No evidence on Garda phone-tap

Smithwick tribunal

A Garda expert and two telecommunications engineers have said there was no evidence to support allegations the IRA tapped telephone calls between Dundalk Gardai and the RUC in the manner described in a 2005 magazine article, but that it was possible — though difficult — to tap the lines in other ways.

An article in Phoenix magazine in 2005 described how a “jumper” was attached to a “private wire” cable connecting the two police forces, and a voice activated recorder used to monitor calls.

“I didn’t believe they could do that,” eircom engineer Leo Duffy told the tribunal. “That’s very complicated way to do it. They could have intercepted the line outside the exchange. Nobody had easy access to the exchange.”

“I don’t know how they powered the machine for two years either. They would have had to have had some size of a battery to keep going for two years.”

Mr Duffy said he never heard of any reports of tapping into the lines at the exchange at The Ramparts, Dundalk, and was unaware of any investigation into the alleged tap, as described in the magazine article.

The tribunal was set up to investigate claims of state collusion in the deaths of two senior RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station on 20 March 1989.

Garda Garvin McFadden, attached to the telecommunications division of An Garda Síochána, said it would have been possible to tap lines at various points between the eircom exchange and Dundalk Garda station.

He said some senior officers had scrambled telephones on their desks, which could be used if the person on the other end had a similar device.

However in early 1989 the Goliath scrambler system was rarely used by 1989 as “the units were giving us trouble”, and a newer Voicelock system, while being tested, was not fully in place.

“It was in the test phase in early 19189, and went live, was fully rolled out at the end of 1989,” Garda McFadden said.

There were private lines to Newry and Bessbrook RUC stations, the local courthouse, the 999 emergency service and the army, he said.

Garda and RUC radio communications were over open lines, with the exception of a few specialised units, Garda McFadden said, and scanners and CB radios could be bought openly in the area “for £20 in Jonesborough.”

Eircom engineer Tommy Martin said it would be possible to tap a telephone line from on-street cabinets, which were not locked at the time, but said that the operation would be difficult because of the difficulty of selecting the correct wire from among many.