Saturday 20 December 2014

Public behind GSOC as Alan Shatter slips in new poll

Most people think the Garda Ombudsman was right to launch an inquiry into bugging

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:00

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

MORE than five times as many people think that the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was justified in launching a public interest inquiry about bugging than think that GSOC was not.

That shows strong backing for GSOC, which is now the subject of an inquiry launched by the Government into possible bugging at GSOC’s offices and into GSOC’s reaction to that threat.

The proportion of Fine Gael supporters (71 per cent) who think that GSOC was right is even higher than the national average (66 per cent).

It is good news for GSOC after Justice Minister Alan Shatter recently indicated to an Oireachtas committee that he suspected GSOC had acted out of proportion to the evidence of possible bugging.

And this poll brings little comfort for Shatter himself who, for the first time, makes it into the “dirty half-dozen” ministers whom the public think have been least effective.

Shatter was not until now rated least effective by more than six in every 100 people.

In fact, usually only three in every 100 voters dissed him. Now that percentage has tripled, with Shatter ranked the third-least effective cabinet minister in this latest poll.

Public support for GSOC underlines unease about the way in which the Garda Commissioner and the Justice Minister have reacted to complaints made by two garda whistleblowers and other garda issues.

Shatter conceded little in his Dail speech on the subject last week, although he was marginally more conciliatory towards individual whistleblowers.

But he did not apologise to Mary Lynch, who claims she was a victim of gardai. This led to RTE’s Mary Wilson pressing Labour’s Pat Rabbitte on the subject.

Labour leaders are feeling the heat. Pat Rabbitte sounded exasperated last week.

“Do we have to engage in pettifogging detail?” he asked Wilson.

He had just conceded that the Garda Commissioner owes Ms Lynch an apology for the way that gardai handled information relating to an individual who seriously assaulted her.

Wilson wanted Pat to say if he thought that Minister Shatter should also say sorry.

Pat thought that Wilson was “pettifogging”, an old word that usually means petty or quibbling — but can mean shifty.

When it comes to pettifogging, it would be hard to beat Minister Shatter’s statement to Dail Eireann last week. The central question of the current garda controversy was hidden in a thicket of words.

That question is, “When will the complaints by garda whistleblowers be investigated in a way that inspires public confidence?”.

Shatter’s reply sidestepped the intrinsically inadequate nature of any inquiry by a police force into itself.

When Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony’s internal garda inquiry was instigated by Minister Shatter, it was already too little, too late, and looked like an effort to contain the scandal rather than deal with it. Then came the GSOC row, with suggestions that rogue gardai may have bugged its offices.

Yet last week the minister was still prepared to say this about serious allegations by one whistleblower: “The essential facts are these: the allegations were dealt with under the procedures in place at the time, and the Confidential Recipient, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission fulfilled their statutory roles in relation to them.”

That would be the Office of Confidential Recipient that Shatter has just abolished because even he finds it inadequate! That would be the Ombudman who has complained about its lack of powers it was given to pursue investigations, and about having to rely on the gardai themselves to do its work! And that would be the DPP, who likewise relies on gardai to provide evidence.

Pettifogging details can be crucial. Take, for example, the minister’s reference to one of Sergeant McCabe’s more serious complaints.

Shatter told the Dail last week that this related to a case of child pornography

and rape of a minor in September 2007, where the offender was a priest. 

Shatter said that the Garda Commissioner had explained to him that this investigation “was efficiently and speedily carried out, resulting in the priest being convicted and sentenced to five-year concurrent sentences”.

Shatter continued: “The assurances which I received were essentially to the effect that these matters had been fully investigated in accordance with the law in place at the time.”

Fully investigated? This is the same case in which a computer-drive seized from the priest’s house disappeared, and has never been located? In which the priest was convicted because he pleaded guilty, and so the loss of the computer was deemed irrelevant? In which the DPP’s office has declined to say if it was ever informed of the computer or of what was on it?

Questions like these point up the need for a full and independent investigation into all allegations by the whistleblowers, into the treatment of those whistleblowers, and into why GSOC has been unable to help some other complainants effectively.

As this poll suggests, Irish people do not like this kind

of thing. They see the treatment of two garda whistleblowers for what it is — discouraging.

People are perfectly willing to believe that a whistleblower may be just plain wrong, or even have an agenda. But they are equally capable of recognising a political unwillingness to treat serious complaints as thoroughly as they ought to be treated.

And this poll shows that people will be sceptical of any attempt to blame GSOC for launching an inquiry into bugging, when specialist security consultants had indicated to GSOC that there were grounds for suspecting that GSOC’s offices may have been bugged.

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