Monday 22 December 2014

Wallace may sue Shatter after he 'broke data laws'

Niall O'Connor and Daniel McConnell

Published 07/05/2014 | 02:30

Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Independent TD Mick Wallace (inset). The latter has said the minister is unfit to hold office.

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter faces being sued for damages by Mick Wallace after he was found to have broken the law by disclosing sensitive information about the Wexford TD.

Mr Shatter was last night preparing to appeal the decision by Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, which was published yesterday.

The blatant leak, made during a live edition of RTE's 'Prime Time' in May 2013, has landed Mr Shatter in hot water, with fresh calls for him to resign.

Mr Hawkes found that Mr Shatter breached the Data Protection Act by revealing during the programme that Mr Wallace had been cautioned by gardai for using his mobile phone while driving.

The information divulged by Mr Shatter was received from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Senior Labour sources last night described the ruling as "embarrassing" for the Justice Minister.

But Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's spokeswoman said he still has the confidence of Labour ministers around the Cabinet table.

However, Mr Shatter was strongly criticised by the man whom he wronged by leaking the information.

Mr Wallace last night said the finding was enough for Mr Shatter to resign, adding that he is considering pursing the minister for damages.

"He has abused his office and he has broken the law," the Wexford TD said.

"If it is okay for the Minister for Justice to do that, well that is a call for the Taoiseach to make. It is a big call. You can't help feeling Minister Shatter interprets the law as he chooses."

Wallace said he will not make a final decision on pursuing the matter legally until he is given professional advice.

‘‘I’m going to have to wait until I get advice and see what we should do,’’ he said on RTE Radio, explaining that he is currently speaking with legal advisors.

Asked if he could afford losing if he went to court and spent money on legal bills he said, ‘‘If there is bills to pay I’ll pay them.’’

‘‘Have I been personally damaged? No I don’t think so. Did he try to do me harm? Yes he did,’’ he said.

He said a number of ‘‘legal people’’ were willing to offer their services for free because ‘‘they are keen to see justice done’’.

‘‘[Shatter] abused his office in order to score political points on me,’’ he added.

Mr Shatter said he is examining the report, seen by the Irish Independent, with a view to taking any appropriate further legal steps.

DEBATES

"The remarks which I made on 'Prime Time' were addressed by me in the Dail last May in two debates in the course of which I had no hesitation in acknowledging it was a mistake to make them," Mr Shatter said.

"I apologised fully to Deputy Wallace and acknowledged that if similar circumstances again arose I would not make the same mistake.

"I also explained why I made those remarks as I felt they were relevant to an allegation Deputy Wallace publicly made on an issue of importance in respect of An Garda Siochana."

His spokesperson said the minister is considering appealing the decision to the Circuit Court, which he has 21 days to do.

In his report, the Data Protection Commissioner found that Mr Shatter contravened the Data Protection Act, saying the manner in which the information was revealed was incompatible with the purpose of how it was obtained.

In his submission to Mr Hawkes, 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".

The Data Protection Commissioner 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.

Mr Hawkes said that attempts to reach an amicable resolution failed and as a result he was forced to issue a decision.

He said a draft decision was issued to Mr Wallace and Mr Shatter on April 17 for comments and changes.

Irish Independent

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