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Dublin: -2 °C Thursday 27 November, 2014

GSOC chairman’s position is ‘not in question’, and he won’t be retiring

The head of the AGSI says it’s not acceptable that GSOC suspected a crime may have taken place and that it wasn’t reported to gardaí.

Image: phone via Shutterstock

Updated at 9.12pm

GARDA STAFF REPRESENTATIVE bodies have been giving their reaction to the developing controversy at the Garda Ombudsman Commission, following reports that the watchdog organisation’s offices were bugged last year.

The AGSI, which represents middle-ranking gardaí, has called for the chairman of GSOC Simon O’Brien to consider his position.

However, a statement this evening said that O’Brien would not be resigning, and his position was not in question, RTÉ reports.

Kieran Fitzgerald of GSOC is to appear on RTÉ television programme Prime Time tonight.

‘Not acceptable’

General Secretary of the association John Redmond spoke briefly to reporters on his way into a meeting on an unrelated matter at the Department of Justice this morning.

Redmond said it was not acceptable that GSOC suspected a crime may have taken place and that it wasn’t reported to gardaí.

Asked whether he was calling for O’Brien to step down or to consider his position, Redmond replied that the GSOC chairman should “consider his position, most definitely”.

The GRA, which represents rank-and-file gardaí, didn’t go quite as far as that — but General Secretary of the body PJ Stone said an immediate, extensive independent inquiry was needed.

“From listening to pundits on all sides of the debate it seems there is a toxic relationship here between the Garda Síochána and GSOC,” Stone said.

“I don’t believe there is any garda involvement in this — but to remove any suspicion there should be an independent inquiry set up immediately to get to the bottom of this.

“My members are left exposed. Their data could have been syphoned off — if this is not the case then we need further clarification immediately.”

Misplaced emphasis

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has also added his voice to the calls for an independent body to be brought in.

Speaking earlier, Martin said the Government’s approach to the matter to date had placed undue emphasis on secondary issues — like whether the Commission should have reported what happened to the Minister for Justice at an earlier date.

Asked about the issue yesterday, several Cabinet members raised the issue of why the matter wasn’t brought to Shatter’s attention earlier.

However, Martin said that the focus should be on the “key issue” of “was the office bugged?”.

“Emphasis seemed be focusing on the issue of whether or not [The Garda Ombudsman] should have referred this to the Minister,” Martin said.

He said the issue of what had happened “needs to be urgently resolved” adding that it was important the full facts came out in order to maintain public confidence in the agency.

Statements

GSOC was called in to discuss the developing controversy with Minister Shatter yesterday.

In a statement released after that meeting, the agency said that “three technical and electronic anomalies” that could not be “conclusively explained” were found following an investigation which concluded in December.

The agency said it regretted not bringing the matter to the Minister sooner, but that it was satisfied its databases were not compromised.

GSOC also stressed:

There was no evidence of Garda misconduct. The Commission decided to discontinue the investigation on the basis that no further action was necessary or reasonably practicable.

In the wake of that statement, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan released one of his own, taking issue with GSOC’s reference to the gardaí.

He said he would be seeking clarification from the agency on “issues resulting from its statement”.

It is a cause of grave concern that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s statement contains a clear indication that An Garda Síochána was in some way suspected of complicity in this matter despite GSOC’s overall finding that the existence of technical and electronic anomalies could not be conclusively explained.

image

Garda Ombudsman Chairman Simon O’Brien leaving  a meeting with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice yesterday [Niall Carson/PA Wire]

Chairman of the Public Service Oversight Committee Pádraig McLochlainn has also suggested that a third organisation be brought in investigate the matter further.

McLochlainn, who is also Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, said further investigation would be needed if GSOC confirmed it had been bugged.

“We’re in unknown territory, because the Garda Obmudsman — which is meant to watch the watcher — apparently has been spied upon,” the deputy told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“If they do confirm that ‘yes, we were spied upon’ then the report from the consultancy company would need to be looked at.

“We may have an issue here where we need to find some international body to investigate this.”

Ministers were briefed on yesterday’s meeting with GSOC by Minister Shatter this morning.

First posted at 12.30pm

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

Read: GSOC confirms ‘electronic anomalies’ found, and regrets not disclosing it

Related: “I don’t know what ‘anomalies’ are” — Howlin on GSOC findings

Taoiseach: Details of bugging controversy should be made available for ‘public analysis’

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