Wednesday 23 May 2018

Shatter says there's no evidence of GSOC spying as probe set up

Independent exclusive on coffee shop 'bug' confirmed

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

Daniel McConnell and John Downing

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has set up an independent inquiry into the garda watchdog bugging controversy, while insisting a new expert report has found "no evidence at all" of spying.

The Government will today announce the terms of reference of an independent review of all matters surrounding the GSOC bugging scandal by a retired High Court judge.

Recently retired High Court Judge John Cooke is regarded as the man most likely to oversee the review.

The Coalition finally caved in to demands for an independent inquiry after 10 days of claim and counterclaim which has damaged the reputations of the Garda Ombudsman and An Garda Siochana.

But even as he announced the setting up of the inquiry, Mr Shatter last night revealed the outcome of another expert report he commissioned into the bugging allegations.

He also confirmed the suspect wi-fi signal which gave rise to bugging fears in GSOC's offices was actually coming from an Insomnia coffee shop in the same building.

The innocent explanation for one of the "anomalies" identified in the original security sweep was exclusively revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent.

Mr Shatter told the Dail: "I am unaware of any credible information that surveillance is being conducted on GSOC's offices by any of the customers of Insomnia."

In a dramatic development, Mr Shatter said that last Friday he received "further additional information" relating to the bugging controversy.

He said he had received additional information from GSOC, including three reports from Verrimus Limited – the UK firm engaged by GSOC to conduct the security sweep.

But he also now has a "peer review" of the technical information from an Irish-based IT security consultancy firm, RITS, which disputed several of the conclusions reached by Verrimus.

"There is no evidence of any technical or electronic surveillance against GSOC. There is no evidence at all, not merely no definitive evidence," Mr Shatter said the RITS report concluded.

The minister added that GSOC's own investigation concluded the wi-fi connection came from a system “located in a business premises close to the Ombudsman Commissions offices”.

GSOC confirmed this was the coffee shop downstairs, which was connecting randomly “due to some unknown technical anomaly rather than some unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance”.

“It is a matter of concern that this full information was not supplied to me prior to the Dail debate (last) Tuesday nor given to the joint Committee,” he said.

Mr Shatter said the decision to hold the review was driven by the differences that have arisen between the two reports, the “ongoing nature of the controversy and its debilitating impact on the capacity of GSOC to get on with its work”.

Responding to accusations of misleading the Dail and spreading misinformation, Mr Shatter said his statements had been “distorted” by “opportunistic political opponents”.

He dismissed what he called spurious claims that we were trying to divert attention away from the substantive issue of whether GSOC was bugged.

Mr Shatter reiterated his criticism of GSOC for not informing him of the believed threat to its security.

“It was not appropriate that I first learned of this by way of a leak in a Sunday newspaper, following a leak from GSOC,” Mr Shatter said.

The independent inquiry is expected to last eight weeks.

Last night there was speculation it will be headed up by retired judge John Cooke.

The review will not take the form of a statutory inquiry governed by the 2004 Commission of Inquiry legislation and, therefore, will not have the powers to compel witnesses nor make findings against individuals.

The U-turn followed growing concerns in the Labour Party about the developing controversy. Labour ministers met yesterday morning, ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting, and decided to seek an inquiry.

But a Government spokesman last night said that on foot of new information coming to light “there is less clarity on these issues, and the review is now appropriate”. 

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dail that the independent review would look at “all matters of relevance”.

The final report will be presented to Mr Shatter and the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The minister will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Oversight and Petitions later today to answer further questions on the controversy.

“The Government wants to bring clarity as quickly as possible to the situation and will seek to ensure there is full public confidence in both An Garda Siochana and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission,” a spokesman said.

The Cabinet agreed to appoint the high court judge to lead the investigation into the ongoing bugging affair.

It has been confirmed the decision to establish the review was not contained in a memo to Cabinet, but was made following a briefing from Mr Shatter during which he outlined the additional information.

There were mixed messages coming from Government as to which office was responsible for drawing up the review's terms of reference. 

During Leaders' Questions, the Taoiseach told the Dail Mr Shatter would determine the terms of the review, “in consultation” with the Attorney General Maire Whelan. However, Labour Party sources last night insisted Ms Whelan was drawing up the terms of reference.

Irish Independent

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