Shatter denies knowledge of taping

Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan.

The Justice Minister Alan Shatter is insisting he is not guilty of inaction on the secret recording of phone calls in Garda stations.

Mr Shatter says it's of concern that the practice was in place, and for so long.

However, the Opposition says it is simply not credible that the Minister continues to refuse to accept responsibility, and one TD has told him to "walk the plank".

Revelations of the sophisticated technical recording network – which dates back to the 1980s and was modernised as late as 2008 – has sparked political chaos among the coalition Fine Gael/Labour government.

Before the Dáil, Justice Minister Alan Shatter insisted he only saw a letter yesterday about the system which was sent to his department from the Garda Commissioner more than two weeks ago.

The Garda chief Martin Callinan has dramatically stood down, claiming it was for the good of his family and the force.

Despite Government fears for the impact on past and present court cases, Mr Shatter said it remained unclear what the circumstances were around the recording system, exactly when it started, the number of Garda stations involved and their relevance to any Garda investigations.

“In this letter of March 10, the Garda Commissioner went on to say that it had subsequently transpired that systems would appear to have been installed during the 1980s in Garda stations to allow for the recording of incoming and outgoing calls from designated extensions,” he said.

“The Commissioner explained that the rationale behind this was the recording of Garda radio traffic to and from control rooms, and 999 calls, and the gathering of evidence around calls made to Garda stations regarding bomb threats and other code messages.

“This practice had continued in some stations over the years, with the recordings being retained within each station, with the original recorders being replaced in the 1990s and again in 2008.

“The letter states that the original recorders were replaced with dictaphone recorders during the 1990s (I do not presently know what specific years), and further replaced by what is referred to as NICE recorders, which I understand is a brand name, which were installed in 2008.”

Details of the system came to light through an ongoing civil action being taken against the State for wrongful arrest.

The recording system was shut down last November and at least 2,485 audio recordings which were being stored at Garda stations around the country have been moved to Garda Headquarters in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

The Government yesterday announced it was setting up a State inquiry as the matters surrounding the system were potentially so grave.

Mr Shatter, who is already reeling from a stream of controversies involving the Gardaí over recent months, was forced to go before the Dáil and defend his handling of the latest crisis.

Despite a letter to his department on March 10 about the existence of the recording system and follow-up high level meetings to discuss the fall-out, he said he was in Mexico for St Patrick’s Day celebrations and only returned last Friday.

“I was not briefed on this matter until approximately 6pm on Monday March 24 in the Department of Justice and, as previously stated, was first furnished with the letter from the Garda Commissioner of March 10 yesterday at approximately 12:40pm,” he said.

“Following the initial briefing by my Departmental officials, I met together with both the Taoiseach and the Attorney General on Monday evening to discuss these matters.

“I know that there are reports that I knew of the system of recording in Garda stations last year, but this is not the case.”

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), the official Garda watchdog, flagged up one case last June in which phone calls were recorded at Waterford Garda station, however the evidence was deemed inadmissible in court.

But Mr Shatter said the report was not sent to him or his department but was simply a press release that was never picked up by his officials.

“The simple truth is Gsoc did not furnish the report mentioned to me and I am advised that they did not furnish it to my departmental officials nor bring it to the department’s attention,” he said.

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