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Thursday 28 August 2014

Shatter fights to clear name over data law 'guilty' ruling

Dearbhail McDonald

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

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Alan Shatter
Alan Shatter
Indepemdent TD Mick Wallace. Photo credit: Tom Burke

FORMER Justice Minister Alan Shatter has launched a personal bid to clear his name following a ruling by the Data Protection Commissioner that he broke the law when he disclosed personal information about Independent TD Mick Wallace.

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The Dublin South TD is to take his fight to the Circuit Court where he has lodged an appeal against the DPC finding. However, the Irish Independent has learned that the Government will have no involvement in the appeal against Commissioner Billy Hawkes, even though Mr Shatter's controversial remarks about Mr Wallace were made by Mr Shatter in his then official capacity as Justice Minister.

Mr Shatter caused a storm when he revealed during a heated May 2013 edition of RTE's 'Prime Time' that Mr Wallace had been cautioned by gardai for using a mobile phone while driving. The controversy became known as Shattergate.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed she will not be involved in the court appeal by Mr Shatter, even though outgoing Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes said it would be up to Ms Fitzgerald to have the final say.

The case is due for mention at the Circuit Court tomorrow.

Mr Hawkes identified that Mr Shatter was in breach of data protection laws during the 'Prime Time' programme.

When he issued the ruling, Mr Hawkes said the decision to appeal his finding was up to Ms Fitzgerald, who replaced Mr Shatter after a series of controversies including two alleged bugging scandals, a row over penalty points as well as Mr Shatter's own failure to complete a breathalyser test – because he is an asthmatic – at a garda checkpoint in 2011.

But Ms Fitzgerald has ruled out any involvement by the Government in the legal action.

"The State is not involved in the appeal and, in particular, the current minister is not a party to – nor seeking to be joined as a party to – the proceedings," said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

Mr Shatter, who subsequently apologised to Mr Wallace (inset), resigned one day after the Commissioner's decision was announced due to adverse findings in the Guerin report into allegations of garda misconduct by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Mr Shatter, who famously represented himself in the Supreme Court Abbeylara dispute, has now instructed a legal firm to pursue the appeal.

Yesterday, his solicitor was notified that Mr Wallace intends to be joined as a party to the legal action, a move likely to be contested by Mr Shatter.

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) said it would not oppose any move by Mr Wallace to become a notice party to the action.

In its ruling, the DPC found that Mr Shatter was a 'data controller' in relation to the 'personal data' about Mr Wallace and that he failed to uphold his statutory duties as a Data Controller under Section 2(1)(c)(ii) of the Data Protection Acts 1988-2003 in disclosing such sensitive data.

However, it found that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was not in breach of the Data Protection Acts when he gave the information to the Minister for Justice.

In a submission to Mr Hawkes before the ruling was published, Mr Shatter said that the information about Mr Wallace was not in his possession in any documentary form.

He said it was verbally conveyed and directly to him by Mr Callinan during a conversation "at which no other persons were present".

But Mr Hawkes said to accept Mr Shatter's argument he would have to accept that the disclosure of Mr Wallace's personal information was necessary for the pursuit of legitimate interests.

Irish Independent

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