Toilet re-opening a public health issue, say Islay campaigners

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Campaigners on Islay are demanding the re-opening of the island’s public toilets as a public health measure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Argyll and Bute Council has closed all its public conveniences, but islanders are adamant that as cafés, pubs and hotels are closed it is vital Bowmore and Port Ellen’s public toilets re-open.

They argue that for key workers out on the road, a toilet is a necessity.

A council spokesperson said: ‘Our service recovery staff are at present fully committed to the re-introduction and/or management of highest priority services including burials, waste collections, cremations and safely maintaining our road network. As soon as it is reasonably practical to do so, we will turn our attention to other service areas including public conveniences.’

Janet Waterworth of the Islay Resilience Group responded: ‘Our volunteers are often out of their own home without access to facilities for up to five hours. How anyone who is working out on the road all day can cope is unthinkable.’

Campaigners point to Orkney Council, which has re-opened toilets by using a turnbuckle lock on the inside of the main door to the toilet for one person at a time, with notices reminding users of their responsibilities.

They also argue there is no evidence cleaning public toilets is a risk for the cleaner or that any special precautions need to be taken.

The council spokesperson continued: ‘Examples of what other local authorities, such as Orkney Council, are doing are helpful as we consider the best way of re-opening our public toilets safely, for everyone.

‘It is not a question of whether staff would be safe in undertaking the task of cleaning but rather we do not have the staff available to carry out such cleaning tasks. The practicality of providing hand washing facilities separate to public toilets would have to be investigated.’

Councillor Alastair Redman said he would ‘continue to press for a sensible change of direction from our council on this subject’.

‘I am well aware of a number of people asking for public toilets to be re-opened,’ Councillor Robin Currie said.

‘The last meeting I had about this subject was last Thursday with the head of roads and infrastructure,’ he continued ‘and I was told the department was still looking at this and, as more people come back to work, serious consideration will be given to re-opening public toilets.’

Councillor Anne Horn said she had asked council chief executive Pippa Milne to give serious consideration to this issue, adding: ‘It is essential we help the volunteers on Islay to continue to look after those who must stay at home.’