Monday 26 September 2016

GSOC legal fees jumped €530,000 after 'bugging' affair

Accounts show costs skyrocketed following unfounded claims and whistleblower probes

Published 21/01/2016 | 02:30

Former chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission Simon O'Brien. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission Simon O'Brien. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kieran FitzGerald. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Carmel Foley. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

The embattled garda watchdog more than quadrupled its spending on legal ­advice in 2014, the year of the ­controversy over unfounded allegations its office had been bugged by gardaí.

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Financial records reveal legal spending by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) skyrocketed by over €530,000 compared with the previous year.

The spending jumped from €142,112 in 2013 to €675,205 in 2014.

The records, which were laid before the Oireachtas this week, also reveal the former chairman of the commission, Simon O'Brien, was on a ­package worth €177,512-a-year when he quit the high-profile role.

The commission received €8.3m in taxpayer funding in 2014, yet recorded a deficit of €382,693.

This, it said, was "almost exclusively" due to unanticipated external legal costs related to the "bugging" affair and garda whistleblowing allegations.

The additional costs were signed off by the Department of Justice.

A breakdown of the legal costs, or who was paid, was not disclosed in the financial statements. However, the GSOC annual report said external legal services used by the commission included the seeking of advice in relation to the inquiry by retired High Court judge Mr Justice John Cooke.

His inquiry found there was no evidence to support suspicions the organisation's headquarters in Dublin had been bugged.

Leak

Further legal costs were also incurred in connection with an internal inquiry by Mark Connaughton SC into the alleged leaking of information about the bugging suspicions to a Sunday newspaper reporter.

Mr Connaughton was unable to determine the source of the alleged leak.

However, he concluded that the journalist at the centre of the probe did not have possession of a confidential internal report on the watchdog's suspicions it was being bugged.

Additional legal fees also had to be paid in connection with the inquiry by Sean Guerin SC into how garda whistleblowing allegations were handled.

Mr Guerin's report was critical of GSOC. It said GSOC was similar to both the gardaí and the Department of Justice in that it did not heed the voice of a whistleblower.

It also said Mr Guerin did not receive documentation from the commission and was not told why until it was too late in the process.

GSOC told Mr Guerin, via its solicitors, it was unwilling to release the documentation without certain safeguards being put in place.

The financial statements show Mr O'Brien, whose controversial reign ended early when he moved to the UK's pensions ombudsman in February last year, had a package worth €177,512 in 2014. The former London Met officer's package was made up of basic pay of €161,910 and a pension contribution of €15,602.

His fellow commissioner, former Employment Equality Agency chief executive Carmel Foley had a package of €148,793, made up of basic pay of €136,025 and a pension contribution of €12,768.

GSOC's third commissioner, former RTÉ journalist Kieran FitzGerald, was on a package worth €140,008, made up of basic pay of €128,092 and a pension contribution of €11,916.

Irish Independent

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