Journalist Kitty Holland’s action for defamation against John Waters opens in Dublin Circuit Civil Court

Award-winning journalist claiming aggravated damages over remarks at Renua conference

An action by award-winning journalist Kitty Holland has opened at Dublin Circuit Civil Court alleging that words spoken by John Waters concerning the death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital defamed Ms Holland because they wrongly meant she was a “liar”.

It is a “very serious defamation to accuse a journalist of lying”, Andrew Walker SC, for Ms Holland, told Judge John O’Connor when opening the case on Wednesday.

Ms Holland, of Ranelagh, Dublin, is claiming damages, including aggravated damages, arising from words spoken by Mr Waters, an unemployed journalist with an address in Sandycove, Dublin, during his 2017 address to a Renua Ireland conference in Tullamore, and allegedly published in a video posted online.

A video recording of part of Mr Waters’s address, delivered on November 25th, 2017, during the referendum campaign concerning repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, was played in court.


In the video, Mr Waters spoke of his deeply held anti-abortion convictions and said, inter alia: “There is not a single history that any doctor who is honest can produce of a mother dying because of the failure, the inability of doctors to provide her good treatment and anywhere related to abortion in any way.”

Savita Halappanavar “is the closest they have come and we know that’s a lie”, he said. “We know it’s the lie that resulted in the journalist who started the lie getting multiple awards from her colleagues,” he said.

The “sting of the libel is the very simple and wrong assertion” by Mr Waters that the journalist referred to is a liar, a journalist who started a lie and who is awarded for propagating lies, Mr Walker, with Shane English, instructed by Lavelle Coleman solicitors, said.

It is claimed the content of the speech by Mr Waters meant, inter alia, in her capacity as a journalist, Ms Holland was likely to and/or did spread false stories and/or lied and that content has damaged her personal, business and/or professional reputation. Mr Waters, it is claimed, spoke the words maliciously and knew there was no basis to refer to her as a liar.

Feargal Kavanagh SC, for Mr Waters, who has delivered a full defence, said his client’s case is he did not call Ms Holland a liar and what he was referring to was an Irish Times article in November 2012 mainly written by Ms Holland “creating an atmosphere of untruth” due to failure to ascertain facts at the relevant time. Mr Waters had set out his position in a 100-page letter sent to Ms Holland before the case, he said.

In evidence, Ms Holland, social affairs correspondent with The Irish Times, said she had never been accused in all her years in journalism of telling a lie or getting anything wrong.

She was the main writer of the exclusive article published on November 14th, 2012, concerning Ms Halappanavar’s death, entitled “Woman denied a termination dies in hospital”, with the subheading “Two investigations are under way into the death of a woman who was 17 weeks pregnant, at University Hospital Galway last month”.

The article was based on facts, a postmortem report and on having spoken with several people, including Ms Halappanavar’s husband who was with his wife during her time in the hospital, doctors who knew Ms Halappanavar and who had spoken to doctors concerned about her treatment, and others, she said.

The article was “100 per cent accurate” and was “rigorously” checked within The Irish Times before publication, she said. She had won several awards for her reporting concerning the death of Ms Halappanavar, she said.

Under cross-examination, she did not accept the overall impression given was that everything said in the article had been verified. The article made clear that investigations were under way to establish the cause of death, she said.

In his defence, Mr Waters denies publication as alleged, denies the words complained of referred to Ms Holland, or meant what she alleges. Without prejudice to his denials, other pleas include truth; qualified privilege; and fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest.

He pleads he has a “deeply held pro-life conviction” and his speech was made in good faith on a matter of a public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit. He denies malicious publication and pleads his address was made in the context of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment rather than any particular reference to Ms Holland.

The case continues on Thursday.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times