A party sued can ask a judge to dismiss a claim on the basis the statement is not reasonably capable of having a defamatory meaning. Other possible defences are:
‘Truth’ – Where the party sued proves the statement was true in all material respects.
‘Privilege’ – A statement made in any of the following circumstances has the protection of absolute privilege:
(a) statement made in either House of the Oireachtas by a TD or Senator,
(b) report of a statement by a TD or Senator produced by authority of either House,
(c) statement made in the European Parliament by an MEP,
(d) report of a statement by an MEP produced by authority of the European Parliament,
(e) statement made in a court judgment,
(f) statement made by a person performing a judicial function,
(g) statement made by a party, witness, lawyer or juror during judicial proceedings,
(h) statement made during and connected with proceedings involving limited functions of a judicial nature (such as the Employment Appeals Tribunal),
(i) fair and accurate report of public proceedings or a decision of any court in the Republic or Northern Ireland,
(j) fair and accurate report of certain family law proceedings,
(k) fair and accurate report of proceedings of courts including the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Court of First Instance of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice,
(l) statement made in proceedings before a committee appointed by either or both Houses of the Oireachtas,
(m) statement made in proceedings before a committee of the European Parliament,
(n) statement made during and connected with proceedings before a Tribunal of Inquiry,
(o) statement in a tribunal report,
(p) statement made during and connected with proceedings before a commission of investigation,
(q) statement in a commission report,
(r) statement made during a coroner’s inquest or in a decision or verdict at an inquest,
(s) statement made during an inquiry conducted by authority of the government, a minister, the Dáil or Seanad or a court,
(t) statement made during an inquiry in Northern Ireland on the authority of the British government, Northern assembly, minister or court,
(u) statement in a report of such inquiries,
(v) statement made during and connected with proceedings before an arbitral tribunal, or
(w) statement made in accordance with a court order in the Republic of Ireland.
‘Qualified Privilege’ – Where the party sued has a legal, moral or a social duty to communicate the information and the recipient has a similar duty to receive it. This defence is lost if the statement is malicious.
‘Consent’ – Where the injured party consented to publication.
‘Innocent publication’ – Where the defendant can show he took reasonable care in relation to the publication (the extent of his conduct and his previous record and character are taken into account) and he did not know, and had no reason to believe, that his actions would lead to defamation proceedings or he was not the author, editor or publisher of the statement e.g. (he may have been only the printer or distributor etc).
‘Honest Opinion’ – Honestly-held opinions are defendible as long as at the time of publication, the defendant believed in the truth of the opinion; the opinion was based on proven (or honestly believed) allegations of fact that were known to those to whom the statement was published, or the opinion was based on proven (or reasonably likely) allegations of fact which were privileged and the opinion related to a matter of public interest.
‘Fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest’ – Where the party sued can prove that a statement was (a) published in good faith and during (or for the purpose of) discussion of a subject of public interest for the public benefit (b) the extent of the publication was reasonably sufficient and (c) it was fair and reasonable to publish the statement.