Background: Justice minister Seán Doherty initiated tapping of reporters
Application to tap Geraldine Kennedy’s phone was created under new category of ‘national security’
Charles Haughey resigned as taoiseach after an ultimatum from PD leader Des O’Malley.
The security correspondent of The Irish Times, Peter Murtagh, broke the story on December 18th, 1982, that the telephones of Bruce Arnold of the Irish Independent and Geraldine Kennedy, then political correspondent of the Sunday Tribune, were being tapped officially with warrants signed by the minister for justice, Seán Doherty.
That was just after the general election of November 1982. Charles Haughey had lost power and the Garret FitzGerald/Dick Spring coalition government had been formed. The new minister for justice, Michael Noonan, ordered an investigation.
The findings were announced on January 20th, 1983. Mr Noonan said warrants for telephone tapping were always initiated by the Garda Síochána for the purposes of the detection of serious crime or the security of the State. The reverse happened in the Arnold/Kennedy cases, he stated.
The warrants were initiated by Mr Doherty in discussions with the deputy Garda commissioner Joseph Ainsworth. The application for Mr Arnold’s warrant was made on May 10th, 1982, for security purposes. The departmental record indicated that he was “anti-national”. The application for Ms Kennedy’s warrant was made on July 28th, 1982, creating a new category of “national security”. It was done in the name of the previous male telephone subscriber. An officer in the Department of Justice expressed the view that both warrants, separately, should not be granted.
Mr Ainsworth said that Mr Doherty was concerned about “leaks” to the media from government departments and possibly from the cabinet.
The normal life of a warrant is three months. Mr Arnold’s ran from May 10th to July 12th, 1982. Ms Kennedy’s was renewed on October 27th, 1982, with a certificate that it was “yielding results”.
It was removed on November 16th, 1982, eight days before the general election. Mr Ainsworth sought a full set of all the transcripts on October 5th, 1982.
Following the publication of the transcripts of Ms Kennedy’s calls in the Sunday Independent a year or so later, she and Mr Arnold and his wife, Mavis, took a case to the High Court.
The High Court decided in Kennedy v Ireland on January 12th, 1987, that the telephone tapping was an invasion of their constitutional right to privacy and an abuse of power by the State. It awarded damages to the three plaintiffs.
The telephone tapping re-emerged in January 1992 on RTÉ’s television show Nighthawks, by which time Fianna Fail, still led by Mr Haughey, was back in power in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats led by Des O’Malley.
‘I was let down’
Mr Doherty, then cathaoirleach of the Seanad, told presenter Shay Healy a decision had been taken in cabinet in 1982 that the leaking of matters from cabinet must be stopped. “I, as minister for justice, had direct responsibility for doing that – I did that. I do feel that I was let down by the fact that people knew what I was doing,” he said.
Mr Doherty said on the 9pm RTÉ television news on January 21st, 1992: “I am confirming tonight that the taoiseach, Mr Haughey, was fully aware in 1982 that two journalists’ phones were being tapped and that he at no stage expressed a reservation about this action.”
Mr O’Malley met Mr Haughey two days later. The PDs had decided he would have to resign or they would leave government. Mr Haughey resigned as taoiseach on February 11th, 1992.