Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books.
Art. 36 of the punishes blasphemy with a fine not exceeding €25,000. The Act defines blasphemy as “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The offender must have intentionally sought to cause such outrage.
There can be no liability for blasphemy if the offender can “prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” in the allegedly blasphemous content.
Statistics on Application
Ireland has a specific civil defamation law. The abolished defamation, seditious libel, and obscene libel as criminal offences. It also abolished the separate torts of libel and slander, and established only the single tort of defamation. It is not necessary to prove special damage to pursue a civil claim.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Irish law.
Under Art. 31, the plaintiff may be awarded both moral damages (“general damages”) and actual damages (“special damages).
General damages are to be awarded by the court with regard to the specific circumstances of the case. The court must take into account various considerations including the nature and gravity of the allegation, the extent of circulation, whether an apology had been offered by the defendant, and the importance to the plaintiff of his or her repuation in the eyes of the recipients of the defamatory statement.
The court may also award aggravated damages if the defendant “conducted his or her defence in a manner that aggravated the injury caused to the plaintiff’s reputation” (Art. 32, par.1).
Finally, punitive damages can also be awarded if it is proved that the defendant intentionally distributed the defamatory information to a thir party and knew the information was untrue or “was reckless as to whether it was true or untrue” (Art. 32, par. 2).
The Act does not specify any limits on any of these types of damages.
The Act (Art. 21) specifies that the court may use the following to distinguish between fact and opinion: a) whether the statement is capable of being proved true; b) the circumstances and the manner in which it was understood; b) the words used in the statement and the presence of a disclaimer
Truth: Truth is an explicit defence. The burden of proof lies with the defendant.
Truth is an explicit defence. The burden of proof lies with the defendant.
Reasonable publication: The Defamation Act contains a defence of qualified privilege, which allows for a defendant to prove that he or she had a duty (“legal, moral, or social duty”) or interest (“legal, moral, or social interest”) in communicating the statement in question. There is also a defence of fair and reasonable publication, applicable as long as the publication was in good faith, and “in the course of, or for the purpose of, the discussion of a subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit”. Finally, the Act offers a defence of innocent publication, applicable to defendants who were not the author, editor, or publisher of the defamatory material if these defendants took reasonable care and did not know or have reason to believe that the statement would “give rise to a cause of action in defamation.” The defence of innocent publication (§27(2) expressly applies to printers, distributors, or vendors.
Honest opinion (fair comment): Honest opinion is an explicit defence, as long as the defendant can prove that the opinion was honestly held, the opinion was based on allegations of fact (the fact being either specified in the statement or that the reader could reasonably be expected to know), and the opinion related to a matter of public interest.
Privileged reporting: There is a defence of absolute privilege, pertaining to statements made, among others, in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament), European Parliament, in court, government inquiries, inquests, and instances of a similar official nature.
Media Cases and Case Law
Recent examples of cases involving the media
In 2013, the Irish Daily Mail was ordered by a High Court jury to pay €150,000 in damages to billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien. The case related to a 2010 column (“Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti”) published in the Mail that, in O’Brien’s view, suggested that his participation in relief efforts following a major earthquake in Haiti was hypocritical and meant to distract from a recent official tax-evansion inquiry that had cast O’Brien in a negative light. The Mail pleaded honest opinion under the new 2009 Defamation Act. The jury that the column represented the honest opinion of the columnist, Paul Drury, but found that the opinion was not sufficiently based in fact and did not concern a matter of public interest. In 2006, O’Brien had been a record €750,000 in damages from the Mirror Newspaper Group.
In 2013, News Group Newspaper, publisher of the Irish edition of the Sun tabloid, X Factor judge and boy band manager Louis Walsh €500,000 in libel damages. Both the Irish and English editions of the Sun had reported that Walsh was under investigation for sexually assaulting another man at a Dublin nightclub. However, the man who made the accusation was later sentenced to six months in prison for falsely accusing Walsh of the attack. According to Walsh’s lawyer, the Sun refused to give Walsh enough time to present conclusive proof to the paper that the allegation was not true before running the story. The publisher also agreed to pay €180,000 in legal costs.
Recent Legal Changes
Legal Sources and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Ireland was last updated in January 2015.