Further to reports in The Guardian of several Dublin-based journalists set to allege that their phones were routinely monitored by gardai…
The question of journalists being put under surveillance was brought up by Independent TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe to Justice Minister Alan Shatter when he appeared before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on February 19.
Mr Flanagan mentioned a ‘prominent’ male journalist who told him that he believed he was under surveillance while Ms O’Keeffe made the point that, due to a legal loophole, a journalist here can be added to another person who is under lawful surveillance.
From the appearance:
Luke Ming Flanagan: “My final question is on the basis of a rather alarming meeting I held in my office with a prominent journalist approximately 17 months ago. It has been asked whether the Minister sanctioned surveillance of GSOC. Has he sanctioned the surveillance of any journalist, be it in his job as Minister for Justice and Equality or his other job as Minister for Defence? Has he put any politician under surveillance during that time? I was blown away by the information, but it is difficult to be blown away by anything one hears now. A prominent journalist stood in my office and told me that he believed the Garda Síochána was involved in dealing heroin, which was quite astonishing…”
Chairman Padraig MacLochlainn: “I cannot allow that question, as it is not related. I have given the Deputy a little latitude.”
Flanagan: “I will tell the Chairman why it is related. The journalist also suggested…”
Flanagan: “We will leave at that then.”
MacLochlainn: “Will you?”
Flanagan: “I will, indeed.”
MacLochlainn: “I gave the Deputy a fair degree of latitude concerning the surveillance. We will get a response.”
Flanagan: “The journalist also suggested – actually, he said “definitely” – he was under surveillance.”
MacLochlainn: “That is the Deputy’s question.”
Flanagan: “That is from where I was coming.”
MacLochlainn: “I have shown latitude.”
Deputy Alan Shatter: “Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I note that the Deputy had an alarming meeting with a journalist. Journalists can be very alarming on occasion for a whole range of reasons that I cannot always identify.”
Flanagan: “Will the Minister answer my question?”
Shatter: “I can assure the Deputy that I have no knowledge of any journalist being put under surveillance and have ever arranged for any journalist to be put under surveillance.”
Flanagan: “It was a legitimate question and the condescending reply was ludicrous.”
MacLochlainn: “The Minister has answered, “No.”
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: “I want to follow up Deputy Flanagan’s remark about journalists. I know that the Minister has said before that he has never bugged journalists and I completely accept that remark. I wonder has he asked Commissioner Callinan. There is a loophole that allows journalists who, which they may not be under lawful surveillance, may be added to another person who is under lawful surveillance. Let us say that I was under lawful surveillance then that person, because they have contact with me, can be added to that list. I wonder if the Minister has ever asked Commissioner Callinan about this aspect? The reason I raise this – it is relevant – is because a number of journalists have said to me that there has been inordinate concern in regard to this story and in regard to GSOC about journalists being bugged. I am not seeking to raise the matter in an hysterical fashion. Has the Minister raised that matter with Commissioner Callinan about names being added in a way that would then allow deniability of that surveillance?
Shatter: “I do not know. We are getting into such a weird area at this stage. I cannot account for people’s level of paranoia. I am not aware of any journalist being under surveillance. That is all I can tell the Senator. I am aware that we have a system in place where a High Court judge can exercise oversight in certain circumstances.
Shatter: “I cannot add any further, Chairman, to this. We have now gone way outside the issue that we are dealing with.”
MacLochlainn: “That is my job to adjudicate, with respect.”
Shatter: “We are now seemingly getting generally into the issue of surveillance. It is not normal or appropriate that the Minister for Justice and Equality, for a whole range of security reasons, enters into lengthy dialogue on surveillance issues. I gave the Senator that simple reply. No doubt we will have a headline tomorrow, “Minister for Justice refuses to deny that journalists under surveillance”.
O’Keeffe: “No. I am sorry I did not…”
Shatter: “I am unaware of any journalist under surveillance…”
MacLochlainn: “Is the Minister…”
O’Keeffe: “No, I asked the Minister a different question.”
Shatter: “…of an authorised nature by the Garda Síochána or any other body in the State. Of course if a journalist was engaged in criminality of some kind that gave rise to some issue I could not guarantee…”
O’Keeffe: “That was not my question.”
MacLochlainn: “I suggest that the Senator waits until the Minister is finished and then she can come back in.”
Shatter: “…that if a journalist wanted to rob a bank, or trade in drugs, would not, at some stage, be under surveillance. They would not be under surveillance because they were a journalist; they would be under surveillance for other reasons. I do not know of any journalists under surveillance.”
O’Keeffe: “I thank the Minister. I did not mean to suggest that. I was asking simply had he asked the Garda Commissioner if that capacity had been every utilised.
Shatter: “No, I did not.”
O’Keeffe: “I thank the Minister.”
Shatter: “I have had no conversations with the Garda Commissioner about journalists who may or may not be under surveillance.”
O’Keeffe: “That is fine.”
Read transcript in full here
Previously: Overheard In Dublin
Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland