Garda chief 'needs time' to consider PAC request for details of bugging devices
ACTING Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has refused to provide the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with details of the garda purchase of digital bugging equipment, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Ms O'Sullivan, who assumed the role following the shock resignation of Martin Callinan last month, said the committee could be in danger of "overlapping" with the work of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Nial Fennelly.
In correspondence to the committee, seen by this newspaper, Ms O'Sullivan said she needed more time to "further consider all aspects" of the request made by the PAC.
She said she would revert to the committee as soon as possible in relation to its wish to examine the purchase of digital recording equipment in 2007.
The PAC has been seeking to examine the cost to the State of the widespread wiping of penalty points, as raised by whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.
But the PAC had also sought to investigate various matters relating to the alleged bugging of the offices of the Garda Ombudsman Commission on Abbey Street in Dublin, and the more recent revelations of secret recordings by gardai in stations across the country.
In line with the committee's auditing function, PAC members requested details from Ms O'Sullivan of the purchase of the equipment from an Israeli firm.
It is also seeking to examine contracts for the recording of phone calls in prisons, following revelations that conversations between prisoners and solicitors were recorded.
The PAC's move to seek the information was proposed by Independent TD Shane Ross.
"This is about the possible misuse of public money," said Mr Ross.
The TD said the committee should examine not only whether the contract provided value for money, but also "was it illegal?"
Mr Ross asked: "Was this money used for a purpose it should not have been used for?"
Earlier this month, the Comptroller & Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, told the committee that he had decided against investigating the contract as he feared this could cut across the work of a commission of investigation being set up by the Government.
Mr McCarthy said he understood that as part of the contract there was an annual cost of between €40,000 and €50,000 for the maintenance of the system.
Despite his concerns, however, committee chairman John McGuinness said the PAC would go ahead and seek information from the Department of Justice. It would then determine what course of action to take.
"We can ask for the material from the department and examine it. I don't think it will cut across any other investigation," he said.
Responding to Ms O'Sullivan's letter, PAC member Simon Harris said the committee must be given the information, as the operations of the Garda Siochana fell within its remit.
"We, of course, should be given the information. We need to find out who authorised this spend. I am conscious of overlapping with the inquiry but I want an assurance that we will get the information," he told the Irish Independent.
The contract to be examined by the committee was signed after an open tender had been put out by An Garda Siochana four years ago.
The specifications sought a new "digital logging recording system" that would be compatible with the older analog and digital communications systems in use across the force since the 1980s.
Tender documents stipulated that the new infrastructure must record communications, such as 999 calls, and allow them to be stored and instantly played back. It was to be installed at 20 garda facilities.