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'Pull Martin from garda watchdog'

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal

One of the journalists unlawfully arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in August 2018 wants the Taoiseach to remove the former officer responsible from the Policing Authority.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested over a breach of the Official Secrets Act by including a police watchdog document in the Emmy-nominated film No Stone Unturned. The documentary examined a loyalist massacre in Loughinisland in Co Down during the Troubles and exposed collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries after six Catholics were shot dead while watching football in a pub in the village in 1994.

Former PSNI acting deputy chief constable Stephen Martin, who has since been appointed to the State's independent police watchdog, instigated the investigation that led to the arrests. In his affidavit to the Judicial Review brought in Belfast by the journalist, and seen by this newspaper, Mr Martin admitted he had called in Durham Constabulary to investigate the men once he realised they had used the top-secret documents in the film.

The raid on their homes and offices, which the NUJ and Amnesty International described as an attack on press freedom, led to Northern Ireland's top judge Declan Morgan vindicating the journalists in May 2019, saying they had acted "lawfully". Last year the PSNI agreed to pay £875,000 (€1m) in compensation to Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey.

In April 2017, when Mr Martin met with Mr Birney, the journalist advised him that the RUC's chief suspects in the Loughinisland attack would be named in the film to be released later the same year.

"The meeting was critical. The Lord Chief Justice acknowledge in his judgment that we were acting responsibly as journalists by making the PSNI aware that we intended naming the suspects. We were providing the police with enough information to allow them to injunct the film, if they thought we were going to put lives at risk," said Mr Birney.

"But instead, the PSNI instigated a malicious investigation against us based on their assessment that, by breaching the UK's Official Secrets Act, we had put the lives of the suspects at risk.

"Ironically, he [Martin ] has now skipped across the Border to take up a position that holds the gardaí to account.

"Despite all the evidence still available against the suspects, after the film came out Stephen Martin decided to investigate Barry and myself," says Mr Birney.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne will meet the journalists tomorrow in Belfast. Mr Birney says, they will call on him to support a full, transparent investigation into the police operation that led to their arrests.

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