Irish inquiry: Concerns over Gardai secret phone recordings

The allegations of widespread secret recordings were discussed in the Dáil on Tuesday

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The Irish government has set up an inquiry into allegations of widespread secret recordings by police.

It said that the implications were new, serious and of such gravity that a commission had to be set up.

"A system was in place in a large number of Garda (police) stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were taped," it said.

It is understood the revelations could have an impact on past and current court cases.

The government said it was informed of this new information on Tuesday.

However, Irish broadcaster RTÉ has reported that the former garda commissioner Martin Callinan who resigned earlier on Tuesday following a controversy over whistleblowers, had written to the Department of Justice more than two weeks about the recordings.

In a letter to the secretary general of the department, Mr Callinan asked that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter be informed and added that he had consulted with the Attorney General on 11 November 2013.

Analysis

What could not be ignored was the fact that as commissioner, if Martin Callinan did not know about the secret recording of phone calls into and out of police stations, he should have known.

The practice stopped last year, which suggests that some senior people knew about it and brought it to a halt.

The potential repercussions are huge. Calls from prisoners to solicitors may have been monitored, and it is conceivable that the courts may view that as an abuse of process in cases where subsequent convictions resulted from recorded information.

Martin Callinan said the systems were set up in the 1980s to enable gardaí to record calls to and from control rooms in particular 999 calls, bomb threats and other messages. The practice continued in some stations over the years with recordings retained in the Garda Stations.

In the letter, Mr Callinan confirmed that all recordings except 999 calls ceased nationally on 23 November 2013.

The total number of tapes amount to more than 2,400 and Mr Callinan said he had consulted with the Attorney General and expected to consult with the Data Protection Commissioner

The government has asked for a full, detailed report from its police force, An Garda Síochána, and its Department of Justice. It said the matter was "of significant public concern" and the investigation would be chaired by a senior serving or retired member of the judiciary.

In a report by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) published in June 2013, there was a reference to the practice of recording all incoming and outgoing calls on a particular phone line at Waterford Garda Station. The report said a court ruled that recordings were not admissible evidence.

"On consideration of the ruling of the court, the Garda Commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practice regarding the recording of such calls and the consents required if it is to be permissible to use such recordings in evidence," the ombudsman noted.

However on Tuesday, John Redmond from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said: "I am absolutely not aware of any recordings - except by ministerial order - I've never come across routine recording."

The Irish Government's statement on Tuesday also said that the government had agreed to the retirement of Mr Callinan. Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has been appointed as interim Garda Commissioner.

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