Using police as political spy agency could happen again
OPINION:IS THERE any point now in parsing the minutiae of what happened in 1982, when the Garda’s C3 security section misused its legal capacity to tap telephones at the instigation of Charles Haughey? The answer is yes, because it could happen again, writes CONOR BRADY
Former deputy commissioner TJ Ainsworth has taken issue (Opinion Analysis, October 10th) with the version of events put forward by former department of justice official Jim Kirby – reported on by Joe Joyce and Geraldine Kennedy (Weekend, October 6th).
The former deputy commissioner is now advanced in years. He served the State over a long career and he is entitled, of course, to seek to defend his record. But whatever about the details, it is important that we do not lose sight of the central facts of what happened.
Powers entrusted to the Garda Síochána were subverted and misused for tactical political purposes at the instigation of the taoiseach and the minister for justice.
Each of the journalists tapped was writing regularly about the divisions within Fianna Fáil over Haughey’s leadership. And many of Haughey’s critics, themselves elected representatives, were in regular contact with them. Gardaí rode roughshod over their constitutional right to privacy. The journalists’ capacity to discharge legitimate, confidential functions of news gathering – also guaranteed by the Constitution – was undermined.
Former deputy commissioner Ainsworth has long protested his innocence of any wrongdoing. As he recalled in his article this week, he set out an extensive justification of his actions when interviewed by the present writer in 1984. But it would be kind to describe at least some of what he now writes as tendentious.
For example, he implies that the so-called “Dowra affair” may have been the product of a British intelligence operation. This goes beyond the most vivid flights of the imagination.
A man due in court to give evidence in an assault case was improperly locked up by the RUC at the request of the Garda Síochána. The accused, himself a garda, was a brother-in-law of the minister for justice, Seán Doherty. This had about as much to do with British intelligence as with the Legion of Mary.
Some differences of recollection are only to be expected when two men, one a former senior civil servant, the other a former senior garda, seek to recall events of 30 years ago.
But there must be no doubt as to what this was about. The independence and integrity of the Garda Síochána were shockingly compromised. Senior officers were directed to take actions that had nothing to do with State security or crime and everything to do with Charles Haughey’s determination to outflank his critics and to hold on to political power.
There are disquieting aspects to Ainsworth’s defence. There is little sense in what he writes of any comprehension of the betrayal of public trust in the Garda Síochána that occurred. Even still, it appears, the former deputy commissioner does not seem willing to acknowledge the gravity of using police power and resources in the discharge of a purely political agenda.
The “Cabinet leaks” that led to the phone taps had no bearing upon national security or organised crime. There were no leaks about the struggle to contain paramilitary violence, about vital national interests, about threats to the State or matters fundamental to the economy.
Senior political figures around Charles Haughey were increasingly concerned about his unsuitability for office. Time and events vindicated the judgment of those who wished him gone. But Haughey wanted intelligence on his enemies – to know who was in contact with the political correspondents, what they were saying and what they intended to do.