Tuesday 24 April 2018

Jury sworn in as Sinn Féin member takes defamation action against RTÉ over provisional IRA comments

Nicky Kehoe pictured at the Four Courts for the opening day of a High Court action.Pic: Collins Courts
Nicky Kehoe pictured at the Four Courts for the opening day of a High Court action.Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A defamation action by Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe against RTÉ is expected to begin on Thursday in the High Court.

He claims he was defamed in comments made by former Labour Party TD, Joe Costello, during a live "Saturday with Claire Byrne" radio programme on October 24, 2015.

He says Mr Costello falsely stated that he was a member of the Provisional IRA army council and in that role he attended meetings of Dublin City Council and directed how SF councillors would vote. 

RTÉ denies he was defamed and says it is not liable for the matters he complains of.

Claire Byrne pictured at the Four Courts today for the opening day of a High Court action by Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe Pic: Collins Courts
Claire Byrne pictured at the Four Courts today for the opening day of a High Court action by Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe Pic: Collins Courts

A jury was empanelled on Wednesday by Mr Justice Bernard Barton.

Before they were selected, all potential jurors were told by the judge that if they were members of Sinn Féin, or party activists, or were employed by or had connections with RTÉ or the Claire Byrne programme, they should not serve on the jury and should inform the judge of that.

Giving a brief synopsis of the case earlier to the jury panel, the judge said Mr Kehoe was a political manager of SF and a director of elections for the party in June 2014.  

He was a well known and senior member of Sinn Féin and had previously represented the party on the city council.

The judge said Mr Kehoe says he was defamed during a conversation on the radio programme in a conversation involving Mr Costello and current SF TD Eoin Ó'Broin  which focused on Mr Kehoe's position in SF vis-a-vis its elected city councillors.

In essence, the judge said, Mr Kehoe, who was not part of that radio debate, says he was "hugely defamed" by Mr Costello's comments that he was a IRA army council member and that he controlled "like a puppetmaster how SF councillors voted". 

RTÉ had not held up its hands, the judge said.  It said the conversation took place but in circumstances where it was not liable for the matters Mr Kehoe complains over, he said.

It also did not accept that what was said was capable of bearing the defamatory meaning Mr Kehoe claims it did, but that was a matter for the jury, the judge said.

RTÉ also says Mr O'Broin, who was on the programme for SF, was able to "give as good as he got and defended Nicky Kehoe".  It was a public broadcast on a matter of public interest which enjoys protection in law, RTÉ also pleads.

After empanelling a jury of six men and six women, the judge told them they would begin hearing the case on Thursday.

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