Nicky Kehoe facing 'hefty legal bill' despite defamation case win
Former Provisional IRA gunman Nicky Kehoe has been awarded €3,500 in damages after winning his defamation action against RTÉ, but is likely to be saddled with a hefty legal bill in the aftermath of the case.
Mr Kehoe, now a Sinn Féin political manager, could end up having to pay much of RTÉ's costs arising from the eight-day High Court case, which are expected to run into six figures.
A jury decided Mr Kehoe had been defamed by comments that were made during a 'Saturday with Claire Byrne' radio programme in October 2015.
During a panel discussion on the RTÉ Radio One show, former Labour Party TD Joe Costello alleged a member of the IRA army council was directing Sinn Féin representatives on Dublin City Council.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin identified the man Mr Costello referred to as Mr Kehoe and went on to defend his party colleague.
By the end of the exchange, Mr Costello had withdrawn the allegation and said instead that Mr Kehoe was a senior IRA member in the past.
RTÉ denied Mr Kehoe was defamed during the broadcast. However, after more than 10 hours of deliberations, the jury found that he was and awarded him €10,000 in damages.
However, in a novel departure for an Irish defamation case, it found RTÉ was only 35pc at fault for the defamation, so the broadcaster will only have to pay €3,500.
The jury apportioned 65pc of the blame to Mr Costello. But as Mr Costello was not sued by Mr Kehoe, the remaining €6,500 cannot be recovered from him.
Following the decision, counsel for RTÉ, Cian Ferriter SC, said the award was probably the lowest by a High Court jury in modern times.
"I will be submitting that with an order as minimal as that, it has real implications for costs and in particular Mr Kehoe not being entitled to costs," Mr Ferriter said. He added that he anticipated he would have instructions from RTÉ to appeal on the issue of liability.
Normally in High Court civil actions the losing party has to pay the costs of the other side.
However, under the Courts Act 1981, because the level of damages is so low, Mr Kehoe will not be entitled to recover more than the amount of the damages he was awarded, unless granted a special certificate by the trial judge.
Mr Justice Bernard Barton will also have the discretion to order Mr Kehoe to pay RTÉ the difference between what its legal fees would have been in the Circuit Court and what they were in the High Court.
A hearing on costs is to be scheduled shortly.
Despite the looming costs issue, Mr Kehoe welcomed the jury's decision. "I took a case against RTÉ to vindicate my name and I [have] done it," he said. Asked if he was disappointed by the level of damages, he said: "It has nothing to do with money. It is my name. That is what I came here for."
He said he would face the issue of legal costs "as it comes".
Tom McGuire, head of RTÉ Radio One, said the outcome was a very positive result. "I think this vindicates the decision of RTÉ to defend this case," he said.
Mr Costello said he was disappointed that "a specific level of responsibility has been apportioned to me". "I am at loss to understand why I have been referred to in the judgement. I was not a party to the case; I was not called as a witness in the case; I didn't name the plaintiff on the broadcast concerned."