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Opinion: Dog fouling is driving Ireland's residents barking mad

Fianna Fáil TD Cormal Devlin says we need greater education and enforcement when it comes to the growing scourge of dog fouling.

Cormac Devlin

DOG FOULING IS not only unsightly and unpleasant, but it is also dangerous. In rare cases, contact with dog excrement can cause toxocariasis – an infection that can lead to dizziness, nausea, asthma and even blindness or seizures.

It’s not a pleasant subject, but it’s estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million faecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhoea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.

Dog poo can also contain bacteria such as E-coli and parasites like roundworm, the larvae of which can cause loss of vision.

Under current Irish legislation, the primary management and enforcement response to littering (including dog fouling) rest with local authorities.

It is a matter for each local authority to determine the most appropriate course of action to tackle litter pollution locally within the legislation provided.

Pet owners who fail to clean up after their animals face on-the-spot fines of €150, rising to €3,000 for those convicted of not paying the original penalty.

  •  Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to find out what is being done to tackle dog faeces littering our streets and parks. 

Public attitudes

Over the last 12 months, Dublin City Council has recorded a 27% increase in the number of complaints it received regarding the issue of dog fouling in public parks and open spaces across the city.

Recent research carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes for Dogs Trust (survey sample size: 1,003 people) revealed that 96% of dog owners claimed they do pick up after their dog. As a dog owner myself, I regularly note the high level of compliance among pet owners when out with our dog.

However, 57% of people surveyed indicated that there is a big problem with dog fouling in their area, it is clear a small minority are generating the problem.

Seven in 10 people claimed to have walked in dog poo on the street, 51% came across dog waste in their local park, 31% rolled a buggy through the highly unsavoury substance, 33% rolled a bicycle and 11% a wheelchair through it.

Dog fouling regulations

The Litter Pollution Acts, 1997 to 2009, provide the statutory framework to combat littering and include provisions relating to dog fouling. Under the Acts, the primary management and enforcement responses to littering (including dog fouling) rest with local authorities.

It is a matter for each local authority to determine the most appropriate course of action to tackle litter pollution locally within the legislation provided.

This includes the most appropriate public awareness, enforcement and clean-up actions in relation to litter and dog fouling, taking account of local circumstances and priorities.

However, it is clear that some local authorities are more successful at dealing with the problem than others. According to figures compiled by RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne earlier this year, around half of the country’s local authorities failed to issue a single fine for dog fouling in 2020.

Based on figures supplied by 28 of the 31 local authorities, seven councils have not successfully fined a dog owner in over four years. In 2020, 40% of the 47 Fixed Penalty Notices given to pet-owners who did not clean up after their dog went unpaid.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway City and Sligo Councils have only fined one dog owner each since 2016. In all, 241 dog poo fines have been handed down nationwide since the start of 2017, so clearly more can be done.

A national awareness campaign about the problems dog fouling causes along with increased resources for enforcement would be a start.

International experience

Keep Britain Tidy has campaigned very successfully on the issue of dog fouling.

In 2010, the charity’s ‘There’s no such thing as the dog poo fairy’ campaign led to massive reductions in dog fouling in participating council areas.

Some communities saw a decrease of up to 90%, while on average a reduction of 43% was recorded across the 94 participating local authorities.

Dogpoofairycampaign The 'Dog Poo Fairy' campaign by Keep Britain Tidy. Source: Keep Britain Tidy

Keep Britain Tidy has also highlighted to dog owners that any bin will do for their pet’s mess. While some councils in Britain do provide dedicated dog-fouling bins, any public bin can take the waste.

Central government funding

The Department of Environment Climate and Communications (DECC) has, since 1997, co-funded the Local Authority Anti-Litter and Anti-Graffiti Awareness Grant Scheme (ALAGS).

Under the scheme, local authorities are responsible for selecting suitable awareness-raising and educational projects for funding and deciding on individual grant allocations.

Where possible, the focus is on voluntary initiatives by the community and environmental groups, and also on involving schools and young people in anti-litter and anti-graffiti action.

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Typically, eligible projects include local media campaigns, clean-ups, primary/secondary school competitions, exhibitions, and the production of videos, posters and leaflets.

Local authorities are encouraged, where practical under the scheme to expend a portion of their grant on dog fouling awareness projects. Some local authorities have tried to be innovative.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council ran a cinema advert campaign, and both DLR and Dublin City Council are currently trialling an onsite audio warning at badly impacted spots to remind owners to pick up the poop.


Ultimately, if people continue to ignore national and local awareness campaigns there must be enforcement. On paper, there are strong penalties but it is clear Dog Warden units across the country are under-resourced and that more funding could be deployed to improve enforcement and clean up our streets and parks.

However, Dog Wardens and local authorities have long complained about the difficulty in identifying the individual to fine. Given dogs are now microchipped and other advances, is it time to consider using radical solutions such as DNA tracing to catch repeat offenders?

These and other measures will likely be debated during any review of the legislation by the Oireachtas. In the meantime, I would call on the small minority of dog owners who do not clean up after their pets to please think of others and their community and do their civic duty.

Cormac Devlin is Fianna Fáil TD for Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Spokesperson for the party.


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Cormac Devlin

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