The Dail's Spending watchdog has blasted the Department of Finance's use of GDPR rules not to publish payments to lawyers acting on its behalf in the €14bn Apple appeal.
At a committee meeting, the Department was accused of engaging in a total “abuse of the GDPR” laws which committee members was never intended to prevent such payments from being made public.
But a report in the Irish Examiner earlier this week was raised by committee members which stated the Data Protection Commissioner said there was no prohibition in publishing such figures, even in a post-GDPR environment.
Labour's Alan Kelly, who has been chasing these details for several months, said if this situation is allowed to go unchallenged then a “very dangerous, dangerous precedent” would be established relating to the people who work on behalf of the State.
“This is insane. This is not the reason for why GDPR exists. I was absolutely shocked that this information was denied to me. I was further shocked that the attorney general advice was that this information cannot be given out,” he said during a public hearing of the PAC.
“We have to pursue this matter in the most in the strongest way possible. These are serious serious public sums. And this will go on for years. There is also a dangerous precedent being set,” he added.
PAC Chairman Sean Fleming echoed Mr Kelly's concerns saying: “If it's intended to interpret GDPR to ensure that no payment to any individual can ever be published again, well that is a total misuse and that's an abuse of the legislation that was introduced to prevent every payment to every individual never being disclosed.
“It was not intended for that. And I will see what's happening here. It is the legal profession, both in the employment of the state, and the barristers who are working for the State, working together to protect each other. But this is not the intention of GDPR to protect barristers, it is not the intention, and it is an abuse of the system by the legal profession, full stop,” he said.
Fianna Fail's Transport spokesman Marc MacSharry said the Department's refusal to disclose the information was at best politically opportunistic.
“I think, at best, what we're seeing is the politically opportunistic use of legislation. It defines life in a dictatorship disguised as a democracy. And I don't know what actions are open to us as a committee. But I think the system, the system is all-powerful,” he said.
The committee ultimately decided to seek written confirmation from the Data Protection Commission as to its position, following its comments to the Irish Examiner.
The Government has said it is “considering” its refusal to disclose payments to lawyers in the €14bn Apple appeal after its stance has been “completely undermined”.
The Department of Finance has said that information in respect of individual Counsel’s fees which included the breakdown of payments made to individual Counsel was previously provided in parliamentary questions seeking information on fees paid in the Apple State aid case.
Advice was sought from the Office of the Attorney General on the implications of GDPR on the issuing of information in relation to payments made to individuals. “Taking account of that advice, the Department is now constrained from releasing information relating to particular fees paid to individual Counsel,” the department said.