As we all know, GDPR is a European directive. We implement it but we do have some latitude in how we do it. Part of it is that one of the principles in GDPR is that one can process data in a way that is consistent with primary legislation. If one wants to use personal data in a particular way or if the State needs to use it in order to carry out its functions, one can pass a law to do that.
In terms of how Deputies use personal data, it is a matter of fairness that when a constituent sends in personal information to a Deputy and asks for help with it, the Deputy checks with the constituent first that he or she is happy for the information to be taken and shared with other agencies. I know it is a delay but it has to be done. Otherwise, the person may be surprised the Deputy took his or her personal information and brought it around to a set of other people.
In terms of what a Member says in the Oireachtas, of course, Members have constitutional privilege and can make reference to people's personal data, if we want to, in the Houses, without fear of breaking any laws. To that extent, our Constitution allows us to do that and that is part of our legislative basis.
When we look at GDPR, we try to make sure that there is a legislative basis for what we do with the data and that we use it in a fair way. At the same time, it is always a balance of rights. On one side, there is a person's privacy and on the other, the need to carry out the functions of the State to delivery services to the public. The two have to be balanced up together. That is what is happening with this exemption for the Ombudsman.
Many parliamentary questions are refused nowadays, presumably based on GDPR. When we table them, the private information in the answers is not revealed. Answers state "details supplied", which covers a multitude. There should be a right to table a question on behalf of a constituent regardless. A constituent knows full well that when he or she refers an issue to the elected representative, the latter will have to do something with it. It is a waste of time on two counts if the representative has to go back to the constituent to ask whether it is acceptable to process a question. That would be nonsense altogether. I am not blaming the Minister of State for this, but it is a fact of life. I have never seen that kind of application of the rules. I am aware that the legislation is from the EU. I opposed it all the way. In the past couple of days, we had an example of the EU coming to a decision on the basis of the retention of information along lines that apply in any case. I do not accept that at all. The reality is this: the State needs to protect itself and run itself. I am obviously pro-European, but an issue can arise if the EU or a branch thereof tells us that it is very sorry and that its interpretation stands, based on considerations of the European courts, if you do not mind. I do not mind the European courts coming to decisions but I remind them of the important point that they must have regard to the rule of law in individual member states. If they undermine it on the basis of freedom of information or the need for privacy, that is fine, but they need to be aware of whom they are doing it for.
There are several issues of importance to us, and we need to recognise them. The concept of writing to somebody to ask for permission to raise the issue they want us to raise makes a laugh of the elected public representatives. All journalists have to do is send in a freedom-of-information request; they do not have to ask anybody.