SF official takes RTÉ to court over ‘puppet master’ jibe
Claims he was defamed
A SINN Féin official has launched a libel case against RTÉ after claiming he was described as an IRA ‘puppet master’ who directed the party’s councillors on how to vote in Dublin City Council.
The station is fighting claims by Nicky Kehoe, Sinn Féin’s ‘political manager’, that remarks made by former Labour TD Joe Costello on Claire Byrne’s Saturday lunchtime radio show in 2015, were ‘hugely defamatory’ of him.
Mr Kehoe complains that Mr Costello told listeners to Saturday With Claire Byrne on October 24, 2015 ‘that Mr Kehoe was a member of the Provisional IRA Army Council… that he was member of a criminal organisation and that, like a puppet master, he controlled how the Sinn Féin councillors [on Dublin City Council] voted on important decisions.’ The case, before the High Court, will get fully under way this morning and is expected to run for at least six days.
The jury of six women and six men heard that they have a very important case to decide. Mr Justice Bernard Barton, who will preside over the trial, told them: ‘Our law, while guaranteeing the good name of every individual, also has to balance other rights like the right to free speech… This is a very significant case. A very important case. Mr Kehoe is looking for significant compensation.’
Ms Byrne, 42, attended the Four Complaint: Nicky Kehoe Courts and sat at the back of the court alongside RTÉ colleagues.
RTÉ will say that as a broadcaster, it is ‘not liable for the matters about which Mr Kehoe complains’, because while Mr Kehoe did not participate in the programme, his Sinn Féin colleague Eoin Ó Broin ‘was able to give as good as he got and defended Mr Kehoe’, the court heard.
Judge Barton told the jurors: ‘RTÉ have not put their hands up by any manner or means… They say, “We are the national broadcaster, so this all went out innocently, there was nothing intentional about any of this, it was part of a live broadcast.” ’
He urged potential jury members to consider not participating if they happened to be ‘a committed lifelong member of the Labour Party,’ but the judge added: ‘It’s a matter for each person to consider.’
Judge Barton said that all members of the public would ‘to a greater or lesser extent’ have a view about political parties, and having ‘political views like everyone else’ does not disqualify any
‘This is a very important case’
potential juror from participating. The judge added: ‘Mr Kehoe is entitled to a fair trial and so is RTÉ.’ He also warned them not to ‘rush to a conclusion or judgment on the evidence’ until they had heard all of the evidence from both sides.
He stressed ‘the importance of waiting to the end of the case before you make a decision’.
The judge pointed out that the media, including RTÉ, has a right to ‘sit there [in court] and report everything in this case,’ because ‘we have a right to free speech in this country.’
But he warned them to avoid the ‘temptation’ to look up anything online relating to the case, such as ‘googling’ any of the witnesses, for example.
The judge warned jurors not to discuss the case with anyone outside their number.
The judge added: ‘Talk about it as much as you like when the case is over.’
The case opens in full today,
RTÉ’s Claire Byrne: Hosted discussion with Joe Costello