Sunday 15 September 2019

FG senator: article called me a 'robber' and cost me my Dáil seat

Senator Paudie Coffey at the Four Courts yesterday. Picture: Collins
Senator Paudie Coffey at the Four Courts yesterday. Picture: Collins
Remarks: John Paul Phelan at the Four Courts yesterday. Photos: Collins

Tim Healy

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey believes the loss of his Dáil seat in 2016 by 300 votes was due to a newspaper article about county boundary changes which likened him to an 18th-century robber, the High Court heard.

He is suing Iconic Newspapers, publishers of the 'Kilkenny People', over the June 15, 2016, article headed "Coffey the Robber".

It contained comments from his FG colleague John Paul Phelan TD accusing the then minister for state, now Senator Coffey, of trying to "rob" a chunk of south Kilkenny.

Mr Phelan was then quoted as saying: "We've all heard of Crotty the robber - the 18th-century highwayman who hid himself away in a cave in the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains.

"He was the leader of a gang of bloodthirsty highwaymen."

Opening Mr Coffey's case yesterday, Richard Kean SC said the article was published about three weeks before the general election and his client lost his Dáil seat, which he first won in 2011, by 300 votes.

He became depressed and isolated after he lost his seat and was subjected to comments such as "Coffey the robber" at sporting events and other occasions, counsel said.

It was also not part, as the newspaper claimed, of a public discourse or debate about boundary changes, because Mr Coffey had never been asked by the paper to respond to the claims of Mr Phelan.

Mr Kean said his client sought a retraction and redress from the paper but this was not forthcoming.

As a last resort, he had to bring defamation proceedings to vindicate his good name.

Mr Coffey (49), who was born and lives in Portlaw, Co Waterford, was appointed to the Seanad by Enda Kenny after he lost his Dáil seat in 2016.

In his action, he claims the words in the article were defamatory and meant, among other things, he was guilty of misuse of public office and was a person of severe ill-repute, akin to an 18th-century highwayman.

He claims the article was false and published maliciously and he is seeking damages.

The newspaper publisher denies the claims.

It claims that the natural and ordinary meaning of the article was, among other things, that a review of the Waterford/Kilkenny boundary was underway and that Mr Phelan publicly and politically disagreed with his FG colleague in relation to it.

It also meant Mr Phelan believed his chances of future electoral success would be adversely affected by the boundary change and had criticised the review process.

The case continues before Mr Justice Bernard Barton and a jury.

Irish Independent

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