Minister: I'll bring in new controls for GSOC office
Garda Commissioner will be subject to oversight office within one month
GSOC will be given the power to investigate the Garda Commissioner as early as next month as part of an overhaul of the embattled Ombudsman, the Sunday Independent has learned.
In the wake of the publication of the Cooke Report into the alleged bugging of GSOC last week, the new Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, confirmed she is preparing legislation which will be introduced in July.
Ms Fitzgerald told the Sunday Independent: "I intend bringing in legislation in July to bring about immediate changes, and then I intend bringing in further legislation later in the year. One of the changes I will be bringing in July is that the Commissioner will be subject to GSOC.
"But clearly alongside that is the move to a policing authority, strengthening GSOC, there are obligations on both sides."
The report into the bugging controversy by retired High Court judge John Cooke found no evidence to prove or disprove GSOC suspicions that its its offices in Dublin's Capel Street were bugged.
But Judge Cooke was highly critical of a Sunday Times story which claimed that "Government-owned technology" was used to hack into GSOC staff emails.
The report said: "It is clear that the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance of the kind asserted in the Sunday Times article took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Siochana."
Ms Fitzgerald admitted the bugging fiasco has "clearly damaged relationships between the gardai and GSOC".
She added: "The gardai were put in a particular position. It is not an easy area."
Ms Fitzgerald is also reviewing the Garda Ombudsman in the wake of the fallout over the alleged bugging affair.
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Last week, she noted that GSOC did not report to the minister when they should have and said the Act under which the body was established would have to be looked at.
The GSOC bugging controversy set off a chain of garda-related scandals earlier this year that culminated in the resignations of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Ms Fitzgerald's predecessor as Justice Minister, Alan Shatter.
Ms Fitzgerald last night also again refused to express confidence in her Secretary General, Brian Purcell, in the wake of damning criticisms of the Department of Justice in the recently published Guerin Report.
Mr Purcell became embroiled in controversy after it emerged he paid a visit to the home of Mr Callinan the night before he dramatically resigned, prompting accusations that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had effectively sacked Mr Callinan.
Ms Fitzgerald said she will await the findings of a review of the operations in the department.
She added: "I have said what I said, coming new into the department with the Guerin Report on my desk and I have decided to set up a review. In the meantime, clearly I am day in day out working through the issues with all of the staff, including Brian Purcell, and that is the position."
Ms Fitzgerald said the departmental review began last week.
She added there is a strong need to re-establish public confidence in An Garda Siochana and said the existing legislation has been found to be deficient.
Ms Fitzgerald said: "The 2005 legislation has been found wanting. You want bodies that are very robust, given what Guerin identified in terms of basic policing and the concerns raised there and the changes needed internally within the gardai. They have to be robust and trustworthy so that public confidence can be restored and the confidence of gardai.
"There are challenges on both sides. Clearly GSOC felt they were not getting information quickly enough from the gardai and I welcome what the Commissioner has said on that. She sees it as an opportunity, as I do and that is the right attitude."
In her pending legislation, Ms Fitzgerald said she will also address an issue raised by Judge Cooke, who recommended that the precise scope of GSOC investigations under section 102(4) of the Garda Siochana Act 2005 should be clarified.