Against a backdrop of objections from councillors and a vocal public protest outside the County Buildings on Monday, CEO of Westmeath County Council Pat Gallagher has defended the council’s decision to hand over its tenants’ details to Irish Water.
Mr Gallagher said Westmeath County Council had a legal obligation to transfer the details and the move was in line with data protection legislation. In addition, had the information not been transferred, the council would have been liable to pay its tenants’ water bills.
A letter issued to councillors and council tenants late last week informing them of the move; however he said he regretted that confirmation of the transfer of details had been leaked to the media before these two groups were officially informed.
“There was no conspiracy; it was my intention to have this before you today,” said Mr Gallagher.
Cllr Sorca Clarke, who had a motion down requesting that the data not be handed over, said the transfer had taken place “without consultation or consent”, and argued that councillors should have been kept up to date on all correspondence with Irish Water.
“We as members have to answer questions about why this transfer has taken place,” she said, adding that the council had suffered reputational damage, as evidenced by signs carried by the protestors with slogans such as ‘This council cannot be trusted’.
Cllr Paul Hogan was admonished for leaking the news to the press after being made aware of the move at a meeting of the council’s Corporate Policy Group, held in committee, with Cllr Peter Burke calling it a “publicity stunt”. Cllr Hogan admitted that he regretted if his statement had interfered with the “choreography” of the announcement, but said he was disgusted at the “contempt” the council had shown to tenants.
“This transfer of information is a breach of privacy and equality. By making the decision not to consult with us and with tenants, they have taken the power away from us,” he said.