Tuesday 16 October 2018

Jurors given the night to weigh up Kehoe's libel case against RTÉ

RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne arrives at the Four Courts. Photo: Collins Courts
RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne arrives at the Four Courts. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy and Shane Phelan

The jury in the High Court action by Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe against RTÉ will continue deliberating today on whether the former Provisional IRA gunman was defamed in a radio broadcast three years ago.

Mr Kehoe was twice jailed for IRA activities but maintains he ended his involvement a quarter of a century ago and has since dedicated his life to working in the community.

He sued the broadcaster following comments by then Labour Party TD Joe Costello on 'Saturday with Claire Byrne' in October 2015.

Mr Kehoe has claimed it was implied he had been a senior member of the IRA at the time in question and, in this position, was directing Sinn Féin's councillors on Dublin City Council.

This, he said, had "in one swipe" undone the reputation he had built up in the 26 years since he left prison.

RTÉ does not stand over Mr Costello's remarks, but maintains the former junior minister's claims were demolished on the programme and within minutes he had rowed back on his allegation.

Jurors heard closing arguments from counsel for RTÉ and Mr Kehoe, as well as a charge from Mr Justice Barton, before retiring to consider their verdict.

But they had only considered matters for around half an hour yesterday evening before they were told by Mr Justice Bernard Barton they could break for the night and continue deliberating this morning.

Shreds

Earlier, in his closing speech on behalf of RTÉ, Cian Ferriter SC said that after Mr Costello made the allegation there was a three- to four-minute exchange between him and Sinn Féin councillor, now TD, Eoin Ó Broin.

Counsel said during the exchange Mr Costello's allegation was "ripped to shreds".

By the end of it Mr Costello withdrew the allegation, instead saying Mr Kehoe "was" a senior IRA member in the past.

Mr Ferriter said it was an "extraordinary feature" of the case that Mr Kehoe had come to court saying RTÉ said he was a member of the IRA.

He told jurors Mr Kehoe could not just take "one bit" of the broadcast and the law required that it be taken as a whole. Mr Ferriter said the "elephant not in the room" was why had Mr Kehoe not sued Mr Costello, who was the "real villain" and who must bear the lion's share of responsibility if the jury does find there was defamation.

Declan Doyle SC, for Mr Kehoe, said the law in Ireland is that if you are defamed you sue for damages.

He said that by the end of the exchanges on the radio show, the allegation against Mr Kehoe was still hanging there. They had not been put to bed as claimed by RTÉ.

Mr Doyle told the jury that any reasonable and rational analysis of the allegation was that Mr Kehoe was a member of the army council and that he was subverting democracy by giving instructions to Sinn Féin members of the capital's city council.

Irish Independent

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