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Friday 13 December 2019

GSOC secret bugging report was not leaked to journalist, says mole inquiry

INCONCLUSIVE: Kieran Fitzgerald, one of the three Garda Siochana Ombusdman Commissioners
INCONCLUSIVE: Kieran Fitzgerald, one of the three Garda Siochana Ombusdman Commissioners

Maeve Shhehan

A highly confidential internal report on the Garda watchdog's suspicions that its offices were bugged was not leaked to the journalist who broke the story, according to an investigation to find the mole.

Kieran Fitzgerald, one of three Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commissioners, has revealed that the investigation by barrister Mark Connaughton concluded that the journalist "did not have possession" of the internal report when he published the surveillance scoop that rocked the watchdog earlier this year.

The barrister was unable to establish who leaked the information about GSOC's surveillance suspicions and its sweep for bugs to the Sunday Times. But he was satisfied that it didn't come from the sensitive GSOC report on the affair that the chairman kept in a safe in his office.

The story triggered a string of security controversies and a judicial inquiry when it was published in February. At the time, GSOC's chairman, Simon O'Brien, suggested that the story by journalist John Mooney was based on a confidential, internal report on the bugging, which only seven people had access to.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent this weekend, Kieran Fitzgerald said: "Mark Connaughton's report says that he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the journalist did not have a copy of the confidential report pursuant to Section 101 of the Garda Siochana Act."

Mr Fitzgerald said the barrister reached his conclusion by forensically analysing the original article by the journalist and GSOC's final report on its investigation into suspicions that it was being bugged by gardai, known as the Section 101 report.

"When he forensically compared what was said in the report to what was said in the article, that led Mark Connaughton to conclude that the actual Section 101 report was not in his possession," he said.

Once it was established that the report had not been leaked, the number of witnesses "broadened" to more than double the original seven who identified as having had access to it. Mr Fitzgerald said all who were interviewed for the inquiry did so voluntarily. They included current and former members of staff. Mr Connaughton also had access to emails, phones, photocopiers, logs and CCTV recordings, along with volumes of documents, and technical assistance from an external firm.

The journalist, John Mooney, declined two requests to assist the investigation.

As for suspects, Mr Fitzgerald said: "He [Mr Connaughton] was unable to point towards culpability or to implicate any individual at all. He didn't implicate anybody and he didn't investigate one person less or more than another."

Mark Connaughton presented his report on the "fact-finding" investigation last week. The source of the leak could not be identified and GSOC said it plans to take no further action.

Mr Fitzgerald said it recommended that calls between GSOC staff and journalists should be more rigorously logged. He said he could not reveal the cost of the eight- month investigation as it was still being worked out but said it would be "nowhere near" suggestions of six figures.

The controversy has proved embarrassing for GSOC, while highlighting a serious breakdown of trust between gardai and the policing watchdog. It launched a public interest investigation into suspicions that gardai were bugging its offices last year, after a security sweep found "anomalies". But a judicial inquiry by Judge John Cooke found no evidence to support the bugging suspicions - by gardai or anyone else - and described the leak as "a serious security breach".

The Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, said she was "disappointed" at the outcome of the latest inquiry into the leak, and urged GSOC to publish as much of the report as possible. The Garda Representative Association said it was concerned that "the leaker" could resurface.

In response, Mr Fitzgerald said: "The minister is of course anxious to be as open as possible and to reassure the public. So are we. However this is a difficult report to redact, as it contains personal and operational data."

He said it was "unfortunate" that the mole had not been identified, but said that security measures had been put in place. "If you go back to the Cooke report, you'll find that Judge Cooke expressed his satisfaction with the security measures that were in place. So I think that should be reassuring to people."

He denied the inquiry was a pointless exercise: "In terms of public confidence, for a start, we had an investigation that was seriously compromised. There was no way that we would not take steps to try to track down how that occurred. So no, this was not a waste of time, from our point of view. It was very important that we would look very hard at it."

Sunday Independent

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