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Friday 6 December 2019

Ombudsman probe unable to find source of ‘bugging’ leak

GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien
GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien

Tom Brady, Security Editor

An eight-month investigation into who leaked details of alleged bugging at the Garda Ombudsman Commission’s office has failed to determine if one of the seven people with access to the information gave it to a journalist.

The scandal was the first in a chain of events early this year that ultimately led to the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, then Justice Minister Alan Shatter and finally Department of Justice secretary general, Brian Purcell.

A maximum of seven people within the commission (GSOC) had access to the report, according to its chairman, Simon O’Brien.

An internal inquiry was set up last February by Mr O’Brien but in June it was confirmed that a senior counsel, Mark Connaughton, had been hired to lead the hunt for the “leaker”.

GSOC said yesterday that the investigation was unable to determine individual responsibility for any disclosure, either on the part of an employee of the commission or any other party.

It said the journalist, who published the information in a Sunday newspaper, had declined an invitation to co-operate with the investigation and the report from Mr Connaughton had concluded that it was difficult to identify what additional information could usefully advance the inquiries.

GSOC has decided not to publish the details of that report.

But in a statement its view was that proportionate measures to try to ascertain the facts had been taken and it agreed with Mr Connaughton’s conclusion.

In those circumstances, it added, no further action was intended.

Asked yesterday whether she continued to have full confidence in GSOC, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she was not making any comment until she had studied Mr Connaughton’s report.

GSOC acknowledged that it had forwarded a copy of the report to the minister and said it did not intend to publish the report because it contained personal data, which was impossible to redact effectively.

The leaked information, which allegedly emerged from a report prepared for GSOC by British security firm, Verrimus, was published in an article, which suggested that a device, known as an IMSI catcher, had been used in surveillance on GSOC’s headquarters building in Dublin city centre and that it was available only to Government level agencies.

This inferred that the gardai were the prime suspects for the surveillance.

But Mr Justice John Cooke, who carried out an inquiry into the bugging claims on behalf of the government, found there was no evidence of surveillance of GSOC by the gardai, or by anybody else.

The judge found that the article was seriously inaccurate but contained information, which was evidence of a serious breach of security at the GSOC office.

The Irish Independent disclosed last February that a senior official at GSOC was the prime suspect for information leaks from the commission while it was believed that a more junior member of the staff could have been involved in some of the disclosures.

GSOC’s statement yesterday said Mr Connaughton’s report detailed a thorough examination of the facts.

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 The information, which had appeared in the public domain, had been compared with all possible source documents to establish what specific documents and data seemed to have been available to the journalist and what documents were not, and who might have had access to the documents containing information gleaned by the journalist, internally and externally.

GSOC said the investigation included interviews of any current and previous GSOC staff that Mr Connaughton saw fit and he also had access to e-mail correspondence, photocopier logs, CCTV recordings, documents pertaining to investigations, internal policies and procedures, and technical analysis of any mobile phones requested.

It said it had taken steps to enhance security there.

Comment: This outcome not inspiring confidence

The Garda Ombudsman Commission has been bedevilled by leaks of information about its confidential inquiries over the past few years.

The frequency of the leaks from within the GSOC has been a crucial factor in ratcheting up the tension between the commission and the gardai, particularly those that took place in the midst of sensitive inquiries.

That tension reached boiling point last February when the article about alleged bugging at GSOC’s offices, was published in a Sunday newspaper.

It was the first in a series of events that plunged the garda force into crisis and ultimately played a significant role in the resignations of three key players in the justice system.

Mr Justice John Cooke subsequently found there was no evidence of surveillance of GSOC by the gardai, or anybody else.

Now GSOC has announced that an investigation, headed up by senior counsel, Mark Connaughton, has failed to identify, who leaked the “bugging” information that was known to only seven people.

GSOC has declined to publish the details of that investigation and says it is satisfied that nothing more can be done to unmask the “leaker”.

It’s a conclusion that hardly inspires public confidence in GSOC in its present set-up.  Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is “disappointed” with the outcome and has called on GSOC to be as open as possible about the findings.

Officials said she had previously expressed confidence in GSOC and had no grounds to change that view.

Now it looks like we may never know the details of the investigation.  Unless, of course, they are also leaked.

In the meantime, GSOC continues its own inquiry within the garda force to determine who was responsible for leaking details of a garda investigation into an incident involving Dail deputy Clare Daly.

Irish Independent

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