Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin rules out paying Phil Flanagan's libel costs

Phil Flanagan pictured in January at Belfast High Court. Picture by Alan Lewis

Sinn Féin has said the party won't be paying libel damages awarded against one of its former MLAs.

Earlier this year the courts ordered Phil Flanagan to pay former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott more than £50,000 damages for posting a defamatory tweet.

Mr Flanagan, who lost his Fermanagh-South Tyrone seat in last week's assembly election, says he does not have the funds to pay up.

He posted the tweet about Mr Elliott after the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP appeared on the BBC's Nolan Show in May 2014.

Although the tweet in question was taken down from Mr Flanagan's Twitter account within an hour of being posted, Mr Elliott argued that it remained accessible on the internet.

A judge ruled that Mr Flanagan's tweet was grossly defamatory and he was ordered to pay damages and apologise to Mr Elliott.

However, the former MLA has said he does not have the money - a situation exacerbated by his failure to get re-elected last week.

He has ruled out asking Sinn Féin.

"I think it would be unfair to ask Sinn Féin to cover the cost of the case because, at the end of the day, if it is £57,000, that would be like me asking Sinn Féin to cut two members of staff to cover for something daft I said about Tom Elliott on Twitter," Mr Flanagan told the BBC.

In the past, defamation damages have been paid out by the assembly, which had insurance to cover libel claims against MLAs. However, Mr Flanagan was not covered by the policy because he and Mr Elliott were MLAs at the time

He has since launched court action against insurer AIG, with the judge in that case ruling that no money is to be paid until the dispute over libel cover is resolved.

Sinn Féin told The Irish News that it would not be paying Mr Flanagan's damages.

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