Monday 24 July 2017

Journalist implied I was a thief, Lowry tells court

Ray Managh

Former minister Michael Lowry denied in court yesterday that he was a corrupt politician, dishonest, untrustworthy and unfit to be a minister or a TD.

He claimed a statement by journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth on TV3's 'Tonight with Vincent Browne', that he had been "caught with his hand in the till," implied he was a thief.

Mr Lowry, independent TD for Tipperary North, has asked the Circuit Civil Court for a declaration that he was defamed by Mr Smyth in the June 2010 programme and in an article written by Mr Smyth for the Irish Independent.

Martin Giblin, senior counsel for Mr Lowry, told the judge his client was also seeking an order prohibiting further publication of false and defamatory statements and publication by Mr Smyth of a correction under the 2009 Defamation Act.

Mr Lowry, of Holy Cross, Thurles, Co Tipperary, told the court in a sworn affidavit that Mr Smyth had made the remark on a programme reviewing the work of the Tribunal into Payments to Politicians.

Mr Smyth, of The Gasworks, Barrow Street, Dublin 4, has been covering matters to do with Mr Lowry since the mid-1990s and his story in November 1996 about Mr Lowry's home having been renovated by Dunnes Stores led to Mr Lowry's resignation as communications minister.

He denies he defamed Mr Lowry and claims the words he used were statements of fact and were fair and reasonable publication on matters of significant public interest.

Mr Lowry told the court Mr Smyth was entitled to repeat the findings of the McCracken (Dunnes Payments) Tribunal, but to say he had been caught with his hand in the till had gone far beyond any fair and accurate reporting. He said he was not a thief and had never been convicted of being a thief.

He said the Irish Independent article under the heading 'Tribunal will reveal findings on money trail to ex-minister' was about a matter yet to be adjudicated on by the Moriarty Tribunal which was looking into whether any payments were made directly or indirectly to him while he was a minister.

Mr Smyth in his newspaper article had stated, regarding English property transactions in Cheadle, Mansfield and Doncaster, that "the total value of all of the property transactions involving Mr Lowry was around stg£5m".

This, Mr Lowry claimed, meant by way of innuendo that he had unlawfully benefited from the stg£5m transactions by awarding, as communications minister, the Esat Digifone mobile phone licence to businessman Denis O'Brien.

Reasonable

Senior counsel for Mr Smyth, Eoin Mc Cullough, said that under the Defamation Act there were defences in relation to both publications of honest opinion, truth and fair and reasonable publication of matters of public interest.

Mr Mc Cullough said it was entirely true to say Mr Lowry was involved in a tax fraud relating to the payment of €395,000 by Dunnes Stores towards the refurbishment of his Tipperary home. When this was revealed by Mr Smyth the plaintiff Mr Lowry had told a series of lies about what had happened.

Mr Giblin said Mr Lowry was not seeking damages but was seeking relief under the new defamation law to clear his good name.

The judge has reserved until the new year judgment on Mr Lowry's applications.

Irish Independent

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