CONFUSION and spin. That’s what we have now. Confusion over whether the Garda ombudsman was bugged or not. And spin. Spin against the ombudsman on one hand and spin against the gardaí and Justice Minister Alan Shatter on the other.
The spin against GSOC is coming from powerful forces, not least the Government, the gardaí, and sections of the media. The spin against the gardaí and the minister is coming from opposition politicians, prominent journalists and commentators, and civil liberty activists.
So how can the general public get a thorough, impartial, and knowledgeable analysis?
An independent inquiry — admittedly seen as an unruly and spoiled child — may be the only way.
So what should it examine?
Why the sweep?
Was the security sweep a general probe, as suggested by the minister, or were there reasons for suspecting GSOC was bugged? GSOC itself has said it was for both reasons, giving general hints as to the latter: Of information in the public domain they thought only they had. Did this include the gardaí?
What is the expertise and experience of the British security firm, Verrimus? Exactly what tests were conducted? Were they robust and to a high standard? The inquiry would require its own technical advisors and hearings involving experts.
Signs of surveillance
The inquiry needs to examine in detail each of the three “technical or electronic anomalies” and assess whether or not they could be signs of surveillance. This would require access to Verrimus’s various reports and test documentation. The inquiry would need to have hearings with technical experts to try and interpret those signs. We hear the chance the interference in the conference phone facility as being coincidental was “close to zero”.
Telecom experts could not trace the source of the call. That sounds suspicious.
However, can we determine any more? The mobile phone scanner also sounds suspicious. Verrimus stated that only government agencies have access to it. Is that true?
Gardaí as suspects
What was the basis for launching an inquiry to investigate if the suspected surveillance originated within the Garda Síochána and involved a member of the force? What was the basis upon which gardaí were suspected? Are those reasons sufficient?
What investigation was carried out? What did it entail? The analysis of the threats we’re told were “inconclusive”. The investigation concluded there was “no evidence” of Garda misconduct. We need a thorough examination of the findings.
Was there surveillance?
Simon O’Brien gave slightly different answers at the committee but essentially he said he suspected the office was or might have been under surveillance. Verrimus could be asked to attend the inquiry to give their view.
Using the balance of probabilities test — the benchmark of tribunals and inquiries — was there surveillance? Or was there credible and sufficient reason to suspect so? This is a different level of proof than the “definitive proof” benchmark used by the Government, which is akin to proof beyond all reasonable doubt — the benchmark of criminal trials.
Without all these questions answered, we’ll be left dazed and confused.
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