Friday 27 April 2018

High Court awards Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe €3,500 in RTÉ defamation case

Tom McGuire - head of RTE Radio 1 and Presenter, Claire Byrne pictured speaking to the media outside the Four Courts after Nicky Kehoe was awarded €3,500 damages following a High Court action. Also pictured: Peter Woods, Current Affairs Editor for RTÉ Radio 1 and Jon Williams, RTE Managing Director of News and Current Affairs.
Photo: Collins Courts
Tom McGuire - head of RTE Radio 1 and Presenter, Claire Byrne pictured speaking to the media outside the Four Courts after Nicky Kehoe was awarded €3,500 damages following a High Court action. Also pictured: Peter Woods, Current Affairs Editor for RTÉ Radio 1 and Jon Williams, RTE Managing Director of News and Current Affairs. Photo: Collins Courts
RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne arrives at the Four Courts. Photo: Collins Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe has been awarded €3,500 by a High Court jury in a defamation case against RTÉ.

The jury found an RTÉ broadcast meant he was not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process.

Nicky Kehoe arriving at the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins
Nicky Kehoe arriving at the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins

The jury awarded €10,000 in damages, but found RTÉ was only 35pc at fault for the broadcast, so the broadcaster will only have to pay €3,500.

It found former Labour TD Joe Costello was 65pc at fault. However, no award is being made against Mr Costello as he was not sued by Mr Kehoe.

In answer to whether the broadcast meant that Mr Kehoe is a senior member of the army council of the IRA the jury foreman said "no".

The foreman also answered "no" when asked if the jury found that the broadcast meant Mr Kehoe was a member of an illegal organisation, controls the way in which Sinn Fein councillors vote at meetings of Dublin City Council on behalf of the army council of the IRA, is involved in a deliberate attempt to control the functioning of a political party and to subvert the operation of the council in order to further the aims of an illegal organisation.

In answer to a fifth questions as to whether the broadcast meant Mr Kehoe is not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process the jury foreman answered "yes".

The jury found that RTÉ was not entitled to the benefit of the defence of fair and reasonable publication.

It awarded €10,000 in general damages and decided not to award any aggravated damages.

It is the lowest sum ever awarded by a High Court jury in a defamation case.

Mr Kehoe welcomed the jury's decision saying that it had vindicated his good name.

“I am really happy. My family is happy. There has been a lot of pressure these last few weeks. I have no malice against anyone," he said.

“I took a case against RTÉ to vindicate my name and I [have] done it.”

He told reporters he was not motivated by damages.

“It has nothing to do with money. It is my name. That is what I came here for,” he said.

“First of all I came here to vindicate my name and a jury of my peers have vindicated my name.

“I am really, really happy with that, because my name means a lot to me and it means a lot to my community and the people who voted for me in two elections, to top the poll, that I am a good person.

“I worked really, really hard for that. That’s the way I look at that. That vindicates my name.”

Mr Kehoe thanked his family, friends, legal team and people who had shown “great courage” to come to court to give evidence for him “despite the glare of publicity surrounding this case”.

Normally, the victor in a High Court civil action has their legal costs paid by the other side.

However, RTÉ’s counsel Cian Ferriter SC said that with an award as low as the one the jury had decided there were implications for who pays costs.

He also said RTÉ may decide to appeal the finding of liability against it.

Costs in the case are expected to run into hundreds of thousands of euro.

When asked about the costs issue, Mr Kehoe said: “Well, I’ll just have to face that as it comes.”

Asked how he would pay them, he shrugged his shoulders.

Tom McGuire, head of RTÉ Radio One, said he believed the outcome was “a very positive result”.

“€3,500 is the lowest award in modern times for a defamation case. I think this vindicates the decision of RTÉ to defend this case, to support Claire (Byrne) and the programme team,” he said.

“It is something we will continue to do for all our presenters, all our broadcasters.

“It is really important that a public service broadcaster is able to host live vigorous political debate for the sake of our democracy.”

He thanked the RTÉ legal team and Ms Byrne and the Saturday with Claire Byrne programme team for the work they put into the case.

Asked about the costs in the case, Mr McGuire said it was matter RTÉ’s legal team would deal with in the coming days.

Ms Byrne also spoke outside the court.

“I have very little to add to have Tom has said. I am really looking forward to getting back to doing my job, which is what I love doing,” she said.

Asked if she was disappointed with the outcome, she replied: “That is all I have to say.”

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