Government parties show divergent views on spying issue

Coalition either unconcerned about practice in Ireland or unwilling to criticise the US

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have made significantly different noises about potential spying by US authorities in Ireland and Europe. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have made significantly different noises about potential spying by US authorities in Ireland and Europe. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 08:45

The belated disclosure by the Government that it has raised with the United States the issue of spying by the National Security Agency in Europe and in Ireland strongly suggests marked differences in the levels of concerns of both Government parties.

It is beyond dispute that the Coalition is collectively reluctant to shout or complain too loudly or make any probative inquiries as to whether the bugging and covert surveillance that has occurred in Germany, France and elsewhere has happened in Ireland.

It took a question from The Irish Times at the weekly Government briefing on yesterday to elicit the information that senior Irish officials had raised concerns earlier this summer about widespread spying by the US in Ireland and throughout the EU.

The first thing is that you have to distinguish between the levels of reluctance. It is partial on the part of the Labour Party and one hundred per cent total on the part of Fine Gael.

Last week Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave an extraordinary non answer when asked about it in Brussels.

It’s worth reading his reply in full:

“Have I raised that with the United States? No, I haven’t raised it with America. I haven’t. But I said yesterday, if the allegations were true that the private mobile phone of the German chancellor was being listened into, then I find that an appalling situation.

“The Chancellor herself has spoken to the American President about it. She has also made it very clear that she wants to move on here now to the future and both herself and President Hollande in making a declaration with the United States, I think, will build on that.

“So I think this is an issue, obviously has been in worldwide news, but she has been very clear that she wants to move on here.”

Kenny said he proceeded on the basis that his telephone was tapped but seemed to be unconcerned about it. It was evident from his reply that if the US was tapping his phone it wasn’t a matter of great concern for him, and he had no curiosity to find out.

At the same time, if the telephone of Angela Merkel was being tapped then that was an appalling situation.

The net message was. It’s happened but, sure, let’s move on.

I’m not trying to be facetious or be too Oliver Callanesque but when reading it back, I couldn’t help but think of that classic closing scene in Some Like it Hot where Jerry (dressed in drag as a woman) tries to gently break the truth (and break off the engagement) to the relentless suitor Osgood.

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