Prison Service

'Mind-boggling': Department can't say whether payments to firm were for surveillance of prison staff

The prison service paid two private security companies over a two-year period.

TDS HAVE EXPRESSED concern that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice was unable to determine whether payments made to private security firms related to the surveillance of prison staff.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been examining this claim by a whistleblower of unauthorised surveillance in prisons by a private agency. It has been alleged that the agency was recording conversations between prisoners and their solicitors and that tracking devices were placed on prison officers’ cars.

Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney was asked to investigate the claims and her inquiry is expected to be wrapped up by the end of this month.

Yesterday the PAC discussed documents it received from the Department’s Secretary General Aidan O’Driscoll, which was intended to address questions left unanswered when he and Caron McCaffrey, director general of the prison service, appeared before it last month.

In what was described by committee members as lengthy correspondence, O’Driscoll said the Irish Prison Service has “no information to suggest that any authorised covert surveillance of a prison officer has been undertaken by the Irish Prison Service or on its behalf during the last five years”.

Reading this section aloud, Labour TD Alan Kelly remarked: “Any authorised [surveillance] – whatever about unauthorised…”

The report also confirmed that in 2011 and 2012 two private security companies were engaged by the Irish Prison Service ‘Operational Support Group’.

Records show that one company was paid a cumulative total of €9,586.59 in 2011 and €8,641.68 in 2012. 

A second company was paid a cumulative total of €10,774.12 in 2011.

O’Driscoll said it “is not possible from the information available to determine if these payments relate to the surveillance of prison staff”.

“However, a copy of the invoices concerned have been forwarded to the Inspector of Prisons as part of her ongoing investigation,” he added. 

Kelly said his interpretation of this was that the prison service and the department “don’t know what this money was paid for”.

“That’s the executive summary, there’s money being spent here and they have no idea what it’s being spent for. That’s just mind-boggling,” he said. 

Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry said he has received information that “contradicts” some of the information provided in the report, but told the committee he wishes to seek legal advice before he shares it. 

“Some of the stuff in it just doesn’t stand up,” he said.

 ’We’re not sure that money spent on surveillance was of staff’ – it’s just not credible.

“Expenditure is supposed to be okayed by the director of operations of the prison service and why would he or she ever okay anything without being told what it was for?” he said.

The committee has agreed to revisit the issue. 

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