Inside the grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented events of 1982
THE GUBU DIARY: It was the time of Charles Haughey, phone-tapping, Malcolm Macarthur and political scandal. Jim Kirby, a Department of Justice civil servant, kept a diary during these momentous events. Now, 30 years on, he shares his unique insights into the scandals with GERALDINE KENNEDYand JOE JOYCEGUBU WAS THE ACRONYM coined by the late Conor Cruise O’Brien from Charles Haughey’s own words – grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented – to describe Haughey’s scandal-prone government in 1982 and his general style of leadership.
Haughey used the adjectives about the most shocking of the events of 30 years ago: the arrest of a murderer, Malcolm Macarthur, in the Dalkey apartment of his attorney general, Patrick Connolly.
And there were numerous other incidents: the so-called Dowra affair, when a case against the minister for justice’s garda brother-in-law, Thomas Nangle, was dropped after the RUC arrested the main witness at the request of the Garda Siochána; the tapping of two journalists’ phones to discover their sources; the attempt to have a local sergeant, Tom Tully, moved because he raided a pub in the minister’s constituency; and much more.
Jim Kirby was on hand as these events unfolded. As a senior Department of Justice official he had an insider’s view of Haughey’s style and the way he tried to manipulate the institutions of the State for his own ends.
CHARLES HAUGHEY IN government was a greater threat to the stability and security of the State than the IRA, according to Kirby, who headed the department’s security section at the height of the Troubles.
Kirby believes that Haughey’s style of leadership, bypassing many administrative norms, such as involving his ministers and heads of government departments, led to an extremely unhealthy situation in which he expected people in the public service to do his bidding. Those who didn’t were penalised.
“As taoiseach he thought he was monarch of all he surveyed,” Kirby says. “He controlled the police to a huge extent. He liked to contact middle-ranking civil servants all over the place, getting them to do things, sometimes without the knowledge of their superiors or ministers, as was borne out by the evidence given before the Moriarty tribunal. And if they weren’t prepared to do the things he wanted them to do they were effectively sidelined.
“You might say that he was simply cutting through the bureaucracy, but part of the reason the bureaucracy exists in the way that it does is to prevent people in power from behaving like he did.”
This tendency was most apparent during Haughey’s short-lived but tempestuous government in 1982, during which reporters’ phones were tapped, opponents were physically and verbally intimidated, Fianna Fáil politicians bugged each other’s conversations, and people in different walks of life feared Haughey’s anger, among them the country’s biggest bank, AIB, which told lies in public and private in order to protect him.
The concerns of his internal party and external critics at the time were not primarily with his finances – which destroyed his political reputation when eventually exposed by the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals – but with his method of exercising power and his readiness to ascribe any criticism or internal challenge, including the use of normal parliamentary procedures, as tantamount to treason. Both tribunals – and, indeed, the Arms Trial, in 1970 – illustrated his practices of using civil servants to do his bidding without giving them
Kirby was well placed to observe what was happening from within the Civil Service. Fearing the new administration’s hostility towards him, he took early retirement the year after Haughey returned to government in 1987, availing of the first scheme for reducing Civil Service numbers that Ray MacSharry introduced as finance minister.
His experiences of Haughey and his friends in power led him to join Fine Gael, and he worked for John Bruton in a paid capacity for some months after Bruton became Fine Gael leader, in 1990.
“We had a situation where policemen were regularly visiting Haughey in Government Buildings and his home in Kinsealy. Half the time the Department of Justice hadn’t a clue what was going on with the guards. At the time of Malcolm Macarthur’s arrest, for instance, there was a situation the following Saturday where the Garda commissioner and a couple of assistant commissioners and a chief superintendent all assembled in Kinsealy and spent two hours with him. The Department of Justice didn’t know anything at all about that.
“The upshot of it all was that the police ended up operating to some extent on their own bat – to the point where, when the government changed in late 1982, the new minister for justice, Michael Noonan, knew nothing at all about a meeting that was taking place in Dublin between the chief constable of the RUC, Jack Hermon, and his assistant chief constable Trevor Forbes, and the Garda commissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, and his assistant commissioner in charge of security, Joe Ainsworth.
“The department had no knowledge at all of this meeting. Nothing given to the minister of the day. It was very unusual, to say the least, for the chief constable of another jurisdiction to come here, and the minister, had he been asked about it, left in the situation where he’d have to say he knew nothing about it.”
In Kirby’s eyes one of the most extraordinary events of that turbulent year was a meeting Haughey called of senior civil servants and diplomats in July 1982, just after the end of the Falklands War, when relations with Britain were at a low ebb because of the government’s refusal to go along with EU sanctions against Argentina. The secretary of the Department of Justice, Andrew Ward, ignored the request to attend the meeting as a way, Kirby believes, of discreetly signalling his disapproval to Haughey of what was happening at the Department of Justice.
The meeting was addressed by Ainsworth. “It was an extraordinary meeting in which Ainsworth indicated that the law of the land was not going to be operated in relation to terrorists. Haughey ordered that no notes were to be taken, which was very unusual for a meeting like that. Indeed, on a number of occasions he directed one of the people present to stop writing when he appeared to be taking notes.
“The nub of it was that Haughey wasn’t going to operate the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act [passed by the previous Fine Gael-Labour government as a compromise to the extradition of IRA activists]. This was the law of the land, and this was a vital piece of legislation in dealing with terrorism – and, you know, it wasn’t going to happen. There were gasps around the place. I could see some of the others’ faces. We were all mesmerised.
“Haughey launched into a massive attack on Dr Garret FitzGerald” – the Fine Gael and opposition leader – “which I thought was totally unprecedented and singularly inappropriate in the presence of civil servants from the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Taoiseach. He could have said that sort of thing to his own ministers but shouldn’t have said it in the presence of civil servants.
“Then Haughey went on to complain about the Argentinians, saying they had let us down, they could have sunk a British aircraft carrier. I thought it was a deliberate policy to worsen Anglo-Irish relations.”
In his cryptic personal diary, written immediately after the meeting, Kirby noted:
Re meeting itself, did not relish any truthful comments. Highly and improperly critical of Garret FitzGerald. Re the Falklands, Argentinians let us down, pity they didn’t take out one of the carriers.
A public statement issued after the meeting made no mention of the decision not to operate the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act, or of the Falklands War, but accused FitzGerald of acting as a British agent in criticising Haughey’s handling of Anglo-Irish relations. It also accused him of tabling a Dáil motion at the behest of British ministers.
The latter, it said, was “a matter of grave concern” and “an irresponsible intrusion into an area which is properly the responsibility of the Government”. The statement also claimed that FitzGerald’s activities were “a cause of concern not merely to the Irish Government but to the entire nationalist community in Ireland.”
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.”
On September 18th, 1982, Doherty’s office had asked Kirby to find out if a man called McGovern from Enniskillen was in the IRA. Kirby asked Tom Kelly, a chief superintendent in the Garda security and intelligence branch, who said that Enniskillen was a big place and asked if he could get a more precise address. Kirby says he asked Doherty for one. “He picked up the phone and called somebody, but he didn’t get through, and he told me that it was something like Marlbank or someplace else,” Kirby says.
The Garda asked the RUC about McGovern; the RUC said it had no record of anyone of that name being involved in the IRA. “For some reason, possibly pressure of work, I never went back to him [Doherty] about it. He never came back to me, I think, so I never bothered going back to him either. I didn’t know what it was all about anyway.
“I did not disclose to Ainsworth at any stage that Doherty had made an inquiry about McGovern. Ainsworth was frightfully agitated. All the way to Copenhagen he was discussing this court case in Dowra. I was kind of mesmerised at him and wondered why he was so agitated.
“We got to Copenhagen and Ainsworth indicated that he had to ring the commissioner urgently. I met him about an hour later. I gather he first tried to get in touch with the minister but he didn’t succeed. But he got in touch with the commissioner, and he told me that he told him to get Chief Supt Stephen Fanning to investigate the case. Steve is sound, he said, but I [Ainsworth] told the commissioner that he was not to ask any questions until I got back.”
Kirby’s diary entry for September 29th, 1982, recorded:
Directed Stephen Fanning be appointed but no approach to be made across the Border until his return.
It didn’t take Kirby long to put together the broad outline of what had happened. The Garda had asked the RUC to detain McGovern for the day to prevent him appearing in court, which it had done, against the objections of some members of the force involved in the arrest. The objections were overruled by a senior officer at RUC headquarters. “The same officer rang Garda headquarters at 8.30 the morning that McGovern was arrested and left a message to tell Ainsworth that that operation was successful,” Kirby says. “I can’t say for sure that it was McGovern’s arrest that he was referring to, but that was the message, and it seems like an extraordinary coincidence.”
THE FULL DETAILS of the Dowra affair emerged in newspaper reports over the following two months and were confirmed after the change of government in December 1982, when Michael Noonan, as the new minister for justice, asked for the Dowra file. Even then, attempts at cover-up continued.
“Noonan looked for the Dowra file when he came in, and the secretary [of the Department of Justice, Andrew Ward] rang the commissioner, looking for the Dowra file, and a sheaf of papers came down as the Dowra file. What the commissioner didn’t know was that we had a fairly lengthy memo that had been sent to the commissioner from the DPP expressing grave disquiet about the Garda investigation and suggesting a multitude of other questions that should be asked, but this wasn’t included in the papers that came down from the commissioner as the Dowra file.
“So the secretary and myself looked over what was supposed to be the Dowra file, and the secretary rang the commissioner again and said, ‘Sorry, Commissioner, when I rang you looking for the Dowra file I meant the complete Dowra file.’ What purported to be the complete Dowra file came down then, the rest of it, but the stuff that we knew was on the file still wasn’t included in what came down.
“The secretary told the commissioner in no uncertain terms that we know that what you are sending us down is not the complete Dowra file. ‘If I don’t have the complete Dowra file,’ he said, ‘there will be serious repercussions.’ And of course then we got down the file with the stuff from the DPP, who had asked for another Garda inquiry into what had happened.
“We were very fortunate to have the DPP’s document, because if not we could have been totally misled and the minister could have been totally misled. That was the level of chicanery that things had got to.” He adds: “The seriousness of the Dowra affair couldn’t be underplayed. Suppose, for instance, that McGovern had kicked up a row that morning he was arrested and some RUC man had shot him dead or something. Don’t forget that the RUC officers who arrested him didn’t know why they were arresting him. It was serious.
“It put us at a serious disadvantage in dealing with both the RUC and the British government. Shortly afterwards, when there were perceived problems about co-operation between the Garda and the RUC, a high-level British official said to me that he couldn’t understand what the problem was; after all, hadn’t our people asked that McGovern be arrested and hadn’t the RUC done it for us?”
Kirby believes that Doherty, who died in 2005, was totally unsuitable to be minister for justice and was in thrall to Haughey.
“On his last day in office before the change of government in 1982, Doherty called me in. There had been talk of an inquiry by the new coalition government into some of the things that had gone on, and he suggested to me that if we were called to give evidence we might meet up to discuss our strategy. I graciously declined his offer. His reply was, ‘That’s okay, Jim.’ I don’t think that Doherty met the secretary of the department very often, which was quite unusual. He dealt with assistant secretaries; he dealt with principal officers. He stayed totally clear of the secretary. He was used by Haughey, like so many others in the Civil Service and the guards. His moral compass was way off.
“I often shudder to think if Haughey had been re-elected in 1982, rather than the FitzGerald-Spring coalition, we would have been virtually a dictatorship. He controlled everything at that stage. He controlled the guards; he controlled the Departments of Justice, Defence and Foreign Affairs. However, there were many people in the Garda Síochána and the Civil Service who quietly stood up to the corrupt system that was emerging, and they have not got due credit for doing so.”
Jim Kirby, civil servant
Jim Kirby was born in 1935 and grew up in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in a politically neutral family. He was too young when he left school to take the Civil Service executive- officer exam. Instead he took and passed the clerical-officer exam, and he began at the Land Registry in 1954.
He moved, as an executive officer, to the aliens office at the Department of Justice in 1969 and was made a higher executive officer in 1971. The following year he became private secretary to Des O’Malley, Fianna Fáil’s minister for justice, and later continued in the role with the new Fine Gael minister, Patrick Cooney.
He was promoted to assistant principal officer in 1975 and moved to the security section of the department, taking it over as principal officer in 1981. He later moved to the department’s prisons section.
Kirby took early retirement in 1988. Starting in 1990, he worked for several months, on a paid basis, for Fine Gael leader John Bruton. Later he was an unpaid researcher for Gay Mitchell, the party’s justice spokesman. He is still involved with Fine Gael at constituency level.