From top: Former Justice Minister Sean Doherty; journalist Geraldine Kennedy and Gavin O’Connor as former Justice Minister Sean Doherty in RTÉ’s Charlie on Sunday night
At the end of Sunday night’s episode of Charlie, part two of a three-part series, viewers saw Charlie Haughey, played by Aiden Gillen, warn his former Justice Minister Sean Doherty, played by actor Gavin O’Connor, not to disclose that Mr Haughey knew anything about the tapping of journalists’ phones.
In the show, after the phone tapping story breaks, Doherty is seen telling a group of journalists:
“The bugging of the telephones of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold were motivated solely by my concern for the security of the country. They were not at any stage discussed by the Government or with the Taoiseach.”
Readers may wish to recall that, contrary to what he said in the early Eighties, Doherty, a former detective and member of the Special Branch, told Shay Healy on RTÉ’s Nighthawks in 1992 how members of Mr Haughey’s Cabinet did know he tapped the phones of Ms Kennedy and Mr Arnold.
Mr Healy has previously told how, after the show was filmed, Mr Doherty told him: ‘You did notice that I said something there that I have not said before’. Mr Healy told him he didn’t but that he would remember what he said when he watched the tapes back.
Mr Haughey announced his intention to resign the day after Nighthawks aired.
But Nighthawks was just the first instalment of Mr Doherty’s revelations. About 10 or so days later, he held a press conference in Dublin’s Montrose Hotel – arranged by Terry Prone – in which he said he had shown transcripts of bugged phone conversations to Mr Haughey.
At this time, when Ms Prone was advising Mr Doherty, her husband and business partner Tom Savage was advising Fianna Fail leader/Taoiseach-in-waiting, Albert Reynolds.
After Mr Doherty’s death in 2005, there was a renewed interest in the media, in the phone tapping story, not least from Mr Doherty’s former media advisor Ms Prone and Ms Kennedy.
On June 12, 2005, Kevin Rafter, in the Irish Times wrote:
On 23 December 1992, on Shannonside Radio, Doherty gave notice of the information he had held back. Nobody followed up the story. Then, in early January, he prerecorded an interview for RTE’s Nighthawks programme. “I had a job to do – there was a decision in cabinet that the prevention of the leaking of material from cabinet must be stopped,” Doherty told interviewer Shay Healy.
There was speculation that Doherty was acting for Albert Reynolds in his leadership battle to unseat Haughey. Reynolds got a phone call from Tom Savage, his media adviser. “The balloon is about to go up with Doherty,” Savage said. Reynolds replied, “Holy Jesus, I don’t think we need this.”
As a storm gathered around Haughey, Doherty went to ground for almost 10 days. Aided by media consultant Terry Prone, he decided to clarify his remarks at a media conference. He read from a prepared script and took no questions. “I am confirming tonight that the Taoiseach Mr Haughey was fully aware in 1982 that two journalists’ phones were being tapped and that he at no stage expressed a reservation about this action,” Doherty said.
Similarly, Mark Brennock, on June 10, 2005, wrote:
[Terry Prone] wrote in the Examiner newspaper yesterday that Mr Doherty and his wife, Maura, had come to her about 10 days after the Nighthawks programme. Brian Lenihan snr had recommended that he do so. His Nighthawks remarks that unnamed others had known of the phone tapping had created a “media frenzy” and he wanted to end this. Mr Lenihan told him that Ms Prone’s company, Carr Communications, could provide him with “a formula of words” to get him out of the situation.
When Mr Doherty told Ms Prone that what he had said on Nighthawks was true, Ms Prone told him the only way out of this, therefore, was to tell lies, and she would not help him to do this. Mr Doherty’s wife, Maura, then urged her husband to tell the truth. “You’re telling the truth, now. You’ve taken enough. Covered up enough. You’ve been the fall guy long enough. You’ve suffered plenty and so have all your family. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to us. To tell the truth. Now.”
Mr Doherty began to weep. They had a long conversation in which he tried to justify the phone tapping as a measure against treason, which, he said, was the word for the actions of ministers who were seeking to bring about the collapse of their own government by leaking to the press.He went to his car and brought back “an armful of typescripts”. He selected one page that showed a conversation between the late George Colley, than a minister, and Geraldine Kennedy. Mr Colley had made clear in the conversation that he wished to bring down the government, he said, and this was “the quintessential definition of treason”.
He said Mr Haughey had not told him to initiate the phone tappings, but that his personality was such that those working to him would do whatever they believed “The Boss” would want without asking or telling him.
Mr Doherty had become “shrivelled and humiliated” by the events that followed. This finally led him to blurt out part of the truth, without having planned to, on Nighthawks. After 3 1/2 hours Ms Prone left the room and wrote up four pages based on what Mr Doherty had told her. She arranged for a room to be booked in the Montrose Hotel, and for a press conference. Mr Doherty agreed to the arrangements.
Interestingly, Ms Kennedy wrote a piece in the Irish Times, claiming Ms Prone’s claims prompted new questions.
On June 11, 2005, Ms Kennedy wrote:
‘A more serious revision of events has come to light this week arising from Terry Prone’s Terry Prone’s account of her meeting with Sean Doherty to prepare him for his press conference in 1992 at which he stated that Haughey was aware of the telephone tapping a decade earlier.
Prone said in the Irish Examiner and on RTE’s News at One that during the course of their meeting: Sean Doherty went to his car and brought back “an armful of typescripts”. He selected one page that showed a conversation between the late George Colley and Geraldine Kennedy. Colley had made clear in the conversation that he wished to bring down the government, he said, and this was “the quintessential definition of treason”.
I was allowed to read my transcripts for the first time in March, 1984, after one of them was published in the Sunday Independent. I was not permitted to copy them. I did, however, take lengthy notes.
There were eight transcripts in total arising out of the tapping of my telephone. Five of them are conversations with other journalists. The other three transcripts record conversations with Peter Prendergast, then press spokesman for the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition; and a Fianna Fail TD and a Fianna Fail source, both of whom I did not identify in order to protect the confidentiality of my sources.
Neither I, nor others who had official cause to read the transcripts at the time, have ever seen a transcript of a telephone conversation between Colley and myself.
The transcript of the conversation with the Fianna Fail TD – the only one marked TOP SECRET, is as follows:
“Geraldine Kennedy told . . . the Fianna Fail TD whom I am still not identifying that she was offered a job as political correspondent in the Sunday Press. This was a definite offer by Fintan Faulkner. She would have complete freedom to write on political matters and has got the full blessing of Michael Mills political correspondent , Irish Press.”
The tapper then concludes with a line of summary: “They discussed the election and how people canvassing were being received on the door step.”
The High Court was also informed by the State that there were eight transcripts.
Doherty’s claim to Prone is wrong in many respects. First, there was no such conversation between Colley and myself. Second, Colley was not a member of the 1982 Cabinet. And, third, the most important point of all, the 1987 Irish Law Reports record that the late Mr Justice Liam Hamilton made an order about the transcripts after giving his judgment in the Kennedy and Arnold v Ireland and the Attorney General case in January, 1987. The final order directed the defendant to return to the plaintiffs all transcripts of the conversations recorded on their respective telephone lines.
The question now arises as to whether the State was in breach of that High Court order in allowing Doherty, in his capacity as a former minister for justice, to carry armfuls of transcripts around in his car and show them to others a full decade after the phones were tapped?”
(Eamonn Farrell/Photocall ireland)