Probe after thousands of confidential farm documents found on Tuam roadside

Tuam electoral area councillor Karey McHugh who brought the abandoned documents issue to public attention.

Tuam electoral area councillor Karey McHugh who brought the abandoned documents issue to public attention.

The Galway County Council and the Data Protection Commissioner are to launch investigations in to what is being described as “a very serious incident” where a large number of confidential documents from the Department of Agriculture were found dumped outside Tuam. The rubbish was discovered strewn along a large portion of the Athenry Road near Ballyglunin.

Tuam electoral area councillor who Karey McHugh brought the matter to public attention says the litter constituted herd numbers, maps, application forms, and payslips which contained names, addresses, and dates of birth. “This is very serious, people’s personal information was clearly legible. Why was this here? Why hadn’t it been disposed of correctly? We need to find out how this happened, where this information came from, and how and who by it was accessed.’’ Councillor McHugh added that she wanted to compliment the local litter warden for his quick reaction to the complaint.

County cßouncil director of services for the environment Jim Cullen said if it was possible for the council to find out who was responsible for the littering and to gather satisfactory evidence, it may be in a position to prosecute.

Local Fine Gael councillor Tom McHugh saw the rubbish and to his eyes it had all the hallmarks of being an accident. “I am only speculating but to me it didn’t look like it was done on purpose. It was a single bag and I thought it looked like it had fallen off a truck. If it was done deliberately, it was vandalism of the highest order.’’

Athenry senator Lorraine Higgins has welcomed the involvement of the Data Commissioner in investigating the matter. She is warning farmers to be on their guard for any contact from strangers. “The Data Protection Office has contacted Galway County Council in order to try and identify the data controller and to take the necessary steps. At this point, I would advise farmers to be wary of any unsolicited communications, by phone, text or otherwise that they receive. 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.’’

Meanwhile, speaking at Monday’s local authority meeting, Ballinasloe councillor Aidan Donohue said dumping was not a new problem but it had become even more widescale. He wants a new approach to be taken to dissuade people from littering. “There needs to be harsher penalties for people found dumping. They need to know they’ll be punished. We should launch an advertising campaign about this, to show people we mean business.

Connemara representative Tomás Ó Curraoin believes the issue is not being raised enough and inquired if more cameras could be installed at dumping blackspots. “It is all over the place and there isn’t a word about it. It’s terrible what’s going on. People have no regard at all for the countryside, you go out walking along bog roads and there is rubbish everywhere. It’s absolutely terrible what is going on.’’

Fianna Fáil’s Donagh Killalea remarked that he was disapointed that Galway City Council had stopped accepting paint cans at its recycling centre in Liosbaun and it was now a huge problem for people to get rid of paint cans.

Director Jim Cullen said it was disappointing that illegal dumping continues but it was a national problem and not exclusive to Galway. “We had some success with covert surveillance cameras and we continue to use them but they are expensive to install and deploy, and unfortunately we cannot have them everywhere we need them due to the cost issue. I will finish by saying the appropriate and correct disposal of waste is the responsibility of the individual and people have the option of using an authorised service provider.’’

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