Foxrock schoolteacher ordered to pay €50,000 in damages to businessman for defamatory remarks
A schoolteacher in Loretto College, Foxrock, Co Dublin, was directed by a judge today to pay €50,000 damages to a Dunlaoghaire jeweller he made defamatory remarks about.
It was the maximum that Judge Jacqueline Linnane could have awarded Breasal O’Caollai who told her that what former friend and neighbour Michael O’Flaherty had said about him could have ruined his business.
O’Caollai, of Royal Terrace West, Dunlaoghaire, told the Circuit Civil Court that OFlaherty had told staff in the National Maritime Museum in Dunlaoghaire, of which he was a director, that he had effectively taken money from the tills.
Barrister Michael Binchy, counsel for O’Caollai, said that on three occasions O’Flaherty, of Northumberland Avenue, Dunlaoghaire, had “made utterances which meant Mr O’Caollai was an incompetent businessman on the take and engaging in dishonest practices.”
Mr Binchy said O’Flaherty had asked Museum staff Bianca Drumm and Linda Carroll “does Breasal take money from the coffee shop takings” and “does he take cash from the tills.” He had also suggested to another staff member that he “supposed Breasal had taken the proceeds” of an art exhibition.
O’Caollai told the court he owned a jewellery shop in Northumberland Avenue, Dunlaoghaire, not far from O’Flaherty’s home. He had asked him to help with the museum and he had been elected treasurer at an annual general meeting. They had been friends but eventually O’Flaherty had developed a grudge against him for some unknown reason.
“He would just grunt when we passed on the street and I was dumbfounded when he suggested to museum statt that I was a thief and a robber which was totally outrageous,” Mr O’Caollai said.
Mr O’Caollai said there was absolutely no basis for the statements by O’Flaherty that he had his hand in the till. Customer trust and a good reputation in the jewellery business was critical.
“Mere rumour could put you out of business. I had asked my solicitor Kevin O’Higgins to seek an apology and an undertaking from Mr O’Flaherty not to repeat the statements which would have settled the matter. It was not forthcoming,” he said.
O’Flaherty said he had been “aghast and astonished” when he had learned of the “complete fabrication” of the statements he was alleged to have made to Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll about Mr O’Caollai. None of them was true.
He said that at one stage as treasurer he had recommended tighter control of funds and lodgements.
Judge Linnane, awarding Mr O’Caollai €50,000 damages, said Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll had no reason to fabricate or invent their account of what had happened. Inferences had been cast on them by the defendant.