‘A bad day at the
office’ as Clonmel
slumps in controversial litter survey

Clonmel may have just had a ‘bad day’, councillors were told at this month’s meeting of Clonmel Borough Council, in response to why the town fared so badly in the first-round results of the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) league.

Clonmel may have just had a ‘bad day’, councillors were told at this month’s meeting of Clonmel Borough Council, in response to why the town fared so badly in the first-round results of the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) league.

Operations managaer at the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, Michael John O’Mahony, addressed a number of questions from the council, in the presence of the secretary of the Clonmel Tidy Town’s Committee Frank O’Donoghue. August’s IBAL report placed Clonmel in a woeful 47th position out of a total of 53 towns surveyed. This latest result deemed Clonmel to be ‘Littered’, compared to the previous survey in which Clonmel received the highest standard of ‘Clean to European Norms’, and in a respectable sixth place.

Members of Clonmel Borough Council had been critical of this survey result which contrasted significantly to September’s Tidy Towns result when Clonmel gained two points and retained its gold medal status. They said that they believe that the survey is not a true reflection of Clonmel or the hard work put in by the Council outdoor staff and the members of the Tidy Towns Committee and were angered at the negative image and publicity such a result creates for the town.

An Taisce carries out the survey for IBAL, which was established in 1996, and towns with populations in excess of 5,000 can be assessed randomly on any day, in any month. Sites are graded in four categories: Grade A means ‘Clean to European Norms’, or a virtual absence of litter; Grade B means ‘Moderately Littered’, or scattered small amounts of litter; Grade C means ‘Serious Litter Problem’, or accumulations of litter; and Grade D means ‘Litter Blackspot’, or significant accumulations of litter.

For the past three years Clonmel has received the top mark with the exception of the first round survey in 2009 when it received a ‘Moderately Littered’ status, just missing out on the top accolade.

Mr. O’Mahony told the council that Clonmel had done quite well in the IBAL league on previous surveys but added that because it is a league, no matter how good you are, you are always compared to someone else.

“You might be doing the same as you always have been while others have moved on,” said Mr. O’Mahony.

He explained that the assessment carried out on behalf of IBAL is a ‘snapshot’ of the town at the time, and An Taisce assessors are asked to pick out 10 sites in the town for assessment.

“You seem to have just had a bad day, a lot of A grades you had before, became Bs when compared with previous times,” he said. But he told the councillors not to panic just yet, adding that if the second 2011 survey follows the same pattern, then there may be an issue that will have to be addressed.

“There are two IBAL surveys per year so I wouldn’t panic just yet. If you are consistently trending good results, then that can explain a drop like this, but the next survey will tell if you have a problem,” he said.

He commended the Tidy Towns competition and the committee in Clonmel and he commented on other initiatives such as the Green Schools and the National Spring Clean as being very useful resources to use, to network with for the greater good of the town. He said that the Entente Florale was a major event for Clonmel to aspire to.

Vacant sites and derelict sites are problems that have impacted in the fabric of the town, he said, and while there is not a lot that can be done about that currently, he said that there are ways of improving those sites.

Addressing the role of the business community in keeping the town clean and tidy Mr. O’Mahony said that the Council could draw up a charter requesting the businesses to do a number of things including: presenting waste in the correct format at collection time; brushing up the front of their premises and picking up the rubbish that they collect.

Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan said that the biggest question that the Council had was how Clonmel could have slipped so far down from pole position when their litter management had not changed. But he said that Mr. O’Mahony had provided an explanation to that.

Cllr Billy Shoer said that he was very disappointed with the IBAL results and said that he did not think that it was fair to catch a team out on a bad day.

“The result portrayed Clonmel very badly - when you see Clonmel at the very bottom in this competition compared to the Tidy Towns competition. We got a gold medal in one and a kick in the utensils in the other,” he said. He added that a second chance should be given to the town.

“That is not a league table, that is a punishment,” he said.

Cllr Joe Leahy, who initially contacted IBAL in relation to Clonmel’s result said that a number of things bothered him about the league. He said Clonmel is a great town and when there is such a massive slip in results, the onus should be on IBAL to liaise with the Council on that.

Cllr Siobhan Ambrose, agreeing with Cllr Leahy, said that it seemed incredible that IBAL would not look back on previous results, when such a massive drop was recorded.

Cllr Richie Molloy said that the current methodology used by IBAL means that a whole year’s work can be undone in one day. He asked that IBAL would return a second time to assess the areas again.

Town manager Sinead Carr said that the disparity that existed between the IBAL and Tidy Towns reports caused great concern. She said that she believed that IBAL’s work was worthwhile but said that institutions must also learn to do things in a different way if required. She said the Borough Council values the report but suggested that change could be made to the methodology used. And she said that if there was a significant decrease noted, that IBAL could communicate with the Council.

“I don’t think that it is good enough to wait until next round to see how we do,” she said. Mr. O’Mahony asked the Council to officially write to IBAL outlining their concerns and requests.