Category: current
Updated: 07/04/17 : 05:21:40

Sligo stopped taping non 999 calls after November 2013

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, author of The 740-page Fennelly Report
By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

SLIGO GARDA station was one of nine in the country where the recording of non 999 calls ceased over three years ago.

On varying dates after November 12th 2013, non 999 lines were ''physically removed'' in those nine stations, a new Report for the Government has confirmed.

No Downloads

The nine stations were Sligo, Drogheda, Ennis, Galway, Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Monaghan, Mullingar and Waterford.

A review of computerised audit trails for the two telephones used in Sligo station shows that ''no calls from those lines were downloaded between 2008 and 2014.

Short-segment playbacks from other calls into the Incident Room at Sligo are identified in the audit trail. These include:-

1. Routine maintenance which involved ''listening briefly to a randomly chosen call in order to check that the system was recording properly;''

2. Playback ''listening to a short segment of the call in course of trying to identify another requested call for which inadequate information had been provided.''

It has also emerged that the practice of taping non 999 calls across the Sligo and Leitrim Garda Division did not require written permission.

''The practice.....was to require approval from the District Superintendent for any access request,'' a new reports has confirmed.

Deemed Sufficient

The new Report adds of Sligo station: ''This approval need not have been in writing.

''A phone call from the Superintendent was deemed sufficient,'' said technicians based in Sligo. 

From 1995, twenty-two Divisional Stations commenced recording non 999 calls coming in on their main line.

But recordings (on the older system) stopped once these calls were transferred to internal extensions, confirms yesterday's Report.

Between 1995 and 2008 no Divisional Station required that access requests had to be authorised personally by the District Superintendent.

''At Sligo Garda Station, the technician would occasionally seek confirmation from the Superintendent in relation to oral requests to access calls.

''But any written request from a Garda member was processed without recourse to the Superintendent,'' confirms a major new examination of the practice.

The above details are all included in the final Report of The Fennelly Commission published yesterday, Thursday. See link below.

The Report runs to 740 pages and examines the issue of taping non 999 at Garda stations around the country.

The Commission of Investigation was given the formal task of examining ''certain matters relative to An Garda Siochana and other persons.''

Very Surprised

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly was sole member of the Commission of Investigation set up by the previous coalition government of Labour and Fine Gael.

Their decision followed ''significant public concern,'' noted Mr Justice Fennelly, after the taping practice became knowledge.

Yesterday's Report confirms Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan was ''very surprised'' to learn that calls other than 999 calls could be taped in Divisional Stations without -- says the report -- her knowing about it.

Added O'Sullivan: ''I was very surprised and I know the former Commissioner (Martin Callanan) was also very surprised when we initially learned.....that this practice had developed.''

Meanwhile, yesterday's Report details how permission for technicians to tape such non 999 calls differed from station to station.

In Letterkenny technicians devised their own form and recorded every written permission, whether from Superintendent or an Inspector acting on that officer's behalf.

'Bit Awkward'

The technician covering the Roscommon and Longford area kept a record of written requests ''but verbal requests may not have been noted,'' said yesterday's Report by Mr Justice Fennelly.

One technician from Roscommon explained how this might have occurred in the context of ''some operational request that is urgent and somebody wants to listen to something.''

Added the technician: ''You may be seen as being a bit awkward if you say 'well, where is the written request from the District Superintendent.'''

Yesterday's report, says its executive summary, confirms there was no taping of calls between solicitors and clients held at Garda stations.

The potential to tape and later download calls arose with the changeover from the DAT to NICE hard-drive system.

The latter system had the potential to store greater volumes of calls, ''much easier to search for, play back and copy records,'' noted Mr Justice Fennelly's Report.

Password Protected

He noted that no new lines could be added to the newer system without the ''knowledge and approval'' of Telecommunications personnel at Garda HQ in Dublin.

Mr Justice Fennelly also reported that ''all activity'' on the newer NICE system was audited and could be reviewed.

Access to the recordings of non 999 calls was limited to persons with ''specific password-protected accounts on the system.''

More generally, said Mr Justice Fennelly, it is clear the entire history of the matter is associated with error and misunderstanding.

Link (Report of April 2017):