FF colleague claims Haughey knew phones were tapped

John O’Leary says in his memoirs he formed the view after meeting with Haughey

A former Fianna Fáil minister of state has claimed a meeting he had with Charlie Haughey led him to believe the former taoiseach was aware of the tapping of journalists' telephones in the early 1980s.

Mr Haughey always strongly denied he had any knowledge of it happening.

It was first revealed by the then Fine Gael minister for justice Michael Noonan, in January 1983, that the telephones of Irish Independent journalist Bruce Arnold and former editor of the Irish Times Geraldine Kennedy, a political journalist at the time with the now defunct Sunday Tribune, had been tapped by a Fianna Fail government the previous year.

The claim, by John O'Leary, TD for Kerry South from 1966 to 1997, who also served as a minister of state, reopens a hugely controversial event in Irish politics, which led to Mr Haughey's resignation as taoiseach in the then Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats government in 1992.


Mr O'Leary writes about a meeting he had with Mr Haughey in Leinster House, in 1983, in his book, On The Doorsteps, Memories of a long-serving TD, which was published last week.

He says that remarks made to him by Mr Haughey about contacts he had with Mr Arnold as a Fianna Fáil backbencher made it clear the then party leader had read transcripts of his conversations with the journalist.

In January 1992, former minister for justice Sean Doherty claimed he had ordered the tapping of the telephones of Mr Arnold and Ms Kennedy with Mr Haughey's knowledge in 1982. He said as soon as the transcripts of the taped conversations became available he took them personally to Mr Haughey in his office and left them in his possession.

Mr Haughey’s position as Fianna Fáil leader was very vulnerable in 1982.

Before resigning as taoiseach, Mr Haughey called a press conference and described Mr Doherty’s claim as “absolutely false’’.

Mr O’Leary served on the Fianna Fáil front bench with Mr Haughey in the 1970s and was appointed a minister of state by the then taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1977 at the same time as Mr Haughey was made minister for health.

Mr Haughey dropped Mr O'Leary, who had voted for George Colley in the leadership contest, as a junior minister when he replaced Mr Lynch in 1979. Mr O'Leary later voted against him in leadership heaves.

He reveals in his memoirs he had been telephoned by Mr Arnold on several occasions in 1982 about the party leadership, but he felt it was a private matter between himself and the journalist when he was summoned to Mr Haughey’s office in 1983.

Mr Haughey asked: “Tell me, John, did Bruce Arnold ever ring you up in relation to his stories about the leadership of the party ?’’

When Mr O’Leary said he could not recall, Mr Haughey said: “Would it surprise you so, John, if I told you that Bruce Arnold did talk to you on the phone ?’’

Mr O’Leary writes: “As soon as I left Haughey’s office that day, I realised that my conversation with Bruce Arnold must have been recorded and that Haughey had been given the transcripts.’’

He adds it troubled him at the time to think he could not have a private conversation with a journalist.

He writes that calling him into his office that day was Mr Haughey’s way “of putting the squeeze on me and showing that he had something on me’’.

Mr O’Leary expresses the view that Mr Haughey’s justification for the phone tapping was “he didn’t trust the top brass in the guards and he didn’t trust his senior ministers’’.

He adds it was part of Mr Haughey’s “paranoid nature’’.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times