THE sooner the controversy about the Garda Ombudsman Commission is laid to rest, the better, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said this week.
And he has welcomed the decision by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to order a review, to be carried out by a retired High Court judge.
But Deputy O’Donovan does not believe this move has undermined the role of the Oireachtas Public Services Oversight Committee which has the job of overseeing the role of the state’s various Ombudsman commissions. Mr O’Donovan was appointed last week to fill a vacancy on the Oversight committee and he believes it still has its job to do on the Garda Ombudsman issue.
But he believes the review, which was announced this Tuesday, was necessary to prevent the controversy from rumbling on indefinitel.
The Oversight Committee has become a household term over the past fortnight following claims that the offices of Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission GSOC may have been bugged.
But Deputy O’Donovan said: “There needs to be closure. The longer this continues to rumble on the more disquiet there will be. The sooner it can be put to bed, the better.”
“The concern among the public is to rule out any element of surveillance. They want to be satisfied that the Garda Ombudsman is carring on its work independent of other institutions. I don’t think that is unreasonable,” he said.
“Where this thing fell down was the delay in reporting,” he continued. It was, he argued, “definitely an error of judgement” by the Ombudsman. And he believes legislation should be changed to make reporting to the Minister mandatory. “Ultimately the buck must stop with the Minister for Justice in terms of the rule of law,” he argued. He also wanted the Oversight committee to inspect the Verrimus report on the suspected bugging.
But he stressed: “I don’t want any cloud of suspicion hanging over the Gardai or over the Ombudsman,” he declared.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins TD however, said the review as announced by Minister Shatter was unacceptable.
And he accused Minister Alan Shatter of misleading the Dail last week when he declared there was no evidence of bugging. He is now also accusing him of “pre-judging” the outcome of the review by stating in the Dail last night that there was no evidence of any bugging or surveillance of GSOC, based on a peer review which he, the Minister had had done.
The Minister, Deputy Collins added, had displayed a “cavalier and dismissive” attitude to the GSOC issue and to the Dail.
“It is all very worrying. They set out to discredit GSOC and now they are trying to do a reversal and set up a review. They are trying to manage it. Alan Shatter will draft the terms of reference, he will receive the report,” he pointed out.
Any enquiry should be set up under the Commission of Investigations Act, 2004, Deputy Collins argued.