A judge has refused Independent TD Michael Lowry a declaration that he was defamed by journalist and broadcaster Sam Smyth on TV3’s 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' programme and in a newspaper article.
Lowry, of Holy Cross, Thurles, Co Tipperary, had sought the declaration under the 2009 Defamation Act which allows for a legal short-cut by way of summary judgment on the contention that Smyth had no possible defence to the politician's claims.
Judge Margaret Heneghan, in a reserved judgment today in the Circuit Civil Court, said she was satisfied Mr Lowry had not established that Mr Smyth had no defence to the allegations of defamation.
Lowry’s claim may now go to a full hearing before another judge. The case to date has been dealt with on the basis of sworn statements by both Lowry and Smyth and today’s decision has no significance in the eventual overall outcome.
The case centres on comments made by Smyth concerning the Mc Cracken and Moriarty tribunals and their inquiries into matters relating to Lowry’s finances. Lowry alleges that Smyth made false and defamatory remarks about him in an Irish Independent article and again on the TV3 current affairs show.
Lowry claims that the newspaper article and a comment by Smyth on television that Lowry had been ”caught with his hand in the till” were false and malicious and that he was a thief, a corrupt politician, dishonest, untrustworthy and unfit to be a Minister or a TD.
He had sought a declaration that he had been defamed, asked for a court order directing publication of clarifying statements and an order prohibiting further publication of the alleged defamatory remarks.
Smyth, of The Gasworks, Barrow Street, Dublin, stands over his comments and argues they were true and based on his honest opinion and constituted fair and reasonable publication in matters of public interest.
The journalist 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 Lowry’s resignation as Minister for Communications.
Lowry claimed 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 to him while he was a Minister.
Smyth, in the 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 £5m.”
This, Lowry claimed, meant by way of innuendo he had unlawfully benefited from the transactions by awarding, as Minister for Communications, the Esat Digifone mobile phone licence to businessman Denis O’Brien.
Barrister Eoin Mc Cullough, S.C., who appeared for Smyth, applied for an order for costs against Lowry but the matter was adjourned on the application of Martin Giblin S.C., for Lowry, to allow both sides “reflect” on the court’s judgment.