I welcome the publication of the report by Judge John D. Cooke on his inquiry into reports of unlawful surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Governments acceptance in full of its findings and conclusions. Judge Cooke’s inquiry was tasked with examining the sequence of events and the facts which had led GSOC to begin a Public Interest Investigation in October 2013. However, Judge Cooke found that “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.”
Before addressing the findings of the Cooke Report, I must state that I am encouraged that we have had an independent and thorough examination into the serious allegations that GSOC had been under surveillance by members of the Garda Síochána. This was the only appropriate course of action as anything other than an independent investigation into such issues wouldn’t have had such a degree of credibility and certainly would not promote public confidence in the oversight of An Garda Síochána. After all, it is of fundamental importance that there is public confidence in the force in order to allow them to carry out their duties to their fullest potential. Earlier today, Fianna Fáil’s present justice spokesperson, Deputy Collins stated that Fianna Fáil stated that the inquiry should be composed of a judicial figure, suitable technical experts and an independent international police force member. I think that Deputy Collins will find that, by allowing Judge Cooke to engage the services of professionals in this area, this Government ensured that technical advice was taken into account by Judge Cooke when he was considering the evidence in front of him. Judge Cooke had a broad mandate, to carry out an independent investigation in the manner he saw fit, given to him in the terms of reference.
Deputy Collins’ suggestion that the Government curtailed the Cooke investigation is simply an untruth. It is clear that the Government did no such thing. By stating that the Taoiseach would try, in some way, to manipulate the outcome of the inquiry is nothing more than an attempt by Deputy Collins to tarnish the office of the Taoiseach once again. It is simply irresponsible to suggest that the office of the Taoiseach would attempt to place a mole on the inquiry team and this is simply an example of Deputy Collins mud-slinging for political gain. Perhaps the Deputy could stick to facts in the future and, for the record, the Department of the Taoiseach has stated the following Judge Cooke was appointed by the Government to carry out an independent Inquiry. “The Department of An Taoiseach provided him with administrative assistance in the setting up of that inquiry including the provision of office space. As Judge Cooke’s report states, the Department of An Taoiseach received a letter containing an unsolicited offer of assistance as an investigator from an individual whose CV indicated 20 years’ experience in the intelligence services as an officer in the Defence Forces. The Department acknowledged receipt of the letter, stating that it would be passed to Judge Cooke, which it was without comment or endorsement. As the report also points out the offer was not taken up.”
Regarding the findings outlined in the Cooke Report, Judge Cooke found that the accounts which alleged that device 4B (wireless audio and video media equipment) which was installed in a conference room within GSOC had been connecting to the external internet hotspot in a nearby café as being “not convincing”. In fact, this equipment was not even microphone enabled as originally thought, and therefore its capability of actually transmitting information of use would have been very limited. Furthermore, in relation to the claim that a fake UK 3G network was actually an IMSI catcher which was being used to track and intercept mobile phones, the Report outlines that this was “highly likely” to have actually been a mobile phone company testing its 4G service in the vicinity of GSOC. The likelihood of this being the case was further confirmed by the mobile phone company itself.
Another point which has been outlined within the Report as not having any evidence to support its connection to An Garda Síochána is the call-back to the landline teleconferencing phone following its being subject to an alerting test. While it is not clear as to what caused this call-back, what is clear is that, as Judge Cooke said, there was no evidence to link it to “an offence or misbehaviour on the part of a member of the Garda Síochána.” What I find to be of great interest is that the findings presented in the Cooke Report largely mirror findings by GSOC following the completion of the Public Interest Investigation of October 2013. The conclusion of this investigation stated that GSOC “did not find any definite evidence that GSOC was under technical or electronic surveillance. It did, however, uncover a number of technical and electronic anomalies that cannot be explained.”
I am encouraged by the recommendations of the Cooke Report as I feel they are fair and their implementation would be worthwhile. The more frequent holding of counter-surveillance examinations in the office of GSOC is something which should be a matter of course. Regardless of whether any threats are detected in future, such checks should be carried out on a regular basis in order to ensure the protection of all data and information on all operations being carried out by GSOC. In addition to this, the frequent analysis of such counter-surveillance procedures should take place to allow for the implementation of any changes which may be necessary to detect a new security or surveillance risk.
I wish to echo Minister Fitzgerald’s call for a new “culture of co-operation” between GSOC and An Garda Síochána. While we must take into account the contents of the Cooke Report, we must not allow our focus to be curtailed from the work which must be undertaken to strengthen the police force within the State. This report and the Guerin Report most inform the reforms which we progress to create a more effective system of Garda oversight and strengthen the cooperation which takes place between the force itself and GSOC. Reform is something which we must wholly embrace in order to address past failures. However, I feel it is essential to acknowledge the important work undertaken by Gardaí on a daily basis. The men and women of An Garda Síochána protect the justice of the State and the freedoms and rights of all within it on a daily basis. For this reason, it is fundamental that, while debating these issues, we do not undermine the credibility or the confidence and trust which the public place in it. We must avoid doing this now, and throughout the time during which the Government is working on its programme of reform in policing and justice. Instead, we must work to support the Gardaí in tackling the confidence issue which has crept up as an issue over the past few years, and particularly in the last six months. Furthermore, throughout these discussions, we should leave politics at the door and pursue the creation of a system of Garda Oversight and governance which we believe will be the most efficient and transparent. I would like to acknowledge the fact that members of An Garda Síochána are doing an excellent job, on a daily basis, with a considerably reduced level of resources available to them.
Minister Fitzgerald outlined a number of responses which are specific to the Cooke Report. I am glad that the Minister will refer the Cooke Report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality of which I am a member and I look forward to contributing to a worthwhile discussion on the report in Committee. The bill which is proposed with the aim of reforming the workings of GSOC will outline the threshold for and the basis through which GSOC will have the power to begin a Public Interest Investigation in accordance with Judge Cooke’s recommendation. This bill will also seek to provide for protocols which will facilitate a greater degree of cooperation between GSOC and An Garda Síochána – something which is of the utmost importance. I noticed this afternoon that the Garda Ombudsman twitter account retweeted a tweet from the Independent which quoted Deputy Niall Collins as saying “Shatter tried to make GSOC villains rather than victims of bugging allegations”. Such an action is not conducive to the development of productive relations between the Garda Ombudsman and the Department of Justice and I would advise that simple actions such as a retweet be given a greater degree of consideration in future.
In the lead up to these reforms, and as part of my role on the Joint Committee of Justice, Defence and Equality, last week I travelled with a delegation to meet with members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, members of the Justice Committee in Stormont and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in Belfast and with the Parliamentary sub-Committee on Policing, the Police Investigation, and Review Commissioner and the Policing Authority in Scotland. In both Northern Ireland and Scotland reforms have been implemented in relation to Garda reform and we must take lessons from such cases. In order to institute effective and worthwhile reforms in Ireland we must inform these decisions with international best practice.
In Scotland, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 replaced the eight territorial police forces with one national force named Police Scotland. As part of their reforms, one issue which was addressed was the tensions which existed between the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland. Furthermore, the office of the Police Complaints Commissioner in Scotland became the office of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner under the 2012 Act and the remit of the Commissioner was extended. Perhaps the examination of such reforms in other states will allow us to build more effective system of Garda oversight here. However, this is not something on which we can be hasty, we must realise that these things take time and we must avoid rushing these reforms if we are to create a system which will last the test of time.
I noted in Northern Ireland that the Policing Board there is an independent body made up of 19 members (10 of who are political and 9 who are independent and represent community interests and perspectives). The role of this body includes examining policing at a local level, consulting with citizens regarding policing in their local area and monitoring how the police perform against targets which have been set by the Policing Board itself. While I would be wary of the involvement of any politicians in the oversight of An Garda Síochána, this seems to be a system which works well in Northern Ireland – perhaps due to its very independent nature where political considerations are removed.
To conclude, I am glad that the Cooke Report has been published and that the Government has accepted its findings and conclusions in full. The fact that the Cooke Report, and the Guerin Report, will inform the package of reforms which the Government will be implementing is positive. I am sure that Minister Fitzgerald will do a brilliant job in this regard and in terms of implementing strong reforms which will not only strengthen the system of Garda oversight and create a culture where more efficient communication between GSOC and An Garda Síochána can take place, but will also be long-lasting due to their effectiveness.