Sunday 23 October 2016

Terry Prone: I'm not suggesting floggings, but a litter crackdown is needed

Terry Prone
Terry Prone

Nothing like selling your own nationality down the river, I thought, when I read Senator David Norris's attack on Irish people for being collectively filthy.

Not in person, mind you. Senator Norris didn't have a word to say about how often we shower or how frequently we use deodorant. He never went near the toothbrush issue.

Instead he was too busy giving out yards about the Irish as litterbugs. He talked of black refuse sacks without tags on them, abandoned outside buildings. He left unsaid the fact that those black refuse sacks, after a few hours in the sunshine of the last few days, emit a stench so vile as to make passers-by gag, but he didn't leave much unsaid.

"We are a genuinely filthy nation," he told the Seanad last Wednesday. "We are a filthy race of people."

Imagine, I thought. Imagine him bringing Dublin into public disrepute at the height of summer, when our capital is full of visitors? The tourism people must just love him.

Tsk, tsk, I thought, as I left the office to stand in the early morning sunshine in our tiny street-side garden. Five minutes later, when I climbed the steps back into the office, I was going tsk tsk for a quite different reason.

Because I was carrying overnight litter abandoned in that tiny garden. The list? An empty coke can, an empty naggin bottle that had once held vodka, three ice-cream sticks, the bag from an assortment of jelly babies and an empty water bottle.

That list would represent an average overnight score, and is still a whole lot better than what we used to pick up from the carpark of our previous premises, where used condoms and the odd discarded syringe tended to appear.

What's wrong with us, when it comes to our personal waste? It's as if it's an accident, unrelated to our own consumption, and immediately becomes someone else's responsibility.

The very idea of having to pay for having our household refuse taken away is an affront to many of us - despite the fact that the local authorities, in this regard, have a shining record of providing us with free options.


We have brown bins for organic waste. Green bins for plastic containers. Anybody who bothers to separate their waste can reduce the number of times they use the grey wheelie for which they have to pay, but a minority of Dubliners would do anything rather than pay.

They would rather abandon the waste they have caused in a handy skip or on waste ground or simply dump it in the street where it cooks to a fermenting mess of stinking, steaming matter attracting bluebottles and eventually covered in a slow-moving white porridge of maggots.

The same applies to sweet-wrappers, cigarette packs and fast-food bags. The litterers wait until they think nobody's watching - or until they're driving along a clear stretch of road - and then ditch the item for someone else to take care of.

Gum-chewers drop their spent gum, polka-dotting walkways with flattened dirty specks.

Senator Norris, when he was on a roll (although, let's be honest, he is pretty much always on a roll) cited the late Jim Mitchell who, when he was Lord Mayor of Dublin 40 years ago, described the capital as having 'as much character as a second-hand knacker's yard'.

The terrible thing is that in so many ways our beautiful city has improved so much, since then.

The great pillared buildings have been steam-cleaned. The Liffey no longer, in the words of the Bagatelle song, "stinks like hell." Whole areas have been rescued from dereliction and been filled with new life.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the litter. Or rather, the ingrained irresponsibility that allows people to ruin Dublin for the rest of us and for our visitors.

Maybe it's time to create a litter-policing system with teeth, like Singapore, where even chewing gum is illegal, and where the streets are pristine. Now, I am not suggesting we should flog people, as Singapore does. Not for a moment.

But David Norris is right. Getting tough with the minority of selfish vandals is overdue. Long overdue.

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