Belfast Telegraph

Defamed Sinn Fein official must pay own legal bill

By Shane Phelan

Sinn Fein will not be paying the legal costs of political manager Nicky Kehoe following his defamation case against RTE.

Although the former IRA gunman won €3,500 (£3,085) in damages after a jury found he was defamed during an edition of the Saturday With Claire Byrne radio show, he is likely to face a substantial bill arising from the case.

Ultimately, Mr Kehoe could be hit for a sizeable portion of the overall cost of the case, which is expected to be in the region of €250,000 (£221,414). The costs issue is set to be considered by the High Court in Dublin, possibly as early as next week.

Normally when someone wins a civil action the other party pays their costs, but this is not always the case.

When an award is particularly low, to the extent that the matter could have been dealt with in a lower court, plaintiffs can find themselves being penalised when it comes to costs.

Under the Courts Act, Mr Kehoe will not be entitled to recover costs from RTE towards the payment of his own legal bill over the amount of the damages he was awarded, unless granted a special certificate by the trial judge.

The Act also states the judge can make an order that Mr Kehoe pay RTE the difference between the broadcaster's High Court costs and what it would have cost RTE to defend the case had it been taken in the Circuit Court.

Some observers believe the difference between the cost of defending the case in the Circuit Court and the High Court could be as much as €80,000 (£70,852).

Following the jury verdict on Monday, Mr Kehoe said he would have to face the issue "as it comes" and shrugged his shoulders when asked how he would pay.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party was not assisting Mr Kehoe with legal costs.

He said Mr Kehoe had taken the case independently and Sinn Fein had no involvement in the proceedings.

After his release from prison in 1992 Mr Kehoe was twice elected to Dublin City Council for Sinn Fein.

He also narrowly missed out on being elected to the Dail in 2002. In more recent years he has been working as a political manager with Sinn Fein councillors.

The spokesman confirmed Mr Kehoe was a paid party official. While he would not go into the specifics of salaries paid to officials operating outside of Leinster House, he said pay levels were modest.

It has been reported no party official is paid more than the average industrial wage.

Mr Kehoe had sought substantial damages after then Labour Party TD Joe Costello claimed on the programme in October 2015 that a former chief of staff of the IRA was giving directions to Sinn Fein councillors in Dublin.

The man Mr Costello was referring to was quickly identified as Mr Kehoe by Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin, who staunchly rejected the accusation against his party colleague.

RTE maintained the former junior minister's claims were demolished on the programme and that within minutes he had rowed back on his allegation.

However, on Monday a jury found that the broadcast meant Mr Kehoe was not a fit person to be involved in the democratic process.

They awarded him damages of €10,000 (£8,855), but also apportioned fault in percentage terms between RTE and Mr Costello.

As RTE was deemed to be only 35% at fault, it only has to pay €3,500 in damages. The remaining 65% cannot be recovered from Mr Costello as he was not sued by Mr Kehoe.

Belfast Telegraph

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