Tidy Towns has Our Town terrorised. Apologies, that should read: Tidy Towns has Our Town transformed. Sorry about that. The drive to neaten up the streets and boost our standings in the national competition has certainly been a keen topic of debate in these parts. And advancement in local politics has been achieved by many of our public representatives on the back of anti-litter campaigns.
Never mind whether candidates are in favour of a 26-County Republic, a 32-County Republic or secession by our single proud County to form its own independent Republic. Never mind whether they are left-wing, right wing or completely flightless. Would-be councillors who have shown willing with a rubbish picker and a refuse sack are more or less guaranteed a quota when the elections come around.
Voters are impressed by someone who is willing to roll up the sleeves and fill a refuse skip. The local politician who is out and about scouring highways and by-ways for discarded tin cans and cigarette packets is also more approachable than the one who operates out of an office. This is street politics at its simple best, a demonstration of good works and pride of place which is hard to beat - and impossible to criticise.
There is no Tidy Towns party as such on the council but three councillors particularly embody the great clean up crusade. Over the past ten years our reputation has graduated from being on a par with a Brazilian shanty slum to matching the standards set by Neetaasniuewpinn, the Our Town twin town in Holland.
The trio who deserve most credit for this immaculate state of affairs allowing anyone who so wishes to eat their dinner off the pavements are Councillors White, Green and Blue. Councillor White organises litter patrols on summer evenings, with volunteers in hi-viz jackets and rubber gloves. Councillor Green wages a one man war against outdoor cider parties, collecting mounds of discarded drink cans. Councillor Blue haunts the outlying housing estates, sifting through dumped rubbish in search of clues to identify offenders.
White, Green and Blue are fervently united on two issues. First, litter bugs should be, if not put in the stocks and pelted with half eaten slices of pizza, then at least named and shamed by way of lists published in the press. Second, dog dirt is second only to plutonium as a noxious substance, a material which has no place whatsoever on our side-walks or lawns.
And so say all of us. And so said I too the other evening rambling around town with The Pooch waving cheerily to the litter patrols. Before they took to the streets, the main square was a sea of garbage. Nowadays, citizens are so well trained that there is no need for litter bins and no responsible dog owner ventures on to the street without little plastic bags to scoop up the poop.
I checked the back pocket where I always, always, always keep my bags - only to find there was none. A change of trousers had been followed by failure to transfer bags (scented, according to the blurb on the box, with handles and ties for ease of usage) to the new jeans. So, here I was, a kilometre or more from home, with a terrier suddenly poised to poop.
The Pooch hunkered down on the kerb and opened up the prospect of my becoming instant Public Enemy Number One. In plain view of two groups of litter vigilantes, oops, volunteers he deposited a steaming pile of stools on the path. I felt the eyes of all the town upon me as I looked around for an old crisp packet or maybe some tin foil sandwich wrapping chucked in the gutter to mop up the mess. There was no crisp packet, no tin foil either, and no sign of one of those cardboard coffee mugs which would have been a godsend.
In desperation. I pulled out my wallet, willing to sacrifice a tenner if necessary to the Tidy Towns cause. Mercifully, this was not required. The poop was conveyed home wrapped in one of those supermarket receipts which tell you on one side not only how much you spent and also advertise bargains on the other side.
I may have missed out on a discount rate for a hotel break in Tipperary but at least my reputation remains intact.