FG-Labour had suspicions about FF phone-tapping
THE Fine Gael-Labour Government feared in 1983 that some within Fianna Fail had engaged in widespread tapping of phones belonging to politicians and journalists.
The revelation came as it emerged then Justice Minister Michael Noonan was so concerned he offered to show the evidence of 'taps' ordered by his predecessor, Sean Doherty, to four former FF justice ministers, including Charles Haughey, Brian Lenihan, Des O'Malley and Gerry Collins.
Mr Noonan was briefed that while Mr Doherty, as justice minister, cited subversive contacts as the pretext for the 'taps', there was no evidence of that whatsoever in relation to the two journalists involved -- Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy.
Ireland's two most senior gardai said they felt "pressurised" into sanctioning the 'taps' for Mr Doherty, who had been a garda.
Transcripts of the calls intercepted indicated the material in question was largely of a political nature.
The 'taps' operated from May to November 1982 and ceased just one month after a certificate was filed that the interception of Ms Kennedy's phone was "yielding results".
Documents now reveal that garda commissioner Patrick McLaughlin had no knowledge his deputy commissioner Joe Ainsworth supplied a miniature tape recorder to FF's Ray MacSharry so he could tape a conversation with his FF Cabinet colleague, Martin O'Donoghue, in 1982.
In his resignation letter on January 20 1983, Commissioner McLaughlin said he had no involvement in "telephone tapping beyond signing the application for a postal warrant for Bruce Arnold".
"The gardai had no information at any time that either Bruce Arnold or Geraldine Kennedy had any connection with criminal or subversive activities or with persons so involved."
Commissioner McLaughlin also said the requests for the 'taps' did not originate from within the gardai.
Both senior gardai tendered their resignations within 24 hours of a private meeting with Mr Noonan. A special government meeting had taken place on January 19 to discuss the situation facing them. Commissioner McLaughlin said that his retirement followed the fact that "it is apparent that you and the government feel that I have not lived up adequately to my responsibilities . . . in the exercise of control relative to the matters discussed".
Following the meeting, Mr Noonan briefed his cabinet colleagues that: "According to all the evidence, including clear and categoric statements by the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Garda Siochana, these two 'taps' were not only instigated by Mr Doherty but were applied for by the gardai in circumstances in which they felt pressurised by Mr Doherty into doing so."
Mr Noonan ordered random checks of all Irish telephone exchanges to determine if any further 'taps' were ongoing.
More than 50,000 lines were checked with a 100pc line check in sensitive areas, amounting to 8pc of all Irish telephone lines. "The checks . . . did not reveal any unauthorised interception of telephones," one department memo revealed.However, it emerged that 'taps' had previously been placed on the phone of journalist Vincent Browne.
The government also ruled out, on the advice of the attorney-general, Peter Sutherland, any exemption from prosecution of department technicians who had kept records of all phone 'taps' in return for their co-operation with any investigation or prosecution.
Bruce Arnold: Papers reveal Haughey at most dishonest -- P29