Full statement by Minister Alan Shatter

Minister Shatter responds to yesterday’s events relating to An Garda Síochána

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he was not passed a letter from former Commissioner Martin Callinan which outlined the recording of conversations at certain Garda stations until yesterday afternoon. Video: Oireachtas

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 12:05

A Cheann Comhairle

Could I start by again paying tribute to Martin Callinan on his retirement as Commissioner of An Garda Síochána.

Martin Callinan had a long and distinguished service in An Garda Síochána. He dedicated his career to the fight against crime, and has a record of which he can justly be proud. I want to express my sincere thanks for his commitment and service to the State.

In its statement yesterday, the Government indicated that information had come to light indicating that a system for the recording of phone calls to and from many Garda stations had been in place for many years before it was discontinued last November. The fact that such a system was in place, and for so long, is clearly a matter of serious concern, which the Government believes warrants the establishment of a Commission of Investigation.

Let me say at the outset that the circumstances surrounding the establishment of this system of recording, exactly when it started, the number of Garda stations involved, the extent to which recordings were retained, and their relevance to any Garda investigations are still unclear. One of the main functions of the Commission of Investigation will be to establish the facts relating to these and all other relevant issues.

I recognise of course that Deputies will have many very reasonable questions on these and other aspects of this matter, but I am greatly constrained in what I can say. We need to establish the facts before we can draw any firm conclusions, and it would be wrong to engage in speculation in advance of that.

Let me, however, say what I know from a letter by the outgoing Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan. This letter was sent to my Department on 10 March, and was made under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides a mechanism for the submission of information by the Garda Commissioner. This letter was not furnished to me by my officials until approximately 1240 pm yesterday and I did not have an opportunity to read and consider it until some time later.

The letter started off by referring, by way of background, to a case in which civil proceedings are being taken by two persons against the Garda Síochána and the State for wrongful arrest and related matters. Can I say here that I am aware of speculation on the identity of these proceedings, but the House will understand that I cannot comment on proceedings currently before the courts. 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.

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.

In this letter of 10th March, the Garda Commissioner went on to say that it had subsequently transpired that 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. This practice had continued in some stations over the years, with the recordings being retained within each station, with the original recorders being replaced in the 1990s and again in 2008. The letter states that the original recorders were replaced with dictaphone recorders during the 1990s (I do not presently know what specific years), and further replaced by what is referred to as NICE recorders, which I understand is a brand name, which were installed in 2008.

The Commissioner explained that he had consulted the Attorney General’s office on the matter, and expected that consultation with the office of the Data Protection Commissioner would be necessary, as well as further advice from the office of the Attorney General. However, he made clear in the letter that he had directed that the routine recording of non-999 calls to Garda stations should cease, and he confirmed that all recordings except those made on dedicated 999 lines were fully stopped nationally on 27 November 2013.

In relation to the continued recording of 999 calls, which I think everyone would instinctively understand, the Commissioner, in his letter, explained that there was a legislative underpinning of such recording contained an Act of 2007.