On Harold’s Cross Road on Friday, two large cars are parked in the centre of the footpath, in front of pedestrian crossings. People pushing prams and leading dogs swerve around the cars.
At the entrance to Harold’s Cross Park, a coffee cup lid has been trampled into the dirt. Lying innocently at a tree trunk, is a bit of dog poop.
If councillors had their way, there would be council workers patrolling the streets with the power to tackle all three of these issues that crop up so often in council debates: parking violations, littering, and abandoned dog poop.
The idea of community wardens has traction, said Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey at Dublin City Council’s February monthly meeting, as councillors debated, again, how to deal with these blights.
Councillors from different parties had suggested it, he said at the meeting on 7 February. “That there would be a dog warden, litter warden, parking warden, all combined in one.”
Two days later, councillors on the transport committee backed a motion from Green Party councillors calling for a pilot in two different neighbourhoods, either side of the Liffey. And another from independent Councillor Christy Burke calling for an update on the idea of traffic wardens.
Ultimately, though, it’s down to council officials, rather than councillors, to move the idea forward or not.
Is There a Need?
On Friday afternoon, Kevin Foran leant over to pet the head of his black Labrador puppy, near the entrance to Harold’s Cross Park.
He likes the idea of a community warden, clearing the streets of unsightly behaviour. “It’s pretty horrible seeing a big piece of poop in the middle of the road. It’s not very enjoyable.”
Esra Zihni stands beside him with the puppy’s mother on a green leash.
A community warden could be like a ticket warden on public transport, she says, who people know may come around and check you have paid. “It could be a similar thing with illegal parking.”
Caroline Conroy, a Green Party councillor, says she remembers traffic wardens in brown uniforms walking around Finglas village when she was younger.
She thinks they were former members of An Garda Síochana, and brought in in the late ’60s until the 80s or 90s, she says. “Basically they would walk around. It was issuing tickets.”
Keith Connolly, a Fianna Fail councillor, says he too remembers the traffic wardens in Finglas village when he was a child.
“The brown uniforms, and my dad running back to me to make sure the car wasn’t overtime and just the general, you know, level of adherence to it,” he said, at the transport meeting.
In Finglas village now, there’s a lot of illegal parking, said Connolly. “The guards are too busy, parking enforcement comes out on occasion. I do think it deserves a trial.”
Meanwhile, Lacey, at the monthly council meeting, bemoaned the lack of enforcement around dog fouling: “In the last five years in total, there have been 27 fines for dog fouling. Twenty-seven fines over five years is absolutely absurd.”
Someone out on the streets could catch behaviour that happens quickly, he said. “I know it’s difficult to get it, but we need to get the staff out there doing it.”
Tea Kranjcec, strolling through Harold’s Cross park, says she’d prefer if there were more bins around for dog poo. “I think it’s a huge problem.”
She’d asked for bins on Clanbrassil Street, but the council said there wasn’t enough space, she says.
A community warden could be somewhat beneficial in preventing piles of dog poo, she says. “I don’t know, maybe it could stop people from doing that?’
Who Should Do It?
At the moment, Dublin Street Parking Service is hired by the council to clamp or fine illegally parked vehicles.
Moore says she doesn’t see the DSPS in her local area,” she says. “They’re under-resourced for the challenge at hand.”
People have been asking her for litter and park wardens too, she says, so someone out in a high-vis jacket, walking the streets, could combine those functions.
“Then people see them, pass them, know them, establish a relationship with them, and that it’s the first line of defence against this kind of behaviour before you start having to get to DSPS,” she says.
When Dublin City Council trialled rangers, like wardens, on Bull Island to try to get dog owners to obey bylaws there, they got piles of abuse, said a council official in February 2020.
Zihni, with her black Labradors in Harold’s Cross Park, says authority might be a problem for any community warden. “It probably would help coming from someone who has kind of like, guard authority.”
Says Foran, beside her: “Going up and telling someone to clean up their poop, the person might be like, inhospitable to that.”
Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, said he supported the motion for a pilot, but that he would be concerned for the safety of the wardens, particularly from cyclists and electric scooter users.
“If people who are putting, you know, clamps on cars are being threatened, if the staff who are basically doing estate management are being threatened, if the Gardaí have to go around in groups,” he says.
Brendan O’Brien, the council’s executive engineer for traffic, at the transport committee meeting, said he would be concerned about the vulnerability of community wardens out on the streets.
“We’re all in favour of increased enforcement and trying to ensure that people obey the rules,” he said, but he agreed with comments about risk of antisocial behaviour and violence.
“One of the reasons for using DSPS is, I suppose, it is a coordinated service at the moment with its support, with its back-up, with its ability to respond and so on,” he says. “Any service will have to really consider the safety of the people out in the streets.”
Joe Costello, a Labour councillor, says the council could draw up a bylaw in city regulations, giving community wardens authority to work within the city boundaries.
If the warden was simply patrolling to look out for issues like parking and litter, says Costello, “I don’t think it would result in serious abuse.”
Foran, in Harold’s Cross Park, says he’d like a warden to also deal with bike theft in the city. “That’s really missing. If they could somehow compliment that. I’m terrified of leaving my bike in town for more than 24 hours.”
Costello, the Labour councillor, says that although the warden could be helpful for preventing bike theft, by being visible on the streets, he would leave it to Gardaí to deal with bike theft. “I think something of that nature is more criminal activity.”
A warden could not just enforce though, he said, they could get involved in community groups, call into schools. “And explain to kids what’s the proper behaviour in relation to sweet paper and all the other stuff.”
Green Party Councillor Carolyn Moore says the council could use increased revenue from parking fines to cover the costs of the new community wardens, she says. “I think there’s an opportunity within that to move to maximise that resource and provide a range of services to communities.”
“That physical presence on the street encourages people to really believe that there is a decent prospect that they will receive a fine,” she says.
At the transport committee meeting last Wednesday, O’Brien, the council’s executive engineer for traffic, said the council has committed at the moment to doing traffic enforcement through the Dublin Street Parking Services (DSPS).
“Which in our view is certainly the quickest way to do it,” he said. “That allows us to, you know, to review it and see how effective or otherwise it is.”
The results of an ongoing year-long fixed penalty notice trial, under which DSPS workers have been empowered to issue fines for parking violations rather than clamp, would inform them as to how effective an on-the-ground fining service would work, he said.
O’Brien said at the meeting that the chief executive of the council, Owen Keegan, would have to comment on the prospect of a community warden. “Really, it’s up to the members to make that case.”