Monday 5 December 2016

Lowry has legal bill of €50,000 after losing libel case

Dearbhail McDonald and Ray Managh

Published 07/10/2011 | 05:00

Independent TD Michael Lowry
Independent TD Michael Lowry

FORMER Minister Michael Lowry is facing a legal bill of up to €50,000 after journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth successfully defended a defamation action taken against him by the controversial Tipperary TD.

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Yesterday Circuit Court Judge Margaret Heneghan told lawyers for Mr Smyth that she would not postpone the order for costs even though Mr Lowry had appealed his case to the High Court.

Last January, Judge Heneghan refused Mr Lowry a declaration, under a new procedure in the 2009 Defamation Act, that he had been defamed by Mr Smyth on TV3's Tonight with Vincent Browne programme and in an Irish Independent article.

The new procedure allows a person to get a summary (instant) order from the court if a judge rules they have been defamed and also finds the defendant has no defence that is likely to succeed.

Judge Heneghan heard the case in December last year and in January she ruled that Mr Lowry had not established that Mr Smyth had no defence to the allegations of defamation.

Mr Smyth, who is the only Irish member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), has been covering matters relating to Mr Lowry since the mid-1990s.

In 1996, Mr Smyth revealed that renovations at Lowry's home were paid for by former Dunnes Stores business magnate Ben Dunne, leading to Mr Lowry's resignation as Communications Minister.

Last night the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) welcomed the costs ruling as "a striking demonstration of the effectiveness" of the new Defamation Act.

The alleged defamation action brought by the former minister centres on comments made by Mr Smyth concerning the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals and their inquiries into matters relating to Mr Lowry's finances.

The independent politician claimed the article and a comment by Mr Smyth on television that Mr Lowry had been "caught with his hand in the till" suggested he was a thief, a corrupt politician, dishonest, untrustworthy and unfit to have been a minister and a TD.

Honest

Mr Smyth, of The Gasworks, Barrow Street, Dublin, had stood over his comments and argued in court they were true and based on his honest opinion and constituted fair and reasonable publication in matters of public interest.

He claimed that what had been discovered about Mr Lowry at the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals led inevitably to the conclusion that Mr Lowry was indeed corrupt, dishonest, untrustworthy and both unfit and unsuitable to be a minister and TD.

Irish NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley said afterwards: "I hope this decision will give other people who seek to inhibit investigative journalism through use of the Defamation Act pause for thought."

Irish Independent

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