Coalition dismisses GSOC claim over Cooke report

Government disquiet over commission chair’s claim ‘question marks’ remain

Mr Shatter welcomed the Cooke report’s findings: ‘I dealt with these matters in a straightforward, truthful and comprehensive way.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Mr Shatter welcomed the Cooke report’s findings: ‘I dealt with these matters in a straightforward, truthful and comprehensive way.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 01:00

The Government has dismissed claims by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) that “question marks remain” in the wake of the Cooke report into reports that its offices were unlawfully bugged.

Although Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has expressed confidence in the GSOC board, comments yesterday by its chairman Simon O’Brien prompted some disquiet in Government circles.

“GSOC has some serious self-examination to do,” said a senior Government source.

The source cited GSOC’s decision to initiate a public interest investigation into the bugging allegations, which was described as “possibly a premature recourse” in the report of retired High Court judge John Cooke. The source also cited its failure to notify then minister Alan Shatter of the results of the investigation in line with its “mandatory obligation”, which was set out by Mr Justice Cooke.

Unresolved

In his report to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the retired judge said the evidence did not support the proposition that actual surveillance took place.

However, Mr O’Brien told RTÉ radio that one matter remained unresolved.

“There is still an outstanding anomaly, and in the words of the judge, as he says in these rather febrile areas, it’s difficult to know whether that could be in relation to unlawful intrusion,” he said. “So, question marks still remain.”

Asked about Mr O’Brien’s remarks, a Government spokesman said the report made it clear there was no evidence to support the bugging claims.

“The supposed anomalies have been dealt with in detail by the retired judge,” the spokesman said.

“The Government accepts his findings and intends to act on his recommendations. We’re working in a new era of transparency in Justice and all stakeholders have a role to play, including GSOC.”

The GSOC affair was one of number of controversies earlier this year that undermined the authority of Ms Fitzgerald’s predecessor, Alan Shatter.

Shatter welcomes findings

In a statement yesterday evening, Mr Shatter welcomed the retired judge’s findings.

“I dealt with these matters in a straightforward, truthful and comprehensive way,” he said.

“In doing so, I also detailed the statutory obligation of GSOC to inform the Minister for Justice of progress made in and the conclusions of any public interest investigation undertaken pursuant to section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.”

He added that he addressed such matters in the Dáil on three occasions last February in his capacity as minister: “I did so on the basis of information then available to me as received from GSOC, including their technical reports and a technical peer review of those reports commissioned by the Department of Justice.”

“I reported to the House GSOC’s own conclusions that ‘no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance was uncovered’ with regard to their offices.

“I also recounted that there was no identified connection between any member of An Garda Síochána and any of these matters.”