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Shatter on GSOC: "My only interest is that we get at the truth"

The Justice Minister is facing questions over the ongoing controversy surrounding the Garda Ombudsman.

Updated 8.45pm

JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter was grilled by TDs and Senators over the ongoing GSOC surveillance controversy today – and said that his only interest “is that we get at the truth”.

He was speaking before the Oireachtas Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee, a day after telling the Dáil last night that there is “no evidence at all” of the offices of the Garda Ombudsman Commission having been placed under surveillance.

He also said that he will give the committee a document outlining the differences between the Verrimus report and the subsequent peer review by RITS.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD said in the Dáil this evening that he is calling for a full, independent inquiry into the GSOC controversy.

As one of those involved in negotiating a new dispensation for policing in the north – and I don’t wish to compare the old Gardaí with the RUC, because that is not the case – I have to say that police investigating police is unacceptable.

This afternoon, Minister Shatter asserted that he has “been the subject of political attack on this issue”, and that he has been criticised for being “too close” to the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

He also told the committee that he thinks it is “absolutely right” that GSOC had an appropriate security firm undertake a security sweep, and check their office to ensure that their systems are secure.

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Asked if he authorised surveillance of GSOC, Shatter said: “Of course not.” Later, he said that this suggestion was in the realms of “total fantasy”.

It emerged that he had not asked the Garda Commissioner about if surveillance had taken place, and the Minister said he had not asked the Defence Forces had they been bugging GSOC because there is ‘no evidence’ that they had.

Judicial review

Much of the questioning centred on the judicial review into the situation, which Shatter said that the Terms of Reference will be finalised tonight.

He explained that they are being drawn up by the Attorney General and will be agreed on by Cabinet.

He told the committee that his “only interest is that we get at the truth”, and that he tells the truth based on the information that he is given.

Leak

According to Minister Shatter, the chair of GSOC expressed concerns to him about the fact there was a leak of information to the Sunday Times.

He said that GSOC are investigating the leak internally, and he understands they have sought legal advice, although he has not received a written brief on this.

It is a very serious issue for GSOC.

Phone signal

On the issue of a signal that was picked up on a phone in the GSOC offices by Verrimus, Shatter said that the RITS report he received has a theory on this.

Shatter said that RITS theorised that a signal that was picked up wasn’t the finding of an external phone call.

He said that RITS suggested that when you sent a signal down a phone of this nature – a phone used for conference calls – there is apparently a phone console at the reception area in GSOC which the phone receptionists would use to distribute calls around the office.

The RITS theory is that what happened was the signal went down the phone, and to the console, causing a reaction where the signal bounced back up and caused the phone to ring, said Shatter.

Wifi anomalies

Shatter raised the issue of anomalies in the wifi system at GSOC’s offices that there flagged in the report from Verrimus.

He said that he does think that perhaps in “anxiety”, that members of GSOC “may have prematurely commenced that investigation” into possible garda involvement into this.

He said that “at that particular time” he wasn’t aware of what it was that indicated garda involvement of any nature, and he is still not aware.

I thought it would have been reasonable before they commenced investigating to have them take that time and see can something identified.

The Minister also spoke on the issue of not mentioning the IMSI catcher in the Dáil. He has been advised that this equipment is available online, and is not just technology that can be acquired by governments.

When asked if IMSI technology could be used for purposes other than surveillance, Minister Shatter said that this is beyond his technical knowledge.

He also noted that RITS said in their report that it “may not be IMSI technology at all” and that instead what was detected may be a booster system with regard to telephone networks.

He said that when speaking in the Dail on the issue, he summarised the threats, the conclusion of GSOC in relation to them, and the ultimate outcome of GSOC’s investigation. The IMSI catcher was not mentioned.

“I thought that was the correct and appropriate way to proceed, and it was not in my interest in any shape or form to mislead anyone. Why would I do so?” he said.

Second opinion

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Shatter said that he is not aware of GSOC seeking additional resources or a second opinion on the issue.

He said that his department would supply extra resources if GSOC needed extra expertise in areas relevant to this situation.

The Minister said that there were a lot of “could have beens” around who could have been involved with the anomalies picked up in the report.

But it “remains a mystery” to him as to why the decision was taken to investigate the gardaí as a result of the report.

Shatter said that there was some misunderstanding around why the Verrimus sweep took place.

He told the committee that there seemed to be a misunderstanding by two employees that GSOC was under surveillance and that their security system had already been breached.

“This wasn’t true,” he pointed out, but said that this misunderstanding “fed into the Verrimus report”.

He said Simon O’Brien, chairman of GSOC, believed the sweep was a general security sweep, but that Verrimus “were led to believe when they commenced that work that there was already a breach of security in GSOC when in fact there hadn’t been”.

Garda confidential recipient

In a separate development today, Shatter today sacked the Garda confidential recipient Oliver Connolly over controversial comments he is alleged to have made in a conversation with a garda whistleblower.

Read: ‘Like the fox designing the chicken coop’: Opposition says Shatter has undermined the GSOC review

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