Phone tap claim is ‘far-fetched’

Smithwick tribunal

Telecomms engineers have dismissed press reports of telephone taps in Dundalk monitoring confidential cross-border RUC/Garda calls as “far-fetched” and “stupid” at the Smithwick tribunal.

An article in thePhoenix magazine in 2005 described how the Provisional IRA could have placed monitoring equipment in the Ramparts telephone exchange to monitor the “private wire” between Dundalk Garda station and the RUC.

The tribunal was set up to investigate claims of 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 on 20 March 1989.

Mr Tommy Commins, a retired engineer, said the description in the article of a phone tap attached to a recording device which had to be visited every day was “too far-fetched”.

“Someone with very very little knowledge of telecommunications, or the infrastructure, or the knowledge of how to do it, contacted the journalist who just wanted to write something that a lot of people would believe,” he said.

Mr Peter Clarke said that if someone attempted to attach a monitoring device as described in the article, an audible alarm would sound “throughout the building”.

He said the original cables put in place when the exchange opened in 2984 were still there, and there was no evidence of tampering by adding a “jumper” to intercept calls, which would involve cutting open a cable and then heat-sealing it shut again afterwards.

“A jumper is a small pair of wires,” he said. “You cannot shrink a sleeve on a small pair of wires. It would disintegrate, it melts, it’s not possible.”.

Mr Fintan Nelson said the method described in the article to intercept calls was “really stupid” and agreed with barrister Mr Diarmuid McGuinness SC that the description in the article was “confused and impractical and as described in the article impossible”.

Mr Clarke said the description sounded like it came from someone who “had a very vague idea of what goes on in an eircom exchange.”

All three witnesses said that an investigation would have been launched if an intercept had been discovered in the exchange, and no such investigation had ever taken place.