The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Dirty Politics

Carrie Twomey 17.12.02

Merry Christmas from Belfast City Council and the UDA's "C" Company! What do the two have in common this time, apart from past deputy mayors prancing on stage with their gunmen? A Norway Fir Christmas tree, said by the Newsletter to have cost £10,000, so massive it dwarves the homes it has been placed in front of, put up by Johnny Adair's men no less. Paid for by the Belfast City Council, it has been erected in the Lower Shankill by the UDA and adorned with Christmas Greetings from their "C" Company. A Belfast City Council spokesman admitted to the Belfast Telegraph it owned the tree, which was provided at the request of local representatives. John White, one of those representatives, says the Council has provided them with a tree for the last three years.

Now I am not one to begrudge anyone - children and adults - a spot of Christmas spirit, and if that gigantic tree does brighten the lives of the children in the area at least that is something. I am more inclined, however, to think it is something that depresses the people in the area - it certainly depresses me as a huge waste of money. If I lived in the lower Shankill, would I resent the money that put it there, and the audacity that went with it? Would I feel intimidated by it - would it put me in my place even further by sending me a not so subtle message that even Santa is controlled by the UDA? It just might. I live in an area dominated and controlled by the local IRA; I imagine the difference these days is not that great. Living somewhere under the control of those obsessed by power is pretty much the same thing no matter who the letters belong to.

What I do begrudge is the dump we live in here in Belfast, especially when thousands of pounds are thrown away, given freely to paramilitaries to waste on temporary trees, when they could be given to the community the UDA preys upon in the form of proper street cleaning. Living in a clean environment would sure be a great spirit lifter - might even help cut down on some forms of crime as well. Imagine going into the Shankill or the White Rock and seeing an absence of graffiti, streets swept and kept clean of rubbish, emptied bins and maybe a little (permanent) greenery. Impossible, say you? It's not like keeping this city clean is rocket science. Yet the Belfast City Council seems to be dumbstruck in the face of how to clean up its act.

Waste management to the City Council means long term landfill management, not picking up the rubbish off our streets. Fair enough, but residents don't want to live in filth. We do care where our rubbish ends up eventually, but the first step is that it gets taken off our streets so that is can end up somewhere - else, preferably. Somewhere other than blown into our front gardens, than underneath the fences along footpaths where it appears to have collected for years, than tumbling along the street like some post-modern tumbleweed. Somewhere else, please, where plastic bags can mingle freely with chippy wrappers and broken bottles and dog shit and drunk vomit and crisp bags, along with all the other normal household rubbish, away from being a depressing and soul destroying eyesore, and from causing a hazard to public health by staying where they land, out in the open, public thoroughfares.

The street sweeping in the area I live - revealed by the Andersonstown News* to be the dirtiest part of the city - is a joke, as is the graffiti removal service. Graffiti across the road from the local Chapel stayed for over a year despite repeated complaints to the City Council, and when finally addressed, the "removal" looks just as bad as the graffiti did. The street sweepers used are not suited to these narrow streets; with cars parked all over the place at best they end up blowing rubbish from one side of the street to the other as they zigzag between them; even worse, the drivers rush in and out of the streets, not giving their machines a chance to do their job properly. Regulating parking in conjunction with the street cleaning schedule would work wonders. Sidewalk cleaners such as those used in the City Centre would help if they were properly used on a regular basis here, as would teams of cleaners following the machines to pick up any rubbish missed.

It's not as if this is an impossible problem to solve; many options exist that could be taken to improve the street cleaning services, most are affordable and only require a common-sense change in approach. I've complained to Waste Management before about the terrible level of service we receive. Recently it took 3 days for them to show up to pick up a dead animal, which is outrageous, especially in an area where so many young children and toddlers play. This isn't just an issue of aesthetics, it's an issue of disease and public health as well. I've gone to Waste Management meetings; they seem to be stuck in bureaucracy and the civil servants more interested in long term recycling issues than in getting the rubbish off our streets in the first place. As always, the issue of the budget is a hindrance more than a help in determining what areas of Belfast get cleaned, when they do and at what level of service. Poor areas get the short end of the stick - they are dirtier and harder to maintain so with limited funding the "logical" choice for engineers is to keep them dirty rather than take money from the cleaner areas to invest in heavy duty cleaning of the dirtier areas to get them up to a standard level.

Tidy Northern Ireland's** director, Ian Close, who recently released a report published by the group examining the poor state of cleanliness of Northern Ireland, says, "Perhaps the feeling is that with so many other problems, things like litter don’t matter - yet if people live in a poor quality environment they feel less safe and behave in a more anti-social way. Failing to keep our neighbourhoods tidy can result in higher crime rates, decreased business and tourism opportunities and even problems with vermin."

He's right. This place is depressing. Why should anyone care about the community here, when it is clear the community doesn't even care about itself? The anti-social problems we have will be with us for as long as we don't bother to clean up our act. As long as those who are in charge of the mechanics of cleaning up after ourselves continue to think it's alright to give thousands of pounds to groups like the UDA for Christmas - instead of adding that to the waste management budget at an immediate street level - we're being condemned to live in a dump with rising crime levels for a long time to come. At the end of the day, this strategy being pursued by the City Council, politics over common sense, and the social ills that come with it, will end up being more expensive to eradicate than the amount that is needed now to stop this problem in its tracks. That's the real criminal act.



* According to the Andersonstown News, Belfast City Council recently released a study of the cleanliness of the city, which found West Belfast to be the dirtiest area. Given a scoring system where a very clean street rates 70 points, West Belfast earned 49. The average for the city as a whole was rated 57.5. In the latest quarterly report, complaints to the City Council have risen from 2,200 to 2,700. The City Council passes the buck, with a spokesman for the council saying, "The council spend £9m a year on cleaning the entire city, which is the equivalent of more than £26 per person. The onus has to be on individuals who persist in littering our streets."

** Tidy Northern Ireland "scoured 26 local authority areas for litter, dog fouling, vandalism and graffiti has found that well over half of our councils have fallen below the standards they set in a similar survey last year. And in the case of Magherafelt, Cookstown, Limavady and Belfast that drop has been alarming."
Tidy Northern Ireland's surveyors also listed the type of rubbish they found (the full report may be found here: "Sweet wrappers were seen at three quarters of the areas surveyed, drinks cans and cartons were discovered at 56.1% of streets and fast food at 29.4% of roads and 41% of other areas. Smoking related rubbish made up of fag ends, boxes and matches is still our biggest problem, being found at 86.7% of the areas looked at.
"Other environmental damage - such as dog fouling and graffiti was also examined. Vandalism was found at 5.3% of streets, graffiti at 7.7% of roads and 9.2% of other sites and dog fouling at 10.3% of streets and 6% of other council areas - which of course include play areas and parks. (For details on the best and worst in Northern Ireland, see fact file).
"Over a thousand litter bins were also surveyed of which nearly 10% were full. Close on half of the rubbish that had been put out by shops and other businesses hadn’t been bagged up properly ready for collection."




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

Index: Current Articles

19 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
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Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

Anthony McIntyre


The Men of No Property
Liam O Ruairc


Relatives of Republican Prisoners
Orlaith Dillion


Dirty Politics
Carrie Twomey


Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters


15 December 2002


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The Beast is Back
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Christmas in the "Holy Land"
Margaret Quinn


The Theocractic Threat to Secular Freedom

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