In August 2017, on the foot of the Government’s anti-illegal dumping initiative, launched by the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten, funding was made available to Galway County Council to instigate a major clean-up of illegal dumping around Gort. This resulted in a blitz clean-up involving Galway County Council and many members of the Gort and wider South Galway communities. Everybody was very optimistic!
Local councillor Joe Byrne indicated at the time that this initiative would give confidence to local people that Galway County Council takes the issue of illegal dumping seriously and was looking forward to the installation of CCTV and barriers on both the Pound road and Kinincha – two rural lane ways to east and west of Gort River. He called on Galway County Council to ensure that culprits caught in the act of dumping are dealt with severely through the legal system. That was August 2017, about 15 months ago. Today, tragically, the same area is like a war zone.
The situation today is astounding on 2 fronts. Firstly, the level of illegal dumping that goes on in the area is off the charts. There are freezers, fridges, washing machines, household rubbish, nappies, food, tyres, old caravans, broken microwaves, furniture, etc. The rubbish is spread across a road frontage of 150m and as this stage would easily cover 1000m2
This is not a small-scale random dumping – this is one of 2 fully-functioning illegal dumps – within an urban environment – This is so outlandish and unbelievable that any town in the country, in Europe even, would be left in this state
Secondly, what’s even more astounding is Galway Council Council’s lack of response to this. There have been repeated calls from our local Councillors to fix this situation but unfortunately, most of the hard work and cost clearing up the place 15 months ago has been rendered useless!
In fairness to Galway County Council and the 2017 clean-up operation a gated access was installed further down the pound road which has worked – it is just that all the dumping is happening now before that gated access – not very surprising really.
This illegal dumping is a scourge on communities and county councils all over the country. Galway County Council is not to blame for the illegal dumping, but it is responsible (via its Environment Section) for prevention and enforcement and the lack of response here has enabled the development of an illegal dump within an urban center while there were commitments of simple solutions which could have prevented this. The responsibility here is also not at local/field area level because they are the ones literally on the ground dealing with this all the time but they need the support from head office.
There seems to be a lack of communication and confusion within the council – For instance, from continuous requests for progress on monitoring of illegal dumping in Gort – the response from Galway County Council in May 2018 was “there are technical problems with CCTV, but when resolved, Gort would get priority” – that was 8 months ago and was in relation to security within the GCC network – but this hasn’t been resolved. However, in the photograph below we see an installed CCTV monitoring station (with solar panels) that very few people were aware of (including some of our County Councillors) and the local Environment Warden didn’t even know if they are working or not – (they aren’t). It feels like the Environment Section of Galway County council needs a wake-up call.
Needless to say that the confidence the community were supposed to get after the August 2017 clean up has been significantly diminished.
Some local residents out for walk on St. Stephens day, came across potential illegal dumping in progress at this site and subsequently lodged an official complaint. We’ll see now how Galway County Council responds – and if they will take it seriously. We’ll also be able to see how this works its way through the system. Will it really end up in a prosecution and will a fine actually be paid or, is it our legal system that’s causing the issue here? Without prosecutions and significant fines, there will be zero confidence in enforcement mechanisms and Galway County Council Environment Enforcement will be rendered impotent – and then its a free-for-all for our illegal dumpers!
My own main reaction to this is disgust and secondary is embarrassment – I’ve taken these pictures on this page, but I was embarrassed to put them up online, because I think it shows our community in bad light. Then I thought to myself – hang on – our community is not responsible for this. We don’t want this illegal dumping – As a community, we’ve done everything within our power to stop it and we’ve spent 100s of hours clearing rubbish up down the years and have been continuously highlighting it and fighting it.
The issue of illegal dumping has been brought it up time and time again with local Councillors, in public consultation as part of the Gort Local Area Plan (2013 – 2019) Strategic Environmental Assessment and it was a major topic on the recent (Nov 2018) County Galway Joint Policing Committee. This was also highlighted to Galway County Council in Nov2018 as part of a delegation from the Gort River Walk Group and subsequently highlighted in the Connacht Tribune and Clare Champion as well as on Galway Bay FM.
There is a huge frustration that this has been allowed to happen, time and time again and that as a community, we feel powerless to stop it from happening. We’ve been highlighting it for years and in 2017, with the tidy-up and then broken promises of restricted access and CCTV – it’s allowed the situation to develop again. There seems to be a blind-spot in Galway County Council for this type of illegal dumping. Not at the local area level, as they have been instrumental in the previous clean up – but when it comes to resourcing this kind of effort. As a community we know that this can be fixed with very minimum cost and resources but this lack of action or conviction on part of Galway County Council is not saving money or resources – it’s wasting it and frankly we’ve run out of patience.
Losing an Amenity
The pound road has been used for years as a walking and cycling trail – it’s a wonderful walk that takes you down close by Gort River.
As the only way to access this now is to walk through the illegal dump many people have stopped using this route – the rubbish is just too disgusting and as there is every type of waste here – this will attract vermin. Gort, unfortunately, has lost a valuable amenity.
There is also recent initiative within the town to develop and promote a Gort River Walk but there is a huge challenge here due to the level of rubbish along the river close to the potential route
This illegal dumping also has an effect on tourism. Gort has recently been included as part of a Wild Atlantic Way loop which will increase the Tourism potential. However, if you arrive to Gort by train then the Gort train station is just 70m away from this ‘war-zone’ – What does this say about our town if this is the first thing you see?
“The Gort River walk has potential for visitors and the community. The illegal dumping on the Pound Road & Kinincha ( both along the river, is unacceptable). It is imperative that the situation is addressed immediately”, said Karen O’ Neill, director of The Burren Lowlands Group, which is involved in promoting regional tourism and has been very active in in securing a loop off the Wild Atlantic Way and other projects.
From an environmental side, the main illegal dump extends to just 10m from Gort river. However, as the litter is uncontained – winds and storms ensure that many items of rubbish will end up in, or next to the river which is very unsightly but where it can be detrimental to our wildlife.
The Gort river system is part of an extensive Karst network in South Galway and is connected directly to Kiltartan, Coole-Garyland and Kinvara through swallow holes and underground rivers. This system is very sensitive to rubbish build-up and illegal dumping can cause damage to this ecosystem (clogging Swallow holes) and increase flood risk.
Galway County council has a responsibility to protect this waterway and this is specifically called out in the Gort Local Area Plan.
It is the policy of Galway County Council to support the conservation and enhancement of natural heritage and biodiversity, including the protection of the integrity of European sites, that form part of the Natura 2000 network… The protection of natural heritage and biodiversity, including European sites that form part of the Natura 2000 network, will be implemented in accordance with relevant EU environmental directives (Policy NH1 – Natural Heritage and Biodiversity, Gort Local Area Plan)
The key issue is that enables this horrendous situation to develop is unmonitored, unrestricted and unmaintained access to this area. Not only can people just pop in and get rid of their rubbish, but they can also drive overland and dump it where they like, and they know they won’t be caught. However even if they are caught – will it really matter? Will anything happen (At time of publication we have a Freedom-Of-Information query to Galway County Council looking for the number of prosecutions for illegal dumping)
The maintenance aspect is a big issue because it seems that there were barriers installed (in the wrong area) and CCTV installed (in the wrong area) – but these have both been damaged and not repaired – giving open season to the dumpers as is captured in the image below.
Note: The reason it’s a wrong area for access is that it’s too far down the Pound road and people simple dump before the access. If CCTV is going to be installed, then it needs to be inaccessible from someone with a sweeping brush standing on the back of a pick-up truck.
This isn’t rocket science – it’s just being pragmatic about how this should be approached. The solution for Gort should be :
- Simplify and restrict access
- Monitor the access and site
- Maintain the access and monitoring station regulary
- Prosecute people if they are involved in illegal dumping
Simplify and restrict access
There have been some access restrictions further down the Pound road and this has seen a big improvement in the level of illegal dumping there – so .. it works … it just needs to be gated earlier. Firstly, current access gates need to be brought closer to the station road and installed properly. This access would need to be discussed with the necessary stakeholders and land owners, but it could be seen as a replacement of an already existing (but broken) barrier. As this is a potential amenity road, it would be good to ensure pedestrian access, footpath also.
Even with this new gated access, the land access in proximity to the site will also need to be restricted so people cannot just drive onto land and dump stuff there. Simple mounds or stone barriers should suffice to restrict land access.
Monitor the access and site
Then we need CCTV/monitoring. These need to be installed high-up and be tamper-proof, very similar to what is in Gort Train Station at the moment.
Maintenance of the access and site
This one is simple, if something breaks, fix it immediately. If a camera is too exposed – move it, or better still add another camera!
According to Galway County Council :
Leaving or throwing litter in a public place is an offence that can be subject to an on-the-spot fine of €150 or a maximum fine of €3,000 if you are convicted of a litter offence in the District Court. You can be issued with an on-the-spot fine by a litter /community warden appointed by your Local Authority or by a member of the Gardaí. n such instances, direct prosecutions should be brought against the alleged offender.
Where large-scale illegal dumping occurs, Galway County Council feels that the on-the-spot fine of €150 is not sufficient. In such instances, direct prosecutions should be brought against the alleged offender.
With public awareness and the proposed CCTV, we can catch people in the act of illegal dumping but in order to be efficient we need fast follow up fines and prosecutions.
In Dec 2018 in the Galway Advertiser – Galway County Council took out a full page Ad titled “Galway County Council tackles illegal dumping” and showed the same scenes that we have seen in Gort in the 2017 clean-up – a dirty ‘before’.. and a clean ‘after’. However, from our experience here in Gort, there is another ‘after’ where all that cost and effort is undone as the illegal dumping continues.
It is estimated that this will take between €15,000-€20,000 and a lot of Galway County Council time and resources and community action to remove this illegal dump and clear up this area and more for Kinincha.
This worsening situation was highlighted by the Gort River Walk group and shortly before Christmas Councillor Joe Byrne reiterated his call on the illegal dumping in Gort where he asked specifically about when working CCTV systems will be installed on station road and Kinincha road.
We are looking for a definite commitment from Galway County Council to tackle this problem quickly and thoroughly – and this means ensuring the problem doesn’t just move down the Kinincha Road.
Broader than that we need to ensure our County Councils are supported at all levels to tackle this issue and have more streamlined legal processes to enforce this issue. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton said recently that illegal dumping is first and foremost a matter of individual responsibility and compliance with the law. He said while enforcement action in this area is a matter for local authorities, his Department is planning a review of its Anti-Dumping Initiative is underway which will inform a 2019 anti-dumping work programme that will place an increased emphasis on those who facilitate the unauthorised movement and disposal of waste.
“On 18th Dec, I was informed that a method to remotely monitor footage from CCTV installations whilst ensuring the integrity and safety of the Councils network is maintained has been agreed and the CCTV programme may now proceed.”, stated Councillor Joe Byrne. “In this regard I am now in communication with Ann Dolan, Head of Enforcement, Environment Services and as Cathaoirleach of Loughrea Municipal District, I have the matter included on Agenda for our next meeting on 10th Jan 2019.”
We’ve spoken today to some members in Galway County Council (who have visited the site before the Christmas and reacted with the same levels of disgust) and it also sounds we have a watershed moment and the beginnings of a wheel turning here – but we need to hear Galway County Council commitment loud and clear.
We intend to meet with Galway County Council in January 2019 to highlight our intolerance to this situation and seek commitment on the 4 key aspects of the most effective solution for both Pound and Kinincha roads.
- Simplify and restrict access –( Install new gated access immediately and in conjunction with landowners.)
- Monitor the access and site – (Install tamper-proof CCTV station immediately)
- Maintain the access and monitoring station regularly
- Prosecute people if they are involved in illegal dumping – there is a complaint submitted.
Let’s hope that 2019 gets rid of Gort’s Illegal Dump. To play your part if you want to highlight this as an issue then please offer your opinion/complaint on the illegal dumping then phone 091 509510, click firstname.lastname@example.org to create email template, or fill out an Environmental Complaint Form. It’s time to give voice to this!
- Galway County Council Litter Management Plan 2015 – 2018