Sunday 22 April 2018

Judge to decide if garda tapes hearings are public or private

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly (inset) will head up an inquiry into the garda tapes revelations that led to the resignation of the Martin Callinan
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly (inset) will head up an inquiry into the garda tapes revelations that led to the resignation of the Martin Callinan

John Downing, Caroline Crawford and Ralph Riegel

A FINAL decision on whether to hear evidence in the garda phone tapes tribunal in public or private will rest with the judge in charge.

The Government is today set to sign off on the terms of reference for the statutory tribunal of inquiry headed by Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, who is to be given up to a year to complete the job.

The Government decided a fortnight ago to set up the judicial inquiry after it emerged that phone calls to and from more than 20 major garda stations across the country had been systematically recorded for a period of 30 years.

The practice ceased in November 2013, but it raises serious questions about many cases already decided in the courts, as well as matters currently undecided in the court system.

The terms of reference of the tribunal have been described as "quite comprehensive" and will also focus on the events which occurred over the two days which led to the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan on March 25.

This issue has been extremely contentious, with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin insisting that the Government effectively sacked Mr Callinan.

The Taoiseach has said that he sent the secretary general of the Justice Department, Brian Purcell, to meet Mr Callinan on the evening of March 24 but the conversation between the two men has not been disclosed so far.

On the issue of public or private hearings, the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act, which governs this inquiry, gives the judge wide discretion.

It also stipulates that generally evidence should be heard in private unless the judge decides otherwise.

The tribunal is also expected to focus on who in Government knew about the taping of phone conversations at many of the country's main garda stations over a period of 30 years.

It will also look at the timing of when key officeholders were made aware of the situation.

The terms of reference also include the taping of conversations between prisoners on remand and their legal advisers.

This follows another revelation last week that prison calls were recorded in a number of institutions over a four-year period.

Today's cabinet meeting will also discuss the issue of a new garda supervisory authority expected to be put in place by the end of this year.

This was decided after pressure from Labour in government, and two Labour ministers, the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, will join the Justice Minister Alan Shatter and the Taoiseach on a cabinet subcommittee preparing the ground work.

Mr Rabbitte yesterday set out the questions the tribunal needs to answer.

"There are questions about how long this has been going on, whether it's been going on contrary to law, whether it has implications for cases already decided in the courts and whether it has implications for cases coming down the line at us," he said.

Irish Independent

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