Shatter apologises to whistleblowers and defends handling of taping controversy

Minister earlier defended handling of telephone call recording at Garda stations

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has apologised to Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson over remarks he made during the course of the penalty points controversy.

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 18:02

In a dramatic day in the Dáil today embattled Minister for Justice Alan Shatter apologised to two Garda whistleblowers and defended his handling of revelations of the widespread recording of telephone calls to and from Garda stations.

Mr Shatter has apologised to Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson over remarks he made over the penalty points controversy, where the men had exposed the quashing of points by gardaí.

Mr Shatter withdrew the comments made in the Dáil in which he said the whitsleblowers failed to co-operate with an investigation into the penalty points system. “It was never my intention to mislead the House and I believe it is appropriate that I apologise to both and withdraw the statements made,” he said.

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Sgt McCabe told the Irish Times he was glad the record of the Dáil had been corrected.

In his second address to the Dáil today, Mr Shatter said: “I previously stated on the Dáil record that I expected that Sgt McCabe would be interviewed during the course of the O’Mahoney investigation and I note that he fully engaged with the Garda Inspectorate in the work undertaken by them to prepare the report which is the subject matter of today’s debate.

He added: “I believe more should have been done during the course of the O’Mahoney investigation to obtain information from and ascertain the views and experiences of the whistleblowers. Further and better efforts could and should have been made to secure productive engagement with them in the investigation of their claims.”

The Minister continued: “I am aware that the whistleblowers and others have issues with some remarks I made outside this House. It was not my intention to misrepresent any matter connected with this issue. I apologise for any offence that may have been caused by any other remarks made by me.”

Earlier today Mr Shatter read a statement on revelations about the recording of phone calls to and from Garda stations over a number of decades.

The Minister said a letter sent earlier this month by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan outlining Garda phone taping failed to reach him until yesterday afternoon.

He also said his Department received other correspondence about recordings but insisted he was not aware of the wider practice until he was briefed about it by his officials on Monday evening.

Opposition leaders called on Mr Shatter to resign over his handling of the issue as well as other recent Garda controversies.

They expressed doubt over the Minister’s claims that he had remained unaware of the phone recordings until earlier this week.

In Dáil exchanges this morning, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins told Mr Shatter, “you are not the man to oversee the administration of justice in this country”. Sinn Féin and the technical group made similar remarks.

Later, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed he had sent a senior Government official to Mr Callinan on Monday evening to warn him of the gravity of the phone taping revelations.

This lead Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to say Mr Kenny “essentially sacked” the commissioner, an accusation denied by the Taoiseach.

In his statement this morning Mr Shatter said his department received a letter from Mr Callinan on March 10th. In it, the commissioner referred to recordings of telephone conversations into and out of a particular Garda station.

The recordings came to light in the course of ongoing civil proceedings being taken against the Garda and the State for wrongful arrest.

Mr Shatter also said Garda Headquarters copied his department on March 19th and 20th with correspondence between the Garda and both the office of the Attorney General and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

In addition, the Minister said his officials were 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”.

The Minister also said he had not been aware of the contents of a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) report from last summer which highlighted the recording of phone calls at Waterford station.

Mr Callinan’s letter said systems for recording phone calls were installed in the 1980s, were updated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

Gardaí discontinued the practice in November 2013.

That such a system was in place, and for so long was a matter of “serious concern” to the Government, Mr Shatter said, adding that it “warrants the establishment of a Commission of Investigation”.