Coastal counties across the state must take steps to ensure dogs are kept off their Blue Flag beaches if they want to retain the coveted international environmental award, An Taisce has advised.
Dogs, with the exception of assistance dogs, are already banned in Ireland’s 93 Blue Flag bathing areas under criteria set by the International Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
An Taisce, which runs the Blue Flag scheme in Ireland, was asked by the FEE to tell local authorities that if they want to keep their flags, they have to comply with the scheme’s rules.
“The award criteria related to dog restrictions are international criteria applied across the 50 countries around the world that implement the program,” said Ian Diamond, An Taisce Coastal Award Manager. “Ireland is an outlier in that not all local authorities would have statutes or other rules governing animal access to beaches.”
An Taisce has reached out to local authorities to advise them to take steps if they want to meet the FEE criteria, which state: “Dogs or pets, excluding assistance dogs, are on a Blue Flag beach.” or not allowed in a Blue Flag area if it is part of a larger beach.”
The rule applies when the flag is flown during the bathing season, which starts on June 1st. The goal is to keep dogs away from areas used by bathers during bathing season for health and safety reasons, Mr Diamond said.
“This criterion is mandatory in all regions where the blue flag operates. The rationale for restricting pet access to beaches is that one of the most common hazards in bathing waters is microbial pathogens introduced through human and animal faeces,” he said.
“The FEE has asked us to run a comprehensive program to make local authorities aware that in order to fly a blue flag they must meet the blue flag criteria. . . We have asked local authorities to formulate plans to introduce rules if they don’t already have rules [with] the [they] fulfill.”
Meanwhile, some politicians in Kerry have said horses will also be banned from Kerry’s beaches except for early morning and late evening.
If the rules are not passed, Kerry will lose some of its Blue Flag awards, said John Breen, director of Kerry’s Beaches and Water Services.
Promenades and parking lots outside the beaches are not affected.
There was strong backlash and Fianna Fails councilor Johnny Wall, a former mayor of Tralee who was co-opted for the council seat vacated by Education Secretary Norma Foley when she was elected to the Dáil, said he could not support the proposal.
Fianna Fail’s Mikey Sheehy said it had the hallmarks of the “nanny state”.
Independent councilman Jackie Healy-Rae, a dog owner, said he feared for the tourism economy. Those with mobile homes on Banna Beach are required to keep their dogs “locked up” between 11am and 7pm every day, he claimed.
Dog owners are looking for dog-friendly places when choosing travel destinations, he warned.
He described the provisions as “stubborn”. Other provisions in the new bylaws make it a criminal offense to disobey a lifeguard’s instructions and prohibit the use of certain inflatable water devices. Restrictions on lighting fires in dune areas are also proposed.