I'm not 'self-obsessed', O'Brien insists in case against paper

Businessman Denis O’Brien has said he is not “self-obsessed” in believing he was “lumped in” with 22 borrowers allegedly blamed in newspaper articles for the 2008 financial crisis here.

“I’m second place to you in the vanity stakes,” he told Michael McDowell SC during cross-examination in his High Court action alleging defamation in several articles published in the ‘Sunday Business Post’ (SBP) on March 15, 2015.

He said he was “maliciously” put into a category of borrowers where he should not have been and defamed because the articles wrongly meant he was “a member of a select group responsible for the property bubble in Ireland”.

He had made some property investments but was not a developer and disagreed it was not defamatory to describe someone as a developer in 2015. If you interacted with the public between 2008 and 2015 and said you were a developer and not a barrister, you “would get dog’s abuse”, he told counsel.

“I am not a property developer king and I didn’t bust the country.”

Mr O’Brien is suing Post Publications Ltd for substantial damages over the alleged defamation. The focus of the articles, which ran over six pages, was what the SBP referred to as a “secret” report concerning exposure in 2008 of Ireland’s banks, compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The report was provided to the Government in November 2008 and obtained in 2015 by the newspaper but was destroyed shortly after publication to protect the source who provided it.

The articles include a front page story headlined “22 men and €26 billion” with a subheading: “The secret report that convinced Cowen the banks weren’t bust.”

Mr O’Brien claims the various articles wrongly meant he was among 22 borrowers identified with the downfall of Ireland and the bankruptcy of its banking system and injured his reputation. The defendant denies defamation.

Yesterday, Mr McDowell said the SBP denied the “they” in a strapline “The files they didn’t want you to see” included Mr O’Brien.

Remarking Mr O’Brien had probably heard of the Carly Simon song, ‘You’re So Vain’, counsel put to him the articles did not mean Mr O’Brien, or others, was being blamed for the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr O’Brien reiterated his view the articles, including one headlined “The Gang of 22”, meant he was part of a “gang” of 22 responsible for the 2008 crisis. He did not know how counsel could say otherwise or suggest he was “self-obsessed” or like the person referred to in the song, ‘You’re So Vain’.

He denied his interpretation of “gang” as referring to people engaged in wrongdoing or criminality was “excessive”.

Mr McDowell put to him “gang” is used widely to describe different groups of people.

Mr O’Brien said counsel, as a former justice minister, knows what gang means and it is not “a loving term”.

He said he has never seen the PwC report but believed the newspaper had “sensationalised” it and the journalists involved had set out to do him damage.

The hearing continues.

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