NUJ demands emergency NI Policing Board meeting on sinister surveillance of journalists  

  • 09 May 2024

The shocking revelations at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal hearing in London yesterday about the scale and nature of PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers in Northern Ireland have led to a demand for an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

At a meeting of the National Union of Journalists policy committee  on Thursday 9 May, it was agreed to seek a special meeting of the board to discuss the confirmation of a PSNI policy to operate ongoing and systematic surveillance operations against a group of “trouble maker” journalists.

The names of the journalists were redacted in documents released during a hearing into action taken by NUJ member Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.

It has emerged that police accessed phone bills of the unnamed journalists and cross-referenced them with police telephone numbers every six months. The purpose of the surveillance was to discover the reporters’ sources. The documents released by Durham Constabulary show that the operation started in 2007/08 after the PSNI suspected officers were leaking information to journalists, and was still in place at the end of 2017.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“We are seeking an emergency meeting with the Northern Ireland Policing Board so that we can convey the grave concern of our members at these outrageous infringements into the rights of journalists to work free from interference. The Chief  Constable must be called before the board and the PSNI needs to come clean on the scale and nature of the surveillance that has been taking place.

“The NUJ will provide appropriate advice and representation to members who may have been subject to surveillance. We strongly believe that journalists and lawyers should not be subject to surveillance and we share the widespread concern of lawyers, human rights activists and trade unions at these latest revelations. While members have access to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal we also feel strongly that our members should not have to go through a lengthly, costly and secretive process in order to vindicate their right to exercise their professional rights.”

Seamus Dooley, assistant general secretary told the committee:

“The full extend of the  investigation, the chronology and the precise methods used by the PSNI require urgent clarification.

“While we were aware of the surveillance against Detail editor Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey we have been shocked at the new information. Last week the surveillance of NUJ member Vincent Kearney, formerly of the BBC and now Northern Editor, RTE, was confirmed and now we have confirmation of even more widespread sinister practices. Ian McGuinness, Irish Organiser, attended yesterday’s hearing and like all present was gobsmacked by the revelations.”

Return to listing