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Saturday 18 November 2017

Justice Minister Alan Shatter backs under-fire GSOC chief

Garda Siochana Ombudsman Chairman Simon O'Brien
Garda Siochana Ombudsman Chairman Simon O'Brien
Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Tom Brady and Daniel McConnell

ALAN Shatter has publicly backed embattled Garda Ombudsman chairman Simon O'Brien – but privately, senior government figures are furious at how the bugging affair was handled.

The fallout from the GSOC revelations continued as Mr Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan visited the Garda College in Templemore yesterday.

The Justice Minister had ignited further controversy on Thursday by failing to express confidence in GSOC chairman Simon O'Brien by name.

But yesterday Mr Shatter seemed to throw a lifeline to the beleaguered chairman, saying he did have confidence in him.

And Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte voiced his "absolute" confidence in GSOC and its chairman.

Asked about claims that either he or Mr O'Brien would have to resign their position, Mr Shatter said political opponents were always out to "get someone's head".

"I am not out to get anyone's head," Mr Shatter said. He accused the political opposition of "playing silly games".

But privately, many senior ministers are smarting from the handling of the controversy – where Mr Shatter was kept in the dark about concerns of bugging at GSOC offices.

Mr Shatter first read about the suspicions in a Sunday newspaper and accused Mr O'Brien of providing a "confused and contradictory" account of the saga.

He has also written to GSOC demanding that a number of matters be clarified.

One Government source said that several senior ministers were "furious" at the lack of information forthcoming from GSOC before the story broke.

"For four days afterwards the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice were not given a proper explanation . . . they want further clarity," said one source.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said an independent inquiry into the GSOC bugging scandal may yet be needed, despite it being ruled out by his colleague Mr Shatter.

Mr Coveney said he understood the "intrigue" in what he described as a "so-called surveillance bugging story".

Mr Shatter has said an independent inquiry would suggest he had no confidence in the Ombudsman investigation.

Irish Independent

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