Secret recordings of conversations between prison inmates and their lawyers are a shocking violation of human rights recognised around the world, the legal industry said tonight.
Just a week after the Irish Government was plunged into crisis over revelations that telephone calls at Garda stations were taped for decades, prison chiefs have admitted surveillance of prisoners talking to their legal teams.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was made aware of the practice by embattled Justice Minister Alan Shatter during their weekly Cabinet meeting.
It is believed 84 prisoners had their conversations "inadvertently recorded", he told the Dail, and a report into the affair has been ordered.
Ken Murphy, of the Law Society which represents Ireland's solicitors, said the latest disclosures deepened an existing controversy over rights being "systematically violated by the State".
"People in the enforced custody of the state are very vulnerable," he said.
"These latest revelations of taped conversations between clients and solicitors has to be investigated and has to be added to the terms of reference of the commission of investigation."
Supreme Court judge Nial Fennelly has been appointed as head of a commission of investigation into the Garda phone-taping crisis. The scope of his inquiry has yet to be agreed.
Mr Murphy said conversations between lawyers and prisoners are protected by legal privilege and linked to rights against self incrimination and the right to a fair trial, under the Irish Constitution.
"These are rights recognised in democracies around the world and their violation by agencies of the Irish State is shocking," he said.
Every recording will have to be listened to before it is decided what the implications are for each individual case, according to Mr Murphy.
"We have to find out how it happened and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
Last week, it was warned that dramatic revelations of a secret system recording telephone calls at Garda stations since the 1980s could threaten the outcome of past and present court cases, as well as the findings of long-running State inquiries.
Garda chief Martin Callinan stood down as the country's most senior police officer, claiming it was for the good of the force and his family.
Two days have been set aside in the Dail to hear debates on a vote of no confidence in the Justice Minister.
The Government has been accused of orchestrating a "cover-up" in the alleged wrongful arrest of an English journalist for the murder of a film producer, in a case which led to the Garda phone recording system being exposed.
Ian Bailey and his partner Jules Thomas are suing the State for wrongful arrest in the investigation into the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork.
Manchester-born Mr Bailey was twice arrested for questioning in connection with the murder but never charged. He has always denied involvement.
Evidence handed to their lawyers, under the rules of discovery, revealed recorded phone calls on Garda lines.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams warned Mr Kenny that serious concerns about Garda behaviour in the case are similar to those which sparked the Morris Tribunal, a marathon State inquiry into Garda corruption.
"At the heart of your Government, and at its core the Minister for Justice, is an attempt to cover up and to impede other Government and State agencies from investigating the allegations made by Ian Bailey," he told the Dail.
"That's a reason why the minister should go."
Mr Adams said Mr Shatter, the Department of Justice and Attorney General Maire Whelan all knew of the ex-Garda commissioner's refusal to provide requested material to the force's official watchdog, which was investigating the case.
An independent police authority is to be set up for the first time in the Irish Republic while a public consultation is to be launched into policing and justice reforms, the Government announced.
"The Government's intention is to have new structures, including the appointment of a new Garda commissioner by open competition and the establishment of a new independent policing authority, in place later this year," said a Government spokesman.