Ireland still in a flap over nuisance seagulls, says Senator

Ned O’Sullivan unruffled by ‘mockery’ as UK council now imposes fines for feeding gulls

Senator Ned O’Sullivan believes seagulls are problematic in cities. Photographs: The Irish Times/Courtesy Fianna Fáil

Senator Ned O’Sullivan believes seagulls are problematic in cities. Photographs: The Irish Times/Courtesy Fianna Fáil

 

While it was initially treated as a joke, more politicians in Ireland and abroad are beginning to take note of the problems caused by seagulls, a Fianna Fáil Senator has said.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan said when he initially raised the issue in the Seanad, it was not taken seriously.

In July 2014, Mr O’Sullivan said the birds had “lost the run of themselves completely” in the capital and were keeping people awake and attacking young children.

“It was treated as a joke and a silly season story,” Mr O’Sullivan told The Irish Times on Monday. “At the time, I was subjected to almost vilification and lampooned,” he said, adding that the problem remains a serious one in Ireland.

As well as the “aggressive behaviour” that has been reported, seagulls are problematic in cities, said Mr O’Sullivan, as they target black rubbish bags and are “constantly scattering litter and refuse all over the street”.

Since he raised the issue other politicians have found the courage to make a statement, he said, pointing to former British prime minister David Cameron’s comments on the topic.

In 2015, Mr Cameron said a “big conversation” was needed about the threat from seagulls. And he recalled ham once being stolen from a sandwich by the birds.

One council in the United Kingdom has recently introduced measures that would lead to seaside residents and holidaymakers being fined for feeding seagulls.

People who feed the often aggressive animals could be hit with an £80 fine as part of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) issued by East Devon District Council.

As in Ireland, there has been much debate in Britain about how to tackle what has been described as a “scourge” on seaside areas.

Habitual feeders

While gulls are an important part of the coastal environment, their behaviour can be problematic, said East Devon District councillor Iain Chubb.

He said: “You like to see the birds, it’s a nice part of the landscape, but you just don’t want them to be aggressive.”

The fines will be aimed at addressing habitual feeders and cafes and restaurants which do not dispose of waste food properly, he said.

“It’s more a fine for where there is, say a catering establishment with bad practice of disposing of food, or there are little old ladies who like to go down and feed the seagulls,” said the councillor.

Other Irish politicians to raise the issue since Mr O’Sullivan’s comments include Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford Lea, who said in March that the birds remain a “very big problem” in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

“I have seen at first hand these aggressive birds attacking people,” she said. “Children and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to attack from seagulls.”

In response, Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring said seagulls were protected under Irish and EU law. He acknowledged that certain coastal areas had substantial numbers of seagulls.

He indicated his department would review the annual wild bird declaration, which would need to include seagulls and allow for certain measures to reduce populations in these areas.

Though the regulations do not allow for the removal of nests or eggs, Mr ring said he would look at introducing an amendment to allow for this.

The implementation of any programmes to reduce seagull numbers would be done at local council level. “It is my understanding that programmes aimed at addressing seagull issues in UK coastal towns were led by the local councils,” he said.

Additional reporting: PA