GSOC feared suspicions over gardaí risked ‘immense’ fallout

Chairman Simon O’Brien backs up account of commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald

The controversy surrounding alleged security breaches at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) escalated yesterday when its chairman said he suspected the policing watchdog had been under surveillance.

Simon O’Brien backed up the account of commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald that there was evidence of some sort of security breach at the commission’s headquarters in Dublin.

Since the controversy broke at the weekend, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has insisted the GSOC had found "no definitive evidence" of surveillance, and has rejected calls for an independent inquiry.

Mr O'Brien told the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions that the GSOC had launched a public interest investigation into the suspected surveillance after it was detected by private UK security consultants last September.

He also said the commission was investigating the source of a leak which led to details of the security sweep entering the public domain. “It is highly likely that information has come from documents within GSOC,” he said, with “less than seven” people having access to the documents.

'Serious questions'
The chairman of the Oireachtas committee, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, said it had grave concerns about some of the issues raised at yesterday's meeting. "Serious questions remain unanswered."

The committee is to contact the GSOC requesting the unredacted reports by the UK security company on a confidential basis. It is also to invite Mr Shatter to meet the committee.

Yesterday, Mr O’Brien said he did not report the suspected surveillance to Mr Shatter because he feared it would further damage the commission’s strained relationship with the Garda.

While he said he could not rule out the possibility that a member of the force was involved in surveillance of his organisation, there was no evidence implicating gardaí and there were other possible suspects. He could also not rule out the possibility that the GSOC was currently under surveillance. While he regretted not informing Mr Shatter of the suspected surveillance, Mr O’Brien said he made a “strategic decision” not to do so.

“The level of public disquiet in allegations that gardaí might be involved in any kind of that activity was immense,” Mr O’Brien said.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times