Bye-laws which will restrict or ban dogs from blue flag beaches in Kerry this summer were supported by a majority of councillors after management put forward the notion of safe corridors or “through-ways” at the rear of the protected areas.
These were narrow, signposted areas through which dogs on leads may pass to surrounding non-blue flag areas, according to a presentation to the monthly council meeting.
However a number of councillors questioned the practicality of the solution, given the tidal nature of beaches.
The restrictions on Kerry’s fourteen blue flag beaches, to comply with international guidelines on the annual blue flag bathing award do not allow dogs or horses in blue flag areas between the hours of 11am and 7pm from June 1st to September 15th .
These hours are aligned with lifeguarding on Kerry beaches, the meeting heard.
The initial proposal in March met with strong reaction, as some councillors and the public believed it was a ban on dog walking and would apply to all beaches, the meeting heard.
But director of services with Kerry County Council John Breen said on Monday blue flag beaches made up only 2 per cent of the Kerry coastline and dogs were “ not being banned”.
In Rossbeigh, the blue flag area where dogs and horses would be restricted accounted for around 20 per cent of the total, he said.
The blue flag beaches amounted to defined portions of larger areas, Mr Breen outlined.
Dogs could access the non-protected parts of the beach providing they were on a lead on these “through-ways”, he said.
However , the practicality of the corridors when the tide was in was questioned and Cllr Michael O’Shea (FF) asked : “If the dog fouls 15 yards out from the blue flag area and the tide comes in and it carries it out to the blue flag area how can you enforce that?”
Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae believed the corridor proposal would not stand up to scrutiny by An Taisce inspectors.
“The whole beach on either side could be full of dog foul,” he said. An Taisce would want to ban people next, he added.
Horses would have to be facilitated also as they were important for tourism in west and south Kerry the meeting was told.
“Pony trekking and horse trekking is a big attraction in South Kerry;” Cllr Johnny Healy Rae said.
The vast majority of the 51 submissions from the public on the bye-laws were strongly opposed to the restrictions, saying tourism would be affected along with the common local practice of dog walking on beaches.
However a small number agreed with the ban on the blue flag part of the beach and said it should be extended all year round .
Greater enforcement of breach of dog fouling laws was called for in a number of cases.
Dogs were “family members” according to one submission, vehemently opposed to the ban; while another said humans did more harm than dogs.
The North Kerry Environment Forum asked for the ban to be extended to all beaches in Kerry.
The risk from hurling on the beach in north Kerry was raised with sliotars said to pose a danger and the North Kerry Environmental Forum asked if beach guards could prohibit the activity.
Kerry is consistently awarded among the most blue flag beaches of any area in Ireland. As with other local authorities it is now being asked to implement the Blue Flag regulations with regard to domestic animals which are backed by the World Health Organization.
Rossbeigh, popular for both horse riding and dog walking, will be among the popular strands most impacted.
“The rationale for restricting access of domesticated animals to beaches is that amongst the most common hazards in bathing waters are microbial pathogens introduced by fecal contamination from humans and animals,” An Tasice’s Ian Diamond previously explained.
An Taisce administers the Blue Flag award programme in Ireland on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education (Blue Flag | Foundation for Environmental Education (https://www.blueflag.global). The criteria in relation to dog restrictions are in place in the 50 countries globally that operate the programme, Mr Diamond said.
Other provisions in the new bye-laws, the first since 2013, 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 included.
Breaches could result in fines of just over €1,900 on conviction in the District Court. And an increase on the fixed penalty charge to €75, is being proposed.
Kells, a small beach, has been exempted and council CEO Moira Murrell gave a commitment to review the bye-laws after this season.