Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Ceisteanna (10)

Mick Wallace


10. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance if he has discussed the Data Protection Commissioner's ruling on NAMA and a group (details supplied) with the NAMA CEO and chairman; the reason NAMA has not appealed the ruling; the steps NAMA is taking to ensure it is in full compliance with data protection law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21446/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Finance)

This question relates to the ruling by the Data Protection Commissioner on NAMA and the O'Flynn Group. Could the Minister tell me whether he has discussed the ruling with the NAMA CEO and chairman? The last time we spoke about this, the Minister informed me the board of NAMA is currently considering the ruling of the commissioner and will respond to it. Could the Minister tell me whether there has been a response? What steps is he taking to ensure that NAMA is in full compliance with data protection law? Has he read the report?

I advise the Deputy that, as Minister, I play no role in the day-to-day operations of NAMA, which are set out in the NAMA Act 2009. As such, it is not appropriate for me, as a Minister, to discuss with NAMA how it should deal with an operational matter such as this. I can confirm, however, that my officials have been briefed on this matter. I am informed that, having considered the decision of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner carefully and with the benefit of expert advice, NAMA has decided not to appeal the decision. I am advised that NAMA is instead working constructively with the Data Protection Commissioner and the parties concerned in dealing with the request, having regard to the guidance provided by the Data Protection Commissioner in the decision. In doing so, I am informed that NAMA has, since the decision, taken considerable steps to identify and isolate all potential sources of personal data it may continue to hold concerning the parties and fully address the issues raised in the decision.

This dataset was assembled some weeks ago and is in the course of being reviewed with assistance from an external provider with expertise in this area to identify the potential sources of personal data. I am advised that NAMA will begin to provide the output of this review to the parties concerned shortly. This will be done in batches given the quantity of data involved. The steps taken thus far, I am informed, have been notified to both the Data Protection Commissioner and the parties concerned, and NAMA has agreed to keep these parties updated on progress on this review.

I am glad to hear co-operation is being considered. I asked the Minister whether he had read the report. It would have made interesting reading for the Minister for Finance. If he had read it, he would have noted that the disdain and - for want of a better word - ignorance showed by NAMA not just for the O'Flynn Group but also for the Data Protection Commissioner, in particular, was a bit scary. I would be concerned if the Minister did not have concerns about that area.

The Minister gives me the impression he is not really responsible for holding NAMA to account.

Am I correct in my understanding of the Minister's comment? If he cannot hold NAMA to account, who can? It does not look as if anyone is doing so.

I assume that when the Deputy asks if I have read the report, he is referring to the ruling made by the Data Protection Commissioner. I have not read the ruling, but I do have the summary of the commissioner's views on the matter and an update on NAMA's response. On whether I hold NAMA to account, it has a business or strategic plan and is accountable to me for its implementation. I meet its chairman and chief executive regularly. The difference is where legal issues are raised by individuals about how they believe their rights need to be protected and action should be taken in that regard. I am not involved in how NAMA responds. It is a matter for its board and chief executive who engage directly with the Data Protection Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions in other matters. I am not involved, but I have outlined the areas in which I am.

The Minister says it is a matter for the board of NAMA, but is it one for him, given that NAMA publicly rubbished the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Séamus McCarthy, when he published his report? If he had been Minister at the time, would he have challenged NAMA on its treatment of Mr. McCarthy?

The Deputy should be careful in naming people.

It is funny if one cannot mention the name of the Comptroller and Auditor General here. Let us take all of the issues surrounding Project Eagle. We found out that some of Cerberus' money had ended up in an Isle of Man bank account. Does Minister think that in that case he is responsible for holding NAMA to account?

I wish to make two points, the first of which is that there must be accountability in this case, while the second is that we need to know if it has wider application. It was a significant ruling by the Data Protection Commissioner, that a very powerful State agency was in breach of the Data Protection Acts in the non-disclosure of personal information held by the agency on some borrowers. As public representatives, we are regularly in receipt of grievances from NAMA debtors and must make a call on how we should deal with them. There are certain issues that we are allowed to raise with NAMA, while not making representations in contravention of the Act. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get any information whatsoever. The ruling was that there had been a breach. We need an account of how it happened and to know if it has wider application in other incidences of non-disclosure by the agency on foot of the receipt of information requests.

Deputy Michael McGrath referred to Project Eagle. As he knows, an inquiry is under way and any decision on accountability will have to be dealt after it has been concluded. I hold the board and the chairman accountable for implementation of their business plan and published strategy. Should matters emerge from inquiries that take place which raise issues for NAMA, of course, I will also raise them with them. I am not aware of wider consequences of the ruling, but I know that when rulings such as this are made, there may be consequences for NAMA. I will raise the matter with it and respond to the Deputies.