‘No basis’ for perjury allegations levelled at Western People journalists, WRC finds

Medical negligence activist claimed discrimination over not publishing press releases

Francis Eneas Kearney lodged a complaint under the Equal Status Act against the Western People, which has an address at Francis Street, Ballina, Co Mayo.

A discrimination complaint against the Western People newspaper by a Co Mayo activist who claims its staff refused to print his press releases has been rejected by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Francis Eneas Kearney lodged a complaint under the Equal Status Act against the newspaper, which has an address at Francis Street, Ballina, Co Mayo.

He claimed he had been discriminated against on the grounds of disability, age and his Catholic faith on dates between August 2019 and July 2020, when he said the paper refused to print an advertisement and several press releases he sent in.

He also accused one of the paper’s reporters of lying to the commission.


He alleged further that he had been treated in a “ruthless and in no way empathic” manner by one of its journalists when he turned up to its office to complain about an article the paper had published.

In a ruling, adjudication officer Janet Hughes wrote that Mr Kearney seemed to be the founder and administrator of an entity called Medical Negligence Ireland, which operated a Facebook page campaigning for "accountability and open disclosures at all levels in health service in Ireland".

Mr Kearney says he first approached the newspaper in August 2019 to place a paid advertisement for Medical Negligence Ireland, but that the paper would not print it even though other publications had accepted it.

He also claimed the Western People had refused to publish press releases he sent to its newsroom in June and July 2020.

James Laffey, the paper's editor, said editorial control "rested with him and the publication and not those who submitted articles".

Vulnerable people

In response to a previous complaint taken by Mr Kearney to the Press Ombudsman, Mr Laffey submitted: “It would be inadvisable for the Western People to encourage our readers - particularly vulnerable, elderly people … to submit personal and deeply sensitive material [via the advertisement] to an unregulated organisation which has no statutory or professional remit.”

At the WRC adjudication hearing, Mr Laffey reiterated his concerns about the ad and said the paper was also concerned about any liability if they “facilitated a request for confidential medical information to be passed to an unregulated body”

Mr Kearney told the commission this statement was slanderous and defamatory and had caused him “ongoing hurt” in view of the fact he considered himself someone who had supported vulnerable people in the past.

He said he was also in contact with Orla Hearns, a staff journalist with the newspaper, seeking to have issues around his own medical situation published.

He said he approached Ms Hearns at the paper’s offices with photos and a report about conditions in the emergency department at Mayo General Hospital and that she “took his material and promised to get back to him”.

But he said he did not hear from her again before a story about conditions at the ED was published on December 2nd, 2019.

Mr Kearney told the hearing that he believed the journalist “should have consulted him” before the piece ran and that it “appeared in a format which he would not have written”.

He then turned up to the paper’s offices and spoke to Ms Hearns again, putting it to her that she had “promised to get back to him”.

He said her response was: “That’s not the way we do things around here.”

In her evidence, Ms Hearns confirmed she said that but said she “had not and could not and did not” promise to contact him before publication or give him a say over the final article.

‘Lie detector’ test

She said he had been “surprised and upset” that she had not contacted him in advance but that she had never offered anyone the final say on one of her articles.

Mr Kearney rejected this and offered to take a “lie detector” test to “prove he was telling the truth”.

At the hearing, he also questioned the religion of the witnesses who appeared on behalf of the newspaper, and stated that he was a Catholic.

Ms Hearns said Mr Kearney had told her he could not hear very well and had no hearing aid, and that she did raise her voice because he was struggling to hear him.

In his complaint form, Mr Kearney said he “tried to explain about my deafness and disability at the time but she was ruthless and in no ways empathic to me”.

He told the commission he had been discriminated against by the paper on disability, age and religious grounds and that these grounds applied to all of his interactions with the newspaper.

David Carroll, partner at Ronan Daly Jermyn Solicitors, appeared for the newspaper.

“The respondent reserves their rights in full on the question of whether any advertisement or press statement shall be published,” he said in submission, adding that the paper “had a constitutionally guarded right to freedom of speech in that regard”.

He said the decision not to publish “related to the organisation MNI [Medical Negligence Ireland], not the complainant personally” and that the Equal Status Act “quite specifically addresses less favourable treatment of persons and not entities”.

Null and void

He said the paper denied all the allegations levelled at it.

In her decision, Ms Hughes found that in several aspects of the case Mr Kearney had sought to establish that his organisation had been discriminated against and said any consideration of these was “null and void”.

She noted that the complainant would have been required to notify the Western People of a discrimination claim in writing no later than two months after an alleged incident.

As he had written to the paper on January 20th, 2020, she could not make any ruling on articles submitted earlier than December 2019, she wrote.

She also wrote that there had been a nine-month gap between this date and October 13th, 2020, when he complained to the Workplace Relations Commission, she could not rule on his allegations about Ms Hearns at the newspaper’s offices in December 2019.

She found Mr Kearney clearly knew how to make a complaint to the commission but “chose not to do so, proceeding to refer a complaint to the Press Ombudsman” on the subject. She said there was no reasonable cause to extend the six-month time limit to bring a complaint.

She ruled that none of his complaints were well-founded.

“In light of the strong allegations against the respondent witnesses made by the complainant in writing post the hearing, I feel obliged to add that I saw no basis for concluding that lies were told, or perjury committed by any person at the hearing,” Ms Hughes added. “People’s memories may differ on certain events in this case but nothing I saw or heard on behalf of the respondent gave rise to a concern on my part.”