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Monday 19 March 2018

Alan Shatter asks GSOC to clear up bugging “confusion”

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has written to the Garda Ombudsman’s Office to ask them to clear up the confusion surrounding the ongoing bugging controversy.

Alan Shatter had told the Dail that there was “no definitive evidence” that the Ombudsman’s Office was being bugged but this assertion was contradicted by Ombudsman Commission chairman, Simon O'Brien, when questioned by the Public Oversight Committee.

The Minister appeared on RTE’s Primetime last night and said that the comments he made in the Dail were based on the information furnished to him by the Ombudsman’s office.

“I was told the story that I told the Dail,” he said.

“The information I gave to the Dail was based on the oral briefing, the written briefing and the press release that was sent out by the Ombudsman’s office.

“All I can do is record truthfully what happened.”

Minister Shatter did admit that “confusion” had arisen following Simon O’Brien’s appearance in front of the Public Oversight Committee and has written to GSOC for clarification on the matter and said he was "looking forward" to their reply.

“I’m very conscious that Mr. O’Brien and other members of GSOC were at a committee meeting for up to four hours and a series of questions were put to them. And during the course of that event there were different answers given with regard to the particular issues, indeed some of what was said during the course of that seemed to me to be a little confused or contradictory,” he told Prime Time.

“At no stage during his oral briefing to me, the context of the written brief, or press statement was it stated that he or members of GSOC believed they were under surveillance,” he insisted.

"My objective, and my only objective, was to tell the Dáil the truth of what I knew of these matters,” he added.

Minister Shatter will appear before a Dail Committee next week to answer questions on the bugging controversy.

Last night he said he wouldn't accuse anyone of giving him wrong information, but he wasn't given information that GSOC believed it was under surveillance.

“No threat was ever identified to me as stimulating the need for that sweep”

“I think that Mr O’Brien didn’t give me that information, he didn’t express that view.”

He later said, when questioned by RTE presenter Claire Byrne: “I have confidence in GSOC. I appreciate that members of GSOC had a four hour hearing in front of an Oireachtas Committee at which very many members of that committee put questions to them.”

“I’m not going to accuse anyone of giving wrong information. I think some confusion has arisen over that committee meeting.”

Earlier, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore insisted no institution of the State was authorised to put the Garda Ombudsman's office under surveillance.

But the seven of the breakaway Reform Alliance, expelled from Fine Gael's parliamentary group, have mounted a fierce attack on the Government's handling of the controversy.

The Reform Alliance members said an independent organisation supervising the Gardaí was as important as an independent courts system or an independent police force.

During angry Dail exchanges, the Labour leader said that the Garda Ombudsman service should also have told Justice Minister Alan Shatter of its suspicions about surveillance late last year.

Mr Gilmore said the Garda Ombudsman Commission itself acknowledged it should have told the Justice Minister before he was left to read about it in a Sunday newspaper last week.

Under pressure from Fianna Fail's Niall Collins and Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, the Tanaiste said the Government fully accepted that the Garda Ombudsman's office was completely independent.

He said the Government was concerned that there were even suspicions of surveillance being carried out on the Ombudsman's offices.

FF's Niall Collins said the Government had tried to downplay a very serious issue from the start and contradicted its own statements. 

SF's Mary Lou McDonald challenged Mr Gilmore to say clearly if he believed that no organ of State was authorised to spy on the Garda Ombudsman.

The Labour leader emphatically replied: "Am I satisfied that no organ of State put the Garda Ombudsman's office under surveillance? Yes I am," Mr Gilmore told the Dail.

Meanwhile, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte told RTE Radio's Today with Sean O'Rourke that he does not believe that a separate inquiry should now take place.

"I have lived through 30 years of public inquiries... and I'm very reluctant to go down the road of a public inquiry and certainly before the public inquiry that's underway isn't complete."

He said: "There is a great deal on record in terms of our support for a Garda Ombudsman...there should be an effective oversight body."

He added that it's very difficult to find the "fingerprints" of unauthorised access afterwards.

He said the Garda Ombudsman has a "hugely important job" and he would be completely "opposed" to the office ceasing to exist.

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