Fears of tapes being destroyed prompted action

Minister tells of concerns ‘someone in the guards wanted the tapes destroyed’

Fears that recordings of phone calls to and from Garda stations might be destroyed prompted the dramatic establishment of a commission of inquiry into the issue, Ministers were told yesterday.

One Minister last night said there was a feeling at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that “someone in the guards wanted the tapes destroyed”.

One of the decisions taken by the Cabinet was that the Garda and the Department of Justice should ensure the retention and preservation of all tapes, complete a full inventory of the tapes and devise arrangements to ensure that they can be accessed “as required and in accordance with the law.”

At the Cabinet meeting there was also criticism of Martin Callinan’s letter and how claims from him found their way into the public domain, with one source afterwards saying there was a sense the former commissioner was attempting to “cover himself”.

The Cabinet also heard some criticism of Brian Purcell, the secretary general of the Department of Justice, for not passing the letter from Mr Callinan to Mr Shatter sooner, sources said.

Mr Shatter, who found out about the recordings at prisons during the Cabinet meeting, is understood to have told his colleagues the system of recording telephone calls at Garda stations was initiated primarily to deal with paramilitary threats, such as from the IRA.

Did not outline
However, sources said Mr Shatter did not outline when the practice began.At its meeting the Cabinet took a number of decisions that followed on from its meeting of a week ago at which the Taoiseach informed Ministers of the practice of recording calls in and out of Garda stations. It appointed Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, to chair the commission of investigation. There was a discussion about the terms of reference of the commission and that it should examine all matter of public concern relating to the taping of conversations in Garda stations.

Terms of reference
The full terms of reference will be finalised in consultation with Mr Justice Fennelly and will be subject to approval by Dáil Éireann. Ministers were given a briefing on the latest position in the specific case related to Bandon Garda station and the fact that two other inquiries relating to An Garda Síochána and its oversight (the Cooke and Guerin inquiries) are to be completed later this month.

A decision was also taken to establish a Cabinet Committee on Justice Reform to oversee the development of proposals for an independent police authority, and other associated reforms to the policing and justice system.

This high-powered committee will be chaired by the Taoiseach and will include Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore and one other Labour Party Minister as well as Mr Shatter.

Mr Kenny later told the Dáil of the latest scandal to hit the justice system involving inadvertent taping of telephone calls between prisoners and their solicitors. He said Mr Shatter had been informed of the development earlier yesterday and was seeking a report from the prison service. The 139 prisoners' 1,749 phone calls were inadvertently recorded by a system installed in July 2010 when the current secretary general of the Department of Justice Mr Purcell was head of the Irish Prison Service.