Landmark legislation raises more questions than answers
Published 02/07/2014 | 02:30
AFTER the fiasco earlier this year over unfounded claims by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) that its headquarters were being bugged, it is ironic that the Government has now decided that the oversight agency should be given the power to carry out its own bugging.
The right to intercept communications and undertake electronic surveillance will apply where GSOC is pursuing criminal investigations in relation to allegations made against members of the garda.
The proposal had not been flagged in advance and is quite extraordinary, given the circumstances in which it is being tabled but it has now been approved by the Cabinet for inclusion in a bill amending the legislation under which GSOC had been set up.
This is the first time that an outside body has been given
the power to legally spy on gardai and it has been met with a shocked reaction from within the force.
The Department of Justice said last night it would not be appropriate to comment in detail on how the interception and surveillance functions would be carried out.
But its bald inclusion in a government statement has raised more questions than it answers.
Will GSOC have to apply for warrants to tap telephones, place surveillance bugs in vehicles or premises or use spy cameras to track the movements of suspects within the garda force?
Will there be some element of oversight, such as the appointment of a High Court judge to determine if the surveillance is warranted?
Where will GSOC find the expertise to carry out the surveillance, particularly given its unfortunate experience of such issues in the recent past?
Will that expertise be provided by a local security firm, whose members are not subject to any controls like the regulations governing the garda undercover operations.
Or will GSOC be allowed to go outside the State to find that expertise? Given the debacle that developed after the claims made by GSOC following an investigation by British firm Verrimus last September and October into surveillance fears, it's necessary for the Government to quickly determine answers to those questions.