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Irish Times: TD to ask judge to investigate alleged bugging

Lorna Siggins & Tom Shiel
Published: Mar 29, 2007

Independent Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley says he intends to ask the Circuit Court judge who acts as the State’s complaints referee in relation to phone tapping, to investigate alleged surveillance of telephones held by himself and six prominent members of the Shell to Sea campaign.

This follows a Dail reply to Dr Cowley by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell yesterday in which Mr McDowell said it was “not the practice” and would be “contrary to public interest” to disclose if authorisation for such surveillance had been granted.

Dr Cowley had made his second attempt in the Dail this month to press Mr McDowell on the issue by naming himself and the six Shell to Sea members in a series of written questions.

The Minister said in a written reply that the interception of telecommunications was governed by the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act, 1993.

Section 9 of the Act provided for a complaints referee to examine complaints of contravention of the legislation, and it was open to anybody to apply to the referee for an investigation.

The current complaints referee is Judge Carroll Moran of the Circuit Court, the Minister said.

Dr Cowley told The Irish Times that he would be pursuing this avenue immediately, as the Minister’s failure to rule out possible phone tapping had compounded his fears.

He claimed a “series of unusual coincidences” had alerted him to the possibility of surveillance of landlines and mobile phones of those involved in opposing aspects of the Corrib gas project.

“I am not the only one to hold these fears.

“People who have taken a particular stand on the Corrib gas dispute approached me on a number of occasions expressing their suspicions,” Dr Cowley told the Connaught Telegraph this week.

“They are convinced their telephone conversations are being monitored because there is compelling evidence of it happening.

“I am genuinely concerned that I am one of the people under surveillance.

“If it is proven that a member of the Oireachtas is having his phone tapped, it would be a scandal of the highest order,” he added.

Dr Mark Garavan, who is running as an Independent in the Seanad elections, confirmed that he was one of the six identified by Dr Cowley in the Dail yesterday as being allegedly affected by surveillance.

“If this is true then this raises matters of great concern. On what basis are decisions made to access phone records or to tap phone conversations?” he asked.

“Is it not envisaged in the relevant legislation that there should be, in order to justify such interceptions, good grounds to suspect criminal activity?

“I for one have never been involved in criminal activity of any kind,” Dr Garavan said.

“My efforts in the Corrib gas campaign have been exclusively centred on using political and legal means to redress the problem.”

It would also be a grave matter if his telephone at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology had been tapped, he added. He welcomed Dr Cowley’s efforts to pursue the matter.

The Garda Press Office told The Irish Times that it could not comment on individual cases, but said it would be happy to discuss such concerns with any individual who approached it directly.

Shell E&P Ireland, main developer in the Corrib gas project, had no comment to make when contacted last night.

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