The Irish Farmers’ Association (“IFA”) recently confirmed that it has settled the two sets of High Court proceedings instituted against it by its former general secretary, Pat Smith. As part of the settlement, the IFA is to make a payment of €1.9 million (in addition to legal costs) to Mr. Smith, €350,000 of which is in settlement of defamation proceedings and the remaining €1.55 million of which relates to Mr. Smith’s breach of contract claim.
Mr. Smith left his post at the IFA in November 2015, following a maelstrom of controversy which engulfed the IFA in relation to Mr. Smith’s salary. At the time of his departure, the IFA agreed to pay Mr. Smith a significant severance package amounting to 2 million. The IFA subsequently failed to honour the severance package agreement and made a number of statements to the media regarding Mr. Smith. Following the settlement, the IFA accepted that certain statements made by the organisation in relation to Mr. Smith at the time of his resignation were defamatory.
The publication of the terms of the settlement agreement between the IFA and Mr. Smith are a timely warning as to how costly it can be for organisations that find themselves embroiled in defamation proceedings. Due to the notoriously unpredictable nature of the quantum of awards made by juries, plaintiffs find themselves in a strong bargaining position when mediating defamation proceedings.