Friday, January 20, 2023

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane is suing DUP Council member over Twitter allegations

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The defamation case against Marc Collins relates to postings made during the 2019 Westminster election campaign.

Senior judges today upheld Mr Finucane’s appeal against an earlier preliminary ruling on the importance claimed in defense of his lawsuit.

The proceedings relate to a tweet published in November 2019 amid media coverage of banners attacking and making allegations against the Sinn Fein representative and members of his family.

At the time, Mr Finucane was running as the party’s candidate in the general election for North Belfast – a seat he later won.

The Court of Appeal heard a post on Mr Collins’ Twitter account claimed: “He supports and promotes the IRA, he is by no means innocent.”

In June last year, the DUP politician was suspended from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for eight months after an inquiry into Watchdog Standards found he had broken the code of conduct.

He now faces a High Court action seeking damages over the content of the tweet.

A complaint by Mr. Finucane’s lawyers alleged that there was libelous connotation that he not only supported and promoted the IRA but also condoned acts of terrorism committed by the organization.

Justifications and honest comments were raised, along with an argument over the connotation of the words.

At a previous hearing, a judge admitted an additional meaning that introduced Mr. Finucane’s affiliation with Sinn Fein as part of an amended defense of the lawsuit.

The MP’s lawyer questioned this development, claiming it was inadmissible and tantamount to an “absurd” claim that any representative or supporter of the party was also promoting the IRA.

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan ruled on the preliminary appeal, confirming that Mr Finucane’s membership of Sinn Fein may be raised as part of any defense of justification or honest comment.

However, she took the view that the defendant had been wrongly allowed to expressly refer to the party as the pleaded meaning of the tweet.

Notwithstanding the earlier court order, Dame Siobhan stated: “The applicant’s political identity is relevant to the defense of justification and honest comment, but should not have been included as important.

“Once we have determined the correct meaning, we will refer the remaining legal issues to another judge for decision, who can take the case to trial. “

The Chief Justice added: “We are not commenting on the overall merits of this case.”

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