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Suggestion gardaí involved in GSOC surveillance was 'baseless innuendo'

Shatter told the Dáil today that there was no definitive evidence of either electronic or technical surveillance at the headquarters of the ombudsman.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Alan Shatter has said An Garda Síochána were subject to “baseless innuendo” over the last 48 hours, with suggestions emerging that the force had some involvement in surveillance at the Garda Ombusman’s office.

Speaking in front of the Dáil this evening, Shatter stressed the important roles of both gardaí and the ombudsman’s office. However he said each must be conscious of how their actions and words “may affect public confidence in each organisation”.

Yesterday, a conflict appeared to arise between the two bodies, as GSOC released a statement in which it said there had been no evidence of garda involvement in surveillance at its office. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan took issue with the reference to gardaí and the indication that the force had been in some way “suspected of complicity”.

“It is unfortunate that An Garda Síochána have found themselves, during the last 48 hours, the subject of what appears to be completely baseless innuendo,” Shatter said today.

I think that we should never lose sight of the brave men and women of the force who often are called on to take great risks to keep us safe. I believe that the vast majority of people hold the force in high regard, based on their personal experience of dealing with individual gardaí. As minister, I have been determined to defend the force from unjust attack.

Results of surveillance investigation

Shatter told the Dáil today that there is no definitive evidence of either electronic or technical surveillance at the headquarters of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

He said he had been briefed by the Commission about the surveillance sweep in 2013 which identified two technical anomalies and a subsequent sweep revealed a third potential issue. The first arose from a wi-fi device, the property of GSOC acquired in 2007/2008 located in its boardroom, which was found to have connected to an external wi-fi network.

The minister said access to this device was protected by a password, and connecting to it would not be possible without this.

In any event, GSOC does not operate a wi-fi network, and had never therefore activated this device (and does not even know what the password is), but the fact of the connection was a concern.

It is unknown how this occurred but he said there is no suggestion by GSOC that it resulted in any information being accessed and the device was not able to communicate with any databases or electronic systems.

The second issue related to a test on the conference call telephone in the chairman’s office which involved sending an audio signal down the line.

“Immediately after this transmission, the conference phone line rang. GSOC conducted a number of checks to establish the source of this telephone call, but was unable to do so.” However no further anomalies were found and Shatter again stressed there was no evidence of any call being compromised.

During the course of a sweep, an “unexpected UK 3G network” around the offices was detected, which suggested that UK phone registered to that network making calls would be vulnerable to interception. However no staff at the office have UK-registered phones and so this was not found to pose a threat to the communications system.

Garda morale and public confidence

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Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins said these events had served to undermine An Garda Síochána and the interaction between the commissioner and GSOC yesterday was “deeply disconcerting”.

Collins described the relationship between the two bodies as “dysfunctional” and said that if this continued, the morale of gardaí would be “further eroded and further undermined.”

He made reference to GSOC’s calls for additional powers, like unfettered access to the pulse system.

“The reason they didn’t go to you is because they didn’t trust you,” he told the minister.

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Mick Wallace was also critical of Shatter, claiming he carries a “massive responsibility for the undermining of public confidence” in the gardaí. He accused Shatter of “dismissing and undermining any allegations coming from anybody that didn’t suit you.”

“It isn’t the foot soldiers that have caused the problem,” he said.

Thomas Pringle said the “focus of narrative” was changed over the last number of days, with questions about why the ombudsman’s office did not report the surveillance sweep to the minister.

“It’s a clear case of blame the victim in order to deflect from the crime,” he said. Pringle and several other TDs pointed out that GSOC is not, in fact, obliged to make reports to the minister.

Tomorrow, representatives from GSOC will appear before the Petiti0ns Committee to answer questions on the issue. However several opposition TDs said this is not enough and are now calling for an independent investigation into the issue.

Responding to criticisms from TDs, Shatter said there is “no bad blood” between him and GSOC. He said there had been “more head than light in addressing this matter” this evening and that he hoped the committee would shed more light on it.

Read: GSOC chairman should “consider his position”, says Garda body chief>

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