Friday, June 29, 2007
Let us once again indulge that rare suspicion that there may indeed be a benign deity in this universe.
PR Puffmistress Monica Leech has been laughed out of the High Court after losing her libel action against the Irish Independent.
The woman, who was banking 650 euro of taxpayers money PER DAY while swanning around the planet on junkets in Martin Cullen's wake, now faces a 350,000 euro legal bill.
(Not that one need feel too sorry for her - her mammoth paycheque for sitting on the board of the Higher Education Authority and her chairmanship of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, as well as her ongoing PR work means that she's probably not shy of a few quid. Oh, and didn't she just take a quarter of a mill off RTE too?)
Leech's team had sought to argue that the offending article, published in December 2004, inferred that she had had adulterous sexual relations with the separated Minister, and that she had performed deeply intimate sexual favours for the minister for the sake of a well-paid and beneficial contract.
Leech, and I tread very carefully here because she is a notably litigious person, was the subject of a crass and coarse allegation, apparently made tongue-in-cheek by a caller to Joe Duffy's Liveline radio show.
It seems fairly obvious to me that few listeners would have for a minute thought that a random caller making such an accusation should be believed for even a second. He was clearly simply being crass and coarse.
RTE apologised immediately at the time, but it's not like you can do much about it when someone comes on the air. You assume they have a proper point to make and not crass insults to share. The Independent reported the incident the following day, mentioning the insult directed at Leech.
Monica's response has been to sue all around her. She sued RTE, despite the apology and the fact that the insult came from a caller. She banked a quarter of a million from that case a few weeks ago.
(Another victory for the TV licence payer. We're paying Bev Flynn's lawyers and Monica Leech's lawyers. No wonder 'Fair City' is so crap.)
Monica also sued the Independent for repeating the allegation in the context of an article about the phone-in incident. She lost that case yesterday. She's also suing at least another couple of media outlets over reporting the phone-in incident, and she's taken some further libel cases against Irish newspapers too, though it seems those relate to separate issues.
Monica is either extremely unfortunate when it comes to being libelled, the most libelled woman in Ireland, perhaps. Or else she is extremely litigious, with an eye to the quick bucks to be made by making yourself out to be a martyr of the Irish media.
It is worth remembering that Monica Leech got her contracts with Cullen in breach of the EU law that says such contracts should go out to tender. No one else was asked to tender for Monica's incredibly, spectacularly lucrative PR contracts.
Of course, all the departments that Cullen worked for have their own civil service press officers. He can also call upon the very able Fianna Fail press office at any time. Obviously those squadrons of spin doctors just weren't sufficient for his spinning needs.
Only Martin Cullen can explain the dire need for a phenomenally paid Monica Leech by his side, especially when on a goodly number of the trips abroad she accompanied him on, including that beautiful trip to romantic Langkawi, not a press release was issued nor a statement made to the media.
Certainly, the two government investigations into the conditions of her recruitment didn't really explain it.
Hopefully this welcome verdict will discourage people from treating libel actions like lottery tickets. Hopefully the Supreme Court, where Monica's headed next, will uphold this verdict, and hopefully her other libel cases against other Irish newspapers and publications will similarly be dismissed.
There is a need to overhaul Ireland's ancient libel laws, as Captain Moonlight cogently argues, which date from the early 1960s. Perhaps greater penalties for those who take frivolous and unsubstantiated libel actions should be incorporated into any future libel law.