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Civil Defence Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, after line 43, to insert the following:

“13.—The Minister shall ensure that each local authority is resourced accordingly in order to fulfil its civil defence plans as set out in section 12.”.

While I spoke to this amendment earlier, I will reiterate that it concerns the issue of resources about which I seek some reassurance. To repeat the point, if one considers the existing framework, the Civil Defence Board has a set of criteria whereby on receiving a plan from a local authority, the resources are then allocated. Such criteria no longer appear to be in place for the Minister and the Department. I am a little concerned that in the years to come, this may provide freedom to wind down the resources for the Civil Defence and consequently I seek reassurance that, in particular, this new arrangement will mean that local authorities and Civil Defence members will continue to have the necessary resources for training.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe First, I do not propose to accept this amendment. However, I assure the Deputy that for as long as I remain a Minister of State in the Department of Defence and in so far as the national finances can allow, the Civil Defence will be funded in the same manner as it has been to date. I understand the importance of the Deputy's point in this regard. He will understand that while the funding from the local authorities primarily is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to encourage local authorities to meet their obligations in respect of Civil Defence, my Department provides a grant aid to each authority amounting to 70% of approved expenditure each year on Civil Defence activities within its area. In addition, other supports, such as centralised training, policy advice and provision of major items of specialised equipment for authorities are 100% funded by my Department. As I stated previously, the level of funding for the Civil Defence has remained at €5.58 million per annum at a time of major cuts in other areas. One of my priorities in fighting my corner is to make sure that funding is retained in the future.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(d) the Mayor or Cathaoirleach of the local authority concerned.”.

This is a matter on which Members had a brief discussion on Committee Stage and pertains to the register of membership of the Civil Defence in each local authority jurisdiction. The information kept on the register is basic information relating to the member such as name, address, date of birth and so on. The Bill also provides that the county manager or his or her nominee or the Minister or his or her nominee may have access to that register. In a situation in which the Civil Defence plan and the force is at least part-funded by the local authority through the Estimates process, which must be voted through by the elected members, it would be appropriate that at least the cathaoirleach or mayor of the local authority concerned would have the opportunity to inspect that register in the rare event that it should be necessary.

  This is a simple and very straightforward amendment that also goes to a point of principle, in that the elected members at local authority level should not be prevented from having all the information that might be required from time to time to allow them to fulfil their remit. Legislation of any form that effectively excludes local elected representatives is not good legislation. I acknowledge the Minister of State is committed to local government reform and to empowering local government. Consequently, he should not then bring forward legislation that excludes members of local authorities from full participation. A case can be made clearly that from time to time, members of the local authority may have information that could be of use to the local authority and to the Civil Defence. It would be useful, were they in a position, via their cathaoirleach or mayor, to check the register and to verify the information contained therein is in accordance with the facts as they know them.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank the Deputy. As I stated previously on Committee Stage, the requirement to develop a centralised register of Civil Defence volunteer members was introduced in the Civil Defence Act 2002 and a web-based electronic register now is in use by all local authorities. Prior to that, there was no effective centralised register apart from an amalgamation of local authority manual records. The register contains personal and confidential details on Civil Defence volunteers and captured information, other than that specified in the Act, such as health, training and qualification records. As this information is of a confidential nature, it must be protected in accordance with the data protection guidelines. What is proposed in the Bill is largely a continuation of what is contained in the 2002 Act. The Civil Defence is registered with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner as a data controller under the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. The aforementioned Acts place the responsibility for the duty of care owed to personal data on the data controller. A data controller must have a sound, clear and legitimate purpose for collecting personal data and must ensure the data are securely retained. To maintain registration, the Civil Defence must complete an annual registration form outlining a description of the data, the purpose for which the data are held, as well as the permitted disclosees of the data. In the case of the Civil Defence, the stated purpose of retention of data is the provision of a voluntary support service to the primary emergency services and the local authority or local community.

  The list of disclosees, that is, those who can access the data is limited to Civil Defence headquarters personnel and designated local authority employees who have legitimate need to access the register in the course of their work. The guidance note for data controllers on purpose limitation and retention issued by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is very clear and states:

Data Controllers who obtain personal data from a data subject may do so for one or more specific, lawful and clearly stated purposes. It is unlawful to collect information about people routinely and indiscriminately – a data controller must have a sound, clear and legitimate purpose for collecting personal data. An individual has a right to question the purpose for which you hold his [or] her data and you must be able to identify that purpose.

Information in the register is inputted at local authority level by the Civil Defence officer. Individual members can be given access to their own records on the register on any occasion. The Civil Defence officer may also access the records for his or her own local authority area and selected Civil Defence headquarters staff, in the course of their work, can access all records on the register through a password-protected system.

  Since its introduction, no issues have arisen with regard to the operation of the volunteer register and training database and it is working very well in its current format. I also emphasised on Committee Stage that this pertains to volunteers and not to local authority employees. The protection of the privacy of Civil Defence volunteers is paramount and potential volunteers could be reluctant to join the Civil Defence if they thought their personal information was being made more widely accessible. Volunteers have confidence in the confidentiality of the register, as structured, that persons accessing their information have a sound, legitimate purpose for so doing and this is a key to its successful operation. In conclusion, I note that a previous company with which I worked had access to a huge database and I recall that just before I left the company, the Data Protection Commissioner indicated that the database in question could not be shared with anyone. As for the database in the Deputy's own constituency, I presume it contains personal information. While he is not talking about going public with it, one keeps to a small number those with whom one would share that personal information. As this is how the data should be kept, I therefore will not accept the Deputy's amendment.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl With the greatest of respect to the Minister of State, his response does not make sense because under the provisions of the legislation before Members, the county manager could nominate any number of members of his or her staff to have access to this information.

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