Prison telephone tapping has cost State almost €1m
THE controversial telephone system which allows the Irish Prison Service to listen in on calls made by inmates has cost the taxpayer almost €1m.
The system is at the centre of an inquiry by a judge after calls made by at least 139 prisoners to solicitors, which are exempt from eavesdropping laws, were found to have been recorded.
Details of the spending on the installation of and maintenance of the NICE Recording System emerged as the Government awaits a report on the debacle from the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly.
The prison tapes issue arose at the height of the furore over the garda station taping scandal, one of a number of controversies which led to the resignations of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
Department of Justice Secretary General Brian Purcell has outlined to TDs how €933,000 had been spent on the phone system since 2009.
Mr Purcell disclosed the figures in a report for the Dail's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, which had requested answers about the system after the taping controversy erupted.
Although the phone system allows for a block to be placed on recording calls made to a nominated solicitor, a mix-up led to calls made by inmates with a second solicitor being taped.
In his report to the committee, Mr Purcell said the system operated as it was originally designed and that it "could not pick up on the fact that a solicitor's number was incorrectly placed in a recordable slot".
He said a "temporary fix" had been put in place to ensure this did not happen again.
Despite this shortcoming, Mr Purcell defended the system, which was developed for the Prison Service by communications firm Damovo Ireland, saying it had led to significant cost savings and freed up prison staff for other duties.
He said it had been necessary to introduce it due to deficiencies in a previous system.
Under the old system, prison officers had to manually supervise prisoner calls and monitor them in person, often resulting in "confrontational situations when officers attempted to get an inmate to finish a call".
Mr Purcell said the old phone system had become "unstable" by 2007 and staff had to spend long periods of time responding to systems failures.