Dairy, sheep and tillage farmer Percy Drea received a letter from Kilkenny County Council on February 3, telling him he has 21 days to clean up “considerable amounts of waste material, bags of rubbish and bottles” on his grounds.
Failure to clean up the area will result in a fine, ongoing daily non-compliance charges and possible court action.
Mr Drea said: “We have good wire fencing, but people have thrown nappies, mineral bottles and bags of rubbish over the gate. We told the council we have a car bumper with the registration plate on it. We gave them copies of people’s letters with their names and addresses in Waterford and Kilmacow.
“I gathered up a lot of the rubbish, but not all of it, so I could be facing a fine of €130,000 and court action. I have picked up 20 bags of rubbish myself and brought them up to my house. My nephew asked the council to take them away, but they didn’t show me that generosity,” Mr Drea said.
He confronted one person who parked next to his land with the car boot open. The man said he was only stopping to use his mobile phone and he threatened to call the gardaí if Mr Drea did not leave him alone.
Mr Drea informed Kilkenny County Council about the dumping of rubbish on his land. He says he was shocked by the reply threatening to take him to court. The council’s letter, signed by environmental enforcement officer Niall O’Callaghan, said Kilkenny County Council “would prefer to work in co-operation with you to remedy this situation”.
However, the council said it doesn’t have the budget to carry out any cleaning work of this kind. Under the Litter Act, the duty to clean up rubbish on private land rests with the landowner.
In some cases, the council may decide to clean up rubbish which poses a risk to public health, but it then seeks to recoup the costs via the courts.
Niall O’Callaghan said: “There’s no doubt that in the current economic climate, members of the public are finding every corner they can to dump rubbish. The council authorities are in a situation where we have only one remit, and that is to get the stuff removed.
“Very often the rubbish is being dumped in areas where there is a lot of public access, private land without fencing. The rubbish may not be of the landowner’s creation, but cleaning it up is a statutory requirement.
“The local authority cannot come in and clean up private land. We also have no budgetary offset to carry out clean-up work of this nature. If a notice is served and if it is not complied with, in some circumstances we may have to come in and clean up the land, but we will seek to recoup the costs,” he said.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) called on the council to withdraw threats of fines and prosecution.
It also urged Environment Minister Phil Hogan to review the legislation and direct local authorities to concentrate efforts on cleaning the countryside.
The IFA also proposed an anti-litter action plan, which incorporates a national rural spring clean week, the creation of civic amenity sites on the outskirts of towns and villages, an education campaign, enforcement of anti-littering laws, a dedicated litter reporting line and website, and a national litter action task force.