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.”