Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Clear breach of data protection act as Tanaiste seeks to interfere in Seanad election.

Dan Sullivan, an NUI Seanad panel candidate, has lodged a formal complaint with the Data protection office after it was revealed in the Irish Times that the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, had circulated a letter within FF giving electronic access to the NUI panel register containing the personal educational details of over 100,000 graduates of the NUI.

Dan a UL graduate originally from Killorglin, Co. Kerry, seeking to highlight the failure to extend the franchise to those outside TCD and NUI and is also campaigning to oppose the HSE’s introduction of residential charges for disabled adults attempting to live independently. His campaign information is available at

Only now that the main government party fears they might lose their majority in the Seanad are they falling over their own legislation in order to reach out to NUI graduates.

“It is remarkable that Fianna is now so concerned about making contact with graduates when it could have put in place measures such as allowing the revenue to send registration forms to graduates based on the PPS/RSI numbers that the colleges have on record.” said Dan. “The government has had plenty of opportunities to fix the register but it is only now that they are fighting for their own political lives that they can be bothered to do anything. “

It is also suggested by minister Cowen that the register be retained by local Fianna Fail members of use in constituency business perhaps including targeted mails shots to graduates when the next local elections come. The government really appear to think that the personal records of Irish citizens are theirs to do with as they wish in order for them to win office. Allowing people to have copies of a confidential document to peruse at their leisure and for their own enjoyment is act of gross misconduct

The NUI itself has not made the register available in this manner online because of concerns about secure access. The NUI should seek to recover the files in the possession of Fianna Fail and if possible access their histories to see if they can ascertain whose copy of the register it is and action must be taken to sanction that those involved. If I had circulated the register in this fashion I would be subject to sanction.

It is a clear breach of the documented understanding under which NUI Seanad panel candidates were allowed to purchase copies of the register for a fee of €149. It would seem that in addition to a breach of data protection legislation that Fianna Fail may also have infringed on the copyright of the documents involved. “Fianna Fail passing around for free what others candidates had to pay for in order to cover the cost of maintaining the registers is pretty rich in my view “, said Dan.

It is even more peculiar that someone would have passed these documents on to a marketing company who it was reported in the Sunday Times sought €5,000 as a “modest” sum for updating and maintaining the register. A feat that could be done for no cost if the data held by the colleges was reconciled with that held by the revenue. It is also unclear what future use the marketing company will put the register to. The findings of the analysis of the register carried out by a direct marketing company would imply that the government should have thought about addressing the real issues with the register rather than mere titillation over people from the early 1900s being on the register.

This matter is made all the more serious as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is part of the department of finance, and the letter has been sent by the Minister for Finance. It would seem when the rules are hard or inconvenient the first reaction of the government is to ignore them.

While one of the FF candidates, Sean O’Connor has spent his time and connections with the press making great play of the presence of people who are most likely dead on the register, there has been comparatively little attention given to the decreasing numbers of graduates being added to the register year on year despite the considerable increase in those graduating. In recent years the increase in numbers on the register is around one thousand per year for the entire NUI, yet UCD alone is graduating four times that number each year.

Many candidates are operating with limited finances and have to account for all donations and services rendered to us. Distributing work such as tracking down graduates would be something we would have to pay for, yet Fianna Fail are farming it out to their membership to the benefit of their selected candidates while make no record of the donation of such work.

It would seem appropriate that the lead FF candidates Dr. John Hillery and Sean O’Connor who were intended to be the prime beneficiaries of this intrusion into people’s person record should now consider withdrawing from the Seanad races for TCD and NUI.


Yes, it reads weird but I've sent this out as press release to one or two people and will send it more widely tomorrow morning. However you, dear readers, get it first.

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