Wednesday 19 June 2019

New data privacy law fears stopped Taoisigh-pension report's publication

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Ken Foxe

The Department of Finance warned it couldn't publish a list of pensions for former ministers and officeholders, even anonymously, because it would be too easy to identify them.

Despite the recipients all holding high public office, and paid out of the taxpayers' purse, it has emerged that GDPR concerns were to the fore.

Each year, the department had printed a pensions list of former Taoisigh, ministers, Presidents, along with other ex-officeholders.

However, the 2017 list was never published due to concerns over data protection - and that even an anonymous list could create a breach.

Internal emails reveal how concerns were first raised early in the summer. The pension details always "attract great media interest", one said.

"At a recent GDPR course, it was suggested that we shouldn't actually be doing this as we would be releasing the name and gross amount paid and in breach of GDPR," wrote an official.

Consideration was given to whether some form of publishing, either anonymously or in aggregate for groups like former Taoisigh, ministers, Presidents, or other officeholders, could be conducted.

In a later email, Department of Finance data protection officer Colm O'Neill said: "Appreciate if we could have a chat about this publication given that it identifies individuals - I'm not aware of any legal basis for processing this personal data.

"Even if the names of the individuals were anonymised, it wouldn't be that difficult to identify the former office holders if compared with last year's publication."

Mr O'Neill said that the Department of Finance was not even the controller of the pension data and was taking it from its sister department, the Department of Public Expenditure.

Discussion also raised the possibility that figures for previous years - which remain on the department's website - might have to be deleted too.

In later correspondence, the department said that the introduction of GDPR in May had changed things dramatically.

"What applied before May 25 and what applies now are two very different things," said an email.

As the deadline for publishing the department's finance accounts for 2017 approached in late July, the department was still unsure what to do about the pension figures.

However, on July 27 it was confirmed that the figures - which had been available online dating to 2009 - would not be made public.

Irish Independent

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