“A dirty filthy nation,” is how Cllr Mark Cooney described the Irish, saying the level of litter seen here isn’t seen in other countries.
He made his comments as Athlone town councillors gave their support to a new draft litter plan for the town and county; this is the second month in a row that councillors have been infuriated by the town’s litter issues from dog fouling to gum on the streets and littering.
Speaking at the February meeting of the council, Cllr Cooney said he couldn’t explain what it is about the Irish mentality that leads to such rubbish on the streets and in the ditches.
“It doesn’t land from the sky. It comes from Irish people,” he said, as Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne urged him to withdraw his remarks because, she said, most Irish people are busy keeping streets tidy and dealing responsibly with their waste.
Cllr Cooney confirmed that it’s a small but sizeable minority who create rubbish for others to deal with it, and suggested people consider what the town would be like if it wasn’t cleaned by the council for a week.
“It would be absolutely appalling,” he said, adding that the town doesn’t look as bad as it could because of the marvellous work done by council staff.
He called for those who put advertising flyers on cars to be prosecuted, and said every single flyer should be considered a separate offence.
People pull them off their cars in frustration or sometimes they get caught in wipers and they are appalling, he said.
Only recently he had seen an elderly lady struggling to clean dog foul from the wheels of her walking aid before going into a local shopping centre.
Cllr Kevin “Boxer” Moran also called for greater punishment for those who litter and laid some blame at the door of the local authority.
He referred to a woman whose garden is full of rubbish, causing distress to neighbours on both sides.
However, on the six times they contacted the council they were told the authority couldn’t get involved, he said.
“The streets are getting worse because people are getting away with it,” he said, calling for further action and greater engagement from the public on a new litter committee.
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke said that two litter hotlines mentioned in the county’s draft litter plan don’t work. One appears to be disconnected while the other leads to a never ending cycle of holding and transferring.
But Cllr Alan Shaw said the town has seen an increase in marks in the last five Irish Business Against Litter surveys and so must be doing something right, but he called for action on dog fouling and chewing gum.
Director of services Hugh O’Reilly again pointed out that €1.7m is spent in Westmeath dealing with rubbish but said the local authority needs the cooperation of people in their communities to stand up for their environment.
“We thank those who do comply and urge those who don’t to clean up their act,” he said.