Watchdog has lurched from one crisis to next
Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30
Since it began operations in 2007, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has been mired in controversy.
It was set up under the Garda Síochána Act, 2005, to deal primarily with complaints from the public about the behaviour of gardaí and provide an independent oversight of the force.
GSOC's mandate is to independently investigate complaints where a garda is alleged to have committed an offence or behave in a way that would justify disciplinary proceedings.
Its three current commissioners are High Court judge Mary Ellen Ring, long-standing member and former director of consumer affairs Carmel Foley, and former journalist and Gsoc spokesman Kieran Fitzgerald.
Previous commissioners have included former Metropolitan Police officer Simon O'Brien, former 'Irish Times' editor Conor Brady, and retired Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general Dermot Gallagher, who agreed to sit as chairman for a short period following the death of Judge Kevin Haugh.
Over the past eight years, GSOC has had a stormy relationship with the garda representative bodies and, at times, clashes with garda management.
Its biggest initial case involved the policing of protests by the Shell to Sea group during the Corrib gas controversy.
After receiving a total of 711 complaints, GSOC sent seven files to the Director of Public Prosecutions but in each case the DPP ruled there should be no criminal prosecution.
GSOC also launched a four-year investigation into the handling of an informant, Kieran Boylan, by members of a garda specialist unit at the frontline of the war against drug traffickers.
But, again, it failed to get the go-ahead for a criminal prosecution from the DPP after its report had been studied for six months.
In 2014, GSOC sparked a crisis in government when it alleged its headquarters had been bugged and placed under surveillance.
The finger of suspicion was immediately pointed at the gardaí, who strenuously denied the allegations.
A British counter-surveillance firm, Verrimus, was brought in to investigate the claims. But the allegations collapsed when it was firmly established by retired High Court judge John Cooke there was no evidence of bugging by any person or group, and "much less" that the gardaí might have been responsible.
GSOC was again plunged into controversy last year when a garda sergeant took his own life when he was placed under investigation and was not later told that he had been cleared of any suggestion of wrongdoing.