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Couple who claimed they were defamed over dinner bill at Dublin restaurant lose €75k case

“Quite frankly, asking someone to pay for a meal isn’t defamatory,” the judge said.

File photo. The case was heard at the Circuit Civil Court today.
File photo. The case was heard at the Circuit Civil Court today.
Image: Shutterstock/Gail Johnson

A COUPLE WHO claimed they had been defamed by staff who asked them to pay a dinner bill at a Dublin pub-restaurant have lost a €75,000 claim but escaped having to pay defence legal costs.

Judge John O’Connor, dismissing the claim by Glen McCarthy and Joanna Walsh, said in the Circuit Civil Court today that he had found McCarthy’s evidence to have been very argumentative.

The judge said it was probably McCarthy’s argumentative attitude in the Harbourmaster Bar and Restaurant close to Dublin’s Irish Financial Service Centre on the evening of 4 January last year that had led to the proceedings having been taken.

Barrister Matthew Gahan told the court the Harbourmaster was denying there had been any defamation of either or both of the two plaintiffs and had entered a full defence to the single defamatory claim by both.

Gahan, who appeared with Rory Deane Solicitors, said the couple had left the restaurant without having settled their bill and had been approached for payment in the smoking area outside the restaurant.

Judge O’Connor had heard from Walsh, a bridal sales assistant of Island Quay, East Road, Dublin 3, and her partner, McCarthy, of Constitution Hill, Dublin 7, of their embarrassment and humiliation at having been asked to pay the bill after having left their table and the restaurant.

They had come back into the restaurant after having settled their bill with a €19 voucher and €11 in cash. The duty manager Michael Brennan had spent 15 minutes with them explaining house policy regarding payment for meals.

Brennan told Gahan that when they had asked for the manager he had met them and had spoken with the couple in a low voice and had dealt with the matter sensitively.

He had explained to them that after having been “burnt” on a number of occasions by customers having left the restaurant before settling their bills, the establishment had introduced a house policy whereby staff would ask for payment.

McCarthy said they had left belongings such as coats at the table while they had gone outside to the smoking area for a cigarette. He said they had been out for no more than five minutes. The waitress had asked for payment in front of other customers.

Judge O’Connor said the couple had taken umbrage in relation to their having been asked to pay the bill and had claimed that this had been defamatory. Brennan had sat down with them and had tried to explain matters.

“Quite frankly, asking someone to pay for a meal isn’t defamatory and by no stretch of the imagination is there any evidence that they were defamed,” the judge said.

He felt McCarthy’s argumentative attitude, as displayed in his evidence, may have had more to do with what had happened in the restaurant.

Judge O’Connor said costs followed the event and he did not have the jurisdiction not to make an order for costs on the basis there would be no appeal of the court’s decision. When told by counsel for the couple they would not be appealing his decision the judge made no order for costs against them.

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Ray Managh

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