Report into surveillance in prisons due out soon

A heavily redacted report into covert surveillance in prisons is to be published in the coming days.

The report, ordered by the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and compiled by the Inspector of Prisons, is being finalised for publication, according to a spokesperson for the department.

However, the Irish Examiner understands that large parts of the report — if not its entirety — will be redacted. 

Mr Flanagan has already stated that he has “some concerns” about the contents of the report. 

It will confirm substantial evidence exists to back up the claims of Assistant Chief Officer David McDonald that surveillance was conducted illegally within the prison service.

Other evidence of possible illegal activity is also referenced in the report. 

This includes the discovery of private financial information of prison officers retained by the Prison Service.

Mr McDonald says he will be bitterly disappointed if the full report is not published.

“I made these claims on the basis that they would be investigated,” he said. 

“If the minister does not intend to publish the whole thing, does that mean that it will be buried and nothing done about it?”

The minister is obliged under Section 31 of the Prisons Act to publish the report but he can redact where he believes that publication would infringe constitutional rights or impact the security of the State.

The investigation into the claims of surveillance was ordered by the minister last November after the Irish Examiner published the contents of an affidavit sworn by Mr McDonald.

The claims included:

  • Covert surveillance had been conducted on behalf of a unit of the Prison Service by outside private contractors;
  • In at least one case, the private vehicle of a prison officer, used as a family car, was fitted with a tracking device;
  • Conversations between prisoners and solicitors were recorded during operations to detect the flow of drugs into prisons;
  • Prison vehicles, used by a large number of prison officers, had tracking devices placed on them.

Last February, the secretary of the Department of Justice Aidan O’Driscoll wrote to the Public Accounts Committee that the Prison Service did pay out nearly €30,000 to private investigations firms in 2011 and 2012. 

He wrote that he could not confirm whether the money was paid for surveillance services.

The operation of surveillance is strictly controlled within the State and is largely confined to the gardaí and military. 

There is no provision for surveillance within the Prison Service beyond that covered by employment law.

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