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Friday 15 December 2017

Shatter refuses to accept any blame

Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent

ALAN Shatter has refused to accept any blame for the latest scandal that has rocked the garda force.

The Justice Minister is fighting for his political survival as he today moved to explain the shocking revelations of the widespread taping of phone calls in garda stations.

Amid mounting calls for his resignation, Mr Shatter told the Dail today that the practice of recording phone calls to and from garda stations is of "serious concern" to the government.

But he insisted that such a practice has been in existence since the 1980s, long before he was appointed to office.

"I don’t think that any reasonable person could claim with any credibility that there has been any inaction on my part or the part of the Government to what has undoubtedly been a series of disturbing issues," he said.

"Rather, we have been unflinching in our determination to face up to past difficulties," he added.

The Government has set up an independent inquiry into the taping affair as it emerged that the recording devices were routinely taping conversations at the country's main garda stations since the 1980s.

However, the Opposition were today unrelenting in their demands for Mr Shatter to quit following the latest scandal.

The Dublin South TD explained that the devices were installed to record bomb threats, emergency calls and garda road traffic to and from garda stations.

He said that the details of the recordings, and the subsequent 2,485 tapes in existence, were communicated to the Department of Justice in a letter from the Garda Commissioner on March 10

However, Mr Shatter said he "unfortunately" only became aware of the grave issue at approximately 12.40pm yesterday - hours after Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

He said that the letter referred to one particular case in which civil proceedings are being taken by two persons against gardai and the State for "wrongful arrest".

While refusing to give any further details, Mr Shatter said the recordings had come to light "as part of the process of discovering documents of relevance to the plaintiffs".

Mr Shatter said he only learned of this issue after returning from his St Patrick's Day trip to Mexico earlier this month.

The Commissioner, according to his letter, set up a working group to examine the practice of the recording of phone calls after it came to light in the summer.

Mr Callinan consulted the office of the Attorney General Maire Whelan and ceased the practice of the recording of calls on November 27.

Mr Shatter said that although Ms Whelan became aware of the tapes last year, she "had no knowledge at the time of the circumstances surrounding the making of the tapes".

The Fine Gael minister said that it is now time to wait until the findings of the Independent Commission, set up by the government yesterday.

"We are dealing here with a system of recording phone calls into and out of some Garda stations over a period of up to 30 years," he said.

"As with other matters under investigation, these are issues which far pre-date my tenure as Minister for Justice.  This issue, like others, is one that existed throughout the lifetime of the previous government and, indeed, we now know the recording system was upgraded during that government’s term of office in 2008."

Despite refusing to accept criticism, the Opposition said it is time for Mr Shatter to resign.

Fianna Fáil today accused Mr Shatter of being "incompetent for office" and said his position as Justice Minister is no longer tenable.

"It's quite clear the public are settled in their minds that you are not the man to oversee the adminstration of justice in this country. It is quite clear that you and the government should and possibly were in possession of the information," he told the Dail.

Further Reading

- Phone calls at all divisional Gardai HQ were taped

- Alan Shatter's statement in full

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