Sunday 21 December 2014

It's incumbent on all gardai to work with GSOC to eradicate wrongdoing

Published 20/02/2014 | 02:30

The ongoing GSOC fiasco is far less tinker, tailor, soldier, spy and more the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker. Whatever way you look at it the GSOC affair has proved to be a communications omni-shambles of epic proportions for all concerned.

One wonders what foul invective Malcolm Tucker might use to describe the public relations plan being adopted by all sides regarding revelations of "intelligence gathering" at GSOC.

Partly charged by an over- enthusiastic press convulsed with the idea of being involved in some James Bond spy blockbuster and further fuelled by a series of bizarre, unqualified and sometimes contradictory statements from the uncomfortable triumvirate of GSOC, An Garda Siochana and the Government, it's the story that just keeps on giving. And boys just love a spy story.

The announcement yesterday that Oliver Connolly, who was appointed to receive information from garda whistleblowers, has been sacked by Alan Shatter, provides yet another extremely unhelpful overlap that only fuels the suspicion that there is something systemically dysfunctional which may ultimately lead others to the same fate as Connolly.

At this juncture we still don't know if GSOC HQ was ever bugged or, as they say in the spy world, "compromised". But if it was we are none the wiser about who is responsible. In effect, we are as informed today as we were the day before the story broke. If only we could return to the comfortable world of the unknown unknowns.

The only thing that has become clear in the last two weeks is that GSOC is not functioning as overseers of An Garda Siochana as was envisaged when it was originally established in 2005.

The theories about why the operational aspects are not functioning correctly within GSOC are now widely attributed to the perceived symbiotic relationship between the Justice Minister and An Garda Siochana.

All of which are conveniently conveyed through the machinations of this story.

From the day the story broke it was clear that there was no one definitive voice to speak in any comprehensive way in relation to facts surrounding the revelations. Within hours the airwaves were awash with government spokespeople clambering to express outrage at the sinister developments unfolding, demanding explanations from GSOC and quoting sections of An Garda Siochana Act like it was going out of fashion.

The high dudgeon culminated in An Taoiseach helpfully informing us that the type of surveillance equipment in question was readily available at almost any Spar shop if you wanted to pick one up on your way home from work of an evening.

Alan Shatter almost knocked a dong off the Angelus to get on TV to demand GSOC Chief Simon O'Brien present himself at the Department of Justice for confession. This was followed by a pincer movement conducted by the Garda Commissioner which may yet prove to become a pyrrhic victory. If the purpose of this exercise was to admonish GSOC for failing to inform the Government of possible interference then it failed spectacularly and opened up a can of worms which threatens to destabilise an important body which was established to stamp out secrecy and inappropriate behaviour within all ranks of An Garda Siochana.

It is this secrecy which has prevailed in many of our institutions, and left unchallenged for years it has resulted in a catastrophic record of failure within the church, our political system and our financial institutions.

In terms of communications it is the Government's role to maintain public confidence in GSOC and, by extension, An Garda Siochana.

To date they have only managed to portray GSOC as some external arm with a satellite relationship with its political masters. There is a tacit undertone that in order for GSOC to do its job correctly perhaps its relationship with the gardai should in fact be somewhat strained.

In focusing on the gadgetry and theories of espionage many have missed the main point of this debacle and it is this, why would An Garda Siochana not want a healthy relationship with its overseers? Is it not in their own interest to move away from the horrendous failings of their structures in Donegal, and endeavour to make sure we can never again revisit the Abbeylara era?

Ensuring that our police force has learned from its previous mistakes is an important part of helping society to have confidence in their law keepers.

GSOC was not established just to scrutinise how ordinary level rank and file gardai conduct themselves. It was designed to analyse any possible failures in the senior ranks as well.

Surely it is incumbent on all gardai to work with GSOC to help eradicate any systemic wrongdoing that remains within the force.

For the gardai subscribing to these new principles it has no doubt proved challenging. Allowing access to the Pulse systems is a minor issue when one considers that what is really required is a change of mindset in Garda headquarters. We live in an era of openness, transparency and accountability and those who do not subscribe to it willingly will be dragged through the unforgiving court of public opinion.

Government will hope that they have dealt with the issue by handing it to a former High Court judge for investigation. But for those of you now enamoured with talk of conspiracy theories, bugging devices, electronic anomalies, compromised systems, Wi-Fi interception, and ISMI catchers, never fear – the Toys for Big Boys show returns to Citywest in November. Let's hope GSOC have cleared up their "anomalies "by then.

Irish Independent

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