Shatter asks GSOC to clarify ‘bugging’ statement details

Minister appears to stop short of giving commission chairman his full support

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: last night rejected out of hand allegations from the Opposition that he had misled the Dáil on the surveillance controversy.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: last night rejected out of hand allegations from the Opposition that he had misled the Dáil on the surveillance controversy. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 08:47

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has written to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) seeking clarification on what he said were contradictions in the watchdog’s statements around whether its offices were bugged or not.

Mr Shatter also appeared to stop short of giving the GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien his full support last night.

He accused the Garda complaints commission of breaching its legislative obligation to keep him informed any time it opened an inquiry in the public interest of its own volition.

“Unfortunately that obligation wasn’t complied with in this case,” he said.

Public interest inquiry
He was referring to the public interest inquiry the GSOC launched late last year into the surveillance-related anomalies found in its own offices, which it opted not to report to the Garda or Government.

Mr Shatter said some of the evidence given by Mr O’Brien before an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday contradicted other statements at the same hearing.

However, he rejected out of hand allegations from the Opposition that he had misled the Dáil on the surveillance controversy. Calls for an independent inquiry, if acted upon, would give rise to the impression the investigation the GSOC had already carried out into suggestions it was bugged “could not be trusted”.

‘Confidence in GSOC’
When asked if Mr O’Brien still enjoyed his full confidence, he said: “I have confidence in GSOC.”

He was “very conscious” Mr O’Brien and his colleagues had answered questions before the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions for a long period of four hours, a practice they were not accustomed to.

“During the course of that event there were different answers given in regard to particular issues. Indeed, some of what was said during the course of that seemed to me to be a little confused or contradictory.”

He said at no stage during an oral briefing to him on Monday had Mr O’Brien said there was evidence found of bugging at the GSOC offices.

Despite a public narrative emerging that the office was bugged, Mr Shatter said that even the UK security experts’ report did not state that, insisting there was “no definitive evidence”.

This was despite GSOC telling Wednesday’s committee hearing that the likelihood anomalies found on Mr O’Brien’s conference call landline being anything but evidence of surveillance was “remote to zero”.

“I think Mr O’Brien didn’t give me that information. He didn’t express that view,” Mr Shatter said, in an interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme last night.

Potential threats
“What was stated was that vulnerabilities or potential threats, or abnormalities had been identified. And I acted on foot of that. I was told the story that I told the Dáil. I do think now that there’s some confusion and my concern has resulted in me writing to GSOC requesting that these matters be clarified.”

He had last night forwarded to the Oireachtas committee the written brief supplied to him by Mr O’Brien, and he will appear before the committee next Wednesday.

Former GSOC commissioner Conor Brady said a commission of investigation headed by a senior counsel should be appointed to investigate the matter.

He said Mr O’Brien was right not to report his findings to Mr Shatter or Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan because more information was needed.