[Justice Minister Alan Shatter in the Dáil last night]
Last night in the Dáil, Justice Minister Alan Shatter referred again to Section 80(5) the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in relation to the non-reporting of the surveillance sweep undertaken by GSOC to the minister before outlining that other sections provided for GSOC to tell him.
It is true that section 80(5) of the 2005 Act provides that GSOC may make a report to me in the
circumstances I have described, but this is better described as an enabling provision rather than a purely discretionary one. In other words, it should be used in circumstances contemplated by the provision. In that context, I don’t think that any reasonable person would regard concerns of the nature we are discussing as anything other than grave or exceptional. I am not sure how anyone could sensibly argue the opposite in circumstances where this issue has dominated the TV and radio news for days on end, has been the subject of countless newspaper headlines and articles, was the subject of statements in this House last week, is the subject of a motion in the House this evening, and is being examined as a matter of urgency by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
Even apart from this, however, there is the separate obligation in section 103 of the 2005 Act. Section 103 provides that GSOC, where it launches a section 102 investigation, shall inform the Minister of the progress and results of the investigation. An exception to this strict requirement is allowed in only three circumstances, namely where supplying the information would prejudice a criminal investigation or prosecution; would jeopardise a person’s safety; or for any other reason would not be in the public interest. The first two exceptions are irrelevant. As regards the third, I find it impossible to see how it would not be in the public interest for the Minister to be advised of an investigation in these circumstances.
On Tonight with Vincent Browne with Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, Sunday Times security correspondent John Mooney, Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe and Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins addressed the relevancy of the the Garda Síochana Act to the GSOC ‘situation’.
They also discussed how Mr Shatter has refused to confirm whether or not he has signed a warrant to allow for the surveillance of journalists and how Mr Shatter has not been asked if he signed a warrant for the bugging of GSOC’s phone.
Vincent Browne: “First of all, let’s deal with the legal issue. Catherine, a former Supreme Court judge, do you think really there’s any possible reading of Section 80 of the Garda Siochána Act 2005 that requires GSOC to inform the Minister for Justice of what it’s doing.”
Catherine McGuinness: “Well, looking at the text I would have said that there wasn’t an absolute requirement, certainly you could possibly say they might have a discretionary, a discretionary need to make a requirement to talk to the minister about something that was particularly grave. But I do think it’s left to their own discretion. But, in any case, I really do think that too much is being made of this, about whether the minister was told or the minister was not told. Certainly, from the point of view of GSOC when you look at what has happened – when the minister did hear about it, do you wonder that they didn’t tell him in the first place, you know?”
Browne: “That’s a separate issue. I’m just just talking about the legal thing – was there a legal requirement to tell them under Section 80 of the Garda Síocána Act 2005. He went on to say that, under Sections 102 and 103, there was clearly a requirement on them to inform him. And, I, I can’t, I think this is quite amazing. 102 says, it applies to a situation where a Garda Commissioner asks GSOC to enquire about something or when the Minister asks GSOC to enquire about something – then there is a requirement on GSOC to inform the minister, that’s…”
Browne: “That’s what it amounts to.”
McGuinness: “These things haven’t happened.”
Browne: “These things hadn’t happened so it’s totally irrelevant.”
McGuinness: “I think that 102 is dealing with particular issues, particular issues that may arise like when the, as you have said, and I don’t think they’re connected with this particular situation. I was puzzled when I, frankly, I was puzzled when the minister said this.”
Browne: “It’s amazing that a solicitor, admittedly he spent most of his time in Family Law, but amazing that a solicitor can’t read and Act and understand it, isn’t it?”
John Mooney: “This all arises out of a public interest inquiry that GSOC ran into collusion between a drug trafficker called Kieran Boylan, from Co. Louth, and members of a now disbanded elite unit of gardaí in Dublin. There were a lot of tensions in that as part of that inquiry. GSOC have been on the record about Garda management withheld documents from them, some documents weren’t furnished at all. That is because this individual was involved in extra-judicial operations, whereby he was trafficking drugs and setting up low-level people. But I think that there’s an issue in that file, in so far as there were weapons and drugs transported at one stage, through European countries.”
Browne: “Was there a remark made by Garda Síochána…”
Talk over each other
Mooney: “If you just let me finish the story. But, during that, we published a number of stories in The Sunday Times about what was happening and, at one point, a senior member of Garda management rang GSOC and threatened to use analysts to find out where we were getting our information from and because it was accurate. If we continue on into a couple of months until last summer, there was, Simon O’Brien, I understand had a meeting, where they decided to take a section of the report, out of the report, prior to publication and, a couple of weeks on, the deletion of that particular section of a report was mentioned to Simon O’Brien.”
Browne: “By whom?”
Mooney: “That was by Martin Callinan. At that point I understand that sent a lot of panic, shockwaves through the Commission, they were very concerned about their own internal security while they may have had fears a couple of weeks prior to that and may have been considering, certainly, bringing in countersurveillance measures. I think when these specific remarks were made they put the cat amongst the pigeons and I think that prompted them into very specific course of action.”
Browne: “Just one further issue I want to pursue with you…and it concerns that if the Garda Síochána believe that a crime had been committed within GSOC to do with release, leaking of confidential information, they would have been justified in undertaking the tapping of phones but in order to do that legally, they would have had to get the authorisation of the Minister for Justice…”
Mooney: “Well I put that question to Alan Shatter last week and he’s refused to comment on whether he signed a warrant, which allowing any sort of surveillance on media organisations or journalists, in particular.”
Browne: “But, GSOC, did he sign an authorisation for the tapping of GSOC’s phones?”
Mooney: “Well I thought it was very noteworthy that Simon O’Brien refused to ask him that particular question.”
Browne: “How do you know that..?”
Mooney: “Because he gave evidence to that..”
Niall Collins: “He said that in the committee last week.”
Browne: “That he didn’t ask if his phone was tapped?”
Mooney: “He didn’t specifically ask Alan Shatter if he’d signed a warrant..”
Collins: “He was asked that question at the committee by Clare Daly…”
Mooney: “And he said he chose not to ask the minister that particular question. I think Simon O’Brien is an English police officer who may be suffering from disbelief at the way these matters are dealt with in this country.”
Watch back here.
A statement will be issued within the hour.
— Verrimus (@verrimus) February 19, 2014