Taoiseach says phone-tapping claims are ‘not current’

Allegations an activist was wire-tapped are ‘shocking’, Richard Boyd Barrett says

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald. File photograph: Houses of the Oireachtas/PA Wire

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald. File photograph: Houses of the Oireachtas/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that allegations of the phone-tapping of a political party activist relate to the early 2000s.

He was responding in the Dáil to People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who had raised media reports that “influence was exercised by a minister to tap the phone of a constituency team member of a sitting TD for political reasons”.

This was a “shocking allegation that has to be dealt with”, Mr Boyd Barrett said.

However, Mr Kenny said he had no evidence of bugging, “no evidence that a minister was phone-tapping for constituency reasons”.

“It is my understanding that this allegation refers to a person back in the early 2000s,” he said. “It’s not correct to leave a perception that this carry-on is of the current time.”

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said it was one of the most important issues that should be dealt with by the Dáil.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said that given the Taoiseach was the person “who receives the reports on phone tapping from the judge each year” he and the Tánaiste should explain the background and answer questions.

‘Disturbing’

“Thus far all we are getting is what has been in one newspaper. That is scandalous enough in itself. There are disturbing revelations. It is important that we know the full extent of this,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.

Reports in the Irish Independent claimed that the phone of an activist working for the rival of a then government minister was wire-tapped and that the detective who challenged the activity thought the tapping might have occurred with or without the minister’s knowledge.

The Irish Times understands much of the information arises from a legal action a former Garda member pursued over bullying.

As part his case he outlined what he believed to be historic bugging practices that were not legal. And it is understood he argued that when he raised some of the malpractices two decades ago he was isolated.

Some of the reporting has focused on the bugging of phones of political activists and opponents.

However, the incidents date back to the 1990s, when phone calls of terrorism suspects who were also involved in more mainstream politics were tapped.

“The security environment was completely different,” said one source.

Senior Garda sources are surprised reports about bugging practices as long ago as the mid-1990s are now receiving significant media coverage.

In the Dáil, Mr Kenny told Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall that in the reported case it “went before the courts not for bugging or eavesdropping but for personal injuries”.

Compliance report

He added that there was a designated judge to deal with “the question of listening to particular individuals”. He said such cases were small in number and he quoted a compliance report in November 2016 by Mr Justice Paul McDermott in which he said he was satisfied that having examined the records and documents produced by both gardaí and the Department of Justice that “the relevant State authorities are in compliance with the provisions of the above Acts as of the date of this report”.

Mr Kenny said the issue went back a long time and there were different ministers for justice.

He said phone bugging “is a very serious matter and the minister for justice of the day is not in a position to order than an individual be eavesdropped on using telecommunications without having an official of the department verify in the first instance it would comply with the Act and that it would be overseen by the High Court judge with responsibility for this matter”.

Ms Shortall raised the issue as well as the controversies about financial practices at Templemore Garda College and the release to Facebook of explicit Garda video footage of the detention of a distressed woman, who later took her own life.

Ms Shortall claimed that Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was only keeping Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in place so that she could keep her own position.