A High Court judge has ruled a newspaper group may inspect, subject to redaction of material that might identify informants, a Garda report prepared for the Minister for Justice seven years ago.
Times Newspapers Ltd sought to inspect the report in preparation of its defence to a defamation action brought against it by a former Garda over a Sunday Times article.
The Garda report, dated September 29th 2014, is entitled ‘A report for the Minister for Justice concerning the provision of confidential information by a serving member of the Garda to dissident republicans’.
The Garda Commissioner, a non-party in the defamation case, opposed inspection, claiming public interest privilege on grounds including preserving the force’s ability to effectively investigate crime and protect informants.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan was previously provided with the report for the purpose of balancing the interests of the Commissioner and the newspaper.
In a judgment on Friday, he said the required balance between the newspaper’s right to defend the defamation case and the public interest of the Garda force in being able to effectively investigate and prevent crime could be achieved by permitting the newspaper inspect the report in redacted form.
In making the redactions, the judge said he would proceed on the basis it must be generally accepted and known to the general public that An Garda Siochána receive information from informants but it is essential any information that could potentially lead to the identities of any such informants be redacted.
The defamation case is by former Garda Lynda Meegan over an article published in the Sunday Times on September 14th 2014 under the headline ‘Convicted bomb-maker was recipient of Garda intelligence’..
The court previously heard the article stated, inter alia: “A senior figure in the Continuity IRA (CIRA) has been identified by Special Branch as the person who received sensitive information from a former Garda about operations against dissident republicans.”
It said: “Joe Fee, a convicted bomb maker who lives in Monaghan, is the focus of an investigation into the disclosure of information likely to be of use to terrorists”.
It stated a “female officer is said to have sent texts to Fee and alerted him to the identities of dissidents arrested by gardai” and the texts were intercepted by a Garda agency responsible “for spying on dissidents”. It said the officer, “who cannot be named, resigned after being confronted and is the subject of a continuing criminal investigation”.
Public interest plea
Ms Meegan claims she is the former member of the Garda referred to in the article and the allegations are false and defamatory of her. She claims the article wrongly meant, inter alia, she had to resign as a Garda because she disclosed information likely to be of use to terrorists.
In her statement of claim, dated November 2014, she pleaded she “was involved (is involved) in a personal relationship with Mr Joseph Fee, referred to in the article as Joe Fee, a convicted bomb maker who lives in Monaghan”. She claimed, in the course of imprisonment, Mr Fee disassociated himself from paramilitary groups and, on release from prison, did not engage in political or dissident republican activity.
The Sunday Times denies defamation. It denies Ms Meegan is identifiable from the content of the article; denies the article means what she alleges and pleads fair and reasonable publication in the public interest.