Garda employee swept office for listening devices, PAC told

John Barrett’s concern for eavesdropping indicates mistrust between Garda colleagues

An Garda Síochána’s head of human resources, John Barrett, swept his office for listening devices at a time serious divisions were emerging in the Garda.  Photograph: Frank Miller

An Garda Síochána’s head of human resources, John Barrett, swept his office for listening devices at a time serious divisions were emerging in the Garda. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

A senior civilian employee in An Garda Síochána had his office swept for listening devices in 2015 when he learned somebody had gained access to it for a number of hours, according to a submission to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The force’s head of human resources, John Barrett, took the action during a time when serious divisions were emerging at senior levels of the Garda about how to deal with the ongoing historical and financial irregularities at the Garda Training College in Templemore.

An unnamed senior colleague of Mr Barrett had taken a note of a meeting between the two in November 2015 in which they discussed Mr Barrett taking files “off site” from Garda headquarters. The colleague noted Mr Barrett had done so because he was concerned about confidentiality in his own office.

The note states: “John [Barrett] told me that he had been particularly uncomfortable sometime previously when somebody else had been given access to his private office for a number of hours.

“He had actually, following advice, had his office swept for listening devices. I told him that was good practice, and he should consider having it done periodically.”

The disclosure indicates the extent of mistrust and suspicion between some senior Garda colleagues at the time.

Official papers

Around the same time, and unknown to Mr Barrett then, the Garda’s executive director of finance, Michael Culhane, had written to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan asking if Mr Barrett was unwittingly guilty of a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act. This was because Mr Barrett had taken official papers off site.

The details of the conversation between Mr Barrett and the unnamed colleague were contained in documents obtained by Mr Barrett from the Garda when he sought information about Mr Culhane’s letter more than a year later.

The details form part of an 80-page submission by Mr Barrett to the PAC this week. The PAC has been examining the financial arrangements over many years at the training college.

Among the issues being pursued by the PAC is whether the commissioner and her senior colleagues should have alerted other agencies, including the Minister for Justice, at an earlier stage about matters relating to Templemore.

In his submission, Mr Barrett said a report he produced about Templemore in July 2015 had sufficient detail to ground an alert to the Minister. He said the first time the Department of Justice became aware was in October 2015, three months later. That reporting could hardly have been described as “immediate”, as the commissioner had said to the PAC, he stated.

He also said the most senior levels of the force were fully aware, or should have been so, much earlier than they have stated.