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Sunday 21 October 2018

GSOC chairman resigns to take up position in the UK

Simon O'Brien
Simon O'Brien

Paul Williams

The chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is to leave his job to take up a position with the Pensions Ombudsman Service in the UK.

Simon O'Brien's surprise decision to step down comes almost a year after unfounded allegations that GSOC had been bugged were first leaked from within the watchdog body.

Mr O'Brien informed President Michael O'Higgins and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday of his decision to quit on January 30.

He is to take up a role as Chief Executive of the Pensions Ombudsman Service for the UK on February 2.

In a statement issued by GSOC Mr O'Brien said: "I have been in Ireland for five years in two posts. This is a significant opportunity and I am looking forward to the new challenge. The new post will bring me back home to be with my wife and young family in London."

Mr O'Brien, who first joined the London Met in 1978, came to Ireland in March 2010 when he was appointed Deputy to the Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate. He remained in that position until he took up the post of GSOC Chairman on December 12, 2011.

The former commander with the London Metropolitan Police had resisted calls for his resignation and those of his fellow commissioners, Carmel Foley and Kieran Fitzgerald, over their handling of the so-called bugging scandal.

The commission came under the spotlight last February when they stood over claims that a security sweep by a UK surveillance firm GSOC hired had found evidence the agency was being bugged.

The London-based Verrimus Security firm also claimed that communications into and out of its offices in Dublin were being electronically monitored.

The claims prompted a state inquiry led by retired High Court Judge John Cooke who found no evidence to support the bugging claims.

Secret

The judge was also critical of the decision by O'Brien and his fellow commissioners at the watchdog to launch an investigation in the first place.

The claims that GSOC had been under secret surveillance ultimately lit the fuse which led to the resignations of Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The watchdog was also accused of causing considerable damage to the corporate reputation of the Garda force.

In recent months Mr O'Brien and the other commissioners were called on to resign by Alan Shatter and representatives of the 1,000 rank-and-file gardai based in Dublin's South Central Division.

Last night Damian McCarthy, who represents those officers on the Garda Representative Association's Central Executive, said Mr O'Brien still had "many questions to answer" about the affair before he leaves Ireland.

He also repeated his call on the remaining two commissioners to resign over the affair which he said had resulted in his members "losing all confidence in GSOC".

"The 1,000 members of the force who I represent have made it clear that they no longer have any confidence in GSOC since the so-called bugging affair and a number of other cases," Mr McCarthy told the Irish Independent.

"In order to make a fresh start and rebuild relationships it would be in everyone's best interests if the other two commissioners also resigned."

Last night Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald thanked Mr O'Brien for his "important contribution" and wished him "all the best in his endeavours in his new career".

Irish Independent

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