THE new garda €100m digital mobile radio service cannot yet be rolled out because if lost, the devices cannot be switched off, leading to serious potential problems if they fall into the wrong hands.

The new Tetra radio service was due to be rolled out countrywide for use by the garda and emergency services on 15 April. However, it still has not been introduced and the Sunday Tribune understands one reason for this is that it has not yet known how to switch the radios off when lost. "A number of technical difficulties were discovered on initial testing in April of this year. Work is currently on-going to resolve these difficulties," said a garda spokesman.

Despite the problems, the new radio system is expected be vastly superior to the existing garda radio system and is encrypted, ensuring criminals cannot use scanners to monitor police communications

This newspaper reported last week that the €100m communications system will play havoc with television reception around the country.

Garda stations are preparing for hundreds of complaints from householders over severe disruption to their TV services.

The communications regulator Comreg said it had already prepared an information leaflet about the new system for people who may experience degraded terrestrial television reception as a result of it. The leaflets will be distributed to garda stations nationwide for householders living in close proximity to garda stations or other facilities where a Tetra base station is installed.

The Tetra system, which has been promised by successive governments for more than 10 years, is scheduled to be in place in all garda divisions within two years, not taking into account the current delays.

The old analogue system was built 25 years ago and didn't work in parts of the country. It could easily be listened into by criminals with cheap and easily available scanners. Gardaí on the ground regularly use their own personal mobiles for work.

"This new system has been a long time coming but it's really a safety issue. We need to be confident when using these radios that no one can listen in. It's a security issue," said a senior garda source.

Tetra Ireland, comprising Eircom, Motorola and Sigma Wireless, will be responsible for the maintenance of the technology. The Garda Síochána paid for the phones and will pay Tetra for use of the system.

Since 2002, a small number of Dublin units, including Dublin north central division, the Traffic Corps and, recently, the Dublin eastern division have being using a Nokia digital radio system.