Saturday 22 November 2014

IRA trial to go ahead after court hears evidence of garda recording system

Brian Kavanagh

Published 27/03/2014 | 18:04

Thomas McMahon (31) of of Ros Fearna, Murroe, arriving at court today where  he was due to go on trial for IRA membership
Thomas McMahon (31) of of Ros Fearna, Murroe, arriving at court

The Special Criminal Court has ruled that the trial of two men for IRA membership can proceed after hearing evidence that there are no recording facilities at Clonmel and Cahir garda stations where the men were detained after arrest.

The trial of Thomas McMahon (31) and his co-accused Noel Noonan (34) has now been adjourned until next week to allow the defence consider employing an expert to physically examine the two stations.

The Limerick men were due to stand trial at the non-jury court yesterday (Wednesday), but their trial was adjourned in the wake of the garda taping revelations after the defence sought confirmation as to whether telephone calls made by their clients with their solicitors prior to interview were recorded.

Counsel for the State, Ms Tara Burns SC, today (Thursday) told the court that the garda stations concerned were at Clonmel and Cahir and an investigation in to matter had concluded that recording facilities were not in place at either station.

In his evidence to the court, Superintendent Michael Flynn, of the Garda Telecommunications Section, agreed with Ms Burns that he is tasked with investigating the issue in relation to the garda recording of telephone calls.

He said the recording of telephone calls was done by way of a unit in Garda Headquarters which interfaced with the 23 garda divisional headquarters. Once a call was made it was recorded in Garda Headquarters and stored there.

Supt Flynn said he had examined the device at Garda HQ and could say that neither Clonmel nor Cahir Garda Station were connected, with only the divisional headquarters outside the Dublin metropolitan area connected to it.

He said he had also examined a tender document that related to the replacement of old recording facilities with newer equipment.

Supt Flynn agreed with Ms Burns that neither the stations at Clonmel nor Cahir were mentioned on this tender and he had concluded that neither station had recording facilities in situ.

He agreed with Counsel for Mr McMahon, Ms Isobel Kennedy SC, that the tender to upgrade the system was from 2008 and it indicated the only stations recording were the divisional headquarters, Command and Control in Garda Headquarters and Standby Control in Harcourt Square.

The witness told Ms Kennedy that from his initial investigations he learnt recording equipment installed in 1996 was in place until 2008 when it became obsolete and was removed.

Supt Flynn said there was a system in place on the control desks in divisional headquarters which made for immediate replay of 999 calls, but this became obsolete in the early 1990s and was scrapped.

Asked by Ms Kennedy if he could definitively say that there was no recording equipment prior to the upgrade in 2008 in garda stations throughout the country other than the divisional headquarters, Supt Flynn said he could say “definitely” that the equipment purchased in 1996 was installed in divisional headquarters only.

Ms Kennedy then asked: “Is that as far as you can go?”

Supt Flynn replied: “That’s as far as I can go.”

He agreed with Ms Kennedy that he had not carried out an inspection of either of the stations of concern in this case.

Supt Flynn agreed with Counsel for Mr Noonan, Mr Anthony Sammon SC, that his review was a “work in progress” and he was not sure when it would be completed.

He told the court that the equipment in place from 1996 to 2008, which was obsolete and in some cases faulty, was removed and replaced with a digital recording system.

Supt Flynn said the system that operated prior to 2008 stored the calls locally at divisional headquarters and could be accessed at a local level.

He said that he had not seen a letter - reported in the media - from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan which outlined a directive that some of the recordings ought to cease in November 2013.

However, he said the system allowed the switching off of any extension that did not need to be recorded and this process could not be reversed.

Supt Flynn said the recordings would have been accessible locally on the direction of a Garda Chief Superintendent of any division.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court had regard to the “very impressive” evidence of Supt Flynn that neither Clonmel nor Cahir garda stations were connected to the recording system, adding that, in the view of the court, the trial should go on.

He said that should the defence wish to have an expert physical inspection of the two stations by arrangement with and in the presence of the prosecution, the court would be willing to put the matter back until Tuesday.

Mr Justice Butler granted Ms Kennedy and Mr Sammon an extension of the legal aid certificate to cover the cost of any proposed expert.

He adjourned the trial until Tuesday.

Before hearing today’s evidence, Ms Kennedy said the government had directed a judicial inquiry in relation to the entire matter, and the defence was concerned that if the court proceeded on an inquiry of its own in relation this “may not be the best route to take”.

Mr McMahon, of Ros Fearna, Murroe, and Mr Noonan, with an address at St. Patrick’s Hostel, Clare Street, are each charged with membership of an unlawful organisation within the State styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on February 7th, 2013.

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