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Terry Prone: Litter beats being under a pile of manure

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O'Connell Street at Christmas, Dublin.

O'Connell Street at Christmas, Dublin.

O'Connell Street at Christmas, Dublin.

One of the truly happy moments of my childhood was when Mrs O’Byrne came out the side door of the church and a plastic supermarket bag wrapped itself around her face like it loved her.

I had to run away, lest I be caught and rightfully punished for laughing my head off at the sight of the white bag blanketing her entire head and looking as if the handles were going to go around her ears and make the relationship permanent.

Back then, you never knew where you were going to encounter a strayed supermarket bag. Up a tree. In the wheel-spokes of your bike. Flattened across the windshield of your car.

They were everywhere, those plastic bags, until a Minister for the Environment slapped a levy on them to make them too expensive to throw away, which, up to then, we had all done.

The clever thing about the plastic bag levy was that you had to pay it up front. We Dubliners are a lot better at paying up front than paying in retrospect.

When we’re caught littering and have a fine levied on us, only one in five of us pays, it was reportedly yesterday.

I don’t mean one in five pays immediately. I mean four litterers out of every five never, ever pay their fine.

Now, you can take two different views of this war on litter.

The first is that Dublin City Council are lamentably inefficient when it comes to combating litter that has annoyed those of us who have gone for long, post-Christmas walks.

They first of all catch only a tiny percentage of those who do it. The authorities on-the-spot fine the litterers they catch.

Or, rather, they on-the-spot fine less than half of the ones they catch, presumably because the other reported 57pc do not have a hundred and fifty smackers on them.

The final outrage is that the authorities don’t do anything to the four out of five who, when followed up for the fine, ignore the demand.

If you are of a punitive disposition you will want the powers that be to become the powers that punish.

If, on the other hand, you take a different view on litter, you will admit that the problem has tangibly reduced in recent years.

To put the issue in context: 150 years ago we were warned that if some substitute wasn’t found for horse-pulled carriages as a method of transport, Grafton Street would soon be under two feet of horse manure. The replacement for the horse was the car.

And, now and again, someone turfs an empty fag packet through the window of a car.

It still beats knee-deep horse droppings in a city where litter is oh-so-gradually receding as a problem.


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