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GSOC prepares to face panel, as commissioner says breach can't be ruled out

“It would be lovely to be able to say we could be certain one way or the other,” GSOC’s Kieran Fitzgerald said last night.

GSOC Chairman Simon O'Brien leaving a meeting with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice on Monday.
GSOC Chairman Simon O'Brien leaving a meeting with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice on Monday.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

MEMBERS OF THE Garda Ombudsman Commission will appear before an Oireachtas committee this afternoon to answer questions on the developing ‘bugging’ controversy at the police watchdog body.

GSOC will be quizzed on the issue by TDs and senators from the Public Service Oversight Committee.

As well as the alleged spying claims, also on the agenda for the panel will be “operation of the new protocols providing for enhanced co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC)”.

Reports that the agency’s communications systems were bugged first appeared on Sunday. Justice Minisiter Alan Shatter told the Dáil yesterday, however, that there was no definitive evidence of electronic surveillance at the GSOC offices.

Shatter said he had been briefed by the Commission on last year’s sweep of their communication systems, which identified two technical anomalies, and a subsequent sweep that revealed a third potential issue.

Chairman of the agency Simon O’Brien briefed the Minister on the security sweeps on Monday, after which GSOC stated it was “satisfied that its databases were not compromised”.

Appearing on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night, GSOC commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald repeated that there was no “definitive evidence” of bugging at its Dublin headquarters but said it could not be entirely ruled out either.

He revealed that the possibility of an anomaly with a conference call phone being coincidental was “close to zero”.

“It would be lovely to be able to say we could be certain one way or the other,” he said.

Independent probe

There have been calls for a third organisation to be brought in to carry out an independent investigation into what happened, and the chairman of the committee GSOC will face today is amongst those who have been calling for such an inquiry.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig McLochlainn said yesterday an “international body” may have to be brought in.

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Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has also called for an independent probe, and said the Government’s focus on the issue to date had been misplaced.

“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.

GSOC last night rejected suggestions that chairman Simon O’Brien step down, following comments from the general secretary of garda staff body the AGSI advising that he “consider his position”.

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

Today’s committee meeting takes place at 4pm in Leinster House Committee Room 3, and can be viewed live here.

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

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

Also: Suggestion gardaí involved in GSOC surveillance was ‘baseless innuendo’>

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Daragh Brophy

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