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Father and son awarded €50,000 for website comment

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A BOHOLA man has been ordered to pay a father and son €25,000 each for defaming them in a comment on an Irish news website.
Andrew Malee of Carracastle, Bohola, defamed both Jonathan Clarke and his father, James, both of Woodstock, Ballindine, in remarks he made about the men in the comments section of thejournal.ie on October 17, 2015.
The article in question related to the jailing for 24 months of Michael Prendergast on October 16, 2015, for assault causing harm to Jonathan Clarke. The assault occurred during a GAA match between Davitts and Moy Davitts which resulted in Mr Clarke losing 95 percent of the sight in his left eye.
Mr Malee and Mr Prendergast are both members of the Moy Davitts GAA Club, located in Foxford. The comment was written at 10.48pm, while Mr Malee was in a pub. He claimed the comment was a ‘spur of the moment’ response to comments on the site, which had described Michael Prendergast as ‘a thug’.
Mr Malee’s comment posted read: “Jonathan, it is unfortunate you cannot see with one eye. However, you have blatantly lied about the events of that day and as a result a decent man and husband is now in a jail cell because you are bitter. What happened to you was not thuggery, it was a scuffle within a match and you and your father went out from day one to make him pay because you are both bitter losers. You will never get an apology from the club or anyone else. You are an absolute disgrace to the GAA…..”
Mr Malee removed the comment the following day of his own accord.
In making the order, Judge Francis Comerford said the comments were ‘ill-informed’ and ‘false’ and cast a terrible slur against those they were made against. He added that while there was a lot of loose talk in pubs, it was more serious to put such commentary in writing where tens of thousands of people could see it.
Mr Malee was sued for defamation by the two Clarkes, who stated that the words of the comment in their nature and meaning were understood to mean that they were liars, that they were engaged in a vendetta against Michael Prendergast, that they had unlawfully conspired against Mr Prendergast, and that they were motivated by spite and malevolence.
It was also claimed that they would be shunned by ‘right-thinking people and in particular, by people who were interested in the wellbeing and integrity of the GAA’.
While the case was set to be contested by Mr Malee, he withdrew his defence and admitted defaming the two plaintiffs at last week’s sitting of Castlebar Circuit Court.
A letter by Mr Malee was read out by his counsel, Mr Alan Ledwith, in which he expressed remorse for writing the comments, which had no factual basis whatsoever. He stated he wanted to do the right thing by the Clarkes and offered to compensate them by paying €15,000, which he admitted he would struggle to pay.
In his evidence, Jonathan Clarke said his girlfriend made him aware of Mr Malee’s comments on thejournal.ie. He said he also received a friend request from Mr Malee, which he said distressed him, as he did not know Mr Malee and presumed it was so he could abuse him further.
Mr Clarke claimed up to 38,000 people had seen the article and that 87 people had liked Mr Malee’s comment. He admitted he was worried that people believed the comment. He said his employers had phoned him to ask if there was any truth in Mr Malee’s comment, and he said that to be called ‘bitter’ and ‘a liar’ was extremely hurtful.
James Clarke, who works as a businessman selling tractors and farm machinery, told his counsel, Mr George Maguire, he was concerned how people would view him and his family following the comment on the website. When asked if he accepted Mr Malee’s apology, he said it was ‘a bit late’.
In his evidence, Mr Malee said that he had never before written a comment on a website and that he has not written one since. He said he wrote the comment after seeing a lot of negative comments about his friend [Prendergast].
The court heard that he became aware of the legal action taken by the plaintiffs after he was contacted by officials of Moy Davitts less than a week after the comment had been written. After getting legal advice, he issued a letter of apology through his solicitor on November 9, 2015, which was rejected by the plaintiffs.
When litigation was initiated, Mr Malee defended the comments, claiming they were fair and his honest opinion. Proceedings were also initiated by the plaintiffs against Moy Davitts GAA Club, the Mayo County Board and the GAA, but these were later withdrawn.
In his judgement, Judge Comerford said it was clear the comment caused substantial damage to the reputation of the plaintiffs. He added that the offer of €15,000 nowhere near approached the figure required in light of the damage caused.
Judge Comerford ordered that €25,000 in compensation be paid to each of the two plaintiffs, along with costs.

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