Justice Minister orders investigation into allegations of surveillance in prisons

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has sought an investigation into allegations surrounding surveillance in prisons.

Mr Flanagan was responding to the claims detailed in today's Irish Examiner which said that there was "covert surveillance" on the nation's prisons.

According to a sworn affidavit given to the Minister by a whistleblower working in the prison service, tracking devices have been placed on prison officers’ cars and conversations between solicitors and prisoners have been monitored.

The document also alleges that a private detective agency was hired to carry out the bugging so that the prison service would be protected from any potential legal ramifications.

Those people working for the agency were provided with false identities in order to install surveillance cameras, it is claimed

The affidavit also alleges that a van containing drugs and telephones connected with a major criminal gang was allowed into a prison campus.

Mr Flanagan said that while he was limited in what he could say regarding the allegations, given that legal proceedings are before the court, there were "serious issues" raised by the claims which need to be examined.

"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," he said.

"I have therefore asked the independent Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to carry out an urgent preliminary investigation into the allegations to determine as far as possible the facts.

"I have also requested a meeting today with the Acting Director of the Irish Prison Service, Don Culliton."

Mr Flanagan said the inquiry would be a statutory investigation under Section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007.

Under this type of investigation, prison governors and all staff have a statutory obligation to cooperate with the inspector. Additionally, there is a provision under the statute for the report to be presented to the 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," Mr Flanagan said.

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," he said.

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