Thursday 18 October 2018

Phone calls at all divisional Gardai HQ were taped

Phonecalls at all 26 divisional headquarters of the gardai were being taped, has learned.

It is understood that recording devices installed in the 1980s at the country’s main stations were routinely taping conversations.

Although their initial purpose was to record bomb threats, emergency calls and messages for gardai the devices have remained in place since the 1980s.

“Over the years many forgot that they existed but at some stations the tapes were stored and on occasions checked for specific reasons.”

The Attorney General Marie Whelan was not at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting as she had a private family event. 

Earlier this morning, it was confirmed by the former Garda Commissioner that a witness in a criminal probe, members of the gardai, and journalists are those whose conversations were recorded – and later retained – in garda station.

Martin Callinan informed the Department of Justice of the recordings in a letter sent earlier this month, and he asked that the information be passed on to Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

RTE News is this morning reporting that the letter was sent on 10 March - five days before the minister left for Mexico for St Patrick's Day and 11 days before he returned.

But Mr Shatter has insisted through a spokesman that he was not aware of the letter until Monday, and he only saw it for the first time yesterday.

Mr Shatter is facing serious questions about his level of knowledge of thousands of  secret recordings of calls to and from garda stations which began in the 1980s and continued until last November.

The minister said he only learned of the practice on Monday, even though senior officials in his department were told two weeks ago.

The Government's legal adviser, Attorney General Maire Whelan, was told last November about the affair. She was not at the Cabinet meeting yesterday as she had a "private family event", according to a Government spokesman.

Speaking this morning, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said that the situation only became "explosive" last Sunday, and the Taoiseach was then informed.

“My understanding is that some of these tapes were requested under discovery... and are in the process of being handed over. And the content of these tapes is very, very serious," he said on Newstalk.

He said that it is likely to emerge that the case being put together against a person "was being done so inappropriately".

Mr Shatter will be in the spotlight today in a special Dail debate on the various garda controversies, during which he is expected to withdraw comments he made against garda whistleblowers.

The biggest crisis to hit the force in three decades – since a previous commissioner re- signed over the bugging of journalists’ phones – has resulted in a high-level inquiry that aims to establish the extent of the damage caused to the criminal justice system by the recordings. Former commissioner Patrick McLaughlin resigned in 1983.

The grave potential consequences of the taping by gardai were set out by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who admitted the tapes could have a “potential impact” on past, present and future court cases.

Mr Callinan’s letter to the Department of Justice details that the conversations of journalists seeking information, members of the gardaí and a witness in a criminal investigation had been recorded.

Mr Callinan – who stepped down from his post yesterday morning – said that the recordings were made in the 1990s, and the analysis of more than 2,400 recordings was continuing.

However, Mr Coveney indicated that this recordings do not include digital recordings which were made - with the number of those also believed to be significant.

The embattled justice minister is to deliver a 15-minute statement on the issue in the Dáil at 10.45am.

The issue is also expected to dominate Leaders’ Questions at midday, while separately Minister Shatter will come under severe pressure to withdraw remarks that two garda whistleblowers did not “co-operate” with an internal inquiry.

His colleague Mr Coveney indicated that Mr Shatter may be on his feet for "four or five hours" in the Dail today.

Speaking on RTE Radio, Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said his information was that Mr Shatter would not take questions, but would only issue a statement.

He also said that it was important to hear from the Attorney General on the timeline of events.

He also took issue with the Government's statement yesterday that this was a "new" scandal involving the gardai, saying that the timeline did not indicate that this is a new issue for government.

Further Reading

- Alan Shatter's statement in full 

- 'Tapegate' inquiry a necessary distraction

- GUBU barely does justice to scandal

- Profile: Noirin O'Sullivan

- New politics? It's more a case of 1983 all over again

- Recording may amount to criminal offence

- Commissioner proved unwilling – or unable – to make an apology

- Shatter's fate hanging in the balance

- Developments, twists, turns and reality checks in a day of surprises at Cabinet

- Permission to be boring, sir? Callinan 'would not be true to his word' if he said sorry to the whistleblowers

- Evidence excluded in trial of gardai because of taped calls

- Lise Hand on a day of high drama  

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