Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Telephone Line Monitoring.

14.

andMr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state, with respect to the observation or monitoring of telephone lines, whether warrants are issued prior to all such eavesdropping; and, in circumstances where warrants are not obtained but monitoring and observation go ahead, the extent to which the contents of such telephone conversations are communicated to officers of his Department or the security forces.

15.

andMr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs whether there is in existence a system of observation and monitoring of telephone lines for the purposes of checking the quality of the service or for other reasons; whether those whose lines are being observed are forewarned; if so, how widespread this practice is; the number of exchanges involved; and if he is satisfied that such a system is not open to abuse.

16.

andMr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will confirm that the telephone lines of persons named in a report on telephone tapping (details supplied) have been at any time or are now being tapped, monitored or listened into in any way without warrants and without forewarning; and if he will make a statement on this matter indicating the authority for this action.

17.

andMr. Deasy asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he is satisfied that the system of telephone observation, monitoring and eavesdropping at present practised by his Department is in conformity with the standards laid down by the European Court of Human Rights in their judgment on German law in this respect in 1978 when the court indicated that certain minimum criteria were essential; if he will indicate whether such criteria are in existence in this country; and, if so, whether it is possible to obtain details.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take questions Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17 together.

As I indicated in a reply to questions on 19 March 1980, the position is that except in certain well defined cases, such as calls monitored at the request of the subscriber, telephone calls are intercepted by my Department only in compliance with warrants issued by the Minister for Justice.

No individual subscriber's line is observed or monitored for the purpose of checking the quality of service or to meet other needs of my Department. However, in the course of handling manually-operated calls operators are expected to monitor that calls have been connected satisfactorily, particularly in the case of emergency calls, that conversation is in progress and that the duration of calls for charging purposes is correct. Technicians in testing faulty trunk lines may occasionally, as part of the testing procedure, check that conversation is taking place on the trunk circuit concerned and that the quality of it is satisfactory. The instructions prohibit staff from listening-in on such calls. If any failures to observe these instructions occurred, they would be regarded in a most serious light.

Since calls are intercepted by my Department only under warrant issued by the Minister for Justice, the question of conformity with European Court of Human Rights standards does not arise for my Department.

Would the Minister accept that all these questions were tabled arising from a magazine article and not in reference to telephone tapping of the Fine Gael headquarters which presumably is being investigated by his Department? May I ask him a number of specific questions arising out of his reply to the four questions he has chosen to take together? First, in relation to the warrants issued by the Minister for Justice, have there been any circumstances under which the warrants were not decided upon or signed by the Minister personally?

Would the Minister reply specifically to question No. 16 which relates to allegations that a list of people — which has been forwarded to him — have had their telephones tapped in the way suggested in the question and to which he did not refer in his reply?

The answer to that question is no, because that is a matter for the Minister for Justice. May I answer a further supplementary suggested by Deputy Keating that my Department are investigating certain allegations concerning Fine Gael headquarters? No complaints from Fine Gael headquarters have, to my knowledge, reached the Department concerning those allegations. There is not an investigation going on, and there cannot be an investigation until complaints are made. Then my Department will have the investigation carried out immediately.

I can only suggest that the postal services are defective because such a request was sent to the Minister some time ago.

No such request has reached the Department.

I accept the Minister's statement but if it has not done so the postal service must be defective.

I feel very strongly on this point. Allegations are being made both inside and outside the House which reflect on the staff of the Department. This must be stopped. There is no eavesdropping by any member of the Department. Any suspected cases should be sent to me giving the time and the date and I will report to the DPP. A full examination will take place. No such complaints have arrived from the Fine Gael headquarters.

We are pleased with the Minister's assurance on this matter, and as it is a separate inquiry we will deal with it separately.

I must emphasise that an inquiry is not going on regarding this complaint because the complaint has not been received.

We cannot have a debate on this matter.

I wanted to thank the Minister for his undertaking to investigate the matter when the details reach him. They are on their way. In his reply the Minister did not make it clear that he was denying the implications of the report mentioned in Question No. 16. I gathered it was a matter for the Minister for Justice.

Any warrants issued are strictly in accordance with what the Minister for Justice does or says in this matter. It is no affair of ours.

Does the Minister deny that the people on this list have had their telephones tapped?

The Minister cannot reply to that question because, as has been stated many times by me and by successive Governments, it is not the affair of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. It is solely the responsibility of the Minister for Justice.