Friday 6 December 2019

Data breach ruling prejudged inquiry into Wallace points row, Shatter claims

TD Mick Wallace arrives at the Four Courts yesterday for a Civil Court action taken by former Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter against the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.Photo: Collins Court
TD Mick Wallace arrives at the Four Courts yesterday for a Civil Court action taken by former Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter against the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.Photo: Collins Court
Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter has claimed that the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) "pre-determined" an inquiry which found that he broke data laws.

The Fine Gael TD revealed personal information he had obtained from former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan about Independent TD Mick Wallace during an RTE current affairs programme.

Mr Wallace has hit back at what he says are attempts by the former Justice Minister to portray himself as "the victim" following last year's Prime Time controversy which became known as Shattergate.

Mr Shatter has asked to Circuit Civil Court to overturn the DPC's decision which, the former minister claims, is "flawed", marked by "a number of serious errors" and denied him fair procedures.

Senior Counsel Eileen Barrington, for Mr Shatter, said the DPC decision had consequences for him "personally, politically and professionally" and was "a factor" in his resignation as minister

Last year, the DPC found that Mr Shatter broke data protection laws when he said on Prime Time that TD Mick Wallace had benefited from garda discretion with regard to penalty points.

Yesterday, Ms Barrington told the court that in May 2013 the then minister and Mr Wallace were involved in a televised discussion on the penalty points system and Shatter had stated that Wallace seemed to have a problem with the gardai exercising their discretion.

During the programme, he revealed that in May 2012 Mr Wallace had been stopped by gardai in relation to his use of a mobile phone while driving and told that a fixed-penalty charge could issue and he could be given penalty points.

The Garda had used his discretion and simply warned him not to do it again and the incident was not recorded on the gardai's PULSE system.

Barrister Paul Anthony McDermott, for the Data Commissioner, said that Mr Shatter, no longer being minister, was not entitled to appeal the DPC decision and that the only one who could was the current Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald.

Mr McDermott said Mr Shatter got the information about Mr Wallace as minister, had gone onto Prime Time as minister and used the detail in order to defend the gardai.

This was not accepted by Mr Shatter, who disputes the DPC's finding that he was a joint controller with the Garda Commissioner of the data concerned.

Shortly after the complaint had been lodged, the Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, had made a public statement to RTE news to the effect that personal data had been disclosed by Mr Shatter and it was for Mr Shatter to justify that disclosure.

It was Mr Shatter's case this constituted pre-determination of matters by the DPC which had been inappropriate for the Commissioner not having viewed the data concerned. It was part of Mr Shatter's case that the Data Commissioner was rushed into making a decision as a result of having told the 'Sunday Independent' he would be making his decision within four weeks.

Mr Shatter said he received the information about Mr Wallace orally from the Garda Commissioner, when no one else was present. There was no written note and the information had "resided in his head".

The appeal continues.

Irish Independent

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