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Covert surveillance in jails was ordered outside normal rules – reportNew Page

26 Jul 2019 / justice Print

Covert jail surveillance was outside normal rules

Justice minister Charles Flanagan has published the report of the Inspector of Prisons  Patricia Gilheaney, into allegations of surveillance and other wrongdoing in the Irish Prison Service (IPS). 

The allegations included monitoring of solicitor/client consultations but no evidence has been found of this happening.

The Minister asked the Inspector to carry out a preliminary investigation into the allegations that emerged in November 2018 in an affidavit lodged as part of judicial review proceedings. 


The allegations relate to the Operational Support Group (OSG), which was established in 2008 to combat the supply of contraband to prisons, such as drugs, mobile phones and weapons. 

In an affidavit which emerged through court proceedings in November 2018, it was alleged that a small number of personnel in the OSG carried out improper surveillance in the Midlands prison as well engaging in other wrongdoing such as the deliberate monitoring of solicitor/client consultations and the placing of a tracker device on the private car of a prison officer.

Main findings

The Inspector’s report found that:

  • €29,000 was paid by the IPS to two private security firms in 2011 and 2012 for services including covert surveillance, tracking and CCTV, and that these services were procured outside normal rules,
  • there is some evidence to corroborate the allegation that covert surveillance was carried out in a unit in the Midlands prison in 2011,
  • there is some evidence to support the allegation that covert surveillance was carried out in an office in the Midlands prison between October 2011 and December 2012,
  • there is no evidence to corroborate the allegation that solicitor/client consultations were deliberately monitored,
  • there is some evidence to support the allegation that, in an OSG operation (in January 2012 rather than 2013 as alleged) a van containing drugs and telephones entered the Midlands Prisons and was seized by the OSG,
  • the only evidence to corroborate the allegation that a prisoner was recruited as an informant and supplied with a telephone is that there was such a prisoner in custody at that time,
  • the allegations concerning deaths in custody (and the absence of protocols or procedures for the preservation of a scene following a death in custody) have been corroborated (although the report also found that IPS management had engaged with the previous Inspector of Prisons on this issue and that progress had been made to address it),
  • there is some evidence to corroborate the allegation that a tracking device was placed on the private car of a prison officer, but that the Inspector cannot make a finding that this allegation is true.

The report (at paragraph 11.5) states that:

The evidence does suggest that in an effort to curtail the flow of contraband into IPS facilities, a small number of personnel within the OSG acted in a unilateral manner which was beyond the original remit of the OSG, that does not appear to have followed any standard procedural or operational guidelines and which fell outside of acceptable practice. “

"There is a conflict of evidence as to whether these activities were authorised by the then OSG governor. There is no substantive evidence to corroborate the allegation in the affidavit that these activities were carried out with the knowledge or authorisation of senior management within the IPS.”

During the course of the investigation, the IPS brought to the attention of the Inspector evidence that may have been unlawfully obtained or have involved the unauthorised collection of personal data. 

The Inspector asked the IPS to provide this evidence to An Garda Síochána and the Data Protection Commission since these are the appropriate bodies to carry out any further investigations.


The report makes a number of recommendations, principally calling for:

  • a review of the OSG,
  • a revision of procedures for the approval of invoices,
  • staff in prisons to be accountable to the most senior governor in the prison to which they are assigned,
  • the introduction of a code of ethical behaviour,
  • a review of policies and procedures in relation to information-gathering, surveillance and CCTV,
  • more stringent screening of persons, including staff, entering prisons,
  • adherence to public sector procurement procedures.


In response to the report the minister said that is essential that the IPS makes every effort to prevent drugs, weapons and other contraband from entering prisons.

However, all actions taken must be absolutely lawful and based on clear, authorised and accountable procedures, he said. 

IPS director general Caron McCaffrey, has ordered a review of the OSG and will introduce a new code of ethics this year, with an emphasis on transparency and openness.

Since the period covered by the Inspector’s report (2010-2013), the Irish Prison Service has updated invoicing and purchase order procedures.


The minister will shortly put in place a process to appoint a new Prisons Board under an independent chair and its remit will be to uphold professional standards of performance across all prison service activities.

A new audit committee will report directly to the board. Two other committees, dealing with risk and culture, will also report to the board. An internal audit function will also be established which will review and help improve key internal controls and control systems.

The Operational Support Group (OSG) was established in 2008 to combat the supply of contraband to prisons, such as drugs, mobile phones and weapons. 


Measures have also been taken to counteract the use of drones to bring goods into prisons.

Statistics for the seizure of contraband for since the establishment of the OSG are as follows:

















































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