Alan Shatter to give Oireachtas committee document of differences between two inquiries on GSOC bugging

Thursday 20 February 2014 06.32
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Alan Shatter appeared before a joint Oireachtas committee
Alan Shatter appeared before a joint Oireachtas committee
Mr Shatter has been criticised for not establishing a commission of inquiry
Mr Shatter has been criticised for not establishing a commission of inquiry

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has agreed to furnish an Oireachtas committee a document summarising differences between the outcomes of two reports on the potential surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Mr Shatter was responding to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.

The minister commissioned a peer review of the original report by secuirty firm Verrimus.

He said an IT security consultancy firm called Rits had found that there was “no evidence of any technical or electronic surveillance against GSOC.”

The minister confirmed that there were three alternative conclusions in the Rits report to the original Verrimus report.

Mr Shatter said he did not want to put full details of the Rits report into the public domain as it contains elements of the Verrimus report, which he said GSOC did not want published.

He said he wanted retired the High Court judge who will be conducting the inquiry into the issue to tease the matter out.

The minister eventually agreed to ask his officials to draft "something" that would summarise the difference between the conclusions found in both reports into any potential surveillance threat to GSOC offices.

The Government published the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry this evening and announced that Judge John Cooke will be conducting the independent inquiry.

His terms of reference include identifying the sequence of events leading up to GSOC's decision to launch its own public interest inquiry and to examine all relevant records and correspondence.

He will also be able to review and assess any evidence of a security breach or alleged security breach, including oral evidence as deemed relevant and to make recommendations.

Earlier, Mr Shatter told the committee that the only security breach that has been identified is the document that was leaked to The Sunday Times.

The minister said that from what he knows of the anomalies that were identified "there is no definitive evidence they were under surveillance at all".

Mr Shatter said that GSOC seems to be agreed that there does not seem to be a single thing in GSOC that has been accessed.

Their information systems have not been compromised and nothing confidential to GSOC has got into the public domain, he said.

The minister spoke about the second threat identified by GSOC. It concerned a phone apparatus that could be used for conference calls.

He said that a sound signal was sent down the phone and three seconds later the phone rang back.

At the time based on the report that GSOC received it was something of a mystery but it is one of the issues that the Rits report has looked into.

The suggestion is that there was somebody undertaking surveillance, said the minister.

He said that when you send a signal down a phone of this nature, there is some sort of a phone console used by the receptionist to distribute calls around the GSOC offices and this may have caused the phone to ring back.

He said that he cannot adjudicate on this but there is a possibility that there was nothing sinister about it. 

Mr Shatter said he ordered the inquiry into GSOC because he felt the matter had developed in a way that it may impact on public confidence in gardaí. 

The committee heard that Mr Shatter was "really concerned last week", that if there was an inquiry, it would result in a lack of confidence in GSOC. 

However, he said additional technical information contained in the Section 103 report led to the investigation.

'Claims and counter-claims' impacting on GSOC's work

Mr Shatter said claims and counter-claims were having an impact on GSOC getting on with its work.

Asked if it was possible if the chair of the review could extend the terms of reference, Mr Shatter said he could not imagine that would be a problem.

Mr Shatter also said he was not acting as an arbiter or a referee for GSOC or the Garda.

He referred to the use of the term "cozying up" by Independent Deputy John Halligan, who said it seemed GSOC, the minister and the Garda had "cozied up".

The minister said his role was to ensure the independence and integrity of both bodies, and to address legislative issues that need to be addressed and to ensure co-operation between the two bodies.

He acknowledged that it was important that the chairman of GSOC and the Garda Commissioner have a good working relationship.

But Mr Shatter said "to suggest in a deprecating fashion they cozied up and something happened that was inappropriate" was wrong of Deputy Halligan.

Earlier, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that he did not see the minister's explanations adding up.

He said that the minister told the Dáil that no information was furnished to him from GSOC suggesting gardaí were involved in any way.

But the briefing from GSOC to the minister said that such surveillance may have originated from An Garda Síochána.

Mr Boyd Barrett asked why the minister did not admit that last week.

The minister said that what he said in the Dáil last Tuesday week was true.

He said that "there was nothing to indicate of any description that the gardaí were involved at that point".

Mr Boyd Barrett said that Minister Shatter's statement hid the fact that there were substantial concerns that GSOC might have been bugged and one of the threats that was identified was government-level technology.

In testy opening exchanges,  committee chairman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked deputies to limit their questions to two and for Mr Shatter to provide "sharper answers".

Fine Gael's Michele Mulherin asked the minister if it was fair to say the action of GSOC was disproportionate in beginning his investigation when he did.

Mr Shatter said he did not want to comment on this, adding that it is an issue for the High Court judge carrying out the review.

Mr Shatter said he would be surprised if there was not some tension between the police force and the oversight body.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the minister about his "baseless innuendo" remarks.

Mr Shatter said he had been referring to the preceding 48 hours.

Last night in the Dáil, Mr Shatter said that a peer review of the technical information gathered by British company, Verrimus, had found no evidence of any surveillance.

In a statement, security firm Verrimus said it had been reminded of its obligations under Section 81 of the Garda Síochána 2005.

It continued: "This means that our operators and Verrimus as an organisation are prohibited from discussing operational details, findings, evidence, reports or contemporaneous log entries related to this task.

"We have so far been happy to correct misinformed and inaccurate reporting of technical threat possibilities and capabilities.

"As there is now scheduled, what we hope is a thorough and robust judicial review, it would be inappropriate for Verrimus to continue to provide such technical threat advice to the media via statements.

"We stand by the evidence in our original report to GSOC, supplemental reports and the signed investigation log and evidence compiled by GSOC and Verrimus operators during the investigation.

"We will therefore allow the due process to take place and will welcome all opportunities to discuss in detail our processes, findings, log entries, evidence and the context of these with the appointed Judge if requested to do so."

Motion for independent inquiry defeated

A motion calling for an independent inquiry examining whether the GSOC office was under electronic surveillance, has been defeated in the Dáil tonight. 

The Sinn Féin private members motion was introduced to the house last night. 

The motion was defeated by 82 votes to 49 votes. 

Fianna Fáil's O'Dea says review is a 'joke'

The Opposition earlier criticised the Government for not establishing a commission of inquiry.

Sinn Féin said the Minister for Justice should not be setting the terms of reference of the review.

Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea described the proposed inquiry as a "joke".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said he wanted an inquiry under the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, carried out by an independent person who can question witnesses and issue findings.

He said: "Alan Shatter is the central player in this controversy.

"His role in any inquiry should be that of a witness not as the person setting up and managing and setting the terms of reference of the inquiry."

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte defended the establishment of the review.

He said: "They have got an independent review and they are still jumping up and down."

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, the minister added: "I think most people out there understand the play acting that is going on."