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Shatter’s department told of recordings two weeks ago – but he only got the letter this morning

It’s also emerged that the former Garda Commissioner spoke to the Attorney General about the issue last November.

Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan
Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan
Image: Photocall Ireland

Updated 11.39pm

THE FORMER GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan wrote to the Department of Justice about recordings of calls at garda stations more than two weeks ago, RTÉ has reported.

Callinan is reported to have sent a letter to the Secretary General of the department asking that the Minister of Justice be made aware of the details of the recordings.

The letter is dated 1o March 2014 and was couriered over to the department.

Tonight, a spokesperson for Minister Alan Shatter told TheJournal.ie he only received this letter this morning. The spokesperson was unable to confirm if this was before or after Callinan resigned just before 10am.

The letter, entitled “Recordings of Telephone Conversations made and retained in Garda Stations”, which has been seen by RTÉ News, says the initial recording systems were put in place in the 1980s.

Informed yesterday

A government spokesperson said Shatter was told yesterday of the details that have emerged today of phonecalls in and out of a large number of garda stations being recorded.

This is after the Taoiseach said he was told, on Sunday at 6pm.

Enda Kenny told the Dáil today that the Government had received information of tape recordings in “many garda stations” dating back to the 1980s.

He said he was made aware of the information on Sunday by the Attorney General and spent all day yesterday and last night checking the “validity and veracity of the information”.

The Government said it had learned that system had been in place “for many years” up until November of last year at “a large number of Garda stations” where “incoming and outgoing calls were taped and recorded”.

Speaking earlier this evening, Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said he had been made aware of the issue by An Garda Siochána “three or four days ago”.

Letter

Speaking on tonight’s 9 o’clock News, RTÉ Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds, who has seen the letter, said it was three pages long and had been couriered over to the Department of Justice on 10 March.

Reynolds said that the former Commissioner’s letter states that the Attorney General was informed of the issue in November of last year.

Shatter’s spokesperson maintained this evening that the Minister was first given the letter today.

According to RTÉ, the recording systems were first set up in the 1980s to record not just 999 calls but also bomb threats and other messages to the gardaí.

The letter also reportedly says that the system was updated in the 1990s with dictaphones and then again updated in 2008. Over 2,500 tapes are said to be in existence, some of which are now ‘mouldy’ and not playable.

A Garda spokesperson told TheJournal.ie tonight that: “In accordance Garda Siochána Act 2005, the Interim Garda Commissioner will provide a report on the matter to the Minister”.

The spokesperson said Noirín O’Sullivan was “taking a personal interest in the matter to ensure it is fully addressed”.

Data Commissioner

Speaking earlier this evening, Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said that as far as his office was aware, most gardaí would not have been aware that the calls were being recorded, and that it appeared the recording system had been built into their phone network.

Speaking on Today FM’s The Last Word, he said he had been made aware of the matter by the force within the last three or four days and asked for advice on what should happen in such circumstances.

“The key thing for us is that the practice was no longer there,” Hawkes said.

“Our main focus is stopping things happening that shouldn’t be happening.”

Hawkes said: “There seems to have been limited awareness that this was going on at all and therefore limited use of such material”.

It seems it was built into the phone system that was there, the phone system that the gardaí had.

Report

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams tonight said that it is was credible that the Minister for Justice was unaware of last June’s Ombudsman’s report which details the illegal Garda practice of recording incoming and outgoing calls from stations.

The Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) report from last year criticised the recordings of calls in 2010. Sources close to Shatter say he was not aware of this report and that GSOC was not obligated to notify the minister of its existence.

Adams tonight called on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice to come into the Dáil and give a full account of what the Government knew, and when.

The Sinn Féin leader said:

The Garda Ombudsman report published last June clearly identifies the Garda practice of recording outgoing and incoming calls.

At that time the Ombudsman said that the ‘Garda Commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practise regarding the recording of such calls.’

The Ombudsman’s report would have been sent to the Garda Commissioner and to the Department of Justice.

It is not credible that the Minister for Justice was unaware of this or that he was not told of Ombudsman’s concern.

John Redmond of representative body the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said tonight he was “very surprised” at the revelations that phonecalls to garda stations were being recorded.

Asked on tonight’s Prime Time whether he thought recent problems were indicative of a cultural problem within the force, Redmond said:

I suppose several would say there is a cultural problem. Let’s have a look at it. Let’s explore and examine it.

The Minister intends to deal with the questions arising out of today’s developments during a statement in the Dáil tomorrow morning.

The house is due to spend most of the day debating the report of the Garda Inspectorate into the penalty points controversy but matters which have emerged today are likely to dominate.

Additional reporting from Daragh Brophy and Hugh O’Connell. First posted at 8.50pm.

Related: This isn’t the first time illegal recording of Garda station calls has been noted…>

Read: Here’s what Alan Shatter has to say about Martin Callinan>

Read: Govt reveals: Incoming and outgoing calls at Garda stations taped ‘since the 1980s’>

Catch up: Everything you need to know about GardaGate in one place >

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