Calls to tighten rules of Garda spying

The State’s human rights watchdog has recommended a tightening of the rules for Garda covert surveillance operations.

It also believes any new policing authority should have a role in regulating Garda spying.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has questioned whether current Garda legislation covers all surveillance techniques open to the force and if the issue of “inappropriate” spying by gardaí is properly addressed under the law.

The Irish Examiner has obtained the IHRC’s submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, in which it also says a policing authority, rather than the Government, should decide on senior appointments in the force.

The committee’s review on Garda oversight and the Garda Síochána Act 2005 was agreed in February following allegations the offices of the Garda ombudsman may have been bugged.

The Government is expected in the coming days to receive a report from retired High Court judge John Cooke, who has been asked to investigate claims. This includes if there was in fact a security breach at the Garda ombudsman’s offices.

Former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan previously said no garda was involved in spying on their offices.

The IHRC submission says the issue of covert surveillance by gardaí is not addressed in the 2005 act.

A later attempt to tighten up the law was also inadequate, it claims, noting: “The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009, sought to provide regulation in this area, however, it is unclear whether that all methods of surveillance are caught by the legislation and further whether there are sufficient remedies in respect of inappropriate use of covert surveillance, and overall the human rights compliance of the legislation is arguably insufficient.”

The IHRC continues: “It would also be appropriate that the proposed independent policing authority would have a role in developing policies in relation to the use of surveillance by An Garda Síochána, and also ensuring such policies are human rights and equality proofed and made public.”

Gaps in legislation covering Garda surveillance techniques have “very significant implications” for the protection of the right to privacy under European Law and the Constitution, the IHRC says.

The human rights watchdog states that all these matters should be addressed in legislation governing gardaí, both in terms of ordinary operational use of surveillance methods by the force and also practices that relate to national security.

It concludes that “the use of covert surveillance techniques by An Garda Síochána be further regulated by law to ensure that they are compliant with relevant human rights standards including in relation to individual remedies and are comprehensive in addressing different forms of covert surveillance”.

The Government has committed to setting up a new policing authority by the end of this year.

Submissions to the Justice Committee, including the IHRC’s, are expected to feed into a special Cabinet group on justice reform which will oversee changes.

The IHRC also proposes changes to how the authority is set up, how gardaí are appointed in future and on how to improve the quality of policing in Ireland.

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