Dáil Sketch: Nothing routine about bugging revelations

Transcript question leaves Kenny uncomfortable

Thu, Feb 13, 2014, 01:01

There was evidence. But that evidence wasn’t definitive.

They had suspicions. But couldn’t prove any offence.

It was suspected that members of the Garda could have been behind the caper. But as no offence was definitively identified they couldn’t accuse anybody of committing one.

However, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) believed its offices were under surveillance. Stuff was coming out in the media that should not have been coming out. Was somebody spying on them?

They cannot say if this surveillance might have been authorised at official level. They just don’t know.

So the GSOC decided to sweep its premises for surveillance devices. It found “threats” and believed it was being monitored.

This wasn’t a routine operation. They felt they had reason to worry.

No big deal as far as the Taoiseach and his Minister for Justice are concerned. All routine, insisted Alan Shatter on Tuesday night in the Dáil.

Except it wasn’t. To use Shatter’s own yardstick – definitively, it wasn’t. The chairman of GSOC, Simon O’Brien, totally contradicted his Dáil version of the story yesterday. No Government members on the Oireachtas committee to look into this affair seemed bothered to ask why the Minister seemed to have gotten his information so wrong when speaking to the Dáil. He had, after all, had a long meeting with O’Brien.

Behind the bugs
And Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae from Kerry wittered on about “Inspechtor Clue-Soh” and tried to float the idea that the person who leaked the document was also the person behind the bugs.

He accused O’Brien, the chairman of GSOC, of casting “aspirations” on the very excellent members of the Garda Síochána.

On the other hand, somebody leaked a secret document from the GSOC to a newspaper. Now that, these hotshot TDs could deal with.

Labour’s Derek Nolan also seemed to think the leaker could be the snooper.
It took Richard Boyd Barrett to point out that somebody with access to classified documents would not have any need for surveillance equipment.

But the Government line was all about finding the mole. And case closed.

Never mind the bugs, the existence of which the GSOC couldn’t prove beyond a doubt, but are near-certain existed.

Some people might think this is a very scary development deserving further investigation. Members of the commission were forced to hold sensitive meetings in coffee shops near their offices and wouldn’t use their mobile phones to discuss the issue.

That’s a lot of hugger-mugger for something the Taoiseach and his Minister appear to feel is of little consequence.

But as for the matter of the leak, now that’s a different issue entirely. A document marked “secret” fell into the hands of a reporter. A story appeared in the newspaper. How could the GSOC have allowed this to happen? Who leaked the information? Suddenly, certain political knickers got themselves into a twist around Leinster House.

Decent enough
The commissioner was decent enough to rule out any suggestion of Garda involvement in the surveillance of his premises.

But the other commissioner – the one who runs An Garda Síochána – was not happy that his force was dragged into the story. Shatter wasn’t happy either. He demanded to see the first commissioner – the one who runs the rule over the guards.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Opposition, tiring of the very complicated and confusing story of the bugs, moved on to the tastier tale of a transcript of a conversation between a Garda whistleblower and an individual known as “The Confidential Recipient”.

The recipient allegedly tells the whistleblower not to upset Shatter with his allegations because the Minister will “finish him”.

Shatter said on Tuesday night he knew nothing about “some transcript”. This even though Mick Wallace read a chunk of it into the Dáil record last Thursday morning. If nothing else, did curiosity not get the better of Alan?

The Taoiseach got himself tangled up in the affair during Leaders’ Questions when he said he sought out the transcript and read it on Tuesday after the matter was aired again in the Dáil.

“Where did you get the transcript, Taoiseach? Where did you get it?” he was repeatedly asked by Fianna Fáil. The Taoiseach didn’t say.

Row back
Then he was pressed by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams to row back on his insistence over the last few days that the GSOC is obliged by law to report to the Minister for Justice if there is something concerning him.

Not so. The law, recognising the independence of the office, merely states that the commissioner “may” inform the Minister.

Finally, after much pulling and dragging, Enda caved in and said the word “may.” With the best of bad grace.

“I think we have put that all behind us now,” he declared, as the Opposition hooted with laughter. It Enda’s funniest one-liner in a long time.

But back to the committee looking into the quare yarn of the leaks and the bugs and the conflicting stories emanating from it. This story stinks. The commission, judging by the evidence of its chairman, is dreading what might appear in next Sunday’s paper.

But the chairman is of a mind to forget the whole thing. He mentioned more than once how the Garda Commissioner was very “kind” to him when they chatted over a coffee yesterday morning. He wants to get past this crisis. Everyone, it seems, wants to get past this crisis.

“This is where we are. We are here now. Now let’s move on” said Commissioner O’Brien.

It would be nice to get some answers before they do.