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The Chief cries foul


‘The Chief’ brings case to the Supreme Court

Aine Ryan

A CORRIB gas protester who was recently the subject of successful defamation proceedings taken by a former Mayo garda, has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Fisherman, Pat O’Donnell, known locally as ‘The Chief’, claimed in proceedings before the High Court that Circuit Court Judge Margaret Heneghan ‘could be perceived to be biased’ in her ruling, because she attended a County Mayo secondary school for a time in the 1970s with the claimant, retired Sergeant James Gill.  Mr Gill policed the Corrib protests for a number of years and sat on the monitoring committee.
However, High Court judge, Justice Michael Peart last month refused leave to take the ex-parte Judicial Review. The Judicial Review was applied for, on behalf of Mr O’Donnell, by Michael P O’Higgins SC and Leo Mulrooney JC, instructed by solicitor Alan Gannon.
Justice Peart told the court on January 23 that, in his view, there was not a perceived bias and that the case did not reach the threshold of arguablility. Moreover, he said he did not regard that the personal connections between the judge and the former garda were capable of amounting to objective bias when weighed against the judicial oath.
Counsel for Mr O’Donnell argued if his client had known that the judge and Mr Gill had attended the same school he would have applied for the judge to recuse herself from the case.
Documents submitted to Judge Peart stated that Judge Heneghan attended Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Gortnor Abbey from 1972 until 1977 and that Mr Gill attended the school to repeat his Leaving Certificate in the academic year 1976-1977. The documents also stated that both the judge and Mr Gill attended a school reunion in the Dolphin Hotel in Crossmolina in 1997.
On January 27, counsel for Mr O’Donnell lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court. When contacted by The Mayo News last night both  Mr O’Donnell and his solicitor,  Alan Gannon declined to comment on the matter.  

Defamation case
ON December 9 last, at Castlebar Circuit Civil Court, Judge Heneghan awarded €33,000 damages to the former garda, who policed the Corrib protest over a number of years. James Gill claimed that Mr O’Donnell accused him, within the earshot of other protesters and gardaí, of stealing diesel and smuggling tyres during a protest at Ballinaboy, the site of the Shell refinery, on November 3, 2006.
Mr O’Donnell denied the allegations, claiming he was referring to diesel for his boats that had been stolen from a pier in 1997 or 1998. He told the court he was annoyed that there were up to 200 gardaí policing the protest and ‘said something [to the gardaí] about working for Shell when you can’t police the community’.
His counsel, Leo Mulrooney, argued ‘there were significant discrepancies between what Mr Gill said and [what was heard on] the Garda videotape. Garda witnesses had corroborated the uttering of the offending words to the court.
In her ruling, Judge Heneghan said she was awarding part of the settlement as aggravated damages because of the manner in which the case was taken.
She said: “I am told all the plaintiff wanted was an apology but it was not forthcoming. I am satisfied that these words were spoken by Mr O’Donnell and were intended to mean that Mr Gill was dishonest.”
On the day of the Circuit Court judgment, Mr O’Donnell confirmed to The Mayo News he would appeal the ruling to the High Court.