Just a single litter fine was handed out in relation to more than 600 cases of cars left abandoned in Dublin city over the last three years, newly-revealed figures show.
Local authorities around the country are known to be very concerned about the increasing numbers of vehicles which are abandoned in estates and on public roads for long periods, with taxpayers often left to foot the bill for their removal and destruction.
The figures have skyrocketed since 2014, when 227 vehicles were picked up and destroyed by removal firms acting on behalf of councils, reaching a peak of 820 in 2016.
This does not include data on destroyed cars from Offaly or Sligo county councils which was not available at the time of writing, meaning the overall figure is likely higher.
In Dublin, a total of 648 cars dumped on the city’s streets were picked up and destroyed by the council between 2014 and 2016.
Officials from a number of councils contacted by The Irish Times suggest the increase is expected to be even more pronounced in 2017. They suggest that low prices for scrap metal are the main reason for the increase in illegal dumping.
Cork County Council ordered the removal of almost 100 abandoned cars last year, up substantially from single-digit numbers in both 2014 and 2015.
Louth County Council destroyed 72 cars in 2016, nearly double the amount for 2014, and South Dublin County Council instructed contractors to remove and destroy 51 cars last year having not removed any for either of the two previous years.
The trend is particularly pronounced in major cities and counties surrounding the Dublin area.
The cost of removing cars ran into the tens of thousands last year, although some counties are more adept at recouping the money, such as Louth which doled out €4,170 in fines in 2016. However, this falls well short of the €13,195 the county spent removing and destroying abandoned vehicles between 2014 and 2016.
Responding to queries about enforcement regarding abandoned vehicles, a spokeswoman for Dublin City Council explained that many people suspected of abandoning cars agree to have them scrapped on consent. No punishment is imposed in such cases.
She added that the council operates a cost-neutral arrangement with contractors, whereby they keep the scrappage fees and do not charge for removal.
The substantial increase in vehicles destroyed in 2016 is thought to be partly due to a backlog created by poor enforcement among local authorities over the previous years, with some struggling to engage contractors due to budgetary constraints.
However, the overwhelming reason appears to be the plummeting prices for scrap metal witnessed over 2016, in particular.
Peter Kinsella from Westlink Recovery Services in Dublin says that while he used to be able to pay close to €100 for end-of-life vehicles this has now fallen to between €20 and €30 in most cases, meaning potential customers often opt to simply abandon their cars rather than dispose of them properly.
Mr Kinsella said a flood of cheap, often low-grade Chinese steel into the European market has dampened demand for Irish exports, and so recovery companies are now receiving about €50 per tonne of scrap metal compared with €150 four or five years ago.
Brian O'Gorman from the environment division of Kildare County Council, says the issue of abandoned cars is a headache for local authorities.
“People aren’t able to dispose of these vehicles or get value for them,” he said. “It’s causing a big nuisance in the localities. We’re working with the communities to ensure it’s zero tolerance in these areas.”
Mr O'Gorman said Dublin spill-over towns such as Leixlip, Celbridge, Maynooth and Kilcock have become particular blackspots.
Seamus Ahern from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council pointed to spiralling insurance costs for older vehicles as a potential factor behind the increase from 15 cars illegally dumped across the council area in 2014 to 52 last year.
Mr Ahern explained that registrations and other identifying details are usually stripped from the vehicles prior to their abandonment, making it very difficult to identify the illegal dumper.
Aside from vehicles being dumped because of their age, some are jettisoned because their foreign national owners have decided to return to their homeland.
Most tended to be aged between 15 and 20 years, but some luxury brands did appear on lists of destroyed vehicles released by local authorities, including a Jaguar, a 2005 Chrysler and a 2005 Audi A4, all of which were picked up in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area.
Makes and models
Dublin City Council did not provide a breakdown of makes and models of vehicles seized as requested, but the most prevalent brand among the 720 cars destroyed in other local authority areas was Volkswagen, followed by Ford and Nissan.
The single most dumped model of car according to available data was the Ford Focus, with the Volkswagen Passat and Nissan Micra also featuring prominently.
The Department of the Environment has in the past supported the rollout of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) drop-off points for used cars across the country.
A spokesman for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said it does not track the number of abandoned vehicles nationwide and that this is a matter for local authorities.
Green Party spokesman on local government Cllr Malcolm Noonan described the trend as “extremely worrying”, and said there needs to be more communication between State agencies regarding the removal of vehicles.
Mr Noonan also suggested that a financial incentive should be provided to encourage motorists to dispose of ELVs responsibly at licensed authorised treatment facilities.