Friday 26 April 2019

IRFU say claims made by former British intelligence officer in book involved 'extreme degrees of artistic licence'

Sean Hartnett claims that he was brought in to investigate the source of leaks after Ireland's exit from the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Sean Hartnett claims that he was brought in to investigate the source of leaks after Ireland's exit from the 2007 Rugby World Cup

Cormac Byrne

The IRFU has described claims by a former British military intelligence officer that he was employed to search for bugs inside the union's Dublin headquarters as 'fictionalised'.

A new book entitled Client Confidential: Spooks, Secrets and Counter-Espionage by Sean Hartnett, the pseudonym of a former army spy, claims to outline the fear within the IRFU that dressing room issues and plans to replace head coaches were being leaked to the media.

Cork-born Hartnett says he had joined a private industrial espionage business in Ireland at the time after moving from a counter-terrorism army unit in Northern Ireland.

He claims that he was brought in after Ireland's disastrous showing in the 2007 Rugby World Cup when they failed to advance from their Pool after defeat to Argentina.

He says his expertise was sought after the contents of a post-World Cup meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel were reported 'almost word-for-word' in the media. He came to the conclusion that the leak was most likely the result of a recording on a mobile phone.

Hartnett claims that when compiling his report he broke into the IRFU's Ballsbridge headquarters after taking an employee electronic pass card and returning via the underground car park. He says he accessed the office of IRFU CEO Phillip Browne and had access to his files.

“From there I moved to a room next door where player information, including salaries, was openly on display. I now knew how much Paul O’Connell was earning. As I walked around the building that morning, picking up information as I went, not one single person asked who I was or what I was doing," he wrote.

He says that after issuing his security report, he told IRFU board members that the next press leak would be investigated fully.

“Before this meeting began, I carried out a full sweep of this room … If anyone so much as turns on a mobile phone, I’ll know about it.”

He also claims that he briefed incoming Ireland head coach Declan Kidney: “Officially, the briefing was to inform them of dangers involving information security. Unofficially, it was to tell him that not all his enemies were outside the walls of the IRFU HQ.”

Responding to the claims made in the book, the IRFU said: "In 2008 the Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union, sanctioned the retention of RMI, a highly regarded and reputable risk assessment and security consultancy, to conduct a wide ranging risk assessment of the then newly occupied IRFU headquarter’s building , IT systems, hotel accommodation, meeting facilities being used by the Irish team and IRFU and our general approach to business confidentiality, in line with best business practises of the day.

"The IRFU continues to conduct such assessments across all of its business operations.

"It is apparent the author of ‘Client Confidential’ has fictionalised many elements in the account of the IRFU’s engagement with RMI and has exercised extreme degrees of artistic licence in his portrayal of the process undertaken. 

"For the record the IRFU has never retained the services of, or worked with, a ‘Seán Hartnett’."

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