PAC divided on phone taping investigation

Ross wants committee to initiate inquiry but Deasy is wary of straying into political area

Independent TD Shane Ross said the PAC should as a matter of urgency initiate its own investigation into the award of a Garda contract for a system to record calls in stations. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Independent TD Shane Ross said the PAC should as a matter of urgency initiate its own investigation into the award of a Garda contract for a system to record calls in stations. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 15:22

The Public Account Committee is seeking information on Garda phone tapping but some committee members are wary of interfering in the work of the Commission of Inquiry into the affair.

Although Independent TD Shane Ross said the PAC should as a matter of urgency initiate its own investigation into the award in 2007 of a Garda contract for a system to record calls in stations, Fine Gael TD John Deasy said the committee was straying into an area that had more to do with politics than value for money.

The exchanges today follow claims in political circles that the PAC had engaged in “ambulence chasing” in recent months by investigating matters examined by other Oireachtas committees.

“I think if there’s no problem with the procurement, as the Comptroller & Auditor General has just said, I think we should be wary about this,” Mr Deasy in response to Mr Ross.

“Maybe it’s a simplistic way of putting this: if there was a tender for firearms for An Garda Síochána and they were used in, hyptothetically, an illegal shooting, would the Public Accounts Committee be getting involved in the tender for those firearms? I think we’re bringing it a bit too far.”

However, PAC chairman John McGuinness said there was nothing to stop the committee seeking information on the contract before deciding whether to establish its own inquiry. “We could ask for the material from the Department to look at it and determine what we would like to do with it. That’s an option. I don’t think it’ll cut across any other investigation.”

At the PAC hearing this morning, Mr Ross said the Commission’s work would continue for a long time and said there was scope for the PAC to intervene.

“I think it’s important that since the Garda commissioner cancelled these activitities that we look at them and that we look at whether there was a waste of public money and whether it was being properly used.”

Mr Ross said the committee should examine why the contract was procured, whether there was value for money and whether the activity facilitated by the contract was illegal.

Comptroller & Auditor General Séamus McCarthy expressed his reluctance to become involved in such an initiative by the PAC .

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to initiate anything in relation to this and reporting in relation to this, certainly until such time as the Commission’s terms of reference have been established, and even then I think I would be reluctant to become involved in an area and to cut across another exercise.”