Devil is in the detail as facts of tapes issue emerge

Information on Garda station recordings came to light in 2011. How the practice was dealt with by the various arms of the State is now the issue, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

* JULY 2011:

In the prosecution of the case taken by the Garda Ombudsman of four gardaí attached to Waterford Garda station in relation to the assault of Anthony Holness in February 2010, the Director of Public Prosecutions attempted to enter evidence of phone recordings conversations of some of the accused. This became the subject of legal argument — and could not be reported. The court heard the tapes were taken from the station where all incoming and outgoing calls on a certain line were recorded. The gardaí in the case claimed they did not know of this, which was disputed by the prosecution. The court ruled that the evidence was inadmissible.

* JUNE 16, 2013:

The Garda Ombudsman publish a report on their website on the Holness case in which they state that telephone calls between some of the accused “were recorded on the Garda Síochána recording system”. It said the court had held that “the practice... of recording all incoming and outgoing calls on a particular phone line was in breach of the relevant statute on the recording of telephone communications, which requires that at least one of the parties to a phone call has consented to its being recorded”.

The report said the evidence was inadmissible and added: “On consideration of the ruling of the court, the Garda commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practice regarding the recording of such calls and the consents required if it is to be permissible to use such recordings in evidence.”

Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday said the report was not furnished to him, nor did GSOC furnish it to his officials, nor bring it to the department’s attention.

* NOVEMBER 11, 2013:

Then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan consulted with the attorney general about the existence of tape recordings of incoming and outgoing calls at Garda stations in the context of civil proceedings taken by two people against the Garda Síochána and the State for wrongful arrest and related matters.

According to Mr Callinan’s letter to the secretary general of the Department of Justice the following March, the commissioner said he established a working group to report to him on the issue and he expected consultation with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner would be necessary, and further advice from the AG.

Mr Shatter yesterday said while the AG, in the context of the civil proceedings, was made aware by the commissioner on November 11 last of the existence of the tapes, and the possible existence of other tapes, he was advised that “she had no knowledge at that time of the circumstances surrounding the making of tapes, the legal background to their being made, the contents of such tapes, or the number of such tapes”.

* NOVEMBER 27, 2013:

The commissioner ordered all recordings except those made on dedicated 999 lines be stopped nationally.

* FEBRUARY 28, 2014:

Officials from the Department of Justice were made aware of recordings of relevance to the specific civil proceedings by the Garda Síochána and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office. They discussed the discovery of recordings in a specific garda station. Mr Shatter yesterday said there was no discussion of a more general system of recording calls.

* MARCH 10:

Mr Callinan sent a letter by courier to the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell. Mr Shatter said the letter referred to the civil proceedings being taken. It referred to the recordings of telephone conversations into and out from a particular station which had come to light as part of the process of discovering documents.

Mr Shatter said the commissioner’s letter explained that he had consulted with the AG. Mr Callinan said the system was installed in the 1980s in Garda stations to allow for the recording of calls from designated extensions, the rationale being to capture calls from garda radio traffic to and from control rooms and 999 calls.

The system was updated twice, once in the 1990s and again in 2008, when it switched to digital recording. The commissioner said the recording of all non-999 calls ceased last November. He said the total number of tapes collected amounted to 2,485. The Taoiseach yesterday said this covered the period up to 2008, with an unknown number of recordings since, which were all digital.

* MARCH 11:

The Department of Justice held a follow-up meeting with the Garda commissioner and the office of the AG. They discussed the ongoing civil proceedings. Department officials considered the commissioner’s letter.

* MARCH 15:

Mr Shatter goes to Mexico as part of St Patrick’s Day duties and says he hadn’t been informed of a letter or related meetings.

* MARCH 19:

Gardaí make contact with the data protection commissioner.

* MARCH 19&20:

Garda headquarters copied the Department of Justice with correspondence between the gardaí and both the AG and the data protection commissioner.

* MARCH 21:

Mr Shatter returns, saying he had still not been informed.

* MARCH 23:

Taoiseach calls Attorney General Máire Whelan on a separate issue and is told there is a matter of “serious concern” she wishes to speak to him about but will not do it over the phone. At 6pm that day the pair meet in Government Buildings and Ms Whelan reveals she has information that phone calls in some Garda stations had been recorded.


The Taoiseach dispatches a senior civil servant to Mr Callinan to apprise him of the “gravity” of the revelations. Mr Shatter said he was not briefed about the recordings until 6pm that day.


Mr Callinan resigns at 9.40am. Around the same time, Cabinet members gather for a crisis meeting over the developments. Ms Whelan — who the Taoiseach says flagged up the revelations — is not at the meeting as would be normal because of a “private family event”.

It is not until 12.40pm that Mr Shatter is given the letter Mr Callinan sent a fortnight earlier outlining the taping of phone calls. He does not open it until “some time later”.

The Government issues a statement after lunch revealing the existence of the recording system in a “large number” of stations and referred to the civil proceedings. It also announces a commission of investigation. RTÉ reveals existence of the letter by Mr Callinan to Department of Justice.


Mr Shatter addresses the Dáil followed by the Taoiseach who “deplores” assertions by FF leader Micheál Martin that he “effectively sacked” the commissioner.

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