The watchdog said the investigation into the leak was not based on any legislation — with the legal powers that that standing would provide — but was akin to a “fact-finding exercise” an employer would carry out if there was suspected misconduct by an employee.
GSOC refused to say how many people, current and former employees, were interviewed by senior counsel Mark Connaughton, saying it could lead to the “identification of individuals”.
Responding to concerns from the Garda Representative Association regarding the security of sensitive personal data about it members, the body said it was “confident” it had taken reasonable steps to protect data relating to individuals.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was replying to questions posed by the Irish Examiner following on from a statement it issued on the findings of the inquiry on Wednesday, set up to try to establish who leaked details from a secret report into the suspected bugging of GSOC to the Sunday Times .
Asked about the legal basis for the inquiry, a GSOC spokeswoman said: “This was a non-statutory, fact-finding investigation. It was akin to the kind of fact-finding exercise that an employer sometimes undertakes when it suspects that an act or acts of misconduct may have been committed by an employee.”
In relation to what legal powers the barrister had to interview people and access documentation and mobile phones, the spokeswoman said that, “noting the unwillingness of the journalist to co-operate”, Mr Connaughton had access to “any documentation he requested and, similarly, any mobile phones”.
The spokeswoman said given the nature of the inquiry, interviews under caution — as in a criminal investigation — did not arise.
Asked what options were open to GSOC based on the inquiry report, she said: “If the investigation had identified any definitive evidence suggestive of a criminal offence having been committed by a known individual or individuals, we could certainly have referred it to the appropriate agency for follow up.”
The relevant agency would be the Garda Síochána, although it could possibly be the Data Protection Commissioner.
Asked how many people were interviewed, the spokeswoman said: “We are not releasing exact numbers of current or former staff, as this could facilitate the identification of individuals.”
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said she wants details of the report on the GSOC investigation into a leak to the Sunday Times regarding allegations of electronic eavesdropping on the commission, to be published.
The minister said she was disappointed that the senior counsel who conducted the investigation could not find the source of the leak. Speaking to reporters in Limerick, she said: “What I would say to GSOC, and what I have already said to them, is that as much as possible of the information in the report should be published.”
Ms Fitzgerald said that GSOC had claimed it could not publish the report as there was so much personal detail in it.
The minister said: “Obviously, if it was to be published, there would have to be a huge amount of redaction in it, and [there is] the question of how coherent the report would be with redactions. I’ll be meeting GSOC next week and discussing it further.”
Ms Fitzgerald said as much information in the report as possible should be made public in the interests of transparency.
Meanwhile, following a meeting with senior Limerick gardaí at Roxboro Garda Station to salute the force’s success in tackling serious gangland crime in the city, Ms Fitzgerald said Limerick would continue be a priority with regards to Garda numbers.