Sunday 20 August 2017

How our probe into claims of Garda phone tapping sparked debate in Dáil

Judge to decide on action after revelations that activists' conversations were spied on by State

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Serious allegations that innocent people had their phones tapped as a result of abuses within An Garda Síochána were brought to the attention of the Department of Justice in 2008, it has been revealed.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night signalled an independent investigation into claims that officers routinely bypassed protocols in order to listen in to private conversations.

Speaking in the Dáil, Ms Fitzgerald said it would "very plainly be a matter of concern" if abuses took place which resulted in phone calls between innocent parties being intercepted.

She went as far as to rule herself out as someone who, as justice minister, has the powers to influence the application of phone taps.

But the Fine Gael politician raised further questions after confirming that "political activists" may have had their phones bugged by gardaí if they were deemed to have supported an illegal organisation in the early 2000s.

"Of course many in this house will recall that at that time there were people who described themselves as political activists, who at that time were engaged in activities that were in support of illegal organisations," the Tánaiste said.

Ms Fitzgerald made the remarks during a special Dáil debate ordered following revelations last weekend by the Irish Independent and 'Sunday Independent' surrounding the application of phone taps.

The allegations are contained in court documents submitted by a decorated detective, who successfully sued the State after being "bullied" and "vilified" for raising his concerns about the practice.

Last night, five Opposition TDs, including Green Party leader and former cabinet minister Eamon Ryan, demanded a range of answers from the minister following our reports of abuses within the force.

Addressing the issue in detail for the first time, Ms Fitzgerald revealed:

The detective's claims were brought to the attention of the Department of Justice in 2008 before being referred to a High Court judge;

It was ruled at the time that no breaches of phone tapping legislation took place;

Newly appointed High Court Judge Marie Baker will now decide "what action she will take";

The Tánaiste told TDs that she has never tried to exert influence in the area of surveillance - but suggested it may have happened in the past.

Other deputies, including Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett and Aengus Ó Snodaigh, expressed their concern about the rules surrounding phone tapping.

Ms Daly said there needed to be an overhaul in the law in the area of surveillance.

"Our laws allow for wholesale covert surveillance without proper scrutiny or oversight," she said.

The Tánaiste insisted that there were "multi-layered checks and balances in the system" and that all applications for taps must be considered by a senior justice official before being submitted for approval by the minister of the day.

Irish Independent

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