Garda boss undertakes not to access information on newspaper editor’s phone
Garda Commissioner gives undertaking but phone of journalist who recorded Strokestown incident will be retained
Emmett Corcoran, editor of the Democrat newspaper, pictured leaving the Four Courts on Friday. Photograph: Collins Courts
The Garda Commissioner has undertaken not to examine or otherwise attempt to access information on the phone of a newspaper editor as part of an investigation into incidents at a repossessed house in Strokestown, Roscommon, the High Court was told on Friday.
The undertaking continues pending a full hearing of Emmett Corcoran’s action against the commissioner and the DPP over Thursday morning’s threatened search of his home to obtain the phone despite his asserting journalistic privilege over material on the phone.
Mr Corcoran is editor of the Democrat newspaper which is based in Strokestown and circulates in Roscommon, Leitrim and Longford.
On Thursday, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted him an interim injunction, returnable to Friday, preventing gardaí going through his phone records.
Mr Corcoran says he handed over the phone after gardaí threatened to search his Strokestown home, his grandparents’ home and his office, when they arrived on Thursday morning with a warrant issued by District Court Judge James Faughnan.
He had attended Roscommon Garda Station, at the invitation of gardaí, shortly after the repossession incident in Strokestown last December when a number of vehicles were set on fire.
Mr Corcoran was one of the first to arrive on the scene and filmed the fire but he refused to tell gardaí who tipped him off, citing protection of journalistic sources.
He says he handed over all the photographic material relating to the incident.
His solicitor, who accompanied him to the station, told gardaí any attempt to seize his phone would be met with a legal challenge.
When the matter returned before Mr Justice Noonan on Friday, Michael McDowell SC, for Mr Corcoran, said the matter was of “considerable gravity” to his client as a lot of his records were on the phone which, these days, can almost be regarded as one’s office.
Tony McGillicuddy BL, for the commissioner, said his client was prepared to undertake not to access the contents of the phone in relation to the investigation but would retain the phone in the meantime pending further order of the court.
Counsel said he hoped to put in a statement of opposition to Mr Corcoran’s case next week but there were some legal and factual issues to be assessed and he could not categorically say it would be ready by next week.
Oisín Clarke, for the DPP, said his side had only just received the papers and it was not clear whether the DPP will be involved.
Counsel said Mr Corcoran had raised an issue that the High Court has placed a stay on District Judge Faughnan, who issued the warrant, dealing with any further proceedings against one of two people charged in connection with the Strokestown incident. He is Martin O’Toole (56) from Irishtown, Claremorris, Co Mayo who was charged with trespass and burglary.
Mr Clarke said it was not clear from Mr Corcoran’s papers whether there was any link between this case and any possible breach of the stay granted in the O’Toole High Court challenge.
The court heard it may be possible to transfer data on Mr Corcoran’s confiscated phone to another one.
Mr McGillicuddy, for the commissioner, said that possibility could be looked at and any proposals his side had in that regard would be communicated to Mr Corcoran’s side.
Mr Justice Noonan said, in view of that, he would adjourn the matter for a week. He did not know if it would be possible for the case to be heard over the Easter vacation but, if the data transfer were to take place, that might take the urgency out of the matter. “I am not sure there is any reality to getting an early hearing date”, he said.