Informant probe sparked watchdog surveillance fears
A four-year Ombudsman investigation into handling of an underworld source caused resentment
SUSPICIONS within the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission that gardai were bugging their offices stemmed from their investigations into the Garda's protection of a high-level criminal informant.
In May last year, a four-year investigation that reached into the highest ranks of the force by Ombudsman investigators failed to establish evidence of any improper actions on the part of gardai over the handling of the drug trafficker and informant Kieran Boylan.
The investigation was by far the biggest and costliest undertaken since the Ombudsman Commission was set up in 2006.
A war of words broke out between the Garda and the Ombudsman after the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not sufficient evidence to bring any charges against gardai.
Over the summer, word leaked from the Ombudsman office that gardai had blocked their investigations and refused to hand over intelligence reports relating to the Boylan case.
Garda sources countered by saying the files being sought were not pertinent to the investigation and their surrender would put people's lives at risk. Gardai also countered that the Ombudsman was on a "trawling mission" hoping to uncover something damaging to the force.
By the end of 2012, as the Ombudsman was sending its report to the DPP, Justice Minister Alan Shatter had already made the decision to support Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan when he extended his tenure in office for a further two years to the age of 63 in August 2015. This was done in the full knowledge that while Mr Callinan was chief superintendent and head of the crime and security division and subsequently assistant commissioner in charge of National Support Services, he was the most senior officer in charge of the unit that was running Kieran Boylan – a drug trafficker with convictions here and in Britain – as a protected informant.
Charges against Boylan, who was caught red-handed by the Garda National Drugs Unit (GNDU) with €1.7m worth of drugs at a transport yard in Ardee, Co Louth, in October 2005 were dropped without explanation during the last day's sitting of the Circuit Court in July 2008. At the time Boylan was arrested he was already on bail in a separate case for possession of €700,000 worth of drugs. He also had previous convictions for drugs in England and in the Republic.
Boylan was handled "off book" by serious crime investigators in the Garda National Bureau of Investigation, who regarded him as one of their most important informants; and of sufficient value that he wasn't handed over to the Garda's official informant-handling unit, the Covert Human Information Sources (CHIS) – technically a breach of rules.
Publicity about the charges being dropped led the Ombudsman to embark on an investigation into "allegations of collusion" into the "movement and supply of controlled drugs" in November 2008.
In the end, all that emerged in May last year was a four-page press release from the Ombudsman criticising the gardai for tardiness in releasing documents relating to the Boylan affair. It also said gardai refused to release one document entirely.
The Ombudsman statement expressed "grave concerns" at Garda handling and management of informants "both historic and current" and that the level of co-operation by gardai was "highly unsatisfactory" and had a "significant detrimental impact" on their investigation;
They said they were not recommending disciplinary action over the alleged withholding of documents against any gardai because they believed their actions were known by superiors.
Mr Callinan was also said to be angered at the fact that he was not given the Ombudsman statement in advance of its publication in order to give him sufficient time to prepare a response.
Gardai pointed out that in cases of public inquiries and tribunals, people who are the subject of reports are generally given a month to respond before any public statements are issued.
The collapse of the Boylan investigation led to what Ombudsman commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald described last week as a "state of heightened awareness" and the apparent suspicion that gardai were bugging their offices.
The report by the London-based security firm Verrimus, hired by the Ombudsman, apparently heightened the sense of suspicion.
Senior gardai were privately delighted at the failure of the Boylan investigation and until last week had assumed the matter was at an end. The claim that "government-level technology" was used to eavesdrop on the Ombudsman office was immediately met with derision and claims of paranoia.
The use of the term "government-level" had only one connotation – the suspicion that gardai had bugged the offices.
One senior garda source mocked the claim that the security technicians hired by the Ombudsman had only found "anomalies".
While details of the Verrimus report were withheld, garda sources pointed out that much of the technology available to State agencies was openly on sale over the internet. One pointed to the fact that in 1997, the killer of Veronica Guerin, Patrick "Dutchy" Holland had been caught with electronic equipment as sophisticated as anything the gardai had at their disposal at the time. Holland planned to be arrested and tape the interview in the hope that detectives would compromise themselves.
He had listening devices in the heel of his shoe and in a belt buckle which were transmitting to an accomplice in a rented apartment near Lucan garda station. The detectives caught his accomplice and found the transmitters when they stripped Holland.
Detectives were sent to the dealer who had sold the equipment in Caledonia Road in north London, still a centre for shops selling the most sophisticated surveillance equipment.