THE garda commissioner may not be legally permitted to release the photographs of criminals to the press despite indicating that he would consider doing so, it has emerged.
Last Monday Fachtna Murphy said he was open to discussion on the matter of gardaí issuing photographs of criminals to the media.
He made his comments during a meeting with the Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), who asked if the force could supply photographs of criminals who are led into new court buildings through an underground entrance away from the reach of photographers.
However, a spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said that if An Garda Síochána did release photos of convicted criminals to the press, the individuals concerned could take legal actions at the European Court of Human Rights.
"There are potential data protection and privacy issues that would no doubt be considered by An Garda Síochána in any decision to supply images in its possession of convicted criminals, suspects and witnesses. This is a broad issue which the European Court of Human Rights has considered and found that a right to privacy existed," a spokesman for Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said in a statement to the Sunday Tribune.
The NNI, which represents 18 papers, requested the meeting with the garda commissioner to discuss issues that arose during the trial of Eamonn Lillis, who was convicted last month of the manslaughter of his wife Celine Cawley.
A witness for the prosecution, Jean Treacy, was shielded from the media when gardaí brought her to and from court in garda vehicles through an underground entrance to the new Criminal Courts of Justice in Parkgate Street, Dublin.
When Treacy, who admitted having an affair with Lillis, completed her evidence a photographer who tried to follow her in his car to take a photograph was blocked by gardaí. The development drew criticism from the media over the garda's unprecedented efforts to prevent a witness being photographed.
Murphy said the decision to shield Treacy was taken for "operational" reasons which he fully supported.
The purpose of shielding the witness was not to frustrate the media in taking her photograph, though he accepted that was the consequence. He did not envisage similar cases arising regularly.
Murphy acknowledged that he was open to discussion on the matter of releasing photos of convicted criminals to the press but advised that this was a complex issue involving other stakeholders also.
Following the meeting, the NNI said: "We look forward to working with the commissioner and other stakeholders to ensure that the media can continue to fulfill its established right of identifying those convicted of serious crimes against society."