16 December 1999 Edition

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British bugging raised in Dáil

The discovery of a sophisticated listening and tracking device in a car used by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness was raised in the Dáil during Taoiseach's Questions this week by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Tony Blair refused to answer questions on the bugging find, giving the stock British government answer that they do not comment on `security matters'. Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he had raised the issue with the British Prime Minister and what response he had received. He asked the Taoiseach ``if he regards it as unacceptable that the British Prime Minister maintains a total and self-imposed silence on the issue and on the monitoring by British Intelligence of all telecommunications contact in and out of this island, as was recently revealed?''

The last point was a reference to the revelation that all telephone, fax and e-mail calls in and out of Ireland were monitored by British intelligence at a facility at Capenhurst Tower in Cheshire throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. This facility has now closed but it is presumed the monitoring continues elsewhere.

While Bertie Ahern said he raised the car bugging with Blair and ``made the point strongly'' his reply to the Sinn Féin TD's supplementary question showed a weakness in the Dublin government's approach as Ahern effectively excused these espionage activities. Ó Caoláin said: ``I want the Taoiseach to express his view. Does he share my view that this is unacceptable and the [British government's] silence must be interpreted as a statement of culpability and responsibility?'' Ahern responded:

``The silence is consistent, as is always the case regarding these issues. I have made clear my views and those of the Government and the House. I hope normality will be restored so these more extreme security actions will not be necessary. The British government would like to reach that position as soon as it can. It must listen to its security staff, which is the way all governments operate. We do the same - the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must listen to security reports. I will not criticise the British prime minister because he listens to his security staff, as I do the same.''

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