Before the break I was outlining to the Minister my concerns and those of the Fine Gael Party about the Private Residential Tenancies Board. I requested clarification from the Minister, if possible, on the €10 million sitting in the bank accounts of the Private Residential Tenancies Board that has not yet been transferred to local authorities to fund their inspections and enforcements. I raised also the issue of the lack of adequate IT systems to manage registrations and new registrations coming in to the Private Residential Tenancies Board. That will play a large part in the information on which local authorities will depend to set up their own databases for the administration of charges that will apply under this legislation.
In section 11(2)(b) and (c), “relevant person” means the Electricity Supply Board and the Revenue Commissioners. My understanding is that under this legislation local authorities can require those agencies to transfer any data or information they may have on their databases that will assist in compiling the database for the administration of these local government charges. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understand difficulties could arise in this area and that it could be open to legal challenge because as far as I understand it every agency must comply with the Data Protection Acts. I ask the Minister specifically if his Department has consulted the data protection office regarding this element of the Bill. If a requirement under this legislation is made of local authorities and a request is made either to the Revenue Commissioners or the ESB for information personal to a householder, I am not sure if that agency will be in a position to give that information but it is stated explicitly in the Bill that they possibly can.
I point out also that the Electricity Supply Board has been sub-divided as regards supply. I note from the explanatory memorandum that the reason the Electricity Supply Board is listed as a relevant person is that the Minister can look for usage trends in electricity in regard to its supply but the Electricity Supply Board is sub-divided into various departments and divisions. I am sure the area the Minister is referring to is ESB Customer Supply, which is responsible for metering, monitoring and registration of usage in particular households. If that is who the Minister is referring to I suggest he also needs to imply the other suppliers in the independent marketplace such as Bord Gáis, Airtricity and many others because the legislation as drafted does not capture all electricity suppliers in the manner in which the Minister requires it.
An issue arises around data protection and whether the ESB will supply that information. If it does, has consideration been given to the fact that the ESB is a semi-State company and a commercial enterprise? If it is required to give that information, how much will it charge local authorities for providing it? Has that been considered?
My understanding of the recent legislation on medical cards is that no data requirement for transfer of information was required from doctors or any health practitioners, yet under this Bill there is a requirement. How far is the State prepared to go to acquire this information and will we supersede all previous data protection Acts? The provision of PPS numbers is referred to in paragraph 11(2)(a) “in relation to an individual, that individual’s personal public service number (within the meaning of section 262 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005).” I presume this means that the PPS numbers of individuals can be transferred from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to a local authority to ensure its registration database is complete.
When I was a member of the joint committee which looked at improving efficiencies in the electoral register, the Department of Social and Family Affairs told the joint committee that data protection legislation precluded the Department from providing PPS numbers to third parties or State agencies, in that case the Electoral Commission. Does the same barrier apply in this instance? If not, are we creating a precedent for the wider use of PPS numbers by the State, for electoral register or other purposes?
Questions remain to be answered regarding this Bill, and these are some which I feel require further clarification.