Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Questions (190)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

190. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if any phones in Irish prisons are being or have ever been recorded or monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15678/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service does not record calls made by any prison-based staff or officials based in its headquarters. The Irish Prison Service phone system keeps a log of all landline calls made to and from individual prisons and headquarters but this is a log only, containing data such as the number dialled from, number dialled, date and time of call, and duration.

At present, the Prisoner Phone System records all prisoner calls with the exception of two call channels which are left unrecorded. These are channel 1 which is assigned to the prisoner’s solicitor and channel 99 which is assigned to the Samaritans. The prisoner is fully aware of the fact that they are recorded as his/her consent is given on his/her nomination form which he/she signs shortly after committal. This is in accordance with rule 46 of the Prison Rules, 2007.

On Tuesday 1 April, I was informed of an anomaly whereby 139 prisoners currently in custody had, or previously had, more than one solicitor on the Prisoner Phone System and who had their phone calls to the second solicitor inadvertently recorded as they were outside the restriction parameters that were then in place on the system. This anomaly has potentially been in place since July 2010 when the current Phone System was introduced. Since the introduction of this system, a total of 2,842 calls between a prisoner and a second solicitor have been recorded. 1,749 such calls relate to the 139 prisoners currently in custody who have or who previously had a second solicitor listed on the system.

In these cases, and with immediate effect, the Irish Prison Service took steps to ensure that all previously recorded calls were made inaccessible to staff members. In addition, action was immediately taken on the Prisoner Telephone System to prevent staff adding multiple solicitors to the system. An interim measure has been put in place to deal with this matter and it is expected that a permanent solution will be in place within a number of weeks.

I can further advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service have confirmed that the content of any of the inadvertently recorded phone calls has never been made available to any third party including any member of An Garda Síochána. In order for An Garda Síochána to get copies of any recorded phone conversations by prisoners, they need to firstly make an application at Superintendent level to the Irish Prison Service providing the specific details and reasons that they require same. The Irish Prison Service have categorically stated that they have never approved the provision of a copy of a prisoner’s phone calls to his/her solicitor to An Garda Síochána under any circumstances.

The Irish Prison Service intends to write to the solicitors of the prisoners who are affected to inform them of this situation and to apologise for the inadvertent recording of the calls.

Finally, I have asked the Inspector of Prisons to carry out an urgent independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the recording of telephone conversations between prisoners and their solicitors. The Inspector has been asked to carry out his investigation pursuant to section 31 of the Prisons Act, 2007 and to submit his report to me as soon as possible. The Inspector’s report will be published.