Retired High Court judge to investigate GSOC bugging claims

Wednesday 19 February 2014 06.41
The Cabinet has decided to appoint a High Court judge to look into the allegations at GSOC
The Cabinet has decided to appoint a High Court judge to look into the allegations at GSOC

The Government has approved an investigation into claims that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission offices were bugged.

At its meeting today, the Cabinet decided to appoint a retired High Court judge to look into the allegations. 

The terms of reference for the inquiry will be set by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and the judge will have eight weeks to report back. 

Mr Shatter has confirmed he would be appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Petitions Committee tomorrow.

Speaking tonight in the Dáil, Mr Shatter said a peer review report from ‘RITS’ gives as an opinion, based on the reports provided to it, that "there is no evidence of any technical or electronic surveillance against GSOC".

He said: "That is no evidence at all, not merely no definitive evidence."  

This report, he said, also disputes other conclusions reached by Verrimus.

He said that unexplained accessing of the wifi in GSOC came from an Insomnia coffee shop located on GSOC's premises. 

That premises advertises wifi availability for customers and connectivity to Bittbuzz.  

"I am unaware of any credible information that surveillance is being conducted on GSOCs offices by any of the customers of Insomnia," he said.

He also said that information about an IMSI catcher, the third threat identified by Verrimus, is widely available on the internet.

The minister said such devices have a range of up to several kilometres, so that even if there had been such a device it could have been anywhere in central Dublin and there is no indication whatever that it was directed at GSOC, whose staff do not use UK-registered mobile phones.

He said the level of hysteria surrounding the debate was extraordinary and said he was pleading for a discussion based on fact not on hyperbole.

Mr Shatter also said his integrity had been questioned. 

Opposition parties gave a guarded welcome to the Government inquiry. 

Sinn Féin Deputy Mary Lou McDonald said the Government had been dragged "kicking and screaming" to this point, and insisted that Mr Shatter had political questions to answer.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee is to examine extending the remit of the Garda Ombudsman legislation.

Ms McDonald called on the Government and all parties to support a Sinn Féin private members' motion for an independent inquiry into suspicions of surveillance at GSOC.

She said that in the absence of an independent inquiry all of the facts would not be established.

Fianna Fáil had said it would support the motion. It said it had first called for such an inquiry.

New Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said GSOC needs to have the support of the Oireachtas and the institutions of the State to do its job.

"I think every ombudsman needs to be seen to be independent. They need to be objective," he said on RTÉ's Morning Edition.

"My job is answerable to the Oireachtas. It is not answerable to individual ministers.

"I think for people to have confidence in the office of ombudsman, they have got to have the support of the institutions of the State and the Oireachtas in order to be able to do their job.

"At the heart of this appears to have been a suspected, at the least, bugging of their offices and the leaking of confidential documents.

"Under those circumstances, it is important that they get to the bottom of that and that they resolve any outstanding issues. I'm sure they need support in order to be able to do that."

Martin raises alleged GSOC surveillance in Dáil

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny about GSOC being placed under surveillance.

He said that the Taoiseach told the Dáil an “untruth” which switched the focus on whether the offices were bugged to who leaked the information from.

He accused the Government of airbrushing facts from the story.

He said that he understands the Government have decided to appoint a retired High Court Judge to review the issue but he claimed that the Minister for Justice withheld very basic and vital information that was in the public interest last Tuesday evening.

He said that the GSOC is not answerable to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Justice.

Mr Kenny rejected the assertion that Mr Shatter has misled the House.

He said that in regard to the responsibility of GSCC, which is to oversee An Garda Síochána, when GSOC initiate a public interest investigation it can only be into the Garda.

He said the minister has no difficulty in going before the Public Oversight Committee.

Mr Martin asked about the exact remit of the inquiry.

He put it to the Taoiseach that the minister "did not level with the Dáil last Tuesday night."

He said that there is something fundamentally wrong with the administration of justice in this country.

The Taoiseach said that if Mr Martin has information about the mal-administration of justice in this country that he should, as he is duty bound, to bring it to the note of the Minister for Justice.