Investigations to examine why farmers’ files found on Galway roadside

Thousands of documents were strewn along a 10km section on the Athenry Road

Thousands of documents from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were found on  Athenry Rd out of Tuam, Co Galway. Photograph: Andy Newman

Thousands of documents from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were found on Athenry Rd out of Tuam, Co Galway. Photograph: Andy Newman

 

Three investigations are now underway into how thousands of documents containing farmers’ personal details ended up on a roadside outside Tuam, Co Galway. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and Galway County Council both said they were investigating the incident. The Agricultural Consultants’ Association also said it was trying to get to the bottom of the incident.

The documents strewn along a 10km section on the Athenry Road, were first noticed on Sunday evening. Many of the documents relate to the Rural Environment Protection Scheme which was run by the Department of Agriculture. They contain details such as farmers’ names, addresses, herd numbers, payment details and maps of farms. Many of the farmers appear to be from the local area.

Discarded documents also included letters from farmers to the Department, laboratory results on soil samples and breakdowns of farmers’ entitlements and payments. One document contains a signature with a 1991 date while another detailing the breakdown of a farmer’s payments was dated 2010.

The Department of Agriculture said it understood the papers were the property of a private agricultural consultant, not the department, and said the county council is dealing with the matter.

A spokesman for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner said the office had not received any breach notification under the code of practice in relation to the incident. If someone handling personal data believes the code of practice regarding data protection has been breached, they are obliged to inform the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

“The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has now commenced an investigation into the matter,” he said.

A spokesman for Galway County Council said the council had been alerted to the matter on Sunday evening. “The community warden service responded to the call and visited the location, confirming the presence of a range of documentation,” he said.

“The documentation was removed early on Monday 26th January 2015 by Galway County Council and an investigation by the environment unit of Galway County Council is currently ongoing. The outcome of the investigation will determine the appropriate course of action to be taken.”

The Agricultural Consultants’ Association, which represents independent agricultural consultants, said it too was trying to establish the facts of the situation. Its president Tom Dawson said he did not know where the documents had come from. “Our members abide by a code of ethics,” he said. “This flies in the face of our code of ethics but I cannot say any more until we have established what happened.”

Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins welcomed the news that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner was investigating the matter. “At this point I would advise farmers to be wary of any unsolicited communications, by phone, text or otherwise that they receive,” she said.

“They should be particularly vigilant of getting letters or phone calls out of the blue or people contacting them with some of their details and hoping to elicit more information from them.”