'If we got that now, I don't think we would do it any differently', editor in Coffey defamation trial tells court

'If we got that now,  I don't think we would do it any differently', editor in Coffey defamation trial tells court
Senator Paudie Coffey

The editor of the Kilkenny People who put the "Coffey the Robber" headline on an allegedly defamatory article about a former junior minister told the High Court he would not do it differently now.

Brian Keyes said it was his decision to use that headline because the words were in a press release from Kilkenny-Carlow TD, John Paul Phelan.

He was giving evidence on the tenth day of the action by Senator Paudie Coffey, a former TD and former junior environment minister, who is suing Iconic Newspapers, publishers of the paper, over the January 2016 article. Iconic denies it was defamatory.

The body of the article, in quoting Mr Phelan's release over a proposed change to the Kilkenny/Waterford administrative boundary, said there was an 18th-century highwayman in Waterford called "Crotty the Robber" and now "Coffey the Robber was trying to do the very same".

Mr Coffey said the article was a major contributory factor in him losing his Dáil seat in 2016.

Mr Keyes, who has been the paper's editor for 10 years, told Rossa Fanning SC, for Iconic, said the approach to using the press release was essentially to "top and tail" it by having an introductory paragraph and maybe another at the end of the story. "Most of the time we try to keep them fair as to what the politician has said".

He said there was no new allegation in the article in relation to the boundary issue as claims of "land grabbing" and "robbing land" had been made in the media over the previous months.

It was a parody and "obviously a play" on the name Coffey and Crotty, he said.

"If we got that now, I don't think we would do it any differently, that is exactly how I saw it at the time and how I see it now."

Asked did he think he should have contacted Mr Coffey before publication, Mr Keyes said it was a political statement about an ongoing issue and doing so would be like asking DUP leader Arlene Foster at the moment what did she think of Brexit. He said Mr Coffey always had a right of reply.

Mr Keyes also said that the article, which is still available online, had about 200 "hits" between publication date and the general election about five weeks later, and 904 by the end of 2016. Since this trial began there had been a spike in hits of between 400 and 500 bringing the total hits to 1,588.

This made the online interest in the story insignificant in comparison, for example, to a story about a Kilkenny chip shop closed down by the health authorities which got 22,000 hits in 24 hours, he said. The Coffey article was by no means in the top 500 of online story hits.

Cross examined by Barney Quirke SC, for Mr Coffey, he denied there was any intention to damage Mr Coffey.

Asked in what context was Mr Coffey "committing a criminal act", Mr Keyes said he was not accused of committing a criminal act.

He agreed he stood over "every word" he published.

The case continues.

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