Heavyweight fight between high-flyers

IT’S unlikely Chris de Burgh had Ryanair in mind when he penned his 1977 song Broken Wings.

But the Irish airline was left out of pocket, if not exactly broke, after the High Court yesterday awarded the singer’s daughter, Rosanna Davison, a total of €80,000 damages in a libel case.

It was the battle of the brands as two of Ireland’s best-known names took the fight to protect their reputation to a packed Court 12.

It was once again the turn of the home-grown celebrities to add to the nation’s gaiety as the former Miss World and Ryanair did legal battle over comments made about each other following the publication of the airline’s charity calendar featuring such lovelies as Miss Cockpit and Miss Fuel Pump.

Featuring two parties who are not unknown for courting publicity, the case offered something of a heavyweight contest between a couple of high-fliers.

The lady in (the) red corner was Rosanna, confusingly dressed in a smart black dress and a pair of dark Christian Louboutin shoes with killer stilettos.

In the opposite corner, the airline, which was recently criticised by another judge as being an “uncomfortable bedfellow” with the truth.

Nevertheless, Ryanair has a long and doughty association with litigation, although it has had a mixed set of outcomes from its regular visits to the Four Courts.

In contrast, Rosanna’s family have a win-loss ratio of which any prize-fighter would be proud. It emerged during the case that de Burgh had boasted in a call to Ryanair seeking an apology for his daughter that he had sued for defamation 16 times and won each case.

Ryanair’s normal court jester, Michael O’Leary might have been absent but the airline’s barrister, Martin Hayden, was first to concede that his client was “not a shrinking violet”.

And it wasn’t long before the gloves were off. Urging the jury to find that the case lacked “utter reality”, Hayden pointed out that the offending press release had only received 878 hits on the Ryanair since it was published over three years ago.

“She wanted publicity. [Journalists] wanted quotes. Her career is dependent on being well known,” remarked Hayden. He also claimed she knew her comments on the Ryanair calendar needed to be “spicy”.

In turn, Rosanna’s barrister, Declan Doyle invoked Adolf Hitler to highlight Ryanair’s folly to try and differentiate between a racist and a person who made a racist comment — a subtlety he branded as “self-serving rubbish”.

He described Ryanair’s reaction to his client’s original comments as “brutish, aggressive, bullying and disproportionate”.

Doyle also justified his request for aggravated damages to be awarded to Davison on the basis that Ryanair was still “sniping and slagging off” his client in the courtroom.

Caught in the middle of the verbal sparring Mr Justice Éamon de Valera sought to strike a balance in the potential award which the jury might make, despite being restricted under legislation governing the case.

Mr de Valera helpfully suggested recent record damages of €10m in another case were “unnecessarily extravagant”.

He also advised them to keep their feet on the ground and that any award was “not like winning the lottery”.

After 1¾ hours, the jury returned to ask the judge if they would accept a majority verdict as they were unlikely to reach a unanimous decision. Informed that a verdict of 9-3 or more would be allowed, they took just another hour to find that Rosanna had been defamed, awarding her €40,000 in compensation and a similar amount in aggravated damages.

Like the nursery rhyme for this Rosie — as she’s called by her father — the day produced a pocketful of posies, and indeed poses.


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