Thursday 22 August 2019

Fennelly finds a variation in phone calls recorded at garda stations

Justice Niall Fennelly: given more time to complete report
Justice Niall Fennelly: given more time to complete report
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The judge investigating the garda tapes controversy has found variations in the type of phone calls recorded at garda stations around the country.

In an interim report, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly said recordings from between 1980 and 1995 were intended solely for 999 calls or garda radio traffic.

However, he found evidence of "a variation between stations as to what was being recorded" between 1995 and 2013.

Mr Justice Fennelly stopped short of saying what the specific reasons were for these later recordings or whether any of them were made illegally.

It is likely to be a further 10 months before he publishes his views on these issues after Taoiseach Enda Kenny agreed to a request for an extension of the Fennelly Commission until September 30 next year.

The move sees the controversy parked until well after next year's General Election. The commission had originally been asked to report by the end of December.

Mr Justice Fennelly has also sought to beef up his staff, with the addition of three junior counsel at a cost of €312,000.

The interim report revealed three garda commissioners have been interviewed about their knowledge of the recordings, with a fourth due to give evidence later this month.

The controversy first arose last year, following the discovery of phone call recordings at Bandon Garda Station involving gardaí, journalists and witnesses relating to the investigation into the unsolved murder of French film-maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Mr Justice Fennelly said over 45,000 recorded telephone calls to and from Bandon Garda Station were examined by gardaí, but less than 1pc of these were considered relevant to the murder investigation.

He said the commission was seeking to establish whether the recordings disclosed evidence of unlawful or improper conduct by gardaí investigating the murder.

The interim report said telephone recording systems were installed at the Garda Communications Centre in Dublin Castle and later Harcourt Square, as well as divisional headquarters around the country, between January 1980 and November 2013.

A digital audio tape system (DAT) operated between 1995 and 2008. This was replaced by a computer-based system known as NICE.

Mr Justice Fennelly said the commission was required to take evidence in relation to the installation, operation, management and level of knowledge of these systems over a near-20 year period.

"This, it need hardly be said, is an extremely onerous and time-consuming task," he said.

Oral hearings began last January, with 38 garda technicians called to give evidence.

A further 19 witnesses were also called, including members of the Telecommunications Section at Garda Headquarters and lay witnesses who had advised the force on telecommunications technology from the 1970s onwards.

The commission said another aspect of its work, investigating whether any telephone conversations between solicitors and their clients were recorded, in violation of solicitor/client confidentiality, had been hampered by the slowness of solicitors in coming forward.

Fewer than 35 solicitors responded to the commission following advertisements in Law Society publications.

Irish Independent

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