Sunday 18 August 2019

Flanagan 'concerned' over alleged illegal surveillance in prisons by private detectives

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Pic: Mark Condren
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Pic: Mark Condren
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he is “concerned” about the contents of a report he commissioned into allegations by a prison officer that illegal covert surveillance was conducted in prisons by a private detective agency.

He instructed the independent Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to carry out an urgent preliminary investigation into the allegations last November after a whistleblower claimed that tracking devices were used on prison officers' cars, and that conversations between solicitors and prisoners were recorded.

At the time the Prison Officers Association described the claims as "a serious security matter”.

The allegations were made in a court affidavit and concerned a proposed temporary transfer of a prison officer by the Irish Prison Service.

The minister said the allegations raised serious issues which need to be addressed.

He has now confirmed that he has received the report from Ms Gilheaney and passed it on to the Attorney General.

At the Prison Officers’ Association conference in Sligo Minister Flanagan said he was “concerned as to (the reports) contents” when asked if the allegations in the affidavit were true.

“I want to acknowledge the work of the independent inspector of prisons Patricia Gilheaney. I received the report. I forwarded a copy to the Attorney General. It is under the matter of consideration in that office,” he said.

“I would expect it back in the coming weeks and I'll give the matter further consideration at that point,” he added.

Asked if he would publish the report he said he would give consideration when it comes back from the Attorney General.

“One of the reasons it is in that office is in order to prepare it for finality. I expect to give it early consideration as soon as it hits my desk,” he said.

At the time he ordered the report Minister Flanagan said that surveillance can sometimes be necessary to prevent illegal trafficking of substances into prisons, but this must be carried out in accordance with the law.

"It must be stressed that these are allegations, and we must in the first instance determine if they are factual,” he said.

"This preliminary investigation will put us in a better position to consider whether further steps need to be taken, such as a more formal inquiry, as has been called for," he added.

The Prison Officers’ Association had at the time expressed surprise that the minister had asked the Inspector of Prisons to investigate the matter rather than An Garda Siochana.

“A similar security matter did emerge in the past regarding the installation of covert CCTV equipment in a Dublin prison, after which we were given assurances by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that there would be no repeat of the practice,” a POA spokesman said.

"A complaint was made to the Data Protection Commissioner at that time and this led to the assurance we were given from the Director General,” he added.

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