IS BEING CALLED “A RAT” DEFAMATORY?

News and Views 3

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 mins)

Artem Lobov failed in his Irish High Court attempt to have former friend and associate Conor McGregor desist from calling him “a rat” on social media.

Justice Simon, presiding, took the view that the epithet might be insulting but was not defamatory, i.e did not tend to injure Lobov’s social or business standing.

In order to come to that decision in law, Judge Simons would have to 1) decide that Lobov had no reputation to lose and/ or 2) that the term was accurate or 3) that the term, though insulting, did not undermine his reputation.

The judge took the third view and in doing so, displayed his ignorance of the cultural milieu in which the antagonists operate. Justice Simons thought about his own social circles and others with which he had some familiarity and could see the term only as insulting.

Conor McGregor congratulating Artem Lobov on the latter’s win in 2016 (Image sourced: Internet)

Justice Simons did not look at it from a working class or Irish Republican or even criminal fraternity social viewpoint, each of them different but all with a disdain (and horror even) for the informer, an brathadóir, the turncoat, tout, carey,1 snake, grass, canary, fink — and ‘rat’.

The judge might have approached the weight of such an accusation in other cultures than his own, had he reflected on what “sneak” or “squealer” might have meant in his schooldays, in whatever high-class and expensive school he attended. Or even among fellow-students in university.

Back on the other levels of society, there is a deep understanding of the gap between those in power and those over whom they exercise that power, along with a dislike for those who pass information about any of ‘us’ to ‘them’. Calling someone in that culture a ‘rat’ is indeed to defame them.

Indeed, in some circles, having it believed that someone is an informer to the authorities can be the cause of their receiving physical violence or even their death. Scapaticci, himself an informer in the Provisional IRA for the British secret services, killed many accused of being what he was.2

Donaldson, who admitted to also being an informer with a high-ranking position in the Provisional IRA, was assassinated, either in retaliation by Irish Republicans or to keep him quiet by some branch of the British secret services.3

The Four Courts complex, Dublin, seen from the south side of the river. (Image sourced: Internet)

The test of whether “a reasonable person” might consider the term ‘rat’ to be “defamatory” failed but only because Judge Simons imagined such “a reasonable person” to come from his own social background and not from the circles generally inhabited by McGregor and Lobov.

The judge was wrong in law but Artem did himself no favour by taking the case to law and, apart from losing, appealing to that which is a branch of the authorities.

End.

FOOTNOTES

SOURCES AND REFERENCES

Court dismisses ex-MMA fighter’s action against Conor McGregor (thejournal.ie)

What is another word for informer? | Informer Synonyms – WordHippo Thesaurus

Stakeknife scandal: Freddie Scappaticci avoids perjury charge | Northern Ireland | The Guardian

https://www.itv.com/news/utv/2022-03-11/the-25-words-which-defined-a-double-agent

Libel Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/defamation

1However many Irish people disapproved or otherwise of the assassination of Lord Cavendish and Assistant Secretary Burke in Dublin’s Phoenix Park by the Invincibles in 1882, Carey, who had been one of the assassination party but turned against his former comrades and exultantly gave evidence against them, earned a wide disgust across Irish society. For the conviction and execution of the Irish Republicans the informer was rewarded by the Crown with money, false identity and opportunity to settle in a further British colony. When O’Donnell killed him in 1883 while Carey was on his way to South Africa, the feeling that informer deserved it was widespread across Irish society. “Carey” became a slang word for “informer” in some areas of Dubli. Informers are regularly denounced in Irish political ballads across the centuries.

2See Sources and References.

3Ditto.

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