Relationship between Gardaí and GSOC must improve, says Commissioner

Interim Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan acknowledged that the relationship between An Garda Síochána and GSOC to be “more constructive”.

She made the comments following the publication of the report from retired High Court judge John Cooke, which found no evidence of bugging of the Garda Ombudsman Commission offices.

"Judge Cooke's detailed and comprehensive report is currently being reviewed closely by myself and my senior management team," said Commissioner O'Sullivan.

"Following this review, our response will be provided to the Minister for Justice as requested.

"An Garda Síochána acknowledges Judge Cooke's finding that 'the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance...took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Síochána'.

"An Garda Síochána also acknowledges that the working relationship between An Garda Síochána and GSOC needs to be more constructive.

"The relationship does continue to improve and An Garda Síochána is committed to building on that positive engagement with GSOC so as to ensure that there is an independent, objective and effective relationship between us, which is vital for maintaining public trust in policing. Proposed revisions to the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in this regard are welcome."

Justice Cooke's report found that in the world of covert surveillance, it is extremely difficult to say with absolute certainty that no surveillance took place.

However, weighing up the evidence available to him, Justice Cooke said that there is nothing to support the allegations of surveillance at the GSOC offices, or that Gardaí themselves were responsible.

Two of the three technological "anomalies" are given innocent explanations, while a third - a mysterious call to a phone at the GSOC offices - is described simply as a "technical or scientific" anomaly.

Despite the criticisms contained in the report, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that she still has confidence in GSOC and its board, but said that "there is certainly a need for a new culture of co-operation between GSOC and the gardaí and there are protocols in place".

The Minister also defended her predecessor Alan Shatter - saying the report offered "food for thought" for people who had criticised him when the reports first emerged.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties described the Cooke Report as "an exercise in smoke and mirrors".

In a statement, the human rights watchdog says Judge Cooke has found that it is impossible to rule out categorically all possibility of covert surveillance.

The ICCL says what is striking is that the Judge appears to have made no independent attempt to establish objectively whether or not surveillance of GSOC by An Garda Síochána had been sought or authorised.

In its response, GSOC said that the Cooke report finds that the office "acted in good faith".

GSCO statement in full:

The report has found that, while certain anomalies raised concerns about security within GSOC –one of which “remains unexplained” – “the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance of the kind asserted in the Sunday Times article took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Síochána”.

This in fact mirrors key findings of our own investigation which stated, as per our press release of 10th February, that GSOC was “satisfied that our databases were not compromised” and that “there was no evidence of garda misconduct.”

We agree with the Judge’s observation that in the “world of covert surveillance and counter surveillance techniques, it is ultimately extremely difficult to determine with complete certainty whether unexplained anomalies of the kinds identified in this instance were or were not attributable to unlawful intrusion”.

We encountered exactly the same difficulty in our own investigation, which we explained in the public discourse in February of this year. Therefore GSOC decided, at a certain point, that further investigative steps were not reasonably practicable.

The Judge subsequently conducted further enquiries, and has drawn more definite conclusions than GSOC’s own investigation, with regard to two out of three of the anomalies.

While the report says that our recourse to section 102(4) of the Garda Síochána Act (2005) may possibly have been premature, that opinion should be read, as the report states, “in view of the additional information that has come to light in this Inquiry”. We note the clear qualification that “the existing wording is undoubtedly open also to the interpretation hitherto given to it by GSOC”.

We note the recommendation that consideration should be given to clarifying certain aspects of the Garda Síochána Act (2005). We are actively engaged in discussions regarding legislative change: we have been calling for examination of that Act for a considerable period of time and have recently made a submission on this to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Justice & Equality.

We will consider carefully the further recommendations contained in the report in relation to security arrangements. We are happy that the Judge is satisfied that the steps taken by GSOC to rectify security deficiencies that came to light as a result of our investigations are adequate.

We agree fully with his recommendation that we should “more frequently carry out a thorough and suitable counter-surveillance examination” of our offices and we plan to do so, in order that complainants and gardaí alike can be fully confident of the security and privacy of data held by GSOC.

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