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Minister of Justice must explain journalist surveillance to Dáil – Mac Lochlainn

18 January, 2016 - by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Equality, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, has today outlined his grave concerns regarding the power used by Garda authorities in surveillance of journalists and others. The Donegal TD said that a free press was a cornerstone of a liberal democracy and that the Minister for Justice must make a statement to the Dáil, explaining how long this surveillance has been in effect and the extent of the investigations.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn said:

“The reported monitoring of journalists’ phone records is a matter of grave concern. 

The Minister for Justice must make a statement to the Dáil, detailing how long this has been the case, how many journalists have been monitored, and what impact this had had on those under surveillance. Freedom of the press is widely regarded as a cornerstone of a liberal democracy.

“Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights offers protection to journalists in receipt of information from confidential sources.  As the European Court of Human Rights has pointed out,

Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result the vital public watchdog roles of the press may be undermined, and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information be adversely affected.

“The potential consequences of losing such protection being that misdeeds are not punished, that unfairness is not highlighted, that con-artists are not exposed and that corruption remains hidden.

“According to Privacy International, over 100 countries recognise the need for journalists to have a qualified right to protect the identity of their sources.

“Whilst we do understand the potential damage that the leaking of information by Gardaí to journalists can cause, it must be an independent Judge who decides whether or not a particular request for monitoring journalists, Gardaí, or indeed ordinary citizens, is both proportionate and in the public interest. I do acknowledge that not all leaks to the press serve the common good; some are simply stories to grab headlines and sell newspapers. The Chief Justice issued her own grave concerns on the issue in the past year. This system of intrusion and surveillance is not the answer however.

“Further, the power to monitor the communications between a TD and his or her constituents, or a solicitor and their client must also be subjected to judicial oversight and not based on internal procedures used by Gardaí.

“Sinn Féin recommends that  Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications (Messages) Act 1993, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 and the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, amongst other legislation be amended to  better serve the public and private interests in this state.” 

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