The Irish Farmers’ Journal kindly printed a letter I sent to them. Farmers work in an industry where the free market could be left to operate, food costing its full economic price; but so do teachers, doctors, nurses, arts and heritage staffs, and many others whose work could be left to the free market. No-one publishes details of evey Euro of teachers’ salaries, or doctors’ fees, why pick on farmers?
The Irish Farmers’ Journal of 25th April reported that, in the Department of Agriculture’s publication of payments received by farmers through the provisions of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy, beneficiaries would be listed by name and municipal district, there being ninety-five municipal districts in Ireland. Anyone with experience of rural Ireland would know that such information would make many people instantly identifiable, some surnames are quite distinctive and their appearance together with their district would mean anyone accessing the information would immediately be aware of the identity of the person and the amount they had received.
The proposal as it stands is contrary to the rules set down by the European Commission. The Commission Implementing Regulation of 6th August 2014 “laying down rules for the application of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to paying agencies and other bodies, financial management, clearance of accounts, rules on checks, securities and transparency” states in Paragraph 35,
“In accordance with point (b) of the first subparagraph of Article 111(1) of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 the publication of the beneficiaries of the Funds is required to identify the municipality in which a beneficiary is resident or is registered. This information should also be made available in respect of beneficiaries that are natural persons and whose names are not to be published in accordance with Article 112 of that Regulation. However, if, due to the limited number of beneficiaries residing or registered in a given municipality, the publication of the municipality would have the effect of identifying a beneficiary that is a natural person provisions should be laid down to avoid disproportionate and unnecessary violations of privacy.”
The regulation is quite clear, the limited number of beneficiaries in each municipal district means that the publication of that municipal district would have the effect of identifying beneficiaries with distinctive names and those responsible must make provisions to avoid disproportionate and unnecessary violations of privacy. If the Department of Agriculture wishes to publish information on the basis of municipal districts, the only way to do so, without violations that are contrary to European Commission regulations, is to publish payments to all beneficiaries against reference numbers rather than names. There would be the transparency regarding the spread and the scale of the payments, whilst the privacy of individual people would be safeguarded.
People unhappy with the proposed publication of names should urge the Minister to observe the Commission’s regulations.
As the Government has been so eager to observe other European regulations, perhaps it might observe this one.