Christine Newman is so far the only voice in the Irish media to recognise the significance of John White’s allegations at the Morris Tribunal this week. In a summing up of the week’s events in Saturday’s Irish Times, she notes:
The word “widespread” in connection with Garda corruption is likely to bring uneasiness and more questions about what has been going on in the gardai, not just in Donegal, but throughout the State.
The allegation that illegal bugging of Garda stations, of suspects and their solicitors, houses, apartments, cars and telephones by gardai was going on nationwide was made by Det Sgt John White this week.
His evidence brought a whole new dimension to the tribunal and has led to the setting up of a new mini-module on bugging to be heard at a future date.
For the first time, mention was made of two Cork gardai who, Det Sgt White claimed, would back him up in his allegation. They were willing to come to the tribunal, he said, and testify that bugging was used in a Co Cork Garda station in 1992 during a murder investigation.
The tribunal had initially received a statement from one of the gardai but informed him that it was outside its remit.
However, when Det Sgt White made the claim that the two gardai would testify, tribunal lawyer Paul McDermott said it was a matter of some significance. He said the generalised bugging issue was a much wider allegation. A matter which might have been deemed to be outside the tribunal’s remit was now relevant to Det Sgt White’s presentation of his case.
Det Sgt White’s claims began with an allegation that Letterkenny Garda station was bugged in 1996 and that interviews between solicitors and their clients were illegally taped by gardai. This was during the time that 12 people were arrested in connection with the death of cattle-dealer Richie Barron and he claimed an interview between Roisin McConnell and her solicitor was bugged.
However, Det Sgt White further alleged that bugging in Garda stations was widespread and this was known by senior officers. It was a well-kept secret in the force. Asked if the Letterkenny bugging was an isolated incident, he replied: “No, not by any means. It wasn’t just Garda stations, it was houses, cars and apartments and phones, and it was done totally illegally and the senior Garda authorities know.”
About 200 men and women nationwide knew exactly what went on with bugging in Garda stations, he claimed.
White’s allegations are hotly contested by senior officers such as Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, Chief Supt Austin McNally and Assistant Commissioner Dermot Jennings, and are in conflict with their evidence.
Moreover, it remains to be seen just how far the tribunal can explore the wider implications of the allegations.
But the fact is that the potential fallout from claims of widespread bugging is unlikely to go away.
There’s an elephant in the room here and no one can see it. Why is Newman the only hack to recognise it? I didn’t find any coverage of the allegations in any of Sunday’s paper. If someone did please leave a comment.