Beaches in Dublin, Donegal and Galway declared no-swim zones over water fears

Lady’s Bay in Buncrana, Co Donegal was one of three beaches that failed water-quality tests

Caroline O'Doherty, Environment Correspondent

Three beaches at popular visitor spots will be off-limits to swimmers this summer after failing water-quality tests.

The three are the Front Strand, Balbriggan, Co Dublin; Lady’s Bay, Buncrana, Co Donegal; and Trá na mBan, An Spidéal, Co Galway.

Inspections revealed they were polluted with wastewater from sewerage systems, run-off from agricultural lands or urban streets or faeces from dogs or other animals.

Swimmers are at risk of suffering skin rashes or stomach upsets if they enter the water, so swimming is not advised, although the warnings may be advisory rather than an absolute ban.

They are the outliers in this year’s Bathing Water Quality Report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which found 97pc of the country’s inspected beaches met or exceeded water-quality standards. However, the report only covers 148 bathing areas officially designated as such.

The EPA wants local authorities to officially recognise many more places where the public swim so they come under a formal management programme and can be included in the inspection regime.

There is another weakness in the annual report in that it covers testing during the official designated bathing season between June 1 and September 15.

The EPA points out that many people use bathing spots year-round and limiting testing to the summer months does not capture the condition of the water in which they are swimming.

The overall figures are an improvement on last year, with 117 beaches rated “excellent”, an increase of two.

Twenty ranked as “good”, seven “sufficient” and three “poor”. Those getting only a “sufficient” rating were in the east and southeast. The three ranked as poor are the beaches that are effectively no-swim zones this season

Throughout the 2022 bathing season there were 34 pollution incidents reported to the EPA that required temporary beach closures.

There were also 186 “prior warning” notices when forecasts of heavy rain prompted local authorities to warn that run-off from surrounding lands or overflows of untreated water from storm pipes were likely to enter the sea.

Swimming was not advised on those occasions. Such incidents increased by 82 on the previous year.

The EPA said more effort was needed to prevent untreated or poorly treated waters reaching bathing areas.

“Uisce Éireann [formerly Irish Water] need to continue to improve the operation, management and maintenance of treatment plants and networks which impact on bathing waters,” it said.

It also appealed to the public to help by cleaning up after their dogs, reporting pollution and nominating swimming spots for official designation by their local authority.

Two of those ranking “excellent”, the Brook Beach at Portrane in north Co Dublin and Na Forbacha in Co Galway, rated poor in 2016 and have improved gradually each year since.