Tom Brady: Judicial inquiry is best possible way to clear up this mess
IT had been clear for several days that an independent judicial inquiry presented the best opportunity of answers to the two most pertinent questions in the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission controversy – was its headquarters bugged and, if so, who was responsible.
Yesterday, the Cabinet bowed to the inevitable and agreed to the appointment of a retired High Court judge to inquire into all matters of relevance.
The announcement was made as the affair risked becoming bogged down in a political quagmire that was losing sight of the most important issues as the Government and the opposition parties traded punches on peripheral aspects of the bugging allegations.
The decision should also help to defuse the increasingly hysterical outbursts from some commentators who have been branding anyone choosing to adopt a healthily sceptical attitude in the absence of firm evidence to the claims of garda involvement as public relations agents for the force.
In the longer term, the judge will have the power to demand all relevant documentation that is necessary to establish the truth of the allegations.
A key part of that documentation has not yet been made available to interested parties and, as a result, the vacuum has been filled by speculation based on partial disclosures – allied to gossip emanating from sources with their own agendas.
The claims of "government-level technology" being used to spy on the Ombudsman first surfaced in a Sunday newspaper and, as a result, the rumour machine has been pumping out claims that the gardai must be responsible.
It has since emerged that the technology alleged to have been involved was not confined to government agencies only, and a device similar to what was detected in a security sweep by a British security firm was demonstrated by the consultants last year to the gardai in what was regarded as a sales pitch, although the firm has denied it was attempting to sell the device.
Since the Ombudsman Commission was set up in 2005, relationships with the gardai have been fraught and there is no doubt that blame is attached to both sides.
The legislation is also flawed and Justice Minister Alan Shatter made it clear, shortly before the allegations surfaced, that he intended to carry out an overhaul to copper-fasten the powers of the Ombudsman.
As a result of the bugging controversy, positions have become more polarised and it will require a clear conclusion from the judicial investigation to ensure a good working relationship that is vital for both organisations in the future.
The onus is now on Mr Shatter to provide the judge with the necessary powers to unearth what has been happening at the Ombudsman's offices over the past year.