The boundaries of the legal protection given to gardaí to disclose information to the media is expected to play a key part in determining the course of a high-profile investigation into alleged leaks.
A garda was arrested yesterday morning in what was the culmination of the first phase of a top-level internal probe into the findings of the so-called Roma inquiry report, published last July.
The inquiry, conducted by the then ombudsman for children, Emily Logan, was set up by the Government to examine the Garda handling of the cases of two Roma children who were removed from their families by gardaí on suspicion that they were abducted.
The report made a number of critical findings on the disclosure of “sensitive information” to the media in relation to Child T — the 7-year-old Roma girl who was removed from her home in Tallaght on October 21, 2013.
It said the dissemination of the information, published in an article the following morning, was a “very serious infringement of Child T’s privacy and also that of her family”.
It said there were “striking similarities between the text, form, and content of the information found in the article published on the morning of October 22 and the only written report prepared within An Garda Síochána on October 21”.
Ms Logan said the level of detail in the article and its resemblance to the Garda report led the inquiry to believe that “on the balance of probabilities” the information came from within the force.
She concluded that the action “may have been the result of a breach of discipline and/or an offence”.
Then interim Garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan immediately launched an investigation, headed by a chief superintendent and a detective superintendent.
They interviewed gardaí involved in the case and examined some mobile phones and laptops. This investigation led to yesterday’s arrest.
A number of Garda sources expressed shock at the decision to make an arrest and expressed sympathy for the garda involved.
The garda was questioned on suspicion of committing an offence of unlawful disclosure under Section 62 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.
This act made it a criminal offence to disclose information “if the person knows the disclosure of that information is likely to have a harmful effect”.
This would include the release of personal information that “constitutes an unwarranted and serious infringement of a person’s right to privacy”.
While the legislation states the garda can only be guilty of the offence if he “knows” the disclosure is likely to have a harmful effect, it states that the person is “presumed, unless the contrary is proved” to know the disclosure would have a harmful effect.
The legislation outlines situations where disclosure is not illegal. These include where it is made in the course of, and in accordance with, the duties of that person’s office or employment or his or her duties; and where it is authorised by the Garda commissioner.
Following the arrest, investigating gardaí will analyse statements made during the interviews and update their investigation file.
They may forward a file to the DPP, who would decide if there is sufficient, or indeed any, evidence of an offence.
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