Calls into and out of the station for at least three decades were recorded and tapes and discs containing those conversations were kept.
The control over how this happened was retained in Dublin and not at Letterkenny Garda Station.
The shock revelation comes just hours after the Government was thrown into a new crisis over an admission that calls to and from some Garda station were being illegally recorded. The statement did not identify any of those stations but Donegal Daily has learned Letterkenny was one of them.
Members of the local legal profession have told Donegal Daily that the revelations here could have serious implications for cases, especially if phone calls between solicitors and clients being held at the station were recorded.
The Government has set up a statutory Commission of Investigation after learning that “a system was in place in a large number of garda stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were taped and recorded.”
In a statement, the Government also said: “From the information available, the practice of making recordings was in place for many years and was discontinued in November of 2013.
“It is not yet clear why this practice was in operation.”
Recordings began in the 1980s and continued until five months ago, being replaced by a digital system in 2008.
Minister Alan Shatter claims he was unaware of this until yesterday, even though the practice was referred to in a Garda Ombudsman report last June – and the Attorney General was told about it last November.
All ‘999’ emergency calls are taped, but the taping of calls into and out of Letterkenny Garda Station was illegal.
“If the inquiry finds that confidential telephone conversations between solicitors and their clients were recorded, it is a serious breach of civil liberties,” one leading local solicitor told us.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties agreed.
It has called on the Government to “stop the rot” by equipping its new statutory Commission of Investigation with terms of reference to examine the full spectrum of Garda accountability issues that has arisen in recent weeks. The ICCL considers that today’s revelations regarding the recording of calls to and from Garda stations may have grave ramifications for the administration of justice.
The Council has also welcomed the Government’s announcement that it will establish an independent Garda Authority, describing it as a “long overdue development”.
ICCL Director Mr Mark Kelly said: “For weeks, the ICCL has been calling for the creation of a proper statutory inquiry with the fact-finding powers necessary to restore public trust in the accountability of An Garda Síochána.
“Instead, the Government has chosen to refer each successive crisis to a different non-judicial mechanism, none of which has been granted the power comprehensively to establish the truth. Today’s revelations regarding the recording of calls to and from Garda stations may have grave ramifications for the administration of justice and this is the day when the rot must stop”.
“The vital process of restoring public trust in the accountability of An Garda Síochána must begin today, with the creation of an inquiry under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 legally empowered to examine and report upon the full spectrum of Garda accountability issues that has arisen in recent weeks. The ICCL recommends that the work of the Cooke and Guerin inquiries, as well as the review commenced by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality should be subsumed into a new judge-led statutory inquiry without delay”, Mr Kelly added.
Commenting on the Government’s announcement that it will establish an independent Garda Authority, Mr Kelly said: “The creation of an independent Garda Authority is a development for which the ICCL has been calling since the introduction of the Garda Act 2005. The Government’s announcement today that it recognises and will address this significant gap in our system of Garda accountability is welcome, if long overdue.”