Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pressure mounts for an inquiry into 'rogue' phone taps

'Profoundly worrying' if gardaí being used for 'political purposes'

Garda management were warned that warrants for phone taps were being put in place where officers provided little or no documentation to support their justification. Photo: Stock picture
Garda management were warned that warrants for phone taps were being put in place where officers provided little or no documentation to support their justification. Photo: Stock picture

Cormac McQuinn, Alan O'Keeffe and Niall O'Connor

Political pressure is growing for an inquiry into the extent of "rogue" Garda phone tapping of innocent people and a political activist.

Senior politicians from both Labour and Fianna Fáil expressed deep concern about the revelations that followed a three-month investigation by this newspaper.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said the revelations are a "matter of huge concern" and called for a "full and speedy" investigation.

He said the allegations are a "terrible indictment of practices and procedures" within certain elements of the force.

Mr MacSharry, a member of the Dáil's powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said: "Consecutive scandals have created a cumulative decline in confidence and it must be dealt with immediately."

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the prospect of gardaí being used for politically motivated "rogue actions" is "profoundly worrying".

Mr Howlin said there must be "clarity" on the truth of what occurred and who can investigate the matter.

He expressed particular concern that a political activist had their phone tapped.

"I think it adds to the whole broad list of issues that - if it's true as I'm reading the papers like everybody else - shows an element of rogue actions being taken and if they were politically motivated."

He said "if people could utilise An Garda Síochána for political ends, it is profoundly worrying". Mr Howlin noted the several different inquiries into the Garda on the "myriad of concerns that people have in relation to policing".

"It's very hard to see how we are going to have the absolute truth on all these matters that the public demand," he said.

The remarks follow an Irish Independent investigation that revealed the phone tapping of innocent people. It highlighted how innocent members of the public had their phone conversations listened to without their knowledge. Garda management were warned that warrants for phone taps were being put in place where officers provided little or no documentation to support their justification.

When concerns were raised, the detective felt he was sidelined. He sued the authorities for his treatment and the case was settled out of court by the State in the last few weeks.

That was followed by further extraordinary details on how a political activist had their phone monitored.

The 'Sunday Independent' reported the bugging only stopped after a decorated detective raised concern that it may be serving "political purposes".

The wire tapping occurred on the phone of the political party activist who was working for a constituency rival of a powerful government minister.

The whistleblower was transferred to a different department within two weeks of flagging his fears the force was being used for "political purposes".

The issues pre-date Nóirín O'Sullivan's appointment as Garda Commissioner.

Read more - 'Profoundly worrying that gardai could be used for politically motivated rogue actions' - Brendan Howlin

Prominent journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold, both victims of a Garda phone tapping scandal in the 1980s, expressed surprise that similar concerns about the practice have arisen again decades later. Mr Arnold said that the latest revelations have "brought us back to an area that I thought we had finished with".

A Department of Justice spokesman insisted there are "very strong safeguards" to ensure the telecommunications interceptions system provided for by law is "operated properly". He said there are strict criteria about when tapping can be used and this occurs in "cases of serious crime or national security". Successive Designated Judges who oversee the system "have satisfied themselves that it is being operated in accordance with the strict legal requirements", he added.

Irish Independent

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