Company secretary did her best to deal with data request from pilot suing the IAA, court hears

Company secretary did her best to deal with data request from pilot suing the IAA, court hears

The Irish Aviation Authority company secretary told the High Court she did her best to ensure a data request from an airline pilot suing the IAA was handled correctly.

Aideen Gahan said the IAA tried to find all data it held about Captain Padraig Higgins in relation to communications about an investigation into an incident he was involved in when his single engine aircraft had to make an emergency landing after it encountered an unexpected bank of fog near Swansea in 2013.

Captn Higgins sought the material after the UK Civil Aviation Authority found his paperwork for flying in UK airpace was fully in order for the flight and he had no case to answer.

The court heard the IAA stonewalled his request for data about the matter but in a similar request to the UK CAA, he was given material which included three emails from now retired IAA manager of general aviation, Captn John Steel, which defamed Captn Higgins.

An apology was given in court last week and a jury is now being asked to decide damages in the case.

The court heard when Captn Higgins became suspicious that unfounded accusations had been made against him and, following his enquiries, he got one page of data material from the IAA.

However, the UK CAA , he said, sent him 100 pages of "everything I did not get from the IAA", including the defamatory emails.

Giving evidence for IAA on Tuesday, Ms Gahan was asked by IAA counsel Oisin Qluinn what she had to say to criticism by Captn Higgins that his (Higgins) data protection request was handled wrongly. She said she "did my best to ensure this was handled correctly" and when such requests come in they do their best to find all the appropriate data.

She also said when Captn Steel, who sent the emails, was asked to check his computer he told Ms Gahan that due to the volume of material received by him, he had to conduct a regular clear out of his inbox to prevent it from becoming full.

Ms Gahan, who is also a solicitor, said the IAA took a decision at the highest level in 2015 to make an offer of amends to Captn Higgins, to include an apology and damages, so that they could move away from the very adversarial approach there had been.

Asked what she thought about Captn Higgins claim that the offer was cynical, she said it was a genuine attempt to reach a settlement that was fair and recognise the desire of the parties to maintain a good relationship and move away from an adversarial fight.

Asked by Thomas Hogan SC, for Captn Higgins, if she agreed the handling of the defamatory emails by Captain Steel was wholly inadequate, she said it would appear the emails were just being "fired on" when they were sent.

She agreed, following the 2015 offer of amends, Captn Higgins offered to meet with the IAA side but the response was the IAA did "not see any merit" in attending such a meeting. She agreed the IAA's lawyers, A and L Goodbody, also said if he rejected the offer of amends the case would go to court.

Counsel suggested the IAA "hunkered down". She replied she did not think that was the intention, that the intention was to move it along, but it was the lawyers who managed that process.

She disagreed that the theme running through the IAA's approach was that only when its back was against the wall did it do anything.

She agreed the case went on for a number of years afterwards because of a dispute over whether damages in an offer of amends situation could be dealt with by a judge sitting alone or by a jury. The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court found it was a jury that should do so.

Asked why the IAA was not satisfied with the appeal court decision, she said the decision to appeal further to the Supreme Court was based on the advice of its solicitors.

Captain Niall Cummins, who took over from Captn Steel in 2015, said when the defamatory emails were brought to his attention that same year, he thought immediately "you cannot say that about somebody" and felt they were "very clumsy and went out without too much thought."

The case continues.

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