Thursday, 8 July 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
87. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the data that was contained on a memory device (details supplied); if there was video imagery contained therein; the steps that have been taken to recover the lost information; if the original information is still safely protected within her Department's hard drives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36835/21]
My question relates to a universal serial bus, USB, data device that was lost by an official in the Department of Justice. It relates to the Kenneally abuse case in Waterford. Was there video imagery on that device? Does the Minister of State know what personal data was on it? What efforts have been made to recover it? Is the original information still safely stored within the Department?
As the Deputy will be aware, the commission of investigation, which is investigating the extent to which organisations, including State bodies and individuals, were aware of the child sexual abuse committed by an individual during the 1980s, is an independent body. The Minister and I do not have any role in the conduct of its investigation. I understand that, for its convenience, the commission is supported by the IT unit in my Department. I am informed that in May 2019, having been made aware of the loss of a USB stick containing personal data relating to the commission, my Department notified the Data Protection Commission, as required under the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the Data Protection Act 2018.
I am further informed that, in keeping with the usual policy, my Department's data protection officer investigated the circumstances surrounding the missing USB stick, and the outcome of that investigation was subsequently notified to the Data Protection Commission. I understand the investigation found that despite a thorough search of both premises, the missing USB stick was not located. An Post indicated that no USB stick was identified in its recovery or reclaim unit.
The USB stick in question was an Integral Courier USB key with hardware encryption. The encryption used with this device is advanced encryption standard, AES, 256-bit, which is ISO 27001 compliant, a leading international standard for information security. The data contained on the USB stick had been uploaded to the commission’s secure system prior to the stick being mislaid so the information itself was not lost. As the data contained on the USB stick continued to be available to the commission and the missing USB stick was fully encrypted to industry standard, the risk to individuals whose personal data was on the USB stick was evaluated, as required by data protection legislation, and found to be low.
The country is still grappling with the effects of a cyberattack and, therefore, I do not know how it can be said that encryption on a stick is adequate. It is also regrettable that the Department did not liaise with the victims in the Kenneally case who had to read about this loss of data in the national press without having been consulted. That is an oversight that should not happen again. What engagement is going on? I understand that the work of the commission of investigation is possibly outside of the Minister of State's purview but the plaintiffs in this case have experienced a large degree of frustration at the lack of information they have been able to get from the Department. This echoes what they have received from An Garda Síochána and from others who were involved in this overall investigation.
I regret the upset and anger caused by this breach. In particular, I regret that those concerned found out through the media, as the Deputy rightly outlined. To avoid this and as a courtesy, those concerned should have been notified of the loss at the time that it occurred. I understand that the then Minister, Deputy McEntee, met victims and their legal representatives in April of this year to apologise to them in person for the data breach and to acknowledge that those affected should have been notified at that time. She advised that the breach was extremely low risk. It is important to state that.
As the Deputy may know, Mr. Justice Barry Hickson has stepped down as the sole member of the commission, with effect from 30 June. Mr. Justice White became the sole member of the commission on 1 July. I am confident that work can progress on seeing justice done and that the work of the commission can progress as quickly as possible.
I want to remind the House about the scale of this investigation. The Kenneally case will turn out to be one of the most prolific paedophile cases in the country. The convictions were secured on sample charges. Five individuals have come forward but I am sure many people who have been impacted have decided not to come forward. The State has a duty of care with respect to ensuring that as wide an investigation as can happen will happen. There are significant components to this investigation, not least the influence of a well-known political family, the potential influence of church seniors, the influence of gardaí and the robustness and effectiveness of the investigation that was taken in terms of search and seize.
I remind the Minister of State that this case came about in 2012 but the abuse goes back to the mid-1980s. The gentlemen involved, who are now grown men, want some vindication of their position. They want to ensure that nothing like this can recur. Unfortunately, we have seen with national swim coaches and boy scout organisations in recent weeks that this is an ongoing problem. It has to be rooted out and I ask that the Department make all efforts to ensure that the commission of investigation can get up and running with Mr. Justice White as quickly as possible.
I understand the frustration with the delays to the commission, partly due to the Covid-19 crisis. These frustrations have been discussed previously with the former Minister, Deputy McEntee, and myself. The commission has undertaken considerable preparatory work and is endeavouring to advance its work in areas where separate criminal proceedings will not be jeopardised. The Deputy will be aware that the terms of reference were drafted with the probability of further criminal trials in mind and an awareness that this was likely to cause delay.
However, it is important that all individuals who make claims of abuse get the opportunity for their case to be heard. I do not want to jeopardise other criminal proceedings. The working pattern of any commission of investigation is a matter for the commission itself and it would not be appropriate for me or the Minister to advise the commission as to how it should conduct its work. I fully understand how important this work is and that it is important it progresses. There are restrictions within which the commission operates. I can only continue to urge all victims and survivors to engage with the commission and, in particular, Mr. Justice White, who I know is committed to exploring all avenues to advance the work of this commission.