Mark H Durkan: we'll fight the litter louts on beaches
New Environment Minister Mark H Durkan aims to fight them on the beaches – litter louts, that is.
The Stormont chief has devised a three-pronged plan to combat the unsightly and smelly remnants left during Northern Ireland's recent spell of scorching, including:
* Urging local councils to use their powers to impose £80 spot fines on litterers.
* A series of beach 'summits'.
* A marine litter strategy described as "a co-ordinated response to the problem of litter on our coastline".
News of the plan came after the Belfast Telegraph consistently highlighted the problem of litter on our beaches and beauty spots this summer.
Just this week we reported how popular areas such as the North Coast and the Sperrins had been blighted by discarded rubbish and overflowing bins.
And last month we revealed how, after a spell of warm weather, 16 pick-up truck-loads of rubbish were lifted from Portstewart Strand alone. Other beauty spots were strewn with barbecues, bottles and dirty nappies.
Just over a week into office, the Environment Minister is already fighting a losing battle, with five beaches losing their coveted Blue Flag status in the past year. Four of them – Downhill, Castlerock, Portrush East Strand and Cranfield Bay – were stripped of their status as a result of new European rules, but the fifth, Crawfordsburn, lost out because of a drop in water quality.
Mr Durkan's predecessor, Alex Attwood, initiated the proposals and his SDLP colleague aims to take up from where his colleague left off.
He said: "I am aware of the extent of littering on some beaches during the recent spell of good weather.
"There are still people who continue to litter, spoiling the appearance of our local beauty spots and tourist attractions.
"It is left to councils to clean up the mess left by the litterers on our beaches – as well as the towns and countryside – at huge expense to local ratepayers. It is so easy for people to bring their litter home with them in a bag after spending a day at the beach or to put their litter in a bin, yet a sizeable number of people do not take this extra small step.
"This is in spite of the fact that it is illegal to litter and councils can impose on-the-spot fines of up to £80 for littering offences." Mr Durkan vowed to assess levels of anti-litter enforcement by councils and expects them to target specific problem areas.
In addition, his department's code of practice makes clear that amenity beaches should, as a minimum standard, be kept clear of all litter during the traditional bathing season of May 1 to September 30.
Mr Durkan added: "I fully recognise the importance of a clean and healthy coastline and I have convened a series of beach summits, the purpose and outcome of which is to address issues such as litter, water quality, signage, information, awards, etc."
* £80 spot fines for littering
* 3,700: the number of litter fines councils have issued in the last year
* 5: the number of NI beaches losing Blue Flag status