Garda investigates tapping of politician's car phone

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(First Edition)

AN OFFICIAL investigation into the illegal tapping of an Irish opposition leader's car telephone was ordered by the Garda Commissioner yesterday.

Transcripts of the highly sensitive conversations between John Bruton, the Fine Gael leader, and party colleagues appeared in a Dublin newspaper at the weekend. The transcripts referred to official telephone taps under past administrations, including those led by Mr Bruton's party.

The source of the tape and the reason for its leaking at this time remain a mystery. The bugged conversations took place in January this year as allegations were being reported that Charles Haughey, the former prime minister, knew of tapping in 1982 of the telephones of two political journalists reporting on bitter leadership struggles within his Fianna Fail party.

The claims by Sean Doherty, the former Justice Minister, soon after led to Mr Haughey's resignation as Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader.

His successor as Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, who is on a trade promotion visit to New York, emphasised that no official tap had been placed on Mr Bruton's telephone.

Padraig Flynn, the Justice Minister, said Ray Burke, his predecessor in office at the time the calls were tapped, 'did not have any knowledge of this'.

Damien Kiberd, editor of the Sunday Business Post newspaper, said he had published the transcripts because they showed an opposition leader was being bugged 'for some unexplained purpose' and because they showed 'how the main opposition party was dealing with a crisis in the public arena, or, how it couldn't deal with it because of events which had occurred before'.

He said his newspaper would co-operate 'in so far as we can' with gardai.

But he added: 'I don't think I know who conducted the tapping last January. We know how we came into possession of the tape. But that does not mean we know who conducted the tapping.'

The newspaper also said it had seen warrants authorising taps on two other journalists' telephones, and claimed that Des O'Malley, now leader of the Progressive Democrats (the junior coalition party) and Minister for Industry, had, when he was Fianna Fail's justice minister in the Seventies, authorised the tapping of the telephone of Mr Haughey's brother, Padraig 'Jock' Haughey.

This was said to have occurred when Charles Haughey faced prosecution during the Arms Trial affair in 1970, in which he was acquitted of gun-running.

Michael McDowell, a prominent barrister and chairman of the Progressive Democrats, said the Sunday Business Post, its editor and the reporter involved could now face fines of Ir50,000 and five-year jail sentences for breaching a 1983 Act that outlaws unauthorised telephone tapping and the disclosure of 'the existence, substance and purport' of such intercepted calls.

Mr McDowell claimed there was 'a superabundance of material on which Mr Kiberd, his journalist and his newspaper should be prosecuted'.