A RETIRED HIGH Court judge is to review the issues surrounding claims that the offices of the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) were placed under surveillance in an effort to bring clarity to the issue, the government announced earlier today.
The news follows a Cabinet meeting this morning. The terms of reference and the judge to be appointed to lead the review have yet to be finalised but a report is expected by April.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the terms of reference will be set by Justice Minister Alan Shatter with advice from the Attorney General and the judge will report their findings “within eight weeks”.
He confirmed that the inquiry will not take place under the 2004 Commission of Inquiries Act – legislation the opposition parties have said should be used.
During Leaders’ Questions, Kenny said that “all of the documentation, all of the technical reports” will be made available to the judge in addition to expertise.
He said: “Clearly, in the requirement of clarity about the sophisticated issues, of course he’ll have the opportunity to have expert personnel explain what those complex technicalities might be.”
In addition, ministers have agreed that the Oireachtas Justice and Defence Committee is to review legislation concerning GSOC with a view to enhancing it.
In a statement this afternoon Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he has briefed the Cabinet “in relation to further information and documentation received from GSOC and further technical information I have received regarding the alleged surveillance of GSOC”.
“I will be addressing all of these matters in the Dáil tonight,” Shatter said, adding that he will also appear before the Oireachtas Public Oversight and Petitions Committee tomorrow afternoon.
The news has been welcomed by the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who said in a statement: “An Garda Síochána will co-operate fully with the Judge’s examination.”
But the Garda Ombudsman stopped short of welcoming the inquiry, saying: “In light of the Government’s very recent announcement of its intention to appoint a retired High Court Judge to inquire into recent events involving GSOC, the Commission wishes to make no further comment at this time.”
Reacting to the news this afternoon, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said the terms of reference, the identity of the judge and the scope of the inquiry need to be clarified promptly and said the government has been forced into a u-turn.
“Not alone Minister Shatter, I think the entire government has been dragged kicking and screaming on this issue,” she said, saying the inquiry is a “logical step”.
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins (below) pointed out that it is day nine of the current controversy which he said has been “hugely damaging to the independence of GSOC” and said more details of the inquiry are needed.
He was speaking as his party published a Bill which it says will strengthen the powers of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, including giving it access to the PULSE system, making the garda commissioner responsible to it, and allowing it to investigate complaints made by serving gardaí against other gardaí.
Earlier, McDonald claimed that in the absence of an independent inquiry into claims that the offices of the Garda Ombudsman were placed under surveillance the truth is unlikely to emerge.
The Sinn Féin TD was speaking ahead of her party’s plans to table a private members’ motion this evening which calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the matter and prior to the government announcement.
“We’re convinced at this stage that as the story has rumbled on it becomes all the more evident day-by-day of the necessity of the inquiry,” McDonald told reporters at Leinster House today, saying such an inquiry should take no more than a couple of months.
She said that the Oireachtas Public Oversight and Petitions Committee, which meets with Shatter tomorrow, is unlikely to to get to the bottom of the matter as it lacks the necessary expertise.
“I think anybody who imagines that the committee will be in a position to get to the bottom of these matters is very much mistaken,” she said of a committee which her own party colleague Padraig MacLochlainn chairs.
She also accused the Justice Minister Alan Shatter of having misled the Dáil and of being selective in the information he disclosed to TDs about what GSOC told him about its investigation into the surveillance claims.
First published 12.21pm