Tuesday 21 January 2020

Varadkar seeks right to comment on individual cases

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Collins
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is to write to the Data Protection Commissioner seeking permission to publicly comment on individual cases where a person has made untrue claims.

The minister's department is concerned that people profiled in the media as being let down by the State cannot be directly challenged on issues of fact.

Sources told the Irish Independent that Mr Varadkar is to ask the Commissioner Helen Dixon for clarity on how ministers should respond in such instances.

"The minister became concerned about situations where people [were] making inaccurate claims about their personal circumstances while Minister for Health and now again since becoming Minister for Social Protection," the source said.

"Of course people are entitled to tell their stories to the media, but the problem is that ministers are not in a position to respond due to reasons of confidentiality and data protection.

"In some cases people have not outlined the full story or mistook the situation, leading to significant unfair accusations against ministers and departments, but they are powerless to defend themselves."

The source noted one previous case where a person had alleged on television that they had been on a HSE waiting list for four years but when officials checked the records they were only waiting a few months.

Mr Varadkar's decision to seek guidance on the issue comes after the 'Sunday Independent' revealed that homeless campaigner Erica Fleming turned down two offers of accommodation - although the source stressed the minister's move is not related to her case.

Ms Fleming, who has been living in a hotel with her daughter, featured in an RTÉ documentary on the housing crisis.

She has also spoken at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and addressed members of the European Commission in Brussels.

Internal briefing documents compiled by Dublin City Council now show that she was offered a two-bedroom apartment in upmarket Clontarf around the same time she was taking part in the RTÉ programme. She was invited to view a second property but declined. The document states Ms Fleming was not interested in properties secured under the HAP scheme.

Ms Fleming has also recently said she may not be able to take up a college place because she can't access the Back to Education Allowance.

She declined to comment when contacted last night.

Irish Independent

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