Monday 20 August 2018

New Ross councillors move to reverse 'criminal' GDPR

David Looby

Since May GDPR has been the bane of office workers across the nation and clearly the bane of our councillors' lives judging by stories relayed at the municipal council meeting.

On Wednesday councillors showed their fighting spirit, declaring that they would write to the Data Commissioner calling for GDPR to be looked at again in light of numerous issues it is raising for them.

Cllr Larry O'Brien said councillors can no longer know who is getting a house in the area, while Cllr Michael Sheehan said councillors' powers have been whittled away in recent years to the point that they are sidelined figures and not at the centre of the community they serve.

'If we lose housing that is half of our job gone and we will lose it as that is the way it's going.'

Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming agreed, saying 'Data Protection is unbelievable at the moment. I phoned Eircom about a landline being down and they wouldn't talk to me. I was reporting a number where the line doesn't work! Now the council's housing department will be getting the calls.'

Describing councillors as a release valve for the housing department and people, he said something has to be done.

Cllr Willie Fitzharris outlined a more extreme story arising from GDPR. 'I got a phone transferred for an elderly lady as she wasn't able to do it herself. This lady was very ill and she gave permission for me to speak for her. She went into a nursing home and I couldn't cancel the line. It's going on and on and will go legal.'

Describing the way councillors are being treated as an 'absolute scandal', he said: 'I was able to set up the line but I can't disconnect it due to GDPR. There is a new tenant in, benefiting from the lady's line and the bills are still coming in. There is no way to stop this other than through the ombudsman or by going legal. It's an absolute crime!'

Cllr O'Brien proposed that the councillors write a letter 'as a district council' about the matter, but was told by Cllr Sheehan - tongue firmly in cheek - that under Data Protection they can't. 'If we don't do something about it at least we have tried to fight it.'

Cllr Sheehan said: 'Our constitutional powers as elected members are being held back by this law.'

'It's European law,' district manager Sinead Casey pointed out. 'A decision would have to be adopted here and I can complete a letter and send it to the Data Commissioner and Minister for Local Government.'

Cllr O'Brien relayed a story of how he was taken aback while in Brussels recently with the Regional Assembly. He recalled seeing a hotel worker take out a plank of wood to enable a wheelchair user to access the hotel. 'The hotel would be closed down here for that! It's now you interpret the rules and regulations. As a country we jump in line too quick.'

'We are only six weeks in,' Cllr Fleming said. 'We haven't even begun to feel the effects of this yet.'

New Ross Standard