Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013

12:05 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Prior to the Cabinet meeting this morning, the significant issue of the day was the extraordinary and gigantic criminal offence that has occurred and which concerns, we are told, up to 1.1 million people. It is probably the largest ever offence in terms of affecting so many people in the State. The hacking into the personal financial data of so many people is a very worrying development. Credit card details have patently been compromised and some banks have confirmed that not only was the information hacked into by criminals but also that fraudulent transactions have occurred as a result. To date, we do not have a strong sense of the scale of this from the Data Protection Commissioner. The office is doing its best and its website indicates that up to 376,000 people on the systems of Loyaltybuild had their credit card details stolen and the financial details of 150,000 clients have potentially been compromised. It has added to that information in more recent times and this morning there was worse news.

Who is in charge of this in the Government? If one looks at the various government websites, there is an extraordinary absence of any sense of somebody being in charge of this key area. The silence of the Minister for Justice and Equality on this has been deafening but he would say that child abuse on the Internet has been his Department's primary concern in the context of cybercrime. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is not taking possession of the ball in respect of this issue. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, has said that consumers who lost money as a result of the hacking are entitled to get their money back. Can the Tánaiste confirm that the Government is taking steps, with the companies and banks involved, to ensure that consumers will get their money back? What steps will the Government take to ensure that people's personal and financial details are absolutely secure? The Government is encouraging people to do all their transactions online. What has happened over the last few days and what has been revealed, and I believe more will be revealed as I do not think the full scale of this has yet been articulated in public, will shatter people's confidence in online banking transactions.

Banking crime is nothing new, but what we are now witnessing is faceless criminals who need not resort to armed robberies anymore but who can rob hundreds of thousands of people by breaching data and hacking into various systems. It is urgent that the Government indicates it has a grip on this issue.

12:10 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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We are all aware, as Deputy Martin said, that a data breach has occurred at a company called Loyaltybuild, a company that processes transactions in respect of loyalty schemes on behalf of other companies. Given the seriousness of the breach, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner sent in an inspection team to investigate the breach. The commissioner has received a preliminary report on the findings of the inspection team. The inspection team confirmed the extent of the breach in which the full card details of more than 376,000 customers were taken, of which in the region of 80,000 were Irish customers. Over 70,000 were SuperValu Getaway customers and over 8,000 were Axa Leisure Breaks customers. The details of an additional 150,000 clients were potentially compromised. The inspection team also confirmed that the names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of 1.12 million clients were also taken. It is not yet known how many of the 150,000 clients or the 1.12 million clients are Irish customers. The initial indications are that these breaches were an external criminal act.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner will assess fully the findings of the inspection and has already made a number of recommendations to Loyaltybuild. A follow-up inspection will also be carried out. An Garda Síochána is also investigating the matter. The important message at this stage is that the customers affected be vigilant in respect of their accounts, particularly regarding any transaction since the end of October of this year, and to report any suspicious transaction to their card companies. Clients should also be vigilant in respect of suspicious communications of any kind that they receive. Once we have the report from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality is reported to by the Garda Commissioner, we will take whatever steps are necessary.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his reply, but I am somewhat disappointed that I do not detect a sense of urgency about this issue from the Government and political leaders. The Tánaiste read from the website of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. Addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of 1.12 million clients have been breached. This is a massive criminal conspiracy and event in itself and has profound consequences for people doing business online, particularly when offering their credit card details. The Government should form a task force or group between the Ministers concerned. I do not know which Minister will take the lead on the wider issue of cybercrime, but one must take possession of it and the Government should lead. I am not just referring to the specifics of this case, but to the wider issue. In 2009, some 119 breaches were reported to the Data Protection Commissioner. In 2012, the figure was 1,522, showing the extraordinary increase in such breaches.

This particular case is very worrying. If possible, will the Tánaiste or relevant Ministers ascertain the scale of this breach? Are the companies concerned telling us everything that they should? Is there full transparency in what consumers should be told? Has an analysis of what occurred been done so that future breaches can be prevented? This fundamental issue will have a considerable impact for business and people and, with the greatest of respect, we need a more coherent Government response than has been evident to date.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Let me be absolutely clear - the unauthorised accessing of people's credit card details, e-mail addresses, contact details and so on is a criminal act, and there are two ways in which we investigate those. One is via the Data Protection Commissioner, who has specific responsibility in respect of data, who has already carried out one inspection and who is now carrying out a follow-up inspection. Second, the investigation of criminal activity is a matter for the Garda Síochána. It is carrying out an investigation of it.

I want to assure the Deputy that the Government takes the issue very seriously and very urgently. There are a number of Government Departments that have responsibility in terms of getting the reports from the Garda Síochána, the Data Protection Commissioner and follow-up activity in respect of this. In response to the Deputy's question, I would take responsibility to co-ordinate the responses from the different Government Ministers so that there is, as he says, a whole-of-Government response to what is a very serious issue that has arisen in respect of credit card fraud.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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As the Tánaiste is aware, today, 14 November, marks, as it has every year since 1991, World Diabetes Day, a day to raise public awareness of diabetes and of the escalating health threat that this condition now poses. I want to commend the work of the International Diabetes Federation, its Irish association, Diabetes Ireland, and all of those in our health service who care for patients with diabetes and the devastating chronic complications often associated with it, including diabetic cardiomyopathy, diabetic nephropathy, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic foot.

In the absence of a register of people who have diabetes, we cannot be entirely sure of how many people in Ireland live with diabetes. In 2012, the International Diabetes Federation estimated that there were approximately 192,000 people with diabetes in Ireland and that, by 2030, there would be in excess of 278,000 people with the condition in this State. Spending on diabetes was estimated at some 8% of total health spending. Make no mistake about it, by any measure this is a very serious issue.

As my party's health spokesperson, I have welcomed progress made in the area of diabetes prevention and management. I welcomed the establishment of the expert advisory group in 2008 and the national diabetes working group in 2010. The national clinical programme for diabetes and the integrated care programme provide a model for the realisation of significant improvements and it must be acknowledged that progress is being made, but there is clear evidence that these services are both underfunded and under-resourced. We have neither a national register nor a national plan. If one cannot measure, one cannot manage. We have no screening programme for diabetic retinopathy. We have no national programme for diabetic foot care. When will there be a recognition that we are on the cusp of a serious public health crisis in terms of diabetes and when will we see an appropriate response from the Department, the HSE and this Government?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for raising this issue, as today is World Diabetes Day. This Government is committed to early intervention and care for people suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Specifically, our reform programme is focusing on delivering more treatment of chronic illnesses in primary care settings where it is more cost effective and more convenient for patients.

The HSE's national clinical programme, which includes the care of children and adolescents with diabetes, was established in May 2010. The purpose of the programme is to define the way that diabetic clinical services should be delivered, resourced and measured. There is strong clinical leadership in the development of the programme, which has as its central aim the saving of the lives, eyes and limbs of patients with diabetes. The objectives of the national diabetes programme are, among others, to develop a national retinopathy screening programme, to develop a foot care screening and treatment service to prevent diabetic foot ulceration and lower limb amputation, and to develop an integrated care programme for all patients with diabetes.

A care package for diabetic children involving the provision of insulin pumps for children under five has been developed. Under-fives are the initial priority. Five regional centres for the provision of pumps are in place - three in Dublin and one each in Cork and the Limerick-Galway region. The aim of this model of care is simply to improve access to insulin pumps. This model is progressing. For example, 50 children in Cork are on such insulin pump therapy, and the next step is to expand pump therapy to all children.

Last March, the National Cancer Screening Service commenced diabetic retinopathy screening. This will offer free, regular diabetic retinopathy screening to children from age 12 and to adults. Some 30% of eligible patients will be called for screening this year and the remaining 70% next year. A quality assurance framework has been developed and a central database of the eligible population has also been developed.

Systematic retinopathy screening on a population basis is clinically effective in identifying treatable eye disease, and is cost effective. The national cancer screening service now has a national register for diabetes, which is a key requirement before screening can commence.

A national foot care model is being developed and good progress has been made. Most of the posts for diabetes nurse specialists, as part of an integrated care package for patients, have now been filled. Work is continuing in this regard in order to improve services available across the health system for this chronic disease. It is also important to focus on prevention of chronic diseases, which is a core plank of the Government's public health strategy, particularly in tackling obesity.

The special action group on obesity was established by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, as part of Healthy Ireland - a Framework for Improving Health and Well-being. The Healthy Ireland strategy is based on a whole of society approach to health and well-being, which will be delivered. The special action group on obesity will meet regularly with the Minister for Health to progress the prevention agenda. The group is concentrating on a range of measures, including calorie posting in restaurants, healthy eating guidelines including the food pyramid, a sugar sweetened drinks' tax, marketing of food and drink to children, screening and monitoring vending machines in schools, and a collectivity plan.

12:20 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. I wish to advise him and the House that the theme of this year's World Diabetes Day is education and prevention. That is why I have chosen to make this matter my choice for Leaders' Questions. It is hugely important the we give a lead from this House in this regard.

In 2008, the national retinopathy screening committee developed a framework for a national screening service, which has been approved by the HSE with the endorsement of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists and patient groups. The report stressed the effectiveness of early detection through a population-based screening programme which will seek to identify all diagnosed people with diabetes and offer them annual screening followed by treatment as necessary.

Last year, we were promised 17 integrated care diabetes nurse specialists and 16 podiatrists to support the phased roll out of the programme. Today, however, many of these posts remain unfilled. Given the urgent need involved, when will all these positions be filled? When will we have a full roll-out of a national screening programme for diabetic retinopathy?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The national cancer screening service commenced the diabetic retinopathy screening programme last March. The objective is that 30% of eligible patients will be called for screening in the current year, while the remaining 70% will be called next year.

As regards the diabetic nurse specialists to which Deputy Ó Caoláin referred, my information is that most of the posts - as part of the integrated care package for patients - have been filled. Work is continuing in order to improve the services available for this chronic disease across the health system.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for raising the issue because today is World Diabetes Day. It is appropriate that we should focus on this matter. A plan is in place to deal with this issue, which is a growing problem. It is a major problem for the health service. There is an approach as to how to deal with it and progress is being made on implementing that approach. I assure the House that the Minister for Health is absolutely committed to continuing with that work. I am sure he will be happy to report either directly to the House or to the Committee on Health and Children on the progress that he is making in this regard.

It is appropriate that this matter is being raised on World Diabetes Day but, given it seriousness, we should return to it. We all understand that it is a growing problem which we will debate again collectively either in this Chamber or at the Committee on Health and Children.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I wish to refer to the case of six year old Faris Heeney, whose family is in the Visitors Gallery today. I salute their recent attempt to raise this matter. The Tánaiste will be well aware of the case. Faris was abducted and taken to Egypt four years ago, against his will. His uncle was subsequently jailed for his abduction. Over the past four years, the family have repeatedly sought assistance from various Ministers of this Government and the previous Government.

Most recently, the family had their first official meeting with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald. The Minister explained that the Minister for Justice and Equality had written to his counterpart in Egypt seeking a bilateral agreement, which the family has been calling for. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said she would keep the family informed and would send them a letter from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to his Egyptian counterpart. However, the family has not received any information over the last two weeks.

Four years is a long time for this family to have to wait for the State, which is well aware that Egypt is not part of the Hague Convention, to take this action. They welcome it but are disappointed and frustrated. There has been a complete lack of urgency on the part of the State in dealing with this case. It is not good enough to discuss or raise the issue internationally. Can the Tánaiste guarantee that this issue will be pursued with urgency and that the necessary steps will be taken to bring Faris back to his family in Ireland?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Yes, I can give the Deputy that assurance. I am taking a personal interest in this serious and sad case. That is why, last Monday, I telephoned the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss this case. I also discussed the continued detention of members of the Halawa family, which arose from the protests in Egypt in August. I spoke directly with the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Fahmi, about this sad case. I urged him and the Egyptian Government to look very seriously at this case and to see what could be done to facilitate the return of Faris to his mother. I explained to the Minister, Mr. Fahmi, that Ferris's mother and her family are distraught at how the child was taken out of this country and how difficult it has been for them since then. I told Mr. Fahmi that there was widespread public concern in this country that a child could be removed from this jurisdiction. The public find it difficult to understand why this child has not been returned to the care of his mother.

I advised Mr. Fahmi that the child's uncle, who had taken part in the abduction, had been convicted for his role in that abduction and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence in Portlaoise prison. I advised the Egyptian Minister that I had previously raised this case on two other occasions with his predecessors, and that I am most anxious that a solution be found as a matter of urgency.

The Minister, Mr. Fahmi, undertook to have the case reviewed. I agreed that our embassy in Cairo will stay in touch with him and his department to provide him with whatever further details he may need concerning the case, as well as any information that might be of assistance.

Separately, as Deputy Joan Collins mentioned, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has written to the Egyptian Minister for Justice proposing that we should consider signing an agreement to facilitate the return of children who have been abducted. I strongly support that action and my Department will assist in every possible way in the negotiation of any such agreement.

The Garda is also continuing to pursue the case through Interpol. My own Department has been providing consular assistance to the family since August 2009, and will continue to do so.

We are taking this case very seriously. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, met with the Heeney family on 4 November and I understand that she has agreed to respond to them on some of the issues that were raised during that meeting. This is a serious and difficult case for the family concerned. I intend to continue to take a personal interest in pursuing it with the Egyptian authorities.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Tánaiste for his reply.

While he says that things have moved on a bit, it is still not enough for this family and other families affected by situations in countries that are not party to The Hague Convention, including Egypt, Japan and so on. Surely the Government and this State has a responsibility to put in place protocols and systems to assist these families. The Tánaiste said that the family has been contacted by the consular. A one-line letter from the Department is not good enough. A call to the family to say the matter will be raised by the Minister at the international convention with no follow-up in that regard is not good enough for this family. Four years on, this is not good enough for this or other families.

The Egyptian authorities are well aware of this issue. The family has met six times in the past four years with the Egyptian ambassador in Ireland. On the last occasion, they met with the Egyptian ambassador he told them to take legal action in Egypt. This is not good enough. The Government needs to look at what instruments it can use to put pressure on the countries concerned to sign up to The Hague Convention or put in place bilateral agreements in respect of children who are abducted. It is possible to impose diplomatic and trade sanctions on countries which fail to provide for the safe return of children who have been illegally kidnapped from their countries. A serious approach to this issue must be taken. I want a commitment from the Tánaiste that Ireland, with other countries, will seek to have the sanctions I have mentioned imposed on Egypt if it fails to sign up to a bilateral agreement.

Four years, two weeks or a further three months is too long. This issue must be seriously addressed from now on.

12:30 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The issue is being seriously addressed. The problem is that the international framework for dealing with abduction cases is The Hague Convention to which, unfortunately, Egypt is not a party. As such, we have to operate bilaterally with Egypt on the issue. As I said, I have previously raised this case with Egyptian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, as did my predecessor, Deputy Martin.

The Deputy will be aware that there have been many changes in the political environment in Egypt. I felt it would be best to talk directly to the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has only relatively recently been appointed, requesting that he take a direct interest in this case. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has also written to this counterpart requesting that, in the absence of Egypt signing up to The Hague Convention, a bilateral arrangement be put in place between Ireland and Egypt in relation to child abduction. As the Deputy knows, the wheels in terms of dealing with issues internationally, move very slowly. I understand that the child's mother and family want the child returned as soon as possible. I know they have travelled to Egypt and that those visits were not successful in terms of getting the child returned.

The Government will continue to do everything it possibly can. As I said earlier, I spoke to the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs on Monday and will be following up with him on the matter and will keep the family informed.