Wednesday 21 March 2018

Spy report blames Garda chief remark

But Ombudsman officials wrongly interpreted account of Callinan's comments as indicating that he was privy to confidential information

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter arriving with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter arriving with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister For Justice Alan Shatter and TD Garda Commisoner Martin Callinan
Garda Siochana Ombudsman Chairman Simon O'Brien
(L to R) Kieran Fitzgerald Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) Carmel Foley Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) Simon O'Brien, chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission arrive for a meeting with the Public Service Oversight Committee at Leinster House. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

The controversial GSOC investigation report into suspicions that its office was being 'bugged' by gardai inacurately states that the security sweep was undertaken because of comments made by a "third party".

The Sunday Independent can reveal that the third party is the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. GSOC will vehemently deny this was the reason for the probe.

GSOC says it launched the sweep for altogether different reasons – concerns over leaks of sensitive information on investigations and "a strategic decision" to publicly criticise Garda management.

In a bizarre twist, the subsequent sweep discovered three suspected bugging threats to the GSOC offices.

The remarks by Mr Callinan were made in a briefing last July to GSOC chairman Simon O'Brien. Mr O'Brien subsequently relayed the comments to his colleagues.

Sources claim Mr Callinan's comments were later mis-interpreted by two officials in the Ombudsman's office as indicating that the Garda Commissioner was privy to information that should only have been known to the GSOC management. These officials fed this misunderstanding into the public interest report.

The "inaccuracy" was flagged, but not identified, by the GSOC chairman last week, when he said he believed the public interest report "may be out there" and there would be "potential for more criticism".

Mr O'Brien said he had intended to order a security sweep at some stage as there had been none since 2007.

The report, as yet unpublished, has caused a political storm. The latest revelations will add to the pressure on the Government to set up an independent inquiry into the 'bugging' affair.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is being urged by Labour to clear up the controversy within the coming days. He is understood to be studying the public interest report of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission's investigation into its suspicion that gardai were bugging its offices.

Fianna Fail is continuing to call for an independent investigation under the Commission of Investigation Act 2004.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, the party's justice spokesman Niall Collins says the investigation should be composed of a senior judicial figure, security expert and external policing expert.

"At stake here is the integrity of the oversight system we have put in place to uphold faith in our policing system," he writes.

The Minister is due to appear before an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday to answer questions on the issue.

But the Coalition continues to rule out a public inquiry.

In the latest twist, two GSOC officers who were at the July debriefing by O'Brien to his colleagues later became involved in the subsequent public interest investigation.

The author of the report somehow included their inaccurate belief that comments made by Commissioner Callinan had triggered the security sweep. According to sources, there was no discussion about surveillance or security issues at Mr O'Brien's debriefing, but he (Mr O'Brien) made a joke which may have been misconstrued.

"Two people took from the debriefing a meaning that nobody else took," said one source. "The view they formed was not even shared or even discussed at that debriefing. It was an interpretation after the event."

The GSOC commissioners had already agreed to launch a security sweep before Mr O'Brien's July briefing with the Garda Commissioner. According to sources, this was further proof that Mr Callinan's comments could not have triggered the sweep.

GSOC had already tried to contact an Irish private security firm the previous month, only to discover that it had gone out of business.

When the security sweep got under way in September, it triggered a public interest investigation into suspicions that An Garda Siochana may have been involved in suspected surveillance.

It is understood that Commissioner Callinan is not named in the final public interest investigation report.

Mr O'Brien briefed the Commissioner on the "inaccuracies" during his meeting last week. He is also understood to have briefed the Secretary General of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell.

In a briefing note for the minister, Mr O'Brien said "an inaccuracy was referenced in three places in the report as to the commencement of the investigation".

He told the Oireachtas Committee for Public Service Oversight and Petitions: "I am concerned that in a particular report, which I read and of which I took possession just before Christmas, the rationale put up front in the report is not the type of rationale I had in my mind, nor have I had in my mind, regarding any issue of the initial security checks or the launching of any investigation. I have a clear note of what was in my mind."

Mr O'Brien last week said he launched the sweep because of "a level of publicity and controversy which was unusual for the commission.

"In the context of this public profile, we did then have heightened concerns about confidentiality, particularly in light of some public discourse appearing to be exceptionally well-informed.

"For that reason, consideration was given to the engagement of the Irish firm which had previously undertaken such a security sweep for this organisation."



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