We want litter and dog dirt issues sorted — not more ‘awareness campaigns’

In his weekly column John Dolan looks at the scourge of littering - and asks if an awareness campaign announced by County Hall is really going to have any impact
We want litter and dog dirt issues sorted — not more ‘awareness campaigns’

Overflowing bins with bags of rubbish at Myrtleville, Co. Cork, Ireland. Picture; David Creedon / Anzenberger

“SAY what you like about Mussolini, at least he made the trains run on time.”

Semi-apologists for fascism often state this to excuse his murderous tendencies... hey, even a dictator has his good points!

It’s historic bunk though, as the Italian’s impact on railway punctuality appears to have been negligible. However, it’s a quote worth adapting when it comes to our own local governance.

“Say what you like about our councils, at least they empty the bins and get rid of the dog muck.”

Alas, just like Mussolini pulled the wool over the eyes of railway commuters, Ireland’s councils appear to have a similar blind spot when it comes to some of their most basic functions.

Take dog fouling — a major irritant and a health hazard for walkers and cyclists nationwide.

In February, we learned the astounding fact that just FOUR fines for dog fouling had been issued by Cork City Council in more than TWO DECADES. Up in Dublin, its city council doled out just two such fines in all of 2020.

For the sake of fairness, we should point out some councils are more vigilant: In 2018 alone, Cork County Council issued 426 fines to dog owners and pursued 95 through the courts. This shows it can be done, so why are so many councils so lax on it, given — as all local newspaper reporters and councillors know — it is frequently cited as a major problem?

Then there is the issue of litter, and specifically the number of bins around the place and how frequently they are emptied. Another huge public bugbear.

However, when the problem was presented to Cork County Hall Chief Executive Tim Lucey this week, he came up with an answer that angered many.

Mr Lucey ruled out providing more bins to ease littering issues, stating: “If I had my way, I would have no bins around the county as I feel it only encourages people to leave litter. No matter how often we empty our bins, there will be people who will leave their rubbish at the side of a bin.”

It seemed an abject acceptance of defeat from the head of the local authority. Surely this is not an insurmountable problem?

It seems clear from recent photos, highlighted by this newspaper and on social media, that rubbish is building up around bins because they are full, and thus should be emptied more often.

This isn’t litter dumped on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere, it is placed beside an over-full bin — yes, people should take it home, but had there been room in those bins, the litter would surely have gone into them.

This issue has been worsening for years now, and the recent good weather, along with the relaxing of Covid restrictions, has sent many of us fleeing to the beaches and walkways of our glorious county.

These eyesore dumps of rubbish are an ugly blot on the landscape, and here is the County Council’s Chief Executive admitting defeat and stating he would be throwing no more money at the problem.

What made this more hurtful was the fact we had witnessed local democracy in action. People had complained to their councillors, who had brought the matter to the council as a matter of urgency, demanding a solution, only to have the door slammed in their face.

If the local authority appears to be turning its back on the problem, it only puts more pressure on our hard-working tidy towns groups and local activists, who have resorted to doing the job of the councils to keep their areas litter-free and pristine.

One councillor said that 14 bags of rubbish had been picked up in Crosshaven over a 24-hour period last weekend. Mr Lucey’s refusal to provide more bins will surely only pile more work on these civic-minded shoulders.

There were no shortage of suggested constructive solutions at this week’s meeting either. Cllr Danny Collins called for “more staff on the ground” and Cllr Karen Coakley wanted “enhanced powers” for litter wardens, while Cllr Marcia D’Alton said compactor bins should be installed,

Bizarrely, Mr Lucey would be happier with no bins at all!

He did offer up some solutions in regards to businesses doing more to reduce littering, and maybe he has a point, but it looked like he was passing the buck.

Then the usual solution was offered up: yet another public awareness campaign.

Great! We can’t have more bins emptied more often, but we will get a lecture on littering: one the law-abiding majority will heed with a sigh, while the message goes in one ear and out the other of the litterbugs amongst us.

Education rather than enforcement, they say, while the rest of us shake our heads as we know it will not make a jot of difference. Education rather than enforcement is just another way of saying words rather than action.

In what is surely a triumph of hope over experience, Mr Lucey announced: “We will be starting a public campaign. It will appeal to the hearts and minds of Cork people to show more respect. We are not throwing more money into this. We will work on people’s senses.”

But the senseless minority have no shame and won’t listen.

This had echoes of yet another public awareness campaign announced this week by Cork County Council, to combat dog fouling.

They could make a bigger effort to punish offenders, or examine a scheme rolled out in Leitrim to use dog DNA to trace offending dogs and their owners. Instead, they are sending out the message ‘Please pick up after your dog’.

Yeah, good luck with that.

******

I have written here before that Ireland is perhaps the worst nation in all of Europe when it comes to devolving real powers to local government.

In most countries, strong local councils are the bedrock of society, but our Government jealously lords its power over them, while ironically, handing over most of the big decisions to Brussels.

Add in the unholy mess of a Seanad the people really should have abolished a decade ago, and you are left with a creaking power structure barely fit for purpose.

And you are left with councils that appear so far removed from their own people and elected councillors, that they too often seem happy to wash their hands of the few issues within their remit.

The weakness inherent in our local governance will only be illuminated further in the coming years, when, inevitably, the Local Property Tax (LPT), or Household Charge, begins to increase.

This tax, which helps to fund essential local services such as parks, libraries, maintenance and cleaning of streets, is very low in Ireland compared to other nations, making up just 1.5% of Irish GDP, compared with 4% for our nearest neighbours, France and the UK.

We should really be paying €2,000 a year here, and as the dust settles from the pandemic, I expect the tax to rise steeply. Maybe then more power will be devolved to local government and it will start to tackle bread and butter issues that really hack off the public.

Tackle them... not issue anther public information campaign.

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