Michael Lowry denied in court today that he was a corrupt politician, dishonest, untrustworthy and unfit to be a Minister or a TD.
He claimed a statement by journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth on TV3’s 'Tonight with Vincent Browne', that he had been “caught with his hand in the till,” implied he was a thief.
Lowry, independent TD for Tipperary North, has asked the Circuit Civil Court for a declaration that he was defamed by Smyth on the June 2010 programme and in an article written by Smyth for the Irish Independent.
Barrister Martin Giblin, S.C., for Lowry, told Judge Margaret Heneghan his client was also seeking an order prohibiting further publication of false and defamatory statements and publication by Smyth of a correction under the 2009 Defamation Act.
Lowry, of Holy Cross, Thurles, Co Tipperary, told the court in a sworn affidavit that Smyth had made the remark on a programme reviewing the work of the Tribunal into Payments to Politicians.
Smyth, of The Gasworks, Barrow Street, Dublin, has been covering matters to do with Lowry since the mid-1990’s and his story in November 1996 about Lowry’s home having been renovated at the cost of Dunnes Stores led to his resignation as Minister for Communications.
He denies that he defamed Lowry either in print or on television and claims that the words he used were statements of fact and were fair and reasonable publication on matters of significant public interest.
Lowry told the court that Smyth was entitled to repeat the findings of the McCracken (Dunnes Payments) Tribunal, but to say he had been caught with his hand in the till had gone far and away beyond any fair and accurate reporting. He said he was not a thief and had never been convicted of being a thief.
He said the Irish Independent article under the heading “Tribunal will reveal findings on money trail to ex-minister” was about a matter yet to be adjudicated on by the Moriarty Tribunal which was looking into whether any payments were made directly or indirectly to him while he was a Minister.
Smyth in his newspaper article had stated regarding English property transactions in Cheadle, Mansfield and Doncaster that “the total value of all of the property transactions involving Mr Lowry was around STG £5m.”
This, Lowry claimed, meant by way of innuendo he had unlawfully benefited from the ST£5m transactions by awarding, as Minister for Communications, the Esat Digifone mobile phone licence to businessman Denis O’Brien.
Mr Giblin, who appeared with John Kiely for Lowry, said Smyth had submitted in a defence of justification for his remarks findings of Tribunals which, he submitted, were hearsay and inadmissible as evidence.
Eoin Mc Cullough, S.C., who appeared with Brendan Kirwan for Smyth, said that under the Defamation Act there were defences in relation to both publications of honest opinion, truth and fair and reasonable publication of matters of public interest.
He said the press must be entitled to use public official reports as a basis of public comment without having to go back and establish the truth of everything a Tribunal had issued findings on.
Mr Mc Cullough said it was entirely true to say Mr Lowry was involved in a tax fraud relating to the payment of €395,000 by Dunnes Stores towards the refurbishment of his Tipperary home. When this was revealed by Mr Smyth the plaintiff Mr Lowry had told a series of lies about what had happened.
Initially he had claimed his tax affairs were in order but it had quickly transpired that was a lie, as he had to admit shortly afterwards to the Dáil in his resignation speech.
Mr Giblin told the court Mr Lowry had put his tax affairs in order in a settlement with the Revenue and he had never been prosecuted in relation to any tax matters. He said Mr Lowry was not seeking damages but was seeking relief under the new defamation law to clear his good name.
Judge Heneghan has reserved until the new year judgement on Mr Lowry’s applications.