Whistleblower’s allegations of covert prison surveillance substantiated by report

Prison officers who were charged with stopping the flow of drugs into prisons engaged in covert surveillance which may have involved illegal activity, a damning report has found.

Whistleblower’s allegations of covert prison surveillance substantiated by report

Prison officers who were charged with stopping the flow of drugs into prisons engaged in covert surveillance which may have involved illegal activity, a damning report has found.

The report was compiled by the Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney and ordered by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan last November following the publication of the allegations in the Irish Examiner.

The allegations were contained in an affidavit sworn by Assistant Chief Officer David McDonald who is in dispute with the prison service.

He is a member of the Operational Support Group (OSG) a unit charged with stopping contraband getting into prisons. He admitted his own knowledge of the surveillance but claimed that he was operating under orders.

The report found:

  • €29,000 was paid by the prison service to two private security firms in 2011 and 2012 for services including covert surveillance, tracking and CCTV, and that these services were procured outside normal rules;
  • There is evidence to corroborate the allegation that covert surveillance was carried out in a unit and in an office of the Midlands prison in 2011;
  • There is evidence to support the allegation that in an OSG operation a van containing drugs and telephones entered the Midlands prisons and was seized by the OSG;
  • There is evidence to corroborate the allegation that a tracking device was placed on a private car of a prison officer, but the inspector could not make a finding that this allegation was true;

The report did not find evidence to corroborate allegations that management in the Irish Prison Service were aware of the activity.

It also found that there was evidence to support allegations that there were no proper procedures for investigating deaths in custody in Irish prisons.

The inspector reported that the governor of the OSG has claimed he knew nothing of the illegal activity and there is no “substantial evidence” that there was knowledge of it in the prison service headquarters.

Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney

Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney

Ms Gilheaney also noted that her investigation had uncovered evidence that suggested possible illegality. This has now been referred to An Garda Síochána and the Data Protection Commissioner.

Reacting to the report, Mr McDonald told the Irish Examiner that he was satisfied that most of his allegations had been substantiated.

“I’m satisfied that the main substance of what I put in my affidavit has been corroborated in the report,” he said.

“But I would strongly dispute that knowledge of this activity was confined to a small number of prison officers.

“The nature of the job alone would make that nearly impossible. Far more people knew about what was going on than what has come out in this report.”

He also welcomed the announcement by Mr Flanagan that there would be further oversight in the prison service.

“I’m glad to see that because anybody who knows anything about the prison service knows that it’s badly needed,” he said.

The director general of the Irish Prison Service said that any findings that reflect on employees will be followed by appropriate investigations.

“It is my belief that the absolute majority of the Irish Prison Service — be they in a prison, headquarters or in any other support units including the OSG — do 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.”

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