Protester to appeal defamation ruling

 

A CORRIB gas protester who was recently successfully pursued for defamation by a retired garda has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Fisherman Pat O’Donnell, known locally as The Chief, claims Circuit Court Judge Margaret Heneghan “could be perceived to be biased” in her ruling, because she attended a Co Mayo secondary school for a time in the 1970s with retired Garda sergeant James Gill.

Mr Gill policed the Corrib protests for a number of years and sat on its monitoring committee.

In December Mr Gill was awarded €33,000 damages by Judge Heneghan at Castlebar Circuit Court after he took a defamation case against Mr O’Donnell.

He claimed Mr O’Donnell had accused him, within earshot of protesters and gardaí, of stealing diesel and smuggling tyres, during a protest at Ballinaboy on November 3rd, 2006.

Mr O’Donnell denied the allegations, claiming he was referring to diesel for his boats that had been stolen from a pier in 1997 or 1998.

He told the court he was annoyed that there were up to 200 gardaí policing the protest and “said something about working for Shell when you can’t police the community”.

His counsel, Leo Mulrooney, argued there were significant discrepancies between what Mr Gill said and the Garda videotape.

Garda witnesses had corroborated the uttering of the offending words to the court.

Mr Gill, who was station sergeant at Bangor Erris, north Mayo, policed the controversial protest over a number of years. He retired last November after almost 34 years in the force.

Judge Heneghan noted she had been told all the plaintiff wanted was an apology, but it was not forthcoming.

“I am satisfied that these words were spoken by Pat O’Donnell and were intended to mean that Mr Gill was dishonest,” she said.

Last month High Court judge, Mr Justice Michael Peart, refused leave to take an ex parte judicial review of the case.

The judicial review was applied for, on behalf of Mr O’Donnell, by Michael P O’Higgins SC and Leo Mulrooney, instructed by solicitor Alan Gannon.

Mr Justice Peart told the court on January 23rd that, in his view, there was not a perceived bias and that the case did not reach the threshold of arguablility.

Moreover, he said he did not regard that the personal connections between the judge and the former garda were capable of amounting to objective bias when weighed against the judicial oath.

Counsel for Mr O’Donnell argued if his client had known that the judge and Mr Gill had attended the same school, he would have applied for the judge to excuse herself from the case.

Documents submitted to Mr Justice Peart stated that Judge Heneghan attended Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Gortnor Abbey, Crossmolina, from 1972 until 1977 and that Mr Gill attended the school to repeat his Leaving Certificate in the academic year 1976-1977.

The documents also stated that both the judge and Mr Gill attended a school reunion in the Dolphin Hotel in Crossmolina in 1997.

On January 27th, counsel for Mr O’Donnell lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court. When contacted both Mr O’Donnell and his solicitor, Alan Gannon, declined to comment.