Angry dog owners battle beach ban
A mass protest staged by dog owners arranged for this weekend has been given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission.
Organiser Willie Gregg said he was contacted by the PSNI asking whether he had organised a certificate for the planned demonstration which opposes controversial plans to ban dogs from Portrush's West Beach.
He is predicting 700 and 1,200 dog owners will be converging on the popular north coast to show support for his Barking Mad campaign.
The plans come after similar council proposals to clamp down on dogs on Newtownabbey, North Down and Belfast under the new Dogs Order legislation.
Belfast City Council sparked outrage when it proposed banning all dogs from cemeteries, while North Down hit the national news when it proposed that all dogs should be kept on leads on the North Down Coastal Path.
Now Coleraine council has joined the fray, issuing a public consultation on plans to permanently ban dogs from West Strand Beach and restrict access on a number of council-owned public spaces. The public have been given 28 days to respond and all written submissions must be received by April 26.
More than 1,000 people have opposed the plans via online petitions. The Dogs Order also proposes banning dogs all-year round at the Herring Pond in Portstewart and the Arcadia in Portrush.
The Barking Mad campaign is being spearheaded by Mr Gregg, owner of the Harbour Bar.
"This is one of the main beaches of the north coast and thousands of people come here every year to walk their dogs. The council can't just draw a pen through it and say ban dogs," he said.
Mr Gregg said Jollyes pet shop has donated 10,000 bags for owners to clear up during the protest.
"The council should be looking at going after the owners who let their dog foul, perhaps through beach patrols, instead of penalising all owners, he said. "The people that let their dogs foul need to be prosecuted. It's the people that do that who have brought this problem to a head. I don't know any dogs that leave full nappies on the beaches, I don't know any dogs that leave broken wine bottles. It's the dog owners that have to be addressed here, not the poor dogs."
Countryside Alliance Ireland said the plans serve to anger and alienate diligent dog owners.
Urging the public to join the protest, a spokesman said: "Where one council leads, others will follow and action must be taken to ensure owners and dogs alike have their voices heard."
Anyone wishing to take part in the walk should assemble with their dogs at the Harbour Bar, Portrush, at 2pm on Sunday.
The council has said that while some dog owners may not feel they have been fairly treated, dog fouling is an ongoing problem.
"If and when these restrictions are imposed by council, the environmental services department will patrol the area to monitor compliance.
"Council will take every opportunity to promote responsible dog ownership and encourage dog owners to clean up after their pets," a spokesman said.