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Mick Wallace to sue Alan Shatter

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
Alan Shatter and Mick Wallace
Alan Shatter and Mick Wallace

INDEPENDENT TD Mick Wallace has launched a civil action against former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter for disclosing private information about him on RTE’s Prime Time.

The Wexford TD intends to sue Mr Shatter personally and the State for damages for revealing on television that he was stopped by gardai and was cautioned for use of a mobile phone while driving.

Dublin law firm KOD Lyons, acting on behalf of Wallace, have initiated proceedings and have now filed a plenary summons in the High Court on this matter.

It is understood the civil action will contend that during a televised debate on the penalty points issues in May 2013, Mr Shatter, then Minister for Justice and Equality, misused his office for political gain.

Efforts to speak directly to Mr Wallace were unsuccessful.

However, Gareth Noble, of KOD Lyons and the solicitor on record, confirmed that papers were lodged in the High Court central office in recent days. 

“The civil case arises out of the then Minister for Justice's disclosure on the Prime Time programme about personal information he received from the former Garda Commissioner in relation to Deputy Wallace,” he said.

“The disclosure arose out of political debate on policing and the penalty points issue,” Wallace's lawyer added.

The action, which is still at its earliest stage, is titled “Wallace V MJE & ORS”. Court records list the plaintiff as Michael Wallace and the defendants are: MJE, Ireland, the Attorney General and Alan Shatter.

Following a complaint by Mick Wallace, the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) carried out an investigation and found that Shatter, who resigned last May, had breached the Data Protection Act by revealing Mr Wallace's personal information. 

The controversial Wexford TD had complained that his personal information had been improperly disclosed by Mr Shatter when as Minister for Justice and Equality, he appeared on RTE's Prime Time programme, for a debate on the penalty points controversy. 

During the programme, Shatter alleged Wallace had been stopped and cautioned for use of a mobile phone whilst driving. The DPC found that this information had been conveyed by the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to Mr Shatter in his capacity as Minister.

The information was "personal data" but was lawfully passed on to Shatter under the the Garda Siochana Act, 2005, which lets the Garda Commissioner keep the Minister fully briefed on matters they feel should be brought to the Minister's attention. 

However, the watchdog agency decided that Shatter breached the data legislation by later disclosing the information about Independent TD Mick Wallace when both men appeared on RTE’s Prime Time. The DPC decided the Minister was bound by the data protection laws to comply with its requirements in regard to use of the personal data which he had obtained from the Garda Commissioner.

Mr Shatter unsuccessfully appealed that decision in the Circuit Civil Court, contending that the commissioner erred and had pre-judged the matter before he made his finding.
In January, Judge Jacqueline Linnane upheld the data protection commissioner's findings. The Circuit Court judge said the DPC had considered the matter fully and had taken into account the arguments put forward by the Fine Gael TD, that fair procedures were followed and reasons were given for the final decision.

The judge also ruled that Shatter did not have standing to bring the appeal, as the DPC's decision had been made against him in his capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality, and not as an individual citizen.

Mr Shatter has since lodged an appeal to the High Court over Judge Linnane's decision.