Taoiseach insists Minister could not order garda phone tapping

Enda Kenny says allegations that phones were tapped for political purposes relate to the early 2000s

Taoiseach insists Minister could not order garda phone tapping

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The Taoiseach has insisted that allegations an election worker for a serving politician had his phone tapped by gardaí relate to a period in the early 2000s.

In the Dáil this afternoon Enda Kenny said the allegations are “very serious” but insisted that no minister has the power to single-handedly order any communication surveillance.

Responding to People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett in the Dáil this afternoon Mr Kenny said “I do not want anybody to be under any illusions, presumption or perception that this allegation is relevant to the current period.”

"My understanding is this allegation refers to a period back in the early 2000s,” he said. “There was a judge in place at that time. I will not any further comment on it.”

Political phone tapping

It follows a report in The Sunday Independent that a political party activist working for a constituency rival of a government minister had his mobile phone tapped by gardaí.

The paper reports that the bugging only stopped when a garda officer raised concerns the tapping had been ordered for “political purpose.”

The detective was reportedly transferred out of the forces intelligence department within weeks of raising his concerns about the alleged phone tap.

The paper also reports that the tap was cancelled two days after the detective spoke up.

Surveillence procedures

Speaking in the Dáil, the Taoiseach said phones can only be monitored under strict legal terms – with responsibility for authorising surveillance resting with a High Court judge.

“This is a very serious matter and the Minister for Justice of the day is not in a position to order that an individual be eavesdropped upon by telecommunications without having an official of the Department of Justice verify, in the first instance, that it complies with the act and that it is overseen by the High Court judge who has responsibility for this,” he said.

He insisted that Mr Justice Paul McDermott had attended both the Department of Justice and the headquarters of An Garda Síochána to examine surveillance procedures on October 27th of last year.

He said the judge had examined documents and records and spoken to officials responsible for the operation of the procedures before finding them to be in compliance with the law.

“All the evidence, files and computers were made available and all the questions were answered to the satisfaction of the judge,” said Mr Kenny.

Confidence in the commissioner

The issue was also raised by Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall – who again highlighted a range of other scandals currently facing the force.

“The scale of the maladministration, incompetence and potential corruption that have come to light is absolutely staggering,” she said.

“It is obvious why public confidence in the force is in tatters but it is shocking that those in authority seem completely oblivious to this.”

She said claims from the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald that opposition parties are attempting to ramp up pressure on her by calling for the commissioner’s resignation were “the height of arrogance.”

“It speaks to a Minister well aware that the removal of the previous Garda Commissioner set in motion the chain of events that led to the end of her predecessor's time in ministerial office,” she said. “It is looking very much as if history is going to repeat itself.”

She again called for the removal of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan from her position, insisting “what is desperately needed now is a change in culture that can come about only if the Commissioner and the senior management team are changed.”

Root and branch review

The Taoiseach said the government had approved the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, “with detailed terms of reference and a list of people who have great experience in the law, policing and other elements of society.”

He insisted that the commission will be able to provide “rolling reports” which the government will act upon “on a regular basis.”

“The terms of reference are good, detailed and exact and the commission will give a different impetus to the way the culture in the Garda evolves,” he said.

The commission is due to deliver its final report in September 2018.