Dublin City Council chief Owen Keegan said on Monday that the council had finished its investigation into whether staff misused information about homeless campaigner Erica Fleming. In short: nope.
In August, the Sunday Independent reported that Fleming had turned down offers of accommodation through the housing assistance payment scheme, known as HAP.
Some councillors – concerned this was an attempted take-down of an outspoken voice – asked how the newspaper had seen her file. Council managment said it was investigating the leak.
Prompted by a motion from Anti-Austerity Alliance Councillor Michael O’Brien, Keegan told councillors at their monthly meeting on Monday that the council’s head of human resources, Gerry Geraghty had looked at the relevant documents and interviewed all officials who would have had access to Fleming’s file.
“He is satisfied that the information held in DCC in relation to Miss A was treated in accordance with its obligations under the data-protection legislation,” he said. “(…) That is essentially the result of the inquiry that we carried out.” (Keegan told councillors he was happy to circulate the report.)
Social Democrat Councillor Gary Gannon – who got a confusing written response from the council on Monday night, which said the investigation was ongoing – said he thought the reputation of the council had been harmed.
“What’s effectively at stake here, is this city council has been accused of maliciously using information on one of our services users to discredit her in a public forum,” he said.
He asked the manager if there would be follow up with the Sunday Independent about that, if it wasn’t true. (The first article didn’t say it came from the council, but noted that it was a council report. A second column did say it came from the council.)
“I will certainly have a look at whether we should communicate with the Sunday Independent in relation to the suggestion that we made personal information inappropriately available to them,” said Keegan.
On Tuesday, Erica Fleming said she hadn’t yet received a written outcome from the council yet.
O’Brien of the Anti Austerity Alliance said that one next possible step for Fleming would be to go back to the Data Protection Commissioner, and see if it will launch an investigation, now that the council has had time to complete its own.
After all if Dublin City Council didn’t leak the information, who did? Was it passed legitimately by Dublin City Council to a government department, and spread from there?
On Monday, councillors agreed to O’Brien’s motion, which said that the council deplores the fact that confidential information about a homeless applicant became public, and also a call to national government to amend the HAP scheme so that those who sign up aren’t moved to a slower social housing list.