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The mechanical arm dips into the back of the truck, grabs some rubble in its clamshell jaws, and swings up and out. Then it drops the debris on the ground, adding to the piles around it.
It’s a little after 11am last Thursday, and a yellow and blue lorry is parked up on the northern end of a patch of green space to the west of Darndale Park, just north of Belcamp Gardens and near Tara Lawns.
On the southern side of the mounds of rubble, there were piles of household rubbish. Used nappies. Empty bottles of bleach. Plastic water bottles, and empty cans. Old kids’ handbags, and a Peppa Pig plastic toy that made a quiet ticking sound.
Satellite images suggest that for as long as a decade, there has been a growing build-up of rubble and debris on this Dublin City Council-owned land – which is meant to be green space, a neighbourhood amenity.
The council didn’t give a direct answer when asked how long they’d been aware of the problem, but local councillors say residents have complained for years.
“It’s an absolutely disgraceful situation that has been allowed to continue, to the extent that we now have a massive massive mound of rubbish and dumped materials, possible toxins,” said Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, last week.
Nobody – apart, perhaps, from those leaving the rubble there – really knows for sure what exactly is being dumped in this residential area, and what kind of hazards it might present to people living nearby.
Among the piles of domestic waste on Thursday, there was little that hinted at where it might have come from: no letters with names or receipts.
Over the mounds of rubbish, where there is what looks more like construction waste, another red Ford Transit with a chassis cab pulled in behind with what looked like old kitchen appliances in the back.
A lorry was parked further up the road, its back open and empty but what looked like an enamel sink or tub, with part of its licence plate concealed.
“This is not what we call illegal dumping. This is highly commercial, organised, industrial and garden waste that has been going on for a number of years,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole, at last week’s meeting of Dublin City Council’s north central area committee.
At the council meeting last week, Assistant Area Manager Elaine Mulvenny said that the council had tried to tackle some of the pile-up of waste over the summer.
It brought together different departments: waste management, enforcement, area officials, and gardaí. Thorntons were contracted to remove rubbish and worked on it for eight days, at a cost of €230,000, she said.
There was helicopter surveillance, road blocks, she said. “All sorts to try and curtail it.” But people are still dumping there – and council officials are meeting again to talk about what to do, she said.
“The extent of the area is huge,” she says. “It is a very challenging problem. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop actions to try and solve it. But it is very difficult.”
O’Toole said the site was never fully cleared over the summer. Residents in the area have complained for years, he said, yet nobody seemed to be dealing with it.
“They have been very patient,” said O’Toole. “Where are the council? Where are the guards? This is a criminal activity.”
A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it first heard of dumping here on 1 February this year – just three weeks ago, after a complaint.
It’s up to the council to enforce the laws around illegal dumping – and the EPA got in touch with them to ask what has been done, they said.
The EPA also contacted the National Waste Enforcement Steering Committee (NWESC), which draws together representatives from a range of departments, including the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, An Garda Siochána, Revenue and others.
The NWESC has identified illegal dumping and multi-agency responses for sites with high levels of illegal activity as a national priority this year, said the spokesperson.
The EPA has asked the steering committee to “consider further action in relation to this matter in line with the stated priorities for 2019”, they said.
A spokesperson from Garda Siochána Press Office said it works closely with the local authority for the area, and suggested the questions be directed to Fingal County Council as councils are the lead agencies for illegal dumping. (The site is in Dublin City Council’s area.)
“If An Garda Siochána receive reports of illegal dumping, this would be investigated,” they said.
Dublin City Council Press Office said its waste enforcement unit have prosecuted “a number of individuals for illegal waste activities relating to this area, resulting in criminal convictions”.
Enforcement officers patrol the area and carry out roadside checkpoints with An Garda Siochána, they said. “An investigation into current activities in the area is ongoing that may result in further enforcement action.”
But there is little sign of any slowdown in the dumping.
Said Gilliland: “Probably, because it’s been going on for years it’s almost custom and practice that that is where it’s being done. No one has confronted them.”
Charlie Hogan, from the Moatview Fairfield Development Association, said he and his volunteers clean some of the roads and streets around the area – but not the greens, as that’s the council’s remit.
Hogan sees the solution to the domestic waste in the general area as naming and shaming – he didn’t talk about the mounds of what seems more like construction rubble.
But “a lot of people are actually afraid to report these lads. They’ve been doing this so long and on a regular basis that they’re actually afraid that if they actually reported them to the authorities, or get photographs of the registration they could end up in big trouble,” he says.
His group has set up a confidential line for people to report dumpers, he says. “If I put a bag of rubbish across the road, guaranteed tomorrow morning, there’ll be 20 and within a week there’ll be a massive amount. We’re finding there’s an awful lot more.”
They also clean up a lot of drug-related paraphernalia, he said. “What it does need is a massive cleanup. If the field is clean, the chances are it will stay clean.”
“You need to keep at it constantly and the only way is to involve the people that actually live there,” he says. “The big one is not Dublin City Council but it’s actually the people that live there and actually tolerate and allow it to go on.”
Building homes on the area at the north of the green space would be one way to stop it, says Gilliland. “Obviously the site would need to be cleared, before housing would be put on it.”
She put forward a motion last week, calling on the council manager to talk to local residents to see what they thought about building social housing there. It passed.
O’Toole said that it could cost a million euro, or millions of euro, to clear the site – they don’t know exactly what it would take.
Gilliland said that she wants to see any investigation and conviction take that into account. “That part of the judgment be that they pay, or some payment is put against them for the removal of that.”
“It’s going to cost a massive amount,” said Gilliland. “They don’t know what’s underneath it.”