Leaked security sweep findings caused major policing crisis

A Garda Ombudsman security sweep turned into a national security crisis when details were leaked

While An Garda Síochana and its watchdog the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) have always endured a difficult relationship, the bugging controversy that erupted earlier this year brought it to a new low very rapidly.

While An Garda Síochana and its watchdog the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) have always endured a difficult relationship, the bugging controversy that erupted earlier this year brought it to a new low very rapidly.

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 23:37

While An Garda Síochana and its watchdog the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) have always endured a difficult relationship, the bugging controversy that erupted earlier this year brought it to a new low very rapidly.

A media report first appeared stating GSOC’s offices had been bugged.

And the controversy exploded when the commission issued a statement introducing the suggestion that the Garda must have been the chief suspect for the apparent spying.

How did all of this start?

On Sunday, February 9th, The Sunday Times newspaper carried a front page report saying a security sweep carried out for GSOC of its own offices in Dublin’s north inner city found evidence that its telephones and WiFi had been bugged.

The sweep was conducted by the UK private security company Verrimus during a number of visits in September, October and November of last year.

The report also suggested the equipment used in the bugging was not commercially available, suggesting the involvement of a State agency.

Everybody thought the Garda must be the prime suspect. But without any evidence, this suspicion was not publicly aired.

Opposition parties immediately seized on the fact that GSOC clearly did not feel it could go to the then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter or the Garda.

So what happened then?

The following day, GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien was called to Mr Shatter’s office to brief him. The Garda complaints body then released a statement that had the effect of significantly ratcheting up the crisis.

It never said it had definitive proof it was bugged but said three unexplained technical and electronic “anomalies” had been found.

It “regretted” taking the decision not to report the matter, before adding: “There was no evidence of Garda misconduct.”

It was the first time that any arm of official Ireland had introduced the prospect that the Garda was a suspect for spying on the body that investigates it.

Was the Garda happy its name was cleared?

That wasn’t exactly how they saw it. The then garda commissioner Martin Callinan was furious and said the mere mention of the Garda as possible suspects unfairly incriminated his force.

The Taoiseach weighed in saying of fundamental importance was the reasons why GSOC did not report its concerns to Mr Shatter, especially when it began a formal investigation and was duty bound to inform him.

He was quickly forced to backtrack and concede GSOC is independent and not answerably to Government in that way.

Mr Shatter continued to fight off calls for a public inquiry, saying there was no proof of bugging and therefore nothing to inquire into.

While Mr Callinan was furious publicly, he privately invited Mr O’Brien to Garda Headquarters for what were effectively clear the air talks.