An Irish vet who runs a stud farm in Japan has sued the University of Limerick (UL) alleging defamation and reputational damage as a result of how it reacted to allegations by two female students about his behaviour towards them while on placement at the farm.
Dr Harry Sweeney — with addresses at Dunshaughlin, Co Meath and Hokkaido, Japan — and Y K Paca Paca Farm, Hokkaido, Japan, are in three cases, suing UL and each of the students over alleged defamation.
The plaintiffs say there is no basis to claims by the students about the behaviour of Dr Sweeney towards them while on placement there between January and March 2014 as part of their UL courses in equine studies.
The plaintiffs also claim, with no warning to them, two of the three UL students on placement, were collected by taxi and driven away from the farm on March 19, 2014.
That occurred after the two students contacted their parents seeking to go home and the parents in turn contacted UL which sought assistance from the Irish embassy, Luán Ó Braonáin, counsel for UL, said.
Dr Sweeney and the farm claim the Irish Ambassador to Japan decided at short notice to cancel a visit by the Minister for Children to the farm scheduled for that same day and this, they claim, damaged the reputations and standing of the plaintiffs internationally.
The plaintiffs also claim difficulties had emerged with the two students during their placement and Dr Sweeney had informed one of them, after an incident on March 16, 2014, she should consider herself suspended while her behaviour on the farm was being considered.
The following day, St Patrick’s Day 2014, Dr Sweeney says he sent emails to UL notifying it of “extremely serious difficulties” with some students on placement and stating consideration was being given to sending one of them home. He claims he had a long conversation with an agent of UL on March 18 about difficulties being experienced with the students.
UL has yet to deliver a defence to the case against it.
The High Court heard yesterday solicitors for one of the students have alleged in correspondence she will claim Dr Sweeney was inappropriate, offensive and bullying towards her and had sexually harassed her.
The solicitors also wrote the student will allege that, some months before the placement started, she was interviewed in Ireland by Dr Sweeney during which she and other interviewees were asked to stand up mid-interview and slowly turn around so she might be inspected physically. It also claimed he had engaged in inappropriate conversation, including asking her whether she was in a relationship. The solicitors further alleged no UL representative was present.
In correspondence on behalf of Dr Sweeney, all those claims were strongly denied. It is also claimed the students had fabricated claims against Dr Sweeney to avoid repercussions about their alleged behaviour.
The plaintiffs’ case against UL was before Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan yesterday via a pre-trial application by UL to have all three cases consolidated.
The consolidation application was resisted by Miriam Reilly, for the plaintiffs, on grounds including the UL case raised very different issues from those in the cases against the students.
UL had also said in correspondence it does not know anything about what occurred between Dr Sweeney and the two students and could not offer evidence in that regard, the court heard.
The judge will hear final arguments on the application today.
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