Frances Fitzgerald: 'no reason to believe' there is a special focus on journalists

There was “no reason to believe” that journalists are singled out for communication data requests by the gardaí or the Garda ombudsman, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said.

However, she declined to comment on how many requests had been made involving journalists saying it was an operational question for gardaí.

Speaking at the launch of a domestic violence strategy, Ms Fitzgerald said there was “no widespread snooping on private individuals” and that the roughly 8,000 requests per year was “relatively low internationally”.

Also questioned briefly at the event, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said requests for phone and internet records operated under “very robust standards” and rejected comments that too many resources were being deployed investigating journalists.

Ms Fitzgerald, who announced an independent review of the area on Tuesday, said it was very important to get the balance right, between the protection of journalistic sources and the investigation of crime.

Frances Fitzgerald: 'no reason to believe' there is a special focus on journalists

“Let’s be very clear there is no widespread snooping on private individuals, private citizens,” she said.

She said the Communications (Data Retention) Act 2011 empowered the gardaí to seek phone logs and records if they were investigating serious crime, national security, or a threat to someone’s life. The powers are also available to the Garda Ombudsman, the Defence Forces, and the Revenue Commissioners.

Department of Justice figures show there were 5,865 requests for landline and mobile phone data in 2014. Some 5,513 (94%) were made by gardaí, 246 by the Defence Forces, 91 by GSOC, and 15 by Revenue.

Historical figures show almost 62,000 requests for phone and internet data were made for the five years to 2012. Ms Fitzgerald said that looking at phone data alone there were on average about 8,000 requests by gardaí every year.

“That is not out of line,” she said. “For example in the UK you have 725,000 requests from their police there, so in terms of percentages in Ireland it is relatively low internationally.”

She said the review, conducted by retired chief justice John Murray, will “examine whether further safeguards are needed in relation to access to journalists’ phones”.

She said during Dáil debates some members were “very concerned about Garda leaks” because of their impact on victims. Asked how many data requests had been made involving journalists, she said: “There is no reason to believe that journalists are in any way selected out for particular attention.”

Pressed on the numbers, she said it was an “operational question” for the gardaí.

Commissioner O’Sullivan said gardaí operated “very robust safeguards” for data requests. Asked were too many resources going into investigating Garda leaks, she said: “I have certainly seen over recent days some suggestions that are there more resources being put into investigating leaks. That is simply untrue. There is no foundation for those comments.”

More on this topic

Gsoc probes garda’s claims of pub law abusesGsoc probes garda’s claims of pub law abuses

Parallel investigations by gardaí and GSOC into Dublin road fatality Parallel investigations by gardaí and GSOC into Dublin road fatality

GSOC investigated 49 whistleblower complaints last yearGSOC investigated 49 whistleblower complaints last year

GSOC examining circumstances surrounding death of man after Midland Regional Hospital incidentGSOC examining circumstances surrounding death of man after Midland Regional Hospital incident


Lifestyle

Cork teenager Jessie Griffin is launching a new comic-book series about her own life. She tells Donal O’Keeffe about her work as a comic artist, living with Asperger’s, and her life-changing time with the Cork Life CentrePicture perfect way of sharing Jessie’s story

Sorting out Cork people for agesAsk Audrey: The only way to improve air quality in Douglas is to move it upwind from Passage West

The Lighthouse is being hailed as one of the best — and strangest — films of the year. Its director tells Esther McCarthy about casting Robert Pattinson, and why he used 100-year-old lensesGoing against the grain: Robert Eggers talks about making his latest film The Lighthouse

It turns out 40 is no longer the new 30 – a new study says 47 is the age of peak unhappiness. The mid-life crisis is all too real, writes Antoinette Tyrrell.A midlife revolution: A new study says 47 is the age of peak unhappiness

More From The Irish Examiner