Court hears O'Brien refused right of reply

Friday 08 February 2013 22.11
Mr O'Brien says an Irish Daily Mail article about RTÉ News reports on the relief effort after the earthquake in Haiti accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self interest
Mr O'Brien says an Irish Daily Mail article about RTÉ News reports on the relief effort after the earthquake in Haiti accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self interest

The Denis O'Brien defamation case has heard that the businessman refused a right of reply and looked for damages immediately after publication.

Mr O'Brien is claiming an Irish Daily Mail article about RTÉ News reports on the relief effort after the earthquake in Haiti accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self interest.

Associated Newspapers, which owns the Irish Daily Mail, denies the claims.

Oisin Quinn SC for Associated Newspapers said the first letter from Mr O'Brien's solicitors sought damages.

He said Mr O'Brien could have had a right of reply of equal prominence to the article or he could have gone to the Press Council.

Mr O'Brien replied that the Press Council did not have any teeth and he rejected the suggestion that a right of reply was the way to deal with the issue.

He has said the article was designed to make him look ridiculous.

He said it was contemptible to say he took advantage of the deaths of 300,000 people, including several staff, all because of Tribunal report.

Mr Quinn said that the author of the article, Paul Drury will say that there is a context to the piece given that the Moriarty Tribunal report was expected shortly.

He said it might be unpleasant for Mr O'Brien but Mr Drury forms the opinion, which he admits is a bit cynical, that "no wonder he is acting the saint in Haiti".

Mr Quinn put it to Mr O'Brien that people were entitled to express an opinion without fear or favour? Mr O'Brien replied yes, provided you do not libel.

Mr O'Brien said it would have been very easy to verify the article by contacting him. He said it was all about tarnishing him.

Mr Quinn suggested that as a public figure, sometimes, he would have to wear that. He said they were asking the jury to defend the right of journalists to express their opinion even about a powerful person.

The jury was shown videos of two of Charlie Bird's RTÉ News broadcasts from Haiti which contained clips with Mr O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien said they helped Mr Bird get on a flight into Haiti when the journalist was having difficulty travelling there.

He said they also provided him with a car, a driver, security, water and mattresses. He said Mr Bird was high maintenance but they were trying to help everyone.

An email from Mr Bird was read out which was signed "love Charlie". Mr O'Brien joked that it was "quite a romance".

Earlier, Mr O'Brien denied that he lives in Malta to avoid paying taxes, saying he is a significant taxpayer in Ireland and elsewhere.

Under cross-examination in his High Court defamation case against the Irish Daily Mail, Mr O'Brien said he paid all his taxes in Ireland and all taxes in all countries where Digicel has businesses.

Mr Quinn put it to Mr O'Brien that the reason he was living in a flat in Malta, although his family was in Ireland, was not for the weather and was instead intended to massively reduce his taxes by hundreds of millions.

Mr O'Brien said he could not run his business from Ireland as 95% of it was scattered around the world.

He agreed that in 2012 he personally had been paid hundreds of millions of dollars from Digicel.

He rejected Mr Quinn's suggestion that he had not paid any taxes in Ireland.

Under questioning, Mr O'Brien also said he had received IR£290m from the sale of Esat in 2000 and he did not pay tax on that money as he had moved to Portugal the previous year.

Mr Quinn also took the jury through five articles from the Irish Daily Mail which ran in the days before the article at the centre of the case, which was written by Paul Drury.

These referred to Mr O'Brien's €3.5m donation to Haiti and his comments on the devastation in the country.

Mr O'Brien agreed that these were factual news pieces. Mr Quinn said the importance of this was to give the jury the context of their coverage of Haiti. He said it was proper serious coverage.

Mr O'Brien's evidence has concluded and the case continues next week.