Tuesday 17 September 2019

Paul Williams: PC brigade dragged me through mud – imagine if I'd been wrong

The Garda Ombudsman Commission office on Dublin's Abbey Street
The Garda Ombudsman Commission office on Dublin's Abbey Street

I HAVE to say I found it a most unusual day. It started with an exclusive on the front page of this newspaper on the GSOC affair, by mid-morning I was being attacked on social media by journalists barely out of college – essentially for not following the accepted PC agenda – and by late evening my story was being confirmed in the Dail.

What a rollercoaster, but it reminded me – not that I needed much reminding – that to challenge the media consensus is to risk the ire of liberal commentators, their militant wing on social media and inevitably, of course, Sinn Fein.

It was astonishing to watch as this marauding group swooped to defend a UK security company – some of whose employees are former agents of the dreaded crown – that was used by GSOC.

What did catch me out of left field, however, was the ferocity of the attacks on me and my colleagues on this paper by RTE radio's household names.

I found it rather amusing to listen to RTE's politically correct pundits and commentators have a pop off me for daring to suggest that GSOC may have been less than forthcoming about all the facts around this affair.

Imagine the bile if my story had been wrong!

Then again, objectivity is not something that is guaranteed by your licence fee.

Some have accused those who are sceptical of all the GSOC claims of being pro Alan Shatter and the Gardai.

That's the kind of abuse that's thrown around like confetti if you don't follow the accepted wisdom of the media mob.

My job in life has always been to put facts on paper and let the public make up their own mind. Be that the Anglo Tapes or in a previous career exposing underworld criminals.

That I will continue to do and I won't be cowered by the media horde who make parts of social media positively toxic.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's return to the story at hand.

One way or another, I hope the appointment of a retired High Court judge to investigate every aspect of the GSOC bugging controversy may finally lay bare the full story behind this extraordinary saga.

Since the story first broke 11 days ago, the disturbing allegations that the Ombudsman Commission's offices may have been under secret electronic surveillance has been a source of intense public concern but shrouded in confusion.

As it continues to drag on, the number of questions and unknowns has been piling up by the day.

Despite the fact that GSOC and the Government both tried to draw a line under the controversy and move on, this potentially explosive scandal has refused to go away.

The Irish public, in order to have confidence in the watchdog, must know the full unfettered truth whether or not its offices had been monitored.

If the Ombudsman had been under surveillance then it is imperative that the motive behind the plot and those responsible are exposed.

The people who ensured the GSOC security report got into the public debate could not have envisaged the tsunami the revelations would cause, dragging the watchdog, the gardai and the Justice Minister into the mess.

One of the three anomalies identified in the security audit has been shown to have an innocent explanation when it was traced to the free wi fi available in a coffee shop on the first floor of the GSOC building.

And the existence of a UK 3G base station outside the offices would not have made sense if, as the Ombudsman Commission has already confirmed, no one on its staff uses UK mobile phones.

Sources close to GSOC claim that it attached to the phones used by the security specialists carrying out the sweep – who were carrying UK mobiles.

In a statement GSOC stood by its original position that three potential threats had been identified in the security sweeps. But there was one notable change on previous statements since the controversy broke. It said: "GSOC did not rule out that there could be reasonable explanations for any or all of these issues."

The security company, Verrimus, also denied these explanations in a press statement offering technical advice on the functions and capabilities of threats, but refused to comment on the specifics of the GSOC enquiry.

There has been a multiplicity of agendas at play in this saga and it has been difficult to get to the full truth as one has to navigate around these.

The Irish Independent has been accused of bias in the coverage of the GSOC bugging controversy despite the fact that the newspaper has covered every aspect of the story in report, analysis and comment.

The ongoing confusion and denials reflect the complexity and divergence of opinion that surrounds the issue.

Paul Williams

Irish Independent

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