Gardaí have used private email accounts to send and receive messages relating to their work, and the force has no record of these correspondences, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The revelation came as the Public Accounts Committee discussed concerns raised in an audit of a contract awarded to a company hired to provide IT services to the organisation.
Senior gardaí, including Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and chief administrative officer Joseph Nugent, appeared before the committee to discuss the issue.
However, Labour TD Alan Kelly revealed that on the eve of the meeting, Mr Nugent issued responses to queries he had raised in the justice committee five weeks previously, including confirmation that “on occasion members of the organisation have used commercial email systems to send and receive business-related emails”.
While the Garda representatives gave assurances that records are kept of emails sent and received by official email accounts, Mr Kelly said the use of private accounts is “not acceptable”.
“Can you guarantee to me, and this committee, and to the public watching, that every single email that An Garda Síochána has sent on official business is within the records of An Garda Síochána?”
“I can’t,” Mr Ó’Cualáin said.
Mr Kelly said the response raises a number of issues for the Department of Justice:
"So any business that was Garda-related business, which was conducted through private emails, there is no record. That is a fact. That is not acceptable.
"There are a whole range of issues for the Department of Justice relating to this.
"There are security issues, financial issues, a whole range of issues. There are issues from an audit perspective.”
Mr Nugent said the organisation does what it can to prevent the use of personal email, such as blocking access to private accounts on Garda computers, and that it archives emails that are received by Garda accounts: “The use of personal email to personal email is the equivalent of two individuals meeting on the street and having a conversation, that’s the reality of what we’re talking about.
“No organisation in the world is in a position to prevent two individuals using their personal email account, and audit, trace them and track them, it can’t be done. All that we can do is put in place the best processes we can.”
However, Mr Kelly said he has no issue with personal emails being used to discuss matters outside of Garda business: “It’s none of my business if you use your private email [to write] about the result of a GAA match or golf game that’s going on.
"This is where there is official Garda business and documentation being shared. That creates risk.
“It creates risk when you’re using private emails for business purposes because there will be no record of what transpired and that is my point.
"It is nothing to do with individuals who are sharing information not related to their work.”
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