Bugging controversy - Strong whiff of sinister in the air

It is extremely troubling that confusion and obfuscation continue to surround the suspected bugging at the office of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission.

Following a welcome assurance that the gardaí were not behind the electronic surveillance of this important pillar of justice and democracy, the burning question yet to be answered is — what criminal group or rogue agency was behind it?

In a significant twist, the ombudsman yesterday told the Oireachtas Public Service Oversight Committee that it believed there was an unidentified leak in its office. It was also confirmed the equipment which detected a mystery phone call was supplied solely to government agencies. While hard evidence has not been found, the ombudsman says a “credible threat” to its security had been identified.

Until the shroud of secrecy is removed from the investigation by Verrimus, a UK security company which usually acts for the British administration, the public will be kept in the dark. If the waters continue to be muddied, the rumour factory will inevitably go on churning out wild speculation about the reasons behind the suspected bugging and the shadowy figures suspected of spying on the ombudsman.

The salient points of the secret report should now be put in the public arena, especially for the reputation of the Garda Siochána inadvertently tainted when GSOC referred to the force in a clumsy bid to absolve it of any involvement in the bugging. Similarly, the ombudsman commission has been damaged as a result of political criticism at the highest level over not immediately reporting its suspicions to Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

No stranger to controversy, Mr Shatter has come in for sharp criticism over his handling of the controversy. Both the minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are blamed, and rightly so, for turning GSOC into the villain of the piece rather than the victim.

In a separate development, the minister was under the spotlight in the Dáil yesterday in the latest chapter of the Garda whistleblowing controversy. According to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, it appeared from the reported transcript of a conversation between the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and the confidential garda recipient, Oliver Connolly, that the latter was protecting the department, the minister and the Garda commissioner — but not the whistleblower.

If this allegation is true, it would represent a major failure of the system because the whistleblower is the very person who ought to be protected. Otherwise, the charter would not be worth the paper it’s written on.

In Mr Martin’s view, the import is Sgt McCabe was frustrated and in a state of disbelief that his efforts were going nowhere. He further referred to “efforts if not subtle threats” that if the material ever got to the media, Mr Shatter would “come after” the whistleblower.

What’s going on here? Why was Mr Shatter unaware of the transcript? Why has the Department of Justice been asked by the Taoiseach for a report when he already has a copy?

It is worrying that five days after the bugging controversy came to light, this grave matter has not been resolved. In the public interest, there is a compelling case for an independent inquiry into these matters. There is a strong whiff of the sinister in the air. Until people get satisfactory answers to the questions raised at yesterday’s hearing, this controversy will not go away. .


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