Shatter says GSOC inquiry may have been ‘premature’

Justice minister Alan Shatter has cast doubt on the Garda Ombudsman’s justification for launching a public interest investigation into suspected bugging at its Dublin headquarters.

Mr Shatter also said an IT firm he hired had found three alternative reasons to explain the “anomalies” or security threats identified by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Before the Oireachtas Oversight Committee, Mr Shatter separately said he had not ordered or was aware of any surveillance of TDs, senators or journalists.

Committee members quizzed the minister for four hours over his knowledge and recent statements about the continued GSOC bugging controversy.

Mr Shatter said GSOC may have “prematurely” initiated its public interest investigation under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act when it found concerns about its telecommunications.

> He said “mystery” surrounded the ombudsman’s decision to launch its inquiry into gardaí and any role they may have had in bugging the ombudsman.

Mr Shatter said GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien met him last week but had not explained why gardaí were suspected of spying, and why section 102 was invoked.

The threats were identified after GSOC had ordered British security firm Verrimus to conduct a sweep of its offices. But Mr Shatter questioned why other steps had not been taken.

Mr Shatter outlined a peer review of the Verrimus report which he had ordered in recent days through an Irish IT firm called RITS. He said RITS examined concerns raised about bugging on a conference telephone at GSOC’s offices. RITS, only examining documents, concluded a test signal on that phone could have bounced back from the receptionist’s phone.

While the minister insisted he wanted to restore public confidence in GSOC, he said: “If something goes wrong with the watchdog who will watch the watchdog.”

He said that terms for a judge-led inquiry into the GSOC bugging scandal was to be approved by Cabinet. The judge would be able to call witnesses, he said.

Mr Shatter also said that despite two security reports and numerous statements about GSOC’s security the only information that had left the ombudsman’s offices was a leak to a journalist.

He dismissed suggestions only government agencies could acquire technology identified as operating last year near GSOC’s offices and said a ‘stinger’ device could be bought online for €5,000.

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