'Entirely false and untrue' that Sinn Fein political manager was senior member of IRA army council, court hears
It is "entirely false and untrue" that Sinn Fein political manager, Nicky Kehoe, was a senior member of the IRA army council and was controlling how its councillors voted on Dublin City Council, his lawyer told the High Court today.
Thomas Hogan SC was opening Mr Kehoe's action against RTÉ in which he alleges he was defamed in comments made by former Labour Party TD, Joe Costello, during a live "Saturday with Claire Byrne" radio programme on October 24, 2015.
RTE denies he was defamed and says it is not liable for the matters he complains of.
Mr Hogan said the comments were made during a panel debate on the radio programme about a PSNI/MI5 report claiming that the IRA army council was influencing the work of SF.
When Ms Byrne turned to Mr Costello for his opinion, the TD said a senior element in the IRA had not gone away. He said there was a parallel structure in place which he could see when he looked at the city council where a former army council chief of staff gives directions to councillors at every meeting.
An SF representative on that panel, Eoin O'Broin, now a TD, said Mr Costello was talking about Nicky Kehoe who co-ordinates councillors on Dublin councils.
Mr O'Broin took issue with what Mr Costello said and that he was not a member of the army council. Mr O'Broin described it as a most bizarre and outrageous comment and a most embarrassing line of argument for him (Costello) to make.
Mr Hogan said any reasonable person would have understood what was said to mean that Mr Kehoe was controlling what was happening on the council on behalf of the IRA and that he was not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process.
That suggestion was "entirely false and untrue" and RTE had not come to court to stand over that allegation, counsel said.
Mr Hogan said Mr Kehoe was born and reared in Cabra, Dublin, where following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, his parents took in refugees from Northern Ireland. After Bloody Sunday in 1972, Mr Kehoe joined the IRA and in 1974 was arrested, when he was 18, carrying a bag of explosives in Fishamble Street in Dublin.
He was jailed for three years an following his release continued his apprenticeship as a bricklayer and got married.
However, in 1983, he was again arrested during a foiled kidnap attempt in the grounds of the home of Galen Weston. He was jailed for 12 years for firearm offences and released after nine years, counsel said.
When he got out of prison this time, he resolved not to involve himself with the republican movement or the IRA and devoted himself to his family and community, particularly in St Finbarrs GAA club in Cabra.
He was elected to Dublin City Council in 1999 and held that seat until 2007 when he decided not to stand and go back to bricklaying. He had also narrowly missed getting a Dail seat in 2002 in Dublin Central.
He could not have picked a worse time to go back to bricklaying and found himself unemployed, counsel said. He went back to education and got a BA in history from Trinity. In 2014, he was employed as a political manager by SF, co-ordinating councillors, and remains in that position.
Mr Hogan said his client went down the wrong path but will tell the court he was reformed by prison.
He did not hear the Claire Byrne radio programme but learned about it later and would describe the reaction of his family, friends and among young SF councillors.
RTE had said while they were not standing over the allegations made by Mr Costello, it says there was nothing defamatory said about Mr Kehoe and a reasonable person would not think any less of him as a result. They also say Claire Byrne intervened and challenged Mr Costello.
It also says they issued a clarification at the end of the programme.
Mr Kehoe has begun giving evidence.
The case continues before a judge and a jury.