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High Court dismisses RTÉ's attempt to get Labour politician's claim for damages struck out

The High Court dismissed the state broadcaster’s application to strike out a damages claim brought against it by Labour politician Joe Costello.

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THE HIGH COURT has dismissed RTÉ’s application to strike out a damages claim brought against it by Labour politician Joe Costello.

Mr Justice Tony O’Connor said in his judgement that the broadcaster’s application was not one where the exceptional circumstances exist to allow a court at this stage of the proceedings to strike out the veteran politician’s action.

He added that in its application RTÉ had not identified any prejudice which it claims it would suffer by allowing the claim against it to proceed to a full hearing of the High Court.

However, the judge said RTÉ was not precluded by the rules of court from making an application at a later stage of the proceedings to strike out the proceedings.

Costello has sued the national broadcaster and the State, over RTÉ’s defence of a defamation action brought against it by Sinn Féin activist Nicky Kehoe over comments made on the Saturday with Claire Byrne radio broadcast in October 2015.

In 2018 Kehoe, who claimed he was defamed in the broadcast, was awarded €3,500 against RTÉ.

A High Court jury made an overall award of €10,000 for the defamatory comment made by Costello on the show.   

In its defence against Kehoe’s action RTÉ pleaded, under provisions of the 1961 Civil Liability Act, that Costello was ‘a concurrent wrongdoer’ and was responsible for the defamation.

The jury found the broadcast was defamatory because it meant Kehoe was not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process.

The jury also found the national broadcaster was 35% liable for the defamation while Costello was 65% at fault.

However, as Kehoe did not sue Costello, a current Dublin City Councillor, there was no judgment against him.

Costello has sued RTÉ, who he claims never gain him any proper notice of the defamation proceedings, and Ireland and the Attorney General seeking damages.

He also seeks declarations that he was denied constitutional justice, fair procedures as blame was apportioned to him for a defamation without him being given the chance to defend himself.

He also seeks declarations that a section of the 1961 Civil Liability Act is unconstitutional, and in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

He further claims that in its defence RTÉ breached its obligations to him under the 2009 Broadcasting Act to be fair, objective, impartial, particularly in matters of public controversy.

The claims are denied.

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In its pretrial motion aimed at striking out the case RTÉ claimed Costello’s action unstateable, vague, were bound to fail and should be struck out by the court.

Costello represented by Conor Power SC, instructed by solicitor Padraig Ferry for Costello, accepted that the case may be “novel” but rejected any suggestion the case has no hope of sucess and was bound to fail.

In his ruling dismissing the application the judge said that this was not an application where it would be appropriate for a court to assess the evidence in the matter.

The onus in the case was on RTÉ to establish that the proceedings were bound to fail, and it would be an abuse of process for Costello to prosecute these proceedings.

However, the height of RTÉ’s position at this early stage included that the claims do not exist in law.

He noted that it was not claimed by RTÉ that Costello has some improper motive in bringing the proceedings and RTÉ does not claim that it will incur irrevocable damage if the claim is allowed proceed.

He said that while the court could see the benefit of giving directions regarding the determination of the dispute, he was most reluctant to embark on a process aimed at dismissing the action.

About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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