Whatever way you look at it, questions remain unanswered. Inescapably, the terms of reference laid down by Government for such investigations dictate the outcome.
In the course of his four-month probe, retired judge John Cooke found no definitive evidence to support the commission’s belief that it was the target of security threats. The confusion in the public mind can be forgiven since the ombudsman continues to defend its view that the threats were credible. At the same time, Cooke has dismissed one alleged threat as not convincing and has described another as “highly likely” to have been caused by mobile phone tests in the area.
However, there is no plausible explanation for the third suspected threat, an early morning phone ‘call-back’ received during an electronic sweep of the GSOC office. Still a source of mystery, it will continue to raise security concerns.
Depending on where you stand, the arguments are equally convincing to both sides. According to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, the report is “comprehensive” and “evidence-based”. Emphasising its acceptance by Government, she described the judge’s analysis as clear, measured, detailed and authoritative.
On the other side, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is sceptical, describing the terms of reference for the investigation as too narrow and leaving the public with an incomplete picture. Stating that people were no more certain today on whether GSOC had been bugged, he wants the search for answers to go on.
That the report rules out any Garda involvement in the alleged bugging is not surprising. With relations between GSOC and the gardaí strained almost to breaking point in the past, acting Garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan says it exonerates the force of any wrongdoing and dispels any lingering doubts.
Describing it as a launch pad to enhance their existing relationships, her aim is that dealings between gardaí and GSOC should be open, transparent, independent, effective and objective.
Let us hope the Government will start singing from the same hymn sheet as Ms O’Sullivan. Despite Ms Fitzgerald’s expression of confidence in GSOC, there are fears that in its power struggle with the gardaí, the Ombudsman will not receive the kind of support it needs from a greatly weakened Coalition.