Tuesday 20 February 2018

Environment Minister Phil Hogan suing TV3 for defamation

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan
Broadcaster and columnist Vincent Browne
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan says ‘Paddy now knows the charge’ but that is far from the case

ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan is suing TV3 for defamation arising out of comments made by the broadcaster Vincent Browne, the High Court has heard today.

The Minister claims he was defamed on the Tonight with Vincent Browne on May 20 of last year when the broadcaster, in an exchange with Fine Gael TD and now Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan, who was a panelist on the show.

It is alleged Mr Browne described Minister Hogan as being "a bigoted racist" arising out of representations made by Mr Hogan on behalf of a constituent over the suitability of a family, who are members of the Irish Travelling Community, for a vacant council property in Co Kilkenny.

The Minister claims the remarks had meanings including he was prejudiced towards Travellers, sought to prevent the housing of members of the Travelling community, had breached the Incitement to Hatred Act and was not suitable for his role as Minister or a TD,

He says the allegedly defamatory remarks have damaged his reputation and caused him extreme stress. He is seeking damages and a correction order, and an order directing TV 3 to remove the broadcast in question from its website.

TV3 denies his claims on grounds including that Mr Browne's statements consisted of an opinion honestly held by him.

This opinion was based on grounds including that the Minister made a number of public statements, including ones that he had contacted Kilkenny Co Council, about the matter.

In a pre-trial application to the High Court yesterday, the Minister asked for an order amending his original statement of claim.

The Minister wished to amend his claim after checking a number of factual matters, several matters needed to be clarified, his counsel Rossa Fanning said.

These included interactions between him and Kilkenny Co Council which needed to be fully set out. The amendments did not affect the central issues of the Minister's claim, counsel said

The Minister wanted it made clear has "no issues" with members of the Travelling Community. In his capacity as a public representative has made representations to provide housing for Travellers.

TV3, represented by Marcus Dowling BL, opposed the application.

It was argued the  Minister, in seeking to amend his claim, was seeking to "gloss over" serious factual  inaccuracies in his original statement of claim.

These inaccuracies had not been properly explained by the Minister, counsel added.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled the Minister was entitled to amend his statement of claim.

The case will be listed for hearing before a Judge and jury at a future date.

Irish Independent

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