The Department of Finance’s refusal to release details of fees paid to barristers involved in the €14bn Apple appeal has been “completely undermined” by the data protection commissioner and the information commissioner, it has been claimed.
The Government now finds itself at odds with commissioner Helen Dixon’s agency for the second time in less than a year.
The department has said that to reveal the names of payees of fees would represent a breach of GDPR rules, on advice from the Attorney General, even though it has published such details previously.
The development has been met with a furious reaction from the Dáil’s public accounts committee, which is demanding a reversal of the decision.
Labour TD and PAC member Alan Kelly said the refusal to release important public information on the grounds of GDPR is “dangerous and unjustifiable”.
Both the offices of data protection commissioner and the information commissioner, while not commenting directly on this case, have now provided information which casts doubt over the Department of Finance’s decision.
Speaking to the, Graham Doyle, deputy data protection commissioner, said the DPC was also recently before the PAC and asked about similar payments to third-party organisations and individual service providers, such as barristers.
Not only did it provide the information on the companies, ibut also gave a detailed breakdown on individual barristers, and this was after the introduction of GDPR.
Meanwhile, the office of the information commissioner cited two cases which would still allow the release of such details.
In the first, the then-commissioner found that fee notes for payments submitted by barristers representing the Mahon Tribunal were not exempt under the FOI Act, and she directed their release.
In a recent case, the information commissioner expressed its view that the “data protection legislation does not serve to prohibit the release, by way of FOI, of personal information relating to third parties”.
Responding, Mr Kelly said the evidence is clear that the decision of the department to rely on “vague” advice from the Attorney General, which cannot be examined, is no longer tenable.
“This completely undermines the decision to withhold the information,” he said. “This is vital public information which should and must be out in the public domain. This sets a seriously dangerous precedent. I find this astonishing. The volume of money being spent by the taxpayer and we are being told that we can’t get information on who is being paid. Is this the real purpose of GDPR?
“It creates an extremely dangerous scenario whereby the Government can hide publicly-spent money.”
PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming hit out at how information is being hidden from the public.
There’s shocking stuff in this. It’s a disgrace if GDPR prevents the taxpayer from knowing how its money was spent.
In a letter to the PAC last week, the secretary-general of the Department of Finance said Minister Paschal Donohoe believed that interference with the privacy of an identifiable individual by divulging details of their employment would be “disproportionate and ultimately potentially unlawful”. Derek Moran said Mr Donohoe “did not propose to release the limited anecdotal information available to him”.
He wrote saying the AG advised that it should be possible to provide anonymised or aggregated information regarding counsels’ fees, provided that this is done in such a way as to protect the identity of the individual barristers.
The previous EU competition commissioner ruled in 2016 that Ireland had given illegal state aid to Apple by allowing the tech giant to attribute earnings from EU sales to an Irish head office that existed only on paper.