Attempts have been made to “silence” the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), it has been claimed in the Dáil.
The Taoiseach is now examining legislation to protect sources in the wake of the Independent News and Media (INM) alleged data breach.
Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that given “recent revelations” his Government will have to consider legislation in this area to protect sources.
“Having independent news and media is a cornerstone of our democracy,” he said.
“It is, after all, the fourth estate. Journalists must be free to pursue stories that they want to pursue. Their sources should be protected and free from any unjust interference, external or internal. We need a plurality of voices in the media.
“We need to ensure these voices are not drowned out or silenced. We also need diversity in ownership.”
Responding to questions on the investigation into INM, which dominated Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach said that he would speak to Communications Minister Denis Naughten to look at new legislation in this area.
Mr Varadkar added that it was perhaps the time to “dust down” a number of reports which dealt with protecting journalists’ sources and “give consideration to legislation in this area”.
Describing the alleged data breach as “deeply alarming”, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the ODCE is “up against it” and suggested an attempt had been made to “silence” the office.
She told the Dáil the ODCE wants the courts to appoint inspectors to go into INM to conduct a full and proper investigation, which she said is “correct and understandable”.
“However, yesterday it emerged that Denis O’Brien is seeking a judicial review of the ODCE request to appoint such inspectors by accusing it of leaking information about the data breach,” said Ms McDonald.
“The ODCE has been investigating this story for a whole year without any leaks, but as soon as the affidavit arrived at INM premises, there were numerous leaks and INM even reported on details of the affidavit. It appears that an attempt is now being made to silence the ODCE.
“There is no doubt that the office is up against it because of a lack of resourcing and support on the Taoiseach’s watch and on the watch of previous governments.”
However, Mr Varadkar said the ODCE is well-resourced to tackle the increasingly complex breaches of company law stating that there have been no requests for additional staff other than those who are currently in the process of being recruited.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there is a “real and deep concern” about the alleged data breach at INM.
“We should all hold dear the protection of journalistic sources, editorial independence, the independence of journalists and their freedom from any undue interference,” said Mr Martin.
“Recent events serve as a wake-up call for the Oireachtas to consider legislation to deal with these issues on several fronts.”
The Social Democrats have called for the establishment of a Commission on the Future of the Media to ensure media independence and minimise the potential for over-concentration of media ownership with any one individual or company.
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