Rising tide of rubbish triggers call for more bins, better behaviour

Recent Portobello experience in Dublin is but an example of Ireland’s rolling litter crisis

When Aoife Mulqueen took her West Highland terrier for a Sunday morning stroll last weekend she had to step over human excrement in the lane behind her house.

Moments later she had to carefully weave through a sea of broken glass dumped by people who had come to enjoy Covid-19 lockdown sunshine the previous night in Portobello, on the banks of the Grand Canal.

On a street close by to Mulqueen’s home, there was a sign pasted to the gable wall of a house which resonated with her. “Please don’t pee here,” it read. “This is someone’s home.”

The plaintive poster was posted on Twitter this week by Fine Gael Cllr James Geoghegan who also shared images of bottles, cans and empty pint glasses discarded on the canal’s banks.

Images followed of bins overflowing with the flotsam and jetsam of a weekend night out in Dublin. Geoghegan’s tweets attracted considerable attention with blame quickly apportioned.

Dublin City Council was blamed for not providing enough bins, while city manager Owen Keegan was at the receiving end of diatribes that he is spending too much on cycle lanes and not enough on waste collection.

Meanwhile, the the finger was pointed at the gardaí for not arresting miscreants, while publicans were criticised also for attracting people to the area, and serving those who did, in compliance with lockdown rules

And it went on. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were blamed for championing home ownership and not, as a result, teaching those who did not own homes to cherish public spaces.

Some people suggested those who left the rubbish there in the first place were actually the ones who were primarily responsible for the mess that was created. But, curiously, that view was in the minority.

Describing her Sunday morning experience as “grim”, Mulqueen is slower than she might be to condemn those responsible.

“I actually have sympathy for them. Let’s face it no one really wants to poo in some alley somewhere,” she says. “And I don’t mind anyone hanging around drinking as there tends to be a jovial atmosphere and it has been such a long lockdown.”

People should bring their rubbish home and be responsible for their own actions, but “to focus on that right now is not constructive and will do nothing to resolve the situation in the short term. We need to have a bigger conversation about that but you are not going to change people’s minds over the next two weeks. The council needs to step up and do whatever is needed now,” she adds.

Others, though, are less forgiving.

“In the past people would wait for the weather to be warm before gathering by the canal but Covid has made them hardier,” said another local, anonymously, beyond the point of infuriation.

The size of last weekend’s crowds were “off the Richter scale”, says Dublin Bay South TD Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan. “[Locals] tend to be quite relaxed, but the problem now is not so much the drinking but people urinating in public. There are rows developing and it is very chaotic,” he says. But the Fianna Fáil TD sees little hope for resolution while society remains closed and people are not allowed to even meet in each other’s gardens.

“We need to recognise that restrictions have consequences and one of those is people are congregating in enormous numbers.”

However, Cllr Geoghegan says the waste now being dumped in Portobello and others places that are attractive during lockdown sunshine has “never been seen before”.

Rubbish left behind

People should show more “ cop on”, he says. “There is no way most of these people would have a few cans and a pizza on a Spanish beach and then just leave all the rubbish behind them. So why are they doing it close to home?”

The Portobello experience is but an example of Ireland’s litter crisis, where too many people ignore the rules, where the State fails to impose those rules and where too many others stay silent.

Citing example after example of bins overflowing in the Phoenix Park, the Royal Canal and elsewhere, Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie told the Seanad this week that “we are not ready for an outdoor summer”.

“Fingal County Council tell me that they have never seen anything like [it],” she said. The Senator added that councils and the Office of Public Works must provide more bins, and empty them more regularly.

Echoing the Senator, Dublin City Cllr Claire Byrne of the Green Party says “we are living outdoors. I don’t think we were really prepared for it, there has been an element of reckless abandonment that comes with living outdoors. Pick up after yourself, that is just basic social responsibility. We have to treat our towns and cities and public spaces like our back gardens.”

For its part Dublin City Council, which has 3,200 litter bins and 70 extra ones for hot spots, says the city “is experiencing unprecedented levels of littering at numerous locations”.

Staff are “working around the clock”, says director of the office of city recovery Colin O’Reilly. “But we can’t do it on our own. We need everyone to . . . play their part.

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