Northern Ireland news

Questions over listening device found at former home of senior republican

The covert listening device found in the former home of senior republican Brian Keenan. Picture by Mal McCann

THE Police Ombudsman has been asked to investigate an elaborate listening device found at the former home of a senior republican.

The 'bug' was discovered by a relative of Brian Keenan, who died from cancer in 2008. His widow also died several years ago.

Originally from south Derry, the former IRA commander travelled to Libya and met with leader Muammar Gaddafi in the 1970s, sourcing finance and weapons for the IRA's campaign.

He was later regarded as a key figure in convincing sceptical republicans to embrace the peace process.

A young relative, who has been living in the west Belfast property for several years, discovered the listening device concealed in a ceiling during recent renovations.

The family approached Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly who has said he will be asking the police watchdog to investigate how and why it came to be in the house.

The device consists of a small microphone, hidden in the ceiling of a downstairs room, along with a number of battery packs found under the floorboards of an upstairs bedroom.

SInn Fein's Gerry Kelly displays a covert listening device found in the former home of Brian Keenan. Picture Mal McCann

Solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh, who is acting for the home owner, claimed the presence of the device breaches numerous privacy laws and raises questions about who authorised the installation and why it was left in the property for so long.

"Under RIPA (The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) guidelines, authorisation for the installation of such an intrusive listening device in a private residence must be authorised by either a Chief Constable or the Secretary of State," he said.

"There would have to be a renewal of the authorisation every three or six months, and while we don't know the vintage of this it raises question over whether it was lawful in the first place, if the application was renewed and for how long."

Mr Kelly, Sinn Féin's justice spokesman, said: "This is clearly a breach of privacy. Even by the PSNI's own standards it's classed as 'intrusive surveillance' on private property.

"There are breaches of the householder's right to privacy and to a private life and questions around who authorised this surveillance and why.

"We don't know how old this bug is or how long it has been there - we will leave that to the ombudsman to use their expertise to check.

"Brian Keenan was someone who was very central to the republican struggle, he was very much up for and a supporter of the peace process. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 - this device is certainly not 20 years old and so you have to ask what would be the purpose.

"I would assume there is no legal support for leaving a listening device in a private residence occupied by young people for so long and that is what we will be asking the ombudsman to investigate."

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "Anyone with concerns can contact the police or the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

"No inference should be drawn from this."

SInn Fein's Gerry Kelly displays a covert listening device found in the former home of Brian Keenan. Picture Mal McCann

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