COUN­CIL­LORS LOSE DEFAMA­TION CASE

NEVIN AND CULLEN ARE STILL CON­SID­ER­ING AP­PEAL

Bray People - - FRONT PAGE - MYLES BUCHANAN

CLLR. BARRY NEVIN hasn’t ruled out an ap­peal hav­ing lost his defama­tion case against the County Man­ager and Wick­low County Coun­cil.

Coun­cil­lors Nevin of Bray and Tommy Cullen from Balt­in­glass face a huge le­gal bill af­ter Judge Thomas E O’Don­nell ruled against them in Wick­low Cir­cuit Court.

The two coun­cil­lors raised a num­ber of con­cerns over the €3 mil­lion CPO of land at the Three Trouts, Charles­land, Grey­stones, which led to the car­ry­ing out of an in­de­pen­dent re­view.

County Man­ager, Ed­die Sheehy, is­sued a press re­lease in April 2013 main­tain­ing that the re­view had caused a loss of €200,000 to the coun­cil in re­spect of in­ter­est fore­gone and ad­min­is­tra­tive costs. Cllr. Cullen from Balt­in­glass and Cllr. Nevin from Bray claimed the County Man­ager’s state­ment had de­famed them and had in­sin­u­ated that they weren't fit to carry out their roles as coun­cil­lors.

Both coun­cil­lors in­tend to meet with their le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives this week and may con­sider an ap­peal.

TWO WICK­LOW County Coun­cil­lors last week lost their defama­tion case against the County Man­ager af­ter claim­ing a press re­lease is­sued by him had de­famed them.

Coun­cil­lors Tommy Cullen and Barry Nevin sued the County Man­ager, Ed­die Sheehy, with re­gard to a re­lease he wrote and is­sued in April last year in re­la­tion to the €3 mil­lion pur­chase of a site by Wick­low County Coun­cil at the Three Trouts, Charles­land, Grey­stones.

Coun­cil­lors Cullen and Nevin had raised a num­ber of con­cerns over the sale with En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter, Phil Ho­gan, who in turn es­tab­lished an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A re­view of the land deal was car­ried out by se­nior coun­sel Séamus Woulfe, which con­cluded that al­most all of the Coun­cil­lors ‘con­cerns were not well-founded or were mis­con­ceived.’

Once the Woulfe Re­port had been re­leased, Mr. Sheehy is­sued a press re­lease stat­ing that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had cost the coun­cil €200,000 due to the de­lay it caused to the land deal.

The two Coun­cil­lors claimed that the press re­lease had de­famed them and had sug­gested that they were neg­li­gent in the dis­charge of their du­ties and were un­fit to carry out their du­ties as a pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Af­ter hear­ing four days of ev­i­dence at Wick­low Cir­cuit Court, Judge Thomas E O'Don­nell an­nounced his judg­ment on Fri­day.

Hav­ing given some back­ground to the case, the Judge said the Coun­cil­lors had felt the press re­lease from April 2013 had left them open to 'in­sults and jibes they had to en­dure from fel­low Coun­cil­lors.'

A short time later, a let­ter was is­sued by the so­lic­i­tors of Cllr. Nevin and Cullen stat­ing that nei­ther of them would be say­ing any­thing more on the mat­ter be­cause it was sub ju­dice.

Judge O'Don­nell then said ‘things then took a bizarre turn as, de­spite is­su­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings, Cllr. Cullen in par­tic­u­lar gave in­ter­views to var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions.'

The judge went on to com­ment that one ar­ti­cle printed in a lo­cal news­pa­per in­cluded sev­eral quo­ta­tions at­trib­uted to Cllr. Cullen.

‘In the wit­ness box, Cllr. Cullen said he was asked for com­ment and that what was con­tained in the ar­ti­cle wasn't what he said, nor does he know the name of the per­son who wrote the ar­ti­cle which was pub­lished with­out the au­thor be­ing named. In an­other ar­ti­cle, he had a se­ri­ous ‘cut' at the Coun­cil law agent, the County Man­ager, the Di­rec­tor of Hous­ing and Sea­mus Wolfe, in very vit­ri­olic terms.'

Cllr. Cullen had also al­leged in a press ar­ti­cle that the land was sold by a Fine Gael sup­porter, was lob­bied for by a Fine Gael coun­cil­lor, was pro­posed by a Fine Gael coun­cil­lor and that a Fine Gael Min­is­ter, Phil Ho­gan, had ap­pointed an ac­tive mem­ber of Fine Gael to in­ves­ti­gate the con­cerns raised by the two plain­tiffs.

Judge O'Don­nell con­tin­ued, ‘it is clear that the Coun­cil­lors’ list of con­cerns were the cat­a­lyst to set up the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the first place.'

In his sum­ming up of the case, the Judge said the Woulfe re­port had con­cluded that ‘al­most all of the con­cerns were un­founded and mis­con­ceived.' The re­port also found that con­cerns over wrong­do­ing by an un­named mem­ber of Wick­low County Coun­cil were ‘en­tirely and un­equiv­o­cally mis­con­ceived and un­fair to all Coun­cil staff.'

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion meant loan sanc­tions for the pur­chase of the site were de­layed, caus­ing the coun­cil to pay the €3 mil­lion from its own funds and re­sult­ing in a loss of for­gone in­ter­est and ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.

‘At no stage was it ever sug­gested that the plain­tiffs were wrong, at no stage was it sug­gested that the Coun­cil­lors had wasted pub­lic money, at no stage was it sug­gested that ei­ther coun­cil­lor had been neg­li­gent in the dis­charge of their du­ties or that they were un­fit to carry out their du­ties as a pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tive. I am sat­is­fied that the de­fence can rely on the de­fence of truth. While the Coun­cil­lors may feel that the spin of the press re­lease was some­what un­fair, the court is sat­is­fied it is not defam­a­tory. I there­fore dis­miss both claims for defama­tion,’ con­cluded Judge O’Don­nell.

Cllr. Cullen wasn't present in court for Fri­day's ver­dict, with his coun­sel apol­o­gis­ing to the judge and ex­plain­ing that he was ill and ‘meant no dis­re­spect.'

Judge O'Don­nell awarded costs against both coun­cil­lors and re­fused to place a stay of or­der on costs while they con­sider whether or not to ap­peal.

County Man­ager Ed­die Sheehy leav­ing the court­house in Bray last week

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