Ex-SF minister may be libel case witness

Published Monday, 26 November 2012
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Sinn Féin MP and former minister Conor Murphy may be called as a witness in a libel action against the party and two of its representatives, it has emerged.

Ex-SF minister may be libel case witness
Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin MP and former Regional Development Minister. (© Pacemaker)

Jurors were told he could give evidence in defamation proceedings brought by a man he sacked as a director of Northern Ireland Water.

Declan Gormley, a former non-executive director of the government-owned body, is suing over the contents of press statements.

He was dismissed along with three other board members in 2010 by Mr Murphy, who was regional development minister at the time.

They were sacked following an investigation into how contracts were awarded.

Mr Gormley emphatically denies any wrong-doing.

He has issued libel proceedings against Sinn Féin, party MLA Cathal Boylan, and former Assemblyman Willie Clarke.

Lawyers for the defendants have argued there is no case to answer because the statements at the centre of the case have no defamatory meaning.

They are to claim qualified privilege as a defence.

A jury of six men and one woman were sworn in on Monday to hear the case at the High Court in Belfast.

Before the panel was selected presiding judge Mr Justice Gillen detailed who could not hear the case.

Those excluded from sitting on the jury included any members of Northern Ireland's five main political parties or who is closely related to a member.

Anyone with links to the Public Accounts Committee at Stormont, NI Water or the Department for Regional Development were also ruled out.

Mr Justice Gillen added that any association with potential witnesses would act as a further prohibition.

Those who may be called to give evidence include Mr Murphy and Sinn Féin's former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall Ó Donnghaile.

The panel appointed to the case was told of the importance of their role in the civil action.

Mr Justice Gillen said: "We jealously guard those cases where we do have juries."

The hearing, which is expected to last for five days, will get underway on Tuesday.

© UTV News
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