Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for coming to the House. We welcome this important legislation. I also thank the Minister for outlining the background to the postcode system.
Data protection is one thing but secrecy is another. It is of concern that not one page of the 700 page contract establishing the Eircode system is available under the Freedom of Information Act. As the Minister is aware, despite many requests, it became apparent that some of the communications in the Department were not made freely available. However, what was made freely available was that the advice the private consultancy company had given to the Government had been ignored on a number of key issues. Obviously, the hierarchical code the Minister mentioned was one of these issues. That is the system that works successfully in the North. Why would we bring in the State bodies and the commercial entities and pay consultants a fortune in money only to ignore them, as was done in the case of Irish Water? That is a matter of concern.
The Minister spoke about the ambulance service. With a centralised call-out system, it is important to have postcodes because paramedics and ambulance drivers no longer have local knowledge. A hierarchical code would mean that people would automatically know they were going in the right direction. If somebody was to give the wrong digit but also an address, he or she might realise the error. Much of the time a person will key the code into a Sat Nav and if there is a wrong digit, as can happen in an emergency, if there was a hierarchical code, the paramedics would know there was an error in the code given. That all came from the wide consultation that there should be a hierarchical code, but that did not happen. These are matters of concern.
The legislation before us on data protection is not a source of major dispute, other than the 700 page contract in terms of the pricing of access to the database. There was no consultation on the pricing of access to the database.
The Bill is relatively short and we will discuss details further on Committee Stage. There is concern that there is no requirement for some things to happen and they are moer vague than I would like. I am sure the Minister is also concerned.
Section 66A(4) states, “Every regulation made under this Part shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling…”. However, there is no requirement as when that might happen. It states that it “shall be laid … as soon as may be after it is made”, but it does not state if there is any requirement as to when it might be made.
Section 66D(1) states, “The postcode contractor shall draw up procedures for dealing with complaints by an owner or occupier of property”. Again, that is about timelines. It is rather vague compared with what I would like to see in legislation.
Section 66D(5) states, “The postcode contractor shall notify the complainant concerned in writing of the reasons for its decision”. It is just a matter of timelines and it might be dealt with in regulations. As we know in other areas, particularly in planning, before we introduced specific timeframes in which planning issues had to be dealt with, it used to go on for months. There was considerable uncertainty as a result. If someone has a complaint, the postcode contractor should notify the complainant concerned in writing of the decision within 60 or 90 days. I am not the expert on how long would be reasonable, but it would be reasonable to specify a timeframe.
Section 66D(7) states:
The Minister may, by regulations, make provision for the following:
(a) the procedure to be followed in investigating complaints;
(b) the requirements to be complied with by complainants;
(c) the remedies and redress available to complainants;
I think it should read “shall” rather than “may”. If we go to the bother of introducing data protection regulations, there should be an onus on the Department to introduce the regulations for complaints, redress and remedies for it.
They are only technical issues in dealing with the Bill. If the Data Protection Commissioner believed he needed more assistance in that regard, I do not think we would object to this. The issue is with the more technical elements. Obviously, we will not reopen the debate on the consultants’ report, but I thought I would mention it as we were talking about it in the first place.