Committee member to seek another chance to quiz Simon Coveney

Senator Gerard Craughwell wants to ask more questions about phone hacking

Gerard Craughwell has written to Charlie Flanagan, signalling his intention to seek another opportunity to question Simon Coveney. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Gerard Craughwell has written to Charlie Flanagan, signalling his intention to seek another opportunity to question Simon Coveney. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A member of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has said he intends to seek another meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to quiz him about the hacking of his phone.

Mr Coveney’s practice of deleting some text messages emerged at last week’s committee meeting amid the controversy over the selection of former Minister Katherine Zappone for the job of UN special envoy on freedom of expression.

As questions were raised over why he deleted texts, Mr Coveney later outlined how his phone was “compromised” in 2020 and the hacking of his phone was investigated by Gardaí.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell focused on this issue in his questioning of Mr Coveney during his second appearance at the committee on Tuesday.

However, Mr Craughwell has now written to the chairman of the committee, Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan, signalling his intention to seek another opportunity to quiz Mr Coveney.

In the communication Mr Craughwell said: “I regret to say I believe that matters surrounding the hacking of Minister Coveney’s phone are far from explained.

“After today’s meeting I still don’t know if the phone was encrypted and if it was a breach of that encryption would spark a national crisis just think of the phone numbers national and international a Minister might have.”

He added: “Think of the text and WhatsApp messages they would have.”

Mr Craughwell added: “If the phone was not encrypted given the Minister’s dual portfolio in DFA and Defence why was it not?

“He is one of two ministers responsible for one of the State’s intelligence and security services. Having an unencrypted phone would be reckless,” Mr Craughwell claims.

Another question he raises is what steps have been taken to retrieve text messages that were deleted.

Mr Craughwell said he intends to seek another meeting with Mr Coveney when the committee meets in private next week and asks Mr Flanagan to put the request on the agenda.

He also wants cyber security experts from the Defence Forces to come before the committee.

At Tuesday’s meeting with Mr Coveney, Mr Craughwell asked if he had been issued with or requested an encrypted phone and if he accepted it would be “reckless behaviour in the extreme” if he is not using one.

Mr Coveney said the phone he uses was issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and he is “cautious” about its use because it was compromised when he was subject to a “phishing attack” via the Telegram messaging app.

He said officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence determined that the incident “fell into the realm of a cyberattack” and made appropriate notifications to the gardaí. The phone was handed over to the gardaí and the National Cyber Security Centre and he took advice from that agency on the incident.

Mr Coveney pointed out that German chancellor Angela Merkel previously had her phone hacked and said: “there are some who will try to hack people’s phones and access information. I am cautious as a result, which is why I do not hold onto data unnecessarily on my phone.”