Recordings of phone calls on designated lines at 23 Garda stations were stored centrally in Dublin but could be accessed locally on the direction of senior gardaí, it has emerged.
Details of the Garda phone-taping system were disclosed yesterday at the Special Criminal Court, where the trial of two Limerick men for alleged IRA membership heard from a senior officer in the Garda telecommunications section.
Supt Michael Flynn, an IT specialist who said he had been tasked this week with reviewing equipment and documentation on the system, said "interface units" were installed and connected to designated lines in 23 stations in 1996.
These stations included divisional headquarters outside Dublin, the Command and Control Centre at Garda Headquarters and the standby centre at Harcourt Square in Dublin.
That tape-based system, installed in 1996, had become largely obsolete by the mid-2000s and was replaced by a digital recording system in 2008, following a procurement process. This involved removing and destroying the old units, said Supt Flynn.
The digital system recorded calls locally and then uploaded the information to a server
at Garda HQ. The system was centrally controlled, but recordings could be accessed locally on the direction of any chief superintendent.
Supt Flynn said that, from initial inquiries, it appeared there may have been a system in place from the 1980s which allowed for the “review” of calls for a short time after they occurred. These were only in operation at the control desks of divisional headquarters around the State. Supt Flynn said the “only proper recording facility” was that which existed from 1996.
Supt Flynn said he had also been instructed to establish what designated lines were connected to the system in each station. He told the court he was aware that a directive was issued in November 2013 for all recordings to be stopped. The software that ran the system centrally was “switched off” as a result, and audit papers subsequently seen by Supt Flynn confirmed it had been disabled.
Supt Flynn was giving evidence at the Special Criminal Court, where the trial of Thomas McMahon (31) and his co-accused, Noel Noonan (34), had been adjourned after a submission by defence counsel in light of this week's revelations.
Supt Flynn told the court that two Garda stations relevant to the case – Cahir and Clonmel in Co Tipperary – were not among those where recording equipment was installed.
Mr Justice Paul Butler said Supt Flynn's evidence was "very impressive" evidence. "We are convinced by that evidence and in our view the case should go on," he said.
However, the court has adjourned the trial until next Tuesday to allow the defendants to decide if they wish to seek physical inspections of the two stations. This had been suggested by counsel for one of the defendants.
“We don’t readily see where this would get them but we are willing to put it back to Tuesday,” said the judge.
Mr Justice Butler said the president of the High Court had provided guidance as to assistance courts should seek arising from the phone-taping issue.
Mr Justice Butler said it was suggested that courts should initially seek clarification from counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions on the issue. Defendants' counsel should then make submissions as they see fit, he added.
Mr Justice Butler said the “overriding concern” of the court and the president of the High Court was “the proper administration of justice”.
Mr McMahon and Mr Noonan (34) were due to stand trial at the Special Criminal Court yesterday, but Isobel Kennedy SC said a matter had arisen “in light of recent events of which we are all aware”.