Wednesday 17 January 2018

Garda bosses' ignorance of secret tapes is 'surprising'

Station recordings were illegal 'but there was no system of spying' - Commission

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly: Stark assessment of Garda force
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly: Stark assessment of Garda force
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Garda management displayed "almost total ignorance at the highest level" of the taping of phone conversations at stations, the Fennelly Commission has found.

In a stark assessment of the force, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly said it was "most surprising" that Garda bosses knew little or nothing about the existence of a system for recording non-999 calls between 1995 and November 2013.

And although the Commission concludes that "in general" no abuse of this system occurred, "it is not possible absolutely to rule out improper use in any specific case".

The findings will be a further blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána, with Government sources last night saying it reinforces the need for a root and branch review of the organisation.

Five former commissioners were interviewed by Mr Justice Fennelly, and incumbent Nóirín O'Sullivan told him the problems uncovered would be dealt with in a "very different" way "by today's standards".

Bandon, Waterford and Wexford garda stations were identified as having taped calls between solicitors and their clients but "the evidence indicates that these recordings occurred inadvertently".

"There was no Garda system of snooping, spying or intrusion into private life and certainly not of listening to solicitor/client calls," the report states.

It makes implicit criticism of Attorney General Maire Whelan, pointing out that she "presented an alarming picture" in March 2014 that left Taoiseach Enda Kenny "shocked".

Ms Whelan had concluded that for decades there was "wholesale extensive recording of telephones calls the length and breadth of the country in garda stations".

Government sources defended the AG, arguing the commission found the taping of calls was illegal and therefore her reaction was justified.

Mr Fennelly also highlights that Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not have a full narrative of events when he dispatched the then Secretary General of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell to the home of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The morning after that visit Mr Callinan stood down as the police chief.

"The commissioner had, several months previously, on his own initiative, caused the recording to stop immediately [when] he learned of its existence.

"He had also formally reported the matter in writing to the Department of Justice on March 10. Through mishap, this fact was unknown to the Taoiseach, the Attorney General or the Minister for Justice until after the events of March 24.

"If it had been, the events which precipitated the Garda Commissioner's retirement would not have taken place," the report says.

"These culminating events exemplify a history of Garda telephone recording which had been beset from its beginnings by misunderstanding, poor communication, imperfect information and a sequence of errors rather than any conspiracy."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny received a copy of the 742-page report last Friday but refused to take any questions on it while in Germany for a meeting with Angela Merkel yesterday.

Fianna Fáil's Lisa Chambers described the lack of a press conference by Mr Kenny as "bizarre" and similar to "the likes of North Korea".

Irish Independent

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