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Top civil servant questions why pension detail of politicians not published


Robert Watt

Robert Watt

Robert Watt

One of the country's most senior civil servants has questioned why details of pensions paid to former Taoisigh, ministers and presidents are not being published, and asked why he had not been consulted about the decision to stop releasing the figures.

Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt was reacting to a decision by the information commissioner that details of the pensions would not be made available under Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

Internal emails released by the department show Mr Watt expressing surprise at the decision and asking why no one had asked him about it.

Mr Watt had been sent a media report about the case, and wrote: "Who took this decision? I was never consulted."

In response, an official said: "We sent note and detail to you on this at the time."

Mr Watt answered back, saying: "I don't understand why we should not release the information."

An official responded: "The decision not to release the information was made on the basis that it is personal information, but the aggregate data was released, ie, the total amounts paid in pensions to ministers."

Pension details for former Taoisigh, Presidents and ministers had been published as a matter of routine by the Department of Finance every year.

However, the practice was halted amid concerns over data protection rules (GDPR) and whether the information was personal to the former politician.

An attempt to access the records using FOI by transparency group Right To Know was rejected by the information commissioner, who said publication would be a "significant breach" of privacy.

In his decision, the commissioner said the public interest in seeing the data published did not "outweigh the privacy rights" of the retired politicians.

Internal department emails also detailed officials saying they were "pleased" with the decision. One wrote: "This [decision] is clear and helpful to us in terms of knowing what we should release."

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Another responded by saying they could "expect press queries and probably further follow-on requests".

In briefing notes on the case, Niall Mulligan, a senior official from the Government Reform Unit, said the decision to refuse release of the pension payments was not "remotely surprising".

He said that "some quarters" believed it was now "open season" on information relating to public servants being readily available.

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