HSE and bank could fall foul of GDPR over fadas

Ciarán Ó Cofaigh

The State data watchdog is investigating the refusal of public bodies and private companies to properly spell Irish names after a television producer being treated for cancer alleged a breach of strict EU rules.

Ciarán Ó Cofaigh, 51, is taking on the State after medics at University Hospital Galway, where he is getting radiotherapy treatment, told him they could not include the fadas on his name.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has confirmed it is “fully examining” a complaint lodged last July by Mr Ó Cofaigh — brother of broadcaster Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh — against the HSE.

It is also handling two similar complaints by the filmmaker against Bank of Ireland and its subsidiary New Ireland Assurance.

It is understood the DPC is speaking with its European counterparts as well as Ireland’s Language Commissioner in an attempt to determine an official stance on the síneadh fada.

Mr Ó Cofaigh believes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — a set of far-reaching privacy and data protection rules brought in by the European Union last year — gives people a legal right to have their names spelt correctly.

Article 16 of GDPR states that citizens have the right to have “inaccurate personal data” held by organisations to be corrected “without undue delay”.

Companies can be fined up to €20m, or up to 4% of its turnover, for failing to adhere to the rule. The maximum fine for public bodies is €1m, under the Data Protection Act.

Mr Ó Cofaigh said the HSE, Bank of Ireland and New Ireland Assurance have refused to correct his name on records and correspondence.

Fadas on Irish names are “not an optional extra or a pretentious affectation,” he said. “They are a central, functional element of a person’s proper name. My name without a fada isn’t my name.” 

Mr Ó Cofaigh said it is “ironic” that he has to look to European rules to assert his Irish identity.

I’m tired and fed up with the hypocrisy of the State and its odd relationship with the language. They claim it is important yet when it comes to the nitty gritty, it is of no importance.

Graham Doyle, head of communications for the Data Protection Commission, said Article 16 of the GDPR “clearly sets out” the rights of a person to have their records corrected. 

“In the case of the omission of fadas, the DPC is currently fully examining this matter,” he added.

The HSE admitted “some computer software used in various HSE locations” won’t accept fadas.

“A síneadh fada, which is necessary to spell words properly, is an integral part of a person’s given name and surname in Irish. The HSE is taking steps to ensure that, where it is possible, new software will have the capability to input the síneadh fada,” a spokesperson added.

A Bank of Ireland spokesman said it supports Irish-speaking customers “as much as possible” but added: “Unfortunately, however, we are unable to show the fada on our systems — we know this is a source of frustration for some customers and apologise for this which is due to technical restrictions.”

Last month, the National Transport Authority came under attack after it blamed “technical limitations” for refusing to include the fada on names of commuters using Leap cards.

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