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No garda in 'spy ring' - Callinan


Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Justice Minister Alan Shatter

No garda officer has been involved in surveillance of staff at the force's watchdog, commissioner Martin Callinan has said.

The country's police chief said he wanted to unequivocally dismiss suggestions of official involvement in a suspected spy ring at the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) headquarters.

"I'm very, very satisfied that no member of An Garda Siochana was involved in surveillance of any kind in relation to either premises or the members of staff," he said.

Chairman of the Gsoc, former Met Police commander Simon O'Brien, said he suspects his offices in central Dublin have been bugged but cannot prove it.

The fear was so great that last year a specialist London-based counter surveillance company was brought in and identified three unexplained telecoms issues.

The three ombudsman commissioners, Mr O'Brien, Kieran FitzGerald and Carmel Foley, held meetings in cafes to try to avoid being surveilled.

Mr Callinan, at an event to mark 50 years of training at the Garda college in Templemore, suggested the issue about suspicions of surveillance at the Gsoc headquarters supported his concerns over how much access its investigators should get to the force's files, computers and intelligence.

"I think the pigeon has come home to roost to a certain degree here," the commissioner said.

"All of the issues and all of the guarantees we were seeking to secure here on the new protocol arrangements were very much front and centre in the context of what has been happening in recent days about confidential information leaking to the public."

The Garda Ombudsman and the Commissioner were embroiled in a bitter row in the middle of last year over the watchdog's investigation into Kieran Boylan, a known high-level drug trafficker who operated as an informant and had serious drugs charges against him dropped.

The ombudsman said its four year investigation had been delayed by the Garda and led to revised working arrangements.

The alleged bugging was first disclosed in a report in the Sunday Times last weekend which Mr O'Brien described as having "an awful lot of provenance".

The near week-long fallout over the suspected bugging sparked calls for an independent inquiry.

There were also criticisms that the Government and the Garda attempted to deflect the focus from whether there was a surveillance operation, and by whom and why it was carried out, to why the ombudsman did not reveal it at the earliest opportunity and what it says about security at the watchdog.

Mr Callinan said he was "absolutely concerned" about leaks from Gsoc and said he had also spoken to his own members about leaking information.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Shatter said he had confidence in Gsoc, although he refused to talk about individuals.

"I have confidence in Gsoc. I have confidence in the commission but I'm not going to differentiate between any individual members because it's the commission and they make decisions collectively," he said.

Mr Shatter will be questioned by the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on Wednesday.

The head of that parliamentary committee, Sinn Fein TD Padraig MacLochlainn, said the minister's account of the suspected surveillance differs considerably from a report he was given on the security concerns.

"All I can say is, the concerns that I had have only heightened having read that (ombudsman's) briefing," he said.

Mr Shatter held a two-hour meeting with Mr O'Brien on Monday to be briefed on the suspicions and received a copy of a report on counter surveillance sweeps carried out at the ombudsman's offices late last year.

Following that, Mr Shatter made a statement to the Dail dismissing suggestions of Garda involvement in a surveillance operation as "completely baseless innuendo" and said there was no definitive evidence the ombudsman had been bugged.

Last night the minister said Mr O'Brien provided confused and contradictory accounts of his concerns and that his own statement to the Dail was based on his meeting with the Gsoc chief.

The bugging claims centre on three issues which were identified with telecoms and technology in or around the Gsoc headquarters on Dublin's Abbey Street.

First, a wi-fi device - described as a media console - in the 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 or databases.

The device has been retained for evidence

The second issue revolved around concerns about the security of a telephone used for conference calls in Mr O'Brien's office. Tests showed a suspicious signal coming back into the telephone when it was activated but the number could not be traced and there was no conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing.

There was no evidence of any calls being compromised.

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

The technology - used only by government level security agencies - recreates a mobile network and picks up or locates phones registered to that network.

Once a phone has been connected it can be forced to disable call encryption and leave call data vulnerable to interception and recording.