Ex-justice minister succeeds in joining newspaper's publishing arm to defamation action

John O'Donoghue has taken defamation proceedings against the Kerry's Eye newspaper over articles published in October 2018. Picture: File image

Former minister for justice and ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue has succeeded in joining the publishing arm of the Kerry’s Eye newspaper in defamation proceedings.

In a judgment handed down at the Circuit Civil Court in Killarney, Tuesday, Judge Helen Boyle said she was allowing “forthwith” Kenno Ltd, also of 22 Ashe St, Tralee, Co Kerry, to be joined in the defamation proceedings against Kerry’s Eye Ltd, and was extending time to allow this.

The Defamation Act 2009 reduced the time limit significantly in defamation proceedings to one year or as the court may direct, not exceeding two years, unless the plaintiff suffered prejudice; In 1957 the limit was six years, the court was told.

The case involved allegations in relation "to conduct in public office", and this was the differentiating factor from case law opened in court last week – and the defendant too had written a robust defence letter early “pleading pubic interest”, the judge said.

It was “in the interests of justice”, the plaintiff should be allowed to vindicate his good name and the defendant too should be allowed to pursue his defence this was is in the public interest,” she said.

“The case involves allegation in ration to the conduct of public office and the defence pleads what was published was in the public interest,” the judge said at one point.

Last week, the court heard how defamation proceedings had been initiated by Mr O'Donoghue against the newspaper over articles published in an edition of October 2018 alleging he had been forced from political office because of lavish expenses.

Mr O’Donoghue was “vehemently” pursuing the matter, and his solicitor Denis A Lenihan had sent a letter to Kerry’s Eye on November 8, 2018, within three weeks of the article being published, his counsel Katie O’Connell outlined in her application last week.

The application was for order to join Kenno Ltd, the publishing company to those initiated against Kerry’s Eye Ltd. Both have addresses at Ashe St, Tralee.

A related application sought an order “if necessary” extending any time limits. 

On November 21, 2018, a letter to solicitor Mr Linehan, on Kerry’s Eye headed notepaper from Padraig Kennelly, directed any future correspondence be to himself, the barrister outlined.

It was only on March 2020 Mr O’Donoghue’s legal team were told that the publisher of Kerry's Eye was Kenno Ltd, of the same address at Ashe St, Tralee, Ms O’Connell said.

Richard Liston, barrister for the newspaper and Kenno Ltd, said the onus was on the plaintiff “to ascertain who the publisher was” and to do so in time.

Judge Helen Boyle in her judgment taking just under an hour on Tuesday read from the pleadings in some detail.

There were three articles in the edition of October 18, under the headings 'The Bull is back'; 'Minister with a taste for luxury'; and 'The Bull plans to return to politics'. The articles alleged he had pursued a lavish and luxurious lifestyle in public office at the taxpayer’s expense and claimed and was paid thousands of euro expenses for himself, his wife Kate Ann, and some of his staff, the judge read from the grounding affidavit by Mr Linehan solicitor.

They meant he “falsely or fraudently” claimed €900 a night at the Radisson Hotel in Liverpool and that he was obliged to resign as ceann comhaire; that he was criminally reckless or negligent in claiming public money and unfit to hold public office, the judge read.

In defence, Kerry’s Eye Ltd had said that the statements were true in all material effects and the articles had been published in good faith and in the public interest and for the public benefit in that there was the reappearance in public life of a politician who had resigned from the Dail.

Mr Kennelly, in a letter on November 21, 2018, had put in a robust defence that the article was balanced and a matter of public interest locally and nationally; the journalist had attempted by phone to contact Mr O’Donoghue a number of times and the articles were based on information widely published and unchallenged.

Much of the information complained off had been released to Ken Foxe under the Freedom of Information Act, the judge also read from the response from Kerry’s Eye.

It appeared to her the case different from others as it centred on allegations in relation to “conduct in public office” and the defence pleads the allegations as published were in the public interest, the judge said.

She noted “the relevant person” had early notification, took legal advice early on and wrote a robust and detailed response.

Defence counsel Mr Liston pointed out how it was set out in case law the onus was on the plaintiff's solicitor to identify the correct defendants, the judge noted.

“But I note all future correspondence is to be addressed to Mr Kennelly,” the judge said of the letter of November 21, 2018, on Kerry’s Eye notepaper.

The first time the plaintiffs became aware of Kenno Ltd was March 2020, the judge also noted.

In the interests of justice, the prejudice the plaintiff would suffer, if not given the direction, would significantly outweigh that if the direction was not given, she felt.

It did not appear to her at the moment that by virtue of delay the matter was no longer capable of being adduced, she also said. The interests of justice She was allowing the application that Kenno Ltd be joined forthwith.

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