Cobh anti-water charges activists take appeal to Data Commissioner over Gardai providing information to Irish Water

Commissioner to determine if gardaí breached data laws

The Data Protection Commissioner is to be asked to determine if gardaí breached any legislation by providing Irish Water with details about people alleged to have obstructed agents installing household meters.

A solicitor is considering taking legal proceedings on behalf of three clients arrested for obstructing agents for Irish Water who were working in Cobh, Co Cork, last October.

It was claimed that gardaí handed over information to Irish Water about Alan Gibson, Karen Doyle, and Vincent Cunningham, who had been arrested at Woodside Estate when residents made attempts to prevent the installation of water meters.

Solicitor Anne McShane said she is also representing about 30 other locals who had personal details taken by gardaí during protests, but had not been arrested. She said they could, potentially, also end up in court.

Ms McShane said gardaí had been made fully aware of her clients’ objection to any information being passed on to Irish Water.

“I have recently had a letter from the Garda superintendent informing me that despite these objections, personal details will be passed on to Irish Water,” said Ms McShane. “I have reiterated my clients’ objections and am bringing complaints on their behalf before the Data Protection Commissioner.

“To me this is an unprecedented situation where the gardaí are, in effect, acting as agents for Irish Water.”

A Garda spokesman said under the Water Services Act, they force was obliged to assist Irish Water with information and it would be up to the utility company to decide if it would mount a prosecution.

Obstruction, he said, was deemed to be an arrestable offence under the 1997 Criminal Justice Act.

“Under the Public Order Act, where obstruction is carried out, we have the power to get names and addresses and the power of arrest,” said the spokesman.

Meanwhile, Ms McShane believes some of her clients could be tried either summarily in the district court, or on indictment in the circuit criminal court.

“If, as is the case with all of the Cobh protestors, it is suitable to be tried in the district court, the prosecutor is Irish Water,” she said. “The penalty if it is tried in the District Court is up to €5,000 fine or up to three months in prison.

“The gardaí arrested three people on the basis that it was a serious arrestable offence, in that they could potentially be tried on indictment. However, now gardaí are saying they will not be prosecuting and will be passing the information over to Irish Water to allow it to make a decision as to whether it will prosecute.

“I think that this is an unprecedented act and that the gardaí need to justify their actions in law, in particular that they are allowed to pass on information in this manner without the consent of the individual and in fact with the clear opposition of the individual to them doing so.”

The Cobh Says No campaign last night held a demonstration outside Cobh Garda Station in solidarity with those arrested this week in relation to the Jobstown protest in Dublin three months ago and also in defending the right to protest publicly.


Published by Irish Examiner on Friday February 13 2015
Article by Sean O’Riordan




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