Belfast Telegraph

Kenny denies sacking Callinan

Irish premier Enda Kenny has denied sacking the country's police chief over the uncovering of a system of wide-scale taping of phone calls in and out of Garda stations going on for several decades.

The Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan dramatically revealed he had decided to "retire" yesterday for the good of his family and the force amid a blaze of controversies afflicting the force. The move stunned even his closest aides.

Taoiseach Mr Kenny confirmed a senior Government official was despatched to the police chief the previous evening to warn him about the gravity of revelations of a secret technical recording network in the country's Garda phone lines - which dates back to the 1980s and was modernised as late as 2008.

"I thought it appropriate, given the nature of the information made available to me that the Commissioner should be made aware of the gravity of how I felt about this and its implications," he said.

Opposition Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the import of the sending out an official to the Garda chief was clear.

"You essentially sacked him... Calling a spade a spade, that's what that means," he said.

But Mr Kenny angrily denied the allegations, responding: "I deplore what you are suggesting."

In a further day of high political drama in a crisis that has rocked the Fine Gael/Labour coalition, Justice Minister Alan Shatter denied he knew about the secret Garda recording system, which is feared could wreak havoc with historic and ongoing court cases.

Before the Dail, Mr 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.

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, he told the parliament.

"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. After a technological overhaul in 2008, recordings were made digitally and it has yet to be confirmed how many of those conversations were taped.

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 Garda over recent months, was forced to go before the Dail 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.

Questions have also been asked about the role of the Attorney General Maire Whelan, who was made aware of the tapes as far back as last November.

But Mr Shatter said 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.

Separately, the Government issued a statement saying Ms Whelan was not present - as would be normal - at the crisis Cabinet meeting yesterday because she was at a private family event.

Mr Kenny said he was only made aware of the taping system by the Attorney General on Sunday - but that she refused to discuss it with him over the telephone.

Mr Shatter told the Dail: "These are the facts as I have been informed of them, but of course there are many questions which need to be answered.

"That is why the Government has decided that it is necessary to establish the facts and has announced that there will be a statutory inquiry."

The beleaguered minister said the matters under investigation far pre-dated his time in office and existed throughout the lifetime of previous governments.

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

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he had decided to "retire" yesterday in a move that stunned even those professionally closest to him.

In a statement confirming his decision to stand down - a year-and-a-half before he was due to retire under a special extended deal with the justice minister - he did not deal any further with the controversies that have rocked his stewardship of the force.

The Garda chief had come under intense pressure in recent weeks to withdraw remarks describing the actions of two whistleblowers within his ranks who uncovered wrongdoing as "disgusting".

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