Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Other Questions.

Northern Ireland Issues.

2:30 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 64: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he raised with the British Prime Minister, at his meeting on 1 February 2005, the jailing of a person (details supplied) and the admission by MI5 that it bugged the Sinn Féin office at Connolly House, Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3623/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy is aware, I have pursued both of these issues to the greatest extent possible and appropriate. Raising them again with the British side would not advance either in the absence of further developments of which there have been none. Accordingly, neither of the two matters referred to by the Deputy were raised at the meeting on 1 February 2005.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I am incredulous that these matters were not addressed. Does the Minister recall that the Taoiseach said he raised with the British Government the bugging of the Sinn Féin office at Connolly House and that he limply told the British that it was unhelpful, but that the British authorities did not admit to it at the time? Is the Minister aware that a representative of MI5 admitted to a British House of Commons committee that it had planted the listening devices at the Sinn Féin offices? As I stated, the Taoiseach said the bugging was unhelpful. What response has been received from the British to the issue? Will the Minister note that this took place against the backdrop of the institutions being brought down by the British Government on the back of unproven allegations of republican espionage at Stormont? Does this not, therefore, require a more serious approach by both the Taoiseach and the Minister to this very serious matter, especially taken in conjunction with the British refusal to co-operate with the inquiries of Mr. Justice Barron? I am very disappointed the Minister has not regarded this and the second matter as meritorious of readdress with the British, given that we have received no satisfactory response.

Is the Minister aware of the great hurt and concern caused within the wider Derry community and much further afield by the jailing of the Derry man, Martin Doherty, given that Martin Doherty is the only person ever jailed in connection with the events surrounding the British army killing of 14 people on Bloody Sunday in 1972? Is the Minister aware that Martin Doherty was not in Derry on that day?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I remind the Deputy that supplementary questions are limited to one minute.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I will conclude with this question. The Minister will note that Martin Doherty was released on Friday, but I understand he is subject to further imprisonment. Has this matter been raised with the British and, if so, what was the response? If the Minister's reply is definitive, will he undertake to raise both of these very important matters at the first opportunity?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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My officials spoke to Mr. Doherty's solicitor following his imprisonment and were told he would prefer to serve his sentence than have someone intercede on his behalf. My officials met a number of other people in this regard. While there have been fairly serious misgivings about the matter in Derry, it is within the remit of the tribunal and is not one in which we can intervene.

The matter of the bugging device was raised with the British authorities in September and they replied that it was their Government's policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of these types of covert operations. However, as a general point, it would be of concern to me that surveillance of any type would take place, particularly surveillance of Deputies.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It would be of concern to me also. As a Deputy who has been under surveillance throughout my years of elected office and for all the years previously, I could not agree more with the Minister. I hope he is as sincere in that matter as I am. I ask the Minister to address the question I put to him. When he raised the matter last September we did not at the time have a British admission of involvement in the planting of listening devices in the Sinn Féin office in Connolly House in Belfast. That admission has since been made by MI5 at a British House of Commons committee meeting. Surely, in God's name, the Minister must regard that as a very serious matter and meritorious of raising it again with the British authorities. That he has not done so since last September will be a shock to many people, given the seriousness of the matter and the issues surrounding it.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I did not say we did not raise it since September, I said we first raised it in September. On 16 January The Sunday Times reported, as the Deputy said, that the head of MI5 had admitted that British intelligence agents had bugged the building in the fashion he has stated. That matter was again raised with the British authorities through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat. They again responded along similar lines and refused to comment further.