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    Tuesday, 8 May 2007

    Freedom of expression in Ireland

    A little late, but at the end of March the Irish Supreme Court offered an important (3-2 majority) judgment concerning freedom of expression in the context of claims to confidentiality of material published / to be published by the Press. The Mahon Tribunal - a body established in 1997 to investigate planning corruption - had sought to challenge the refusal of the High Court to award a general permanent injunction against the publication of material deemed by the Tribunal to be confidential. The body has been mired in controversy and much-dogged by leaks (1,2). It was unsuccessful in its action (1,2,3).

    The majority judgment delivered by Fennelly J. included much comment on the centrality of freedom of speech - even irresponsible and offensive speech - in a democracy, and is worthy of a read on that basis alone. It may also cross-fertilise the equivalent debate in the UK. For example:

    "The media are not required to justify publication by reference to any public interest other than that of freedom of expression itself. They are free to publish material which is not in the public interest. I have no doubt that much of the material which appears in the news media serves no public interest whatever. I have equally no doubt that much of it is motivated, and perfectly permissibly so, by the pursuit of profit. Publication may indeed be prompted by less noble motives."

    "The right of freedom of expression extends the same protection to worthless, prurient and meretricious publication as it does to worthy, serious and socially valuable works. The undoubted fact that the news media frequently and implausibly invoke the public interest to cloak worthless and even offensive material does not affect the principle."

    Mahon v Post Publications [2007] IESC 15

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