Friday 6 December 2019

139 prisoners had their calls to solicitors taped

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Tom Brady, John Downing and Shane Phelan

THE number of phone calls that were taped between prisoners and their solicitors is bigger than had initially been feared.

The Irish Prison Service has admitted that calls involving a total of 139 inmates have now been identified. The calls were taped inadvertently where prisoners had more than one solicitor on the jail phone system.

And the practice has been in place in all of the nation's prisons, except two open centres and a block in the maximum security Portlaoise jail, since July 2010.

Since then, an estimated 2,842 calls between a prisoner and a second solicitor have been recorded, with 1,749 of those related to 139 inmates currently in custody, who at some stage had a second solicitor on the system.

In a statement published last night, the prison service said 81 of the recorded calls had been accessed by prison staff.

But it stressed that the contents of the calls had not been made available to the gardai or to any third party.

According to the statement, the service's director of operations had categorically stated that it had "never approved the provision of a copy of a prisoner's phone calls to his/her solicitor to An Garda Siochana under any circumstances".

The disclosure that phone calls in the prisons, as well as garda stations, had been wrongly taped is a further embarrassment to the Government and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who is currently facing a motion of no confidence from the Opposition in the Dail.

Details of the jail recordings were revealed initially in the Dail yesterday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has now ordered a full report into how the conversations were taped.

The Irish Prison Service admitted that in all 139 cases the calls to second solicitors were inadvertently recorded as they were outside the restriction parameters that were in place on the prisoner phone system.

At the moment, inmates are allowed to make phone calls in confidence to their named solicitor and also to the Samaritans.


However, the problems arose where inmates had been using a second solicitor and this was known to the authorities, who listed the second lawyer in a separate category that included members of prisoners' families.

The anomaly was discovered last Wednesday when the director general of the prison service, Michael Donnellan, requested his IT section to confirm there were no issues in the jail in relation to recording phone calls in view of developments in the Garda force.

That evening he was told there could be an issue involving conversations where prisoners had more than one solicitor.

Initially, it was thought this affected 84 prisoners but this has now increased to 139 after further checks.

Meanwhile, interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has advised her senior officers to work together to overcome the impact of the recent series of controversies on the force. She told them to focus on the daily operational duties and ensure that those were not affected by any fallout from the controversies.

The commissioner was speaking at a summit of her senior staff at the Garda College in Templemore yesterday.

Irish Independent

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