Seems like no one has been ‘minding’ the Guards for years…

If you want to get a measure of the trouble both the Minister of Justice and now the Attorney General (the second case of a key office holder avoiding making a report to said Minister of Justice) is, this contribution from Independent TD Stephen Donnelly at Leader’s Questions this morning.

As other stories began to fade out came this:

It is understood that recording devices installed in the 1980s at the country’s main stations were routinely taping conversations.

Although their initial purpose was to record bomb threats, emergency calls and messages for gardai the devices have remained in place since the 1980s.

“Over the years many forgot that they existed but at some stations the tapes were stored and on occasions checked for specific reasons.”


Martin Callinan informed the Department of Justice of the recordings in a letter sent earlier this month, and he asked that the information be passed on to Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

RTE News is this morning reporting that the letter was sent on 10 March – five days before the minister left for Mexico for St Patrick’s Day and 11 days before he returned.

But Mr Shatter has insisted through a spokesman that he was not aware of the letter until Monday, and he only saw it for the first time yesterday.

Mr Shatter is facing serious questions about his level of knowledge of thousands of secret recordings of calls to and from garda stations which began in the 1980s and continued until last November.

The minister said he only learned of the practice on Monday, even though senior officials in his department were told two weeks ago.

The Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has just published the following questions:

  • Why did the Taoiseach not explain why his Attorney General failed to inform him or the rest of the Cabinet about the establishment of the working group into the matter last November?
  • Why did the Attorney General fail to contact the Taoiseach or the Minister of Justice having been informed by the Garda Commissioner on the 10th of March that the tapping of Garda phones threatened to undermine the courts process? If the Taoiseach cannot explain the Attorney General’s actions in this regard, how can her position be tenable?
  • The Taoiseach has been presiding over a Government where the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General are clearly unable to work together. Why he did he not resolve this problem?

It’s hard to see how this is going to end well for Minister Shatter, a competent minister but one with a fearsome reputation it seems his colleague fear to tell him the truth. The Attorney General Maire Whelan has some serious questions to answer too.

Deputy Donnelly’s point is probably the most pristine of those made, which is that with the need for widespread reform the government needs a Minister for Justice who can command the respect of the public and the institution itself.

You get the distinct impression that no one in politics has been ‘minding’ An Garda Siochana for years…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty