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Call for crackdown on contractors dumping waste at Ballyfermot site after council spends €500k on cleanup

Dublin City Council has admitted there’s an “impasse” in dealing with the illegal dumping at Labre Park.

Waste dumped at Labre Park.
Waste dumped at Labre Park.
Image: Shay L'Estrange

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL’S spend of over half a million euro on removal of waste from a  housing estate in Ballyfermot where members of the Travelling Community live has been described as a “misuse” of the council’s budget.

Shay L’Estrange, the local coordinator of a group that works to support the Travelling Community, said that council workers go in twice a week to clear out the area – and that much of the waste is being illegally dumped there by tradespeople and building contractors who don’t live in or near the site. 

Since 2015, residents at Labre Park have made 21 separate formal complaints. This has resulted in eight notices being issued. So far, one conviction has been made in relation to the illegal dumping. 

In 2018 alone, the council spent €250,000 on waste disposal at Labre Park in Ballyfermot and local People Before Profit councillor Hazel de Nortúin said that the actions of a small few are having an enormously detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of those who live on site.

De Nortúin told TheJournal.ie that the council has been aware of issues in the area for some time and, instead of taking proactive measures to tackle the issue, had instead spent hundreds of thousands of euro to try to continuously clear the waste. 

At a recent council meeting the councillor asked about illegal dumping in the area, which consists of a road of accomodation with a green area next to it on the banks of the Grand Canal and an industrial estate on the other side.

Illegal dumping has been a persistent problem in the area for a number of years, with fly tipping common on the green areas.

A dedicated walking and cycle route along the canal lies just on the other side of the green areas bordering Labre Park, which are often laden with household and commercial rubbish.

CCTV has been installed at the site and are monitored by waste management officers at the council, yet the problem continues to persist.

According the coordinator who works with the community, the buildup of waste paints the Traveller families who live on the site in an extremely negative light despite the fact that dumped material is being deposited there by non-residents.

labre 120714 Waste disposed just this week in the area. Source: Shay L'Estrange

Admitting that there was a “current impasse” regarding waste management at Labre Park, Dublin City Council recently released a breakdown of how much it cost to remove rubbish there since 2015.

In 2015, €43,885 was paid to Thorntons Recycling for waste disposal at Labre Park. Thorntons were paid €56,756 in 2016. 

The cost to the council increased significantly in the following two years. Thorntons were paid €172,258 in 2017 and a further €250,734 in 2018.

To put that 2018 figure into context. In 2018, there were 802 Traveller families residing in the area covered by Dublin City Council. In that same year, the proposed spending for the maintenance of all of these units was €1.1 million. 

After Thorntons had received over €500,000 in four years, the council decided to take a different approach.

The council said: “The cost of removing waste was reduced significantly in 2019 as a decision was made to utilise the Traveller Accommodation Unit (TAU) caretaker service and its resources to remove rubbish weekly from all sites.”

In the first six months of 2019, the cost of removing waste by TAU caretakers under the remit of the council was €41,135.

Shay L’Estrange, the coordinator of the Ballyfermot Traveller Action Group, told TheJournal.ie that it’s a “no brainer” for council staff to carry out this work. He added that he hadn’t ever seen residents there doing the illegal dumping.

“We go in twice a week and clear out the rubbish,” he said. “It’s rubbish brought in from the outside, and primarily commercial rubbish. That accumulates and we have to pay to remove it from the Traveller maintenance fund. It’s costing members of the Travelling community to remove this and it’s costing other taxpayers too.

The residents are fed up with it. We’re trying to advocate on their behalf and trying to get this resolved. What’s being spent is a tremendous waste of money, against the benefit of putting a stop to it.

De Nortúin said that residents there are living in extremely challenging conditions and that some children, in particular, are suffering from health problems due to the pollution caused by the amount of waste cast aside nearby.

“This is an ongoing issue that I frequently raise with the council,” she said. “Dublin City Council are aware of it. It’s been brought to their attention again and again. It’s not just a money issue, it’s a health issue.”

L’Estrange said that Travelling families there need more protection, and that they’re “desperate” to have the issue resolved.

For its part, the council has said its waste enforcement unit has carried out multiple staggered checkpoints in conjunction with gardaí to combat the illegal transportation of waste to and from Labre Park.

It has access to CCTV at the site and its enforcement officers view footage to see if sufficient evidence can be gathered on those who dump waste illegally.

“With regard to the most recent footage in 2019, 13 CCTV reports have been received and three warning letters have been issued because of this,” it said.

In many cases, according to De Nortúin, it is up to the residents themselves to provide details of who is doing the dumping for any action to be taken. 

De Nortúin said: “This is the problem of the approach of the State into these matters. Instead of resolving the issue, they’re just looking to pointing the finger.”

In its Budget for 2020, the council agreed to spend €1.2 million on the maintenance of Traveller Accommodation Units, and just over €2 million on Traveller Accommodation Management in the city. 

But, for a local coordinator who’s working to advocate for the community like L’Estrange, “there’s no point in just changing bricks and mortar”. 

“We need to make this a healthier place to live too,” he said. “If people still perceive Labre Park as a dump where they can drop their waste and not face any consequences, they will. 

That mindset has to change. People here deserve a place to live. All the agencies – waste management team, gardaí etc – need to come together to find a solution to this. If this happened in Foxrock, it’d be solved immediately. But it’s Labre Park. The thing is that if this was solved it’d save everybody in the long run. 

Plans to redevelop Labre Park, meanwhile, are already at an advanced stage.

A spokesperson for the council told TheJournal.ie: “The Redevelopment of Labre Park is still at the Pre-Part VIII stage. The Traveller Accommodation Unit has processed and finalised all outstanding planning issues with DCC Sections and Departments in relation to the build and its impact on the various local services such and Roads & Traffic, Parks & Landscape and Main Drainage.

“It is expected that the final outstanding reports on the flood risk assessment will be tendered to Dublin City Council by Friday 6th March 2020. Following analysis of said reports a decision can be made regarding the date for Part VIII submission.”

With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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Sean Murray

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