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Catherine Murphy 'not surprised' John Delaney used defamation actions against Irish media

The Social Democrats co-leader said ‘others have done exactly the same’.

The Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.
The Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

CATHERINE MURPHY TD has said that individuals should not be able to use defamation laws to try to “hold media outlets to ransom”.

The Social Democrats co-leader was speaking following a report in the Sunday Times which said that former Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney had told the FAI board that he was persisting with a legal action against TheJournal.ie despite admitting it was a weak case.

Journalist Mark Tighe reported that Delaney said it was “not a strong case” but kept it running in an attempt to prevent TheJournal.ie from reporting about the FAI.

The case was struck out last year. In a statement, Journal Media chief executive Adrian Acosta said: “We don’t let litigation affect how we cover matters of public interest and it’s evident from the articles you can find in TheJournal.ie that this was not an exception.

“It is clear that reform of defamation laws is badly needed,” he added. 

“The unpredictable level of awards, significant legal costs and lengthy process that defending a defamation action takes make the current legislation a serious threat to news organisations.

“Significant resources have to be allocated to defending defamation actions whether they have merit or not. It’s not surprising then that it can be used as a tactic against news publishers.”

Murphy, who has been critical of both Delaney and the FAI in her role as a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, echoed those thoughts that defamation laws can be used as a threat against media organisations.

“I think you can do that in a scenario where our defamation laws and the sanctions in the courts can close whole outfits down and fairly big outfits down,” she told TheJournal.ie.

And I’m not surprised at the Delaney thinking on that. It’s to hold as a threat and he hasn’t licked that off the stones, there’s others who have done exactly the same.

The governance of the FAI has been under intense scrutiny in recent months following the revelation in March that Delaney had provided a €100,000 loan to the organisation in 2017.

A week after that was first reported – also by Tighe in the Sunday Times – it was announced that Delaney was stepping down from his role as CEO to become executive vice president. 

The following month, Sport Ireland announced the decision to suspend and withhold future funding to the FAI pending the completion of a review and the adoption of recommendations. 

Last month, an FAI meeting that was voting on whether to accept a number of structural changes saw the media refused access.  

Murphy told TheJournal.ie that the FAI has previously attempted to avoid answering questions and news outlets should not feel threatened when they seek to ask them.

“Essentially, we need a strong media, because it’s not just the role of the opposition to hold government to account. It’s the role of the media to hold other organisations to account.

“If you can do what he has done and attempt to hold media outlets to ransom in that they can’t properly explore issues. Well, I think you’re damaging democracy, because the media is part of your democratic process. So I would have serious concerns.”

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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