Belfast Telegraph

Inquiry to probe Garda phone taps

A State inquiry has been ordered into widespread phone tapping at Garda stations in Ireland spanning the past three decades.

Just hours after the Garda chief Martin Callinan dramatically quit his post, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the revelations were potentially so grave that a full statutory investigation was needed.

Mr Kenny said he was extremely concerned after being made aware by the attorney general over the weekend of the taping and recording of phone conversations at police stations from the 1980s up until last November .

In a statement, the Government said: "In the context of ongoing legal proceedings in a particular case, the Government has learned that a system was in place in a large number of Garda stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were taped and recorded."

Mr Kenny warned the revelations could have consequences for court cases past and present.

A report by force watchdog the Garda Ombudsman last year into three officers convicted of assaulting Waterford man Anthony Holness alleged phone calls in and out of the city's Garda station were recorded.

The Garda and the Department of Justice have been ordered to report back to the coalition on the sensational claims.

The announcement followed the shock resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who said he was retiring in the best interests of his family and the force after months of battling allegations of wrongdoing within his ranks.

Mr Callinan's dramatic stand down in a country unfamiliar with high-profile resignations has stunned those professionally closest to him as well as senior Government figures, some of whom had demanded he withdraw controversial remarks about whistleblowers.

In a statement Mr Callinan said: " In the best interests of An Garda Siochana and my family, I have decided to retire. I felt that recent developments were proving to be a distraction from the important work that is carried out by An Garda Siochana on a daily basis for the citizens of the State in an independent and impartial manner."

The Garda chief did not deal any further with the controversies that have rocked his stewardship of the force.

Mr Callinan tendered his resignation "with immediate effect" to the Justice Minister Alan Shatter this morning after coming under intense pressure in recent weeks to withdraw remarks he made about two whistleblowers within his ranks.

During a parliamentary watchdog hearing into abuse of the penalty points system by the force, the country's top police officer said only two officers out of 13,000 were making "extraordinary, serious allegations".

"Frankly I think it is quite disgusting, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting," he said at the time.

An Opposition backlash culminated in several Cabinet ministers, spearheaded by Transport Minster Leo Varadkar last week, calling for the remarks to be withdrawn.

A statement from Garda headquarters insisted the remark was about the manner in which "personal and sensitive data" was appearing in the public domain and not the character of the whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe or ex-garda John Wilson.

While Mr Callinan was expected to make some statement on the controversy early this week, his resignation has come as a shock to those closest to him in the force.

The Garda chief was due to retire last August but the Justice Minister tweaked a ban on gardai serving past the age of 60 to allow the police chief serve for two more years.

The order came at a time when hard-hitting cut-backs and reforms had to be inflicted on the force under Ireland's economic rescue package.

But the financial woes - including the closure of 100 Garda stations - appeared to be the least of his worries, as he was forced to battle several high-profile fall-outs about alleged Garda wrongdoing.

Last year, the long-running High Court judge-led Smithwick Inquiry said the Garda remained a force where "loyalty is prized over honesty" as it concluded officers colluded in the murders of two RUC officers in 1989.

Last May the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) launched an astonishing attack on the force, accusing it of withholding vital evidence from its inquiry into allegations that elite Garda officers colluded with a convicted drug trafficker.

The independent watchdog set up to investigate Garda wrong-doing claims a specialist unit within the force turned a blind eye to drug dealer Kieran Boylan's activities in exchange for information on other dealers.

The row laid bare mounting tensions between the force and its watchdog.

Sensational claims by Gsoc earlier this year that its headquarters in central Dublin had been bugged by government-level technology has led to yet another ongoing inquiry, headed by a retired High Court judge.

Furthermore, a dossier of alleged Garda wrongdoing gathered by the whistleblowers is being investigated in a Government-appointed inquiry by a senior counsel.

Whistleblower Mr Wilson, who is fighting cancer, said his former Garda boss had made the right decision.

"I take no pleasure in the demise of any human being," he said in a short statement to his local radio station Northern Sound.

"Martin Callinan has done this country some great service throughout his career in An Garda Siochana, but his position had become untenable and his decision to resign is the correct one."

Amidst the extraordinary developments, the Government said it would move to set up an independent Garda authority to supervise the force.

Proposals are to be made public after two separate ongoing inquiries into abuse of the penalty points system and alleged bugging of the force's official watchdog, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

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