The use of CCTV to monitor dumping such as instances pictured in Glynwood is being hindered by data protection concerns.

“Legal issues” block use of CCTV against local dumpers

The use of CCTV technology to prosecute those who engage in illegal dumping in the Athlone Moate Municipal District has had to be abandoned until legal issues raised by the Office of the Data Commissioner are resolved.

This was the stark message presented to councillors at their May meeting by the District Manager, Jackie Finney, who was responding to a question from Cllr John Dolan on the number of deployments of CCTV have taken place so far this year in the Municipal District.

Ms Finney explained that CCTV had been employed at two new locations in the urban area so far this year, but she added that the rollout of further CCTV cannot progress until “issues raised” by the Data Protection Commission are “addressed at national level.”

“As the situation now stands, we cannot use CCTV for the purpose which it is intended, and that is to detect criminal activity,” said the District Manager.

“This situation does not suit us either,” she added, pointing out that, while further deployment of CCTV is “being considered” she reiterated that this can only proceed “subject to the issues raised by the Data Protection Commission being addressed at national level.”

The meeting heard that CCTV has been employed at two locations so far this year, in early January at Fair Green and Connaught Street bottle banks.

The legal issues raised by the Data Protection Commission around the use of CCTV technology by local authorities could not come at a worse time for Westmeath County Council, which is battling an explosion in illegal dumping right across the county over the past year.

A recent meeting of the council’s finance committee heard that the local authority is spending “close to half a million” on direct clean-up operations as a result of illegal dumping, which was described by the Council’s Head of Finance, Jimmy Dalton as “a blight on our country.”

During a Seanad debate on March 5 last. Minister for State at the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage, and Longford/Westmeath Fine Gael Deputy Peter Burke outlined the difficulties local authorities are facing in the prosecution of littering offences through the use of CCTV Technology.

Deputy Burke told the House that the Commission for Data Protection wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in September of last year concerning data protection issues with the use of CCTV cameras for litter and waste enforcement purposes.

He said the Commissioner’s view was that, while the Litter Pollution Act and the Waste Management Act provide local authorities with powers to prevent, investigate, detect and prosecute littering and dumping offences, the Acts do not provide for the processing of images of members of the public using CCTV footage.

The Seanad was debating the Second Stage of a Labour Bill, the Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill, 2021, which aims to deal with the issues raised by the Data Protection Commission.