Prison boss ‘concerned’ at spying evidence; 'Small number’ of support staff accused of covert surveillance

Prison boss ‘concerned’ at spying evidence; 'Small number’ of support staff accused of covert surveillance

Prison boss Caron McCaffrey has said that she was “deeply concerned and disappointed” at findings of covert surveillance conducted by some prison officers within her security unit.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) director general said she was “determined” to implement recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons’ report and added that any prison staff with questions to answer would be subject to investigation and action.

The Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, said she found some evidence to corroborate allegations of covert surveillance by a “small number” of staff within the Operational Support Group (OSG).

She said some of this “may evidence illegal conduct”.

She said certain evidence, which was uncovered by the IPS and brought to her attention, “may have been obtained unlawfully and/or involve the unauthorised collection of personal data”.

She said she had asked the IPS to provide this evidence to gardaí and that Data Protection Commission.

The inspector found some evidence of covert surveillance at Midlands Prison, but said there was a “conflict of evidence” as to whether these activities were authorised by the then OSG governor.

Ms Gilheaney found evidence that “a small number of personnel within the OSG acted in a unilateral manner” and beyond the remit of the unit.

She said there was “no substantive evidence” to corroborate the allegation that these activities were carried out with the knowledge or authorisation of senior management within the IPS.

Ms Gilheaney recommended an “urgent” review of the OSG, including its remit, governance, and work practices.

She said policies and procedures around information gathering, surveillance and CCTV should be reviewed “as a matter of priority”.

In a statement, Ms McCaffrey said the “absolute majority” of prison staff, including in the OSG, act appropriately and ethically at all times.

“However, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with the events and actions of a small number of staff as outlined in the report which concerns the period 2010-2013,” she said.

She said she was “determined that all steps are now taken to implement in full the recommendations made by the Inspector and ensure all staff act within their authority and in an ethical manner at all times”.

She said some of the allegations were unfounded and that the inspector said she found “no evidence” of deliberate monitoring of solicitor/client conversations.

“In relation to allegations of wrongdoing, any serving member of staff who may have questions to answer on foot of today’s report will be subject to the appropriate investigation and action,” said Ms McCaffrey.

She confirmed she had commenced a review of the OSG and would submit a report to the minister within eight weeks.

Ms McCaffrey said a code of ethics would be introduced. She said changes had been introduced since these incidents in procuring external services.

Mr Flanagan said the review of the OSG would also cover the recommendation relating to use of CCTV, information gathering, surveillance, and screening.

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