McDowell’s gag would jail honest whistleblowers among the gardaí

GROWING up in the 1950s one often heard rantings from the pulpit about slave labour camps in atheistic Russia.

Stalin was the Antichrist. But now we find we had our own slave labour camp here in the form of the Magdalene Laundry, run by the Sisters of Our Lady Charity.

Those nuns took in 'fallen' women and gave them a home, worked them till they dropped and then, in many instances, buried them without even the dignity of the death certificate which is required by law.

Then they dug 155 of them up to make way for a development. The family of one person wanted her remains, so they handed her over and they burned the rest of them.

Sure those fallen women would have been a waste of space in a graveyard, wouldn't they? One thing is for sure, they never fell as far as those sanctimonious hypocrites in their habits who besmirched the name of Our Lady and despoiled the concept of charity by their unchristian behaviour.

There were undoubtedly good people in the order, but their sacrifices were sullied by their silence. Of course, so too has that of society in general, because society as a whole remained silent, too.

Nobody shouted stop. Our police force should have acted, but did they know? There was such a culture of silence and discipline within the force in those days that they would not have talked, because they would have been out of a job.

Our current Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, seems intent on re-establishing a culture of secrecy within the force. He has introduced draconian legislation with heavy penalties for any garda who gives out any information without authority.

Two of our biggest political scandals the Arms Crisis and the telephone tapping were exposed by garda leaks.

Jack Lynch had been quite content to cover up the arms crisis. He told his cabinet on May 1, 1970, that the matter was finished, that Haughey and Blaney had promised that it would not happen again, so that was the end of it. But then a garda sent an anonymous note to Liam Cosgrave, informing him that there had been a conspiracy involving Charlie Haughey, Neil Blaney and Jim Gibbons, among others to import arms for northern republicans. When Cosgrave informed Lynch of the note, the Taoiseach denied that Gibbons was involved but promptly demanded the cabinet resignations of Blaney and Haughey. They refused, so he had them dismissed, and Kevin Boland resigned in sympathy with them. The whole thing sparked off the biggest controversy since the foundation of the State.

If the garda had not leaked the story, would Lynch have covered up the whole thing? He would, because he was involved himself.

Haughey and Blaney were convenient scapegoats for what was really a much bigger conspiracy. It was not just a conspiracy to secretly arm northern republicans; it was a conspiracy to subvert our constitution.

The whole conspiracy originated with the late Captain James J Kelly, but strangely his reports remain classified. They were circulated to some members of the opposition, among them Garret FitzGerald, who confronted Captain Kelly a couple of years ago, live on RTÉ, by quoting the captain's report of August 23, 1969, suggesting "armed action of some sort" to end partition and adding that we should "accept that war is the continuation of politics by others means".

Some weeks later the scheme to provide arms was agreed at Bailieboro. They were supposed to be for defensive purposes, but Captain Kelly noted in his report of October 6, 1969, that there was really more to it.

"The defensive aspect of operations is genuinely stressed but there is a definite feeling that in the final analysis, the Defence Forces will have to come to the rescue." This amounted to a conspiracy to involve this country in war.

Peter Berry, the secretary of the Department of Justice, informed Lynch of Captain Kelly's role at Bailieboro before the end of the month, and Lynch then questioned Gibbons, who was privy to Kelly's reports. Did Gibbons inform Lynch? If he did not tell him, why did Lynch tell Cosgrave that Gibbons was not involved? Moreover, after Haughey and Blaney were acquitted, Lynch refused to reinstate them in his cabinet because he said that they knew about the gunrunning plans and had not told him.

Gibbons admitted at the trial that he also knew, but Lynch insisted on retaining him, even though Gibbons acknowledged that he had lied to the Dáil about the matter. Moreover, Lynch retained him even after he took the unprecedented step of defying a three-line whip by refusing to vote for the government's contraception bill in 1979.

Gibbons later said that he had kept Lynch informed about the planned gunrunning. The taoiseach had obviously decided to turn a blind eye, as Peter Berry suspected.

But Lynch was not just turning a blind eye to gun-running, he was ignoring a conspiracy to subvert the constitution that he was sworn to uphold, and was thereby involved in that conspiracy.

Gibbons had the right to authorise the importation of guns as Minister for Defence, but none of them not even Lynch and the whole cabinet together had a right to involve the State in war.

Article 28 of the Constitution is specific that "this State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann."

How did Lynch get away with it? The answer was that he was never really investigated. He was not questioned or called to testify before any court, or inquiry. It was like investigating Watergate without asking what Nixon knew.

Gibbons was asked by the Dáil inquiry what he had told Lynch, but he refused to answer on the grounds that his communications with the Taoiseach were confidential. Fianna Fáil had no desire to press the matter and expose Lynch, and neither did the Opposition. Garret FitzGerald, who was a member of the Dáil committee of inquiry, explained in an interview for Justin O'Brien's book, The Arms Trial, that "the committee's hearings were designed specifically by Government and opposition alike not to ascertain the truth but 'to buttress the state against the greatest threat to its security since partition".

Had it not been for the garda who leaked the story, we might never have had the Arms Crisis, but we could well have become involved in war in Northern Ireland. Lynch only acted decisively after his hand was forced.

The garda code already stipulates that a member can be dismissed for giving out unauthorised information, but Michael McDowell wants to take that further and criminalise it so that such a garda could be jailed for up to five years and fined 30,000.

Is this because he suspects that a garda told the newspapers that his son was assaulted on the street? Michael was apparently so annoyed about that that he demanded the garda protection be removed from his home. He denied he told a woman garda "to hop along now", but somebody leaked her report quoting him.

Our history demonstrates that we need more openness, not more secrecy. We certainly don't need these proposed changes, which smack of wild west justice, with Hopalong McDowell as sheriff.

Come on, Hoppy, cop on to yourself!

More in this section