By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The marathon libel battle between former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and the Sunday Times has been settled out of court — less than four weeks before a new hearing was due to start in the High Court in London.
"Five and a half years is a long time," said the former taoiseach. "This case was about my reputation and my principles demanded that I pursue the case, especially as I was taoiseach at the time these articles appeared."
The legal battle had involved three major court hearings since the paper accused him of lying to the Dail and his colleagues in 1994.
The article at the center of the long-running row, headed "Good-bye Gombeen Man," was published in the British edition of the newspaper. A substantially different article was printed in the Irish edition.
No details of the settlement terms were disclosed. The legal costs of the row are estimated to be almost £2 million.
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The newspaper accepted Reynolds did not lie to the Dail and colleagues in the then Fianna Fail-Labor coalition.
"While the Sunday Times believes that the Dail and the coalition Labor party were not made aware of all relevant information, it accepts Mr. Reynolds’s assurance that he did not lie to them. We regret any distress or embarrassment caused. Mr. Reynolds accepts that the article was not published maliciously," a statement from the newspaper said.
The article dealt with events surrounding the extradition to Northern Ireland of pedophile priest Brendan Smyth and the role of then Attorney General Harry Whelehan. The coalition government later collapsed.
The retrial of the libel had been due to start on Oct. 2. Three ministers, Brian Cowen (Foreign Affairs), Noel Dempsey (Environment) and Micheal Woods (Education), were scheduled to be witnesses.
In the first trial in 1996, Reynolds won in the London High Court after a six-week hearing but was awarded only a penny in damages. It meant he lost out on the huge costs of the hearing.
The Court of Appeal subsequently said he should get a new trail and set aside the penny damages. The House of Lords then rejected an appeal by the Sunday Times on a point of law.
A second case taken by the Taoiseach against the newspaper has also been resolved. It involved an article written by Fergus Finlay, adviser to the former Labor leader Dick Spring.
Finlay claimed that some of the former taoiseach’s political actions at the time of the coalition collapse were "irredeemably corrupt."
The Sunday Times has accepted that Reynolds did not behave in a corrupt manner and withdraws any suggestion he did. The newspaper expresses regret for any hurt caused to Reynolds.