Saturday 23 March 2019

'I stand by my decision to let O Broin defend Kehoe on air' - Byrne

Broadcaster Claire Byrne
Broadcaster Claire Byrne

Broadcaster Claire Byrne has said she stands by allowing a Sinn Fein representative on a live RTE broadcast to defend a man named as a former chief-of-staff of the IRA.

She told the High Court she was about to intervene after former Labour TD Joe Costello made an allegation on her radio show that a former IRA chief-of-staff was directing Sinn Fein Dublin city councillors how to vote at meetings.

Ms Byrne said that before she could do so, Eoin O Broin, the party's representative on the programme, named Sinn Fein political manager Nicky Kehoe.

Mr Kehoe, who served two prison terms for weapons and explosives offences, claims he was defamed when he was referred to as a former IRA chief-of-staff on the Saturday With Claire Byrne show in October 2015.

He insists Ms Byrne should have shut the conversation down when he was named, and that the work he has done to rebuild his reputation for 26 years since coming out of prison was undone "in one swipe".

Ms Byrne was the only witness for RTE, which denies the claim, and evidence in the case has ended. Speeches to the jury and the judge's charge are expected to begin today.

Earlier, Thomas Hogan, Mr Kehoe's lawyer, put it to Ms Byrne that when Mr Costello made his chief-of-staff comment he had thrown a curve ball and "still you do not see the danger".

Ms Byrne said that was not factual, adding: "You don't know what was in my head and what my judgment call was."

She said she was about to intervene and thought it unfair of counsel to present to the jury "what I did or didn't do where I have been very clear on my judgment call on that day".

She did not accept Mr Hog-an's suggestion that her judgment was "fundamentally flawed" that day.


Nicky Kehoe
Nicky Kehoe

Ms Byrne said she let Mr O Broin defend Mr Kehoe, which is what Mr O Broin wanted.

"That's the call I made, the call I stand by," she added.

Mr Hogan suggested that what she should have done, as she said she had done on other occasions when there was a risk somebody would be identified, was shut down the debate.

She replied that they had not got to that point at that stage.

Mr Hogan also put it to her that she had already decided that Mr Costello, who she described on Friday as having gone "doolally" by making that comment, had thrown the curve ball and she did not stop the conversation.

She said Mr Hogan was presenting it as though it happened over a long period when it was a matter of seconds.

Mr O Broin had turned to face Mr Costello in the studio and gave him "both barrels" in defending Mr Kehoe and dismantling Mr Costello's argu- ment, she said.

"My decision was Eoin O Broin, you have got the ball, run with it," she told the court.

She rejected the suggestion that she "did nothing but stoke the fire". She said she did not ask Mr Costello to withdraw the allegation because it was Mr O Broin, not Mr Costello, who named Mr Kehoe and she did not wish to disenfranchise Mr O Broin's defence of Mr Kehoe.

The case continues.

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