Last winter, during the “extended cold spells”, “we found that a number of our footpaths and roads in parts were in a constant state of frozen”, says John Fitzpatrick, chair of the Mount Symon Residents Association. 

“Our suggestion was if bins were provided we in turn would purchase salt and a spreader and we would then look after the gritting of these areas,” he said by email on Tuesday. 

Green Party Councillor Pamela Conroy raised the issue with Fingal County Council, and the council now says it’s planning to provide “grit boxes” or “salt bins” to community organisations countywide. 

They could be in place for this winter, said council senior engineer Karen Gallagher at a recent meeting of the council’s Blanchardstown-Mulhuddart, Castleknock, Ongar Area Committee. “We’re very close to it.”

Dublin City Council, meanwhile, has no plans for such a programme, a spokesperson said on Monday. 

“It is not feasible for Dublin City Council to extend the provision of salt bins to the City’s 4,000 streets, including residential roads, for private use,” they said.  

Fingal says yes

It was at the 28 September meeting of the area committee that Conroy asked for an update on the idea of having a pilot grit box programme just for that local electoral area.  

Gallagher, the council engineer, said the council had been looking at the idea since February, and had done lots of research, including contacting other local authorities that run such schemes: Meath, Monaghan, Cavan and Kildare. 

The idea is that “residents’ associations, community groups, churches, some clubs and schools” could apply for salt bins, Gallagher said. “We’re now developing the form, so it’s an application form.” 

The groups would say where they’d like the bin to go, and “they’d put a pin drop on a map so that we can have look at the location”, she said. 

They’d also give the name and address of the people responsible for the bin, Gallagher said. If the application was successful, the council would get its supplier to deliver a salt bin “and maybe one fill of salt”. 

“Fingal won’t have any responsibility for the bin once it’s been issued,” Gallagher said. Taking care of the bin, spreading the salt, and refilling the bin would be up to the group that asked for it, she said. 

The council would still need to “inform the unions” representing council workers, and also put out a tender and choose a supplier, Gallagher said. “We’re just ironing out the final details.”

The idea had been to try the bins as a pilot project in one council area, but the council’s research suggested not that many groups would likely ask for the bins. 

“I mean if it was like hundreds of bins that were being taken up in other areas, you know, where they do get colder weather, we would have maybe picked a pilot area but I think we’re not anticipating a huge amount of applications,” she said. 

At the meeting, Gallagher said that “Monaghan, who I would expect to have a lot of bins applied for, since 2011, is when they started their scheme, they’ve only issued 45 bins. I mean, I was astounded when we saw that,” she said. 

However, a spokesperson for Monaghan County Council said by email that it had issued “Approximately 145 bins in the last 12 years. I would consider this a good uptake.”

Fingal County Council has not replied to a query sent Tuesday about this discrepancy in the numbers, and whether it would change the council’s plans for its grit box scheme.

Dublin city says no

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council says it has no plans to provide grit boxes to local groups this winter. 

The council’s road maintenance department is preparing its plan for the winter, which will involve placing salt bins at 25 strategic locations across the city, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said.  

But those will be “for the sole use of Dublin City Council staff”, the spokesperson said. “There are no plans, at this time, to provide additional salt bins for use by the members of the public.”

It’s just not feasible, she said. “Dublin City Council’s Road Maintenance Services Division’s full resources, including staff, salt stocks, plant and machinery, are reserved for the treatment of 300km of the City’s main roads.”

During periods of severe ice on the footpaths, other divisions will be asked to step up and help road maintenance workers to treat the footpaths at key places, she said.  

“This includes footpaths adjacent to public transport hubs, footpaths with high pedestrian footfall and footpaths adjacent the main hospitals within the City,” she said. 

Last year, then Dublin Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan suggested that during icy periods more vulnerable pedestrians should just stay home. “The increased risk of accidents makes this a sensible option.”

Similarly, the council spokesperson said last week that “There is an increased risk of slips and falls and therefore injury during these periods. It is therefore important that people exercise caution and they consider the risks before making a decision on whether or not they should make a journey and by what means they should make that journey.”

Jason Cullen, a spokesperson for the Dublin Commuter Coalition, said the council should be “prioritising the needs of those with mobility challenges by gritting the footpaths during the winter periods”.

Ideally, the council should invest in smaller gritting machines “so they can efficiently make our footpaths safe for elderly and people with increased mobility challenges”.

However, “We would very much welcome Community grit boxes being made available, in the absence of the Councils undertaking the work themselves,” Cullen said. 

“Tidy Towns groups and other organisations across the Country have been volunteering their time to make up for the Council shortfalls in their Communities for years,” he said.  

Would grit boxes work?

Peter Kavanagh, chair of Chapelizod Tidy Towns, sounded cautious about the idea of community salt bins. 

He said he couldn’t make a call on them, as he hadn’t seen the details of the Fingal plan, and there’s no plan for them in Dublin city. 

But he wondered aloud if there might be any legal liability issues, and talked about how having volunteers working alongside roads could be dangerous. 

Besides, Tidy Towns group already had plenty to do, without adding this on top, he said. 

“If we have a stash of salted sand we could use it on the footpath, we could use that,” he said. “I wouldn’t go looking for it, though – it would be another task to do.”

At the Fingal area committee meeting in late September, Fianna Fáil Councillor Howard Mahony also sounded cautious about the idea. 

“In some places it’s the local sandbox, and some anti-social behaviour can happen around it,” he said. He suggested trialling them somewhere. “See how it goes, and kind of ease ourself into it.”

However, Conroy, the Green Party councillor, said the idea’s tried and tested already. “I’m from Northern Ireland and up there every estate has a grit box,” she said. 

Fingal County Council doesn’t have the resources to do all the salting that’s needed, so community grit boxes make sense, Conroy said. 

There’s no obligation to take them, so if a local group has concerns about them, it doesn’t have to get one. 

As for anti-social behaviour, Conroy said she grew up for 15 years in an estate with a grit box and the worst they did with it was use it as a goal post. 

If she had one in her estate in Fingal, she could grit her driveway, and the footpath in front of her house, and in front of a couple of her elderly neighbours’ homes, she said. 

“It’s such a simple measure,” she said. “It worked all my life back home.”

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