Minister to be questioned on GSOC’s ‘obligation to report’

Enda Kenny: Erroneously cited Garda Síochána Act.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is set to be questioned at the Oireachtas Oversight Committee today about claims he and the Taoiseach made about the Garda Ombudsman’s reporting obligations.

The claims — particularly from Taoiseach Enda Kenny — attracted widespread criticism and were seen by some as having the effect, if not the intention, of undermining the watchdog.

Mr Kenny last week called on GSOC to “level with” Mr Shatter about the suspected bugging controversy and cited a section of the legislation governing GSOC to say the body was legally obliged to inform the Minister for Justice about such issues.

It quickly emerged that the provision he quoted — Section 80 (5) of the Garda Síochána Act — in fact gave GSOC discretion as to whether or not to report.

Mr Shatter later said the provision was discretionary but said he should have been informed given the seriousness of the claims.

GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien said he didn’t do so because he didn’t want to raise concerns about the gardaí given its investigation found there was no evidence linking them to any surveillance.

In the debate, it never emerged that if GSOC did lodge such a special report with the minister, he would, in turn, have been obliged under the act to make it public.

Section 80 (6) states: “After receiving a report under this section, the Minister shall cause a copy to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”

Referring to a separate part of the act, Mr Shatter subsequently said GSOC was legally obliged to have reported to him given it had carried out a “public interest” investigation into suspicions that gardaí were behind the possible surveillance.

He stated on Prime Time that under Section 103 of the act, there was an “express obligation” to inform him and that “unfortunately, that obligation was not complied with”.

Section 103 (1) does oblige GSOC to inform a range of people of such public interest investigations, including the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commission.

But Section 103 (2) states the watchdog is legally entitled not to do so for a number of reasons, including where they believe it’s not in the “public interest”.

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