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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 Apr 2003

Vol. 564 No. 2

Data Protection (Amendment) Bill 2002 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.

There are no amendments on Report Stage.

Bill received for final consideration.

I was going through the Law Society's business law and technology committee. I do not think the issue I am about to raise was dealt with on Committee Stage. It has to do with the right of access and the Sex Offenders Act 2001. An organisation such as the ISPCC requires employees to seek their personal files from the Garda Síochána under the Data Protection Act. This is a backdoor system for the organisation to get information about these individuals. Once section 5 is enacted the ISPCC would be committing an offence if it asked a potential employee to make an access request. The response from the Department over the past year has been that this is dealt with under the Sex Offenders Act 2001 but the Law Society has raised some questions about that. Ultimately it is asking for a review of both laws to see how they meld together.

Under the Sex Offenders Act 2001 it is an offence for a sex offender to apply for a job that involves unsupervised access to a child or other vulnerable person without informing the employer that he or she is a sex offender. The employers cannot ask for this information. The onus is on the sex offender to supply that information. There is a difference. Perhaps the Minister of State would comment on that. It is an issue that should be raised with him.

What will happen is that an organisation such as the ISPCC will have to go to the Garda in the locality for an informal vet and ask about a particular individual. However, there is no formal process to ascertain the background of that individual who could end up working with young children. This is a serious issue so far as that is concerned. The Law Society suggests there is no clarity as it pertains to the Sex Offenders Act and the Data Protection Bill as it stands, and there may be some outstanding questions that need to be looked at under a review.

The Law Society says that the Sex Offenders Act also requires sex offenders to notify the Garda with relevant information such as their names and addresses. It is unclear how these requirements will interact with the Data Protection Bill on issues such as how long the Garda can retain this information and the conditions under which gardaí involved in other criminal investigations can access information notified to the Garda under the Sex Offenders Act 2001. The Law Society asks that a review be undertaken of how the Data Protection Bill will integrate with the provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 2001.

Last year the director of the ISPCC asked for a three step approach with regard to the vetting process: an extension of vetting procedures to all organisations working with children; enforcement of such procedures on a statutory basis and the creation of new vetting systems which complemented Garda clearance checks. The Minister of State understands from where I am coming on this issue.

It is reasonable to ask that it be looked at and that a review be undertaken if the Department considers it necessary.

I thank Deputy Deasy for raising this point. The Deputy has referred to the enforced access provision in the Acts. My advice is as follows: the issue of enforced access in the context of employment where the potential employer requires the job applicant to make an access request to his or her former employer has been the subject of considerable discussion and we have discussed it at some length on Committee Stage. Some people consider it may interfere with existing practice in relation to clearance for certain jobs in the voluntary and other sectors. Because of that it has been decided that the provisions of this section will not be commenced until a proper vetting system has been put in place.

I take Deputy Deasy's point and I understand the points being made by the Law Society. It is not intended to commence that section right away. Some more discussion will be required. The issues raised by Deputy Deasy will have to be worked out. A proper system will have to be put in place before that section can be implemented.

I would appreciate if the Minister's officials would let me know when the section can be commenced because I would like to be involved in those discussions as well as organisations such as the ISPCC.

I give an undertaking that my officials will contact Deputy Deasy.

Question put and agreed to.