A FORMER All-Ireland winning hurler told a court yesterday that he was "absolutely mortified" when a Tesco employee accused him of trying to buy a bottle of wine for a minor.
Patrick Moroney (33), a practising solicitor, is suing the UK retail giant for defamation in relation to the alleged incident at its store at Ardnacrusha, Corbally, Limerick, on November 28, 2010. Ennis Circuit Court heard he went to the store to purchase a bottle of wine after his girlfriend, Claire Hayes then aged 25, had been refused alcohol when she failed to produce ID.
In evidence yesterday, Mr Moroney said: "I was trying to explain to the lady at the counter that I was 31 years of age, Claire was 25.
"The woman, Anne Devlin, told me 'I am not serving you. You are purchasing the wine for an under 18-year-old. You might as well be buying it for the children on the street'."
Mr Moroney said: "The attention of the people in the shop was drawn to what this woman said. I was absolutely mortified. I was extremely embarrassed."
Ms Devlin denies that she said those words.
Mr Moroney runs a legal practice in Limerick and Scarriff and won an All-Ireland hurling minor medal with Clare in 1997. He has also represented the county at senior level in hurling.
In court yesterday, All-Star and former Limerick senior hurling captain Ollie Moran gave character evidence on Mr Moroney's behalf .
He said that he is "a very, very talented hurler" and "someone fellas would align themselves to in a big way".
Mr Moroney said that on the night, the duty manager told him that Tesco has a policy of not serving anyone who looks under 25 unless they have ID.
Mr Moroney told the court: "I have no difficulty whatsoever with Tesco policy on serving alcohol. In fact I commend it. My issue was with the way I was treated and what was said in front of the entire shop."
He added: "I was extremely embarrassed. If the ground had swallowed me up, I would have been happy. I still feel extremely aggrieved by the manner in which I was treated by a member of Tesco staff and Tesco in general since the incident.
"There has been no effort by Tesco to address the situation or apologise for what happened on the night.
"I am an officer of the court. My reputation is my most important asset and that is why I felt the necessity to bring this case -- to protect my reputation both at a personal and professional level.
"I was not aware of who was in the shop at the time -- they could have been clients or potential clients of mine."
Under cross examination from counsel for Tesco, Ronnie Robins, Mr Moroney agreed that his integrity or standing was not in question before the court and that his business hasn't suffered.
Mr Robins said that Tesco disputes Mr Moroney's and Ms Hayes's version of events.
Ms Hayes gave evidence of hearing the exchange between Mr Moroney and Ms Devlin. She said: "The woman told Patrick 'you're buying it for an under 18-year-old' and I thought 'oh my God, that is so embarrassing'. I was mortified for him.
"He was trying to reason with her and she told him 'you might as well be buying it for the people on the street'."
Ms Devlin, a mother of five, said that she received training from Tesco in dealing with the sale of alcohol to people who may be minors.
Ms Devlin said: "I asked him, 'are you buying for this lady I just refused?' He said he was.
"I said that the principle would be the same as buying it for an underage person on the street. That's the way I tried to explain it. I wasn't being mean to him.
"He persisted and I got my manager to make a final decision."
Counsel for Mr Moroney, Emmett O'Brien, said that the maximum damages allowed in the circuit court is €50,000 and not €38,000 as it is a defamation case.
Mr O'Brien said this after Judge Donagh McDonagh expressed concerns over jurisdiction in the case.
Judge McDonagh said he would give his judgment later today.