Saturday 16 December 2017

PAC to examine €50k annual contract in garda tapes controversy

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE Public Accounts Committee is to examine the signing of a contract for the installation of phone call recording equipment in garda stations, which cost the force up to €50,000-a-year to maintain.

The move comes following the Government crisis which erupted last week when the taping of calls was disclosed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan retired on the same day the scandal was disclosed.

The committee will also seek to examine contracts for the recording of phone calls in prisons, following revelations conversations between prisoners and solicitors were recorded.

The PAC move was proposed by Independent TD Shane Ross at its meeting this morning.

He asked that the 2008 garda recording contract, awarded to an Israeli firm, be examined.

"This is about the possible misuse of public money," said Mr Ross.

The TD said the committee should examine not only whether the contract provided value for money, but also "was it illegal".

"Was this money used for a purpose it should not have been used for," he said.

Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the meeting he had decided against investigating the contract as he feared this could cut across the work of a commission of investigation being set up by the Government.

Mr McCarthy said he understood that as part of the contract there was an annual cost of between €40,000 and €50,000 for the maintenance of the system.

Despite his concerns, committee chairman John McGuinness said the PAC would go ahead and seek information from the Department of Justice.

He said it would then determine what course of action to take.

'We can ask for the material from the department and examine it. I don't think it will cut across any other investigation," he said.

The move was supported by Fine Gael committee member Simon Harris, who said it was important to discover how much was spent on the equipment and what was it to be used for.

Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald added: "I think we should examine the matter in the manner Deputy Ross has set out."

However, Fine Gael TD John Deasy expressed reservations, saying it was "straying into the politics of the situation".

The contract to be examined by the committee was signed after an open tender put out by the Garda Siochana four years ago.

The specifications sought a new “digital logging recording system” that would be compatible with the older analog and digital communications systems in use across the force since the 1980s.

Tender document stipulated the new infrastructure must record communications, such as 999 calls, and allow them to be stored as well as instantly played back.

It was to be installed at 20 garda facilities.

Earlier this week, a report by Department of Justice Secretary General Brian Purcell said the department's understanding had always been that only garda radio messages and calls routed through garda control rooms, such as emergency calls, were recorded for operational purposes.

It was on this basis the department sanctioning the installation of new recording equipment.

"At no stage was the department alerted that more extensive recording was being, or was proposed to be, undertaken," said Mr Purcell.

Although it had been know for some time that recordings had been made by gardai of phone calls with witnesses in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case, Mr Purcell said "this did not give rise to an appreciation that there was in place a system of routine recordings of telephone conversations, and there was no indication that there was any wider system in place in garda stations generally."

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