Prison officer still not contacted in ‘urgent’ inquiry

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The prison officer who made claims about covert surveillance in the Irish Prison Service has still not been contacted nearly two months after the justice minister ordered an “urgent” inquiry into the matter.

Minister Charlie Flanagan announced on November 22 that he was seeking an urgent investigation into the allegations which had appeared in the Irish Examiner that morning. He asked the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to investigate the matter under section 31 of the Prisons Act.

“Surveillance can be necessary to prevent illegal trafficking of substances into prisons, but this must of course be carried out in accordance with the law,” Mr Flanagan told the Dáil before ordering a statutory inquiry.

David McDonald, the senior prison officer who had made the claims, said that the surveillance was covert, included non-prison service employees such as life partners, and was conducted by a private investigations company. Some of the surveillance would have involved recording conversations between solicitors and clients, he said.

Mr McDonald claimed that deaths in custody were not being handled properly and cited meetings he had had on the issue with the former inspector of prisons, the late judge Michael Reilly. This last claim is not included in the inquiry ordered by the minister.

Mr McDonald is a senior officer in the operational support group within the prison service, a unit set up to prevent contraband entering prisons. He made his claims in an affidavit sworn in relation to a dispute he is engaged in with the prison service. The dispute involves three members of the support group unit who believe they have been treated unfairly by the prison service.

Mr McDonald has yet to be contacted by Ms Gilheaney or any representative on her behalf. His solicitor was contacted, but, in correspondence, pointed out to Ms Gilheaney that it is unclear what kind of investigation she is conducting.

The minister appointed her to investigate under a section of the Prisons Act 2007 which allows her access to prisons, but not to investigate the prison service.

“It is our client’s contention that the issues raised in his supplemental Affidavit relate to the management and operation of the Irish Prison Service and/or An Garda Siochána. In those circumstances we should be very much obliged if you would kindly indicate on what basis therefore your investigation is to be conducted,” the solicitor wrote in reply to Ms Gilheaney.

The Irish Examiner understands there has been no contact since then.

Meanwhile, a number of prison officers whom Mr McDonald claimed had been under covert surveillance have been informed of the claims. A specialist unit, which Mr McDonald claims was under covert surveillance despite its target being just one of their number, has been briefed on the issue. This newspaper understands there have been no official denials of the covert activity.

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