Outrage at call for ban on photos of on-duty gardaí
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan sparked concern by supporting proposals to criminalise people who take pictures of on-duty gardaí.
He has backed the draconian step in the wake of a criminal investigation into threats made on social media against an officer over the weekend.
The garda worked at the eviction of housing protesters at North Frederick Street, Dublin, last Tuesday. He subsequently had his name and picture posted to Facebook.
Users of the site threatened the officer with "a bullet" and cable ties.
Mr Flanagan confirmed he was "favourably disposed" to a proposal from Garda representative associations to introduce legislation to make it an offence to photograph gardaí while undertaking their duties.
"I am. I acknowledge the fact that, of course, gardaí need to show identification," he told RTÉ Radio One yesterday. "I think that it's something that can be favourably looked at."
The National Union of Journalists strongly opposed any attempt to introduce such legislation.
"I was surprised and disappointed by the support of such a proposal by the minister," said the union's Irish secretary, Séamus Dooley.
"Mr Flanagan appears to be in favour of blindfolding the watchdog. It is vital all organs of the State operate in an open and transparent fashion."
The union condemned online abuse of any individual or group of workers - and Mr Dooley said more needs to be done by social media companies to monitor and tackle this scourge.
"I would support the call by John Jacob, general secretary, AGSI (Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors), for greater vigilance by multinational companies in monitoring and tackling online abuse," he added.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties also said it was seriously concerned about the minister's comments.
"While the criminal harassment or intimidation of gardaí is unacceptable, the general outlawing of photographing gardaí while on duty would be a grossly disproportionate response to the incidents that arise where technology is misused," it said. A blanket restriction on freedom of expression, which would "criminalise ordinary members of the public for sharing information about public events", was not the answer.
In follow-up comments, the minister said he believed transparency is vitally important and insisted he made no reference to "specific plans" about photography.
"I also greatly value the role of the media in providing objective reporting," he said.
He was concerned about "multiple mobile phones" in the faces of gardaí as they go about their policing duties.
"The uploading of images of gardaí undertaking their duties on social media and consequent threats and intimidation is totally unacceptable to me and that is why I am concerned."
Facebook said it works closely with gardaí and has a dedicated channel of communication with them. It said it removed content found to be in violation of bullying and credible threats policies.