Albert Reynolds' libel battle with the Sunday Times has moved to the House of Lords. The newspaper is asking five law lords to extend the legal defence of qualified privilege. The case arises from Mr. Reynolds' successful appeal for a retrial of his 1996 libel action against the paper.

The paper libelled the former Taoiseach when it said that he had lied to the Dáil in relation to the Father Brendan Smyth affair which eventually brought down his Fianna Fail-Labour coalition in 1994. Mr. Reynolds won the original six-week action but was awarded only one penny in damages. His legal bill is estimated at around a £1 million, but he has received permission for a retrial of the action. However, the Sunday Times has asked the Law Lords to extend the legal defence of qualified privilege. The House of Lords ruling - which could break new ground in defining the limits of press freedom - will have a crucial bearing on the outcome of any retrial. If Mr. Reynolds were to go back to court and lose, his legal bill could run into millions.

The former Taoiseach is one of three defendants being sued by a construction company for £650,000 sterling over a joint venture agreement relating to proposed construction projects the High court was told today. No date has been set for the hearing of the full action against the three defendants.