An online newspaper editor and professional photographer has Sinn Fein in the High Court for libel. Michael McGrath of Kilkenny city is suing Sinn Fein as the owners of the "An Phoblacht" newspaper for defamation. The case is at procedural level at the moment as Mr. McGrath seeks to add the Sinn Fein owned company "Parnell Publications" that publishes "An Phoblacht" as a co-defendant.
The case commenced after McGrath saw with horror the May 2016 edition of "An Phoblacht" on the shelves of a High Street newsagents, the Kilkenny Bookshop, proclaiming him as a "former nazi, masquerading as a journalist". The article went on to accuse him of threatening "to kill fellow druids", of being "a police spy", of being "homophobic" , of being a racist, of being xenophobic, of being anti-immigrant , basically throwing the kitchen sink at him. This the full page article in "An Phoblacht" did, he alleges, by dredging up some old magazine and newspaper articles that were speculative and untrue and by juxtapositioning newspaper headlines about nazis on the page that had no relation to him. In fact Michael McGrath points out episodes in which he has actually helped individual immigrants with sympathy, cups of tea and help at his house. The immigrants working at Kilkenny Dunnes Stores, for instance, have become his friends that he chats with daily.
The row between McGrath and Sinn Fein began during the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election of May 2015 after "The Kilkenny Journal", of which he is online editor, criticised the local Sinn Fein candidate Kathleen Funchion for being a poor speaker and therefore not a good choice as a TD to represent Kilkenny, which city McGrath is passionate about these days referring to the tiny southern Irish city as "my little Baghdad by the Nore". McGrath further accused Sinn Fein of turning away from the local Irish to support incoming hordes of immigrants in an uncontrolled mass immigration project that he stands opposed to. McGrath has worked to help the homeless all his life.
Counsel for Sinn Fein Proinsias O' Maolchalainn, barrister, defends that no such defamation occurred, that the article concerned told the truth, that McGrath was all of those things alleged and worse. O' Maolchalainn himself has written for twenty years as a contributor to "An Phoblacht" though he had nothing to do with the article on McGrath. He also makes some of his living successfully defending immigrant appeals in the High Court. He is opposing the plaintiff's Motion to add "Parnell Publications Ltd" as a defendant , this now adjourned to July 3rd next.
The Master of the High Court , Edmond Honohan, declared in the 19th May hearing of this case in front of him that "the plaintiff (McGrath) is entitled to a full hearing in front of a High Court judge" and rejected Counsel's attempt to deny him that. The case then went immediately in front of Judge James Barr on 22nd May who listened sympathetically to McGrath's Affidavit but adjourned the case through lack of time in his busy court, with full apologies to McGrath guaranteeing him that his Motion would be heard soon.
In front of Judge Barr , McGrath pleaded that his Motion, delivered on 24th April, seven days before the close of the statute of limitations of 1st May 2017, "stopped the clock" of limitation. He further submitted that "Parnell Publications Ltd." is a company set up by and wholly owned by Sinn Fein, with headquarters in one of their two three-quarters of a million valued buildings at 58 Parnell Square, Dublin 1, specifically as a publishing instrument to publish "An Phoblacht" and thus are liable to be added as defendants to be sued for defamation alongside their parent, Sinn Fein. McGrath states that they are joined at the hip, parent and child , that Parnell Publications Ltd is like a "Sinn Fein clone" and therefore must be added as the publishers guilty of publishing the defamatory article against him in May 2016 in their newspaper, "An Phoblacht". McGrath stated that his Motion would not prejudice Parnell Publications Ltd.
Though served with his Notice of Motion to Add them as a defendant on 24th April, McGrath states that Parnell Publications Ltd have not responded to date. he accuses Sinn fein of hiding their company ab initio of the proceedings , stating that he only discovered their existence in February of this year, 2017 and that he moved as soon as he had established the existence and role of Parnell Publications with his Motion to add them as defendants in the case.
And so the case goes with editor McGrath and Sinn Fein locked in combat in the High Court on July 3rd next yet again. McGrath states that he trained as a journalist commencing on the Kilkenny Journal in 1964, that he went on to work on The Munster Express as a full-time journalist and photographer for nine years all told, that he worked on The Kilkenny Standard as political correspondent and that he now voluntarily edits The Kilkenny Journal that he re-created as an online newspaper and registered in 2013 and that he still practices as the online newspaper's photographer too. He states that most of his life has been spent occupied in journalism, writing and professional photography.
He admits that he was a member of a tiny party that became known as "the irish national socialist party" in the eighties but that it was not a nazi party as far as he knew, and never became fully operational as a political party in this country. Rather he maintains it was the remnants of a former party, "the New Progressive Democrats" of the early eighties , renamed in his absence in London without his knowledge after Dessie O'Malley had adopted the name for his new party , the PDs , in 1985. He states that he never consciously joined and was never a member of any nazi party - and that the offending article even describes how he was being chased down by the real Irish nazi party of the time, the NSIWP - The National Socialist Irish Workers Party, that he never in his life had anything to do with, that in fact he viewed with contempt, and that this is where the An Phoblacht article makes a massive blunder in its malicious pursuit of him in their offending article.
The article also features a large photo of Carlow-Kilkenny Sinn Fein TD Kathleen Funchion as well as a huge photo of McGrath at the top. It then juxtapositions various newspaper headlines, including the masthead of "The Kilkenny People" in an attempt to make out that the newspapers concerned agree with the depiction of McGrath as a former nazi - though none of those reports actually cite him by name! It's a skilfully designed depiction to mislead the reader, McGrath maintains. Sinn Fein deny this , in fact the party denies everything McGrath says here. They stand in total denial of everything. McGrath condemns the entire article as malicious. Sinn Fein pleads that it consists of honest opinion published in the public interest.
Sinn Fein replies in its defence by throwing the kitchen sink at McGrath, accusing him all over again of the very worst "right wing" political abuses, of being against gays, blacks, immigrants etc - and McGrath is now therefore to claim punitive damages as a result. It's open warfare between Michael McGrath and Sinn Fein these days. They are looking daggers at each other in court! . He says that he has been met with hostile stares in public as a result of the offensive "An Phoblacht" article published with a big recent photo of him to make sure that people would recognise him in public as a wicked evil nazi right-wing homophobic xenophobic anti-immigrant hater and even act against him. He says he feels vulnerable and threatened seeing as it is Sinn Fein with their bad history of dealing with opponents. He states that all of this publication is designed to shut him up and devalue his legitimate political criticism of Sinn Fein and their Carlow-Kilkenny TD Funchion as basically "not up to it" as he admits he published in The Kilkenny Journal legitimately and within the law and within his constitutional rights under Article 40 of Bunreacht na h-Eireann. He further states that it is the libel of the century, even worse than the British libel against Parnell of whom he remains a huge fan.
But quite obviously Sinn Fein/An Phoblacht does not see it like that. The case continues in the High Court on 3rd July next.