Shatter accuses gardaí of treating Pulse like ‘social website’

Former justice minister expresses concerns about inappropriate access to information

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has suggested members of the Garda routinely use the Pulse database as a "social website" to obtain "gossip" about individuals.

The Pulse system is the Garda’s computer database that is used to record crime, the processing of prisoners and traffic management. Members of the force are not permitted to access it for personal use or to disclose data to third parties.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Mr Shatter expressed concerns in relation to members of the force accessing the system and feeding information about individuals to the media.

He cited the case of Socialist Party TD Clare Daly who was stopped by gardaí on suspicion of drunk driving in 2013. She was later found to have been under the limit, but the incident was leaked to the press after she was brought to a Garda station.

“I thought it was entirely wrong when she was brought to a Garda station when it was wrongly believed - and I emphasise wrongly believed - that she was under the influence of alcohol, that all of that leaked into the papers and became a big issue,” said Mr Shatter.

“What isn’t generally known is that I raised that issue with the Garda authorities and I expressed concern as to how that came about. An issue around the Pulse system had already been a matter of concern and I asked what security was maintained on the system to ensure it was only appropriately used.

“I was subsequently advised that over 150 members of the force had access to the Pulse system. Some of them seemed to think it was some sort of social website that they could look up for gossip purposes.”

He said it was “absolutely correct” that gardaí involved in the event - as well as their superior officers - would have access to the information, but “not gardaí across the country”.

“I asked the Garda Commissioner to ensure controls were put in place to make sure it wasn’t inappropriately accessed,” he said.

“One of the investigations that Gsoc has been engaged in that gave rise to controversy recently, arose out of a complaint that Deputy Daly made as to how that information got into the public domain.

"They were also investigating how some of the background circumstances relevant to the tragic death of Katy French also found their way it into the public domain.

“My concern at the time was that in relation to reports on both those issues, they were more about prurient interest than public interest. That was a particular issue. I would hope now that the Pulse system is only ever appropriately accessed.”

A spokeswoman for the Garda said it had “a process to assess compliance with data protection guidelines” for all access to the Pulse System.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter