We learned from Ms Susan Mitchell in the Sunday Business Post last weekend that the Government hired private investigators to spy on hospital consultants as part of a strategy to fight a pay claim pursued by these consultants, which is currently before the High Court. As part of a Government strategy, it seems that Ministers or their Departments authorised the hiring of private investigators to follow about ten consultants and place them under surveillance in their daily lives to try to collect and gather evidence against them regarding alleged non-compliance with their contracts. At a Cabinet meeting on 14 February 2017, apparently, the Government decided on a strategy to defend these cases and specified that non-compliance by consultants with the contract should be a particular line of defence.
When senior HSE management heard about this practice and objected, an attempt was made to stop it. The executive's solicitor wrote to the Office of the Chief State Solicitor stating that it was inappropriate. However, the Department of Health wrote back and stated that it had the backing of the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Health, that the surveillance must continue and that, in the context of the consultants and the High Court case, any evidence of non-compliance must be gathered.. It is my sincerely held view that, irrespective of the issues on the pay side, this sets a very sinister and dangerous precedent. Ministers and or their Departments should not order surveillance on citizens or on employees of the State. Without question, this is wrong and a potential abuse of power. Who is next? Will it be ESB workers who are pursuing a pay claim? Will it be bus drivers and rail drivers? Is anybody else out there pursuing a pay claim fair game?
Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Cabinet decided on such a strategy and that it was aware of the strategy pursued and of the hiring of private investigators? Does he accept that the constitutional right to privacy of these consultants may have been breached? Will he guarantee that patient data was not breached? How is one to check as to whether on-site activity is public or private without potentially breaching the files? Was a contract entered into between the Departments concerned - or their agencies - and the private investigators? What guidelines and protocols governed the behaviour of these private investigators while they carried out this surveillance of doctors, of which the latter were unaware? I would appreciate very specific answers to these questions I have asked. In particular, will the Taoiseach confirm whether the Ministers involved authorised, and were aware of, this surveillance?