Dispute over 'Tweetgate' document discovery

Friday 02 May 2014 19.46
Dispute over discovery of documents in Sean Gallagher's legal action is before the High Court
Dispute over discovery of documents in Sean Gallagher's legal action is before the High Court

A dispute over the extent of discovery of documents in former presidential candidate Sean Gallagher's legal action against RTÉ arising from the so-called "Tweetgate" affair has come before the High Court.

In his action against RTÉ, Mr Gallagher seeks a declaration from the High Court that the RTÉ Frontline debate in October 2011 was deliberately and unfairly edited, presented and directed by RTÉ in order to damage his electoral prospects in the election.

He also seeks a declaration the broadcast was neither objective nor impartial, nor fair to his interests.

He seeks damages for alleged breach of statutory duty, alleged negligence and misfeasance in public office.

Mr Gallagher is also seeking exemplary damages arising out of alleged comments by Pat Kenny in relation to "Tweetgate."

RTÉ denies the claims. 

In its defence RTÉ said Mr Gallagher damaged his election prospects because of the manner he responded to assertions he arranged for a group of people to meet with a now former taoiseach on the basis of a payment of €5,000 and he called to the house of one of that group to deliver a photograph and to collect a cheque for €5,000.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland last year upheld a complaint relating to the debate which was broadcast on 24 October 2011 in which Mr Gallagher was forced to respond to a fake tweet incorrectly attributed to the official "Martin McGuinness for President" account.

Presenter Pat Kenny put a tweet to Mr Gallagher, which resulted in him admitting he may have collected a donation for Fianna Fáil from a convicted fuel smuggler in Louth in 2006.

At the High Court, Mr Gallagher's lawyers told Mr Justice Paul Gilligan they are unhappy with the scope of documents relating to the programme which was aired during the Presidential race that RTÉ is prepared to make available to them.

Jim O'Callaghan SC for Mr Gallagher said his client seeks discovery of various documents created between the date of the broadcast on 24 October 2011 and 18 November 2012 when an internal RTÉ report conducted by Rob Morrison about the broadcast was published.

The material sought includes material received by RTÉ via the "McGuinness4president" twitter account which was subsequently put to Mr Gallagher, documents recording RTÉ's protocols and guidelines for the verification of information used during broadcast, all documents relating to Mr Morrison's review, and an unredacted copy of that review.

Mr Gallagher also seeks discovery all documents created prior to November 2012 relating to the identification and selection of audience members, the questions to be asked by audience members,  the number of questions to be asked to each candidate.

He further seeks all notes and memo of comments by the show's production team relating to Mr Gallagher and his electoral prospects. 

RTÉ, counsel said, are only prepared to discover materials generated either on the date of the debate or in the week afterwards.

He asked the court to compel RTÉ to provide materials generated about the debate between the broadcast and when the internal report was published,

This, counsel said, is unfair on his client, who was not seeking materials that are not relevant to his claim.

RTÉ's position was that if a meeting took place a month after the debate to discuss the broadcast Mr Gallagher was not entitled to have any notes or records concerning such a meeting. 

It is in the interest of justice that Mr Gallagher and his lawyers be given sight of any such materials, counsel added.

Opposing the application Eileen Barrignton SC for RTÉ said her client was happy to provide Mr Gallagher with all materials relevant to the claim.

The action against RTÉ is specific to the events of 24 October 2011. He was seeking discovery of documents for a period of more than one year after the debate.

Outlining RTÉ's objection counsel said Mr Gallagher's request for discovery of materials generated over what is a 13 month period was broad and not specifically precise as it needs to be.

What Mr Gallagher was seeking amounted to as a "trawl" of documentation and would put the station to extra cost, counsel said.

Following the conclusion of submissions from the relevant parties Mr Justice Gilligan yesterday reserved his decision on the discovery said he would rule on the matter at a later date. 

Separately, the court also heard that Mr Gallagher has agreed to provide RTÉ with documentation relating to his business affairs and his links to fundraising for Fianna Fáil.