Saturday 20 July 2019

Bruce Arnold: This was the period that exposed Haughey at his most dishonest

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Bruce Arnold

The release of Cabinet papers this week, under the Thirty Year Rule, wll tell us little that we do not already know of the tapping of journalists' telephones carried out in 1982 under Charles Haughey's worst period in power.

Garret FitzGerald, head of the new incoming government that would last until 1987, knew of the 1982 phone tapping as did other members of Fine Gael. The tapping of journalists' phones had been published in the press after the election defeat of Haughey but while he was still in power.

He was in power from March to December 1982. His was an ill-supported, minority government and he was fearful of its collapse. He was also banal, corrupt, dishonest and inept.

He began that wretched year with an attempted breach of constitutional government, trying to get President Paddy Hillery to call on him to form a government without an election.

Haughey then 'persuaded' the three elected Workers' Party deputies to support him for Taoiseach. When the Leinster House bells calling for the vote sounded, these three gallant gentleman found the doors locked. They ran round to the press gallery, forced their way through the journalists who tried to stop them, and jumped down into the Dail chamber to register their favour for this compromised leader. In due course their loyalty to Haughey did die. Their withdrawal of support, in the late summer, led in part to the collapse of the government.

Three episodes in which Haughey railroaded his way through constitutional government procedure followed during 1982. All three indicate corruption enforced on police officers by politicians, notably Haughey and his Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty.

Perhaps the most serious of all was not the phone-tapping but 'the Dowra Affair'. This reflected badly on Sean Doherty but involved actions that would have been inconceivable under any other justice minister, indicating the spread of a corrupt virus in public life. Doherty's brother-in-law, Thomas Nangle, who was a guard, was due to appear in court on charges of assaulting a Fermanagh man, Jimmy McGovern, in a pub in Dowra, Co Cavan, the previous Christmas. Both men were due in court but McGovern was arrested by the RUC, detained for the day and then released. The RUC did not know why they were arresting this innocent man who had been assaulted.

The case filled the newspapers at the time, since it displayed the involvement of the police, north and south of the border, in a conspiracy to fix the trial, an unheard of circumstance. In the absence of this main prosecution witness the case collapsed. An attempt was made by Doherty to cover up involving the Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin, and his deputy, Joe Ainsworth. Even after the change of government, when Garret FitzGerald took power with Dick Spring, the Commissioner - who was subsequently forced to resign, mainly over the phone-tapping -- still did not deliver the full Dowra file to the new Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan.

It contained a crucial memorandum from the DPP calling for a garda inquiry and confirming the revelations of this particular and truly disgraceful conspiracy.

This was corruption at its most naked and arrogant and the inspiration for it came from Haughey.

During a significant part of 1982 Haughey instigated 'Government from Kinsealy'. It has now been publicly documented that Haughey shifted government decision-making to a 'secret' cabinet that met in Abbeville House. The Constitution is clear on the illegality of this. Government decisions are collectively taken, minuted and passed on. There was no authority for what Haughey did. There has been no research into it.

Phone tapping became the most notorious of illegal episodes, leading to a High Court case that created a new constitutional right to privacy.

The tapping of telephones was strictly regulated to surveillance of subversive action against the State, as well as those in communication with them and those involved in serious crime. Joe Ainsworth was the deputy commissioner of the guards in 1982. He was responsible for the phone taps. His deliberate transgression of the regulations led to his enforced removal from office. Imposing the taps was done on the instruction of the then Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty. He told the deputy commissioner to put on the taps "to discover leaks from government". As recently as October of last year Ainsworth confirmed that he followed Doherty's instructions to the letter thus breaching the legal and constitutional rights to privacy of myself, my wife, and my colleague, Geraldine Kennedy.

According to Ainsworth ('Irish Times', October 10, 2012) "The Arnold/ Kennedy taps were put in place to establish where leaks from the Cabinet and government departments were springing ... when it became clear that the phone taps were not going to assist in this regard, I terminated them."

The casual explanation from the former deputy commissioner indicates decisions and actions that intruded unnecessarily into the privacy of three people and wrongly violated their constitutional rights.

In the subsequent High Court judgment, Ainsworth's actions were condemned. The High Court judge stated "the infringement was carried out deliberately, consciously and without justification by the State".

It is a matter of regret provoking disbelief that Mr Ainsworth takes what I can only describe as a casual and largely irrelevant view of his momentous acts and responsibilities at the time, still defending himself to this day. In my own case it would have become clear within a week that there were no leaks in breach of the Official Secrets Act or in any other way. Yet Mr Ainsworth maintained the taps on my phone from May 10 to July 12, 1982. No taps were placed on the politicians with whom I was allegedly talking.

His actions as a law officer were clearly not carried out to protect my privacy but to provide the then head of government, Haughey, or Doherty, or both of them, with information of a political nature. Political responsibility identified by Doherty 10 years later as the responsibility of Haughey led to his downfall as Fianna Fail leader. The Cabinet papers, seen now in retrospect after many years, show a conscientious approach towards Geraldine Kennedy and myself. Despite considerable knowledge on Haughey's truly woeful performance over Dowra, abuse of constitutional rights and legal duties, the then Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, left to the new Fianna Fail opposition and to the media the ultimate response. Fianna Fail, in character, said nothing. The media, with some exceptions, ignored what had happened to their colleagues.

Irish Independent

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