Former IRA member awarded €3,500 damages by RTE for defamation.

Former IRA member Nicky Kehoe has been awarded €3,500 damages by RTE, the lowest defamation award in memory in Ireland.

The High Court in Dublin adjourned a decision on costs, unofficially estimated at up to €200,000, to a later date.

The low award could have cost implications for Kehoe, a former Dublin city Sinn Fein councilor and now Sinn Fein’s political manager in Dublin.

The jury in the case awarded €10,000 damages but found RTE was only 35 percent responsible for the defamation. It found Labor Party TD (member of parliament) Joe Costello was 65 percent liable for what was said on a live radio debate on Saturday with Claire Byrne in October 2015.

Costello was not a party to the case and there was no judgment against him.

On the program, Costello said a member of the IRA army council controlled Sinn Fein councilors on Dublin City Council.

Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin, who was also on the program, named Kehoe as the person to whom Costello was referring, and repeatedly challenged the Labour TD about his remarks and described them as outrageous and bizarre.

Kehoe, a former hunger striker who had put his IRA background behind him after completing a prison term 26 years ago, reckoned he was defamed and brought the action against RTE, which the broadcaster defended. 

His legal counsel told the court that Kehoe had been upfront and was ashamed about his paramilitary past and had worked for more than 20 years to restore his reputation, but this case was about someone being accused of subverting democracy in 2015.

Lawyers for the broadcaster said Kehoe was a notorious former IRA gunman who had served two jail terms.

In their decision, the jury did not find that the broadcast meant that Kehoe was a member of an illegal organization or controlled the way Sinn Fein voted on Dublin City Council on behalf of the army council of the IRA.

However, the jury did find that the broadcast meant that Kehoe was not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process.

After the hearing, Kehoe said the case had been about his good name and not about money. He said, “A jury of my peers has vindicated my name and I’m really, really happy with that because my name means a lot to me. I am a good person and I worked really hard for that. That’s the way I look at that.”

RTE Radio 1 boss Tom McGuire said the €3,500 award was the lowest High Court defamation award in modern history. He said it was “a very positive” outcome and vindicated RTE’s decision to fight the case.

The issues of costs or an appeal were matters to be discussed with the legal team, he said.

Byrne said she was “really looking forward to going back to doing my job.”  She said she followed station guidelines while handling “a curve ball” that had been thrown on the live radio broadcast.

Nicky Kehoe.RTE