Illegal dumpers accused of ruining beauty spot

Westmeath residents want action after an increase in littering in north of the county

Litter on the banks of Lough Sheelin, Co Westmeath.

Litter on the banks of Lough Sheelin, Co Westmeath.

 

For the last eight years Michael Farrell has been bringing anglers out on Lough Sheelin.

He used to start his tours from Sailor’s Garden, a well-known beauty spot on the Co Westmeath side of the lake.

However, in the last year he has moved location after illegal dumpers regularly started taking advantage of the secluded area.

“It looks awful. I don’t know if it would put them off fishing but it’s not nice. I bring guys out from Finea instead, up the river.

“It increases my costs as it uses more petrol and is more time-consuming. At the end of the day I am working on very tight margins, and this doesn’t help.”

Farrell , who first raised the issue of illegal dumping on the shores of the lake with local paper the Westmeath Examiner 12 months ago, says incidents of illegal dumping have worsened over the last two years.

“I’d say they [the illegal dumpers] are not coming very far. I don’t know who it is, but in all fairness people probably don’t drive miles and miles to do it.”

Cllr Una D’Arcy, a member of Westmeath County Council who lives in the village of Fore about 10 miles from Lough Sheelin, says there has been a marked increase in littering in north Westmeath in recent years.

Public money

“Out in the area that we live in people are finding needles, nappies, condoms, beer bottles, glass; it’s just every kind of waste.

“Civic amenity centres are not expensive. In actual fact, a lot of the stuff that is being dumped would be accepted for free . . . Public money is used to fund these amenity centres and further public funds are used bringing people to court.”

She says most people that engage in illegal dumping are “smart enough” to ensure there is little or no incriminating evidence left in their rubbish.

Due to the high level of proof needed and the costs associated with bringing a case against a suspect illegal dumper, many local authorities are reluctant to use their limited resources chasing what are often lost causes.

In 2015, Westmeath County Council brought 15 people to court in connection with illegal dumping and none were convicted.

Westmeath is one of a growing number of local authorities that have started using mobile CCTV in a bid to deter people from illegal dumping.

The current penalties for illegal dumping range from €150 for an on-the-spot fine to €3,000 if you are convicted in a District Court.

Named and shamed

If someone is caught in the act by CCTV and subsequently convicted Ms D’Arcy and many of her council colleagues believe they should be “named and shamed”.

However, the executive recently informed them that due to data protection concerns this would not be possible

In neighbouring Co Longford, Cllr Gerry Warnock tabled a motion at the council’s December meeting calling on the Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten to consider establishing a “domestic waste disposal inspectorate”.

This would see an inspector going to people’s homes, much like a TV licence inspector, to seek proof that they were disposing legally of household refuse.

“The deterrent is not there, and enforcement of legislation is certainly not there,” says Mr Warnock.

“When it comes to local authority prosecutions they don’t seem to be interested. There doesn’t seem to be the same sort of seriousness or application of the law like there would be for an organisation such as Revenue.

“If you don’t pay your VAT or whatever tax, nine out of 10 times they will come down full fury on top of you.”