Monday 23 September 2019

Highwayman jibe at politician was parody, PR adviser claims

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

Tim Healy

A minister's adviser has told a court that comparing another politician to a highwayman in a press release was meant as a parody.

Public relations consultant Neans McSweeney, whose company advises Minister of State John Paul Phelan, sent the press release that became the basis for an article in the 'Kilkenny People' headed "Coffey the Robber".

The January 2016 report included comments from Mr Phelan about Senator Paudie Coffey, then Waterford FG TD and junior minister, in relation to a row over moving the administrative boundary of Waterford into Kilkenny.

Mr Phelan said Mr Coffey had been "banding together" with then environment minister Alan Kelly to commit "daylight robbery".

He went on to say there was an 18th-century highwayman in Waterford called "Crotty the Robber" and now "Coffey the Robber was trying to do the very same".

Mr Coffey says that the article falsely called him a criminal and meant that he was guilty of misuse of public office, a thief and of severe ill repute.

Iconic Newspapers, which publishes 'The Kilkenny People', denies the claims at the High Court. Ms McSweeney told Rossa Fanning SC, for Iconic, she came up with the idea of "Coffey the Robber".

It came about because four months earlier she was doing PR work for Waterford City and County Council, which had commissioned a play on the highwayman William Crotty. That work was fresh in her mind as she composed the press release.

Ms McSweeney said the reference to Crotty was "purely parody" and, in her press release, the word "Coffey" in "Coffey the Robber" was in italics to reinforce the parody.

Richard Kean SC, for Mr Coffey, put it to her it might be parody or spoof to her but to the ordinary person, it was highly offensive to call someone a robber. She replied that malice was not intended.

Earlier, Mr Phelan denied he was malicious in the press release. He also said the impact "would be a joke".

He was speaking under cross-examination at the start of the third week of Mr Coffey's action against Iconic, which continues.

Irish Independent

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