Sharing of unproven abuse claims must have ‘legal basis’, says agency

Catholic dioceses refusing to share details of abuse suspects, citing data protection law

The Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children had told the Government data protection issues were creating a ‘very serious deficiency’ in the system set up to prevent clerical sex abuse. Image: Getty

The Data Protection Commission has confirmed it would be illegal for dioceses to share information on suspected clerical abusers with the Catholic Church's child safeguarding body.

On Thursday The Irish Times reported that the Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children had told the Government it could not maintain a central database of priests facing child abuse allegations due to data protection concerns.

The problem was creating a “very serious deficiency” in the system set up to prevent clerical sex abuse, the board said, according to correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The board told the Department of Justice that some dioceses and orders were not sharing information with the board or each other due to concerns about breaching data protection law.


This created a “significant obstacle” for the board’s work with potentially “devastating consequences for children”, it said.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Data Protection Commission said there must be a legal basis for sharing personal data between organisations.

“It is understood that in this instance the data it is proposed to share would include personal data relating to the alleged commission of offences and details of criminal convictions.

“Given the sensitivity of such data, particularly where it relates to unproven allegations of child abuse, data protection law extends special protections to this type of data and requires that the highest safeguards are put in place when such data is being processed and shared between organisations.”

It said any organisation proposing to share such information must ensure it was in compliance with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

The safeguarding body has repeatedly asked the Government to grant it powers to record the personal details of priests facing allegations, to prevent the “otherwise inevitable risk” of members of the clergy moving to other dioceses, where authorities would be unaware of the allegations.

The Government has rejected the request and said any issues could be resolved through “instruction, training, vetting,” and consultation between religious bodies and Tusla.

Officials also had cautioned against a private, unregulated body being granted extensive powers to hold personal and sensitive data.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times