Arklow’s underlying issue with anti-social behaviour reared it’s ugly head in the aftermath of this month’s highly successful Seabeeze Festival.
On the Monday morning after the festival, distraught Tidy Towns volunteers spent four hours collecting a total of 28 bags of litter. Subsequently, there has been some discontent among Arklow’s community of volunteers, with questions asked about the organisation of the festival and Arklow’s more profound issue with anti-social behaviour.
Arriving at 7am, Tidy Towns volunteers, two community employment (CE) workers and a small group from Sunbeam House joined the council’s crew of three to begin the clean up. The volunteers had intended to litter pick for two hours, but found so much waste that they were, according to a spokesperson, ‘compelled’ to stay until 11am.
The spokesperson, incensed by the sheer volume of litter remaining, said, ‘When we arrived to start cleaning we saw the council workers looking absolutely overwhelmed. The main car park was such a mess that they filled their sweeper truck, emptied it, and had to clean the car park a second time.’
‘Castle Park was full of litter, as were many side lanes. The river walk looked like a dumping ground – we collected 14 bags of rubbish there alone. Some of us work full-time jobs and had to rearrange our schedules to finish cleaning. We had to, to protect Arklow’s gold standard.’
Arklow Tidy Towns hope to claim their third gold medal this summer and have been preparing for the visit of an adjudicator, who will arrive unannounced twice this summer. ‘Call us paranoid, but it’s happened before’, the spokesperson explained. ‘Three years ago, at the last Seabreeze, we were all out on Monday morning. When we got the report from the adjudicator later that summer, it turned out that he had arrived later that Monday.’
‘I don't’ want to sound too critical. Everyone agrees that the Seabreeze Festival is great for Arklow and the local industry. I commend the festival committee volunteers on an amazing job, they were flat out from Thursday to to Sunday. I don’t see it as the council’s fault either. They have a limited work force and people are out sick with Covid.’
‘Mostly, I want to ask the council and the Seabreeze committee: how can this be resolved in the future? Their plan has to consider the aftermath. Somewhere between the festival volunteers leaving on Sunday night and us arriving on Monday morning, their plan broke down.’
Chairman of the Seabreeze Festival committee Dean Dickenson ardently maintains that he and his volunteers went above and beyond to clean up after the festival. Indeed, he too points to the underlying issue of late night littering.
‘There were six people on the Seabreeze committee this year. There’s usually eight, but two were away. All six of us were out on the street until 1am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night picking up rubbish. We filled three 1,000L bins each night – which we paid to have taken away. We don't make a profit on the festival, we barely break even. At this point, a week after the festival, there are still bands that haven’t been paid.’
‘If there’s anything more that can be done better from our end we need more help to do it. We put it out to the Tidy Towns that we were looking for volunteers, but they didn’t have anyone available to help us.’
‘We cleaned up the street and the park, any broken glass we swept up,’ Dean added. ‘It was clean when we left it, we even took pictures. We were out until 1am, whatever happened after that in the town, we can hardly be held accountable for.’
On hearing the news of the Tidy town’s clean up, a shocked Cllr Miriam Murphy was fervently eager to find the root cause. ‘I’m quite surprised at the volume of litter, I can’t recall that ever happening before,’ the councillor said. ‘The council staff were out early on Monday. I know there might have been a shortage of man power, but there still should have been enough to deal with any aftermath.’
‘I’m disappointed. I don’t think any voluntary group should have to do that. I’d like to look into why that happened, from the council’s perspective. I’m a big supporter of the Tidy Towns, they go way above what can be expected from volunteers. I know they’re worried about losing their gold medal but, let’s be honest, gold medal or not, this should not be happening. It’s simply awful.’
Perhaps the most conflicted and clued-in person on the aftermath of the Seabreeze Festival is Fianna Fáil Councillor Tommy Annesley. As Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Chairman of Arklow Tidy Towns and as a member of the Seabreeze Festival committee, Cllr Annesley has a unique perspective on the issue.
‘There’s an old saying: You can’t make an omelette without braking some eggs,’ said Cllr Annesley. ‘There must have been ten thousand people on the streets of Arklow over the weekend, there’s bound to be a lot of rubbish. If there wasn’t a lot of rubbish to collect, it would have been a sign of a bad festival. I’d prefer to see 28 bags of rubbish than no rubbish at all.’
‘The Seabreeze committee and Arklow Municipal Council incorporated the clean up of the festival, brought in extra staff and worked tirelessly to keep Arklow clean over the weekend. I realise litter is a problem in Arklow. None of us want to lose our gold medal, but festivals like the Seabreeze are so important for the town. I think we need to look at the larger issue here – Arklow’s anti-social behaviour problem.’
‘My concern is what happened after the festival,’ Cllr Annesley continued. ‘People came out of the pubs, or wherever they were partying after the festival, and littered. Its not up to the Seabreeze Festival to clean that up, nor the Tidy Towns. People put glasses and bottles behind meter boxes, down lanes and in the river. If the Tidy Towns volunteers see that, the judges will see it too.’
There were indeed a number of incidents in the lead up to and during the Seabreeze Festival. Reports of a handful of alcohol-fueled altercations, which were quickly handled by Gardaí, circulated, as well as one report of vandalism that went largely unnoticed.
According to Sandra Hall, Tidy Towns’ CE Supervisor for the past 13 years, ‘If you ask me, I would say the worst thing that happened that weekend was not the littering – although some of our volunteers were appalled and offended by it. It was the graffiti we found up towards Glenart that had us fuming.’
‘We painted over it immediately’, she continued. ‘Let me tell you, I haven’t seen such revolting racist and sectarian graffiti in a long time. I live here, I work here. I’ve not seen that kind of vulgarity before. We can’t say for sure if happened over the weekend of the festival, but it certainly wasn’t there on the Wednesday before it started. Our volunteers cleaned the area that day.’
‘We find that after every big event in Arklow there is extra to clean up. That’s a given, it is what it is. The council help us, we help the council. They pay for the waste to be taken way, we collect it. Like the Seabreeze committee, we can’t be expected to do more than our resources allow us to do.’
‘There are public bins out there. If someone is on their way home in the early hours of the morning and they decide to chuck a pint glass down a lane, or into the river, there’s not much any of us can do to stop that. People get drunk and they litter.’
Disaffection aside, the Arklow’s Tidy Towns, the Seabreeze Festival committee and the councillors all agreed, there is a need for more public education on the effects of littering, particularly for children. The majority also view any public education on the issue as a part of a broader approach to addressing Arklow’s anti-social behaviour issue.