Whistleblower: Tracking devices placed in prison officers’ cars

Tracking devices have been placed on prison officers’ cars and conversations between solicitors and prisoners have been monitored during covert surveillance on the country’s prisons.

The explosive claims are contained in a sworn affidavit given to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and the prison service this week by a serving prison officer.

His solicitor has also written to Mr Flanagan asking for a public inquiry given the seriousness of the allegations.

The sworn document also alleges that a private detective agency was hired to carry out the bugging and surveillance without the necessary legal permits and permissions.

The covert operation, to stem the flow of drugs and mobile phones into prisons, targeted both prison officers and prisoners suspected of smuggling contraband into prisons.

Among the claims in the affidavit are:

  • Tracking devices were placed on a number of prison service vehicles and in the private cars of prison officers;
  • The drivers of the prison vehicles, and the prison officers whose private cars were tracked, were unaware of the surveillance;
  • Some of these devices remained in place over a long period and intelligence gathered passed onto An Garda Síochána;
  • Listening devices were placed in the visitor area of one prison to gather information. These devices were in situ for extended periods. In some instances, these devices were in place when prisoners had conversations with their solicitors;
  • The private detective agency was employed to install listening and tracking devices in order to shield the prison service from any legal repercussions that would attach if it had been done directly;
  • A van containing drugs and telephones, associated with a major criminal gang, was allowed into prison campus without the knowledge of the governor and staff in that prison. The personnel in the van were subsequently arrested but the covert operation was contrary to all security procedure at the prison;
  • Personnel from the private detective agency were provided with false identities to enter the prison and install covert surveillance cameras. The images from the cameras were beamed to another location despite obvious security concerns about such images falling into the hands of criminals.

The Irish Examiner understands the complaint was made in the form of an affidavit because the complainant and his solicitor had no confidence in the operation of the Protected Disclosure Act in either the prison service or the Department of Justice. 

Copies were also sent to the Irish Prison Service and the Chief State Solicitor’s office.

A spokesperson the Department of Justice declined to comment on any specific case. 

When asked whether an outside agency would be retained to investigate this matter, the spokesperson said: “Any allegations of malpractice in the prison service which are made in the context of court proceedings, by way of protected disclosure or otherwise, are treated with the utmost seriousness and are dealt with according to established mechanisms, which include independent evaluation where appropriate.”

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said they had no comment to make.

Last week, in an entirely separate case, prison officer Noel McGree appeared in private before the Oireachtas Public Accounts to testify on his experience within the prison service after he made a protected disclosure two years ago.

The PAC is expected to discuss the evidence this week with a view to calling in officials from the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service to discuss Mr McGree’s evidence.

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