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'This is about making sure there aren’t rogue traders' - Health Minister defends new rules on keeping records as Data Protection chiefs say they comply with law

Health Minister Donnelly said that pubs and restaurants should already keep receipts while the Data Protection Commission said the rules complies with the law

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. (Julien Behal/PA)

THE Data Protection Commission (DPC) has said that rules that require pubs and restaurants that serve food to keep a record of their customers and what they are served complies with the law.

Publicans asked the DPC to urgently review new guidelines that require them to keep such records for 28 days and the measure has also sparked a political backlash.

This afternoon the DPC said its role is to monitor data protection law and "in this case, the legal basis is sufficient".

A statement said the new regulations involve the collection of personal data.

This includes contact details for one member of a party or of an individual person.

Details of meals of a dining party will now be added to that contact information under the regulations.

"The interference with fundamental rights in this case is not significant and the data collected and the purpose for its collection (ensuring compliance by pubs/restaurants with the regulation) mean it is unlikely to result in any significant risks to the rights of an individual," the DPC statement said.

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Concerns: Dr Colm Henry does not want wet pubs opened. Picture: Collins

Concerns: Dr Colm Henry does not want wet pubs opened. Picture: Collins

Concerns: Dr Colm Henry does not want wet pubs opened. Picture: Collins

"Where the interference with fundamental rights is not serious, the justification for the personal data processing does not need to be weighty," if added.

"In this case, the stated aim of Government in procuring compliance with the regulations through inspections by An Garda Síochána in the context of the pandemic is sufficient justification for the level of interference that arises," the DPC said.

The statement also said: "It is not a matter for the Data Protection Commission to decide or comment on Government policy.

"It is the role of the DPC to monitor compliance with data protection law and, in this case, the legal basis is sufficient.”

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has defended new rules that require pubs and restaurants that serve food to keep a record of their customers' orders saying it "is about protecting the people working in the restaurant industry".

Speaking this morning on 2FM Breakfast with Doireann & Eoghan, Mr Donnelly said that the new rules state that pubs and restaurants should keep receipts.

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has defended new rules

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has defended new rules

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has defended new rules

“They already keep these receipts. This is about making sure that there aren’t rogue traders and that’s it," Mr Donnelly said.

“In spite of things like what happened in Galway people saying look we actually need to make this stronger, we need this to strengthen or resolve because we are better than this and we will continue to fight this virus.

“The measures we brought in about two and a half weeks ago appear to be working.”

Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the requirement for pubs to retain food receipts for 28 days is a “common sense” way to ensure coronavirus regulations are being enforced.

The Higher Education minister said the Government was not seeking details on customers’ menu choices, but wanted proof that pubs were complying with the rule that only allows them to open if alcohol is served alongside a substantial meal.

Pubs that do not serve food in Ireland are still unable to reopen under Covid-19 regulations.

Mr Harris made clear that only receipts needed to be retained.

Under the measure outlined in tourism body Failte Ireland’s latest guidelines to the hospitality industry, restaurant and pub owners must be able to produce records for up to 28 days to Garda members making inspections.

“The Government doesn’t care whether you had a desert or a cup of coffee, or whether you went for the banoffee or, as one publican asked me last night, if you change from the garlic sauce to the pepper sauce,” he said.

“I mean, it’s not about this – what it is about is basically a bit of common sense prevailing here.

“The reality is, as of today, the law is you can only open a pub or restaurant serving alcohol if you’re serving food as well. I’ve heard people talking about how do you enforce it, how did you ask people to enforce things if there can’t be proof.”

Publicans have asked the Data Protection Commissioner to urgently review new guidelines that require them to keep such records for 28 days.

The measure was branded as a “Stasi” move that risks turning Ireland into a police state by Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry, who contacted Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his party’s ministers demanding it be reversed.

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Fianna Fáil's Marc MacSharry wants Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

Fianna Fáil's Marc MacSharry wants Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

Fianna Fáil's Marc MacSharry wants Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

He was soon joined in his criticisms by other Fianna Fáil TDs including junior minister Anne Rabbitte, who last night told the Irish Independent she’s “totally gobsmacked” by the regulations and argued they were “a step too far”.

The Government is under mounting pressure to allow so-called ‘wet pubs’ – those that don’t serve food – to reopen after almost six months of pandemic restrictions. It comes as a new law giving gardaí the power to seek the temporary closure of pubs breaching Covid-19 regulations continued its passage through the Oireachtas.

The legislation was overwhelmingly supported by TDs when it was put to a second-stage vote in the Dáil with just 10, including rural Independents, opposing it. Now serious concerns have been raised about accompanying regulations requiring the retention of customers’ data.

The Taoiseach last night offered no commitment on when 'wet' pubs will be allowed reopen, but suggested that guidance on the reopening of all pubs will be forthcoming soon.

Elsewhere, the HSE's clinical director Dr Colm Henry warned that now is not the right time for them to reopen.

He said the combination of alcohol, congregated setting and being indoors in a pub would represent a Covid-19 risk.

However, the new regulations for those that have reopened because they serve food prompted huge unrest among publicans and Fianna Fáil TDs.

Fáilte Ireland's latest update to its Covid-19 guidelines for the hospitality industry are on foot of new regulations signed by Fianna Fáil Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

Pubs that serve food, restaurants and cafes must now ensure that no more than six people from a maximum of three households are at one table. They also require the logging of every patron's individual meal, and the retention of that record for 28 days.

The Licensed Vintners' Association (LVA) and the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), have written to the Data Protection Commission asking for an urgent review of the latest measures.

An LVA spokesperson said: "No thought has been put into the... burden this is going to create. How is it going to help protect public health knowing what topping was on a customer's pizza or what way their potatoes were cooked?"

Adrian Cummings, CEO of Restaurants Association of Ireland, said that the lack of consultation in advance with the industry is the main issue.

"There is a lot of fear out there at the moment. A fear of losing our industry, a fear of losing their business and this is more regulatory burden they must do because it's the law," Mr Cummings told RTE's Morning Ireland.

Mr Cummings said the industry needs more clarification on what content needs to recorded, but that it is "do-able".

"They print two receipts. They give one to the customer and they keep one receipt for their records. That is what they should do. Or in the contact tracing book, when the customer comes in the door, put down their time of entry, the lead person and put a tick if they had. a meal. From what I can see from governmental information, that is what is being required."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said the association will continue to ask its members to adhere to public health advice "in the best interests of Ireland and customers" and to get business back up and running.

He said the industry also needs more financial assistance "to keep our businesses open into the future".

Labour leader Alan Kelly also told Morning Ireland that the measure is "completely bonkers" and should be reversed.

"I worry about this Cabinet thinking going forward and we need a government that maintains public confidence."

He said the measure has made him wonder "when did eating food became linked to public health measures?"

In raising concern about the issue with his senior party colleagues, Mr MacSharry last night called on the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil ministers to reverse restrictions he described as "authoritarian and unnecessary".

Minister of state Ms Rabbitte last night joined him in his concern saying: "We said of nosey people long ago that they'd want to know what you had for breakfast. There is a moment when you go a step too far. That's what we're doing here. We're also filing work on top of work on top of work for businesses. It is ridiculous.

"I am totally gobsmacked that we are gone to this level."

She said there were suspicions that some pubs merely put a pizza box on the table to make it look as if customers had eaten but added: "If this is the response, it is not going to address that without making everybody suffer."

Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív said the regulation would place a "huge layer of bureaucracy" on business. "I think we need to have a debate. The biggest worry I have is that we are losing the big picture - and the support of the people - by having an overly-legalistic approach. And we may not be gaining ground in terms of public health."

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John McGuinness stopped short of calling for the measure to be reversed and said there must be some means of contact tracing. However, he said: "Some of the stuff is just unnecessary". He added: "It's asking a bit much of a sector that has suffered without any income for the last six months to be burdened with a huge amount of bureaucracy which should be simplified."

Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly shifted the focus to Mr Donnelly, telling RTÉ it was "absolutely not" his body that had made the rule, since its role was only informing the hospitality sector.

"The Minister for Health signed off on this regulation," he said.

Mr Donnelly's spokesperson said: "The regulation regarding the recording of the substantial meal or meals ordered will simply require restaurants to keep receipts. This is normal business practice for the majority of restaurants.

"The purpose of this regulation is to protect the vast majority of proprietors who are complying with the requirement of providing a substantial meal and to allow for enforcement powers to be used on those do not comply."

She said it reflected Government decisions at two Cabinet meetings.

"These regulations help to allow controlled environments like restaurants and pubs [that serve food] to remain open while we continue in our attempts to suppress the spread of Covid-19 in order to save lives and to stop people from becoming seriously ill," she added.


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