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The Department of Foreign Affairs has a secret file on Shergar

I’m not sure I really need to say much more than that here.

Seriously, a secret Shergar file, from the Irish Embassy in London. Who could resist?

The info in file 3/175 runs from 1983 to 1984.

I guess, seeing as Iveagh House isn’t going to tell us, we’ll have to rely on Tesco to spill the beans.

I’m sorry, I can’t tell you about the weather. It’s a secret.

Dealing with these files sometimes throws up questions of balance. After all, you can see why personal data relating to job inquiries or sometimes even sensitive family matters such as adoptions shouldn’t be released heedlessly into the public domain.

But in 2013 the Department of Foreign Affairs decided that file 250/1048, containing “Meteorological Data” covering the years 1953-1981 should be kept secret. The Certificate cites Section 8(4)(a) which requires that the file being withheld shouldn’t be released because it

(a) would be contrary to the public interest,

How this relates to the weather reports from the middle of the last century, and why the Dept of Foreign Affairs kept such a file remains, of course, a mystery.

What? It was just some perfectly normal fertiliser we were getting the Army to test

This is doubtless just your standard fertiliser to make daffodils and such bloom even more lovely. It’s just that, for whatever reason, the Department of Justice thinks that the details of what happened between 1978 and 1981 when they explored the manufacturing of fertiliser by getting the army to test it are still not ready to see the light of day, some thirty years later.

Three days that shook the CSO

I have no idea what happened over the Halloween Bank Holiday weekend of 1971. I mean, I’m sure lots of things must have happened. But whatever it was that happened in the “Central Statsitics Office Establishment” that weekend, the Department of the Taoiseach thinks that thirty years isn’t enough time for us to know.

These things are, officially, secret

I’ve written before about the Irish state’s love of all things secret. When I went rummaging in the legislation that governs how the state keeps things from becoming known I spotted one little moment in the chain when we could- at least obliquely- get a peep at what was being hidden from us.

Every year, the state’s agencies and ministries are meant to send their files that are 30 years old to the National Archives, where they are free for the public to examine.

Obviously, the state is frequently not really happy about this. So, every year, its agencies and ministries invoke the exceptions provided for in the National Archives Act so they can keep things they don’t want the public to see hidden from view.

But, to do this in line with the Act, they have to get a Certificate exempting each file from being released. And the Certificates have to, however briefly, describe those files.

So, just for starters, I FOI’d some of those certificates. Specifically, those issued between 2011 and the end of 2014. It took a few months of back and forth with the Department of the Taoiseach but I think, after a slight hiccup that delayed release for four months, the outcome was pretty good.

Here then, compiled into a single package, are all the Certificates exempting Irish state files from public scrutiny that were “signed by the Consenting Officer in the Department of the Taoiseach, in relation to the withholding of files by government departments/public bodies under section 8(34) of the National Archives Act 1986, between 1st January 2011 and 1st January 2015.”

Over the next week, I’ll be picking out some of my favourite gems from the pile of hundreds and hundreds listed across just those few years. And, though I might be busy with the arrival of a new baby at some point, do @ me on twitter @Tupp_ed if you see anything fun too.

You can also read the Irish Time’s reports on these files;

Shergar and phone tapping files withheld from public
Certificates reveal what files Government wants kept hidden

Full FOI on National Archive exemption Certificates

Direct download link: Full FOI on Certificates 2011-2015

After Schrems hearing, Government scraps Cloud Computing plan

Two days after the EU Commission admits to Europe’s top court that they’re not assured of the security of EU citizens’ data when it’s transferred to the US, Ireland’s government scraps their cloud computing plan.

I predicted the problems EU data protection law posed for Cloud Computing in this article for the Irish Times from 2009.

Digital Rights Ireland files Amicus Brief in Microsoft v USA with Liberty and ORG

Microsoft -v- USA is an important ongoing case, currently listed for hearing in 2015 before the US Federal Court of Appeal of the 2nd Circuit.

You can read about why this case is significant for Microsoft on their official blog.

However, as the case centres around the means by which NY law enforcement are seeking to access data of an email account which resides in Dublin, it is also crucially significant to Ireland and the rest of the EU. For that reason, Digital Rights Ireland instructed us to file an Amicus Brief in the US case, in conjunction with the global law firm of White & Case, who have acted pro bono in their representation.

Given the significance of the case for the wider EU, both Liberty and the Open Rights Group in the UK have joined Digital Rights Ireland as amici on this brief. We hope it will be of aid to the US court in assessing the significance of the order being appealed by Microsoft for EU citizens and European states, in the light of the existing US and EU Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

You can read the Brief here:

Amicus Brief Digital Rights Ireland, Liberty and ORG in Microsoft -v- USA

Microsoft v USA DRI, Liberty, ORG Amici Brief

Irish Water, PPSNs and the missing Minister’s agreement

When challenged on how it has the right to ask for people’s PPS numbers, Irish Water has said that it is a specified body under statute. This is a reference to Section 20 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2014.

This section did add Irish Water to the list of specified bodies set out in Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

S 262(4) and Sec 262(6) of the same Act are the ones which control what a specified body may do with a PPS number to verify a person’s identity with the Minister for Social Protection. Irish Water have said that this is the sole purpose for which PPS numbers are being collected.

This use is subject to prior agreement with Minister for Social Protection.

The Minister must be shown and must agree with the proposal for use and processing of the PPS number, on the basis (amongst other things) that it is necessary and proportionate under the general principles of data protection.

If the minister does agree that standard has been met then a specified body may then collect and process PPS Numbers-solely in line with that agreement.

No such agreement between the Minister for Social Protection and Irish Water is anywhere shown on the Irish Water website or on the Department of Social Protection website.

However, the Department of Social Protection has published a statement from Irish Water on its website saying that the agreement is still not in place, as of September 2014.

“This arrangement has not been finalized at this time but we are engaging with the DSP”

If there is no agreement in place with the Minister, on what statutory basis is the collection and processing of PPS numbers taking place?

Credit to Damien McCallig, who spotted this issue.

In support of superstition (pro tem.)

To say something is superstitious is to speak relatively. The concise Oxford dictionary provides an inadequate definition of superstition;

 “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings: a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, of a practice based on such a belief.”

Some people think any belief in supernatural beings is credulous; likewise any belief in supernatural causation. Other people disagree and need not cite religious reasons for doing so.

Avoiding walking under ladders is widely perceived as superstitious, as is the avoidance of pork in meals yet they have a clear practical basis. Men or their pots of paint may fall on you as you pass, or an intestinal parasite may infest you as you chew your pork crackling.

As for causation; who claims to know the causes of anything, comprehensively? (What, for instance, is the effect on us of the black hole in the centre of the Milky Way?)

Arguably, we have lost the knowledge of the harms we try to deflect when avoiding black cats, the use of the colour green or the throwing of salt over our shoulder when we spill the salt cellar.

Wikipedia is much more authoritative on the subject. See it HERE

Being Irish, I am attracted to the Roman Catholic statement quoted in the entry;

“To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. “

Being Irish, I recognise this in the secular world; many court cases are resolved in form only, not in substance. The recognition of this is seen in our hierarchy of courts.

We desperately need a functioning “court of appeal”, otherwise we will never get justice.

Reports of Compensation for PIP Breast Implant injuries

Today’s Irish Sun has, on its front page, a story suggesting that compensation will be given to women who were the victims of PIP Breast Implants injuries.

Today’s reports have been mostly focussed on an agent (not a solicitor’s firm) who are offering to act as a middleman between women and French lawyers who have had some interim success in suing a certification body under French law in the French courts for damages arising from the PIP scandal.

As an Irish firm, we don’t practice law in France, and can’t offer any women who are considering taking a case in France under French law any assessment of their case.

The case in France has been led by M. Aumaitre of Khan & Associés. We would recommend anyone who is considering whether or not they wish to take or join a case in the French jurisdiction, should speak directly to their French lawyer, whether that should turn out to be M. Aumaitre or any other lawyer they prefer.