Monday 9 December 2019

Prison authorities admit calls between 84 prisoners and their lawyers were accidentally taped

Government rocked by new phone call taping controversy

John Downing

John Downing

The Irish Prison Service has revealed phone calls between 139 prisoners and their defence lawyers were accidentally taped - an increase on the number of cases originally believed to be at play.

In a fresh statement by the Irish Prison Service, it revealed that a total of 2,842 calls between a prisoner and a second solicitor have been recorded.

Some 1,749 such calls relate to the 139 prisoners currently in custody who have or who previously had a second solicitor listed on the system.

Of the total number of calls recorded, 81 such phone calls were accessed by prison staff.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny made the revelation in the Dail today ahead of a debate on an opposition motion urging that Justice Minister Alan Shatter should be sacked.

Mr Kenny said the news came in a communication to Mr Shatter from the Prison Service during this morning's Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings where the systematic recording of calls to and from garda stations over 30 years was discussed. 

The Taoiseach said the prison authorities realised that the calls were 'inadvertently' taped and in some cases it involved situations where prisoners had more than one lawyer working on their case.

Under pressure from Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, the Taoiseach insisted that the Justice Minister was not aware of the contents of a letter to him from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan when he participated in two key meetings on Monday of last week and the following morning.

The first meeting meeting, on Monday evening March 24, involved a discussion involving Mr Shatter, the Taoiseach, and the Attorney General and the secretaries general of the Justice and Taoiseach's Department.  Later that evening the secretary of the Justice Department, Brian Purcell, was set to meet the Garda Commissioner to convey government concerns.

The second was a meeting of cabinet next day which also considered matters. 

Mr Kenny repeated the Justice Minister's assertion that he only saw a letter from the Garda Commissioner, dated March 10, on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 25, and some hours after the Cabinet meeting concluded.

The Prison Service said that some conversations between solicitors and their clients had been mistakenly recorded.

It said prisoners were given the use of a confidential line to hold telephone calls with a named solicitor.

The inadvertent recording took place, it claimed, where some inmates had more than one solicitor representing and that was where the calls were recorded.

The Prison Service notified the Department of Justice in relation to calls involving 84 prisoners last week and the information was then passed onto the Taoiseach’s department.

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