Even more social welfare leaks
Today’s Irish Independent has details of yet another case of a civil servant in the Department of Social and Family Affairs selling personal information to the media. As before, there is no evidence of any official inclination to take these cases seriously – the offender in this case was allowed to resign and no further action taken against her. And yet again serious questions arise:
* Why wasn’t this case referred to the Gardaí for criminal prosecution?
* How did it take a full year to take action against her?
* Who was responsible for the decision to allow her to resign and to allow the matter to be brushed under the carpet?
Official gave private details to media in new leak shock
Tuesday October 16 2007
A SENIOR civil servant has resigned after she was found to have improperly accessed and passed on personal records of up to 40 individuals.
The married woman, who worked at the Department of Social and Family Affairs for at least 16 years, was accused of passing on information to a Sunday newspaper, which then published the confidential details. She was found to have improperly accessed the records of many others, including high- profile individuals.
The leaks — which breached the Data Protection Act — only emerged after the department received a solicitor’s letter from a woman whose social welfare details were published by the newspaper.
The breach came two years after a department employee was found to have passed on confidential information to his criminal brother, who then burgled a man and attempted to extort money from three men.
The improper access also occurred despite an investigation being carried out by the Data Commissioner, after the details of Euromillions winner, Dolores McNamara, were viewed by over 100 employees.
The victim — whose identity is known to this newspaper — was separated from her husband. He had just completed a multi-million euro property deal and days later she found her name, date of birth, new address and social welfare benefits published in the national newspaper.
She was immediately suspicious, as details of her address were included in the article, details she had passed on to the department just two weeks earlier.
An immediate investigation was launched and the computer use of a senior staff officer was examined.
“The results of our examination reveal that this officer accessed eight very high profile cases in addition to the two mentioned,” the internal documents state.
“It is also noted that 30 other cases from all parts of the country were accessed.”
They questioned her and pointed out that some of the individuals were public figures. In many cases she was the only department official to have accessed the details, and in most cases an article appeared in a newspaper just days later.
In the majority cases she said she “couldn’t remember” why she had opened the electronic files or said she had “no explanation” for her behaviour.
“She was advised that, in addition to the issue regarding access in the previous cases, that in each instance in the following nine cases an article appeared in xx newspaper [paper’s name removed] some two to three days after she had accessed the system,” officials wrote after interviewing her.
She admitted to accessing the details but claimed she had never “intentionally” passed on any information to a third party.
However, she was warned that her actions amounted to grave misconduct and if she did not submit a plausible explanation for her actions, she would be dismissed. Just two days later, in May of last year, she offered her resignation.
“This entire episode has caused me considerable stress and upset so for health reasons I consider that I should just simply resign at this juncture,” she stated in a letter to the department.
She was given ample opportunity to offer an explanation for her conduct but failed to do so.
She claimed she was suffering from health problems as a result of the stress and worry and, for this reason, her resignation was accepted instead of sacking her.
“On balance, resignation might be reluctantly accepted taking everything into account,” officials decided in August last year, almost a full year after her misconduct was discovered.