While many people, certainly informed journalists and anti-austerity activists, would have been aware of the soaring levels of surveillance being carried out by the agents of the Irish state over the last decade, principally An Garda Síochána, the sheer number of official requests made in the years 2008 to 2012 is pretty staggering. Some 61,823 applications were made for unrestricted access to telephonic and internet communications in Ireland, spiking in 2010, before falling off as controversial new regulations permitting greater targeting of individuals and organisations through the examination of stored electronic data kicked in. With an average of 12,364 requests a year, 1,030 a month, 257 a week, and thirty-six a day one might well ask what on earth was happening in the country from 2008 – 2012 that required such a sudden and dramatic rise in covert surveillance operations or intercepts by the Gardaí?
Was our island nation invaded by a legion of militant Salafist fanatics determined to force the conversion of the Irish people to an intolerant strand of Islam, malleable to the geo-political whims of the potentates, clerics and playboys of Riyadh? Nope, I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen.
Did the extremist fringe of the unionist community in the north-east of Ireland, the British separatist minority, bring forth an army of terror gangs whose aim was the destruction of the institutions of the Belfast Agreement, using their caches of UK-supplied arms and equipment from the 1980s? Hmm, I’m fairly sure that I’d remember that one too, though in fairness, if unionist car bombers were targeting the streets of Dublin we probably wouldn’t hear about it until some thirty years later. (That’s the standard practice, is it not?)
Or perhaps in 2008 the forces of law and order finally decided to end the reign of terror inflicted by the wayward narco-gangs of our major cities, to curtail and strip away their criminal baronies? Yeah, right…
No, what happened in 2008 was the collapse of the so-called “Celtic Tiger” economy as the effects of the Great Recession rolled across our shores, sweeping aside hundreds of businesses, tens of thousands of jobs and eventually the very sovereignty of the nation itself. As the Irish people found themselves pauperised through the incompetence and corruption of the political classes, and eventually bartered into indentured servitude like their 17th and 18th century ancestors, so opposition on the streets grew. The greater the public criticisms of the Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition government, following the initial claims of a “democratic revolution” in the aftermath of the general election of 2011, the greater the levels of surveillance and covert enquiry thanks to new enabling legislation.
From the Irish Times, a report by Conor Lally and Sarah Bardon:
“Almost 62,000 applications for access to landline, mobile phone and internet data were made to companies providing services to the Irish public by State authorities in a five-year period.
An Garda Síochána made almost all of the requests, security sources have told The Irish Times.
The revelation is likely to move the controversy over the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) accessing three journalists’ phone records to a wider debate about the use by the Garda of its powers to spy on the public.
The information received for the five-year period to the end of 2012 has been made available by the Irish authorities to the European Commission. Between 2008 and 2012 the number of applications for data reached 61,823; a rate of more than 1,000 a month. Of those, 98.7 per cent were granted.
The figures for 2012 saw the lowest number of requests made during the five-year period, at 8,829. This compares to a high of 14,928 in 2010.
Security sources said the reduction in requests may be related to the introduction of data retention legislation. From 2012, it allowed the State’s law enforcement agencies to access historical stored data, meaning more information could be accessed in single requests.
Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald insisted she had not authorised the tapping of journalists’ telephone calls.”
A government minister bugging the phones of journalists? That would be grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented! However Fitzgerald went on to state that:
“…there is no widespread snooping on private individuals, private citizen’s phones, or their records. I want to say that to the public. When you examine the statistics of about 8,000 requests by the guards every year – that is not out of line. For example, in the UK you would have over 725,000 requests.”
Except that there were 12,364 surveillance requests by the Gardaí and others every year in the period under scrutiny and this in a nation-state with a population of 4.5 million. As opposed to a nation-state with a population of over 64 million.