Ultimately, Haughey got tangled in his own web of deceit

THE most important piece of new information to come out of the RTÉ series on Haughey was the disclosure by former Deputy Commissioner Joe Ainsworth, head of the security division of the Garda Síochána, that Taoiseach Charles J Haughey summoned him to a meeting in the spring of 1982.

"He told me quite clearly that he was worried about leaks appearing in the paper," Ainsworth explained. "He asked me could I do anything about it to find out what was going on."

Shortly afterwards Justice Minister Seán Doherty asked Ainsworth if any journalists were ever tapped before. "Yes, there were," Ainsworth replied. Vincent Browne and Tim Pat Coogan had been tapped.

"The Independent is carrying an awful lot of stuff," Doherty complained. Ainsworth said Bruce Arnold was "the driving force there".

"Could we put a tap on him?" Doherty asked. Was Doherty giving a direction, or just asking a question? And why was Arnold selected? He had been privy to cabinet information from George Colley, but that was during Haughey's first government.

Colley had refused a cabinet position in 1982, because he was not being appointed Tánaiste. But Arnold did play a major role in the abortive heave led by Des O'Malley in February 1982.

Much was made in Monday's programme of a report in which Arnold listed members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party who were supposedly ready to vote against Haughey. His front-page story had a misleading banner headline across the top of the Irish Independent: "My score so far Haughey 20, O'Malley 46, Unknowns 15." This suggested that O'Malley had the support of a majority, but, in fact, only 36 people were listed as supporting him, which was five short of a majority. The Independent never corrected the misleading headline.

Arnold was not responsible for the headline, but the question must be asked if the headline was manipulated on the part of others in Middle Abbey Street to stampede the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party? Even if it were, it would not have justified tapping Arnold's phone.

Under guidelines set in April 1964 ironically by Charles Haughey as Justice Minister only the gardaí, "as a responsible institution", were supposed to initiate a phone tap, and then only in the case of criminal or subversive activity.

"The Minister for Justice cannot initiate this procedure," Haughey told the Dáil. "He can act only when a written request comes to him from a responsible authority and when he is satisfied and when his departmental advisers are satisfied that the information concerned can be obtain in no other way."

"The connivance of a whole group of people would have to be available before there could be the slightest possible abuse of power," Haughey concluded.

Some weeks after the tap was put on Arnold's phone, Geraldine Kennedy's phone was tapped. She had recently quoted an exchange between ministers in cabinet.

"We had information that large sums of money were on offer to sway politicians, that a foreign intelligence service was operating in the country and that information from within the cabinet was being made available in an unauthorised manner," Doherty later contended. "I myself was offered £50,000 in cash to help oust CJ Haughey as Taoiseach."

All the recent evidence about money being given to politicians, even back in the 1980s, certainly lends credence to Doherty's allegations.

But when Kennedy and Arnold later sued the State over the tapping, the High Court later ruled that taps were illegal because they infringed their constitutional rights.

Of course, if the State had won that case, it would have been particularly embarrassing for the existing Government, because it would have meant that the whole telephone-tapping saga had been a political bottle of smoke. It was significant that the State did not appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

In accordance with the Haughey guidelines of 1964, the gardaí were supposed to initiate a telephone tap. The case could be made that Justice Minister Seán Doherty essentially suggested to Ainsworth that Arnold and Kennedy should be tapped to find out who was leaking to them.

When the story broke, Doherty carried the can for Haughey by lying. He said Haughey knew nothing about the taps. Doherty then became disillusioned when Haughey showed little appreciation in return.

He essentially threw Doherty to the wolves. But Doherty got his revenge in 1992 by disclosing that Haughey knew about the taps from the beginning.

Ainsworth effectively confirmed this on Monday's programme. There was already circumstantial evidence that Doherty had informed Haughey. He gave him the transcript of a telephone conversation between Geraldine Kennedy and Charlie McCreevy before the latter's famous "no confidence motion" in October 1982, and Ciarán Haughey seemed to let the cat out of the bag on the night of that meeting by threatening Kennedy.

"I want to tell you one thing," he said to her as she was sitting with another journalist. "You'll be hearing from us."

Was this a threat, she asked. "You can take it as such," Ciarán replied.

Not realising that her phone was tapped at the time, she did not suspect that he might have been privy to her involvement as disclosed in the transcript that Doherty had given to his father. Why did Ciarán single her out that night? Haughey survived politically for a further decade largely because there was no proper, or impartial investigation of the tapping. He called for a judicial inquiry, but this was denied because Justice Minister Michael Noonan later explained such an inquiry would have exposed that a previous Fine Gael-Labour Government had tapped Tim Pat Coogan and Vincent Browne, which would have made a mockery of their criticism of Haughey for undermining democracy by tapping journalists.

Garret FitzGerald later told Browne that the tap was put on his telephone because he had previously been in contact with a particular subversive and the Government thought he might get back in contact with the man. Tapping on such speculative grounds violated the guidelines set by Haughey in 1964, but if he had the power to set such guidelines without Dáil approval, his successors had the power to change them.

Efforts to depict Haughey as an ogre would be undermined, if the public knew that the governments of Liam Cosgrave, Jack Lynch and Garret FitzGerald had already tapped journalists.

The issues involved were much too serious to leave any room for suspicion that they were being used to score political points. The two most senior gardaí were forced to resign in disgrace. Why just to facilitate the gutting of Haughey? This further undermined garda morale, and now we are witnessing the price of such political interference. The whole thing was a disaster from both an administrative and a political standpoint.

Haughey lied about his involvement and survived for a further decade. But, because of his earlier lying, he was not in a position later to defend his actions properly when Doherty came clean in 1992. Thus, Haughey had to step down as Taoiseach. He became ensnared in his own web of deceit.

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