Our Constitution provides in Article 40.6.1. that “the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions is protected” however this is counterbalanced by Article 40.3.2. which states that in the event of unjust attack or injustice the State will “vindicate the ………..good name……….of every citizen”. Legislation in this area commenced with The Defamation Act l961 and this was updated by The Defamation Act 2009 which abolished the terms of “libel” and “slander” and collaborated them under the one heading of “defamation”. The Act defines defamation as “publication by any means of a defamatory statement concerning a person to one or more persons” In order to establish defamation there must be a publication of the defamatory statement be it in writing, spoken words, visual images, sounds or gestures that are broadcast to the world at large by either television or radio or transmitted via the internet. The Statute of Limitations provides that a case for defamation must be taken within one year of the commission of the act of defamation. If faced with an allegation of defamation there are certain defences available, the most important of which is truth i.e. one may avoid liability if it can be shown that the defamatory statement in question is true in all material respects. There is a defence of absolute privilege which exists for members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and people involved in judicial proceedings such as judge, juror, witness etc. There is also the defence of honest opinion where a defendant must display that they believed in the truth of the opinion and that the opinion was founded on allegations on fact and that the opinion concerned a matter of public interest. In addition there is a defence of fair and reasonable publication or innocent publication where the person believed that the Statement was for the benefit of the public and that there was an air of reasonableness.
A final point to highlight is the re-introduction of the offence of blasphemy which is a criminal offence liable to a fine not exceeding €25,000.00 however the act does not lay down a defining test by which a Court can hand down its Judgment.
Actions for damages arising out of an alleged defamation usually commence in the Circuit Court however it is an expensive process and with the exception of newspapers publications or other media an action for damages against a private citizen, whilst resulting in an award of damages may be difficult to collect.
O’Hara Solicitors, Cross Street, Athenry, County Galway
Telephone 091 844045