Threats to integrity of GSOC’s communications security


T he reported bugging of the offices of the Garda Ombudsman Commission with technologies not commercially available has raised issues of fundamental importance. It is a disturbing development and demands a robust Government response. In view of the poor relationship that exists between the Garda Síochána and the ombudsman commission and consequential, damaging speculation, an outside individual – such as a senior counsel – should conduct an inquiry.

The GSOC’s failure to report the breach of security to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter raises questions of accountability and trust. Spending some €50,000 on establishing the extent of electronic surveillance and then upgrading its security systems is no small matter. Having done that, it should have alerted both the Minister and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. That it did not do so suggested the independent agency had lost confidence in those it should expect, under normal circumstances, to support its activities – though it should be noted, “there was no evidence of Garda misconduct”, according to the GSOC statement issued last night.

Covert surveillance of the commission’s offices is believed to have started two years ago, before recent, highly publicised disagreements with the Garda Commissioner. Concerns about internal security were heightened last summer and a British security firm subsequently confirmed that its communications systems had been compromised. Those engaged in the surveillance became aware they had been detected, it reported, and had removed traceable evidence. Because of that, it was not possible to check if criminals or rogue elements had been involved, or whether the intrusion had been sanctioned.

Because the technologies employed are not commercially available, attention inevitably turned to the Garda Síochána. The incident revived concerns aired by the Morris tribunal that some members of the force might be out of control. An internal atmosphere of intimidation and distrust certainly exists. The release by Mick Wallace of the transcript of a taped conversation involving a garda whistleblower and a superior officer, last week, confirmed that reality.

A visceral reluctance to support the ombudsman commission in holding the Garda Síochána to account may account for Mr Shatter’s past, excessive caution. But it does not excuse it. He is now in an exposed position and is likely to be subjected to considerable political pressure. Under his watch, reforms regarded as essential by the Morris tribunal did not receive adequate support. The Minister has asked the GSOC why he was not told about this potentially explosive event and he deserves a comprehensive reply. The commission did not, however, bug itself. An independent investigation is required.

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