Fine Gael senator says article turned his name into ‘garbage’

Paudie Coffey denies taking ‘Kilkenny People’ story calling him ‘a robber’ too seriously

A Fine Gael senator has told the High Court that "for the rest of my life my name is garbage" as a result of a local newspaper article which compared him to an 18th century highwayman.

Paudie Coffey, who was a Waterford TD and minister of state when the article appeared in January 2016, denied that he was taking the publication of the story too seriously. He has taken a defamation case taken against Iconic Newspaper, publisher of the Kilkenny People, claiming that the article caused him to be ridiculed and damaged his reputation. The publisher denies the claim.

The article arose out of controversy over proposals to extend the Waterford electoral boundary into Kilkenny and featured quotes from a press release issued by Mr Coffey's party colleague John Paul Phelan, a Carlow-Kilkenny TD.

Mr Phelan claimed Mr Coffey was trying to steal part of his constituency with the support of then minister for the environment Alan Kelly. He compared his colleague to an 18th century highwayman who hid in the Comeragh Mountains and was known as 'Crotty the Robber'. He labelled him 'Coffey the Robber', which ended up being the headline used on the article.


Mr Coffey said he had been in politics for a long time and could take criticism but any reasonable person would see the article as damaging.

‘Good name’

He said that “for the rest of my life my name is garbage” because of the “unprofessional” way the newspaper dealt with another politician’s opinion.

“I am putting everything on the line here but I am going to fight for my good name,” he said.

The article was first brought to Mr Coffey's attention by a cousin who received an email from former Irish rugby international Mick Galwey with a picture of the newspaper page and the comment: 'Is this the best headline ever in the Kilkenny People this week, class, not even the Bomber will get ye out of this!!!!!!'

Rossa Fanning SC, for the publisher, said Mr Galwey would give evidence that he regarded the article as a “complete joke”.

The senator has also said that Mr Galwey used the words ‘here comes Coffey the robber’ when the pair subsequently met at a rugby match, an incident that he says finally prompted him to bring the legal proceedings.

“I did not take it as a joke when my name was called out in a crowded area and my name was being pulled into the muck,” Mr Coffey said.

‘Many incidents’

He said the match was “just one of many incidents where people consistently referred to me as ‘a robber’ as a result of that article and I was highly embarrassed”.

Mr Coffey agreed he had “jumped the gun” when he issued a press release in June 2015, seven months before the Kilkenny People story, saying he had worked to establish the boundary commission.

He accepted that then minister for the environment Alan Kelly had in fact set up the commission and that he may have overstated the matter, but he did not intend to deliberately mislead anyone.

Asked did he know Mr Kelly’s nickname, Mr Coffey said he was “not into nicknames” and was “not going to denigrate him, I know him as Alan Kelly”.

Put to him that Mr Kelly’s nickname was ‘AK-47’, after a gun, Mr Coffey said: “I don’t deal in nicknames.”

The case continues.