Paschal Donohoe defends ‘rushed’ data protection bill

By Pádraig Hoare

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has defended the “dog’s dinner” of a National Broadband Plan (NBP) and the “rushed and unworkable” Government bill on data protection after strong criticism from TDs and senators.

Acknowledging that broadband in rural areas was now as vital as electricity or running water, Minister Donohoe rejected the characterisation of the NBP as a “dog’s dinner” by Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary at the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

Minister Donohoe, who was answering questions as part of a session on public service reform, said the NPB had been “a very demanding and rigorous process”.

“I’m very confident that at the end of it, that while we have one participant, the final decision that will be made in relation to a business case, and in how risk will be managed, between the State and the participant, will protect the interest of the taxpayer while also recognising the fact that broadband is seen as a utility.

“People all over the country see it in the same way as electricity or water — they expect to be able to have much the same connectivity as in cities,” he said.

Enet is the solitary bidder after Eir followed Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, in pulling out of the NBP, which will cover almost 540,000 homes in mostly rural areas nationwide. It has been beset by delays since first mooted in 2012.

Minister Donohoe also defended Government’s data protection bill, which was unveiled this month.

The bill is due to be signed into law in the coming weeks, and is designed to comply with the EU’s new data protection law, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The GDPR is designed to harmonise data privacy laws across Europe and to protect citizens’ data privacy. It not only applies to organisations within the EU but also to firms that do business inside member states.

If companies fail to comply with the regulation, they can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover, or €20m. It will become EU law in May and will apply from day one.

Legal experts have said a Government bill of this size and importance would normally take a number of months to go through legislative scrutiny.

TDs and senators have voiced their concern that voting the bill into law before proper scrutiny of the bill will lead to unintended consequences down the line.

Sinn Féin senator Rose Conway Walsh told Minister Donohoe that the bill was “rushed and unworkable”.

She said: “It is a hugely important piece of work and it is just being pushed through the Oireachtas.

“That is a mistake. In the Seanad, there was a one-week turnaround from publication to discussion of the bill. This is dealing with really important and substantial stuff. There are 95 heads of the bill and 162 sections.

“We knew the May deadline so why is it being pushed through at such a rate that people have no time to do the scrutiny needed for it? Public servants will be left to deal with all of this.”

Minister Donohoe said there was “no intention” to rush the bill through.

“You are right, it is a very lengthy piece of legislation. It went through pre-legislative scrutiny at some length and had many, many hearings in relation to it. It has been working its way through the Oireachtas for quite a while,” he said.

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