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 Header Item ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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  12 o’clock

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Since last Sunday, the Government has engaged in a co-ordinated strategy that has served to undermine the Office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. On Monday, the Taoiseach took to the media and demanded that the GSOC level with the Minister for Justice and Equality. He further chose to repeatedly misquote section 80 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and misinform members of the public in respect of the Act. All of this had the effect of placing significant public pressure on the GSOC, which was then publicly forced into a position in which it had to express regret to the Minister and publicly on national television. This was very damaging to the independent office of the GSOC. One would not expect the same to be asked of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, any other Ombudsman or a judge who has been independently appointed by the President.

On Tuesday evening, we had statements in the House on the issue and the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions met yesterday for a further discussion of the matter. Speaking on Tuesday evening, the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that "no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance was found". It was, he said, "unfortunate that An Garda Síochána has found itself, during the last 48 hours, the subject of what appears to be completely baseless innuendo". The Minister also stated that "no information has been furnished to me by the GSOC suggesting that An Garda Síochána was involved in any way in what gave rise to the concerns which arose in the GSOC about its security". In his opening statement to yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, the chairman of the GSOC, Mr. Simon O'Brien, stated that on 8 October 2013 the commission invoked section 102(4) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and commenced a public interest investigation. The investigation was launched on the basis that the acting director of investigations was of the opinion that the threshold of a threat had been met and the commission commenced an investigation into the Garda Síochána. When I pointedly asked the Mr. O'Brien yesterday if he had informed the Minister of this fact when he briefed him he stated that he had done so. The Minister did not make Deputies aware of this matter in his statement to the Dáil on Tuesday. There is, therefore, a significant divergence of opinion in this regard.

Does the Tánaiste believe the Taoiseach was correct in demanding publicly that the GSOC level with the Minister? Was the commission right to apologise to the Minister? Has the independence of the GSOC been damaged as a consequence of this apology? Did the Minister for Justice and Equality withhold from the Dáil on Tuesday information he had received from Mr. Simon O'Brien? Why is the Government not running with the calls made by the Fianna Fáil Party and other Opposition parties for an independent inquiry into this matter?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I welcome the fact that the chairperson of the GSOC was before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions yesterday to answer questions. I also welcome the fact that the committee intends to continue to have this issue examined. I understand it is inviting the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend-----

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae He will not like that.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore -----and he will be very happy to do so.

I reject absolutely the suggestion made by Deputy Collins that there is some kind of co-ordinated strategy by the Government to undermine - I am not sure of the phrase he used - the GSOC. The Government entirely respects and values the independence of the commission. The GSOC was set up, after many years in which a body of this nature had been called for, to independently examine any questions of misconduct on the part of some gardaí. It does a very good job, it acts independently and every Member of the House, from whatever side, should and does respect its independence. This independence needs to be underpinned and affirmed in the current public controversy.

In respect of the Deputy's specific questions, he asked if the GSOC should have reported the issue to the Minister for Justice and Equality. The commission accepts that it should have done so. The Deputy also asked if I believed the independence of the GSOC had been damaged. I do not believe it has been damaged. If anything, what we have seen in the past couple of days is the commission asserting its independence, which is a good thing. I support the GSOC in asserting its independence.

I do not accept that the Minister withheld information from the Dáil. The information he gave the House was based on the briefing he was given by the GSOC.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae He got it wrong.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I understand the Minister has been asked to appear before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. He is willing to attend a meeting of the committee and answer whatever questions are put to him.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It is difficult to figure out what the Labour Party stands for. The Tánaiste is continuing the narrative that the Government has been peddling all week. The message is that there is nothing to see here and we should move along. I asked the Tánaiste whether he was concerned that the Taoiseach publicly demanded of an independent office that it level with a Minister. Is he not concerned about the image that is projected when an independent ombudsman is brought into a Department and forced to express regret by way of an apology? Would he expect this to occur in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions or any other independent office? Should the independence of the office of the GSOC not be respected?

Yesterday, I asked the chairman of the GSOC, Mr. O'Connor, if he had specifically informed the Minister for Justice and Equality that the commission had opened an investigation and inquiry into An Garda Síochána. He confirmed to me that he had done so in the briefing provided to the Minister on Monday. The Minister came to the House on Tuesday to spin the story in the opposite direction by stating there was nothing to it whereas completely contradictory evidence was presented to the joint committee yesterday. It is a disgrace that the Minister misinformed the Dáil as to the content of the information available to him. The Tánaiste is happy to continue to parrot the Minister's line. As the leader of the Labour Party, what does he stand for? Does he stand for upholding and promoting the independence of the GSOC?

This issue has knock-on consequences. As I stated, the Director of Public Prosecutions is not hauled before a Minister to explain the reason for not proceeding with a prosecution in the vilest of rape cases or where other grievous crimes have been reported. This is not good enough.

The Tánaiste did not answer my question on my party's call to establish an independent panel of experts headed by a High Court judge to examine this issue. The reason this issue is so serious is that the Garda Síochána and the GSOC are two pillars of the justice system that go to the heart of democracy. The only message we have heard from the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice and Equality since Sunday and today from the Tánaiste is that there is nothing to see here and we should move along. The body at the centre of this issue presented a different version of events to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions yesterday.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It did not.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins The committee heard exactly the opposite of what the Government has been saying all week.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It is not good enough. What does the Tánaiste stand for, if not for the independence of the ombudsman and supporting the individuals in question who were appointed by the President on the nomination of the Government? There is a real problem at the heart of government which is interfering with this independence by engaging in a strategy that has been co-ordinated.

Deputy Joe Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello Rubbish.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I stand first for public confidence in the Garda Síochána, which does a very good job for the people of this country.


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