20 June 2014

Meath County Council issues warning
about water quality at Bettystown beach

The beach at Bettystown on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Meath County Council says that swimming at the beach in Bettystown is not prohibited but the council is advising people not to swim there and has issued a warning to the public after test results received on Wednesday afternoon show an increase in levels of bacteria including ecoli.

Further samples were taken again on Wednesday evening and the results are expected later today [Friday 20 June].

The council says higher levels of bacteria are usually short-lived and most bathers are unlikely to experience any illness.

However, a local Senator, Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fail, is asking why Meath County Council and the Environmental Protection Agency have not erected signs at the entrance to the beach after high bacteria levels were found in the water.

The local Labour TD Gerald Nash has said that warnings to the public at Bettystown Beach about high bacteria levels in the water are “just not good enough.”

“I am not happy at all with the council’s response in terms of the adequacy of signage at the beach alerting swimmers to the dangers. Neither am I satisfied with the general level of management of the beach” he said.

“Putting it simply, there should have been very large, clearly visible warning signs erected at the beach as soon as the results of these tests were known. The council did issue a warning on its website, on Twitter and on a small sheet of paper on the notice board at the entrance to the beach, but that response is utterly inadequate.”

Deputy Nash added, "There is also an ongoing issue with the general management of the beach. Rules regarding cars and scrambler bikes were clearly being flouted. In addition there were a lot of complaints of anti-social behaviour in relation to gangs of drunken teenagers.”

According to the EPA website, the water quality in the Laytown and Bettystown area has been affected due to a suspected discharge from a waste water treatment plant or a sewer network.

Senator Byrne has asked why it takes almost two days for test results to come through. He says many people were shocked to learn of advice against swimming only after they had been to the beach.

Senator Byrne said someone who used the beach during the good weather had reported a stomach illness to him.

Meath County Council says its warning was issued this week because of an increase in levels of ecoli and enterocci bacteria in a water sample taken earlier this week on Monday.

Bettystown is one my favourite places for a walk on the beach, and Relish is one of my favourite restaurants, with its breath-taking views across the sandunes onto the beach and out to the Irish Sea. But I have written many times about my concerns about pollution on the beach and the way Meath County Council continues to allow motorists to drive on the beach.

Along some parts of the beach at Bettystown, the sand is polluted and discoloured (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I pointed out last year that on one stretch of beach, the sand is discoloured by stains of green and orange left behind by the receding tide. I described how outflows of effluent and waste are doing untold damage to the beach. Here and there, there are seething and smelly bubbling spots. It leaves you wondering what is rising to the surface, what is brought out into the water, and wondering what remains in the sand.

Nothing has changed during my visits this year. Meath County Council must move quickly before this attractive, sandy beach becomes not just an eyesore but a health hazard. Meath has a very short coastline, and boasts that this stretch of fine sand from Laytown through Bettystown to Mornington is the Gold Coast of Ireland.

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