As European Capital of Culture for 2020, Galway may be known as a city of fun - but not if you love dogs, kicking a ball about or climbing trees.
Dog owners and charities have reacted strongly to proposed new bylaws which would ban canines from running free without a leash in the city, while also prohibiting informal kick-abouts, tree climbing and picking flowers, among other activities.
The draft rules, which have been put out for public consultation, would apply to the city’s 36 parks, six beaches and 21 playgrounds.
Several petitions have been initiated in advance of the deadline for public submissions on October 6th.
The Control of Dogs Act already stipulates that restricted breeds must be on a short leash at all times and must be muzzled in public places.
However, some local authorities like Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown make provision for some freedom, with “off-leash” areas in Marlay, Shanganagh and Cabinteely parks, and on Killiney hill.
Galway has existing bylaws dating from 2008 which restrict dog-walking on four city beaches during the summer months.
The city is now proposing a more rigorous approach under the new bylaws, with a €75 fine for any dog owners who allow their pet to run free in a park or public place. Fines could reach €1,900 on summary conviction.
Similar penalties could apply to skateboarding or the use of roller-blades, skates and bicycles in parks, as well as the use of model aircraft, sailboats or any “model mechanically-propelled vehicle”.
Climbing trees, shrubs or fences, plucking flowers or fruit and activities such as football and athletics in non-designated areas are also covered by the legislation.
Galway resident Norma Shortall was injured and in a neck brace for six weeks after an off-leash dog tried to attack her collie-labrador Benjie.
“If the other owner had taken control of their animal, that might not have happened, but I would also hate to see dogs not having any freedom,” Ms Shortall said.
“Most dog owners are very responsible, and I think the council should focus on ensuring that existing legislation is enforced – rather than imposing more restrictions,”she said.
Dog owner Cathy Tarmey, who lives in Rahoon, said she would hate to think her Jack Russell and Akita husky could not have a free run in nearby Cappagh Park.
“Dogs can be a great social opener, and I would far prefer to see children mixing with dogs under supervision than being afraid of them,” she said.
Dog minder Gabriela Soskova of Big and Small in Tobar Odhráin said strict legislation in her home country of Slovakia had resulted in "a whole generation of dogs that are not socialised".
“Most dog owners are very responsible about training and socialisation, and simple measures like different colour-coded leads could help to improve interaction in public places,” she said.
She also said Galway badly needed a designated dog park.
Galway Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) spokeswoman Marina Phillips said the council should place more emphasis on education rather than on restriction.
“If a dog is not exercised, it has a lot of pent-up energy, which can cause problems,” she said.
“Too many restrictions could also increase the number of dogs ending [up] in the pound, and it is already pushed to capacity.
“Most dog owners are very responsible, including those of restricted breeds, and most of the calls we get relating to bad behaviour relate to labradors or spaniels, which are family-type dogs.”
Madra, the Galway-based dog rescue and adoption service, intends to make a submission on two aspects of the proposed bylaws, relating to dogs on leashes and the ban on restricted breeds in public places.
“On occasions where parks and open spaces are particularly busy, it is advisable for dog owners to keep their dog on a leash, but there are many responsible dog owners who are able to control and exercise their dogs off leash,” she said.
Madra also opposes a blanket ban on restricted breeds in public places as “excessive”, and said exercising these animals solely on paths could create an animal welfare issue.
Some city councillors, such as Fianna Fáil's Michael Crowe, have described some of the bylaws as "absolute madness", while Fine Gael's Pádraig Conneely said that some protection of public parks and spaces was required.
“I think a common-sense approach will be taken when submissions are considered,” Mr Conneely said.
Labour councillor Niall MacNelis said there was no point in passing something that could not be enforced, as had occurred with bylaws on drinking.
“Galway City Council brought in bylaws last year restricting alcohol consumption in public spaces, and then we found no fines had been issued.
“When we inquired, we were told it was because the Garda hadn’t received the necessary docket books to implement the penalties . . . ”