A former prisoner officer says he told the Department of Justice almost 30 years ago that inmates’ meetings with their lawyers were being secretly recorded in Portlaoise prison.
Seán O’Brien says he was taken aback when justice minister Charlie Flanagan expressed concern on Friday about a report from Patricia Gilheaney, the inspector of prisons, of an investigation she conducted into claims by a serving officer that conversations between prisoners and solicitors had been monitored. The report is being considered by Séamus Woulfe, the attorney-general.
“I know it happened because I was one of the officers who recorded them,” said O’Brien. “I was instructed to record meetings between certain IRA prisoners and their solicitors. I had to listen through the wall in the reception area next to where the legal meetings took place.
“One time, I remember another officer putting a glass to the wall to enhance the audio of the legal visit.
“We wrote down what we heard on ‘a half-sheet’ — an official form that was about A4 size. Then we’d hand it over to [the authorities].”
O’Brien, from Clara, Co Offaly, said he attended a meeting with a senior official in the Department of Justice on June 14, 1988, and told him about the recordings. He claims to have spoken “numerous times about it” with Flanagan, a local TD. Their last conversation, according to O’Brien, was in December 2014 when Flanagan was the minister for foreign affairs.
Flanagan’s spokeswoman said the minister has known O’Brien for more than 30 years. “He believes that any issues raised by Mr O’Brien with him were in his capacity as a constituency TD and were, the minister believes, dealt with appropriately.”
O’Brien said he also discussed the issue with Enda Kenny when he was the taoiseach, and it was referred to an independent review mechanism set up by Frances Fitzgerald, then the justice minister. O’Brien’s claims were not referred onward for further investigation.
O’Brien, 59, was dismissed on health grounds from the Irish Prison Service in 1989, 12 months after he had pursued Patrick McVeigh, an IRA prisoner, and stopped him escaping.
Kevin Winters, O’Brien’s solicitor, said: “We are instructed to consider legal proceedings on his behalf in relation to his treatment in response to what he was saying, in particular about the issue of surveillance. We will be writing to the minister this week and the specific nature of the legal action will be dictated by the response.”
With many thanks to: The Irish Times and Justine McCarthy for the original story