A court has dismissed a defamation action taken by two members of Wicklow County Council against Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy.
Judge Thomas E O’Donnell ruled at Wicklow Circuit Court that Mr Sheehy was entitled to a defence of truth when he issued a press release naming councillors Barry Nevin of Bray and Tommy Cullen of Baltinglass as being responsible for a Department of the Environment review of a €3 million land acquisition, which had cost the council €200,000 in delays.
Judge O’Donnell also awarded the costs of the five-day hearing against the two councillors.
The judge said the decision to acquire a three-acre parcel of land referred to as the “Three Trouts” site for housing, had been made in 2004 and had become “the source of enormous legal difficulties and public commentary as well as commentary at county council and Dáil level”.
He said the acquisition had also been the subject of arbitration proceedings complicated by a dispute over ownership of the site, ward of court issues and the demise of those claiming ownership. It was also the subject of considerable local and national media interest, he said.
Three councillors made lengthy submissions to the Department of the Environment and the Attorney General in November 2011, and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan had subsequently delayed sanction of a loan to the council to buy the site, pending an examination of the deal by Séamus Woulfe SC, the judge noted.
The Woulfe review had subsequently found “almost all” of the councillors’ concerns were “not well founded” or “ misconceived”, and Mr Sheehy had issued his press release linking the councillors’ actions to the delays and costs.
Remarking on this the judge said it was “manifestly clear” that the councillors’ list of concerns were “a catalyst” in setting up the Woulfe review, and it was also “manifestly clear” that the loan had been delayed.
He found the press release attributed the Woulfe review to the councillors who had voiced their concerns to the department, “and this is true”. He said the press release had alleged the councillors’ concerns were misconceived and not well founded and unfair to unnamed officials and “this is true”. He also said there was a cost of the review of €200,000 adding: “This is true.”
In a statement last evening Wicklow County Council said it was pleased with the outcome of the case.