Weeds growing around the edges of the verges at Clontarf Promenade were getting as high as six feet, said independent Councillor Damien O’Farrell.
He brought up the issue at last week’s meeting of the council’s North Central Area Committee.
“The equipment they’re using is too big,” he says. “You see these guys on these ride-on lawnmowers that are too big. They’re not getting into corners.”
O’Farrell says he wants to see people out with harnesses and strimmers. Weeds in his area weren’t being addressed “in any shape or fashion”, he says.
And he’s not the only councillor to have noticed more weeds around this summer, and overgrown verge edges.
But while years back, budget-skimping was responsible for contractors leaving the edges of verges uncut, it’s a different picture now.
This isn’t the first time O’Farrell has raised issues around cutting the edges of grass verges.
In 2016, he introduced a motion asking that councillors get more of a say in how the council measures the performance of contractors paid to cut the edges along roads and parks across the city.
It wasn’t part of the contract for them to cut the edges, said Assistant Chief Executive Declan Wallace at the time. “The time involved vis-à-vis what it currently takes, I think would add hugely to the contract,” he said. So edges were tidied up with weedkiller.
But for the current contracts, cutting the grass edges was included, O’Farrell says.
The total value of the contracts, for the period January 2017 to December 2020 is €4,078,095, according to the Office of Government Procurement.
The companies awarded the contracts were Peter O’Brien and Sons Landscaping (Central and South East areas), Redlough Landscapes (North West and South Central areas) and SAP Landscaping (North Central Area).
“They are contracted to cut grass in open spaces, grass verges, entrances into residential estates [and] some parks,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
In 2016, O’Farrell had wanted an overseer, someone monitoring the work done by contractors to make sure it was up to certain standards. They got one.
“So somebody [now] goes around full-time making sure the work is done,” says O’Farrell. But he doesn’t think much looks different.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson says that’s because the performance indicators for grass-cutting have changed.
The council has been trialling ways to promote biodiversity, cut down on chemical use, and encourage pollinators, said the spokesperson – which means an update, again, in how contractors handle the edges of grass verges.
“Under instruction from us, the edges are not trimmed, as before,” the spokesperson said.
And neither are they using weedkiller anymore to tidy up the edges, according to Coilín O’Reilly, North Central Area Manager, at the last area committee meeting.
“As the Parks Service reduces the use of herbicides in the public realm, weeds or native opportunistic plants will become move evident,” says O’Reilly.
The council has in the past used glyphosate-based weedkillers.
In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
In May 2019, a court in California ordered Monsanto, the maker of glyphosate-based Roundup, to pay $2 billion to a couple who claimed they got cancer from the weedkiller.
However, in 2017 the EU decided to allow the use of glyphosate for another five years. In Ireland, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson has reportedly said as recently as this month that there are no plans to ban the chemical here.
In any case, in Dublin, the result of this new laissez-faire approach to tending the city’s verges is shaggier edges on them. And perhaps happier bees and other creatures living in those weeds and grasses.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Daryl Barron says he sees grass maintenance as a big issue “all over the northside”. But the council and contractors respond fast when he contacts them, he says.
Barron, though, is sceptical of any ban on using pesticides such as Roundup.
“We have to use stuff to keep the place clean and tidy,” he says. “They say it causes cancers and things like that. I’ve never seen any cases brought against the city council for that.”
“It’s not plausible for our guys to be pulling weeds manually,” says Barron.
He would like to see the council take on more staff for general manual labour but doesn’t think it’s a good use of their time to pull up weeds, he says.
Green Party Councillor Neasa Hourigan disagrees.
“One of the issues we need to talk about when it comes to caring for those areas is a biodiversity plan and, which the council is kind of slow to roll out, is a pollinator plan,” says Hourigan.
The pollinator plan would look at having more wildflowers and less grass-cutting. There is currently a Biodiversity Action Plan, which finishes up at the end of this year.
Hourigan says that she is getting some comments from people about there being lots of weeds in the cracks in the pavement.
“I do think that people think it’s untidy and I have to confess that I think 10 years ago I would have thought that too,” says Hourigan.
Nowadays though, she thinks nothing of it. “Weeds are plants and weeds are part of their biodiversity. I know people think it looks untidy but I think in a couple of years time we won’t see it that way,” says Hourigan.
In her area, around Cabra, the overgrowth of the edges of grass verges isn’t really much of an issue. “A lot of the grass verges have been tarmaced over,” says Hourigan.
But even if they were untarmaced and made green again, she wouldn’t like to see them mown all the time, she says.