the Irish for rights

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.

6 Responses to “Blowins and Invasion of Privacy”

  1. Eoin says:

    Cian Ginty on Blurred Keys has some more background to the story; while Simon McGarr on Tuppenceworth, meditating on the award to the Gray family, has an interesting angle on the standards of reporting and culture of journalism in modern Ireland. In his view, the willingness of the gardaí to leak stories to the press undermines the administration of justice and does readers a disservice. Well said Simon, I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Eoin says:

    I’ve just been on the Marian Finucane show on RTE Radio1 arising out of this post. She pursued the point that the community should be entitled to know that those convicted of very serious crimes are living among them, and concentrated on the desirability in these circumstances of legislation such as Megan’s law in the US or the (very controversial) campaign led by the News of the World newspaper for similar legislation in the UK, called Sarah’s law. These provisions go much further than the existing sex offenders register (under the Sex Offenders Act, 2001), which the gardaí believe to be inadequate, by allowing or even requiring the police to inform the public of the whereabouts of serious (usually sex) offenders. My point was that, even if the case in favour of such legislation is strong, we don’t have it on the statute books yet. Indeed, what law we have points the other way. And even if we were to introduce such legislation, it would not justify the kind of campaign waged against the Gray family. Indeed, the reaction to the leak is exactly why we should think carefully before introducing an Irish Megan’s or Sarah’s law.

  3. Eoin says:

    I’ve just left a long post on another blog about this evening’s ultimately unenlightening debate about this case on Questions and Answers on RTE1 (which should appear here soon).

  4. […] all clear to me what legal wrong they committed against the Gray family in doing so. As I have said here already, how the leak amounted to a breach of the family’s privacy rights, rather than their nephew’s, […]

  5. […] updates following on from my posts (here and here) about a Dublin family who moved to Ballybunion but were forced out when the Gardaí […]

  6. […] ILRM 472; Gray v Minister for Justice [2007] 2 IR 654, [2007] IEHC 52 (17 January 2007) (discussed here, here, and here); Herrity v Associated Newspapers [2009] 1 IR 336, 347, [2008] IEHC 249 (18 July […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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