Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the recording of telephone conversations between prisoners and their solicitors. 

In a statement issued tonight, Mr Shatter said: "I have asked the Inspector of Prisons to carry out an urgent independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the recording of telephone conversations between prisoners and their solicitors. 

"The Inspector has been asked to carry out his investigation pursuant to section 31 of the Prisons Act, 2007 and to submit his report to me as soon as possible. 

"The Inspector's report will be published."

Mr Shatter’s statement also set out the terms of reference for the investigation:

-  To identify the circumstances which gave rise to the recording of these telephone conversations and the action taken to address this;

- To identify any action now required to address the issue including any amendments to existing law, regulations and practices; and

- To consider the data protection implications of the recording of conversations and any action required to ensure compliance with Data Protection legislation and the rights of those in prison.

Irish Prison Service apologises for recording calls

Earlier, The Irish Prison Service said it does not believe that prosecutions or convictions will be affected after it emerged that thousands of conversations between solicitors and prisoners were recorded.

Director General Michael Donnellan has apologised for what he said was a mistake.

He said the prison service is still trying to identify all those whose calls were recorded. He said it will contact them once it has done so.

Mr Donnellan also said that he did not expect that the State will have to pay damages because of the recordings.

The problem with prisoners' calls to their solicitors being recorded was first realised a week ago.

The Director of the Prison Service, following the emergence of the garda phone recordings, checked to see if there were any issues in relation to telephone calls in the prisons.

It has now been established that a total of 2,842 conversations were recorded since July 2010.

A total of 1,749 calls were made to solicitors by 139 prisoners who are still in custody.

The remaining 1,093 recorded calls to solicitors are still being investigated, but are believed to relate to prisoners who have since been released.

An anomaly in the system meant that calls prisoners made to a second solicitor were inadvertently recorded.

This occurred in all prisons except for the two open prisons and the E-wing in Portlaoise, which houses some of the country's most dangerous inmates.

The Irish Prison Service said only 81 calls were accessed by prison staff, but it is now writing to all the solicitors and prisoners to tell them what has happened and to apologise.

It will also contact Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes.

Mr Donnellan said gardaí did not have access to the recordings, but up to 20 internal prison service staff involved in security and IT did have access.

The prison calls are expected to be included along with the garda recordings in the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation.