Blue flag beaches must be kept dog-free, An Taisce says

Local authorities advised of international health and safety standards on bathing areas

Coastal counties across the State will have to take steps to ensure dogs are kept off their blue-flag beaches if they are to retain the coveted international environmental award, An Taisce has advised.

Dogs, except assistance dogs, are already banned from Ireland’s 93 blue-flag bathing areas, under criteria set down by the international Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

An Taisce, which operates the blue-flag programme in Ireland has been requested by the FEE to advise local authorities they must meet the rules of the programme if they are to retain their flags.

"The award criteria in relation to dog restrictions are international criteria that are in place in the 50 countries globally that operate the programme," Ian Diamond, An Taisce's coastal awards manager, said. "Ireland is an outlier in that not all local authorities would have bylaws or other rules governing the access of animals to beaches."

An Taisce has contacted local authorities to advise they take steps if they wish to meet the FEE criteria, which state: “Dogs or pets, other than assistance dogs, are not allowed on a blue-flag beach or in the blue-flag area if it is part of a larger beach.”

Faecal contamination

The rule applies when the flag is flying during the bathing season which begins on June 1st. The objective is to keep dogs separate from areas used by bathers during bathing seasons, for health and safety reasons, Mr Diamond said.

“This criterion is imperative in all regions where blue flag is operated. The rationale for restricting access of domesticated animals to beaches is that among the most common hazards in bathing waters are microbial pathogens introduced by faecal contamination from humans and animals,” he said.

“The FEE has asked us to undertake an extensive programme of putting local authorities on notice that they must meet the criteria for blue flags to fly a blue flag . . . We have asked local authorities that they formulate plans for bringing in rules, if they don’t already have rules [with] which [they] comply.”

Meanwhile, some politicians in Kerry have said horses will also be banned from Kerry beaches apart from early morning and late evening.

‘Nanny state’

If the rules are not adopted, Kerry will lose some of its blue flag awards, director of Kerry’s services for beaches and water John Breen said.

Promenades and car parks outside the beaches will not be affected.

There has been strong reaction and Fianna Fail councillor Johnny Wall, former mayor of Tralee, who was co-opted onto the council seat vacated by Minister for Education Norma Foley when she was elected to the Dáil, said he could not support the proposal.

Fianna Fail’s Mikey Sheehy said it had the hallmarks of the “nanny state” .

Independent councillor Jackie Healy-Rae, a dog owner, said he feared for the tourism economy. Those with mobile homes on Banna beach would have to keep their dogs “locked up” between 11am and 7pm each day, he claimed.

Dog owners looked at places that were dog-friendly in selecting destinations, he warned.

He described the provisions as “heavy-handed”. Other provisions in the new bylaws make it an offence to fail to comply with a lifeguard’s directions, and a ban on the use of certain inflatable water devices. Restrictions on lighting fires in dune areas are also being proposed.