Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Communications Minister Denis Naughten have broken their silence on the alleged data breach scandal at Independent News and Media (INM), saying it is very “concerning”.
Their comments, yesterday, came as two opposition leaders, Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald, signalled they intend raising the controversy when the Dáil resumes next week.
At a Project Ireland 2040 event in NUI Galway, Mr Varadkar spoke for the first time about the scandal. He said an independent press was fundamental to the workings of any democracy, and that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) would investigate.
“I do have concerns. Of course, I do,” he said. “I’m concerned anytime somebody’s personal emails or electronic information is accessed by anyone.
“For our democracy to function we need to have an independent press and we need to have a diversity of press ownership as well and, you know, I’m a great believer in that because democracy can’t function without a strong and independent media.
“What’s going to happen now is a government office, the ODCE, is going to initiate an investigation. At least until that investigation is completed, I can’t really say anymore. I think it is appropriate that there be an investigation by this government office, the ODCE.”
Mr Naughten, who has ministerial responsibility for the media, concurred that what emerged was very concerning.
“Look, there’s absolutely no doubt about it there are concerns in relation to what is out in the public domain at the moment,” he said.
“But there is an investigation ongoing with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. There’s also a second investigation with Helen Dixon [data protection commissioner] and both of those investigations are ongoing at present and I think we need to let both of those investigations take place.
“I think it is important that there’s a differentiation here with the allegations that are made in relation to the board activity and also the work of the employees within the company who are trying to do their work on a day-to-day basis. And I think there needs to be a clear distinction made in relation to that. But let’s have the investigations.
“Let’s see what comes out of that. But we have to ensure we have a media in this country that we can all be confident about. It is important for the democratic process and I think it’s something I’ve spoken on, on a number of occasions in the past and it’s something the Government is actively looking at.”
Mr Martin and Ms McDonald, meanwhile, are expected to grill Mr Varadkar in response to growing concerns over the scale of the data breach which involves private information — and potentially sources — of INM workers being examined by an external firm.
Ms McDonald said she will also raise the alleged INM data breach issue in the Dáil, adding that the matter should be of serious concern to the public.
“The allegations surrounding Independent News and Media are very disturbing,” she said.
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