Friday 20 September 2019

Jury sent home in defamation action by ex-minister

Lost his seat: Paudie Coffey. Photo: Collins Courts
Lost his seat: Paudie Coffey. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

The jury in the defamation action by former junior minister Paudie Coffey against a newspaper has been sent home until Tuesday.

It followed five hours of deliberation and Mr Justice Bernard Barton's direction that the jury could reach a majority verdict of not less than 9-3.

The case, which has taken place over 12 days, centres on the 'Kilkenny People's use of a press release from Mr Coffey's Fine Gael Carlow-Kilkenny colleague John Paul Phelan TD in January 2016.

Mr Coffey was a Waterford TD and junior environment minister at the time and he claims the article was a major factor in him losing his Dáil seat over a month later.

The press release was issued in an ongoing dispute about a commission which was looking at moving the administrative boundary of Waterford into Kilkenny, a highly contentious issue among south Kilkenny people, the court heard.

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

It then stated there was an 18th-century highwayman in Waterford called "Crotty the Robber" and now "Coffey the Robber was trying to do the very same".

The newspaper based an article almost 90pc on the press release and headlined it "Coffey the Robber".

Mr Coffey claims this was defamatory.

Iconic Newspapers, publishers of the 'Kilkenny People', and the journalist who wrote the story, Sam Matthews, deny the claims.

Mr Matthews told the High Court this week that the reference to the 18th-century highwayman was a "colourful allusion" in the context of an ongoing debate about a contentious issue.

Sending the jury home, Mr Justice Barton said they could go straight back into deliberations when they return and hopefully reach a conclusion on Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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