Dáil Éireann - Volume 623 - 05 July, 2006

Written Answers. - Financial Confidentiality.

Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that anti-terrorist agencies in the USA have been monitoring all money transactions between the US and Ireland since 2001; if the Government was informed of the illegal activity at any time; the steps the Government propose to take to protect the confidentiality of citizens here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26874/06]

  Mr. Cowen:As I indicated yesterday in reply to a question on this issue from Deputy Michael D Higgins, it is my understanding from media reports that the US authorities have had access, for the purpose of identifying terrorist financing, to information from a Belgium-based and financial industry owned company with US offices that operates a worldwide messaging system used to transmit electronic messages among banks to facilitate financial transactions.

If it was the case, as has been reported, that the subpoena was served on the banking consortium’s US subsidiary, then the monitoring in question — especially with the knowledge of the consortium that owns the network — on foot of a subpoena, would appear to be a matter of US law.

The Government were not aware of the data transfer until these reports were published in the media.

The Deputy may wish to note that the activities of this financial intermediary are overseen, but only in so far as they relate to financial stability, [1008] by a committee drawn from the major central banks under the leadership of the National Bank of Belgium.

As regards the wider issue of access to data on financial transactions, I would remind the Deputy that, while there is a strong general principle that confidential banking information should not be disclosed to third parties, this principle may be over-ridden where there are compelling public policy considerations — for example where breaches of the criminal law arise. For instance, in Ireland, banks are obliged to report any suspicions of an offence under the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 to the Gardaí and the Revenue Commissioners.