Claire Byrne tells High Court she stands by her judgement call during live radio debate

By Ann O'Loughlin

RTE broadcaster Claire Byrne told the High Court today that she stood by the judgement call she made when she allowed a Sinn Féin representative on a live broadcast to defend a man who had been named as a former chief-of-staff of the IRA rather than shut down the conversation.

Ms Byrne was about to intervene when former TD Joe Costello said on her radio show that a former IRA chief-of-staff was directing Dublin City Councillors how to vote at meetings when she said Sinn Féin representative Eoin Ó'Broin intervened and named Sinn Féin political manager Nicky Kehoe.

Mr Kehoe says he was defamed when he was referred to as that former IRA chief-of-staff on the Saturday with Claire Byrneshow in October 2015.

Mr Kehoe, who served two prison terms for weapons and explosives offences, says Ms Byrne should have shut the conversation down when he was named and says the work he has done to rebuild his reputation for 26 years since coming out of prison was undone "in one swipe".

Nicky Kehoe.

RTE denies his claims.

Cross examination of Ms Byrne by Thomas Hogan SC, for Mr O'Kehoe, took place today in the case which is being heard before a judge and jury.

Mr Hogan put it to her that when Mr Costello made his chief-of-staff comment, he had thrown a curve ball and "still you do not see the danger".

Ms Byrne replied that was not factual. "You don't know what was in my head and what my judgement call was".

She said she was about to intervene and she thought it unfair of counsel to present to the jury "what I did or didn't do where I have been very clear on my judgement call on that day".

Claire Byrne.

Mr Hogan put it to her her judgement was "fundamentally flawed" that day. She said she didn't accept that. "I thought a lot about it and my opinion about what I did on that day has not waived or altered. I know I acted in the right and proper way," she said.

She added she gave Eoin O'Broin the space and time to defend Nicky Kehoe which is what Mr O'Broin wanted to do. "That is the call I made the call I stand by as I sit here today".

Counsel suggested what she should have done was, as she had said she had done on other occasions where there was a risk somebody would be identified, and shut down the debate. She replied they had not got to that point at that stage.

Mr Hogan put it to her she had already decided Mr Costello, who she described on Friday as having gone "doolally" by making that comment, had thrown the curve ball and she didn't stop the conversation.

She said Mr Hogan was presenting it as though it happened over a long period of time when it was a matter of seconds. Eoin O'Broin had turned to face Joe Costello in the studio and gave him "both barrels" where he defends Mr Kehoe and dismantled Mr Costello's argument, she said.

"My decision was Eoin O'Broin, you have got the ball, run with it".

Eoin O'Broin.

Ms Byrne said the guests involved were experienced public representatives who had years of debating and appearing on live programmes which she expects to "be of a standard and that is what we expect from our elected representatives".

She said Mr Costello "might be doolally, but he is not stupid".

She disagreed the reason she did not shut down the debate was because "that was exactly how you wanted it to go".

She rejected counsel's suggestion that she "did nothing but stoke the fire".

She also said she was not going to be scared to ask certain questions because that was her job as a public service broadcaster.

She did not ask Mr Costello to withdraw the allegation because it was Mr O'Broin, not Costello, who named Mr Kehoe and she did not wish to disenfranchise Mr O'Broin in his defence of Mr Kehoe.

Earlier, she said if she had to close conversations on live broadcasts as soon as someone was identified "there would be no point in me going to work".

She disagreed that if Mr Kehoe had not been named, that this case would not be in court. Mr Kehoe could still come to court and say he was identified as that chief-of-staff even if he had not been named, as was his right, she said.

She disagreed with counsel she let Mr Kehoe down very badly or that she let his name be "kicked around like a football".

The case continues.


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