Commentary based on speculation, or speculation based unconfirmed reports, is usually best avoided but exceptional circumstances very occasionally make it unavoidable.
The Sunday Times report that the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were targeted by an unknown agency for electronic espionage is certainly such a moment.
Even a society grown weary, almost made insensitive, by the litany of catastrophe and austerity forced upon us by economic collapse, even in a society almost inured to the horrors of institutional and institutionalised child abuse, of protected paedophile rings, the implications of this story, if it is confirmed and this point there is no reason to expect that it might not be, are seismic.
They are comparable to those raised by the phone-tapping scandal of the 1980s and the Arms Trial a decade earlier. There has hardly been an issue of such significance or such urgency at the point where the State, its agencies and laws interact, since those dark days.
Like those benchmark scandals, which were no less than absolute corruption facilitated by absolute power, the bugging of GSOC offices, and again we caution — if confirmed — would be little short of seditious.
The story, so far an exemplary victory for good, old-fashioned journalism, points to a covert attack on an agency established and empowered by the Dáil to mediate between our police force and citizens who feel aggrieved.
That someone or some agency, acting on a commission or independently, would try to breach the confidentiality, undermine the integrity and dilute the protection that the GSOC should be able to extend to complainants is chilling.
The allegation reads like something as sinister as anything from the annals of the KGB, the Stasi or the anti-democratic excesses of the CIA or M16.
It is reassuring though that members of the Government — and the opposition — have spoken as one on the reports.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described the claims as “sinister”. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said he was “surprised” to learn the Minister for Justice had not been told about the bugging.
It would be more reassuring though if Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Alan Shatter issued something more assertive, more proactive than holding statements. This is, after all, a story about a direct challenge to the authority and legitimacy of Government. This is a moment to assert — immediately and forcefully — all the power and authority vested in Government by the electorate.
Of course the real worry is based on the unavoidable, almost unmentionable fact, that there is such a very limited range of prospective suspects — again, that caution, if the report is confirmed — in what seems to have the potential to be another GUBU chapter in our history.
Prevarication, delay, or kicking the ball to touch are not an option for anyone involved, least of all Government. A timetable for resolution and clarification must be set in days, a few weeks at most. Careers have been ended and governments have fallen for a lot less.
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