Response to Catherine Butler
Asked to comment on Catherine Butler's recollections of the events in December 1982, including one meeting at which Sean Doherty, allegedly, was present, his widow, Maura Doherty, said: "The first anniversary of Sean's death is just at this time and I think it would be inappropriate for me to get drawn into this at this time."
Ray MacSharry said: "I have no recollection of being up and down to Charlie Haughey's office, in the way she recalls. Neither have I a recollection of that meeting with Sean and Maura Doherty and I, and the subsequent meeting at which Mr Haughey got distressed on hearing of the phone-tapping.
"My recollection is of a meeting involving SeAn Doherty and both our wives with Charlie Haughey but this was after the whole story broke. This is all of 24 years ago and anyway the phone-tapping was not my primary focus, which was the issues arising from the conversation I had with Martin O'Donoghue some months earlier."
On the issue of making a statement in response to Sean Doherty alleging in January 1992 that Charlie Haughey knew all along of the phone-tapping, Ray MacSharry said: "I remember someone from Mr Haughey's office contacting me then, it could have been Catherine Butler. I felt I should not get involved as I was then an EU Commissioner."
In December 1982, within days of Fianna Fáil going out of office, rumours began to circulate that the phones of two journalists, Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy, had been tapped on the orders of the Minister for Justice in the Haughey government of February to December 1982.
On the evening of 19 January 1983, Michael Noonan, the new Minister for Justice in the Garret FitzGerald-led government, issued a statement confirming that the phone-tapping had taken place. This led to a crisis in Fianna Fáil which went on until a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Monday 7 February. Then a motion calling on Charles Haughey to resign as party leader was defeated by 40 votes to 33.
Haughey at all times denied that he had any knowledge of the telephone taps while he was Taoiseach. Sean Doherty stated categorically at the time that this was so.
But then on 21 January 1992, nine years later, Sean Doherty said: "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... As soon as transcripts [of the tapped telephone conversations] from the tapes became available, I took them personally to Mr Haughey and left them in his possession."
The following day Charles Haughey gave a press conference at Government buildings denying Doherty's claims. That same evening he announced his intention to retire.
In this issue of Village, Catherine Butler says she was a direct witness to Sean Doherty denying to Charles Haughey that he (Doherty) had tapped the telephones of journalists. She says she heard this twice on the same evening of Tuesday 21 December 1982 – this was after Fianna Fáil had left office, just before (on the same evening) members of the defeated Cabinet went to Johnny Opperman's restaurant in Malahide. She says she heard Sean Doherty make these denials to Charles Haughey first at a meeting at which Doherty's wife, Maura, was also present, with Ray McSharry, and later that evening during an exchange between Haughey and Doherty at the door of Haughey's office.
It is evident that Charles Haughey intended on 22 January 1992 to refer to those exchanges of the evening of 21 December 1982 because in the notes in front of him on the desk at that press conference are written the words "Johnny Opperman's" (see photograph on page 20).
Catherine Butler says she offered to make a statement on 22 January 1992 stating what she has now stated, but Charles Haughey thought this unwise for it would look as though he had put her up to it.
Catherine Butler has no reason now to fabricate such a story and she has done so knowing that by acknowledging the presence of other witnesses at two of the three crucial meetings with Charles Haughey in 1982, she remains open to contradiction.
However among the obvious question that arises from Catherine Butler's recollections is: Why, if Sean Doherty was telling lies in January 1992, did he take the risk that he would be exposed as a liar by Ray MacSharry and Catherine Butler, if it were true that they both heard him deny to Charles Haughey in December 1982 that the phone-tapping had taken place and only subsequently heard him acknowledge that the phone-tapping had taken place?