The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a greater emphasis placed on the outdoors and with it, a debate as to how Ireland is managing its waste services. With more people spending time in their local parks as well as forests and mountain areas, incidences and issues surrounding littering and illegal dumping have returned to the national debate. With the government’s push for an outdoor summer and domestic holidaying, the longstanding issues surrounding Ireland’s relationship with waste and outdoor services has come in for scrutiny and criticism.
Government restrictions on indoor hospitality, coupled with improving weather has seen incidences of littering increase across the country. The issue is often raised online via social media drawing comments from both locals, and elected representatives. In particular, attention is often placed on the lack of bins in public areas along with a perceived lack of enforcement on the part of litter wardens. Discarding litter in a public place is subject to an on-the-spot fine of €150 or a maximum fine of €3,000 if convicted of a litter offence in the District Court
Using information gained through an Access to Information on the Environment request, the following article provides a breakdown on the number of litter fines issued across the four council areas in Dublin since 2019.
Despite being the smallest local authority in the county, Dublin City has the largest population with 550,000 residents as per the 2016 census. Covering most of the North and South Inner city along with large residentials areas such as Ballymun and Crumlin, the area has come in for increased scrutiny in terms of littering as popular spots for socialising such as The Royal and Grand Canal, along with the Phoenix Park, are within its administrative area. The council employs 13 full time litter wardens and since 2019, has seen a decrease in the number of fines issued by the council. This reduction in fines has coincided with a reduction in the number of litter bins and since 2005, the number of public bins maintained by the council has fallen from 5,000 to 3,200.
The largest of the four councils, Fingal county council comprises much of north County Dublin from Howth along the coast as far as Balbriggan, along with large urban populations such as Swords and Blanchardstown. As per the 2016 census, the population of Fingal county stands at 296,000 making it the second largest in terms of population. As it comprises much of the coastal North of the county, areas such as Howth, Portmarnock and Malahide have become popular destinations for people wishing to take advantage of the improving weather. Similar to Dublin City, the area has seen a reduction in the number of fines issued for littering since 2019 falling from 890 to 472 in 2020. The council employs six full time litter wardens.
Extending south-west across the county from Tallaght towards Rathcoole, Dublin South has the third largest population in Dublin with 278,767 as per the 2016 census. Similar to trends seen in the other council areas, the county has seen a reduction in the number of litter fines falling from 574 in 2019 to 371 in 2020. As is the case with Fingal, six full time litter wardens are employed by the council and despite the fall in the number of fines issued, the concerns of local residents, particularly in the areas around the Dodder River which flows north-easterly through the county, are often voiced. Local volunteer groups feel there is not enough enforcement in the area and that the fall in numbers does not reflect the reality of the situation in terms of littering and dumping in the area.
Taking in much of south-east Dublin including coastal neighborhoods such as Blackrock and Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown has the smallest population of the four council areas with 218,000 as per the 2016 census. The area has seen increased social activity given the popularity of coastal towns such as Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire with the issue of littering once again featuring in social media comments, particularly after the weekend. In contrast to the other three council areas, a high number of litter fines have been issued rising from 2,536 in 2019 to 2758 in 2020. Despite the high number of fines issued, the council employs the same number of litter wardens as Fingal and Dublin South, six.
In response to criticism in relation to the lack of public amenities such as litter bins and public bathrooms, Minister for Transport and the Environment Eamon Ryan announced the introduction of a new €15 million ‘Additional Outdoor Infrastructure Fund’ designed to provide additional resources for councils in anticipation of increased levels of socialising outdoors and in public areas this summer. Councils have taken steps to alleviate the issue of littering by introducing several large barrel bins in so called ‘litter hot spots’ along with investment in portable toilets.