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Record. Stop. Eject: Who knew what, when about the Garda tapes?

Like Leo Varadkar, we have difficulty getting our heads around it. But here’s what’s on the record so far…
Mar 29th 2014, 7:15 AM 6,514 22

IT SEEMS LIKE distant history at this juncture — but you may recall that last weekend a TD sensationally resigned over a scandal that involved the sending of inappropriate Facebook messages to a 17-year-old girl.

That, and other (more important) revelations, like those uncovered about the ambulance service by RTÉ’s Prime Time investigation have been blotted out in recent days by the news behemoth that has come to be known as ‘GardaGate‘.

The bombshell…

It was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that phonecalls in and out of “many garda stations” around the country had been taped since the 1980s. The issue’s considered so serious by the Government that a Commission of Investigation is to be set up — and there are concerns the existence of the recordings could now affect court rulings.

Major questions remain as to how widespread the system was, and who knew what about it within the Gardaí. The opposition have also called into question the official account given of when the Justice Minister became aware of the issue — or why he may have been kept in the dark.

So… With the proviso that huge gaps still remain here — based on the Dáil record and public comments by Cabinet members and others, here’s a brief timeline on the issue of the taped garda calls…

The 1980s

image

[Shutterstock]

That’s as specific a date we’re getting so far as to when the process of taping calls began — according to former Commissioner Martin Callinan’s letter to the Department of Justice detailing the practice.

According to Alan Shatter’s statement to the Dáil on the issue on Wednesday morning:

…systems would appear to have been installed during the 1980s in Garda stations to allow for the recording of incoming and outgoing calls from designated extensions.

The Commissioner explained that the rationale behind this was the recording of Garda radio traffic to and from control rooms, and 999 calls, and the gathering of evidence around calls made to Garda stations regarding bomb threats and other code messages.

The 1990s

image

[Shutterstock]

Again, nothing very specific on the record so far about how the system developed, or how it was updated with new technology.

From Shatter again, based on Callinan’s information:

The letter states that the original recorders were replaced with dictaphone recorders during the 1990s (I do not presently know what specific years).

The Garda Representative Association, which represents rank-and-file gardaí, shed a little more light on the whole affair with a statement yesterday…

Our members are aware of recording of telephone calls in control and communications rooms as well as some of the public offices.

We understand that the recording is similar to that used by the fire and ambulance control rooms, and is utilised for the same purposes; namely for clarity of what was said – and for accountability.

We await the report from the Commission of Inquiry to establish whether or not other lines in garda stations were recorded.

The 2000s

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[Flickr/Iwan Gabovitch]

From Shatter again:

[The system was] further replaced by what is referred to as NICE recorders, which I understand is a brand name, which were installed in 2008.

It emerged on Thursday that 21 garda stations had audio recording equipment installed or upgraded in 2008. A tender from the time revealed the list.

Interestingly, the tender included this line:

Due to the fact that currently archived calls may be required at a future date, tenderers shall also include a proposal for the playback of archived Guardian recordings.

In 2010, this happened…

image

[GSOC]

From TheJournal.ie last Tuesday:

In 2010, Anthony Holness of Waterford made a complaint that he had been assaulted by gardai in the city. That case went to trial in 2011, two gardai were jailed for harming Holness when he was being arrested; another garda was given a suspended sentence for perverting the course of justice.

In June of last year, GSOC claimed that gardai had not co-operated with the watchdog’s investigation into the claims – and, as reported in this TheJournal.ie article from that time, “was also critical of Waterford Garda station for illegally recording telephone conversations and called on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to immediately review procedures”.

Here’s what Alan Shatter had to say about the case (from last Wednesday again):

GSOC, I have since learnt, reported on this on 16th June of last year and did make reference in their report to the recording of phone calls in Waterford Garda Station. However, this was not a report to me or my Department but a press release by GSOC and there was no indication or suggestion of any nationwide system of recording in Garda Stations.

2013

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[Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland]

Referring to the Commissioner’s letter, here’s what Alan Shatter had to say about how the widespread taping of calls came to light…

The letter from the Garda Commissioner referred to recordings of telephone conversations into and out of a particular Garda station which had come to light as part of the process of discovering documents of relevance to the plaintiffs. That process is still under way, and again I must emphasise the constraints on commenting on a case which is currently being litigated in the courts.

It emerged during the week that the case to which he was referring was the one being taken by Ian Bailey against the Garda Commissioner, claiming wrongful arrest.

From Shatter again [more info on who was looking into what in the last few months here]:

I am advised that my Departmental officials were made aware of recordings of relevance to the specific civil proceedings previously mentioned on 28th February by the Garda Síochána and the Chief State’s Solicitor’s office arising from its involvement in the response to the civil proceedings. I am informed that what was at issue was the discovery of recordings in a specific Garda station, not a more general system of recording calls in Garda stations generally and that no reference to such general recording of calls was made at that time.

It also emerged this week that the Attorney General Marie Whelan was informed about the tapes in November of last year when the Commissioner was in touch with her, and that practice was then ceased (save for the recording of 999 calls).

This year

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[Niall Carson/PA Wire]

Martin Callinan’s letter to the Department of Justice (detailing the widespread recording of calls) was sent on 10 March.

It didn’t end up in Alan Shatter’s hands until 12.40pm last Tuesday, 25 March.

Based on what’s been said on the Dáil record and elsewhere this week, here’s what happened in that 15-day period:

  • 11 March: There was a follow up meeting between Commissioner Callinan, the Department and the Attorney General in relation to the Bailey proceedings.
  • 15 March: Shatter flew to Mexico for official St. Patrick’s Day business.
  • 19 March: Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes was consulted by Callinan for advice.
  • 19/20 March: From Shatter’s speech on Wednesday: “… Garda Headquarters copied my Department with correspondence between the Garda Síochána and both the office of the Attorney General and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner”.
  • 21 March: Shatter flew home from Mexico.
  • Last Sunday: Taoiseach Enda Kenny was briefed on the tapes issue by the AG at 6pm (he had spoken to her on the phone earlier in the day, but she said they should meet in person).
  • Last Monday: Shatter attended a meeting on the issue with Kenny and the AG. They were eventually joined by the Secretary General of the Justice Dept, Brian Purcell. As the meeting continued, Purcell was asked (according to Shatter, in the Dáil on Wednesday night) to go and “discuss matters with the Garda Commissioner”.
  • Last Tuesday: The Cabinet met. The Commissioner resigned… And Shatter was furnished with the letter that afternoon.

The Commission of Investigation was also announced last Tuesday… and that’s how we ended up down this rabbit hole to begin with.

For more: Everything you need to know about GardaGate in one place

GardaGate: Here’s everything we learned today, what it means and the questions that remain

Related: “The Taoiseach should explain” – opposition want answers on Kenny delay in telling Shatter about taping

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Daragh Brophy

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