Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Brendan Howlin has responded to the controversy over the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission unilaterally accessing details of journalists’ phone calls.

"There is a new issue that has now emerged and that is the maintenance and protection of the freedom of the press, which is really a fundamental pillar of our democracy," he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Howlin said the recent approach taken in the United Kingdom - in which each application to look at a journalist's phone records requires judicial oversight - was a good one.

"Any application [to monitor phones] under the current law is reviewed annually by a judge, but the Minister for Justice has indicated that we need to go further, probably, in relation to this particular issue.

"[Frances Fitzgerald] is reviewing it and I think the model that happens in Britain is not a bad one for us to look at and that is that each application for the looking at a journalist's telephone records would be subject to an individual analysis by an independent judge," added Mr Howlin.

It emerged during the week that the Garda Ombudsman used new powers given to it last year to access the phone records of two journalists as part of its investigation into information leaked about the death of model Katy French.

In a statement today, Ms Fitzgerald said: "Contrary to some reports, the legal powers to access telephone records do not derive from legislation which I introduced last year. Instead, they are governed by the provisions of the Communications (Retention of Data) Act, 2011.

"I am constrained in what I can say about the law in this area because a number of challenges to the act are before the courts at the moment.

"However, without commenting in any way on those legal cases or on investigations conducted by GSOC or An Garda Síochána, I recognise that issues of concern have been raised as to whether we have the right balance in our law between the important freedom of journalists to pursue legitimate matters of public interest and the basic rights of persons not to have information relating to them improperly disclosed.

"This raises complex issues of fundamental importance and I have reached the conclusion that there is a need for a review of law and practice in this area.

"This review will have regard to any relevant judicial findings and ensure our law in this area represents best international practice," added the statement.