The Government decision to appoint a former High Court judge to investigate the escalating controversy around the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was inevitable.
However, the decision to have the retired judge, whomever it may be, report directly to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, a central player in the GSOC crisis, is so very inappropriate that the Government’s sincerity and commitment to establishing the truth are, and this is terribly tragic, in question.
Mr Shatter’s role — chief Government spinner, persistent, unshakeable naysayer and primary deflector of legitimate but disquieting questions — means that his only role should be that of a witness. If he finds that assertion uncomfortable then he has only himself to blame. He is hardly an objective bystander and is, almost incredibly, involved in setting the inquiry’s terms of reference. Those who endorsed that role unfortunately join the lengthening list of people with serious questions to answer. The obligation to report to Mr Shatter, may influence anyone invited to lead the inquiry.
Nevertheless, had the Government continued its bizarre, deeply questionable stonewalling the moral authority that sustains it would have been jeopardised. That authority might have been better protected though had someone responsible for generating and sustaining so many of the suspicions round the affair not been appointed Government overseer of the inquiry.
Leaving Mr Shatter’s role aside, the situation has — most unfortunately — become so very serious that credible, independent clarification, delivered in a relatively short timeframe, is essential. There are far too many unanswered questions, far to many terrible-vista suspicions left hanging in the air. It is impossible to pretend that issues fundamental to the integrity of our State and democracy are not at stake.
The accountability and credibility of An Garda Síochána — whether Commissioner Callinan accepts that or not — the independence of the GSOC and other ombudsmen, Mr Shatter’s incomprehensible determination to downplay the affair and Government promises on transparency made the inquiry inevitable.
Yesterday’s intervention by the security company whose investigation began the affair, in which they dismissed as “wholly inaccurate” suggestions that there might be an innocent explanation for bugging suspicions may not have been decisive but it added to the momentum pointing to an inquiry. The prospect of drawing the sting from last night’s and today’s Dáil debates, as well as this afternoon’s Oireachtas committee hearing, must have influenced Government thinking as well. The announcement of an inquiry is welcome but how it is framed, supported, resourced and — most importantly — respected will define its success or failure — and failure cannot be contemplated.
The Government is far from blameless in this messy affair so it would best serve everyone if Taoiseach Enda Kenny changed the roles envisaged for the Minister of Justice, made it very clear that the obstructionism experienced previously by the GSOC will not be tolerated by the inquiry and that the truth, no matter how ugly, will out. In that context yesterday evening’s guarantee from Commissioner Callinan is very welcome. The situation is so serious that anything less than the whole truth runs the risk of being characterised as a whitewash, one which none of us, least of all the Government, An Garda Síochána or the GSOC can afford.
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