A grim year remembered


Official records released by the National Archives under the thirty year rule and dealing with subjects ranging from budgetary matters to the removal of a Garda Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner in 1983 are worryingly incomplete. The Department of Justice had neither the manpower nor the time to produce files dealing with the improper tapping of journalists’ telephones and subsequent Garda resignations. The Department of Finance offered no excuse concerning incomplete files. Such a cavalier attitude towards official documents is unacceptable.

Material from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Attorney General’s Office record the sequence of events as a new Fine Gael/Labour Party government forced the resignation of Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and Deputy Commissioner for Security Joseph Ainsworth because of assistance they provided to former Fianna Fail ministers in tapping the telephones of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold in 1982 and in supplying a tape recorder for improper purposes. No files on these shocking developments were released by the Department of Justice.

The records that have been made public are strangely arid and - apart from files dealing with Anglo-Irish affairs - they fail to provide backround depth for the complex issues that were shaping Irish politics. Corruption and the abuse of State power was widely reported in 1982, if not fully documented. When confirmation of the phone-tapping/tape recorder scandal broke and senior Garda Siochána officers resigned, former minister for justice Sean Doherty and minister for finance Ray McSharry were also sacrificed. But Charlie Haughey led on and survived successive “heaves” to dominate the party.

A new government under Garret FitzGerald was struggling to correct public finances that had been undermined by a give-away budget in 1977. Unemployment had reached 15 per cent and was rising rapidly; the economy was in recession; the top income tax rate stood at 60 per cent; there was massive emigration and a campaign of violence continued in Northern Ireland.

Faced by these challenges, a New Ireland Forum was established to discuss future political options in relation to Northern Ireland. The exercise ended in discord and political recriminations. While the State teetered on the brink of financial and social melt down, a considerable amount of Dail and government time was taken up by a Constitution ban on abortion. The law forbade abortion, but anti-abortion groups, backed by the Catholic Church, demanded a referendum that would prevent future change. Disagreement within government and between political parties intensified, agitating the public. A flawed wording was adopted. Its effects are still being felt.

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