Shatter: Garda bugging allegation 'baseless'

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has dismissed as completely baseless innuendo any suggestion that the Garda was behind the alleged bugging of the force’s official watchdog.

In a statement to the Dáil, Mr Shatter rejected claims that the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) headquarters in central Dublin had been under covert high-tech surveillance.

Branding security issues at the offices as “technical anomalies”, Mr Shatter said there were concerns of a surveillance threat but no evidence that any surveillance had actually taken place.

Mr Shatter said there were three key issues identified in a security sweep by a UK-based private company last September.

Firstly, a wi-fi device in the GSOC boardroom was found to be connected to an external network.

Although it is not known how this happened, the device was not used by GSOC and it could not connect to any of the watchdog’s internal systems, Mr Shatter said.

Secondly, there were concerns about the security of a conference call telephone in the GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien’s office following tests, but further checks revealed no other matters of concern and there was no evidence of any calls being compromised, he told the Dáil.

A third issue related to the vulnerability of UK registered mobile phones in the area of the offices.

Mr Shatter said no-one in GSOC used a UK-registered phone and therefore it was not relevant.

“GSOC proceeded to investigate all three issues, with expert assistance from the security company involved, and, as I have indicated, concluded that no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance was found,” said Mr Shatter.

Mr Shatter also hit out at any suggestion that the Garda itself were in way connected with the controversy.

“It is unfortunate that An Garda Siochana have found themselves, during the last 48 hours, the subject of what appears to be completely baseless innuendo,” he said.

The Ombudsman will be quizzed by TDs and senators tomorrow at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight, which has declared its “deep unease” at the bugging claims.

Padraig Mac Lochlainn, chairman of the committee, said it was hoping to get a full understanding into the chain of events leading up to the allegations.

Rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged the Garda Ombudsman to answer questions set out by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan last night – the nature and extent of the anomalies identified and whether criminality is suspected; an explanation on the basis for the suspicion of Garda misconduct; and whether any matters identified need to be investigated by the Garda.

“This is an issue of real importance and an issue about confidence of people in two very important institutions,” he said.

“It’s important there is clarity. Clarity leading to confidence about the institutions of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman’s office. I do hope that when the GSOC do attend (the committee) tomorrow they can provide that clarity.”

Mr Kenny said that the Government cannot demand the report by the counter-surveillance company that carried out security sweeps in the GSOC office but Mr Shatter has requested it.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said there were growing concerns about the maladministration of justice following the bugging claims, the penalty points controversy and warnings to Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe that Mr Shatter would “come after him”.

“The report is very serious but all the Government seems to have done in response is to develop a frenzy in the Ombudsman’s office... turning him into a villain rather than the victim,” he said.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams claimed the Taoiseach misquoted the Garda act when he said the Ombudsman should have told the minister sooner about the bugging fears.

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