The bugging of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman’s office could have been “lawfully” authorised, according to the State’s police watchdog.
In explosive evidence to an Oireachtas committee, Simon O’Brien directly contradicted Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s statement to the Dáil on the controversy in a number of key respects.
Branding the affair a “crisis”, Mr O’Brien said he suspected the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) had been put under electronic surveillance and that he could not rule out gardaí being suspects.
This goes against Mr Shatter’s assertion to TDs that no bugging had taken place and the gardaí had been subjected to “baseless innuendo”.
Mr Shatter’s claim that the security sweep of GSOC offices was “routine” was also at odds with Mr O’Brien’s evidence that it had been sparked by serious concerns about breaches of “confidentially”.
Mr O’Brien told the Oireachtas Oversight Committee: “I fully informed the minister of everything that had happened.”
The ombudsman said that he had not asked Mr Shatter or Garda commissioner Martin Callinan if the surveillance had been authorised.
Pressed on whether he believed it had been authorised, Mr O’Brien said: “We have no idea if that piece of capability was being used lawfully.”
He said gardaí became suspects after the first two security threats were uncovered following secret, late-night surveillance sweeps at GSOC headquarters.
A public interest investigation was launched last October by GSOC under the Garda Síochána Act to see if a member of the gardaí had committed an offence.
“Mr Shatter needs to say whether it was authorised by the State. The minister needs to explain why he didn’t inform the Dáil that an inquiry was commenced into An Garda Siochána by GSOC,” said Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Niall Collins.
The ombudsman said GSOC had launched an internal leak probe as less than seven people knew the contents of the secret security report that ended up in the media.
Anticipating fresh revelations this weekend, Mr O’Brien claimed that so far unreported parts of the dossier were misleading as to the motivation that triggered the security sweep.
The latest twist in the GSOC bugging saga came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny ordered a report into allegations that a transcript existed of a conversation between garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe and his confidential recipient, when he was warned: “If Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished.”
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