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Ombudsman controversy less about bugs and more about a big fly in the ointment

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

When the story broke on Sunday about the Garda Siochana Ombdusman Commission’s office being bugged, it had all the appearance of being something sensational.

The office is the one that deals with complaints about members of the Garda Siochana and which also deals if there is an incident involving Gardaí – say, when a guard discharges a shotgun or when a garda patrol car is involved in a serious collision.

The answer to the question first posed by the Roman poet Juvenal, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who guards the guards?) is the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission or GSOC.

This was very serious. Evidence had come to light that the offices may have been bugged, which also suggested the work and investigations of the office had been compromised. The GSOC had investigated the incident and had only concluded its inquiry in December, several months after being picked up.

If this was true, it suggested a conspiracy which might be as grave as the bugging scandal of the early 1980s, though perhaps not as extraordinary as the events surround the Arms Trial from a decade earlier than that.

The bugging scandal of the 1980s came about after the government of the day, led by Charles Haughey, suspected that somebody (one of its Ministers presumably)  was leaking confidential information from Cabinet meetings to selected journalists.

In 1982, then-Minister for Justice Sean Doherty arranged through senior Gardaí to have the phones of two journalists, Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy intercepted (or tapped). The motives were purely political rather than having to do with the security of the State. Haughey and his cronies regarded Arnold and Kennedy as hostile.

When Michael Noonan of Fine Gael became Minister for Justice late that year, he revealed all the details of the tapping in early 1983. He disclosed that Doherty had authorised it and that normal procedures had not been followed. He also disclosed that another government minister had borrowed bugging equipment form the guards to secretly record a conversation with another minister Martin O’Donoghue.

Ray MacSharry justified the highly irregular practice by claiming that O’Donoghue had told him that money could be found to assist anyone who found themselves in financial difficulties (MacSharry’s business was reported to have been experiencing troubles at the time).

Predictably the upshot was a massive national story and another of the periodic crises that Fianna Fail underwent when Charles Haughey was leader. However, as before (and later) Haughey survived the challenge to his leadership and winning the contest by 40 votes to 33. That challenge saw the beginning of Des O’Malley’s exit from the party.

And it had an epilogue over eight years later when Doherty went onto RTE Nighthawks programme to claim that it was not a rogue operation as had been claimed but that Haughey was fully aware that the phones of the two journalists were tapped. Haughey, then Taoiseach, denied it categorically but faced renewed calls for his resignation (this time from Albert Reynolds and his supporters). He did not go immediately but it was clear that his time had come.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Only sure thing in politics is nothing stays the same

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Galway in the 1950’s – how different is this to today.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

In less than a month’s time we will witness a first in Irish politics – the first instance of a Government which rotates its Taoiseach half way through the term.

It was due to happen on December 15, but it has been pushed back to allow Micheál Martin have his last hurrah – a final Summit in Brussels.

Then Leo Varakdar will come back for his second go – and if the Government lasts a full term, Varadkar’s two stints in the job will use about amount to one full term of five years.

It’s not the first time that a shared Taoiseach has been floated. Dick Spring suggested it to John Bruton in 1994. There was talk of Eamon Gilmore doing it with Enda Kenny before the 2011 general election. Enda Kenny suggested it to Micheál Martin in 2016.

Now it’s happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will see it in the Irish political context – because the political landscape has altered irrevocably.

A majority of voters in Ireland identified with one tribe or another during most of the 20th century. Memories of the revolution and civil war were still fresh. The parties both represented different sections of society (although there were big swatches of common ground). Ireland was rural, isolated, Catholic, conservative. Even in the 1980s, the two big parties still pulled 80 per cent plus of the vote.

We have a WhatsApp group from my class in the Jes in the 1980s. One of the lads recently posted an aerial photography of Galway taken in the the late 1950s. The city of Galway was nothing more than small town.

Shantalla was a new estate on the far outskirts. There was no Cathedral. Taylor’s Hill was hitting open countryside once you got past St Mary’s Terrace. There were open fields leading from Sea Road down to the shore.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Tackling shadowy spectre of gambling at long last

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Salthill's entertainment hot spot of the 1960s and 70s, Seapoint.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The Salthill seafront was about a ten-minute walk from where we lived in Glenard when I was growing up. I can’t remember exactly when I started going to the amusement arcades but I was probably about 14.

At the time there were three or four along the so-called Golden Mile – Salthill Amusements near Western House; Claude Tofts casino in the middle of the drag, and the Silver Dollar, which was just before you turned for the Sacre Coeur Hotel. And then there was Seapoint.

The main attractions for us initially were the snooker tables upstairs in Salthill amusements, the roller disco on the Silver Dollar, and the teenage discos in the Captain’s Deck in Leisureland.

Mostly it was playing the video games – Space Invaders; Asteroids and Pacman. Yet no matter how absorbed you were with the games  you could not help noticing the other half of the arcade.

On that side there were battalions of one-armed bandits and poker machines. This was the early 1980s and I think it was about 10p a go. I think if you got one cherry on the right you won about 20p, and the amount of winnings went up especially if you got three bars in a row.

I’m not saying I never gambled on those machines. I did, although not too often. I remember having one big payout – I think it might have been £20. I was able to buy a ticket for the Dexy’s Midnight Runners concert in Seapoint.

It was July. Gino was actually number one in the charts that very week and all the Northerners were down in Salthill to escape the Orange marches.

We hung around the amusements a bit as teenagers. After a while, you began to recognise the regulars, the daily penitents. They would come in every afternoon and evening and spend hours sitting on a high school with a bucket of coins beside them, playing either the one-armed bandits or the poker machines.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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Connacht Tribune

World’s politicians prefer cop-outs over COP-ins

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Michéal Martin...COP contributor.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

COP 27; it’s all the rage these days. Good cop? Bad cop? Fair cop? In actual fact, COP stands for Conference of Parties. It’s the United Nations Climate Change Conference; it more or less meets every year and involves most leaders of 197 nations peppered around the globe.

The talks focus on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), an agreement to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent human-generated interference to the world’s climate system.

So every year, leaders discuss and try to reach agreement on the best ways to limit – or reduce – global temperatures and to cut emissions from fossil fuels and from human industry and activity.

COP 1 was held in Berlin in 1995. What’s happening in Egypt this week and next is the 27th meeting of world leaders on climate change.

I have attended two COPs: COP 15 in in 2009; and COP 21 in 2015.

COP 15 was held at the end of November and beginning of December in Copenhagen. I was added to the reporting ticket and booked my accommodation at the last minute. I managed to secure a room the size of a generous coffin (and it felt like one too) at the price of the Paris Ritz.

My biggest thrill there were seeing Barack Obama in the flesh as he passed by me in the hall – surrounded by a retinue of secret service agents. I also had the briefest of forgettable chats with Thom Yorke, the lead singer with Radiohead who has a huge interest in the issue.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

 

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