Jeweller awarded €50,000 in defamation case

Wednesday 26 March 2014 23.05
Jeweller said remarks about him could have ruined his business
Jeweller said remarks about him could have ruined his business

A teacher has been directed to pay €50,000 damages to a Dun Laoghaire jeweller he made defamatory remarks about.

It was the maximum that Judge Jacqueline Linnane could have awarded Breasal Ó Caollaí who told her that what former friend and neighbour Michael O'Flaherty had said about him could have ruined his business.

Mr Ó Caollaí told the Circuit Civil Court that Mr O’Flaherty had told staff in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, of which he was a director, that he had effectively taken money from the tills.

His barrister Michael Binchy said that on three occasions Mr O'Flaherty, of Northumberland Avenue in Dun Laoghaire, had "made utterances, which meant Mr Ó Caollaí was an incompetent businessman on the take and engaging in dishonest practices."

Mr Binchey said Mr O'Flaherty had asked two museum staff, Bianca Drumm and Linda Carroll, "does Breasal take money from the coffee shop takings" and "does he take cash from the tills." 

He had also suggested to another staff member that he "supposed Breasal had taken the proceeds" of an art exhibition.

Mr Ó Caollaí told the court he owned a jewellery shop in Northumberland Avenue, not far from Mr O'Flaherty's home.

He had asked him to help with the museum and he had been elected treasurer at an annual general meeting.

They had been friends but Mr O'Flaherty developed a grudge against him for some unknown reason.

"He would just grunt when we passed on the street and I was dumbfounded when he suggested to museum staff that I was a thief and a robber which was totally outrageous," Mr Ó Caollaí said.

Mr Ó Caollaí said there was absolutely no basis for the statements by O'Flaherty that he had his hand in the till.

Customer trust and a good reputation in the jewellery business was critical, he said.

"Mere rumour could put you out of business. I had asked my solicitor Kevin O'Higgins to seek an apology and an undertaking  from Mr O'Flaherty not to repeat the statements which would have settled the matter. It was not forthcoming," he said.

Mr O'Flaherty said he had been "aghast and astonished" when he had learned of the "complete fabrication" of the statements he was alleged to have made to two museum staff about Mr Ó Caollaí.  None of them was true. 

He said that at one stage as treasurer he had recommended tighter control of funds and lodgements.

Judge Linnane, awarding Mr Ó Caollaí €50,000 damages, said Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll had no reason to fabricate or invent their account of what had happened. Inferences had been cast on them by the defendant.