrations on all sides of the project.

Members on this side of the House are being asked to blindly trust the people responsible for projects such as the national children’s hospital to make the final decision on the national broadband plan. The metro north project went through a similarly incoherent and rocky process involving numerous incarnations and setbacks.

The same can be said of Luas and the eventual need for a cross-city Luas line which had been included on the original plans. In fact, there are myriad projects to which one could point as examples of the continued inability of this State to get major projects right first time. I acknowledge that this did not all happen on the Minister’s watch. There is ongoing failure in regard to such projects.

The penny must drop that we need to look at what we have been doing wrong in regard to such failures rather than just blame it on a system failure. If there is a system failure, one must fix the system.

The problems that have emerged with the national children’s hospital, for example, are not in the main resultant from something that happened after the project began. The major cause of the issues is a laissez faire approach to the tender and contract process before the project commenced.

If one does not ensure that the design plan, building blocks and builder are the correct choices, one will have a less than satisfactory outcome. That is why this period in the life cycle of the national broadband plan is of such importance. If we do not get things right now, we will pay the price at a later stage.

We have a one-off chance before any contracts are awarded to ask whether we can stand over the process to date and genuinely believe that the process as it stands will deliver the best possible outcome for users and the Exchequer.

All Members are aware of the significant and serious questions which arose during 2017 regarding the handling of the national broadband plan by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten. At the crescendo of the controversy, I, as well as members of Fianna Fáil and other Deputies, stated that the national broadband plan was fatally flawed.

The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Peter Smyth in a bid to prove otherwise and reassure people that the Minister attending various dinner parties and exchanging regular private calls and texts with the owner of the sole remaining bidder was not a problem.

At the time, I raised concerns about the ability of Peter Smyth to be entirely impartial in his report because he was the process auditor throughout the process which caused the controversy. It was a process failure and he was auditing that process.

When the Smyth report was furnished to the House, most Members were underwhelmed by its watery findings. In the absence of minutes or a written record of many of the interactions between the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and Mr. David McCourt, Mr. Smyth took the key players at their word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.

When Mr. Smyth commented at a follow-up press conference that he did not interrogate the then Minister or Mr. David McCourt because he did not think it appropriate to do so, he significantly undermined the veracity of the report and left serious question marks over the relationship between a Minister and a billionaire businessman – an all-too familiar vista in major communications contracts. In that regard, we must consider the learnings, or lack thereof, from past mistakes.

In the same way, we must look to the forerunner of the national broadband plan and ensure the lessons from its roll out and operation inform the broadband plan.

The municipal area networks, MANs, project was established in 2004 and contract extensions to run to 2030 were awarded to Enet in 2016. There remain question marks and ongoing court proceedings regarding the detail behind those contracts and their extension. However, in spite of orders by the information commissioner and the High Court to release the details in the public interest, the Department has continually refused to so do.

It has brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal – which, obviously, will be a costly exercise – to keep information the release of which has been determined to be in the public interest out of the public eye. Such secrecy rings warning bells and flies in the face of the stated ambition of an open government or governance approach to the process.

Leaving aside the significant questions regarding the contract process for Enet and the MANs, there are question marks over the operation, efficiency and usefulness of the plan in terms of the end user take-up of the networks.

In 2014, BT Ireland wrote to the Department expressing serious concerns regarding how Enet was operating the municipal area networks.

Several people and businesses, including public bodies, were unable to connect to the network due to the prohibitive cost.

Many industry experts have questioned the scale, coverage and take-up of the MANs across the country.

Those living in the intervention area should pay serious attention to this because if we do not learn from that process, exactly the same thing may happen with the national broadband plan.

A recent freedom of information dump from the Department to The Irish Times journalist Jack Horgan-Jones included a briefing note prepared for the then Minister in 2016 ahead of a meeting he was due to have with Mr. David McCourt who, at the time, was heading the consortium which had acquired Enet, which was operating the MANs.

The briefing note was prepared two years after BT Ireland, a major telecoms player with significant expertise, outlined to the Department its serious concerns regarding the operation of the MANs by Enet.

The briefing note of 2016 makes absolutely no reference to those concerns and states the MANs programme has proven effective. It has not proven effective if concerns are being raised by businesses and individuals and if there is a proven difficulty with take-up and cost.

It is surely hard to argue that a briefing that fails to acknowledge the serious concerns of a major industry expert like BT is comprehensive. One cannot just ignore that.

Thus far, only part of one of the two Department-commissioned reports into the MANs, namely, the Norcontel report, has been put into the public domain. We are still awaiting the publication of the Analysys Mason report into the operation of the MANs.

It is ridiculous that we do not have the information to allow us to consider this issue adequately and determine what has gone wrong or right in order to inform our consideration of the contract. Very often one is an expert after completing a process but one really needs to be an expert in advance.

The documentation on the experience of the forerunner to the national broadband plan should seriously comprise one of the most important sets of documentation available to the Minister and Opposition. That such secrecy and obfuscation surrounds this process should be a concern in and of itself.

That the Minister and his Department have pushed two court appeals – it may well have been prior to the Minister’s tenure – rather than accepting the High Court judgment and a ruling of the information commissioner to release details of the MANs contracts with Enet should raise eyebrows.

That the Peter Smyth report is, by its author’s own admission, lacking in veracity should raise concerns in its own right.

That the process has found itself with only one remaining bidder should raise eyebrows. Surely a contract of this magnitude should have had competitors beating down the doors to win it, yet we are aware that major telecommunications players such as Eir and SIRO pulled out of the process.

They cited governance and regulatory concerns. Do we really know what those concerns are? Have they been properly interrogated? Have we satisfied ourselves as to what governance and regulatory concerns Eir and SIRO were referring to? I do not believe we have.

At my request, Eir has agreed to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts next month. SIRO has not accepted that invitation. Enet has agreed but with some significant caveats as to what it will and will not discuss.

As I understand it, there is no comprehensive map within the Department or regulator of the networks that might already exist or the take-up of broadband within those networks.

Surely it makes sense to have an audit of current capacity before ploughing ahead with anything new so we can reduce duplication and possibly cost. For example, the ESB rolled out a significant fibre-optic domestic network using EU funds.

Individuals with more technical knowledge than I have told me it would not be a major job to use those networks to tack on the necessary hardware for broadband capabilities…

Similarly, we are aware that Bord Gáis rolled out the Aurora network and that Esat laid lines across parts of the country – for example, between Ballina and Tubbercurry.

Again, this was with EU funding. Eir is currently providing fibre-optic cabling to areas it deems economically viable in terms of its bottom line. What consideration, if any, has been given to the possibility of using any, or all, of these networks, even for a partial rolling out of broadband?

As I understand it, the ESB domestic fibre-optic network was established at a cost of €59 million. To date, has any discussion taken place between the ESB and the Department about the potential use of those networks?

The MANs, despite being operated by Enet, comprise a State-owned asset. Surely we must ensure that any current or future use of the infrastructure must oblige the user benefiting from the public finances to provide the service to all, regardless of the cost to the provider.

Having said that, I am acutely aware of the warning given at a conference by one of the consortia. It said a genuine discussion needed to take place on rolling out broadband to the last 15% of the country in terms of economic viability.

It said we needed to have an honest discussion about that. I would like to hear the possible impediments in this regard. I am sure they would have been articulated in outlining the problems with the roll-out.

Rural areas are affected but not-so-rural areas are also affected. Pockets of my constituency, which is really seen as the commuter belt area, are affected. The constituency is not exactly the most rural part of the country but it has pockets with very unreliable broadband.

Therefore, it is not an exclusively rural issue. Even in this city, there are spots where broadband is not particularly good. The required service can be guaranteed only if we get this process right while we have a chance.

Otherwise, we might find that a consortium of self-interested businesspeople will be given free reign to choose when and where it suits it to prioritise and how affordable it decides to make the end product.

There are those who are not taking up the MANs because of affordability. I cannot emphasise this enough.

It is very obvious that there is a really serious problem of institutional deficiency in the oversight of capital projects. There are some areas in which we do reasonably well because there is much expertise, such as roads, but with regard to some of the other projects it is as if we are spending Monopoly money, not the people’s real money.

We have got to be prudent about the process; otherwise it is going to be costly and will potentially not deliver on what has been promised.”

Minister Bruton’s response here

Last night: Broadband On The Run