Shatter questions basis of inquiry into suspected surveillance
Minister says review will not be confined to looking at documentation
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions Hearing, on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has questioned the basis of the decision by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to launch an investigation into suspected surveillance at its offices saying it was based on “feelings” rather than evidence.
Mr Shatter appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight yesterday evening to discuss the ongoing controversy and, in an appearance lasting over four hours, he criticised the GSOC for not acting proportionately in initiating an investigation that was based on just two “vulnerabilities” identified by UK security company Verrimus, rather than evidence of surveillance.
He told committee members that a review of the matter to be conducted by a High Court judge, announced on Tuesday, will not be confined to looking at documentation but the judge will also be allowed to invite people in and ask them questions.
The terms of reference for the review were published last night.
The Minister also referred repeatedly to a peer review he commissioned from an Irish security firm, Rits, of the threats identified by the UK security firm hired by the GSOC. Mr Shatter and his officials agreed the reputation and expertise of Rits was commensurate with that of Verrimus.
In response to questions from Reform Alliance TD Lucinda Creighton, he indicated the Rits review had been conducted in a very short space of time but did not indicate the number of days.
It was put to him that the Rits report seemed to contradict everything that was contained in the Verrimus report about the security sweep.
Asked was he satisfied it was an entirely independent company, Mr Shatter and secretary general of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell said they were. Mr Shatter told committee chairman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn that Rits had posited alternative theories for each of the security breach findings of Verrimus, each of which was innocent. Mr Shatter would not agree to furnishing the committee with the Rits report but agreed to give a summary of findings.
In the course of his testimony, he did disclose he had been advised that setting up a fake 3G UK network did not necessarily involve a government-level set up.
He said such devices could be bought on the internet for €5,000, although independent TD Luke Ming Flanagan later said the cheapest he could find was €25,000.
In an apparent reference to the Rits report, he also said the range of such devices was 2-3km which included a wide area in Dublin city centre. He also said Rits had posited a theory in relation to the anomaly identified in a phone in the GSOC chair’s office.
He said it suggested the strange returned phone call at 1am might have come from the GSOC switch or a phone console (that routes calls within the office) rather than from a listening post. He said he did not have the technical knowledge to adjudge which version was correct but that task would be one for the High Court judge conducting the review.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett challenged the manner in which Mr Shatter made a statement to the Dáil, saying the Minister had omitted or downplayed details that suggested surveillance took place.
“You clung to that phrase ‘no definitive evidence’. The experts found there may have been surveillance . . . We do not know definitively but there was substantial evidence that they were bugged. Experts told them that one was of government-level technology. Any reasonable person would have concluded that an investigation was required.”