Lenders axe detectives after data probe revealed
A Limerick-based credit union has cut ties with a private investigation firm suspected of using illegal tactics to obtain confidential data from one of the country's leading State agencies.
St Johns Credit Union has taken the "immediate decision" to stop using the services of so-called tracing agents after the major breach of data at the Department of Social Protection was uncovered.
The Irish Independent understands several other credit unions at the centre of the scandal are now reviewing their use of investigators as a means of pursuing members in arrears.
The course of action comes after the department moved to tighten its internal controls and set up a "high level working group" to examine how it deals with data protection. Writing in today's Irish Independent, the chairman of Digital Rights Ireland Dr TJ McIntyre said that abuses within the department have been evident since 2005.
"The response of the department - that it constantly reviews its internal controls - is reminiscent of Father Dougal McGuire's promise: 'as I said last time, it won't happen again'," he says.
The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) also announced a review of the use of private investigators by its members. following the investigation by this newspaper.
But to date, St John's is the only credit union to immediately cease the use of their particular tracing agent since the scandal was revealed.
"We had no knowledge that a company which we used in the past is currently under investigation. We do not condone the use of securing information by illicit means. We will not be using this company in the future," credit union manager Niall Cooney said last night.
Another Limerick outlet audited by Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney, MPCC Credit Union, confirmed last week that it had ceased using private investigators two years ago.
The credit union said it took a "conscious decision" at board to cut ties with the agent prior to Mr Delaney's findings being revealed. However, 10 other credit unions who have hired private investigators at the centre of the probe have refused to say whether they will continue to use the services.
These include the midland-based credit unions of Tullamore, Athy, Monasterevin, Portlaoise and Portarlington.
St Mary's and Caherdavin and District credit unions in Limerick also failed to respond to queries, as did Citybus Employees credit union in Dublin and St Declan's Credit Union in Ashbourne, Co Meath.
Progressive Credit Union in Balbriggan referred queries from this newspaper to the Irish League of Credit Unions.
A spokeswoman for the league said it is reviewing the use of private investigators by its members.
Meanwhile the investigation by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is continuing and is now examining a range of State agencies and government departments have been targeted by private investigators.