Tánaiste insists Government has confidence in GSOC

Garda Ombudsman is before Oireachtas committee about security sweep

 Simon O’Brien, chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, who is due to appear before an Oireachtas committee today.   Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Simon O’Brien, chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, who is due to appear before an Oireachtas committee today. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Wed, Feb 12, 2014, 16:38

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said earlier today that the Government has confidence in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) . The organisation is before an Oireachtas committee about its decision to seek a security sweep of its Dublin office last year.

At issue for some members of the Committee of Public Service Oversight and Petitions is the question what led the Ombudsman to bring in external consultants to carry out the sweep.

The hearing began at about 4pm in Leinster House.

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Asked if he believed the public were entitled to know what had happened, Mr Gilmore said of course they did.

“Every State organisation, I think, has to be accountable and I think it’s important that we remember why GSOC is there in the first place is to have an independent ombudsman commission for the Garda Síochána, he said.

“ I think we all remember a period before it was established and issues like Abbeylara were very much to the fore. So it is important that we have an independent Garda Ombudsman Commission.”

He noted the commission’s appearance before the Oireachtas committee to day to answer questions.

But asked if there should be an independent inquiry, Mr Gilmore said he believed it was “too soon for something like that”.

“Obviously there are questions that have to be answered and they will obviously be asked by the Oireachtas Committee today and I think we should see that take its course.”

“Some people obviously have queries and questions and wonder what happened and I expect that they will answer those at the Oireachtas committee and that’s as it should be. I think every public body has to be accountable and in this case to respond to the questions that will be put to them by the Oireachtas committee.”

Asked if the Cabinet had full confidence in GSOC and its chairman, Mr Gilmore said:

“Yes the Government has confidence in GSOC. It is important that we have an independent Garda ombudsman’s commission. As I’ve said, we all remember the kind of issues that arose before we had an ombudsman’s commission.”

Mr Gilmore said it was an important body and it was very important that there was public confidence in An Garda Síochána and in GSOC.

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe, who is a member of the committee, said: “One thing I would like to resolve is what triggered the sweep because several versions seem to be out there and because that does frame events thereafter.”

“This idea that it might have been a random sweep seems rather odd if three things then come up.”

The Ombudsman has said no definitive proof that any bugging was uncovered. However, the issues raised centred on the discovery of a WiFi device connected to an external network, activity on a conference call phone and the discovery of a British 3G network, near the ombudsman’s office.

“If there was a real trigger for the investigation, as I think there may be, it changes the personality of the story,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

At the same time, she said saw no disparity between the Ombudsman’s account of the affair and the remarks of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The ombudsman has been told that the possibility of a benign explanation for some of the anomalies uncovered was “remote to zero”. Mr Shatter has said the affair turned on “potential threats or vulnerabilities, not evidence that surveillance had, in fact, taken place.”

Ms O’Keeffe said the ombudsman and the Minister were coming at the question from difference standpoints.

She said she will ask the committee today to seek a hearing with Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

GSOC commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald said last night the watchdog “cannot definitively say we were bugged”.

However, its advice was that the possibility of there being a benign explanation for some anomalies found during the sweep of its offices was “remote to zero”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time last night, he said: “what we are faced with at the conclusion of this is that we could more or less dismiss some of these threats, on the balance of probabilities. On others, we just do not know.”

Opposition calls for an independent inquiry into the affair were rejected yesterday by the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice.

It is believed GSOC will “stand by” its public statements to date on the matter at the committee today.

“There were anomalies found, there wasn’t enough to go further with it but not going to the Government at the time was a mistake,” a source said.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors called on the GSOC chairman Mr O’Brien to resign, saying he should “consider his position” after the commission had “usurped” the Government by not reporting the alleged surveillance to Mr Shatter.

Mr Fitzgerald said the commission did not take its findings to the Minister because it had uncovered no definitive evidence.

Mr Shatter said the GSOC had informed him the issue had arisen following a routine security sweep last September at its Dublin offices that was not prompted by any specific concern. The sweep had identified two technical anomalies which raised a concern of a surveillance threat to the GSOC.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he hopes some clarity over the suspected bugging of GSOC headquarters will emerge at the meeting.

“I would expect that when the GSOC attend in formal session at a public committee, clarity will be provided,’’ he told the Dáil yesterday. “It is very necessary.”

The three Garda Ombudsman commissioners Mr O’Brien, Ms Foley and Mr Fitzgerald are expected to appear before the committee.

The Government has expressed its confidence in the GSOC and its chairman Simon O’Brien, despite concerns about his handling of the controversy. “I have no beef with GSOC,” Mr Shatter told the Dáil yesterday.