High Court dismisses Nóirín O’Sullivan’s bid to sue Irish Examiner for defamation

The High Court has dismissed an application by former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan for an order allowing her to bring a defamation action against the Irish Examiner newspaper.

Ms O’Sullivan, who served as Commissioner between 2014 and 2017, had claimed she was defamed by the Cork-based Irish Examiner in a front-page article on 4 October 2016 headlined “Senior Garda tried to ‘destroy’ source”.

The newspaper denied the article was defamatory.

In September, Ms O’Sullivan applied to the High Court for an order permitting her to extend the time legally allowed to bring defamation proceedings against the newspaper.

Under the Defamation Act 2009, litigants have up to 12 months from the date of publication to bring defamation proceedings against the publisher. However, under section 38 of that Act, the High Court can extend the 12-month time limit to a maximum of two years.

The newspaper opposed the application for a time extension.

In a judgment yesterday, Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington refused to grant Ms O’Sullivan an order allowing her to issue defamation proceedings outside the statutory limit of one year.

The judge said that Ms O’Sullivan had said she did not bring the proceedings any earlier than she did because the former commissioner did not believe herself to be in a position to consider the matter from the date of publication until the conclusion of the Disclosures Tribunal.

The judge said that those reasons, while sincerely and genuinely held, are “insufficient to disapply the one-year statutory limit”. Regard must be given to the time limit laid down by statute, she said.

Ms O’Sullivan, the judge added, could have instituted proceedings within the statutory time limit. She said the fact that the former commissioner did not do so “has consequences for her in now seeking to issue to intended proceedings”.

Ms Justice Pilkington said: “To make a decision not to deal with matters within a time limit imposed by the statue in my view is an insufficient reason to now grant an extension of it.”

She added the interest of justice require that no direction be given to disapply the one-year statutory time limit.

The judge said she was further satisfied that the prejudice to the plaintiff in being prevented from bringing the action against the newspaper does not significantly outweigh the prejudice to the newspaper in losing its statute of limitation defence.

After delivering her ruling, Ms Justice Pilkington adjourned the matter for two weeks to allow the parties to consider her decision.

Aodhan O’Faolain, Ireland International News Agency Ltd.