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GSOC: Justice Minister must come under forensic scrutiny - Sandra McLellan TD

18 February, 2014 - by Sandra McLellan TD


Sinn Féin TD, Sandra McLellan has said that the Justice Minister himself "must be placed under forensic scrutiny as part of any examination rather than be the one overseeing it."  The Cork TD was speaking during Sinn Féin's Private Members Business motion calling for an independent inquiry in to the alleged bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsmans office.

Speaking during the debate Ms McLellan said:

"The seriousness of this matter cannot be overstated, yet despite the fact that almost certainly the offices of GSOC have been targeted by a covert and sophisticated surveillance operation that could only have been carried out by a government agency, Minister Shatter, and senior Garda personnel have attempted to trivialise what has happened over a ten day period.

"Today’s decision by the Government to belatedly initiate a “review” into this saga is a response to what has become a catalogue of controversy and crises under the watch of Minister Shatter.

"The appointment of a retired High Court Judge to enquire into all matters of relevance will be viewed with a certain cynicism since it will be the Minister himself, albeit on advice from the Attorney General, who will set the Terms of Reference and who the High Court Judge will report too.

"It would be my strong view that the Minister himself must be placed under forensic scrutiny as part of any examination rather than be the one overseeing it."

Please find the full text of Deputy Sandra McLellan's speech delivered in the Dáil tonight during Sinn Féin's Private Members' Business motion calling for an independent inquiry into the alleged bugging of the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Minister, tonight’s debate concerns one of the most important institutions of the state, the Gardaí Síochána.

Recent events surrounding the alleged surveillance of GSOC have raised serious questions about its independence and its capacity to ensure proper civilian oversight of the police in this State.

The seriousness of this matter cannot be overstated, yet despite the fact that almost certainly the offices of GSOC have been targeted by a covert and sophisticated surveillance operation that could only have been carried out by a government agency, Minister Shatter, and senior Garda personnel have attempted to trivialise what has happened over a ten day period.

This is unacceptable.

Minister Shatter’s failure to adequately address who compromised GSOC’s security is an indictment of his attitude and approach and earlier today the cabinet was forced into a U-turn and announce an enquiry that’s limited scope will likely amount to nothing more than a review into the GSOC scandal.

There are serious questions around the Minster’s capacity to oversee the role of the Gardaí and to be truly independent in his role as Minister for Justice and Defence.

His statement last week to the Dáil completely misrepresented what was in the GSOC Report and his distortion of these facts has been repeated by senior government Ministers and the Taoiseach, whose initial response to the Sunday Times article was to misinterpret the legislation in an attempt to discredit GSOC.

The question to be asked is whether this Government does in fact want an Independent Ombudsman at all?

Thankfully, these government failures have failed to undermine the public’s confidence in ordinary rank and file Gardaí, who we all acknowledge provide a vital public service.

However, the failures of both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner was further underscored last Friday when, at their joint press conference at Templemore, the Minister attempted to row back and demonstrate his confidence in GSOC, while at his side the Commissioner immediately undone this effort when he said, that the: “GSOCs pigeons had come home to roost”.

Today’s decision by the Government to belatedly initiate a “review” into this saga is a response to what has become a catalogue of controversy and crises under the watch of Minister Shatter.

The appointment of a retired High Court Judge to enquire into all matters of relevance will be viewed with a certain cynicism since it will be the Minister himself, albeit on advice from the Attorney General, who will set the Terms of Reference and who the High Court Judge will report too.

It would be my strong view that the Minister himself must be placed under forensic scrutiny as part of any examination rather than be the one overseeing it.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin publicly indicated that our party would be making the necessary amendments to the Garda Síochánna Act 2005 in order to strengthen the Ombudsman Commissions powers, in particular the need for GSOC to investigate the Garda Commissioner.

Today the Government announced that the Oireachtas Committee will be asked to review the existing legislation and make recommendations for change.

Can I suggest to the Minister that there is in fact zero opposition to strengthening the legislation and the need to include powers to investigate the Garda Commissioner can be made immediately on that basis, while broader policing reforms are considered by Committee?

It is also necessary that the Ombudsman, when conducting investigations, has oversight of an Garda Síochána, up to and including the Garda Commissioner.

We will not have a policing culture based on accountability and transparency if the person at the top of the force is exempt from independent investigation.

This was eloquently noted in recent days by former Police Ombudsman in the North of Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, who said that based on GSOC’s current set-up she simply would not be there.

We need to amend the legislation to give effect to these broader reforms and modernise our laws to match the policing challenges of 2014 and the administration of justice in this state.

There is great merit in the idea of creating an independent policing board with proper oversight similar to the body that exists in the North.

For instance at community level, Joint Policing Committees have in most part become talking shops. There must be community input and structures which are responsive in order to win public trust and confidence in policing.

Additional powers must be devolved to Joint Policing Committees to give local representatives direct input in the development of Local Policing Plans.

Joint Policing Committees also need to be given a more effective role in ensuring that Local Policing Plans are fully implemented.

The Gardaí must then be held to account for its implementation.

In the North, Sinn Féin became a driving force for progressive change and policing accountability in the north. The Patten Report provided a blue print that enabled the creation of a policing service that is accountable and answerable to the public it serves.

It is clearly time to usher in new change. This government stood on a platform of dramatic reform. Let's now match words with action and get on with the task in hand, which the people expect and which this government promised to deliver.

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