GARDAI are investigating allegations that a rogue Department of Social Protection official leaked confidential information to a private investigator working for insurance companies.
Officers are probing a complaint that was made against a department employee who is alleged to have leaked the information from a central computer system.
Details emerged after three insurance companies each pleaded guilty yesterday to two charges of wrongfully keeping data supplied to them by a private detective.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) took the unprecedented case against FBD Insurance, Zurich Insurance and Travelers Insurance Company.
The court heard that a department official had allegedly passed information to Reliance Investigation Services, a private investigator based in Calverstown, Co Kildare, which then allegedly forwarded the information to the insurance companies.
The information obtained by the companies included PPS numbers, addresses, dates of birth, employment and income histories, and social welfare claims.
It is understood that the insurance companies were interested in the information so that they could use it to check the honesty of their customers.
The Department of Social Protection last night refused to confirm whether the staff member in question was dismissed.
Company records show that Noel Thomas Buckley, from Newbridge, Co Kildare, was the director and secretary of Reliance Investigation Services.
His son, also named Noel, last night said that his father did not want to comment on the case.
"That company doesn't operate any more, it's been wound down so don't worry about it," he told the Irish Independent. "He doesn't want to talk to anyone about it."
The investigation into the alleged unlawful leaking of information is being conducted by gardai in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.
It was initiated following a complaint lodged in December 2010.
So far, there have been no arrests and nobody has been questioned by gardai about the allegation.
Yesterday's court case only focused on the wrongful keeping of data by the three insurance companies.
Dublin District Court heard from assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney, who described the breaches as "very, very serious".
He said the case centred on 15 unnamed individuals whose information was obtained -- however, this was just a sample of numerous data breaches uncovered by the OPDC.
Following a tip-off from the department, the office of Reliance Investigation Services was searched in December 2010 and files, including their "active client list", were examined.
The three insurance companies were identified as clients from VAT numbers on invoices for services provided by the detective agency.
Each of the insurance companies yesterday offered to make a €20,000 donation to charity in a show of remorse and agreed to pay the legal costs of the data commissioners.
Judge Ann Ryan accepted the offer and directed that the companies donate the money to the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin.
The companies have been requested to forward the money in the next two weeks.
The case was adjourned until March 5.
The three companies have also undertaken to comply with data protection regulations in the future.