Clarify Privacy Bill's limbo status, FG tells Ahern


FINE GAEL has called on new Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to clarify the “limbo” status of the Privacy Bill, as the Defamation Bill was introduced in the Dáil.

The party’s justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said it was important that the position of the privacy legislation be clarified before the Defamation Bill finished its passage through the Dáil.

“I do not believe the matter can remain uncertain or in limbo for too long,” he stressed. The Privacy Bill creates a new offence of violation of privacy with significant penalties.

Mr Ahern introduced the Defamation Bill, which has been through the Seanad and which significantly modernises existing legislation seeking balance between freedom of expression and of respect for an individual’s good name and reputation.

The Minister stressed that while the Government had decided to pursue the Defamation Bill “at this time”, the Privacy Bill “remains on the Seanad Order Paper, having been approved by the Cabinet”.

Mr Ahern commended the “recent decision of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman, which vindicated the right to privacy of a members of this House”. He said that “the good start that has been made by the press council augurs well for the future”.

He also expressed concern that “some publications have yet to subscribe to the Press Council of Ireland. While I realise these are early days, I urge all media organisations and publications to attain membership of the council for their own benefit as well as that of complainants.

“I encourage the early publication by the council of details of its membership to ensure full transparency,” he said. “Subscription to the press council and adherence to its code of practice by a publication will strengthen its entitlement to avail of the new statutory defence of reasonable publication on a matter of public interest in any court action.”

Mr Flanagan said that “much has been written about the insistence of some members of the Cabinet that a Privacy Bill be introduced in tandem with this Bill, when this matter was discussed in another arena in public. The new Minister for Justice is on record as saying that he was one of those who favoured the introduction of both Bills, while his immediate predecessor, now Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, said he would rather ascertain how the press council carried out its work and affairs before deciding on whether to proceed with the Privacy Bill.”

He asked that when the initial debate on the Defamation Bill concluded, would Mr Ahern “outline whether he shares the views of his predecessor or is he still of the view as were many of his . . . colleagues that the Privacy Bill is both necessary and desirable”?

Mr Flanagan added that “while we are not debating the Privacy Bill, suffice it to say that the restrictive nature of the Bill in its current form would give rise to concern for my party. I would share the views of former justice minister Brian Lenihan that we should give the new measures a chance before considering whether there is a need to proceed with the privacy legislation. After all we have the Press Council of Ireland and the Press Ombudsman. If we have faith in the Bill before us it is probably reasonable to give it a chance before proceeding with further legislation”.

Joanna Tuffy (Lab, Dublin Mid-West) said her party “supports the freedom of expression of the press, which is very important for a democratic society. At the same time we need to balance that need with responsible coverage by the press which should show respect for the dignity of the person”.

The debate continues.