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Sunday 24 June 2018

NUJ gravely concerned at attempts to force information from Sunday Independent journalist

Independent News and Media (INM) journalist Philip Ryan and solicitor Kieran Kelly arriving to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) public hearing Pic:Mark Condren
Independent News and Media (INM) journalist Philip Ryan and solicitor Kieran Kelly arriving to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) public hearing Pic:Mark Condren
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The National Union of Journalists have expressed grave concern at the attempt by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) to force Sunday Independent journalist Philip Ryan to produce confidential information ahead of a hearing into alleged planning irregularities.

Sipo wrote to the Sunday Independent political correspondent asking him to produce personal information ahead of a hearing into alleged planning irregularities.

The watchdog sought the information under the Ethics Act and warned the journalist that it would be an offence not to produce the material at a Sipo hearing which took place last week.

Mr Ryan was also instructed to attend an investigation hearing into the planning claims which took place in Sipo's office on Leeson Street in Dublin city centre last Monday. In the letter dated October 18, the journalist was warned it was an offence not to produce the information requested.

However, the request from Sipo was rejected by lawyers acting for Mr Ryan on the grounds it breached the journalist's right to protect his sources.

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, said the NUJ fully support Mr Ryan and the Sunday Independent and was strongly opposed to the concept of Sipo hearings being conducted in private.

“These are fundamental principles relating to the profession of journalism and we will support Philip and his lawyers in his stand,”  Séamus Dooley said.

In a letter to Sipo, Kieran Kelly, of Fanning Kelly Solicitors, said the journalist would be "reserving his position" in relation to the production of information and answering questions at a hearing.

"Mr Ryan will, if necessary, assert his right to protect the identification of his sources, whether such sources have been identified or otherwise as is his right under the law and as provided for under Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms," Mr Kelly said. Breaches of the standards in public office legislation can be penalised with fines of up to €25,000 and a maximum of three years in prison.

The Sipo investigation relates to allegations of planning irregularities first revealed by the Sunday Independent three years ago. Last Monday, the Commission opened a public hearing into the allegations of planning irregularities involving Mayo Co Council chief executive Peter Hynes, Fine Gael councillor Cyril Burke and Independent councillor Frank Durcan.

Séamus Dooley has also expressed concerns at threats issued against Independent Newspapers journalist Niall O’Connor.

Messages threatening O’Connor were sent to the reporter’s phone number after MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan posted it online.

“This is a worrying trend," said Dooley. "Mr Flanagan behaved in an irresponsible manner and the threats have stemmed from his actions. The request from Niall O’Connor was perfectly reasonable. Mr Flanagan could have ignored it or answered the question.”

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