Garda watchdog gets legal advice in bid to find source of leak
THE 'bugging' scandal took another extraordinary twist last night as the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) revealed it has taken legal advice on its internal inquiry to establish who leaked information about suspected surveillance of its headquarters.
And in an effort to calm tensions between the agency and the Government, GSOC has responded in writing to Justice Minister Alan Shatter's demand that it clarifies "contradictions" in its previous statements around whether its offices were bugged or not.
Six days after revelations were published in a Sunday newspaper about the suspected bugging of the GSOC officers, Mr Shatter is also understood to have finally received the report of the investigation carried out by the watchdog into the possibility that gardai were behind the suspected bugging.
Earlier this week, Mr Shatter piled pressure earlier this week on the chairman of the garda watchdog, Simon O'Brien, by twice failing to express confidence in him. The GSOC executive met throughout the day yesterday before issuing a statement last night.
"We received last night (Thursday) at 18.30 a detailed letter from the minister," it said.
"We have this evening, delivered a letter to the Department of Justice & Equality. The letter seeks to address fully and to clarify issues raised by the minister."
GSOC also revealed it has called in solicitors to advise it on how best to conduct an investigation into the leak.
"With regard to an internal inquiry into a potential unauthorised release of information from this organisation, the Ombudsman Commission has engaged legal advice and is working through terms of reference and scope," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that the Ombudsman began to suspect it was being bugged by the gardai due to tensions over the controversial case of a drug dealer turned informant, senior officers believe.
High-ranking gardai suspect the fallout over the Kieran Boylan affair directly led to a decision by GSOC to order a sweep of its headquarters.
Boylan was at the centre of the Ombudsman's longest ever inquiry – which was launched after allegations emerged of collusion between the force and the convicted drug trafficker.
In the results of the investigation, GSOC took issue with actions of some senior officers, blaming the gardai for delays in handing over documents relating to the case and found several "deficiencies" in how gardai managed informants in the past.
GSOC is being accused of ordering the sweep based on "groundless suspicions" of surveillance activity by gardai.
Senior sources within the force believe the GSOC report into the suspected bugging will suggest there was a level of "innuendo" contained in comments from gardai which gave rise to the "perceived threat".
The commissioner said yesterday he wanted to state, unequivocally, that no member of his force was involved in any surveillance of the Ombudsman Commission's building.
He said he had given assurances to Mr O'Brien during their meeting on Tuesday that gardai were not involved in surveillance of the Ombudsman and Mr O'Brien had told him there were no matters of concern arising for the Garda Siochana.
The fall-out from the GSOC bugging row has caused serious anger among staff at the watchdog body who are now under suspicion for leaking the information. A source close to the organisation told the Irish Independent last night that the revelations have led to "a very tense atmosphere".
"There is a very tense atmosphere in the offices and people are demanding answers, we are as confused as the public are by all of this," the insider said.