Garda takes legal advice over debt-register 'risks'
AN undercover garda who claims his security will be placed at risk if his name is placed on a new public debt register has sought legal advice on whether his identity has to be revealed.
The garda, whose creditors include St Raphael's Garda Credit Union, the country's largest credit union with more than 32,000 members, has asked a leading senior counsel to advise if any future court proceedings under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 can be heard in private.
The barrister, whose advices will be relied upon by a range of "security sensitive" debtors contemplating formal debt deals, including gardai, defence forces personnel and prison officers, has also been asked to clarify whether the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI) can anonymise or remove borrowers from its public debt register.
The legal advice has been commissioned by the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO), which says the biggest category of debtors enquiring about personal insolvency are gardai, many of whom are concerned about personal security and potential disciplinary proceedings that may arise due to insolvency or bankruptcy.
The undercover garda is considering applying for a personal insolvency certificate, which must be issued by a court and protects borrowers from their creditors for a period of 70 days.
The ISI register, which is available for inspection by members of the public, contains a debtor's name, their year of birth and, in some cases, their address but does not specify their occupation, according to the Department of Justice.
"This requirement relates to the public interest in transparency about the making of such debt resolution arrangements," said a spokesperson for Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
There is no discretion to allow the ISI to remove a debtor from the register.
But the Department of Justice said in "a very exceptional and individual situation", a debtor should contact the ISI "which will consider each case to see if any solution can be found".
Lorcan O'Connor, the director of the ISI, said that unlike the UK's Individual Insolvency Register, which can be searched online, the Irish database is not capable of being "mined and replicated", as it must be inspected in hard copy format.
But Mr O'Connor said that if security was a genuine issue for a small cohort of debtors, the ISI may seek a change in the law.
"Certainly, if it (security concerns) did show itself up in an actual case, we would make that recommendation to the Government," said Mr O'Connor.
St Raphael's Garda Credit Union has secured more than €3m in court judgments against its members, including serving and retired gardai and their families, since the onset of the recession. It says security has not emerged as a pressing issue in its 50-year history – and insists that it is best placed to assess sensitive issues affecting serving gardai.
"If it (security) was to become an issue, we would have to ascertain that there was no personal reasons why they (debtors) wanted to hold a hearing in privacy," said CEO Claire Byrne.