THE National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called for gardai to investigate the “blatant intimidation” of reporters and photographers by supporters of republican figure Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.
The call came after journalists were blocked from getting out of a car this morning as Murphy arrived to vote in at his local polling station in Hackballscross, Co Louth.
An associate of Murphy also recorded the registration numbers of the journalists and took photos of them on his phone.
The NUJ’s Irish secretary, Seamus Dooley, said gardai should investigate “the clear intimidation of photographers and journalists”.
A female garda ordered photographers from the Irish Independent and The Irish Times to leave the area, claiming they were interfering with the voting process.
The journalists, who had been located in a school carpark adjacent to the polling station, denied any interference with voters but complied with the garda’s request.
The two photographers, accompanied by one reporter, were subjected to intimidated behaviour by a number of individuals before and after Murphy, the alleged former chief of the Provisional IRA in south Armagh, arrived at the polling station this morning.
This included the use of a vehicle to “box in” one photographer and reporter so they were unable to move their car.
One individual leaned against the door of the car so a photographer could not get out.
After stepping away from the door, the same person warned the photographers present against taking photographs.
He then proceeded to use his phone to take photographs of the journalists, their cars and the registration plates.
When the reporter told this person they were only doing their job, he replied: “So am I. I’m just following orders.”
Murphy arrived in a black Toyota Avensis shortly after 8.30am and was accompanied by three men.
A number of individuals were on hand before he arrived to watch journalists who were waiting for Murphy ahead of his sentencing hearing at the Special Criminal Court.
After casting his vote Murphy would later travel to Dublin where he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for a €190,000 tax fraud.
Mr Dooley condemned the intimidation of the journalists and said gardai had been incorrect in ordering the journalists to leave.
“Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy is an acknowledged figure of public interest,” said Mr Dooley.
“The leader and deputy leader of Sinn Fein have acknowledged he is a public figure.
“Journalists had an absolute right to be there. I would reject any suggestion that they were interfering with the voting process.
“There was no interference. They were there to take a photograph after Mr Murphy had exercised his democratic right to vote.
“I think the attitude of the authorities at the polling station, including the guards, was surprising.
“If photographers taking photographs outside a polling station of a public figure after they vote interferes with the voting process, then that raises questions about the longstanding practice of taking photographs inside the polling station of public figures.”
Mr Dooley said it was also “deeply worrying that Murphy seems to have been accompanied by an unofficial security force who chose to protect him”.
He said: “There can only be one An Garda Siochana in the State and the administration of justice on election day of all days is a matter for the garda authorities.”
Speaking less than an hour after the incident, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "Journalists and photographers should be able to do their job without being impeded."
Independent News and Media said it would be issuing a formal complaint to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan regarding the treatment of the journalists and how they were prevented from doing their jobs.
In a statement, An Garda Síochána said the presiding officer had concerns about people congregating at the entrance to the polling station as this could potentially impede voters.
“Gardaí, at the request of the presiding officer, approached members of the media at the entrance and requested them to leave the area which they complied with immediately.
“Gardaí at the scene received no complaints from the media in relation to intimation or assault and any such complaints if received will be fully investigated.”
The statement said the force fully recognised the right of the media to carry out their function, but insisted the Electoral Act prohibited anyone from congregating in the vicinity of a polling station.