Friday 24 October 2014

Shatter throws lifeline to beleaguered Garda watchdog chairman

Tom Brady, Security Editor

Published 14/02/2014 | 13:08

Garda Siochana Ombudsman Chairman Simon O'Brien arrives for a meeting with Justice Minister Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice in Dublin today to deliver a report into the alleged bugging of the Ombudman's offices.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday February 10, 2014. The espionage was uncovered last year after the office hired a British security consultancy to investigate whether its headquarters in Abbey Street, Dublin, and internal communications system were bugged, the Sunday Times reported. See PA story CRIME Garda Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Garda Siochana Ombudsman Chairman Simon O'Brien

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter threw a lifeline to the beleaguered chairman of the Garda Ombudsman Commission this afternoon when he said he had confidence in him.

Simon O'Brien's position appeared to be seriously under threat last night when Mr Shatter declined twice to express his support for him.

Instead, the minister merely said he had confidence in GSOC.

However, he changed tack today at the Garda College in Templemore and acknowledged he had confidence in GSOC and it its three-person leadership.

He said they did not perform on an individualised basis.

Mr Shatter said the Ombudsman Commission had been very disturbed that there had been a leak from their organisation and it was important that confidential information be kept secure.

He hoped they would reach a satisfactory conclusion to their investigation.

Mr Shatter dismissed a suggestion that he was joined at the hip with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

His job was to work with both An Garda Siochana and the Ombudsman Commission and he had an appropriate relationship with the leaders of both organisations.

He could not interfere with their functions and statutory obligations.

"It would be a bad day for the State if I did not have a strong relationship with the commissioner of the day", he added.

Asked about political claims that either he or Mr O'Brien would have to resign their position, he said political opponents were always out to "get someone's head.

"I am not out to get anyone's head", Mr Shatter said.

He accused the political opposition of "playing silly games".

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he wanted to state unequivocally that no member of his force was involved in any surveillance of the Ombudsman Commission's building or its staff.

If anybody had information that suggested otherwise, he would be very interested in hearing it.

Mr Callinan said he would continue to co-operate fully with the Ombudsman and ensure that, as long as he was in office, all of his members would also co-operate.

He said the pigeons had come to roost this week when the protocols the gardai had been seeking to safeguard confidential intelligence in their possession had come to the forefront of this controversy.

The gardai have been looking for assurances that the intelligence, contained in their Pulse computer system, would remain secret if the Ombudsman was given access to the system.

Mr Shatter also rejected calls for an independent inquiry and said this would suggest he hade no confidence in the existing investigation being carried out by the Ombudsman.

Mr Callinan pointed out that there had been concerns in his organisation about sensitive issues involving the confidential intelligence and how that should be handled but those were the only issues they had with the Ombudsman.

He said he was very concerned about the leak in the Ombudsman Commission but he was also concerned about leaks from within his organisation and regularly told his staff about the need to ensure that confidentiality was safeguarded.

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