AG Maire Whelan back in row over Callinan tapes letter
ATTORNEY General Maire Whelan has been thrust back into the centre of the growing controversy over the taping of telephone calls into and out of garda divisional headquarter stations around the country.
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is said by close associates to have been advised by officials from the Attorney General's office to seek guidance from the Data Protection Commissioner on whether he could retain the tapes.
This disclosure raises questions about reports that the Attorney General did not know about the letter until after it had been sent, and that Ms Whelan had then issued a formal instruction to Mr Callinan not to destroy the tapes.
Associates of Mr Callinan told the Irish Independent last night that he had never at any stage sought to destroy the tapes.
But he had been advised by the AG's officials to send a letter to Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes – to seek a direction on whether holding on to the tapes was in compliance with section two of the Data Protection Act.
One associate said: "It was a legal question which had to be asked under the legislation to determine if the retention of the tapes was lawful."
The tapes had been gathered by officers at the divisional headquarters and sent to the Phoenix Park after the alarm was raised last November, when gardai were gathering documentation to be presented to the legal team representing journalist Ian Bailey as a result of a court order of discovery.
Mr Bailey and his partner, Jules Thomas, are suing the State in a civil action over their wrongful arrest by gardai in connection with the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork.
The practice of recording phone calls, other than 999 and other emergencies, was stopped by Mr Callinan last November – after it emerged that it had been extended well beyond what was originally envisaged when it was introduced in the 1980s.
Reports yesterday suggested that Ms Whelan did not know about the unauthorised taping back in November and did not become involved until March 20, after the letter had been sent by Mr Callinan to Mr Hawkes.
However, associates of Mr Callinan yesterday stood by their original position, outlined last week, that officials from her office were kept abreast of developments since last November and had also been in regular contact with the garda authorities from the initial stages of discovering the documentation for Mr Bailey's action.
This followed an order of discovery being delivered by Mr Justice John Hedigan on May 17 last year.
Mr Callinan's associates insist that gardai kept in contact with officials from the AG's office and the Department of Justice in the intervening period and updated them on developments.
The letter was prepared by Mr Callinan's legal advisers and sent to him on March 19, nine days after he had couriered a separate letter to the Department of Justice outlining the latest on the gathering of the tapes and the extent of the recording.
Mr Hawkes confirmed yesterday that he had received the letter on that date.