Talking like he had just stepped out of a spy film, Garda Ombudsman Simon O’Brien lit up the Leinster House air with incendiary references to “threats”, “covert black-ops”, and “secret reports” swirling around his organisation.
Directly contradicting Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s earlier statement to the Dáil, the ombudsman made it clear he suspected the body charged with policing the police had been put under electronic surveillance and he could not rule out gardaí being suspects.
Stating the sophistication of the surveillance equipment he suspected of being used against the organisation was at “government level”, Mr O’Brien painted a picture of a deeply dysfunctional relationship between his office and the gardaí which led to his lodging a “highly critical” report to the minister listing his “dissatisfaction” with the force’s co-operation with his investigations.
After this concerns about “confidentiality” led the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission to call in British security experts to sweep their building.
GSOC’s acting director of investigations believed such surveillance may have originated with a garda officer and a probe into suspected wrongdoing was launched.
It was fitting Mr O’Brien was telling all of this to the Oireachtas Oversight Committee, as it appeared Mr Shatter had overlooked the extraordinary revelations when he gave his “What’s all this fuss about nothing?” statement to the Dáil the previous night.
Mr Shatter hit out at the “baseless innuendo” directed at the gardaí, which is most curious as Mr O’Brien told the committee: “I fully informed the minister of everything that had happened.”
Mr O’Brien’s testimony also contradicts the minister’s claim that the security sweep was “routine”.
Even before Mr O’Brien delivered his bombshell evidence, the justice minister was having a torrid time as his name was tossed around the Dáil floor.
“If Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished.”
Thankfully, that is a not a sentence you often hear in Leinster House, but its repetition certainly turned heads.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s quoting of what he claimed was a warning given by the official contact point for the garda penalty points whistleblower, clearly freaked the Government.
Mr Martin went on to read further from the alleged transcript of a conversation between what is known as the garda confidential recipient and whistle blower Sgt Maurice McCabe: “If Shatter thinks it’s you, or if he thinks... here’s this guy again trying another route to put you under pressure, he’ll go after you.”
The Taoiseach, who has cut an unconvincing figure during this whole, strange mess regarding what looks like a concerted attempt to slap down the Garda ombudsman, then spluttered concern and a sort of apology for repeatedly misrepresenting the law regarding whether GSOC should have informed Mr Shatter that it had swept its offices for bugs was finally dragged out of him.
Mr Shatter must know how quickly these situations can spiral out of control as when the original penalty points row sparked a no confidence vote in him which led to uproar surrounding a breath test he said he failed to complete due to asthma.
Towards the end of his explosive evidence, Mr O’Brien lobbed another hand grenade as he told TDs the surveillance may have been authorised “lawfully”, but did not speculate by whom.
Mr Shatter now has serious questions to answer regarding his statement to the Dáil.
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