Shatter: ‘GSOC has no evidence of unauthorised surveillance’
Minister for Justice addresses Dáil on allegations of spying on Garda watchdog
There is no definitive evidence of unauthorised surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission , Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has told the Dáil. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times
“I would like to begin by emphasising the important public role played by An Garda Síochána as the police force in this State and by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) as the independent body with the important remit of investigating allegations of police misconduct. Each is a crucial pillar in our constitutional democracy and each plays a vital role in the public interest. It is of vital importance that public confidence is maintained in each of these bodies and that when carrying out their duties they at all times behave in a manner which is appropriate. Each of them has an important and separate investigative role and it is crucial that that role is exercised with the utmost integrity and any conclusions reached when investigations are undertaken are based on well founded and solid evidence.
“It is of vital importance that both organisations comply with their statutory reporting obligations and communicate clearly on issues of public concern and leave no room for ambiguity. It is also important that each organisation respects the role of the other and is mindful of the service they perform in the public interest.
“Each must be conscious of how their actions and words may affect public confidence in each organisation but must show no fear or favour when seeking to ascertain the truth on issues no matter how difficult or potentially controversial. This is my basic starting point in my reporting to the House this evening.
“I welcome this opportunity to place on the record of this House the facts as they are known to me about allegations that the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were subject to surveillance.
“As the House will be aware, these allegations first surfaced in a newspaper last Sunday under the headline ‘GSOC under high-tech surveillance’.
“It is important to say at the outset that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has informed me that, after an investigation, they concluded that no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance of their offices was found. Moreover, they have informed me that their databases have not been compromised. In other words, it has not been established that the offices of the Ombudsman Commission were subject to surveillance. Some public comment has proceeded on the basis that it is an established fact that the offices of the Commission were bugged when clearly it is not.
“I first learnt of these allegations from the newspaper report last Sunday. I immediately made contact with my officials and we arranged to meet yesterday with the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Simon O’Brien. For reasons which I hope the House will understand, I refrained from public comment on this matter until that meeting was held and I had a chance to brief my colleagues in Government on the matter this morning.
“I will now set out the facts on the basis of the briefing which I received from the Commission. I want to emphasise that this account is based on the information available to me at present. The House will understand that there needs to be - and is - continuing engagement between my Department and GSOC about this matter. I have requested that I be furnished with the report received by them arising out of the security check on their offices and I await their response to this request.
“The issue in question arose following a security sweep, in September 2013, of GSOC’s offices in Dublin. I am informed that there was no specific concern which caused GSOC to organise the security sweep, which was carried out by a security firm based in Britain. It was a routine sweep of a nature which had occurred previously. I do not think anyone could argue that it is unreasonable for a body which, of its nature, holds sensitive information to take measures to ensure the security of its communications.
“I am aware that, in the normal course, it is not desirable to put in the public domain issues relating to security of technology and communications. But, because of the particular public concerns which have arisen in relation to this issue, I will give the House as much information as I can. I am concerned too that some of the public comments which have been made may have inadvertently led to some confusion surrounding this issue.