Northern Ireland

Naomi Long urged to fund PSNI snooping inquiry

Call comes after Alliance minister fails to directly address spy concerns

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long
Justice minister Naomi Long (Liam McBurney/PA)

Amnesty International has called on justice minister Naomi Long to ensure necessary funding is in place for an inquiry into unlawful PSNI surveillance on journalists.

The call came after the Alliance leader failed to confirm if she has any concerns over revelations that the PSNI has been spying on journalists and members of the legal profession.

Policing Board bosses are set for a crunch meeting with PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher this week to discuss the growing controversy.

Details about the spying scandal have come to light through the London based Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is examining allegations that two investigative journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were subjected to unlawful surveillance.

A report into the PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers has identified up to 18 incidents involving members of the press and legal professio (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)
Concerns have been raised over PSNI spy claims (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

The IPT looks at complaints from people who believe they have been the victim of unlawful covert interference by public authorities.

It also recently emerged that other journalists, including RTÉ's Vincent Kearney, may also have been snooped on.

It emerged last week a PSNI “database” was used to trawl through journalists’ phone records every six months and that on one occasion Durham Constabulary asked the PSNI to run the names of eight unidentified reporters through their “intelligence system”.

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has also raised concerns after it emerged members of the legal profession may also have been spied on.

Law Society chief executive David Lavery recently wrote to Mr Boutcher and it is understood provided a copy of that correspondence to Ms Long.

When asked if the minister has any concerns about the recent revelations and what steps have been taken to address those raised, a spokesman for the Department of Justice did not respond directly.

“The issues raised relate specifically to operational policing decisions which are a matter for the chief constable of PSNI, who is accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board,” the spokesman said.

“It is important for the department to respect the operational independence of both organisations, and to afford the Policing Board the opportunity to consider these issues and reflect on the appropriate response, in the first instance.”

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan said it was right that the minister “should respect the operational independence of the police and the Policing Board”.

“However, when there is a crisis in confidence in policing, the justice minister needs to sit up, take notice and take whatever action she can to restore that public confidence, not just in policing but in effective police oversight,” he said.

“One thing which the minister can do is to assure the Policing Board that she will make the necessary funding available for it to hold an effective inquiry into police surveillance of journalists, lawyers and others, because it is clear that this scandal goes far beyond the case of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.”