Sunday 23 October 2016

Major questions for GSOC but RTE guilty again of group-think

Published 12/06/2014 | 02:30

Simon O'Brien from the Office of the Garda Ombudsman
Simon O'Brien from the Office of the Garda Ombudsman

"Just because we are paranoid doesn't mean that someone wasn't out to bug us ... even though there is no evidence that we were ever bugged in the first place."

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This line probably best paraphrases GSOC's response to the publication of the Cooke Report into the bizarre bugging/non-bugging, scandal/non-scandal which has come back to sink its teeth in the Garda watchdog's exposed behind.

The report found that "evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance ... took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Siochana" at GSOC's offices last year.

As the comprehensive, evidence-based investigation is digested it becomes clear that it contains grave ramifications for the watchdog body.

The mess which the watchdog effectively choreographed and executed for its own interests, clearly points to a root-and-branch re-organisation of GSOC.

Only after it is re-calibrated can it be effective in the crucial role of the oversight of our garda force. But as it currently stands, GSOC's reputation is tarnished – it has lost credibility on many fronts.

One can only conclude that the prime motivation for leaking flawed and sensationalised aspects of a report to the 'Sunday Times' was to cause maximum damage to the Garda.

It set in train a sequence of events which caused the resignations of both the Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice and caused irreparable damage to the force already reeling from the whistleblower crisis.

Judge Cooke concluded the atmosphere of suspicion that led to the search for bugs was heavily influenced by frustration and tension between the Garda and GSOC.

The judge was scathing in his criticism of the exaggerated language used by the 'Sunday Times' (whose parent company I once worked for) to build a massive public scandal out of a case that was more Monty Python than John Le Carre.

He said the story covering the findings of the Verrimus Report, which was handed to the paper, was "seriously inaccurate".

The report noted that the original article contained misinformation in relation to the investigation and its outcome. GSOC's "Wi-Fi network" (as I first reported on these pages in the midst of the crisis) was not compromised to "steal emails, data and confidential reports".

Insofar as the sweep examined a "Wi-Fi network", it was confined to the wireless devices of the audio-visual equipment and was unconnected to any data storage.

There was no "second Wi-Fi system" which had been created using an "IP address in Britain".

No "Government owned technology" had in fact been used to "hack into e-mails". GSOC's chairman Simon O'Brien has admitted that only seven people, including himself, were aware of the contents of the security report.

What was the motivation for the malicious leak of a highly charged and ultimately inaccurate report pointing at a sophisticated spying operation?

Was it, for example, a strategic battle plan to get the upper hand in a turf war with the gardai?

If so, it was disastrous.

A reading of the Cooke Report gives the impression that the garda watchdog suffers from a persecution complex of sorts, especially in the way it hired lawyers to be present while the judge was interviewing senior staff at GSOC.

The judge was also accused of being in breach of the principles of the enquiry, which begs the question why the watchdog was so defensive, especially considering that they were the alleged victim of the crime.

In his report into the allegations made by whistleblower Maurice McCabe, Sean Guerin also noted the legal obstacles GSOC put in his way when he tried to access documentation for his final report.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of this whole sorry mess is how vested interests jumped on the bandwagon to condemn and attempt to destroy the credibility of anyone who broke from the accepted narrative of the liberal, politically correct brigade.

The "herd of independent minds" swooped en masse on this reporter and this title when we exclusively revealed that no bugging had taken place.

The same group of media pundits have now been shown to have hyped up a fatally flawed hypothesis. Some are still trying to convince the world that their conspiracy theory was right.

Group think is indeed alive and well in the Irish media.

It's only the brave or foolhardy (probably the camp I fit in) who will challenge the accepted wisdom of "GSOC good, gardai essentially bad".

RTE should know better after paying heavily for its group think disaster in a 'Mission to Prey'.

Yet on Tuesday night the voices it carried did not dissent from the original now deeply flawed scenario that GSOC was the subject of a sophisticated spying operation.

RTE Radio too has been damaged by falling into the same trap right through the crisis, intolerant ( as I know to my own cost) to dissenting voices.

While media outlets are free to pick and choose their campaigns, RTE is different insofar as we pay it through the licence fee to be totally impartial. That it is not. 'Prime Time' is no 'Newsnight'.

Let's see how all this unravels. Let's see if GSOC is as good as its guiding principles. If so, someone must fall on their sword as people have in Garda HQ and the Department of Justice.

Paul Williams

Irish Independent

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