Blowins and Invasion of Privacy

A Dublin family, the Grays, who moved to Ballybunion, Co Kerry, under the Rural Resettlement Programme, discovered the hard way just how confidential garda (police) records can be (or not). After their nephew had been released from prison, having served a sentence for rape, they took him in for a while. The local gardaí leaked this to the local media, and the wonderful welcoming people of Kerry not only shunned the family, but the public mood turned so nastily against the family that they suffered mental distress, anxiety and personal injury, and eventually had to leave their rural idyll. The Irish Times website reports that, in the High Court today, the family succeeded in their action for invasion of privacy against the state.

As TJ McIntyre points out, this is not the first time that the gardai have leaked information to the press and been found to have invaded privacy as a result. This raises a great number of issues, not only about privacy, but also about freedom of expression, and journalists’ sources. According to RTE

Mr Justice John Quirke said he was satisfied that the unlawful and negligent disclosure of information by gardaí to a journalist had violated the family’s constitutional rights to privacy and the peaceful enjoyment of their home.

This, like NIB v RTE and the Leas Cross case before it, raises once again the question of the balance between the right to privacy on the one hand, and freedom of expression and media rights on the other (a question often already raised on this blog here and here). On the one hand, the freedom of expression issues were tangential, as the family sued the state for the garda leak, and not the newspapers who published it (as in NIB and Leas Cross – though this is the kind of thing which ought to come before the Press Council once it is up and running), but during the course of trial, a local journalist did refuse to reveal the source for his story. On the other, if the gardaí leaked confidential information, this may very well have disciplinary consequences internally within the fouce; and, as TJ speculates, the gardaí in doing so may even have committed a breach of the Data Protection Acts. However, how this amounted to a breach of the family’s rights, and in particular of their privacy rights, rather than their nephew’s, is another matter, and further comment will have to await the full text of the judgment.

In the meantime, as a Kerryman, I must say that what I deplore most was not so much the leak, reprehensible as it was, but the reaction to it, and in particular the visiting of the sins of the nephew upon his family. I am, to say the least, embarrassed that it happened; I feel terribly sorry for the Gray family; and I am delighted that the High Court was able to vindicate their rights.