Intimidation of media at polling station 'affront to democracy'
26 February 2016
The National Union of Journalists has called on the Garda Siochána to investgate an incident in Co Louth this morning when journalists and photographers were intimidated while assembling to photograph Thomas “Slab” Murphy leaving a polling station.
Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley said intimidation of photographers and reporters by associates of Mr Murphy was “an affront to democracy”. He said:
“I understand that shortly after 9am a car with four occupants, including Mr Murphy, the front seat passenger, arrived at Shelagh National School, Hackballscross. Mr Murphy was not impeded from entering the building and there was no attempt by any media representative to prevent him from casting his vote in secret.
"As he entered the polling station, one of the occupants of the car approached a vehicle in which a photographer and reporter were sitting. The man did not identify himself but ordered the media representatives that they could not take photographers. I note that according to a report in The Irish Times the man told the journalists he was “just following orders”.
"We understand that as a garda and an election official subsequently spoke to the media the man proceeded to take photographs of the journalists and their cars.
"The NUJ deplores this attempt to intimidate journalists in the course of their work in reporting on a significant event.”
Mr Murphy is a figure of current public interest who was casting his vote prior to sentencing in the Special Criminal Court. He was sentenced today to 18 months imprisonment on tax offences. Séamus Dooley added:
“If Mr Murphy felt his rights were being violated he should have reported the matter to An Garda Siochána. The use of private handlers to try and control the media is unacceptable in a democracy.
"The attitude of the Gardai and the official is a matter of concern. There was no evidence of interference in the balloting process. It is worth noting that the media is regularly granted access to polling booths to photograph party leaders and other public figures casting their ballot. In contrast photographers assembled in a public space today were prevented from taking photographs.
"The individual taking photographs of the media was not prevented from doing so by the Gardai.The union has called for for a full investigation by An Garda Siochána into the behaviour of Mr Murphy’s associates.”