Covert prison surveillance claims to be investigated
The Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, is to investigate claims that unofficial covert surveillance was carried out in the nation's prisons by a private detective agency.
The allegations have been made by a prison officer, who has lodged an affidavit in a High Court action over the proposed temporary transfer of a member of staff by the Irish Prison Service.
The allegations suggest that tracking devices were placed by the agency on prison vehicles and cars privately owned by officers. The surveillance was said to be part of an operation to prevent the smuggling of drugs into jails.
It is also claimed that conversations between prisoners and visitors, including solicitors, were monitored.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has now asked Ms Gilheaney to head what he called an urgent preliminary investigation into the allegations to "determine, as far as possible, the facts". He also held discussions yesterday with the acting director of the Prison Service, Don Culliton.
Mr Flanagan pointed out he was constrained in what he could say about court proceedings, but said the allegations raised serious issues that needed to be addressed.
"Surveillance can be necessary to prevent illegal trafficking of substances into prisons but this must, of course, be carried out in accordance with the law," Mr Flanagan said. "It must be stressed that these are allegations. This preliminary investigation will put us in a better position to consider whether further steps need to be taken."
The Prison Officers Association has called for an investigation by gardaí rather than the Inspector of Prisons. It said it would be deeply concerned about any practice "that could impact on the safety and security of our members".