Irish Daily Mail columnist Paul Drury denies Denis O'Brien 'agenda'

Tuesday 12 February 2013 22.03
Denis O'Brien is claiming a newspaper article accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self-interest
Denis O'Brien is claiming a newspaper article accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self-interest

Irish Daily Mail columnist Paul Drury has told the High Court neither he nor his newspaper had an agenda to write a nasty piece about businessman Denis O'Brien.

Mr Drury has begun giving evidence in defence of a defamation action by Mr O'Brien over an article he wrote in January 2010.

Mr O'Brien is claiming the article, about his appearance in RTÉ News reports on the relief effort after the earthquake in Haiti, accused him of hypocrisy motivated by self-interest.

Mr Drury said his newspaper believed in expressing trenchant views on matters of public interest, but there was no agenda and no deliberate intention to be nasty.

He said the publication of the Moriarty Report was widely expected in 2010 around the time he wrote the article.

The previous summer, Mr O'Brien had released the preliminary findings into the public domain by giving interviews to three journalists, he said.

Mr Drury said his understanding of those findings, based on what Mr O'Brien had put into the public domain, was that he would be excoriated by the tribunal report.

His understanding was the tribunal would find Mr O'Brien had been awarded the mobile phone licence as a result of a corrupt relationship with a government minister.

He said Mr O'Brien had engaged in a PR campaign mocking the tribunal, and its judge and legal team, and had run a website about it.

The impending publication of the report was the biggest story of the decade, he said, with enormous hours of radio and TV coverage and pages of newspaper coverage.

Mr Drury said soon after the earthquake in Haiti he saw the first reports from Haiti on the RTÉ's Six One News.

He said he remembered seeing an extended interview with Mr O'Brien and found it remarkable that the focus was so much on Mr O'Brien and it was such an extended report.

Mr Drury said: "The whole focus of this report was Mr O'Brien and the interviews with him and I found that remarkable."

He said he found it intriguing the manner in which it had been put together.

There was footage of Mr O’Brien and reporter Charlie Bird in the centre of Port Au Prince and a later interview in the airport.

It struck him forcibly that a lot of time and effort had gone into putting the package together.

It was clear from the longer interview that the reporter had discussed with Mr O'Brien what he wanted to say.

O'Brien plan 'to run PR campaign'

Mr Drury said he believed Mr O'Brien's reference in newspaper articles about having a plan referred to his intention to run a PR campaign and make himself look good in another context.

His strategy to undermine the credibility of the tribunal and to attack the chairman of the tribunal in such a strong and personal way was extraordinary and unprecedented, he said.

When asked if he believed his comments might have upset Mr O'Brien he said "Yes in the same way as I’m sure Judge Moriarty was upset by his comment that the judge was out to get a scalp."

Mr Drury said they were dealing with issues that were in the public domain and he was entitled to express an opinion on it.

He said it would be a sad day for democracy if he could not do that.

Mr Drury also referred to Mr O'Brien "turning up on the tenth anniversary of the tribunal with a birthday cake and inviting photographers" and said it made him look foolish instead of what he had planned to do and that was make the tribunal look foolish.

Asked about a reference he made about the tribunal report being "humiliating" for Mr O’Brien he said Mr O’Brien was being "accused of the lowest form of corruption" and he was highlighting how serious and shocking it was.

Highlighting his humanitarian work could only have been beneficial, painting a different picture to what would be portrayed in the Moriarty Tribunal, he said. He said: "I believed it then and I believe it now."

Attempting to focus attention on his humanitarian work he was seeking to divert the "tackle coming down the tracks" from the tribunal.

However he believed Mr O’Brien did not succeed as he had since been publicly discredited.

"There was an outcry at Cabinet that he was allowed to share a platform with a member of Cabinet, he has been ostracised, so it did not work but I believe that is what he was trying to do."

The reality is that tribunal did find that he had channelled significant sums of money to a government minister, he said.

"I believed what I wrote at the time sincerely and utterly. Everything I have heard during this case has reinforced that belief."

He said Mr O’Brien could have complained to the press council and the matter could have been dealt with in a matter of weeks instead of stretching out over three years and holding up the High Court for over a week.

In response to claims by Mr O'Brien that the press council was "toothless", he said the Irish Press Council had been identified by Lord Leveson as a good example of press regulation and one with the most potential.