That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the protection of journalists' sources.
This Bill, which was drafted by the Fianna Fáil party and submitted in my name, arises from issues which arose in the public media in the past two or three weeks regarding access to phone records of certain members of the journalistic community. It is important to point out that none of us is above the law, and this includes journalists. At the same time, it is of paramount importance that the independence and freedom of the press are respected and upheld.
The issue that came to fore, and that was brought to our attention, was the fact that the test that GSOC applied on whether to access the records of journalists - and, by extension, people with whom they had been in contact - was not clear. There is no transparency around it; nor is there an appeals process or oversight mechanism. To assuage these fears and concerns, and to protect the independence and freedom of the press and the independence of GSOC, we have drafted and tabled this Bill, which provides for judicial oversight of GSOC when it seeks to access the phone records of a journalist or broadcasting organisation. It allows the parties having their records accessed to make a submission to the High Court as part of the oversight process. GSOC would apply to the High Court for an authorisation to access phone records, and the journalist would have the opportunity to make a submission or objection as part of the process. The Bill has a double benefit in that it provides an opportunity for journalists to have their say, to protect their sources and to uphold their independence and the freedom of the press, while at the same time bolstering the independence of GSOC, which has a very important job to do and is charged under various legislation, primarily the Garda Síochána Act 2005, with doing a very important job on behalf of the citizens of the country.