For a month last year, the council put up a CCTV camera on Sherrard Street in the north inner-city to try to spot, and then prosecute, people dumping rubbish illegally.
But it didn’t have as much success as in some other places, says Lynn Hooper, chair of Sherrard Pride of Place.
Between October and November 2021, the camera caught 20 people illegally dumping rubbish on foot, but the council could only fine the one person who was in a car with a visible licence plate, she says.
The council could not fine or prosecute someone using an image of their face from CCTV, even if council staff knew them.
Hooper, and others including local councillors, say they are optimistic that a law brought in earlier this year, but not yet in use, could change that and make it much easier for the council to tackle illegal dumping.
You would be hopeful that being able to use images of faces, says Hooper, will mean “that fines will be handed out left, right and centre”.
In 2016, Dublin City Council began to poster up the faces of people caught on CCTV doing illegal dumping, in a policy known as “name and shame”. That was stopped when it was found to be in breach of GDPR.
Hooper and some councillors say they favour a return to that approach – but it doesn’t appear that can resume under the new legislation.
Hooper organises regular street clean-ups alongside residents and landlords on the street, she says.
But she is frustrated that the people dumping their rubbish keep getting away with it, she says. “It’s an ongoing thing and it’s ridiculous.”
The situation is made worse by a derelict property that is also used for dumping, says Hooper.
“All the stuff is going over the fence, it is absolutely horrendous,” she says. “There are mattresses, there is a shower door, there’s muck.”
Hooper’s photos show a mini illegal dump growing inside the railings of the vacant property. That has an impact, she says. “Everyone just thinks that the street is a dump anyway.”
The council and Gardaí are trying to tackle illegal dumping, she says, but their hands seem to be tied.
“Some of the neighbours have sent pictures in, we know who is doing the dumping, we have videos,” she says.
Witnesses said they would be willing to testify in court, says Hooper, but because they couldn’t provide the full names of those doing the dumping, those cases didn’t progress.
Dublin City Council isn’t allowed to use images of people’s faces for prosecutions, said Bernie Lillis, the council’s litter prevention officer at a meeting of the North Central Area committee in September.
At that meeting, councillors were discussing a corner of Newtown Industrial Estate in Darndale.
Until recently, rubbish was piled high there, said staff working in the Mattress Mick outlet opposite the spot. Everything from suites of furniture to household rubbish and gardening waste, they said.
That stopped when Dublin City Council erected CCTV cameras on a tall pole outside Right Price Tiles on the other side.
But in that case, the council had been able to use people’s licence plate registrations to issue fines, said Lillis.
On Sherrard Street, the council’s attempt to use CCTV was less successful because most of the dumping was done on foot, says Hooper, and the council couldn’t use the images to bring prosecutions.
Hooper says she thinks that after the new law is implemented, community gardaí should be able to review the footage and that they may already know some of the people doing the dumping, she says.
How Will It Work?
Under the Circular Economy Act, signed into law in July, “the processing of personal data may be carried out by Local Authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law,” says a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment.
“This will be an important deterrent – against littering and illegal dumping,” she says.
At the same time, it is essential that the privacy rights of citizens are fully respected through robust safeguards, which the act also includes, says the spokesperson.
The Local Government Management Agency, which works with councils, is drawing up statutory codes of practice in relation to the use of CCTV and other recordings to tackle illegal dumping, says the spokesperson.
The codes of practice will be submitted to the Minister for the Environment for final approval, they said.
Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney and Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam say they expect the new protocols to be in place early next year, so then the council can get going with installing more cameras.
“All of us have been trying to address the issue of illegal dumping,” says Cooney. Senators have estimated “that local authorities spend €90m a year to clean up after littering and dumping”.
McAdam says the council will have to draw up a protocol for the use of each camera, in order to comply with GDPR.
He says he hopes the new legislation will allow the council to go back to the name-and-shame postering approach it used to tackle illegal dumping six years ago.
It was effective, he says. “It worked, there was absolutely no two ways about it.”
“My strong view is that naming and shaming is the only effective means of going after those who are hell-bent on illegally dumping their rubbish across the city,” he said.
In some cases those doing the illegal dumping were the last people anyone would have suspected, says McAdam, and they were embarrassed to be caught out publicly.
Hooper too would like to see the name-and-shame approach brought back. “It would be a great idea if they did do it,” she says.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says that she isn’t keen on the name-and-shame strategy, but that it is difficult to argue against it because it was effective. “It’s the aspect I’m least keen on,” she says.
She worries that some people may be stigmatised as a result of name-and-shame and would like to see an education programme rolled out first, she says.
Horner says that, even if it does not go back to publicly naming and shaming the illegal dumpers with posters of them caught in the act, the new legislation will allow the council staff to privately issue fines to them.
In many cases they already know who is doing the dumping but don’t have proof they can use in prosecutions, she says.
Meanwhile, whether or not the “name and shame” policy will be rolled back out remains to be seen.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said that once the LGMA draws up the protocol, “the deployment and use of CCTV will be a matter for individual Local Authorities, including Dublin City Council, on receipt of Ministerial approval”.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it is awaiting codes of practice being drawn up and agreed upon.
“A CCTV scheme which must be proportionate, necessary and complies with the Data Protection Act 2018 must then be approved by the Chief Executive before CCTV is installed,” says the spokesperson.
The wording of an information sheet issued on the Circular Economy Bill 2021 appears to indicate that the viewing of the images will only be for council staff and gardaí rather than the general public.
“That proposed access to footage is limited to persons of good character in direct employment with the local authorities concerned or, where relevant, An Garda Síochána,” it says.
We've been covering stories like this since 2017, addressing the important issues in Ireland's capital. The work we do isn't possible without our subscribers. We're a reader funded cooperative. We are not funded or influenced by advertising.
For as little as the price of a pint every month, you can support local journalism in your city.