Photo by Caroine Brady

Steven Doody is the latest anti-herbicide warrior to mobilise against the use of weedkillers on the city’s streets and green spaces. And the student of fine art is having some success.

Last Thursday, Dublin Institute of Technology’s (DIT’s) student union passed a motion to include as part of its mandate the banning of herbicide on the new Grangegorman campus. This was Doody’s handiwork.

He got into the campaign through his involvement in DIT’s Green Campus Society. It was one of the issues the society took up and, Doody decided, one of the most pressing.

“We were working on a range of projects last year . . . but I decided to reduce the number of projects I was trying to do, and I decided the one that was most important was herbicide,” he said on Tuesday.

Doody said he chose to focus on herbicide, because of its detrimental effects on the city’s biodiversity. But it may also have detrimental effects on the city’s people.

The World Health Organisation declared earlier this year that weedkillers containing glyphosate are probably carcinogenic. Dublin City Council uses them throughout the city, and there’s been some debate about whether that should end.

The Green Campus Society is trying to develop a new, green ethos for Grangegorman and this anti-herbicide drive is part of it. Doody says it would benefit the 20,000 students who will arrive on the campus over the next few years, as well as the children who will use the playground and attend the Educate Together school that’s being built.

“So it’s not just me standing there going, ‘Stop spraying’. Now there’s 20,000 students behind me,” he says.

On the Agenda

Doody believes Grangegorman could be a herbicide-free campus by the end of the year. He says he has spoken with the college’s health-and-safety officer, who has started to look at the issue. On top of that, the parent-teacher association of the new primary school seems to be on board too.

Student union president Graham Higginbotham says the issue wasn’t on his manifesto, but after Thursday’s meeting, he will do his best to introduce a ban on herbicide at the college. “We will definitely work proactively on it for the year,” he said.

“There’s a lot of support in DIT from staff members,” says Doody. “It’s a brilliant opportunity for DIT.” As he sees it, DIT teaches environmental management and environmental science and this is its chance to lead the way in encouraging biodiversity.

It’s about changing the way people are used to doing things, and that can be done through education, he says.

“We need to re-educate and really show people that a weed is actually a flower, it’s just not where it’s supposed to be,” he says. “As soon as they stop spraying, biodiversity will return. Bumblebees will return.”

Doody would like to see DIT become a biodiversity haven, with meadow areas and grass-management plans too. If herbicide is banned in DIT, he plans to research its effects on the area’s biodiversity.

Open to the Idea

DIT is using herbicide on the new sports pitches while the grass establishes itself, and on noxious weeds like giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed. These legally require treatment on an annual basis, says a spokeswoman for DIT.

However, DIT management is still open to the proposal. “We will certainly review the research they [DITSU] bring forward and will also take advice from our health and safety office, estates management, and the landscaping contractors to ensure that everything we do is environmentally sustainable,” she adds.

Doody says herbicide is poison. He is clearly passionate about his cause. Though there is still some debate over the World Health Organisation’s research, he doesn’t doubt it.

“They haven’t backed down on their stance,” he says, comparing the issue to past disagreements on the cancer risks of cigarettes.

Determined, he plans to continue to lobby Dublin City Council and hopes to convince other colleges to follow DIT’s example. He has spoken to Green Campus Societies of Trinity College, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght, in the hope that they might lobby their student unions on the issue as well.

If they successfully did so, he estimates this would result in 150 acres of Dublin being herbicide-free.

In Other Herbicidey News

A couple months ago, we reported on another minor success for anti-glyphosate campaigners just down the road from Grangegorman.

Residents in Stoneybatter managed to opt out of having their streets sprayed with Roundup weedkiller. But the council has since given the residents an ultimatum, saying that if the weeds there weren’t cleared, they would have to spray them with herbicide.

“There was an enthusiastic community response and seven streets got involved,” says Kaethe Burt-O’Dea, who originally fought to end the council’s use of herbicide in Dublin 7.

But there’s still hope, and she continues to be enthusiastic about the campaign. She is happy to see some progress in DIT, and has also been speaking with Uplift about supporting the cause too.

Last month also saw the publication of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan. This recommends that local authorities “reduce or eliminate” the use of herbicides (as well as insecticides and fungicides) on public land.

Dublin City Council – which uses 3,500 litres of herbicide each year – has committed to introducing the recommendations of this plan over the next five years.

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