Ardstone Homes accused of using ‘SLAPP’ tactics against Ballyboden Tidy Towns group
One of the country’s largest developers is threatening a defamation action against a tidy towns group over social media postings on its fundraising site.
Ardstone Homes claims remarks made on sites used by Ballyboden Tidy Towns in Dublin were “grossly defamatory” and “high damaging” to its business reputation.
Letters sent over the past fortnight by solicitors for the company demand disclosure of the names and addresses of every person in Ballyboden Tidy Towns who was aware of the postings.
Angela O’Donoghue, the group’s chairperson, said she was shocked when the first letter arrived at her door.
“We’re a bunch of litter-pickers essentially,” she said. “It’s very intimidating to have this kind of threat made by a very large developer.”
Ballyboden Tidy Towns has judicial review proceedings pending in relation to two Ardstone planning applications.
The group’s solicitor, Fred Logue, says the defamation complaint is an attempt to discourage the members from pursuing those cases.
In a reply to Augustus Cullen Law, Ardstone’s solicitors, he says the firm is using a “SLAPP” (strategic litigation against public participation) – a tactic of using the threat of legal proceedings to create a chilling effect on objectors.
Ardstone deny this. In a statement, the company said defamatory comments were made on the ifundraise.ie site, and repeated on Twitter and YouTube. While ifundraise.ie had removed them on request, Ballyboden Tidy Towns did not deal with the other postings or post a letter from Ardstone on its websites as requested.
“We guard our reputation very seriously as that is the cornerstone of our business, both in Ireland and abroad,” the Ardstone statement said.
“We believe to protect this we had no option but to issue the letter as other approaches had failed.
“Notwithstanding the judicial review proceedings, which are separate and running their own course, our advice was that these remarks were defamatory and should be addressed.”
Ms O’Donoghue denied the postings were defamatory.
“They were valid criticisms of previous work carried out by the developer,” she said.
She said she believed Ardstone’s approach would worry other community groups engaged in similar activism.
Plans confirmed by the Government yesterday to make it harder for the public to take judicial reviews in planning matters were another blow.
“This all sends out a very distinct message to groups. To me it says don’t get involved, don’t participate, back in your box,” Ms O’Donoghue said.
Ardstone originally ran into controversy in south Co Dublin over a strategic housing development (SHD) on Scholarstown Road after the remains of a medieval settlement were found on the site.
There is also concern locally that another of the company’s SHDs was given the go-ahead by planning authorities to be occupied despite having no mains sewage connection.
Ardstone says it is delivering “quality residential units to help address the current housing crisis”.
“In the past five years we have completed over 1,500 units and are on site with a further 900 units. Our developments represent best workmanship and practices,” it said.
Mr Logue’s reply to Ardstone’s solicitors says their letters have been forwarded to the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment to show that SLAPP tactics are being deployed as the Commission has condemned such tactics.