Wednesday 18 July 2018

Galen Weston kidnap attempt must be seen 'in historical context', Sinn Fein manager tells High Court

Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe claims he was defamed on the Claire Byrne radio programme on RTÉ. Picture: Courtpix
Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe claims he was defamed on the Claire Byrne radio programme on RTÉ. Picture: Courtpix

Tim Healy

Sinn Fein political manager, Nicky Kehoe, told the High Court his arrest during a shootout with gardai in a foiled kidnap attempt of multi-millionaire Galen Weston in 1983 had to be seen "in the historical context" of the IRA hunger strikes of the time.

Mr Kehoe (62) said he spent 26 years since his release from a 12 year sentence for his involvement in that crime building up his reputation again.

But that was taken away from him again in "one swipe" because of an RTE radio programme on October 24, 2015, he said.

He was being cross examined in his action against RTÉ claiming he was defamed when he was falsely described by former TD Joe Costello, on a Saturday with Claire Byrne live panel debate programme, as a former chief of staff of the IRA who was controlling how SF councillors on Dublin City Council vote.   RTE denies his claims.

Put to him by Cian Ferriter SC, for RTE, that he could not now pick and choose which parts of the IRA campaign of violence he supported and which were OK, he replied: "I would say most or all the campaign was wrong for violence, it was wrong that people were killed".

He agreed that while he saw his activities in the historical context, the vast majority would see it as as criminal.

He agreed that as a result of the campaign of violence, the 1,196 people killed by the IRA during that campaign never got to do what he (Kehoe) got to do such as obtain a BA in history from Trinity College eight years ago in what he said was the happiest moment of his life.

He also agreed that as a result of that campaign hundreds of people were "terminally deprived" of the other opportunities he had including to lay bricks to build a community centre and see their kids grow up.

Counsel said reasonable people would not believe he had a reputation when it comes to the IRA.  He replied he could see that but "I served my time and I came out changed.

"The reputation I have now is different from what I had but I had to work hard to get that reputation".

Mr Ferriter also asked him was he proud of his activities in the IRA.  "No I would not be proud".

"Are you ashamed", counsel asked:  "I would be, in a context", he said.

Mr Kehoe, who was also sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1974 for possession of explosives, said he took part in a 35 day hunger strike for political recognition in Portlaoise Prison where he served that sentence.  He denied he was a commander of one of the prison wings at that time.

He said he was not in Portlaoise at the time chief prison officer, Brian Stack, was murdered and did not support that murder

Asked did he agree he was regularly referred to as an IRA gunman, he said "in the media".

Earlier, Mr Ferritter put it to him that despite the fact that it was Joe Costello who made the comments on the radio show, he had not taken a case against Mr Costello and had not said a word to him him "good bad or indifferent".

Mr Kehoe replied he had acted on the advice of his lawyers.

He also said it was not Mr Costello who broadcast the matter, but RTE, "to 250,000 listeners".

He agreed that while Claire Byrne did do her job as presenter on the day in a fair and balanced way, this was not so when it came to him.

This was because when Ms Byrne asked Mr Costello was he saying Mr Kehoe "is" a member of the army council, she was "confirming what Joe Costello was saying".

Mr Ferritter said Ms Byrne will give evidence that her mindset at the time was that another panel member, SF's Eoin O'Broin, was doing a very good job of demolishing what Mr Costello had said.   Mr Kehoe said what he took issue with was she said "is a member".

Was he saying Ms Byrne was in favour of Mr Costello, counsel asked.  "She is confirming I am a member of the army council, she says 'is', that is not a question", he replied.

Mr Kehoe told his own counsel, Declan Doyle, earlier, that he was shocked when he was told by people who had heard the programme what had been said. 

"I thought is this Monty Python or some sort of stuff, I couldn't believe it".

The trial continues before a judge and jury.

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