Dublin litter wardens at risk of ‘serious assault’, says council chief

Owen Keegan highlights difficulty of cracking down on litter louts due to attacks on staff

Dublin City Council's litter wardens have been subjected to "serious assaults" when trying to issue fines to offenders, the local authority's chief executive has said.

Owen Keegan said the litter enforcement system is "ineffective", "unproductive" and puts council staff at a "high risk" of being attacked.

Mr Keegan was responding to requests from councillors for a crackdown on litter louts, including those engaged in illegal dumping of bin bags and dog owners who fail to pick up when their pets foul on the capital’s streets.

“The reality is the system of enforcement doesn’t work,” he said.

“We don’t have a right to require people to identify themselves or prove the identity they give us. The people involved in serious dumping when they are tackled by a litter warden just give us an incorrect name and that’s the end of it, because there is nothing we can do.”

In addition, he said savvy illegal dumpers were “no longer putting identifying documentation in the bags”, which meant the council ended up “picking on the odd old lady or some innocent who doesn’t know how the system works”.

When the council did manage to issue a fine, if it remained unpaid it was extremely difficult to prosecute the offender, Mr Keegan added.

“Our experience of bringing people to court is very unsatisfactory.”

Black spots

Speaking to councillors representing the city’s central area, parts of which are frequently identified as litter black spots, Mr Keegan said that asking council staff to tackle “serious offenders” was putting them at an unacceptable risk.

“In the really serious black spots we have had an issue about serious assaults on litter wardens when they challenged people. It is very difficult for me to put people into a situation where there is a high risk they will be assaulted.”

A Garda spokesman said information on assaults against litter wardens was not available as the “occupation of a given person would not be recorded as part of an assault investigation”.

Legislation allowing local authorities to use CCTV to combat fly-tipping has been approved by the Cabinet and is due to come into force by the end of the year. "That may help us identify people all right, it may be that there will be an improvement in the enforcement options, but short of having Garda Síochána accompany us, it is difficult. It's a very frustrating experience," Mr Keegan said.