Investigation ordered into alleged surveillance including of prison officers’ cars

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan says allegations raise serious issues

Speaking on surveillance claims, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said “it must be stressed that these are allegations, and we must in the first instance determine if they are factual’. File photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has ordered an investigation into "serious issues" raised by a whistleblower who claims that covert surveillance has taken place in the country's prisons.

Mr Flanagan has asked the independent inspector of prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to carry out a preliminary inquiry into the claims.

He also met Don Culliton, the acting director of the Irish Prison Service, on the issue on Thursday.

A statement released after the meeting by the Department of Justice said Mr Flanagan “expressed his concern at allegations which had been raised in the context of court proceedings”.


Mr Culliton, the statement said, told Mr Flanagan the prison service would fully co-operate with the preliminary investigation.

“When the preliminary investigation is completed, the Minister will consider next steps,” the statement added.

The Irish Examiner reported on Thursday that the whistleblower, a serving prison officer, made a number of claims in a sworn affidavit sent to Mr Flanagan this week.

Tracking devices

These include allegations that tracking devices have been placed on prison officers’ cars, and that conversations between solicitors have been monitored. It is also claimed that a private detective agency was hired to carry out the surveillance without the necessary permits and permissions as part of an operation to stop drugs and mobile phones from illegally entering prisons.

In a statement, Mr Flanagan confirmed he is aware of the claims.

“The details of the allegations have been made by way of an affidavit in court proceedings concerning a proposed temporary transfer of a prison officer by the Irish Prison Service,” he said.

“While I am constrained in what I can say about proceedings before the courts, and nothing I say should be taken as a comment on these particular proceedings, these allegations raise serious issues which need to be addressed.”

Statutory investigation

The investigation to be carried out by Ms Gilheaney will be a statutory investigation, and Mr Flanagan said there was a “statutory obligation on prison governors and all prison staff to cooperate with the inspector, and there is also provision in the section for the report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas”.

“Surveillance can be necessary to prevent illegal trafficking of substances into prisons, but this must of course be carried out in accordance with the law.

“It must be stressed that these are allegations, and we must in the first instance determine if they are factual. This preliminary investigation will put us in a better position to consider whether further steps need to be taken, such as a more formal inquiry, as has been called for.”

The affidavit is also reported to claim that a van containing drugs and telephones associated with a major criminal gang was allowed into a prison campus without the knowledge of the prison governor or staff.

Workers from a private detective agency were also given false identities to enter a prison to install covert surveillance cameras, it is claimed.

Covert surveillance

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said the allegations of the use of covert surveillance, including tracking devices and listening tools, in prisons and prisoner transport were of serious concern given the potential interference with the right to private and family life, the right to receive legal advice in confidence and the right to fair trial.

Deirdre Malone, its executive director said, it was essential that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons received additional resources to ensure that it can conduct its preliminary investigation without negatively impacting on its important day-to-day work in protecting against potential human-rights abuses in prison.


“Depending on the outcome of the preliminary investigation by the inspector of prisons into the facts, IPRT will further consider lodging a complaint on behalf of those potentially affected by these allegations to the Data Protection Commission,” she added.

In April 2014, the late inspector of prisons Judge Michael Reilly was tasked with conducting an independent investigation into the recording of phone calls between prisoners and their legal advisers. No report of that investigation has been published to date, the IPRT said.