Data watchdog to probe Irish Rail
THE Data Protection commissioner is to launch an investigation into the State rail company over allegations that it accessed personal bank statements of up to 30 employees.
The bank details of Irish Rail employees were allegedly accessed during internal investigations into company fraud, which is believed to have cost the transport company millions.
The development has caused concern within the State rail company because of the prospect of legal action from affected employees, according to sources. The company has already settled a number of separate costly legal actions from former senior staff who claimed they had been unjustly treated.
Allegations that personal bank accounts were accessed were raised by Irish Rail in the High Court earlier this year, during a bitter legal dispute between Irish Rail and the company's human resources manager, John Keenan, who also headed the cost audit unit.
Defending itself from claims that it had wrongly suspended Mr Keenan, Irish Rail accused him of placing tracking devices on employees' cars and of 32 instances of incorrectly accessing computer records, and said that bank accounts may have been accessed.
But Mr Keenan contested the claims, saying he was authorised to access company emails during his investigations into fraud. He accused Irish Rail of suspending him because he refused to go along with attempts to cover up the scale of the fraud he had discovered within the company.
The company settled the legal action a fortnight ago, reinstating Mr Keenan and paying his legal costs and expenses.
A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said last week that it intended to pursue an investigation into Irish Rail now that the court case had concluded.
The commissioner's office already investigated claims from four Irish Rail employees last year that they had been subjected to inappropriate surveillance by the company.
Irish Rail said this weekend it was "not aware of any pending investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner, nor do we have any notice of complaints by individuals against the company". It is believed that the company hired Martin Donnelan, a former Garda assistant commissioner and a retired chief superintendent, to investigate whether any unauthorised accessing of documents took place, in advance of the High Court case taken by Mr Keenan.
Mr Keenan has been invited to address the Oireachtas committee on transport later this month on the extent of fraud in Irish Rail.
He will be asked about an internal audit report dated October 2007 that has claimed that upwards of 20 employees "from ground level to senior management level" were being "reviewed" following a wider investigation into their relationships with external contractors.
He will also be asked about the Baker Tilly consultants report on fraud, which he commissioned.
The draft report, later leaked to the Sunday Independent, estimated that fraud had cost the company €8.7m but that figure was later revised down to €2.1m in the final report.
Mr Keenan objected to the downward revision.
Mr Keenan was suspended in December amid allegations that he had failed to tell his bosses that the company had been criticised and fined €190,000 by the Equality Tribunal.
Mr Keenan claimed in the High Court that the real reason was that he differed with the chairman and chief executive over the financial cost of fraud to the company.