CeannComhairle, Fianna Fáil has welcomed the publication of the Cooke Report.Fianna Fáil was the first to propose an independent review panel to be established to investigate the entire issue. We had argued that this body should be composed of technical expertise, a judicial figure and an international police force member. Unfortunately this model was not pursued. Nonetheless, the immediate fallout out from the Cooke Report on unlawful surveillance raises broader concerns over the relations between GSOC and the Gardaí. These questions still remain to be answered.
We also believe there are a number of serious questions to be answered about the possibility of bugging of the GSOC offices. You would not think this from the very successful Government spin on some of the contents of the report which appear to say “This matter is now settled. Nothing more to see here.” This is far from the case. In fact, the more we are told, the more questions arise.
Commenting after the publication of the report, the GSOC chairman Simon O’Brienstated that “There is still an outstanding anomaly and in the words of the judge, as he says in these rather febrile areas, it’s difficult to know whether that could be in relation to unlawful intrusion… So, question marks still remain.”
Question marks do still remain Minister and it is about time we found out the answers to those questions. With regard to the possibility of bugging, in response to the Report, I would say “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.
Indeed, I believe Justice Cooke would have agreed with me on that comment given his references in the conclusions of the report. He has stated in paragraph 15 of his conclusions: “It is ultimately extremely difficult to determine with complete certainty whether unexplained anomalies of the kind identified in this instance were or were not attributed to unlawful intrusion”. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence either way with regard to the bugging of GSOC.
GSOC Actions Vindicated
Importantly, the Cooke Report vindicated the actions of GSOC by stating: ‘the investigating officers and the members of the [Garda Ombudsman] Commission acted in good faith’ in investigating the alleged bugging of their offices. This undermines former Minister Shatter’s previous criticism of the commencement of the investigation. At that time the Minister tried to play the man and not the ball. He tried to undermine the Garda Ombudsman without seeking the full evidence of what was going on first.
Mr Shatter dismissed the need for further investigation of the issue when these allegations were published. Yet, as we know, on February 19th 2014, Justice Cooke was appointed to review the GSOC bugging scandal. At the time, the former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter tried to transform GSOC from a victim of this episode into the villain.
The fact that GSOC did not report this crime to the former Minister or the Gardaí is a damning indictment of the gross mismanagement of the sensitive relationship between the Gardaí, GSOC and the Department of Justice. There is present a toxic triangle of distrust here Minister. I hope you, as someone who brings a new approach to the Department of Justice will work to build the trust which was lost over the past three years.
It must be said that the Report’s contents and conclusions are of little comfort to ordinary citizens given the facts which show the dysfunctional relationship and clear lack of cooperation that exists between An Garda Síochána, the Garda Ombudsman and the Department of Justice. For public confidence to be restored in the role and competencies of GSOC, legislation is needed to strengthen and extend the Ombudsman’s power and remit. I hope the Minister will progress this legislation and bring it before the House as soon as possible.
The Government’s current proposed legislation falls significantly short of what is necessary to ensure a strong and robust Ombudsman that protects the rights of both Garda and citizen. The Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 currently going through the Houses of the Oireachtas deals with whistleblowers generally and is not designed to take into account the specific needs of GSOC. GSOC needs new powers of inquiry to investigate the operation and administration of An Garda Síochána and not simply complaints made by individuals about individual members of the Gardaí.
Findings of the Cooke Report
Looking at the specific findings of the Cooke Report we see that Mr Justice Cooke found as “not convincing” the accounts that an wireless AV remote control device for audio and video equipment in GSOC was connecting and transferring data to an external ‘Bitbuzz’ hotspot in a nearby café. This finding has been queried by I.T experts.
The judge also found that an alleged fake UK 3G network, which was detected on an iPhone as operating in the vicinity of GSOC’s offices, was “highly likely” to have been caused by the testing of a new 4G installation by a mobile provider. This finding is in contradiction to Verrimus Ltd’s original findings.
On the third alleged threat, the “ring back” to a phone line in GSOC offices in the early hours of the morning, the judge found that it was impossible to “categorically rule all possibility of covert surveillance” but said it was clear that the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance of the kind asserted by The Sunday Times took place.
Mr Justice Cooke made the point that in the world of covert surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, it was extremely difficult to determine with complete certainty whether unexplained anomalies were or were not attributable to unlawful intrusion. We would agree with Justice Cooke’s assertion on this side of the House.
But it is clear to us that a number of key questions arising out of the report need to be answered. If these matters are not clarified questions will remain over what exactly happened at the GSOC offices. I would hope the Minister could offer some answers to the questions which I will raise now.
Firstly, the matter remains to be clarified as to why there was tampering of the media devices (named in the report as Device 4B) installed in the conference room of GSOC which sought to connect with a wifi internet provided in a nearby café? Who installed this device?
Verrimus Ltd stated that this device exchanged 120 data packets with the wifi network. Nobody provided Judge Cooke with any proof of content of the data but it has been argued that it is possible that the café’s wifi could have been hijacked by a third party used to gain access to GSOC data.
Questions still remain over the possibility of physical surveillance at GSOC. The presence of a white van and two men outside GSOC offices coincided with the fake UK mobile signal which sought to gather data from GSOC’s networks. Verrimus Ltd only detected this UK mobile signal and data seeking when the white van was present outside GSOC offices. This seems like more than a coincidence minister.
Justice Cooke stated that testing of a 4G installation network was likely to be responsible for this but this was not proven. The judge’s methodology has been questioned in this regard. The question remains why Justice Cooke accepted mobile operators’ conclusions but not Verrimus Ltd.
The hand free landline test by Verrimus Ltd on GSOC chairman, Simon O’Brien’s phone with music blasts at 1.40am in the morning resulted in someone calling back the phone at that time. That would appear odd to any objective observer. This would indicate that someone was connected to the line. We all must ask who made the call and why? Was it to check the line was working after VerrimusLtd’s music test? Judge Cooke stated that there was no explanation for this occurrence. The minister might enlighten us further in this regard.
Dublin Airport Incident
One of the most unusual incidents contained within the Cooke Report is the account of the Verrimus staff leaving Dublin. Why when leaving Ireland through Dublin Airport, Verrimus staff, after going through security, were sought out and photographed by an unidentified individual. It is claimed that this is a tactic by other surveillance operators to show that those carrying out investigations of bugging have been identified and it has been noted by those on the other side.
Another question unanswered by the report and dismissed by those briefing the press from the government side.
Department of the Taoiseach Unsolicited Approach to Cooke
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Report must be the involvement from the Department of the Taoiseach in seeking to meddle in the Cooke Inquiry. On 25th February, a caller alerted Verrimus Ltd/GSOC to an alleged attempt to place a member of the security forces on the inquiry team in a bid to manipulate the outcome. Subsequently there was an unsolicited offer from the Taoiseach’s office to place someone with ’20 years security experience’ on the inquiry team. Questions remain about the role of the Taoiseach and the former Minister for Justice and Defence in any alleged attempt to place a ‘mole’ on the inquiry team. Who was this man? Why did the Department of the Taoiseach seek to appoint an individual unsolicited to help with the report?
I ask the Minister in her reply in this debate to clarify this matter for the House. It may have been that the Taoiseach was acting in good faith in his actions but in order to ascertain that fact we must know more about the circumstances surrounding the approach.
Limited remit of the report
One area of criticism I would have of the Report overall was the very limited remit of the terms of reference which tied the hands of Justice Cooke. In that sense it was not an independent investigation into whether or not GSOC was bugged. The judge was only given the power to investigate the Verrimus report that had already been conducted – not carry out fresh investigation. Nonetheless, the work of the judge is to be commended given the terms of reference which were put forward by the Government.
Handling of controversy
The Governemnt unfortunately cannot be commended for their approach the the Cooke Report and the matters which gave rise for the need to investigate the alleged bugging of the GSOC offices. Serious questions remain about the Government’s handling of this controversy. Before any investigation was conducted, and without any knowledge of whether or not GSOC had in fact been bugged, the Government made every attempt possible to dismiss the very serious concerns raised by GSOC and others. Instead of seeking the truth, the Government’s reaction to this controversy was to dismiss the concerns entirely, undermine the office of the independent garda watchdog and attempt to manipulate the reporting of this issue.
Government Maladministration of Justice
In this sense, it is my contention that the Government’s credibility with regard to the proper functioning of the justice system in Ireland has evaporated. They have continuously undermined the administration of justice by refusing to listen to whistleblowers; by refusing to answer questions surrounding the Taoiseach’s involvement in the resignation of the Garda Commissioner; by closing Garda stations leaving rural Ireland without police protection and by undermining the judiciary through a series of measures to reduce their independence.
This Government’s approach to resolving the current matters of concern undermining public confidence in the administration of justice is to establish commissions of investigation and not follow through on their recommendations. We are still awaiting significant Government action on the Guerin Report which called into question the deficiencies in Garda Management and the Department of Justice.
We are still awaiting the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner despite the fact Martin Callinan resigned on March 25th, a full two months ago. We are still waiting on the Minister for Justice to express confidence in her Department’s Secretary General, Brian Purcell and we are still awaiting the Taoiseach’s clarification of his involvement in the former Commissioner’s resignation.
In order to fundamentally address these issues raised in the Cooke Report, tackle the central allegations that are at the heart of the matter and to restore public trust in the oversight system of our Gardaí and their relationship with GSOC action must be taken now.
Reform of An Garda Síochána and the establishment of an independent policing authority are central for improved morale in the Garda force and in the citizens’ confidence in its police service.We need an independent police authority to manage the monitoring, supervisory and oversight functions of An Garda Síochána. We need new legislation which increases independence and impartiality of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We need honesty from this Government in relation to the contents of the Cooke Report which raises further serious questions which remain to be answered. We need a new approach from the Department of Justice which recognises its failings and acts to address them.
Minister FitzGerald, I put it to you that you will be judged as a success or failure in this House on these matters. Fianna Fáil has been vocal in raising concerns surrounding these issues and will be pursuing a constructive approach in supporting reform in our police force.
We will support you in seeking to re-establish the public’s confidence in our justice system. A confidence that has been shattered over the past three years. I hope that you will be brave enough to take the necessary steps to achieve that goal.