An Opinion Piece

by Eric Nolan

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I love Christmas. As a parent, the wonder and joy that my children bring is just awesome. The fact that I am not the one trying to fall asleep so Santa will visit really seems profound to me. Time is passing. And as many have warned, it seems to be speeding up. I also really enjoy eating to excess. Really enjoy.

Like an overextended credit card, January is a time for me to pay for the extra food. Looking at the numerous Facebook posts and ads of quick fix diets (I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing), I don’t think I’m alone. Healthy food has returned and we are all trying to exercise.

Walking for exercise and pleasure is something I only discovered relatively recently. When trying to get fit, I was never able to go for a run every day. The only thing that stops a daily walk is time shortages. I find it mentally soothing and am generally in better form afterwards. The kids enjoy it too. It’s a time for chatting, laughing and just spending quality time.

It’s also a cheap activity. There are plenty of walking routes and parks nationwide. A number of new greenways are in planning stages too. Decent shoes and warm jackets are all that’s really required for a family afternoon of exercise. In a time when most families need both parents working to survive, that’s to be cherished.

The last thing any of us should have to do after a family walk is scrub excrement from multiple sets of shoes. And yet more often than not that’s what I end up doing. Those with buggies or wheelchairs are effected even more, they often can’t leave them at the door as they return home. Excrement of unknown origin is invading our homes. As well as being disgusting, this poses real health risks.

Those communal walkways and parks, as well as our footpaths and main streets are for all of our use. As citizens I think we all have a responsibility not to make each others lives more difficult. Dog ownership is a joy. For many people, their dog is a fully-fledged member of the family. With this joy comes responsibility.

The vast majority of dog owners do the responsible thing. These responsible people get just as annoyed as everybody else. There has been numerous awareness campaigns and articles carried out. Signage is everywhere. I think it’s fair to say that those who do not pick up are fully aware that they are doing wrong. We need more than awareness campaigns.

The recent revelation that only four dog fouling fines have been issued in Cork in the last twenty years is stark. Despite widespread public outrage, nothing of any real import is being done. While my children really enjoy entering colouring competitions, in this case they won’t fix the problem. We need much stronger action.

Numerous Councils in the U.K. have tackled this problem in a much stronger fashion. In 2014 Hyndburn Council began offering a 50 pound award to anyone who submitted pictures of dog owners not picking up which led to a prosecution. Last year Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson launched a scheme that would exempt successful ‘pooper snooper’s’ from council tax for a year. Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in south Wales engaged in a name and shame campaign as far back as 2011. They also deployed plain clothed wardens and increased the fine. They claimed these measures halved the problem. These may seem like extreme actions, but the dog dirt problem is an extreme problem.

The reality is that when detection and prosecution is deemed extremely unlikely, many people will not change their behaviour. The threat of being named and shamed could shift this balance. The possibility of a passer by sending a photo to the council could make many offenders change their ways. Most people carry smart phones these days.

Financial constraints are often cited as reasons why nothing real is being done. There will always be many worthy demands on a councils finite resources. There will most likely never be a time when funding will be easily found. It’s time to take action now. It’s time to reclaim our streets and walkways.

Eric Nolan is a father of two living in Midleton. He is the Labour Party Local Area Representative for Cork East. You can learn more of Facebook EricNolanLabour.

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