Solicitors condemn Donnelly’s ‘slur’ about lawyers ‘licking their lips’ over HSE hack

Law Society calls it a ‘blatant attempt to insult the integrity of an entire profession’

Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly said he found it ‘very distasteful’ that lawyers were advertising over potential litigation relating to the hack.  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly said he found it ‘very distasteful’ that lawyers were advertising over potential litigation relating to the hack. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Comments from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly suggesting lawyers were “licking their lips” at the prospect of suing the State over the HSE data hack, have been described as a “slur” on the profession.

Micheál O’Dowd, a Co Cork solicitor who specialises in data privacy cases, said he assumed he was the target of Mr Donnelly’s comments, following a blog post written earlier in the week about the cyberattack.

In an open letter to the Minister, Mr O’Dowd said the cyberattack was a “horrible act, by horrible people”. However, he said the HSE had failed in their role as “gatekeepers entrusted to keep the data safe”.

The comments about lawyers licking their lips was an “offensive characterisation,” and a “slur on the profession as a whole,” Mr O’Dowd wrote.

“Our job as lawyers is to make people aware of their rights, and assist them in getting access to justice,” he said.

People had suffered damages, such as having appointments or tests cancelled, as well as “non-material damage” as a result of worry and anxiety, due to the cyberattack, he said.

Mr O’Dowd called on the Minister to inform individuals if their data had been “obtained by nefarious actors, so that they can mitigate any harm that may be caused to them.”

In a blog post on Monday, O’Dowd Solicitors asked people whose medical appointments had been cancelled or delayed, to provide their contact details via an online form, advising them they “may have a cause of action.”

People who had concerns their data had been misused due to the cyberattack were also invited to fill in the form.

In a statement, released on Friday afternoon, the Law Society - the representative body for solicitors in Ireland - said Mr Donnelly’s comments were a “blatant attempt to insult the integrity of an entire profession that exists to provide access to justice for all citizens”.

Director General of the Law Society, Mary Keane, said the intervention, which was made on Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday, was: “unacceptable, extremely damaging and, to use Mr Donnelly’s words, ‘distasteful’”, adding that the intervention “can only be seen as an effort to deflect the narrative away from the challenges the Minister is currently faction”.

Speaking on the show on Thursday, Mr Donnelly said some law firms were “licking their lips” at the prospect of law cases against the State. “I have seen some legal firms already advertising, potentially licking their lips at the thought of being able to sue the State.”

“We saw the same with the vaccine programme, we had online materials being published by law firms talking about future law cases that patients would be able to take against the State”.

He said he found it “very distasteful”.

“We have been attacked as a nation, our patients and the HSE have been attacked,” he said, during a segment on the hack and the potential for patient data to be leaked online.

Ms Keane said Mr Donnelly should “issue an apology to all solicitors in Ireland for this inaccurate description of the profession, which is in fact grounded in values of integrity, respect and trust.”

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly did not immediately respond to a request for comment.