2. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the date on which the Data Sharing and Governance Bill will be introduced; the number of staff in his Department tasked with its drafting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47609/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: This question asks when the Data Sharing and Governance Bill will be published and the Minister to indicate the number of the staff in the Department tasked with drafting it. I accept that this is a busy time in the Department in terms of finance and the drafting of other legislative measures.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Patrick O’Donovan): The draft general scheme of the Data Sharing and Governance Bill was approved by the Government and published in August 2015. The purpose of the Bill is to promote and encourage data sharing between public bodies by providing a statutory framework for data sharing for legitimate and clearly specified purposes that are compliant with data protection law and to improve the protection of individual privacy rights by setting new governance standards for data sharing by public bodies.
Pre-legislative scrutiny hearings on the Bill were held in April and May by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. Officials of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and representatives of civil society groups with an interest in the area of digital rights and data protection attended the hearings. The committee published its report in July. Work is well under way on the drafting of the Bill which will be informed by the findings and recommendations contained in the committee’s report. The Bill must also take into account the provisions of the EU general data protection regulation which was published in April 2016 and will come into effect on 25 May 2018.
The Government reform unit in the Department is responsible for progressing the Bill. In conjunction with other duties, three members of staff of the unit, in consultation with colleagues in the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, are working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of the Bill. The Minister intends to submit the text of the Bill to the Government for approval to publish and commence passage through the Oireachtas by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: A number of concerns were raised during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. In particular, some concerns were raised by Digital Rights Ireland, which is expert in the area. One of the concerns was related to how the public service shared e-infrastructure should operate and whether it would be incorporated into the Bill. Another concern was related to how the issue of access to underlying data would be addressed and that access should only be supplied to respond with answers to a predefined and pre-approved set of queries. These were just a few of the concerns raised. Are they being taken on board? Will the Minister of State give us an indication of the exact changes or the scope of the changes that will be made in the final Bill as opposed to the heads of the Bill?
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: The Deputy is correct. There were many recommendations made, of which the Department is cognisant, as is the Data Protection Commissioner, and they were taken into account in many of the discussions which took place following the committee’s report. Yesterday, on behalf of the Department, I started consultations with the Opposition spokespersons, Deputy Dara Calleary, Deputy Pearse Doherty this morning and Deputy Joan Burton, to ensure the matters raised by the Opposition would be considered. That process will take time, but work to have revised heads of the Bill placed before the Government is at an advanced stage. As soon as they have been approved by the Government, the Bill will be able to proceed through the House. What we all want, including the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, is to ensure the maximum support from all parties. It is common-sense legislation which will allow the Government to offer a more streamlined set of services in a manner that will not in any way undermine people’s rights or the complexity and overarching rules of data governance, of which we are very cognisant. The recommendations made have been taken into account and further engagement will take place.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: The Minister of State will be aware that there are 15 or possibly 17 sitting days before Christmas. It would be beneficial to have Second Stage completed before then. If we could have the Bill published, it would allow Members the Christmas break to formulate amendments for Committee Stage. We all want to see the Bill pass through the House as quickly as possible as it is important legislation. It is unfortunate that we are in a time of the year when the number of days left is getting smaller with each passing week. If it would be possible to have the Bill published and passed on Second Stage before Christmas, it would be helpful.
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: We welcome the Deputy’s support. He is correct. The regulations from the European Union are time sensitive and we want to make sure we progress the Bill. Because so many concerns were raised at the committee, we want to make sure we will bring people with us and address their concerns as best we can and in as inclusive and an holistic way as possible. It is on the Government’s agenda as a priority matter and the revised heads of the Bill will be brought to the Cabinet as soon as they have been completed. We hope to see the Bill being put before the House as soon as possible afterwards. The Opposition’s support, especially in making time available in this and other House, would be very welcome. We are as anxious as the Deputy to ensure the Bill is passed as quickly as possible.