Thursday 19 September 2019

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey settles 'highway robber' defamation case

Paudie Coffey said the article called him a thief. Picture: Collins
Paudie Coffey said the article called him a thief. Picture: Collins

Tim Healy

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey has settled his High Court action over a newspaper article which he said defamed him when he was likened to an 18th century highway robber in an article about boundary changes in south Kilkenny.

Following a 13-day trial last December, the jury was discharged on December 11 after it failed to reach a verdict, having deliberated for 11 hours over two days. 

Mr Coffey, a former TD and former Minister of State for the Environment, now a Senator, sued Iconic Newspapers and journalist Sam Matthews, publishers of the article in the Kilkenny People on January 15, 2016.   The article, headed "Coffey the Robber", stated fellow FG TD John Paul Phelan had launched a furious broadside on the then minister of state accusing him of trying to "rob" a chunk of south Kilkenny.

He claimed the words falsely 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 from Waterford.  Sen Coffey comes from Waterford and lives in Portlaw. 

The defendants denied the article, based on a press release issued by Mr Phelan, was defamatory.

After the jury was discharged, the case was put back into the list to fix dates while the issue of the costs of the 13-day trial was to be dealt with separately.

When this costs matter came before Mr Justice Bernard Barton on Wednesday, Richard Kean SC, for Mr Coffey, told the judge he was "very relieved and pleased to say the entire matter is resolved" and as part of the resolution a statement was to be read out by Rossa Fanning SC on behalf of the defendants.

The statement said the defendants "confirm they never in any way questioned the honesty of Sen Coffey and acknowledge him to be a policitian of integrity and wish him well in his future political career.

"The defendants regret any upset caused by the article to Sen Coffey and his family".

Mr Fanning said the online version of the article had been taken down and will not be republished.

Counsel also said that on consent between the parties the court could strike out the proceedings and make no order as to costs, other than an order vacating previous costs orders.

Mr Justice Barton said  the court was pleased the parties had been able to resolve the matter and he made the orders as requested with no further order.

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