COUNCILLORS LOSE DEFAMATION CASE
NEVIN AND CULLEN ARE STILL CONSIDERING APPEAL
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