Lowry fails to secure summary ruling in Smyth defamation case

 

THE INDEPENDENT deputy for North Tipperary Michael Lowry has failed to get a summary ruling in the Circuit Court in a defamation case where he claimed journalist Sam Smyth had accused him of being a thief.

Judge Margaret Heneghan delivered judgment yesterday in a case where Mr Lowry was seeking a summary ruling under the 2009 Defamation Act that comments by Smyth were defamatory; that Smyth had no reasonable defence to the comments; and that an order for a correction should be made.

In a hearing in December Smyth’s counsel Eoin McCullough SC said it was his client’s position that he had not called Mr Lowry a thief, but that he did believe the politician was a liar and a tax cheat.

Yesterday, the judge said she had read through the exhibits attached to Smyth’s affidavit, which included matters to do with the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals; Mr Lowry’s dealings with Dunnes Stores; his personal statement to the Dáil in 1996 after his resignation from cabinet; and the two publications that Mr Lowry is alleging were defamatory.

She said the test for Mr Lowry’s case was very high and onerous. He had to show that Smyth had no defence that was reasonably likely to succeed. The question was whether it was “too far-fetched” to believe Smyth had a defence. She had found it was not so. She did not find the material included with Smyth’s affidavit to be incompatible with the defences put forward. The matter would have to be resolved in a full hearing, she said.

Smyth had argued he could defend himself on the grounds of truth, honest opinion and fair and reasonable comment.

During an appearance last year on the TV3 programme Tonight with Vincent BrowneSmyth had said: “The first that we caught, sort . . . on video with hand in till was Michael Lowry.”

He later said he was referring to Mr Lowry being engaged in tax fraud. In an article in the Irish Independentat about the same time Smyth referred to the Moriarty tribunal investigating property transactions with a total value of £5 million sterling, in the context of its inquiries into the 1995 mobile phone licence competition.

Mr Lowry said the comment on TV3 was understood to mean that he was a thief, a corrupt politician, was unfit to be a TD and was dishonest and untrustworthy. Thief apart, he made identical claims about the newspaper article.

When Mr McCullough asked for costs for what he said was a “discrete matter”, Mr Lowry’s counsel, Michael Giblin SC, said he would like to discuss the ruling with his client. The judge adjourned the matter of costs.

Mr Lowry was not in court yesterday. Speaking later to The Irish Timeshe said he had taken the action on the full understanding that it was unlikely to proceed, and that he would now have to prepare for a full High Court hearing.