Top beaches fail to retain Blue Flag despite €300m investment
A hi-tech water treatment facility costing €300m has failed to help six top beaches retain their coveted Blue Flag status.
In addition, lifeguards have been pulled off one of the six popular beaches stripped of their Blue Flags yesterday because of the dangers posed by grazing cattle.
The other five beaches lost out because of poor water quality.
The number of beaches being awarded Blue Flag status dropped to 76 -- the lowest level in 10 years.
Dirty seawater meant that only two beaches in Dublin, Portmarnock and Dollymount, both on the northside, are now able to fly the flags.
In the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area on Dublin's southside, where many top beaches are located, the council did not even bother to apply for Blue Flag status for any of them because of water quality problems.
The €300m Ringsend treatment plant, which has been dogged by problems, was supposed to dramatically clean up Dublin Bay.
The beaches stripped of their flags due to water quality falling below standards were Brittas Bay south, Wicklow; Spiddeal Pier and Traught in Galway; and Ross Strand, Killala, and Oldhead, Louisburgh, in Mayo.
However, Ireland lost just one Blue Flag overall as five beaches regained flags this year: Maherabeg, Kerry; Claycastle and Redbarn, Cork; Rosses Point, Sligo; and Portmarnock in Dublin.
Mullaghmore Beach in Co Sligo lost its flag because lifeguards had not been stationed by Sligo County Council.
In order to qualify for Blue Flag quality status, a beach must have an adequate number of lifeguards and life-saving equipment.
The long-running issue of cattle roaming on the beach was cited as a key factor in Mullaghmore losing its long-standing Blue Flag status.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed that it had not appointed lifeguards to Mullaghmore Beach for the summer season because it felt grazing cattle on the beach posed an ongoing danger to the public and lifeguards if they were posted there.
The spokesperson added: "The water is up to the quality. The issue is the cattle. The danger relating to cattle on the beach is still there. There was a bull in the area.
"That is a danger to people, including lifeguards. This is a health and safety issue."
Meanwhile, the heavy rainfall last summer was blamed for much of the overall water quality problems on beaches nationwide, particularly in the Dublin area.
This is the second year in a row that bad weather has resulted in beaches and marinas losing the prestigious quality mark.
A spokesperson for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council said: "There is important infrastructural work still to be addressed.
"Current plans include the construction of the waste-water treatment plant in Shanganagh, which is currently under way and will vastly improve water quality in Killiney Bay."
Fingal council has blamed heavy rainfall causing overflows at pumping stations and septic tanks for its beaches not meeting tough standards.
It said upgrades to facilities, needed to sort out the problems, were dependent on funding from the Department of the Environment. The worsening trend in the number of pristine beaches puts a question mark over the the impact of the Government's investment of hundreds of millions of euro in cleaning up water contaminated by sewage treatment plants and septic tanks, and again focuses attention on the Ringsend sewage plant.
Heavy rainfall increases agricultural run-off into bathing waters, while also putting pressure on council water treatment plants.
Environment Minister John Gormley said the net loss of one flag was disappointing, but he expressed confidence that sustained investment would lead to improvements in water quality.
Kerry achieved the highest number of Blue Flags -- 13 -- followed by Donegal with 12. Dublin was among the counties with the least number of flags -- just two. Only two marinas got flags -- Killinure Point, Glasson, Lough Ree, and Kilmore Quay, Wexford.
However, the number of Green Coast awards increased from 40 to 46.
These are given to locations which have excellent water quality but which may be less developed or more rural in nature than Blue Flag beaches.