Garda phone recordings controversy
The Garda phone recordings controversy refers to the widespread practice of recording phone calls in Ireland to and from Garda Síochána police stations from the 1980s to November 2013, which was revealed in March 2014. The scandal unfolded while Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in office, though the time period involved also covered successive governments during which Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats were all in power. Among those implicated in the scandal are the Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny, justice minister Alan Shatter (since resigned), Secretary General of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach Martin Fraser, attorney general Máire Whelan, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan (since resigned), as well as Independent News & Media, Ireland's largest and most powerful media organisation.
The term GUBU (grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented), first used in 1982 to describe the arrest of Malcolm MacArthur in the home of Attorney General Patrick Connolly was invoked to describe the Garda controversy. Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor at the Irish Independent commented "it is now safe to say we have finally reached GUBU territory", while Michael Clifford of the Irish Examiner observed "More than 30 years after the original GUBU moment, here was another one."
While debating the question of penalty points on state television with independent deputy Mick Wallace in May 2013, justice minister Alan Shatter divulged hitherto publicly unknown personal information to viewers about Wallace in an attempt to undermine his opponent. Shatter later admitted receiving his information from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan but claimed he was not "in the business of collecting secret files on politicians". Callinan subsequently referred to whistleblowers, such as Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, as "disgusting" at a Public Accounts Committee in 2014 (see also Garda whistle-blowers controversy).
The 2014 revelations of surveillance came on Tuesday 25 March, the same day that Martin Callinan resigned as Garda Commissioner over his remarks. On that day it was revealed that the former commissioner had written to the Department of Justice and Equality about the recordings over two weeks before the revelations. He wrote that he had established a working group to deal with the recordings and that they would report to him once they had consulted the Attorney General. He wrote that he had spoken to the Attorney General and that he expected to talk to the Data Protection Commissioner. He wrote that the Attorney General had advised that the recordings be collected and an inventory be made identifying them by station, date and condition. He also wrote that he had ordered all recording of non-999 calls to Garda stations cease and that this happened on 23 November 2013. He wrote that Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter be informed of details of the recordings.
On 26 March, Taoiseach Enda Kenny informed the Dáil that he had sent Brian Purcell, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, to Callinan the day before the Garda Commissioner's departure. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said this meant Kenny had effectively "sacked" Callinan. Kenny also said that he had been personally briefed on Garda surveillance by the Attorney General as the AG did not wish to speak of the matter over the telephone.
It was soon clear the revelation that telephone calls were recorded en masse would have a major impact on court cases. This has indeed been the case; the first trial to be affected was that of two men suspected of IRA membership on 26 March.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said: ”For weeks, the ICCL has been calling for the creation of a proper statutory inquiry with the fact-finding powers necessary to restore public trust in the accountability of An Garda Síochána. Instead, the Government has chosen to refer each successive crisis to a different non-judicial mechanism, none of which has been granted the power comprehensively to establish the truth. Today's revelations regarding the recording of calls to and from Garda stations may have grave ramifications for the administration of justice and this is the day when the rot must stop”.
In response to Callinan's resignation, his Deputy Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan was selected as provisional Garda Commissioner. The government also set up a statutory commission of investigation into the practice of recording telephone calls.
According to cabinet minister Simon Coveney, 2,400 physical tape recordings exist from before 2008, as well as an unknown number of digital recordings made after this date. Coveney was unable to identify the listeners. Telephone calls at all 26 divisional headquarters of the Garda Síochána were tapped. Garda stations at the following locations were confirmed to have had all calls into and out of them tapped for at least three decades:
- Kelly, Fiach (25 March 2014). "Inquiry set up into taped phone calls at Garda stations". The Irish Times. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- Sheahan, Fionnan (25 March 2014). "Major revelations on recording of conversations in Garda stations". Irish Independent. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- "Irish inquiry: Concerns over Gardai secret phone recordings". BBC News. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- Phelan, Shane (26 March 2014). "GUBU barely does justice to a scandal as shocking as this". Irish Independent. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- O'Malley, Eoin (26 March 2014). "New politics? It's more a case of 1983 all over again". Irish Independent. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- Clifford, Michael (26 March 2014). "Another grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented moment with echoes of the past". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- McEnroe, Juno (22 May 2013). "Shatter: Garda chief told me about Wallace". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- Kelly, Fiach (20 March 2014). "Varadkar urges Callinan to withdraw ‘disgusting’ remark". The Irish Times. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
- "Callinan wrote to Department of Justice about recordings". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- "Micheál Martin says Taoiseach 'sacked' Callinan after he sent senior civil servant to see him before resignation". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- Kavanagh, Brian (26 March 2014). "First court case affected by the taping revelations as counsel questions whether her client's conversation with solicitor was recorded". Irish Independent. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- "Bugged! Letterkenny Garda Station phone calls were all taped". Donegal Daily. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- "Irish Police Probe Over Phone Tapping Claims: A government inquiry is launched over allegations phone calls in police stations in Ireland were illegally bugged for years". Sky News. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- "Coveney: Garda phone calls were digitally recorded after 2008". Irish Examiner. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- "Phone calls at all divisional Gardai HQ were taped". Irish Independent. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
- "This isn't the first time illegal recording of Garda station calls has been noted…". The Journal. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.