Belfast Telegraph

TD sued by Mary Lou McDonald for libel raises Sinn Fein-Provo link

Court case: Mary Lou McDonald is claiming that she was defamed
Court case: Mary Lou McDonald is claiming that she was defamed

By Shane Phelan

Sinn Fein's stance on the killing of gardai by members of the Provisional IRA is at the centre of a legal row in a defamation action being taken by Mary Lou McDonald against another TD.

Fianna Fail's Declan Breathnach is being sued for damages in Dublin's High Court by the Sinn Fein leader over online comments she believes portrayed her as condoning the murders of gardai.

Mr Breathnach denies defamation and claims Sinn Fein supported and continues to support the crimes of the Provisional IRA, which have included murders of gardai.

But a row has erupted over the extent to which the historical connection between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA will feature in the trial. In a pre-trial motion, Ms McDonald is seeking to strike out parts of Mr Breathnach's defence which focus on those links and, in particular, the refusal by party members to condemn the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

The motion was briefly mentioned yesterday before Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty, who adjourned the matter to Thursday.

Ms McDonald's action against Louth TD Mr Breathnach centres around Twitter posts on October 11, 2018, the day a Disclosures Tribunal published its report on the treatment of a Garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe. Ms McDonald posted a tweet saying Sgt McCabe had been "repulsively denigrated".

She added: "Shame on those who set out to destroy him."

Mr Breathnach responded on Twitter, asking Ms McDonald what had she had to say about Sinn Fein's "association with those involved in the murder" of three named gardai.

Among those mentioned in the tweet were Garda Tony Golden, who was murdered by a dissident republican in 2015, and Sgt Patrick Morrissey, who was murdered by the INLA in 1985.

In her proceedings, Ms McDonald alleged the words used by Mr Breathnach meant her sympathy for Sgt McCabe and condemnation of those who set out to destroy him was "disingenuous and insincere".

She claimed his tweet meant she failed to speak out against the murders of gardai by dissident republicans and criminal gangs, and that she condoned such killings and was a hypocrite.

But in defence papers, lawyers for Mr Breathnach denied his tweet was defamatory in the manner alleged. Instead they said the tweet was more likely to have meant that while Ms McDonald's support for Mr McCabe was commendable, she should also recognise and acknowledge Sinn Fein supported and continued to support the crimes of the Provisional IRA, which included the murder of gardai.

In defence papers, it was claimed that at no stage had Ms McDonald acknowledged killings of gardai by the Provisionals were criminal acts of murder.

Ms McDonald's legal team is now asking the High Court to strike out the alternative meaning put forward by Mr Breathnach and focus the case on what she claims his tweet meant.

Ms McDonald is seeking damages, legal costs and an injunction restraining Mr Breathnach from publishing similar statements.

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