Presenter's 'bad hair day' compounded by guest 'going doolally' during show
Claire Byrne has interviewed countless contributors during her 22 years working as a broadcaster in Ireland, Britain and Jersey.
But by any standard what happened on her radio show on October 24, 2015, was "quite unusual", she told the jury in the defamation action by Sinn Féin political manager and former IRA activist Nicky Kehoe against RTÉ.
The topic being discussed was a PSNI/MI5 report claiming the Provisional IRA army council was influencing the work of Sinn Féin. Ms Byrne explained how five guests were assembled for the show, including Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, then a councillor, to give his party's perspective, and then Labour Party TD Joe Costello to give the Government's reaction.
Setting the scene, RTÉ's barrister Cian Ferriter SC showed the jury a photo of the set up in studio, with Ms Byrne wearing headphones on one side of the desk and her five guests arranged in a semi-circle across from her.
"I was having a bad hair day," she quipped. It was a rare moment of levity before she was brought to the events at the centre of the case. The jury heard a recording of Mr Costello's claim that a former chief of staff of the IRA in Dublin was giving directions to Sinn Féin council members.
Ms Byrne told Mr Ferriter she felt the allegation was "outrageous".
"I thought he had gone doolally. I remember sitting there thinking where was this coming from?" she said. She immediately asked him: "How do you know that?"
"My tone was incredulous because that is how I felt at the time," she told the court.
Within seconds Mr Ó Broin identified the man referred to as Mr Kehoe and tackled Mr Costello's claim in strong terms.
Ms Byrne said had she stepped in to stop the discussion then, it would have done Mr Kehoe more harm.
She felt Mr Ó Broin quickly "destroyed" the claim, but to put "a double lock" on the issue she told listeners at the end of the show she had no reason to believe Mr Costello's allegation.