Updated at 11.56pm
THE SECRETARY GENERAL of the Department of Justice says then-Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s revelations about the widespread taping of phonecalls in and out of certain garda stations weren’t considered that important when the letter detailing them first arrived.
The Department has released Secretary General Brian Purcell’s report into the issue this evening.
The Government has been under pressure to explain why the letter from Callinan didn’t reach Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s desk until 15 days after it was sent ever since the taping issue entered the public domain this day last week.
According to Purcell’s report, officials in the Department were preoccupied with the possible ramifications the existence of taped calls at Bandon Garda Station could have for the upcoming Ian Bailey civil case, and may not have realised the gravity of the fact that a more widespread system had been in place since the 1980s.
During meetings that took place on 11 March — the day after the letter was sent — “there was little discussion of that particular issue and certainly not in any red flag manner”.
According to the report…
It may be the case that the explosive nature of the recordings in the context of the high-profile Bailey case deflected attention from the systematic issue.From the 10 March onwards the matters covered in the Commissioners [sic] letter were being considered by officials from the Department of Justice in the context of the ongoing legal consultation in relation to the specific case in question.
The Department has also taken the step of releasing the text of Callinan’s letter (with a section concerning discovery proceedings in the Baily case redacted).
The publication of the letter and the release of Purcell’s timeline of events will be seen as an attempt to ease pressure on the still embattled Justice Minister as he faces a two-night ‘no confidence’ debate.
Purcell’s report fleshes out the official account of how the Government came to learn of the taped phonecalls, and why Shatter was only informed of the issue on the night before the Government announced a Commission of Investigation.
Alan Shatter and former Commissioner Callinan [Photocall Ireland]
It includes a reference to a GSOC report into the case of Anthony Holness in Waterford, regarding his complaint that he had been assaulted by gardaí in the city.
During the course of that case, it was established that gardaí at Waterford Station habitually recorded all incoming and outgoing calls on a particular line. The Garda watchdog body released a report in the wake of that case, stating “the Garda Commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practice regarding the recording of such calls”.
The case has been widely cited in the media and by opposition TDs in recent weeks. However, according to Purcell’s report this evening, the case did not flag the systematic recording of calls:
In fact, what was at issue here was a call by one of the Gardaí dealing with Mr Holness at the scene to a Garda colleague in the control room at Waterford Garda station (using a mobile phone, it is understood), the contents of which would have been very damaging for the Gardaí concerned.
Purcell states that GSOC’s suggestion regarding what the Garda Commissioner should do was that that he should “ensure that Gardaí were fully aware that calls to and from control rooms were recorded”.
The case did not, therefore, suggest any practice of recording telephone calls outside of control rooms.
The Department first became aware of the taped phonecalls at Bandon station in February of this year, according to Purcell’s official account. The recordings came to light during the discovery process in Ian Bailey’s wrongful arrest case against the State.
On 28 February the Department of Justice and Equality was advised by the Garda Siochána that they had received legal advice from senior counsel in relation to recordings, and that they would have implications for the defence of the case.Later that day the Chief State Solicitor’s Office circulated transcripts of conversations involving Gardaí in Bandon Garda Station. This was the first sight the Department had of any transcripts, had an appreciation of the nature of the recordings and knowledge of their contents.
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, Secretary General of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell, and Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter [Photocall Ireland]
The report released tonight also details how the Data Protection Commissioner told Garda Headquarters that while the discovery process in the Bailey proceedings had to be respected, there did not appear to be lawful grounds for the retention of the other (non-Bailey) recordings.
However, the Data Commissioner said the consent of the National Archives Office would have to be obtained if the recordings were to be destroyed.
The Attorney General didn’t agree with proposals to have them destroyed, however:
On 20 March 2014, Garda Headquarters copied the Department of Justice and Equality with the reply that they had received from the Office of the Attorney General. The advice of the Office was that it did not agree with the Data Protection Commissioner that all non-Bailey recordings could be destroyed. The advice pointed out that if the recordings were capable of being of value in the Bailey case, they might be relevant in other cases in which discovery is ordered.The Office stated that a submission was being prepared for the Attorney General, but that in the meantime the Garda Síochána should not write to the National Archives Office. The Office also advised that the Director of Public Prosecutions needed to be informed and her views canvassed.
The former Garda Commissioner’s letter, released this evening, details how he discussed the matter of the tapes with the Attorney General on 11 November, and that he also established a Working Group on the issue.
As well as describing how Department officials failed to realise the importance of Callinan’s taping revelations in the 10 March letter, Purcell’s report also revisits the timeline of what happened between receipt of the letter, and Shatter finally reading it on 25 March.
It includes reference to Shatter’s trip to Mexico from 15 and 21 March, and the fact that the Attorney General was “away from the office from 15 March and did not return to work until Monday 24 March”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil last week that he became aware of the issue after being briefed by the AG on Sunday evening, 23 March.
First posted at 7.42pm
Also from tonight: Here’s Martin Callinan’s 10 March letter to Alan Shatter…