'We should put people before dogs' - council
East Meath councillors have voted to push forward the Draft Beach Management Plan for Bettystown, despite reservations that dogs will have to be kept on a lead at all times. Cars, will, it is proposed, also be phased out from using the beach.
But the debate is not over and now the public will have their chance to air their views via a public consultation process as bylaws must be changed. The full council must also vote on the proposal.
The big issue with the plan is the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) that outlines a number of requirements under EU law that the council must implement as part of their proposals.
One is that dogs must be on a lead during the winter birds season, Sept - March.
Horses must be restricted on the shoreline at the same period of the year. Horses will also be prohibited from the dunes in Mornington.
The enforcement section of the council felt that the only feasible way to handle the dogs question is an all year round need to have dogs on a leash.
The debate saw mixed views on such a move but with the threat of the plan being delayed yet again, a vote was taken, with five councillors voting to accept the draft, (Cllrs Keogan and Harding, who proposed and seconded it,McKee, Tolan and Ferguson).
The only dissenting voice was Cllr Paddy Meade who voted against it.
His issue centred on the threat of banning cars from the beach, something he feels will have a big impact on tourism and how local people enjoy the beach for most of the year.
A compromise of sorts was discussed in relation to the dog issue with the possibility of an area being reserved on the beach for dogs to go off lead, something Cllrs Ferguson and Tolan pushed for before voting for the overall project. The debate will now move on to the main council meeting and in order to change the bylaws, they'll have to go to the public for comment.
'It is easier when dogs are on a lead all year round,' Cllr Sharon Keogan remarked, but Cllr Eimear Ferguson felt that the majority of dog owners were responsible and they didn't want their pets on a lead all the time.
She added that some local horse owners had a licence from the council to exercise horses after 11am as part of an old agreement. However, council officials said they were unaware of any such agreement.
Cllr Paddy Meade said the allure of Bettystown for many was the ability to park on the beach to enjoy the scenery. 'Removing the cars will damage tourism,' he felt.
He was told that until a provision was found for an extra car park to take vehicles, parking on the beach would remain.
He also said that horses should be allowed as well as sulky racers as it all added to the beach.
'Maybe we should make one day a month car free to see what it's like,' Cllr Sharon Tolan remarked.
She added that a dedicated route through the dunes should be found for horses to protect the sand dunes.
On the issue of dogs on leads, she was opposed to the ban on dogs being allowed to run free.
For Cllr Stephen McKee, a full time beach warden was needed to enforce bylaws.
'On car parking, I think the most reasonable thing is to phase it out over time. But we need alternative parking and if we don't have it, then there's no point. It will take years,' he stated. He did fear that businesses could be impacted. He added that dogs should be on a lead at busy times of the day.
For chairman, Wayne Harding, he felt that dogs running free can unintentionally frighten young kids.
Director of Finance Fiona Lawless spelt it out forcefully to the members, saying a lot of money and resources had been pumped into the beach plan and she didn't want to see it fail.
'We are not asking for dogs to be banned, they just have to be kept on a lead. No other beaches allow dogs off the lead,' she stated.
She said dog poo in the sand was a health hazard and children can be afraid of dogs.
'We should put people, children and those with disabilities, before dogs. We are not saying 'no dogs' but this has been named as the second most important beach in Ireland for birds,' she argued.
It was eventually agreed to vote on the draft proposals and they were accepted.