Bugging claims widen inquiry

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.

Attack on Freedom of Information – Reaction

The following is an editorial from yesterday’s Irish Examiner. I think it’s worthwhile reproducing here because it is strong and to the point, unusual for a mostly conservative Irish media.

Could it be that there is a growing realisation of the damage being done to our democracy by corrupt and arrogant politicians?

Freedom of Information – Government failing to live up to pledges

THE insidious erosion of the public’s basic right to information is one of the more cynical faces of the current administration.
Motivated by a culture of secrecy that would not be out of place in the Orwellian world of Big Brother, this Government ranks as the least accountable ever to hold sway in Ireland.

The Coalition’s blatant disregard for basic principles of openness and transparency is reflected in the increasing exclusion of public bodies from the remit of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

As revealed in this newspaper yesterday, the latest example of its shoddy denial of people’s right to know involves the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) which until recently was open to FoI queries.

Inexplicably, the lid has been tightly clamped on its work, removing its investigative activities from the public gaze.

At a stroke, workers have been deprived the right of access to information about their accidents.

This means, for instance, that where documents relating to HSA investigations of workplace accidents are concerned, a worker seeking compensation for injury will in future be denied easy access to them.

Instead, the injured party faces the daunting prospect of having to go through a costly legal process in order to ascertain the relevant information.

Rightly or wrongly, a cynic could be forgiven for perceiving the hand of powerful elements with strong political associations behind this mysterious departure.

Rather than giving people greater access to what is going on behind the closed doors in the corridors of power, the shutters are coming down. Clearly, in the HSA case, the FoI process has been turned on its head.

The question is, who is being protected? Undoubtedly, the latest change militates against the rights of vulnerable individuals.
And, arguably, it is manifestly to the benefit of powerful factions with deep pockets.

Not before time, an Oireachtas committee will next month scrutinise the gradual strangling of the FoI process with a view to making recommendations to the Government about how the system should be improved.

But the committee members would be unwise to hold their breath, judging by the contemptuous attitude of faceless civil servants towards Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

When she contacted officials at the Department of Finance concerning the surreptitious HSA change, about which she had been kept in the dark, the Information Commissioner was told it was up to her to find out what was going on.

That speaks volumes about this Government’s arrogance towards the public.

Originally, when the FoI Act came into force in 1997, more than 100 bodies or sensitive divisions of Government departments were excluded from its remit. Since then, 50 more bodies and agencies have been brought into the exclusion zone.

An unflinching champion of people’s right to information, Emily O’Reilly has openly complained about the exclusion of from public scrutiny.

When greater restrictions and higher charges were attached to FoI queries, it was widely seen as a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the average person, and the media, to access information on decisions which influence people’s lives.

As predicted, there has since been a significant fall-off in the use of FoI channels. Not only is the culture of secrecy still operating, it is flourishing.

By any standard, the cynical denial of the public’s right to information makes a mockery of Coalition pledges to bring greater accountability and transparency to governance.

The growing exclusion of public bodies from the FoI spotlight is a matter of the gravest concern.

Clash of Titans

Another feature of the spat between Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea and Fine Gael deputy leader, Richard Bruton on last Monday’s Q & A was the embarrassed smiles of the audience and other panelists as these two “Dead Sheep’ attempted to maul each other. (Question 2)

At best, Richard Bruton was inept as he struggled to score points against Willie O’Dea, the Groucho Marx of Irish politics. Groucho, finding himself in the unusual position of actually dominating a political debate, completely lost the run of himself.

It took John (Headmaster) Bowman some time to calm Willie down and move on to the next question.

Anthony O'Sullivan on 5-7 Live

It took RTE a while to cop onto the Brian Rossiter story. I started posting about it on Friday June 24th, prompted by Vincent Browne. While the VB show is broadcast on RTE, it took the RTE news department nearly a full week to start covering the story. And when they did, it was not their Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds, but instead Political reporter David McCullagh. I would guess that has something to do with Reynolds wanting to keep his sources.

I think it started with a 6 o’clock news bulletin on RTE1 on June 30th, to report on McDowell setting up an ‘investigation’ into the incident.

Since then 5-7 Live have been covering the story, including an interview with Brian Rossiter’s father, and on Friday last, his friend Anthony O’Sullivan.

The interview with Anthony O’Sullivan by Philip Boucher-Hayes is something everyone should listen to. I should say that it is very emotional, Hayes ends up consoling Anthony on the death of his friend, and reminding him that Brian’s death was not his fault.