Litter survey ‘bringing negativity’ to Cork communities: Calls for review of methods

Of 40 Irish towns and cities surveyed, Mahon ranked 31st, and Cork City centre ranked 32nd. Cork’s northside came in at 37th.
Litter survey ‘bringing negativity’ to Cork communities: Calls for review of methods

A CORK City councillor has called on Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) to review the methodologies of its litter surveys, claiming its reports do not compare like for like. Picture Denis Minihane.

A CORK City councillor has called on Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) to review the methodologies of its litter surveys, claiming its reports do not compare like for like.

In the latest IBAL survey, the city centre and Mahon were considered “littered” in 2021, while the northside of Cork City was “heavily littered”.

Of 40 Irish towns and cities surveyed, Mahon ranked 31st, and Cork City centre ranked 32nd. Cork’s northside came in at 37th.

Speaking to The Echo, Sinn Féin councillor Kenneth Collins said he believes the surveys should exclude suburban areas and solely focus on “the big urban city centres” where he said more resources are concentrated.

“It’s bringing nothing but negativity to the communities that we represent and that we live in,” he said of the low ranking for Cork’s northside.

Mr Collins was also critical of the scoring system IBAL uses.

“How they do their scoring system is based off the last report, so if you had two previous bad reports, you’re guaranteed to get a bad report, even if it’s spotless,” he said.

He said the survey also includes many tourist towns and claimed that these areas are more likely to rank higher because of greater resources.

“We’re up against the likes of Killarney and Ennis, where they invest more money because of tourists,” he said. “A city and a small town are completely different — it’s apples and oranges.”

Another Sinn Féin councillor, Mick Nugent, echoed this opinion. He said the IBAL surveys previously looked at Farranree and that following engagement with IBAL, this was excluded, as the party felt it was unfair to single out one area. “We were successful getting Farranree taken out of it, but we were never on board with the whole of Cork northside being put in,” he said.

“IBAL say they highlight areas to improve them, but maybe IBAL needs to look at ways they can concretely help local communities as well,” he added.

Council comment

In response to the latest survey, Cork City Council said the classification of the city centre as littered “does not take into account the hard work and dedication of the city council’s street sweeping crews who are out seven days a week from early morning to late in the evening”.

It said the survey results need to be read in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has put “severe strain on local authority resources, given the large amounts of waste and increased footfall across our cities”.

It said the rankings of Mahon and Cork northside are also disappointing, “given the very significant efforts by both the local communities and the local authority in these areas”.

Cork City Council said during 2021 it received funding under the Anti-Dumping Initiative, and that this was used to target illegal dumping in a selection of problem areas using measures including establishing CCTV at strategic points, awareness campaigns, door-to-door interaction with people in the area to establish what waste collection service they have, gathering information on possible dumpers, and free bulky goods collections.

The council added that while it has a role in the upkeep of the public realm, “an element of personal responsibility with regards to the dropping of litter must be brought to bear to resolve the scourge of littering and illegal dumping.”

The council concluded by stating that it will be reviewing the IBAL report findings “with a view to assessing what changes, further actions, or new initiatives that may be needed to help bring about better outcomes for the whole city in future surveys”.

IBAL comment

IBAL’s Conor Horgan said while the pandemic is a factor, it alone cannot explain an ongoing negative trend of cleanliness.

“There’s no doubt that the survey results do need to be read in the context of Covid-19, but I would just make the point that they have deteriorated on the last survey, which was also done during Covid,” he said. 

“Too often we’re seeing the same sites heavily littered, and no indication that they’re really being addressed.”

In relation to the scoring system used, he said the scores from the most recent visit account for 66% of an area’s overall score, with the previous visit accounting for 33%.

“If you have a very good report this time around, it will not appear as a bad report just because of what happened previously, because it’s weighted to the most recent report,” he said.

He concurred that “resources are probably too concentrated in the city centre”, adding that “people in the suburbs have the same right to a clean environment as people shopping and working in the city centre”.

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