The former editor of the Sunday Business Post, Ian Kehoe, has told the High Court that articles in the newspaper in March 2015 were not about businessman Denis O'Brien but about Ireland and about a report that cast a lie about what the banks were saying at the time of the financial crash in 2008.

Mr O'Brien claims the articles portrayed him as one of a gang of 22 "developer kings" who over-borrowed, destroyed the country and bankrupted the banks.

The newspaper says the articles do not have the meanings claimed by Mr O'Brien and has pleaded fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest.

The Business Post says the articles were based on a report given by accountants PwC to Government in November 2008, listing the 22 biggest borrowers with Irish banks.

Mr Kehoe said he and journalist Tom Lyons had discussed leaving Mr O'Brien out of the articles in the interests of a quiet life but decided he had to be left in because he was named in the report and it was not their job to doctor a Government report.

He said there was "an immense fear factor" across the media around anything to do with Mr O'Brien. When Mr O'Brien's name was mentioned, he said it was like being "in a fire station with a light going around" and he said Mr O'Brien was the only person in that category. 

He told the newspaper's senior counsel, Michael McDowell, that anything involving Mr O'Brien had to go through him and through lawyers. 

He said core journalistic values meant treating all reports and individuals fairly. He said Mr O'Brien was named because he was one of the 22 named in the report but the articles also reported that he had paid all his debts. 

Mr Kehoe said the newspaper had not anonymised all the borrowers because he believed in transparency and in informing people what was going on. 

He said the story was one of immense public and national importance, about a report showing how fundamentally the banks had misled PwC at the time of the bank guarantee in September 2008.

It showed, he said, an immense concentration of debt in a small group of people. 

They could have been the best or worst borrowers he said. It was not about Mr O'Brien or any of the other individuals, but about Ireland, Irish banks and why even now, investment is not being put into areas that so badly need it. Mr Kehoe said he and Mr Lyons were fully engaged with it. 

He told the court he read the entire PwC report and went through the articles to ensure they were correct. He had not discussed the story with the company's then chairman, Conor Killeen, who at no time sought to exercise any control over editorial content.

Earlier, lawyers for Mr O'Brien continued their cross examination of Mr Lyons and played an interview given by him to RTÉ's This Week radio programme on 15 March 2015, the day the articles were published.

Mr Lyons denied the interview showed his attitude was that a small group of the biggest borrowers had disappeared off into the sunset and left the people of Ireland holding the baby.

Mr Lyons said he made no reference to Mr O'Brien during the interview and had no opportunity to outline what the articles said about Mr O'Brien. 

He said before the interview was recorded, the interviewer had asked him not to make any reference to Mr O'Brien because the lawyers had said "not to go near him".

Ian Kehoe will continue his evidence on Tuesday.