Inside the grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented events of 1982
FitzGerald denied the accusations, but the political climate meant there was little public comment about the government’s effective challenge to the opposition’s right to table any parliamentary motion that it wished.
Haughey was careful most of the time to put some distance between himself and his more dubious actions, making clear to others what he wanted without giving specific instructions or leaving a paper trail.
He was also ready to use ministers in the same way. He did this in the case of his first free choice of justice minister, Sean Doherty. In his first government Haughey had conceded a right of veto to his main party rival, George Colley, over the justice and defence portfolios. Colley, like others in Fianna Fáil, had distrusted him in these areas ever since the Arms Trial, when Haughey was fired from the cabinet and subsequently acquitted by a jury of conspiring to import arms illegally for the IRA.
DOHERTY TOOK THE blame for tapping journalists’ phones for almost a decade after Peter Murtagh revealed it in this newspaper. Doherty later admitted that he had done so at the behest of Haughey, who wanted to identify their sources of political leaks.
Under the normal procedure for tapping phones, the Garda sent Kirby a subscriber’s name and phone number. If Kirby had any questions before submitting a warrant to tap a telephone to the minister for approval, he asked the gardaí why they had made the request.
In May 1982 he received the name and number of Bruce Arnold, the English-born parliamentary correspondent and political columnist with the Irish Independent. “I had absolutely no doubt that this was totally and completely and utterly unjustified,” says Kirby, who wrote a memo for Doherty recommending that the warrant be refused.
His diary entry for May 11th, 1982, summarised what happened.
Arnold request – spoke to [a named Garda inspector]. [The inspector] said you can use your own imagination. [He said he] got an instruction from Ainsworth to apply for it. It is something known only to himself. [He] tried in an indirect way to say to him that it was doubtful, suggested that the man might not sign it. Told don’t worry about him, he is aware of it and will sign it all right.
Spoke to Ainsworth, expressed doubts. Taken into his confidence. It has been suggested in conversation why should he not be covered, others are. Asked if any evidence of tie up [link with subversives]. None, but you know that politically he is against this country. Some of the stuff he writes must have some sources of information.
Be glad to know – perhaps the British Embassy is giving him info. Don’t worry about the man, he will sign it all right.
A subsequent diary entry for May 14th, 1982, continued the story.
Spoke to Minister. [He] asked if photocopies made of warrants. Told no. Asked about the procedure, considered it very loose, too many in the picture . . . Asked re final paragraph [of memo recommending rejection], how did I know that there was no evidence of contact between A and subversives.
Said I had been told so by Ainsworth. Then asked if I knew BA. Told him I did not, that I had seen him around Leinster House, and that he was an art critic and had an art gallery as far as I understood. Asked how long they were put on for. Told that there was a request to remove them but that the certificate was required every three months. Signed. Said could be revisited in three months. Shared my apprehensions.
Kirby adds: “I remember one of the things he asked me was how many people would know that a phone would be tapped. Well, I said you’d know and I’d know, and the secretary would know, and the secretary that types for me would know; the guards that applied for it, a number of them would know; and the people in the post office working on the tap, they’d know.
“He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and he says, ‘That’s too many people, isn’t it?’ I said it is. But it didn’t stop him from signing it. That was that.”
A couple of months later Kirby received another request for a tap on the phone of Ronald Langan, a name he had never come across in spite of his extensive knowledge of the people in whom the Garda security and intelligence branch was interested.
“I rang my Garda contact, and he said, ‘You better talk to the boss about that.’ So I rang Ainsworth and said, ‘What’s this all about?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘very high-powered IRA meetings are taking place in that house.’ I said, ‘Would you give me a few names?’ ‘Oh, I can’t,’ he said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, Joe, this is the first time I’ve ever been refused information of this nature, particularly when we’re talking on the secure phone.’ I said, ‘If you don’t give me the names I won’t be able to recommend it to the minister.’ He indicated that the minister was aware of the detailed reasons for the application.”
He wrote a memo for Doherty, pointing out that he had been refused information to support the warrant and could not recommend that the request be granted. Doherty approved it. About a month later another senior garda asked Kirby if he knew that there was a tap on the phone of Geraldine Kennedy, the Sunday Press political correspondent. He hadn’t seen any warrants for her phone and eventually figured out it was the Langan warrant: Langan was her sister’s partner and had previously occupied the house she was renting.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights about it,” Kirby says. “I even drove out to try and find the house at the Strawberry Beds [near Lucan] but couldn’t find it. I thought about telling you or telling Liam Cosgrave [the former Fine Gael leader to whom a tip-off about arms imports through Dublin Airport prompted the 1970 Arms Crisis]. But Mr Cosgrave had been out of politics a good while by then, and I did not think it would be fair to him to involve him.
“In the event I came to believe that somebody had tipped you [Kennedy] off anyway, that you knew about it.”
BY THE AUTUMN of 1982 potential scandals were piling up behind the scenes. Doherty was changing the normal procedures in the appointment of senior gardaí; he was trying to have a local sergeant, Tom Tully, in Roscommon moved because he had raided a local pub; Malcolm Macarthur, who was suspected in two murders, was arrested in the home of the then attorney general, Patrick Connolly; Kirby was getting indications that ministers were monitoring and bugging each other; and Haughey was facing a challenge to his leadership orchestrated by Charlie McCreevy.
As an indication of the atmosphere at that time, Kirby says he received a phone call from a chief superintendent in the Garda security section one Friday afternoon, who told him not to use his home phone that weekend. “If you need to make any calls go and use a public phone box, he said.”
The Dowra scandal was also breaking in Co Cavan. Garda Thomas Nangle, Doherty’s brother-in-law, was due to appear in court on charges of assaulting a Fermanagh man, Jimmy McGovern, in a local pub the previous Christmas. McGovern never turned up in court because he was arrested on the morning of the trial by the RUC, detained for the day and then released; the case against Nangle was dropped in the absence of the main prosecution witness.
Knowing nothing about this case, Kirby was accompanying Ainsworth to Copenhagen for an EU security meeting shortly afterwards. “He picked me up that morning [September 29th, 1982], on his way to the airport, and as soon as we got there he got his driver to get all the newspapers. I thought this was a bit unusual. One would do me. Plastered all over the papers was this Dowra thing. I started reading it, and at some stage or other the penny dropped.”