Northern Ireland

Litigant in failed libel case is Michelle O'Neill's former Stormont adviser

Former Stormont special adviser Liam Lappin's libel claim was dismissed
Former Stormont special adviser Liam Lappin's libel claim was dismissed

The litigant in a failed defamation case against a Belfast-based newspaper is a former special adviser to Sinn Féin First Minister-designate Michelle O'Neill.

Liam Lappin, with an address in Drumcondra, Dublin, claimed he was defamed in an article published in March 2020, which contained a photograph of him and 13 others at a Sinn Féin Christmas party.

But the High Court in Dublin dismissed the case taken by the schoolteacher and Sinn Féin constituency organiser against the Sunday Life newspaper.

Armagh native Mr Lappin worked as a special adviser to Ms O'Neill when she was Stormont agriculture minister.

His case is one of a series of legal actions taken by Sinn Féin personnel against individuals and media organisations.

The party's Dublin Bay South TD Chris Andrews is currently suing the Irish Times and its political correspondent Harry McGee.

Earlier this month, a High Court judge in Belfast was critical of a libel action taken by Ms O'Neill against former DUP councillor John Carson. 

Master Evan Bell said the nature of the case, which he described as involving insults "heard in school playgrounds", meant bringing it to court was "not in the public interest".

Read more: McDonald says Sinn Fein politicians have right to sue media over complaints

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In this week's case, Mr Justice Charles Meenan rejected Mr Lappin’s claim that the article, either in its ordinary meaning or by innuendo, meant he was a murderer and an IRA member.

The judge said he did not think a reasonable reader would attach such meanings to the article.

The ruling followed an application from the newspaper’s owner, Mediahuis UK Limited, and the journalist who wrote the article, Suzanne Breen, for the striking out of defamation and injurious falsehood claims.

Lawyers for Mediahuis, whose publications include the Belfast Telegraph, stated in court the meaning Mr Lappin claimed could be inferred from the article "stretches credulity".

As part of the proceedings, Mr Lappin also sued journalist Ruth Dudley Edwards, who tweeted about the article. His claim against Ms Dudley Edwards was not the subject of the dismissal application.

A spokesperson for the SDLP said litigation from representatives and members of Sinn Féin "appears designed to create a chill factor in newsrooms across Ireland".

"A party that aspires to government should demonstrate its commitment to a free press," the spokesperson said.

"Everyone has the right to recourse through the courts but the attempts to ruin journalists for doing their jobs is a serious problem that must be addressed."