Belfast Telegraph

Government U-turn over bug scandal

The Government has been forced in to a dramatic U-turn over the Garda ombudsman bugging scandal and ordered a retired judge to investigate.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the former High Court figure will examine all matters of relevance linked to allegations of a spy-ring at the watchdog.

The decision - 10 days after the scandal broke - follows repeated rejections of the need for an inquiry and claims that concerted attempts have been made to deflect attention away from whether bugging took place.

"I have also briefed the Cabinet in relation to further information and documentation received from Gsoc and further technical information I have received regarding the alleged surveillance of Gsoc," Mr Shatter said.

The head of the inquiry has not been named and the terms of reference have not been confirmed, but it will not be a tribunal-style investigation and it will run for eight weeks.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said there is something "fundamentally wrong" at the very core of the administration of justice in the country.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said if the opposition leader had any evidence of it he had a duty to bring it to the attention of Mr Shatter.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are to be set out by Mr Shatter, with the advice of the Attorney General Maire Whelan. Mr Kenny said the High Court judge will have access to technical experts to explain the issues involved.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Taoiseach had been very reluctantly forced into launching an inquiry and questioned why Mr Shatter was setting the terms of reference.

Mr Shatter will attend the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions tomorrow evening over the controversy but will likely be restricted in what he can say now that the inquiry has been ordered.

The scandal centres on Gsoc's fears that it was under surveillance last year as it finalised one of its most in-depth and potentially damaging investigations.

That focused on convicted drugs trafficker Kieran Boylan, from Ardee, Co Meath, who had drugs charges against him dropped and claimed he was working as an informant for drugs squad detectives while being allowed to smuggle.

Gsoc confirmed three telecoms security issues were identified in or around its offices during sweeps by counter-surveillance experts from London, Verrimus.

One was a Gsoc password protected wi-fi in the boardroom which was connecting to an outside wi-fi, a second was a possible bug intercepting calls on chairman Simon O'Brien's landline and the third was a government quality device known as a sting-ray which simulates a 3G network to suck in and intercept users in a sepcific area.

The company was forced to dismiss claims that its own experts' phones were the source of one of the technical anomlaies - the unidentified 3G network.

It responded to reports that its staff's phones were to blame for a fake mobile country code (MCC) and fake mobile network code (MNC) detected during inspections last year.

"A mobile phone cannot create a 3G base station, so it is impossible," Verrimus said.

The company also rejected suggestions that a wi-fi network in a coffee shop below the ombudsman's offices was responsible for the first telecoms anomaly uncovered during the sweeps.

It said a wi-fi device on a secure internal wireless local area network and used to transmit audio, video or data - such as the one in the ombudsman's office - should not be attached to and communicate with any device outside its own secure network.

Verrimus said it could not comment on details of the work it carried out for Gsoc but wanted to correct technical inaccuracies.

It also rejected claims it attempted to sell equipment it uses to find the so-called sting-ray to the Garda but confirmed it was invited to Garda HQ to demonstrate its gear while it was in Dublin trying to identify suspected bugging at the Gsoc offices.

The Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions is expected to consider inviting the company to explain some of the technical aspects of the controversy.

Mark Kelly, head of human rights body the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, called for defined special powers for the judge and his inquiry.

"The appointment of a senior judicial figure to head an inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 2004 is a necessary first step to restoring public trust in our police accountability mechanisms," he said.

Mr Kelly said the judge must be allowed to review the operation of all forms of surveillance used by gardai, the Defence Forces and Customs under the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009.

He also said it should look at other surveillance used by the security agencies not covered by that legislation and bring in a professional.

Separately, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will examine reforms to the Garda ombudsman's powers.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan repeatedly stated that he has definitively eliminated the possibility of any authorised or unauthorised spying on Gsoc by members of his force.

On Sunday he called for a line to be drawn under the scandal.


From Belfast Telegraph