Teacher ordered to pay €50,000 damages to friend he defamed

Man ‘made utterances’ meaning jewellery shop owner was ‘on the take and engaging in dishonest practices’

A schoolteacher has been ordered to pay €50,000 damages to a former friend about whom he made defamatory remarks.

It was the maximum Judge Jacqueline Linnane could have awarded jewellery shop owner Breasal O'Caollai, who told her what former friend and neighbour Michael O'Flaherty had said about him could have ruined his business.

Mr O'Caollai, of Royal Terrace West, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, told the Circuit Civil Court that Mr O'Flaherty, who teaches at Loreto College, Foxrock, Dublin, had told staff at the National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire – of which Mr O'Caollai was a director – that he had effectively taken money from the tills.

Barrister Michael Binchy*, for Mr O’Caollai, told the court that on three occasions Mr O’Flaherty, of Northumberland Avenue, Dún Laoghaire, had “made utterances which meant Mr O’Caollai was an incompetent businessman on the take and engaging in dishonest practices”.


'Cash from the tills'
Mr Binchy said Mr O'Flaherty had asked museum staff Bianca Drumm and Linda Carroll "does Breasal take money from the coffee shop takings" and "does he take cash from the tills". He had also suggested to another staff member that he "supposed Breasal had taken the proceeds" of an art exhibition.

Mr O’Caollai told the court he owned a jewellery shop on Northumberland Avenue, Dún Laoghaire, not far from Mr O’Flaherty’s home. He had asked him to help with the museum and Mr O’Flaherty had been elected treasurer at an annual general meeting. They had been friends, but, eventually, Mr O’Flaherty had developed a grudge against him for some unknown reason.

Good reputation
Mr O'Caollai said there was absolutely no basis for the statements by Mr O'Flaherty that he had his hand in the till. Customer trust and a good reputation in the jewellery business was critical.

“Mere rumour could put you out of business,” he said.

Mr O’Flaherty said he had been “aghast and astonished” when he had learned of the “complete fabrication” of the statements he was alleged to have made to Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll about Mr O’Caollai.

Judge Linnane, awarding Mr O’Caollai €50,000 damages, said Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll had no reason to fabricate or invent their account of what had happened.

* This story was edited on Thursday, March 27th, 2014, to correct a factual error