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Legal action against O'Leary over televised 'dig' is halted

A DEFAMATION action against Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary for describing a trade union officer on a TV programme as a "failed Aer Lingus pilot" was stopped yesterday.

A judge discharged a jury hearing the action after she ruled lawyers for Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) president, Evan Cullen, should have included in their original damages claim that the alleged defamatory remark had been re-broadcast on the internet and on the Pat Kenny radio show.

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said, regrettable though it may be, she felt she had to discharge the jury and require Mr Cullen's lawyers to draw up a new statement of claim and the case will have to be heard again before another judge and jury.


She said the claim of re-broadcasting had "landed on front of a jury in a way that seems to be unjustified" and she could see no way of trying to instruct the jury to put this additional claim out of their minds. The case had opened before a jury of eight women and four men yesterday morning and they were discharged in the afternoon.

The untrue and defamatory remark, which had damaged Mr Cullen's reputation, was made by Mr O'Leary on an RTE 'Prime Time' programme broadcast on September 12, 2006, the court was told.

Mr Cullen claimed the words meant he was not competent to fly an aeroplane and that he had ceased flying although he was still a highly regarded pilot working in Aer Lingus.

Mr O'Leary denied the words meant what Mr Cullen said and that they actually meant he (Cullen) had failed in a long-running campaign by IALPA to get Ryanair's pilots unionised. He also claimed the words were mere vulgar abuse, not spoken maliciously and actually spoken in jest.

The jury was shown the 'Prime Time' programme which began with a report of interviews with a number of people claiming that Ryanair's rosters were leading to fatigue among pilots and safety concerns.

There followed a studio debate between Mr Cullen and Mr O'Leary in which the Ryanair boss categorically denied the claims made in the report. As Mr Cullen called for an audit of Ryanair by the European Aviation Authority, Mr O'Leary said the airline had already been audited twice.

The presenter, Miriam O'Callaghan sought to bring the debate to a close saying "we'll leave it there" when Mr O'Leary added: "More scare stories from a failed Aer Lingus pilot."

Counsel for Mr Cullen said Mr O'Leary had decided to "play the man rather than the ball" by getting this "little dig" in at the end.

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The effect of this "incendiary" remark led to it being referred to by Pat Kenny next day on his radio show. The court heard Mr Kenny later apologised.

But it was also carried on the internet where it continues to be repeated through, the court was told by Mr Cullen's lawyers, a link to the pilots' website.

Some people in the small village of Roundwood, Wicklow, where Mr Cullen lives thought he had "lost his wings" and for some reason was not allowed to fly, the court was told.

It had caused damage to his reputation both in his community and among his work colleagues, counsel for Mr Cullen informed the court.

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