GSOC gets right to spy on gardai and intercept their messages
THE Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is being given powers to tap telephones and carry out electronic surveillance when carrying out criminal investigations into complaints against gardai.
This is the first time an outside body will be able to legally spy on gardai and intercept communications.
The unprecedented decision was taken by Government ministers at a Cabinet meeting yesterday and the powers will be included in legislation aimed at overhauling the remit, functions and operations of GSOC.
It would mean that GSOC investigators could tap phones, place bugs in vehicles used by garda suspects, and use spy cameras to track the movements of members of the force under investigation.
The Department of Justice was unable to say last night who would carry out the electronic surveillance on behalf of GSOC or if expertise could be brought in from abroad.
Last September and October, GSOC employed UK security firm, Verrimus to establish if the commission's headquarters in central Dublin had been bugged. The Cooke report subsequently rejected views of GSOC, based on the Verrimus report, and found there was no evidence of any bugging.
Many of the recommendations issued by Cooke are now being incorporated into the heads of the new Garda Siochana (Amendment) Bill, 2014. The proposed legislation will allow GSOC to carry out an examination on its own initiative into a garda practice, policy or procedure. At the moment, it can only do this with ministerial approval. It also paves the way for the Garda Inspectorate to conduct investigations or inquiries on its own initiative.
Under the proposals, gardai and GSOC will be obliged by statute to share information. This had been requested by GSOC and, according to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, was identified for attention by the government as a result of the Cooke report.
The bill also confirms that a GSOC investigation may be carried out where the identity of a specific garda may not be initially known, or where a non-garda could also be involved. This was recommended by Mr Justice John Cooke.
And it enables the minister to refer certain matters relating to criminal or other serious misconduct on the part of the garda commissioner to GSOC for investigation while it will also be open to GSOC to initiate an investigation itself.
However, that will not include the "general direction and control functions" of the garda commissioner and oversight of those issues will be considered in a new bill setting up the independent garda authority.
The time limit for making a complaint to GSOC will be extended from the current six months to a year, bringing it into line with the arrangements in Northern Ireland.
But GSOC will still be able to extend the time limit if it considers there are good grounds.
The Cabinet yesterday also approved the appointment of two senior and five junior counsel to examine papers on an estimated 220 cases of alleged garda misconduct, raised with politicians.