Jail threat for Irish journalist

An Irish journalist, Sunday Business Post crime correspondent Barry O’Kelly, is faced with imprisonment for refusing to reveal the sources of confidential documents.

O’Kelly appeared before a Government-instituted tribunal in Dublin and was asked to name his sources in relation to two tribunal-related articles published by his newspaper in October.

The tribunal is investigating allegations of corruption involving local authority planning procedures.

Tribunal lawyers said it was clear that O’Kelly and the Sunday Business Post were aware that the information he obtained was confidential, but, nonetheless, decided to publish it.

At an earlier hearing O’Kelly told the tribunal he had destroyed the documents on which he had based the stories sin order to protect his sources.

He said he was fully aware of the consequences of failing to give the information required by the tribunal. In the second of his two articles, based on a confidential witness statement, O’Kelly named three politicians alleged to have received sums of money improperly.

Presiding judge Alan Mahon emphasised that the failure of a journalist to reveal a source when legitimately asked to do so was a “matter of the utmost seriousness” given that before Irish courts there was “no such thing as sacrosanct journalist privilege”.

The judge acknowledged, however, that a journalist’s entitlement to divulge a source had “significantly widened” since the European Convention on Human Rights had come into effect in the Republic earlier this year.

The tribunal must now decide whether to refer the non cooperation of O’Kelly and his newspaper to the High Court, which has the power to make an order directing either or both to comply, failing which they could be found in contempt of court.

Irish NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley said the tribunal ruling had profound implications for journalists.

By Des Cryan in Dublin

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