THE secret recording of phonecalls at garda stations may contain thousands of taped conversations on a digital format, it has emerged.
A total of 2,485 audio tapes of recorded phonecalls have been catalogued at garda headquarters, but a government minister today indicated that this may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is under increasing pressure but has come out fighting in the Dail today after his department was informed earlier this month that journalists, members of the gardai and a witness in a criminal investigation were among those whose conversations that were recorded and retained in garda stations.
The information was provided in a letter by former garda commissioner Martin Callinan, who asked that it be brought to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter's attention.
The letter was sent on March 10 – five days before the minister left for Mexico for St Patrick's Day and 11 days before he returned.
On March 11, a meeting was held to discuss ongoing legal proceedings regarding what was contained in the former garda commissioner's letter.
However, Mr Shatter said he only read and received the letter at 12.40pm yesterday.
And it has also emerged that Attorney General Maire Whelan – the Government's legal advisor who former commissioner Martin Callinan claims to have informed about the issue last November – did not attend yesterday's cabinet meeting where it was discussed.
It is understood she was at a private family event on Tuesday morning with the consent of the Taoiseach.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny only discovered about the tapes on Sunday evening when he was briefed by the Attorney General.
The Taoiseach has admitted that the recordings of phonecalls could have "potential impact" on past, present and future court cases.
The recordings were made at an unknown number of garda stations across the country which began in the 1980s and only ceased last November by order of Commissioner Callinan.
A pending High Court ruling, regarding the discovery of material relating to Ian Bailey's case for wrongful arrest against the State, is central to the continuing government crisis, which has sparked the probe.
Mr Bailey was cleared of any involvement in the murder of French -woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The High Court is due to issue a ruling on the release of garda files on the case, however, no date has been set. Mr Shatter this morning told the Dail that civil proceedings against An Garda Siochana by two people were relevant to the issue.
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.
Mr Coveney indicated that these recordings do not include digital recordings that were made – with the number of those also believed to be significant.
"There are then digital recordings between 2008 and the autumn of 2013."
He said he did not know how many digital recordings existed since the tapes became outdated. Nor did Mr Coveney know who was listening to them.
Junior finance minister Brian Hayes said he did not now know why Attorney General Maire Whelan had not attended yesterday's cabinet meeting.
"I can't clarify anything because I don't know. If there are digital recordings since 2008, that would involve additional content. We need to go through that in a systematic way," Mr Hayes said.
Mr Hayes said questions also need to be asked why Minister Shatter wasn't informed immediately of the letter sent to his department two weeks ago.
The Garda Siochana Ombudsman (GSOC) raised concerns about recording of phone calls to garda stations in a report published last June following a criminal case, but only published it on their website. Mr Shatter said today he never received this report despite the fact that GSOC had a discretion to do so.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin this morning said without any terms of reference a commission of inquiry had been established.
"That is very suspicious. I am very suspicious about it at this stage," he said.
Regarding the resignation of the commissioner, Mr Martin said it has since emerged that a senior civil servant spoke to the previous garda commissioner in recent days before he announced his retirement.
"The commissioner has given a life-long service. I was never looking for the garda commissioner to resign. In the context of this issue, I would have preferred if he stayed. I don't like the way the two issues (his resignation and the recorded phonecalls from garda stations) were linked."
Regarding Mr Shatter, the Fianna Fail leader said his position as Justice Minister is not tenable.
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said the Taoiseach "had no option but to come forward" with the information regarding the phone tapings.