23rd March

Is Ireland's 'green' image endangered by litter dumping indifference?

Francis O'Donnell

It is said you should make your point in the opening lines of an article. As I take the train from Westport to Dublin I am struck by the lack of litter along the route. The midlands are truly beautiful; a place I don’t visit that often.

But hailing from west Donegal, train travel is seldom an option so I must use the nation’s road network which brings me to my point: Simply, it is filthy; almost everywhere is ‘open season’ as a dumping ground.

10.3yourview litter

Loughrosmore estuary, Ardara... and further along the estuary. Photo Francis O'Donnell

As an island nation we have many things that should make us proud: Our culture is rich; we are known worldwide for our music, literature, commitment to world aid, and peace. We have the highest sea cliffs in Europe; some of the best surfing waves on the planet and we are known internationally for our welcome.

Spectacular scenery

And despite unpredictable weather, our landscapes are breath-taking, attracting scores of tourists to our shores annually. Our coasts, rivers and mountain ranges are equally spectacular, and perhaps even more so when shrouded in mist.

The view from my office window overlooking Loughrosmore Bay in west Donegal can change in a moment and I smile regardless at whatever Mother Nature is getting up to. It’s always different but equally beautiful.

I spend most of my weekends rambling across the countryside; angling for salmon in the summer months and climbing mountains during the winter. But the invasive creep of litter is beginning to get to me.

Everywhere I turn I see rubbish ― beaches and river banks are strewn and the road network is blotted with litter black-spots. I recently travelled from Ardara in Donegal to the beautiful town of Westport in Co Mayo. What should have been the first beautiful signs of spring growth were overshadowed by rubbish, everywhere.

National problem

This problem is a national one, and I believe its roots are cultural. We need to shake off this problem, now, if we want to grow our visitor numbers and maintain the ‘green’ image. Local authorities are stretched, and it is not their job to clean up the nation’s mess. Where is our civic pride?

I feel paralysed and frustrated with our litter problem. The announcement of Ireland’s long distance tourist route, the Wild Atlantic Way, is an extremely positive development for communities living along the west coast. Visitors can stick rigidly to the route that starts in north Donegal and winds its way along 2,500km of dramatic and beautiful coastline to Kinsale in Co Cork, or they can detour to the many ‘experience’ attractions.

But before this initiative has almost begun, is it threatened by fly-tipping along the road network? Is Ireland’s overall ‘green’ image endangered by this very Irish of problems, evident in every county?

Lasting memories

Organisations like Fáilte Ireland need help from us all. Picture a television marketing campaign depicting a visiting couple beginning their dream holiday in Donegal in their rented convertible.

They set off from Fanad Head and stop at the Glengesh Pass beauty spot, close to where I live, to have lunch. Here they see black refuse bags dumped along the roadside, and by late evening as they head out for a walk on a local beach, they are again greeted by rubbish. The dream is now becoming a nightmare ― and it’s a long way to Baltimore.

We need to deliver a strong national message about our litter problem. It takes time to build a brand and a short time to ruin it. Lasting impressions are crucial and word-of-mouth can ‘make or break’ in moments. What do you think the couple in the convertible will say or blog by the time they have reached west Cork..?

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