Waterford council calls for data law changes

A Waterford local authority wants the laws on data protection eased so that councillors can fully represent people making housing inquiries.

Waterford council calls for data law changes

The March meeting of the Dungarvan-Lismore Municipal District Council agreed to write to the Data Protection Commissioner expressing councillors’ frustration with the legislation as it currently operates.

Councillor Siobhan Whelan (SF) raised the issue, for a third consecutive meeting, when she said she was unable to ascertain, on behalf of a mother of two, whether a house being refurbished was suitable for a family.

Committee chairman Damien Geoghegan (FG) said data protection legislation was causing controversy and confusion.

He said members of the public, often dealing with a housing application system for the first time, needed councillors’ assistance. Data protection legislation impeded this, he said.

Quoting from an Oireachtas Group letter stating that, in past times, a local authority could “generally assume that a constituent had given the release of personal data, necessary to respond, where a public representative is making recommendations on their behalf”.

He said: “Nowadays, we are being largely excluded from the process.”

The council’s director of housing, community and culture Michael Quinn said restrictions applied to the council executive too, but an application could be discussed with a representative councillor once it excluded “sensitive information”.

Mr Geoghegan complained also that council officiials could not advise councillors if a tenant they were representing was in arrears.

Mr Quinn said if a tenant did not inform a councillor of arrears, then neither could the council do so.

The senior official also asserted the council cannot advise councillors where any applicant, other than someone they formally represent, is placed on a housing list. The council, he said, did not have permission to divulge that detail.

Meanwhile, Ms Whelan asked what data protection had to do with her not being informed that a two-bedroom house being refurbished was not suitable for a constituent seeking a three-bedroom premises. “And where is the transgression in being told if someone was of high priority on the list or not?” she asked.

James Tobin (FF) said any discussion was futile as “data protection remains the problem and only the minister can change that”.

Mr Geoghegan’s proposal that the municipal district council convey its concerns to the data commissioner was agreed.

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