Prison surveillance allegations 'raise serious issues which need to be addressed', says Flanagan

Prison surveillance allegations 'raise serious issues which need to be addressed', says Flanagan
Justice Charlie Flanagan

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has demanded an urgent investigation into allegations that prison officer staff have been subject to surveillance.

Responding to today's story in the Irish Examiner, Mr Flanagan said the allegations “raise serious issues which need to be addressed”.

He said: “I am aware of allegations made in today’s Irish Examiner concerning surveillance in prisons. 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 that while he is constrained in what he can say about proceedings before the courts, the allegations must be examined and dealt with.

As a result, the minister said, he has 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,” he said.

The investigation will be a statutory investigation under section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007.

Minister Flanagan explained: “There is 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.”

He said that 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,” he said.

Opposition TDs shared the concern expressed within Government at the allegations, insisting they must be fully investigated.

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire expressed concern a private detective agency was hired to bug and carry out surveillance in Irish Prisons.

“The reports in the Irish Examiner are deeply concerning, of a private detective agency, being procured to carry out surveillance, including tracking devices in prison officers cars, and prison vehicles, and listening devices in visitor areas of prisons,” he said.“It is difficult to see what, if any, legal basis there is for a private agency being facilitated in carrying out such actions and surveillance.

While covert surveillance can be carried out by organisations of the state such as the Gardaí or the Revenue Commissioners, they require legal permits, and permissions are subject to safeguards.

On the basis of what is reported, Mr Ó Laoghaire said it is difficult to see how any of the covert surveillance could have been lawfully undertaken by a private firm. “Clearly preventing contraband entering a prison is vitally important from a security point of view, and that all legal and reasonable steps should be taken to prevent it, the Prison Service, and it’s staff, have to stay within the law,” he said.“There are also serious issues in terms of private conversations between prisoners and their solicitors being recorded, whether client privilege confidentiality has been breached, and the fact that we have no way of how secure the systems these private firms have for storing data,” he said.

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