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IRA trial adjourned over secret Irish police recordings

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Media captionIrish Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologised in the Dail on Wednesday

Revelations about police phone tapping in the Republic of Ireland have led to the first adjournment of a trial before the criminal courts.

Two men accused of IRA membership have had their trial adjourned "in light of recent events", according to Irish state broadcaster RTÉ.

The Irish government launched an investigation into the secret police recordings on Tuesday.

Just hours earlier police commissioner Martin Callinan had resigned.

Lawyers for the two men successfully applied for the adjournment at the Special Criminal Court.

They told the court that their clients had telephone calls with their solicitors while in police custody and before they were subsequently interviewed by officers.

The barristers sought disclosure of any records of the phone calls that might exist.

Denied

A prosecuting lawyer said that police were completely unaware of any recordings and the two men were in custody at Cahir and Clonmel police stations in County Tipperary.

The judge agreed to adjourn the trial until Thursday to allow the state to investigate further.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Alan Shatter has denied he knew about the secret recordings of telephone calls into and out of police stations.

Mr Callinan had sent a letter to Mr Shatter's department about the secret recordings on 10 March.

But Mr Shatter told the Dáil (Irish parliament) he only saw the letter for the first time on Tuesday.

Mr Shatter said: "I know that there are reports that I knew of the system of recording in Garda stations last year, but this is not the case."

Prime Minister Enda Kenny also denied that he sacked Mr Callinan.

Mr Kenny confirmed a senior government official was despatched to the police chief on Monday evening to warn him about the gravity of revelations about the secret recordings.

"I thought it appropriate, given the nature of the information made available to me, that the commissioner should be made aware of the gravity of how I felt about this and its implications," he said.

'Implausible'

Opposition Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the import of the sending out an official to the police chief was clear.

"You essentially sacked him... Calling a spade a spade, that's what that means," he said.

But Mr Kenny angrily denied the allegations, responding: "I deplore what you are suggesting."

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Image caption Shane Ross said the government's explanation for events was 'totally incredible'

Senator Shane Ross said the "scenario being painted by the government" was implausible.

"I don't think there is a sinner outside this house who believes a word of the scenario being painted by the government," he said.

"Two days ago there was a cabinet crisis of a fairly hefty dimension, and suddenly to the rescue comes this bombshell of news about the system containing tapes that no-one knew about before.

"That was no coincidence - it's quite obvious that several people were sitting on this, waiting for an opportune time.

"It came to the rescue and it also served the minister and the government's purpose well in that it accelerated the resignation of Commissioner Callinan.

'Totally incredible'

"Somebody leaked a letter last night that didn't fit in with the government's scenario which said the Department for Justice knew about this on 10 March.

"Why this explanation is totally incredible is that nobody on God's earth can believe how a letter of this importance arrived from an officer of the state on a matter of apparently great urgency, and the minister wasn't told."

He added: "I believe the minister when he says he didn't see the letter until yesterday, but was anybody informed of the contents before then?

"If the officials knew, the political masters must have known - if they weren't told, there is something pretty rotten in the state of the Department of Justice."

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, Niall Collins, said Mr Shatter was "completely unfit to continue to hold office".

"The administration of justice under your watch is in total crisis and it has been now for a long time," he said.

"By virtue of your actions and your inactions and your incompetence, An Garda Siochána (police) are at the centre of political debate day in and day out, and it is due to your mishandling of a series of events.

"It is not credible what you have been saying and really I think it is time that you should leave the ministry of justice."

Shut down

The secret recordings date back to the 1980s, and the recording network was modernised as recently as 2008.

The recording system was shut down last November.

At least 2,485 audio recordings that were being stored at police stations around the country have been moved to police headquarters in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Mr Shatter said he only received Mr Callinan's letter from his officials at 12:40 GMT on Tuesday, but did not have the chance to read it until later that evening.

Mr Callinan's letter was sent to the justice department on 10 March, but Mr Shatter only received it when he returned from an official St Patrick's Day visit to Mexico.

The letter was sent by courier to the department five days before Mr Shatter left for the trip.

On Tuesday the the Irish government announced an inquiry into the claims of widespread secret recordings by police.

Just hours earlier, Mr Callinan had resigned, following a controversy over whistleblowers.

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