A secret police telephone recording system could force the re-opening of probes which exposed corruption at the heart of Irish public life, it is now feared.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned that tribunals of inquiry – which ran for years and cost huge sums of public cash – could have been compromised by the latest twist in a bugging controversy that has rocked the government.
The spectre was raised as judges were warned of potential chaos in ongoing criminal cases, and lawyers threatened to challenge convictions of murderers, rapists and IRA members.
Turmoil is now expected over fears cases could be challenged on the basis that defence teams were not aware of relevant – and possibly illegal – recordings of phone conversations in Garda stations.
Mr Kenny revealed the coalition government’s concerns that the debacle extends to the safety of findings by tribunals.
“I don’t know the scale of the actual contents of what are in all those tapes but we’re concerned about it,” he said.
“It’s a serious issue, where in some cases court cases have been dealt with, others reaching up as far as tribunals, it may have implications for some of the findings there.”
No particular inquiries were named.
However, as well as corruption cases, tribunals which might be affected could include Judge Peter Smithwick’s investigation into Garda-IRA collusion, as it dealt specifically with the allegation that the IRA had a mole in Dundalk Garda station.
That tribunal focused on the 1989 murders of RUC men Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan and in yesterday’s News Letter, John McBurney, solicitor for the Breen family, demanded Gardai disclose whether they withheld secret phone recordings.
Mr McBurney has suggested Judge Smithwick can re-open the investigation if he thinks he has been misled or an attempt has been made to pervert the course of justice.
He said: “Judge Smithwick must be troubled. I think he will be genuinely shocked.”
A state inquiry has been ordered into the recording revelations, exposed hours after Martin Callinan stood down as Irish police chief on Tuesday.