herald

Friday 2 December 2016

GSOC's snooping on reporters 'odd, sinister' - Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar (Frank McGrath)
Health Minister Leo Varadkar (Frank McGrath)

A senior Government minister has described the accessing of the phone records of journalists by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) as "a little bit odd and sinister".

Health Minister Leo Varadkar made the comments as pressure mounts on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, to review legislation introduced last year which gave far-reaching snooping powers to the garda watchdog.

Mr Varadkar said that if the phone records of journalists had been accessed it represented "an infringement on freedoms".

His comments came amid controversy over the accessing by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) of the phone records of two journalists as part of an investigation into allegations of garda leaks to the media.

Records

Neither of the journalists was informed their records were being scrutinised.

One of the journalists involved, Conor Feehan, is the Herald's chief reporter.

Two gardai have been quizzed as part of the probe, which was sparked by a complaint to GSOC by a friend of the late model Katy French, who died of a drug overdose in December 2007.

Amnesty International yesterday backed calls for the legislation to be reviewed.

Amnesty executive director Colm O'Gorman said it was essential that the scrutiny of communications should be subject to judicial supervision.

Under laws enacted last year, GSOC was given garda-level powers to access the phone and email records of individuals.

The garda watchdog can access such records without first getting the clearance of a judge.

GSOC is refusing to comment on the issue and questions submitted by the Herald about the procedures the commission uses have gone unanswered.

Commenting on the controversy, Mr Varadkar said he would be speaking with Ms Fitzgerald about it in the coming days. "I do think there is something a little bit odd and sinister that any Government body would be monitoring the phones of journalists," he said.

"If that is the case [it] would represent an infringement on freedoms in my view."

Ms Fitzgerald's spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment as a High Court case is being taken to challenge data retention laws.

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