Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.

Friday, 6 July 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 540 No. 4

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Gilmore. Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 are related, amendment No. 8 is an alternative to No. 9 and No. 10 is consequential on Nos. 8 and 9. Amendment No. 7 is an alternative to these amendments and also to amendments Nos. 11 to 20, inclusive. We will take amendments Nos. 1 and 6 to 20, inclusive, together by agreement.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

“1.–In this Act–

‘elected members' means the elected and co-opted members of the Council; and

‘reserved function' means any function which is not an executive function.”.

Ms Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  The thrust of these amendments is an objection to the principle behind the Bill, namely, to take powers which elected representatives of local authorities have to make and implement a waste management plan and give it to managers, who are unelected and unaccountable. It is an undemocratic provision, as we stated on Committee Stage, on which there was much discussion. Power is being taken from the representatives of the people and given to faceless individuals who are under no obligation to consult local people. There has been widespread protest against plans which include thermal treatment plants or incinerators. It is widely acknowledged that these are the main stumbling blocks to the implementation of the plans. Most plans contain great aspirations in regard to recycling, but there is very little provision of infrastructure to facilitate it.

This Bill proposes that if the members of a local authority have not agreed a waste management plan, the county manager can get a consultant to draw one up with no input from the members. They will not be in a position to rubber stamp the plan; it will be implemented without [1015] consultation. Seanad amendments go a step further – with the proposal that if a waste facility contravenes a development plan then the county manager can override that too.

There has been difficulty in adopting waste management plans throughout the country. There are objections because people are genuinely concerned about the provision of an incinerator in their area. We have to acknowledge and address those concerns. There is no point telling people that this is the plan for how waste will be dealt with in their area – they need to be consulted and listened to. I acknowledge that this process is widely used in Europe, but their fears may be warranted – there is much documentation on the negative impact of incineration. Is it really necessary to have six incinerators across the country as is currently proposed? No economic assessment of the implication of providing this number of incinerators has been made. Where will that leave us when we want to reduce waste and encourage recycling if we have six incinerators that have to be fed waste? This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. It is not addressing the concerns of people regarding the recycling of waste.

There is even more concern out there with the proposed removal of power in this area from the locally elected representatives. Last week we had the local government Bill which was championed as being a reform of local government – and there has been criticism of that Bill also – yet this week we have a Bill being rushed through the Dáil, guillotined on Second Stage and rushed through Committee Stage to accommodate the implementation of waste management plans that the majority of people are not happy with. The people have not been consulted and their concerns have not been addressed in a meaningful way.

I am totally opposed to section 4 of this Bill which proposes to override the elected representatives. This is anti-democratic and is making a mockery of local government – it is a blunt measure which attempts to railroad through a proposal which the people do not support. This is a bad day for local government and for the people who have elected their representatives. It will do nothing to encourage the public to have confidence in their public representatives.

I ask the Minister even at this late stage to recognise the error of what he is proposing here today, to step back from it and listen to the concerns of the people and address them. There are many positive aspects in the development plans but to railroad it through in this manner is an insult to the people and their public representatives.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Will you clarify, a Cheann Comhairle, if the first amendment has been moved?

[1016]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Clune moved the first. Proceedings have moved more quickly perhaps than the Deputy expected.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I appreciate that Ceann Comhairle. I apologise for being late, but I expected the earlier item to continue until 11 a.m. It moved very fast.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  There was no Order of Business.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  We are very efficient.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  This Bill, in particular section 4, is the most undemocratic measure to have been brought before this House by any Government – certainly in my time here. We are taking about 20 amendments together which deal with the excising of powers.

The waste management plan, which is currently the responsibility of the democratically elected local representatives, will be removed from them and given to county managers. If any local authority decides to attach a condition in its waste management plan to the draft plan it is presented by the consultants, then this Bill allows the county manager to strike down the plan and change it to his own will.

This Bill proposes that the normal functions of elected members of a local authority to give specific directions to their county manager will be set aside on any matter relating to waste. If, for example, the consultants' report on a waste management plan sets a target of 35% recycling of household waste and the county council wants a more ambitious target, such as 50%, then the county manager can strike that down and make his own plan. Similarly, if a county council wants to establish a recycling plant, or take action on the litter problem associated with bottle banks, it would normally give instruction to the county manager, but, under paragraph (g) of this Bill, it will no longer be possible for it to do so. However, it gets worse because what this Bill is proposing is that the waste management plan that is made by the county manager – rather than the county council – will automatically become part of the county development plan.

Let us contrast that with the approach taken on social housing. When we debated the Planning and Development Bill last year to try to provide some additional land to local authorities for social housing, the Government told us that based on advice on constitutionality, it was not possible to include a provision in the Bill to provide land for social housing without going through the step by step process of the county development plan. Yet in this Bill, it is cutting right through the county development plan. If the county manager decides [1017] he wants a particular waste management plan, ipso facto, under section 10(a), that waste management plan becomes part of the county development plan without any public consultation and without any decision by the elected representatives of the people. It just appears.

We know what these waste management plans are about – they are about building incinerators and that is why the Government has constructed this so-called regional approach to waste management. The regions are constructed around the assumption that there will be an incinerator in each region and that is why they were established as regions and why there is an insistence on regional waste management plans.

The plan is that some of these incinerators will be built by private companies. If it is proposed to build an incinerator in an agricultural area, a planning application would normally be required to be made. Under this Bill, the normal planning processes are being stood down to facilitate the building of the incinerator or any other waste management facility. Let us say the incinerator is being located in an agricultural area and the land on which it is proposed to be built is zoned as agricultural, the normal procedure that would apply in a situation such as that is that it would be advertised in the normal way, either as a variation of the development plan or a material contravention of the development plan, there would be public consultation and the decision to advertise in the first place would be one made the elected members of the council. The decision as to whether to vary the development plan or to give the material contravention of the development plan would be one for the elected members of the county council. Under this Bill, that will change.

Under this Bill, when the company building the incinerator puts in its planning application, it is not the elected members who will decide whether it is in contravention of the development plan, it is the county manager – the same county manager who has put this incinerator into his waste management plan in the first place and perhaps in spite of the opposition or concerns of the elected members of the council. The county manager will decide whether to advertise. It then goes out to public consultation and, according to this, any submissions, observations, etc., received within four weeks shall be considered by the manager. Paragraph (c) states: “Following consideration of any submissions or observations received in accordance with paragraph (b), the manager of the planning authority may” make the decision. The section also states “the manager may – (a) notwithstanding the fact the proposed development would materially contravene the development plan, decide to proceed with the proposed development”.

We have a closed circle here. It starts with making the waste management plan, which the [1018] county manager makes. The county manager then decides whether it is in contravention of the development plan and receives the submissions from the public. At the end of the loop, the county manager decides whether to grant permission. This is suppressing local democracy. The people elect representatives at local level to represent their views and they expect them to be enabled to govern for them at local level. What is being done in this Bill is that the rights of the people to elect representatives in the expectation that those representatives will vindicate their wishes on their local authorities are being suppressed. On top of that, the normal planning process that has been in place for almost 40 years is being stood down to fast track and facilitate the building of incinerators or other waste management facilities.

I said on Committee Stage that what the Government is doing in this Bill is, at one level, a denial of local democracy and local government and, at another level, it is an attempt to push through an agenda to build incinerators to deal with a waste problem which it has neglected for the past four years. More seriously than that, it is removing from our system of local government, the local democratic institutions through which people expect to be able to vindicate their democratic rights. I warned on Committee Stage, and I do so again, that if the Government persists in doing this, it will create circumstances where there will be conflict between local communities, local authorities and agencies of Government. If people are denied the opportunity, right and facility to express their point of view and concerns through democratic institutions they will, as history has told us time and time again, return to the streets and protest to vindicate those rights. This is a recipe for conflict and demonstrations on our streets. This is profoundly undemocratic and should be withdrawn.

What is being done in this Bill is far more damaging to democracy than, for example, the prohibition on opinion polls in the last week of an election. There is no one in the Press Gallery. I have spent weeks dealing with this Bill, as have other Members of this House, and addressing the danger in it. It is one of a number of Bills with which I have dealt in recent weeks and which many of us have spent hours, days and weeks addressing. We have dealt with hundreds of amendments to this Bill, the local government Bill, the electoral Bill and the motor taxation Bill. We dealt with motions on the planning tribunal and on An Bord Pleanála. Last year we dealt with the Planning and Development Bill, another local government Bill and a Bill on housing. I reckon I have participated in the debate on about 2,000 amendments to various Bills from the Department of the Environment and Local Government in the past 15 to 18 months.

[1019] It is not for me to answer this question but I would like to raise it. Why of all those 2,000 amendments the only issue in which the press has expressed any interest is the issue that affects it? Why, for example, have issues such as the rights of communities which are deeply concerned about the effects of dioxins from incineration, the rights of citizens who are concerned about the implications of pollutants from landfills – today's EPA report gives them no great cause for joy – the rights of people to vindicate their position through democratically elected institutions, the problems and plight of the 60,000 families on housing waiting lists, the 150,000 families in private rented tenancies and the rights of people who want to make an objection to a planning application and who, under the Planning and Development Act, will be charged, did not warrant an editorial or even a report on the proceedings of this House? It is an issue which the press needs to examine. It is difficult not to conclude, in so far as the reporting of the proceedings of this House is concerned, that the press appears to be more interested in vindicating the commercial interests of its owners than in reporting the proceedings of this House and the matters of concern to communities and the people.

The Labour Party is fundamentally opposed to what the Government is trying to do in this Bill. We are opposed to section 4 and our amendments are designed to excise the measures the Government seeks to introduce which are designed to deny people their fundamental democratic rights at local level and to fast track an incineration agenda to deal with a waste problem which we believe should be dealt with by other means. The Labour Party published a document on this issue earlier this year in which we pointed to alternative strategies based on recycling to address the waste problem. If we were to invest in recycling facilities and infrastructure, we would be far better able to deal with the waste problem.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The amendments we are discussing highlight how badly organised is the Government on the waste issue. The Bill proposes a recipe for conflict, demonstrations and lack of resolution of the waste crisis as the Government's proposal will result in court and constitutional challenges. The Government appears to be hell bent on causing conflict. The Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, hardens the policy put in place in the 1996 Waste Management Act which focused on a regional approach designed to hide waste in an “out of sight, out of mind” strategy. The Government hoped to find areas in which people would not mind taking on the burden of other people's waste. Such places do not exist and that fairy tale must be exposed. Nobody is going to accept other people's waste being dumped in their area.

[1020] The Government must go back to the drawing board and re-examine its regional plans. If, after that, it is still hell bent on proceeding with regional plans, it must allow them to augment local plans. The Government has effectively outlawed local plans and the regional plan has become the only show in town. That must change because local plans will bring about local consultation, responsibility, accountability and, ultimately, action. That is the only way we can hope to reduce waste which is the issue on which we should focus if we are to comply with European legislation. The bulk of resources should be going towards the reduction of waste but the exact opposite is the case in the Government's policy. Waste reduction receives least, if any, meaningful resources and incineration and landfill at the bottom of the hierarchy receive most under the national development plan and all other Government allocations in this area.

There is ample evidence to back-up the warning signs to which I and others have pointed. A 1998 article on the effects on communities near landfill sites in the reputable medical journal, The Lancet, makes very disturbing reading. If the Government is at all serious about the welfare of the people, it should note and act on such medical findings and advice. We should also be cognisant, as the EPA report published yesterday points out, that we are not in any position to effectively monitor the type and scale of the facilities with which this Government wishes to press ahead, be they landfill or incineration.

Today's editorial in The Irish Times points to the fact that local authorities do not have the necessary expertise or resources to monitor the problems which the EPA indicates have been created and will continue to be created in an out of sight, out of mind manner. The EPA took five years to compile the plan published yesterday although it was supposed to have been published immediately after the 1996 Act. The Act provides that the plan on hazardous waste should be reviewed every five years so the next plan should commence preparation now. There is a huge lack of resources, will and effective monitoring. The director of the EPA pointed to the need for a prevention ethos but there is very little prevention ethos in the Bill. The Bill represents a bulldozer approach; go ahead and to hell with the consequences. Section 4 provides that county managers are the people ultimately charged with decision making in regard to future waste strategy.

We seem to have learned very little from international experience in the area of thermal treatment. Thermal treatment plants are closing down in the US, Japan, France – where no more are to be built – Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany and Portugal, yet Ireland and Spain plan to build such plants. The idea that by building incinerators we are only following the pack does not stand up [1021] to international comparison and the most modern awareness on this issue. Ludwig Kramer, head of the EU environmental waste management unit, is also quite sceptical about incineration. We are merely serving the interests of people who are desperately seeking sites on which to build redundant incinerators and we will leave behind a very damaging legacy for this and future generations. This is not a waste management Bill because it is not based on hierarchy. Instead, it is a waste hiding Bill which adopts an upside down approach to waste management.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy should confine his comments to the amendments.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The amendments relate to section 4 which is where the waste strategy is being altered to confer total responsibility on county managers. The reference to incineration as “waste to energy” is an untruth because energy is wasted when one burns valuable raw materials. A County Meath company which recycles 3.5 million plastic bottles every day has highlighted scientifically that for every tonne of plastic burnt, a tonne of natural gas is wasted which could be saved if the material were recycled. This is the type of scientific information we must consider rather than giving away powers to county managers who will probably be challenged in court. We will end up going around in circles and the crisis will deteriorate further.

Fund raising events, one of which will be held tonight, are currently being held in my constituency. People are prepared to fight this every inch of the way and the fight will end up in the courts. I urge the Minister to bear this is mind and to take note of what is happening in Germany where a date has been stipulated after which there will be no landfill. Australia and New Zealand have fought and tried hard to implement their goal of a zero waste strategy and have had some success over a period of time. Their goal is not to overturn democracy and hand dictatorial powers to county managers to give big business and multinationals a lion's share of the money in building incinerators and landfills. That is not their goal. Their goal is zero waste and that should be ours too.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I oppose this Bill more strongly than I have ever opposed anything in the 20 years I have been a Member of the House. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by previous speakers. I genuinely believe the Government is on the wrong track on this one. This is the most draconian legislation ever to come before this House. It will send a signal down the road that, if a Government is hell bent on doing things such as this, this is not the last of this type of legislation that will be introduced.

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, spent the past four years supposedly enhancing the role of local [1022] councillors and democracy. Every time I turned on the television or listened to him speak in this House his mantra was that we must enhance local democracy. When things were not going too well in the waste management area, he and his colleagues in Government, ably assisted by the Progressive Democrats and the four Independents, decided, as Deputy Gilmore rightly pointed out, to ensure that the county manager is the supremo and that he or she can do what he or she likes. This is the last type of authority the county manager in County Galway, with whom I am most familiar, wants. I am sure county managers do not want this visited on them.

With regard to section 4, what we are really talking about – it started the day M.C. O'Sullivan, the consultants, placed a document with a number of proposals before Galway County Council nearly three years ago – is an incinerator proposed for Galway city and two landfills, one in County Galway and one in north Connacht. They are the leading proposals in the report. The minimisation about which Deputy Sargent spoke, reuse and recycling are also in the report, but the priority given to those are well down the road. Everybody knows as well as I do that if private enterprise builds an incinerator – this is nothing to do with health – at the colossal cost I heard mentioned, mark my words it will have to get the raw material to keep it going. It is like a monster with an over-stretched stomach. It has to be fed every hour of every day of every year. Once such an incinerator becomes operational, we might as well forget about reuse and recycling. We will have to put the raw material in over a 25 year period as I understand that is the only way to recoup the cost of the capital investment involved.

If this Bill goes through, the system that will be introduced will ensure there will be very little reuse or recycling of waste. I assume the Minister will counter that by asking what did we do or what are we doing about it, but I will argue that point with anybody. I and 29 colleagues from every political party, walk of life and from every parish from Clifden down to Glenamaddy saw fit on two occasions to unanimously decide that we did not want this because we knew the people of Galway did not want it. This was done very cleverly because this is a regional plan that the other counties of Connacht would have to go for given that they nono of them had an incinerator nor a landfill.

I have a few specific questions for the Minister of State and I hope he will answer them. Given that county managers will be given this power, as I assume they will as most likely there will be no change to this section, some backbench Fianna Fáil Deputies must feel very uneasy about that. Following the actions of the four Independents this week and, I assume, again today, there will not be that many communities around the coun[1023] try who will say they will be best served by an Independent when they realise what they have done on this issue. This will not be a flag raising exercise for Independents. I have only used the name of M.C. O'Sullivan consultants because they are the author of this document. If Galway's county manager is given this power, must he act to the letter on everything in that document? In other words, is he at liberty to change it? From my reading of the legislation I understand he is. Will the Minister of State confirm if he can change that document? If he cannot, in order for this to go through, there will have to be a second landfill in north Connacht. It is significant that after three years three small, densely populated communities in east Galway have been haunted in that they have been earmarked for three of those landfill sites. There are thousands of acres of Coillte forests all over County Galway, but M.C. O'Sullivan consultants seem to think there is no point in going near those, despite the fact that when Kerry had a problem five or six years ago, its country manager and officials used a Coillte forest outside Tralee. I am not saying that there would not be objections to that, but at least we would not have to steamroll several people out of their homes and small farms in three places in County Galway.

There is another vital issue regarding section 4. It is my view and the view of many colleagues on all sides of Galway County Council and Galway Corporation – although some of them wilted under pressure from Ministers by refusing to give the go ahead with this on one occasion – that a number of regional plans seem to be going through on the basis of two or three counties that would have no greater a population than Galway city and county whose population numbers almost 180,000. Is it possible for a county manager to interpret that area as a region in the context of this document?

There is also another major issue. I cannot understand why elected representatives will not be given an opportunity to be involved in this process at any stage. Members of Galway County Council will be only interested bystanders in this process after today. We will not be able to do anything, good or bad, about it. What will the communities we represent across the country – and I represent County Galway – do now through the democratic process? They worked through councillors and TDs, day in and day out. Being in front of 500 or 600 people who have a genuine problem was not the most pleasant place to be, but that is what we are paid for. Now there is no point in their coming to me. I cannot do anything for them. Where will they go? Whether they will take to the streets or gather at mass rallies, I guarantee they will not stay at home. If they were against this document for a variety of reasons yesterday, they will surely be against it [1024] tomorrow. Nothing that is happening here today will ensure that people will have a change of mind and say they are for landfill, incineration and what is contained in that document. I know we have a huge problem.

Anyone who knows anything about Galway and the landfill in Ballinasloe will know we are running out of time. I know much more about waste management than I did three years ago and the public is the same, having made a quantum leap in what it is prepared to do to and re-use. There are other ways to deal with this and all the public wants is the leadership and investment needed, which has been provided all over the world. If one starts by building an incinerator, no matter what one does after that, it must be ensured that there is the waste material to keep the thing going year in, year out. That is why this plan is totally flawed.

There is not one word in the plan about health. I am not in a position to know whether there are huge health problems, though I would not like to live next to an incinerator. However, leaving health out of it, the philosophy behind this programme is wrong. Furthermore, many communities are waiting in the long grass for the next general election. They will think very poorly of public representatives who turned their backs on them and basically said they did not care about people's worries and that they know best.

In this case, M. C. O'Sullivan knew best for Connacht but now the only one who knows best is the county manager, even though 30 Galway councillors twice rejected this unanimously. One would imagine in any democratic council, with so many diverse views, that one would surely get two or three to agree with it; there are councillors in Galway who would not join each other in the rosary but every single one of them rejected this for a good reason – they believe it is flawed.

This is the last day of the term but this is as foul a Bill as we have ever put through the House. I share Deputy Gilmore's lack of understanding of why this is not getting greater coverage. Is it because Galway County Council, or those of Limerick, Waterford or Wexford are affected and that there is a perception that that is caveman stuff? What would they know, the little fellows at the bottom? In the Ireland of 2001 the economic and political power of the vast country outside this city should not be taken for granted. We have reached the stage where we can think for ourselves.

Communities all over the country are hanging a sword over politicians and they should be listened to. I am the first to accept that nobody wants to live alongside a landfill site or an incinerator but waste disposal can be managed without incineration. I accept there will have to be some landfill site but there are areas of my county which could facilitate a landfill site and which would not cause the trouble we now have in New[1025] bridge, New Inn and Kilrickle. I could not for the life of me understand why, when M. C. O'Sullivan was asked 20 times in our council chamber to look at other sites three years ago, it said that could not be done for a variety of reasons: topography, structure of the soil and so on. I got the idea as the years went by and opposition to landfill sites became strong that if it could have found a landfill site halfway up Croagh Patrick if there was no opposition to it.

I hope the Minister of State explains what the county manager can do about that document or what the legislation entitles him to do. If the manager cannot vary the plan, then people will have to start looking after the landfill site in north Connacht that nobody is bothered about. If it can be changed, the Galway city and county region concept should be taken up. One way or the other, this legislation is draconian in the extreme and if the Independents had any backbone, which obviously they do not, they would vote against it.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  This Bill exposes the naked contempt that the Minister and the Government have for local democracy. I stated on Committee Stage that I believe this Bill is unconstitutional because in 1999 the Government asked the electorate to endorse an amendment which, for the first time, covered local government in the Constitution. That amendment was endorsed with the support of all elected opinion represented in this Chamber. I read Article 28A into the record on both Second and Committee Stages and I do so again now:

The State recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiative the interests of such communities.

The Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, makes a mockery of that constitutional amendment. The harsh reality of the Government's attitude to local democracy is contained in the Bill. It is about incineration and waste in some measure but the critical issue at the core of this debate is the Government's naked contempt, as I described it earlier, for local democracy. On the day the Bill was published the Government's commitment to local democracy was exposed as a complete sham.

We have had the guillotine applied to each Stage of debate on this Bill. The guillotine was applied last Wednesday when we dealt with Committee Stage and as I said then, that was 4 July. I reminded the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, and the representatives of the Department who were present, that 4 July was the date on which American citizens celebrated independence. An echo of that history of North America was heard on that day in our discussion and will be heard [1026] repeatedly over the months and years to come if the Bill passes today. The critical cry of those who forged and pursued American independence, one of the core tenets of their republican belief, was – no taxation without representation. As elected members of local authorities, we have the responsibility to impose charges for refuse, but we have no say whatsoever in their putting in place or the decision-making or how our waste will be managed or dealt with. In effect, we are introducing in this Bill taxation without representation and the people will respond. They will respond with the understanding and acceptance of elected opinion, from all sides of this House, including Members from the two parties represented in government. Local councillors will feel that they have no option but to give support to the anger and frustration that ordinary people will feel in response to this legislation.

M. C. O'Sullivan has been mentioned before as the firm appointed to look at waste management in the north east. Monaghan County Council engaged it and my office – working in conjunction with elected colleagues in counties Louth, Meath and Cavan – presented a number of amendments at the council's debate on the report presented. We were successful in having eight adopted, but parted on the critical area of incineration. Last October in County Louth we saw members of all parties oppose incineration and despite the efforts of the Minister's Government colleagues, who brought pressure to bear on County Louth councillors and sought to overturn their decision last January, including a vote overseen by the chairman of the council on 15 January whose was subsequently deemed to be inaccurate in the High Court, the decision was reaffirmed. It is terrible that members of councils have to use the judicial process in order to establish the factual position and assert their rights and the justice of the decision-making process at local level.

The Minister comes from the neighbouring county, County Meath, and I am sure he looked at the proceedings in County Louth with great interest. It immediately impacted and impinged on the position in his county. I have no doubt that that decision was large in his mind when he, with others in the Cabinet, decided to turn the 1999 constitutional change on its head.

The message from the Government on this Bill is clear. The people can have democracy, but only if they vote in the way the Government wants them to. My party is committed to ensuring there is a comprehensive system of waste management in place throughout the country. As elected representatives, we take our responsibilities at regional and national level very seriously. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, repeatedly, and falsely, claimed on Committee Stage that the reason the Government had acted as it had was because councils and councillors had either refused or failed to address the issue of waste [1027] management, but nothing could be further from the truth. Councillors were not, and are not, afraid to face this issue or make decisions. The methodology employed in the appointment of the consultants, the brief and the flawed approach they employed – even to the point of claiming public consultation – was the most pitiful effort that I have witnessed. It was highly objectionable.

The waste management plan has been handled abominably by the Government. It is the story of neglect and the absence of long-term planning, for which we are all, in part, responsible. Local councillors have grown to recognise this and are not afraid to deal with it. Waste reduction and reuse are completely neglected in this Bill because there is no political will to confront the main producers of waste – the manufacturing, construction and large retail sectors. The Government claims to work on the principle that the polluter pays, yet it has introduced a system where the householder and the consumer pay in terms of taxation and local authority refuse charges and in terms of their health where incineration is involved. Make no mistake, we will all be asked to pay a health price for incineration.

There is no recycling industry and there are no plans in this Bill to foster such an industry. Deputy Clune referred to this on Committee Stage and urged that we look at the whole area of recycling of paper. I fully support her position. The people have been lectured and told to change their ways. They are ready and eager to play a full part in reducing, reusing and recycling waste, but the Government is not giving them the opportunity to do so. Voluntary schemes are leading the way. I have noted that in County Louth a scheme has been introduced where national schools have reduced their waste by 60% through composting. Imagine what could have been done if we had a comprehensive, Government backed, waste management programme based on reducing, reusing and recycling. A new generation of young people are enthusiastic about this. It is they who are teaching older generations how to deal with this problem in a realistic and responsible way. I acknowledge and appreciate their input.

The only acquiescence to this in the Bill is the introduction of the long overdue plastic bag and landfill levies, which I welcome. The Minister indicated that there would be a hierarchy of levies for landfill and incineration but I find that hard to accept or comprehend. The Government is reliant upon the incineration option to solve the waste management crisis.

This approach is wrong for two main reasons. The first is that it is bad management because incinerators rely on a constant supply of waste, thus working against the most important form of waste management, which is waste reduction. The constant need to feed is patently obvious. What [1028] we will do if we adopt this and introduce incinerators is lock ourselves in for the next 30 years at least to the generation and creation of increasing amounts of waste to feed these monsters. The second reason relates to health concerns about incinerators. These have not been allayed and provoke growing public concern and opposition. I made the point strongly on Committee Stage that this is at a time when many other countries are rejecting and moving away from incinerators, halting new constructions and winding down existing plants.

Why can we not look at the lessons to be learned from the experiences of other countries? Why must we ape and repeat the mistakes of others? A point that will not be lost on the broad mass of ordinary people in the State is that big business interests are at work in this trying to foist incinerators on the people of this island.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I intervene at this stage to remind the House that we must conclude the Bill at 12.45 p.m. I have a list of those who wish to speak: Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is speaking, and Deputies Crawford, O'Sullivan, Ulick Burke, Joe Higgins and Michael D. Higgins. I am sure the Minister of State wishes to contribute. Deputy Bell has just indicated he wishes to contribute. Then there is the right of reply of the mover of the amendment, Deputy Clune. Perhaps Members would confine themselves to about six or seven minutes to oblige each other.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I indicated on several occasions that I wished speak.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy has been in the House since the Bill began. I had not realised he had indicated. I will allow him contribute after Deputy Crawford.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I will bring my contribution to a close.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Perhaps Members would oblige each other. I do not have a Standing Order to implement what I say. I point this out to Members so that they can oblige each other and confine themselves to six or seven minutes. If that is done, all Members, including the Minister of State and the Deputy with the right of reply, can be accommodated.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): I welcome the Ceann Comhairle's intervention. The main spokespersons and movers of amendments who have worked hard on the Bill have spoken. As you have indicated that the five or six people left also have a deep interest, I agree with what you say. If everyone else is agreeable, perhaps you could indicate when people have spoken for four or five minutes.

[1029]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will take the Chair shortly and I will ask him to do that.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I will assist in this regard. Although I am a member of the committee and have been working on this from the outset, I will conclude with these last few points.

The Government has abdicated its responsibility and has placed waste management in the State in the hands of a powerful incineration lobby which is waiting in the wings, on the sidelines and on the margins for its chance to create large profits. The Government has dismissed lightly public concern on the health and environmental dangers of incineration. It has contemptuously dismissed local democracy in the Bill.

I join with earlier speakers, Deputies Connaughton, Gilmore and Clune who have worked on this Bill from the beginning and whose efforts I commend, in a common appeal from all the voices of opposition to the Bill to the four Independent Members who hold the Government in office. As this is likely to be the final vote of this session, I appeal to these Deputies not to take away from elected members of local authorities the powers over waste management. We have few powers as it stands and few opportunities to influence positively and effectively decisions which will affect ordinary people in our communities. The Bill will allow the Government to ram plans for waste management and waste incinerators through local authorities by the diktat of city and county managers, bypassing democratically elected councillors and the normal planning process.

Deputies Healy-Rae, Fox, Gildea and Blaney blocked the proposed ending of the dual mandate in the local government Bill. They did not do it alone. They had the support of other backbenchers as was demonstrated in the debate in the House in recent days. They claim they did so because they valued their roles in local authorities. The logic, therefore, is that they should defend local democracy and vote against this Bill. I appeal to them to recognise the import of what is before us and, when the vote is called, to join us in the lobby to defeat one of the most anti-democratic measures ever to come before the House.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I support the amendment of my colleagues, Deputies Clune and Connaughton, to this draconian Bill. It is important to remember that, before the previous election, the main party in Government promised full consultation and involvement at local level. I cannot help but remember the commitments to the Army in Castleblayney that the barracks would not be closed without proper consultation. They promised better and meaningful local government. What we have today is the complete removal of [1030] the powers of locally elected people. If the Bill is passed, county managers, who do not have to go before the people, will have complete control. It may place them and locally elected representatives at loggerheads and cause major acrimony and problems in this area.

Is it possible that a county manager in the last week of his term in office could sign one of these major orders, move out of the area and leave elected representatives and others to carry the can? Is there anything in the Bill to prevent that? I do not believe there is.

While I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, well in his recovery from his illness, it would have been good had he been present because he has brought this about. He has done nothing for four years in the recycling area. He is now trying to blame locally elected representatives.

The Minister of State might ask what I have done. As a representative for County Monaghan, I have been involved in trying to strike deals between farmers and the county council for landfill sites and obtaining grant aid for a recycling unit. That was delayed for some time and I am proud it is in situ. It will only deal with a small portion of the recycling which is possible but we must be serious about this issue. I do not accept the comments of some Deputies that everyone is willing and ready to deal with the recycling issue. Like Deputy Ó Caoláin and his colleagues, I visited sites in Denmark and Holland where things were supposed to work perfectly. The lorries are divided in two and are supposed to have the correct products in the different divisions. However, this has not happened despite all the education on the issue. Anyone who says it will be easy to get recycling up and running properly is not being realistic.

The basic question I want to raise in the absence of the Minister is whether the Government is committed to eliminating county councils. What powers have county councillors left? Why will the Minister not say here and now that instead of better local government he wants to eliminate it altogether. The reason I say this is very simple. I have been a member of a county council for ten years and can say the county council has no say over the National Roads Authority. The authority which is currently becoming involved in my area is not prepared to pay proper prices for land and there is a dispute in the area this morning. County councillors have little or no say about regional or county roads. Decisions were once made at local meetings but that is no longer the case. We must now agree the list with Dublin, not with the county manager, before proceeding with works even on small tertiary roads. We were told last Monday that we have no say in regard to planning.

On the waste disposal issue, all we will be asked as councillors is to collect the money. We will have to ask people, even old age pensioners, [1031] the disabled and so on, to pay for the handling of waste. The Minister has imposed an extra charge with which councillors will not be able to deal. This will be dealt with at national level. This is the most draconian measure introduced in the nine years I have been in this House.

The way in which the Bill will be guillotined is extremely serious. Like other Deputies, I plead with the four Independent Deputies who held up the Local Government Bill for the past six months until they got their way in regard to the dual mandate issue, to say what they will do today to retain the rights of locally elected representatives. Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae explained on the radio the other morning what he needs the money for. What will he do about this Bill? Will he defend the democratic right of the people who elected him by demanding his right as a county councillor or will he walk through the lobbies like a sheep? He did not defend the sheep farmers of Kerry, therefore, I do not expect him to defend anyone else today other than Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae and his three other colleagues. I name him in particular because he is the most vocal Independent Deputy who claims he is getting everything for Kerry, but he will now hand over the decision making powers of the county councils to county managers. Can a county manager on leaving a council sign documentation that will impose a system on an area when he is long gone?

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for outlining the situation in County Louth. Having been a member of Louth County Council for 25 years I am well aware of the situation in the county which probably led in no uncertain terms to the introduction of this Bill. It was introduced because County Louth objected to the waste management plan in the region for very good and valid reasons. It is not insignificant that the chairman of the County Managers' Association happens to be the county manager of County Louth. It is well known that during the 25 years I spent on Louth County Council that county managers pressurised Ministers to eliminate section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, as amended in 1992. The reason was that this is the only real power members of local authorities have. This is a terrible day. I cannot understand the lack of interest in the Bill.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Hear, hear.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I was amazed to read in the newspapers that we are all supposed to have gone on three months holidays starting last night. Obviously someone misread the business of the House for this week.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  The media have gone on holidays.

[1032]Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  I read in two newspapers this morning that I am supposed to be on three months holidays while coincidentally the most important Bill happens to be being debated on the last day, in the dying hours of this term of the present Dáil. This will have the most profound effect on the functioning of local democracy because it is exactly what the County Managers' Association wanted, the thin end of the wedge to eliminate section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1995, as amended in 1992. The Minister is handing them this on a plate.

If one takes, for example, the proposal to build an incinerator in the Minister's constituency – I wish him well; it is a pity he is not here – in Duleek, County Meath, which is less than two miles from my town of Drogheda, that site is not zoned industrial, it is zoned agricultural. That means the members of Meath County Council could have refused to rezone the site by way of a material contravention of the Meath County Development Plan. However, as my colleague has pointed out, if the Bill is passed, goes through the Seanad and is signed by the President before the end of next week, the Meath county manager can simply tell the members of Meath County Council to go to the Laytown races and have a jump for themselves. That will be the effect of this Bill. The Meath county manager will make the decision on the incinerator, where it will go, how it will operate and so on. Members of Meath County Council, including members of the Minister's party, will have no say in the rezoning, materials used, the operation of the dump or the conditions applying to the planning permission which he will obviously grant. This is a deplorable and sad day for local democracy. I say that as someone who has spent half a lifetime on two local authorities in County Louth.

The people of County Louth, including 26,000 people in Drogheda and 60,000 in its hinterland, are against incineration because of the health hazards involved and because there has not been sufficient discussion or consultation with local groups. As my colleagues have said already, this is the commencement, not just of the elimination of democracy within local authorities, but the beginning of public protests. These protests will commence in the town of Drogheda towards the last week of this month.

The Minister who does not live far from there should examine the matter because my estimation is that there will be a huge turnout against incineration on the outskirts of the town of Drogheda. This will be repeated all over the country, including in Galway and Kerry. Our Independent colleagues should take note of that because they will have to bear the brunt of it. They will have to explain why power was taken away from public representatives, who were elected to listen to the views of the people and [1033] reflect them at local authority level, and given to county managers.

Four and a half years ago, the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, introduced a Bill which effectively allowed for the creation of a waste management proposal on a regional or county basis. In County Louth, three years passed, but not one proposal was brought before the county council. I was not a member of the county council during that time – I did not run in the previous elections – but there were no discussions on waste disposal in those three years. It was only when the largest landfill site in Drogheda, the old cement quarry, closed that there was any discussion at all about waste disposal because there was no longer a dump in the town of Drogheda, which is the largest borough in the country. However, the debate should have started three years previously.

They then wanted to bulldoze through a waste management plan that was not properly thought out. It was put together by consultants who did not live in the county and who did not have to stand before the people. It was supported by a manager and his officials who also did not have to stand before the people at local or national level. The Bill relates to a system imposed by people, from the county manager down and the consultants up, who do not have to stand before the people. This is the undemocratic system with which we are now faced. Our colleagues on the Government side, Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil Party backbenchers, should think deeply about this matter because they will have to knock on doors during the next election and explain why they sold away local democracy.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I support the amendments tabled by Deputies Clune, Gilmore and Sargent. The Bill is an enormous U-turn. In his introduction to his waste management policy document, Changing our Ways, the Minister said good waste management practices is a test of local authority environmental management and responsibility. He also said that waste management planning is clearly a task that should be addressed by each local authority. Councillors should be closely involved in the development of the policy approach which underpins each plan.

However, we are being asked to endorse the opposite of that statement. The Minister has denied us the opportunity as councillors to develop and contribute to the plan. The volumes of material produced by consultants in supposedly developing the plan and the many other submissions made have been thrown back in our faces. We have been told that it must be done the Minister's way. His actions are nothing short of political bullying. I gave an example of this to the House previously when the Minister was in Galway for an official occasion. Due to the total opposition of the elected members, even those [1034] from his party, to his policy and waste management plan, he brought them into a room and told them that they must accept it. However, I am delighted that they rejected the Minister's bullying tactics. They believed the waste management plan we have been asked to adopt is flawed. Even at the last minute, I do not understand why the Minister cannot, as he has been asked, change his mind.

The Government benches are empty this morning; not one backbencher is visible and the Minister of State is in isolation. It is difficult for him because he did not initiate the plan, but he is totally isolated from his party.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Half his party are absent. They are afraid.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  It is an indication that they do not support the Bill.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  If they were allowed a free vote, they would not vote for it.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  The four Independent Deputies are not present but it is more shameful that Government backbenchers, Ministers of State and Ministers have not darkened the doors of Leinster House today. They are in hiding. That is an indication that they do not agree with the proposal. This is synonymous with the other disagreements in Government at present.

The Bill goes against the Minister's four original ideas and ambitions regarding recycling, reuse, reduction and recovery. He has changed course and opted, through intimidation, for incineration and landfill. County Galway rejected them out of hand because we were denied any input into changing the proposals to ensure a good waste management plan for the county. We were not afraid to indicate where landfill sites could be located, if that was necessary. We challenged the consultants and we asked the manager to visit various sites that had potential, but which would not in any way intimidate local communities, interfere with their lifestyles or cause any risks to their health. They are entitled to object on the basis of their belief that an incinerator or a landfill facility could pose risks in terms of their environment, the value of their property and their health. However, the Minister wants incineration at any cost.

If that is the case, the recycling, reuse and recovery elements of his plan are redundant. The ambitions he included in the document were dishonest because he has a different plan. If the Bill is passed, reality will only hit the Minister when he returns. He may be available to take the debate in Seanad Éireann, but whenever he returns he will realise the folly of his ways in relation to his plan. We will not have incineration under any circumstances when alternatives are available. It is said that people are not educated [1035] with regard to recycling and reuse. However, they are not getting the opportunity to do those things. Deputy Michael D. Higgins will be aware of the pilot scheme in Galway city. Within a short period, it was shown that 60% of what previously went to landfill could be recycled and reused. This can be done nationally if we have the guts to say that alternatives are available and they must be adopted.

Three communities in County Galway, Kilrickle, New Inn and Newbridge, have spent a fortune defending their entitlements. They have been tortured and hyped into a position where they are determined to defend their local environment by whatever means are necessary.

The last straw is the Minister's decision to draw to himself the capacity to extend the Ballinasloe landfill site in volume and time as he wishes. It was not intended that a Minister would be entitled to do that against the will of people who have been magnificent in their willingness, in a crisis and while an alternative is being sought, to cater for the waste of Galway city and county. The Minister has taken to himself the power to direct the length of time the landfill can be kept open and the quantities it will accommodate.

I am glad to be a member of a county council which rejected this plan. I am also glad we have an alternative plan, although the Minister will not even look at it. I hope the Minister reaps the reward of the opposition he will face in due course.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Before I call Deputy O'Sullivan I put it to the House that as six Members are offering to speak, some of whom have been in the House all morning, they will each be allowed five minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  I will respect the wishes of other Members and will keep my contribution short. I support every word my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, has said. This legislation would be more appropriate to a dictatorship than to a democracy. It is one of the most important Bills to come before the House. It makes a mockery of the inclusion in the Constitution of respect for local government and of the Minister's stated intention to give more power to local democracy. The Minister has taken away all trust in local councils and removed the concept of subsidiarity, in which we are all supposed to believe. He has taken power and responsibility from local authorities and his action will have far-reaching consequences, not only for waste management but for local democracy.

I see no point in giving five year terms of office to mayors who will have no power and whose councils will have no power. The Minister should think again. It is not an accident that the Minister [1036] of State is a lonely figure on the Government benches, with no support from his party or from the four Independent Deputies who were so strong in their demand to keep their seats on local authorities but who make very little contribution to the work of this House and who have made no contribution at all to the debate on this issue, which is central to local democracy. The people who voted for those Deputies should ask themselves what is the point of electing them to this House if they are interested only in keeping their two jobs while making no contribution to this central matter.

I return to an interesting point made by Deputy Connaughton and I would like to hear the Minister of State's response to it. Deputy Connaughton asked if the plan could be modified by local authority managers. A waste management plan was adopted by my region, the mid-west region. Counties Clare and Kerry adopted the plan completely and Limerick city and county adopted it with the amendment that any decision with regard to a waste-to-energy plant – an incinerator, municipal dump or such like – would not be sited without the agreement of each of the two councils. The plan included a 41% recycling target and also targets for reuse and reduction of waste. Does this mean that no waste-to-energy plant, large dump or incinerator can be opened or constructed until the recycling targets have been reached?

The Bill appears to be concerned only with the installation of incinerators and not with the other more important aspects of waste management. It is important that the Minister answers this question. None of us would stand over the abandonment of the most important aspects of our waste management plans in favour of the Government policy of installing incinerators. It would have been more courageous for the Government to choose spots on the map where incinerators would be built rather than give this power to local authority managers. The managers do not want this power. They are merely being asked to implement a Government decision.

I ask the Independent Deputies and the Government backbenchers, who so vociferously expressed their views regarding their right to sit on local authorities, to vote against this Bill. If they do not, their so-called commitment to local and national representation will be seen to be hypocritical.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, which is one of the most important of this Dáil. The Bill will probably be passed today because the Deputies of whom I speak are probably not even watching the debate. If it is, I hope the Minister of State will ask the Government not to sign it into law because it will be a recipe for chaos.

[1037]Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  Because there is no doubt that the Government intends to bulldoze this Bill through the House today, I send a message to the President, the third element of the Oireachtas, to use the power given her by Article 26 of the Constitution to refer these sections to the Supreme Court for decision. What the Minister of State is doing on behalf of the Government is unconstitutional and he will rue this day.

Where are the Fianna Fáil backbenchers? I have served with many of them on local authorities and they participate very well in politics at local level. Today, however, they are frightened into submission and silence because they are afraid of having their heads chopped off by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government or of being deprived of some gift by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. They are hiding in their offices and have left the Minister of State to carry the can for the Government.

The Minister of State knows that the arguments he is hearing are valid. These sections proposed by the Minister are the result of massive failure in many areas, particularly that of waste management. I commend those councillors who have tried for many years to persuade us to recognise the value of recycling, reuse and reduction of waste. We have seen no effort by the Government to implement the directive on packaging reduction. Why do we not have a system such as we have experienced in other European countries where packaging is reduced to a minimum, customers bring their own shopping bags to shops, packaging is stripped from goods by customers in shops and the cost of removing that packaging rests with the producer of the goods or with the shop in which they are sold? For these reasons it is in the producers' and shopkeepers' best interest to reduce packaging to a minimum. We are approaching waste management at the hard end of landfill and incineration rather than adopting a proper policy of reduction, recycling and reuse.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  That is already there.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  I realise that but it is not happening. Proper recycling and reuse is a costly business. The Government is five years into its term of office but nothing of substance has been done about ensuring that citizens reduce waste. It is the citizens who create the waste. It does not drop from the sky. Will the Minister even at this late stage, to look again at what is happening here? I represent Fingal which for years has taken the bulk of the waste from Dublin city and county. Balleally tip head has been open for 30 years but it is not up to today's standards. In a few weeks' time the Government will be hauled [1038] over the coals by the European Courts. That is the reason it wants the Bill passed. It is only a fig leaf. God help us. I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, well and I hope his health will improve, but one of the reasons he wants the Bill passed without proper debate is that he wants to wave it in the face of the Europeans who will challenge him in a week or two.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  Will the Deputy address the real issues in the amendment?

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  I am dealing with the section before the House. This section gives draconian powers to the manager with regard to waste management plans and the development plan. What is the value of councillors preparing a development plan if, under the provisions of one of these sections, the manager does not even have to put a material contravention. Section 4(3)(a) states:

notwithstanding the fact that the proposed development would materially contravene the development plan, decide to proceed with the proposed development, with or without modifications. . .

He can do it without modification. He can say that is the waste management plan and that he wants it on that piece of land and that is where it will be. Managers do not want this.

If councillors think transferring the power to the manager will protect them from public criticism they should not have stood for election in the first place. Part of the reason we stand for election is to take on the responsibility for making decisions. I hope, even at this late stage, the Minister of State will recommit the Bill and not let it go through today.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): I support the amendments which seek to maintain some semblance of local democracy so far as waste management is concerned. This is an important function of a local authority and an issue that is crucial for all the communities concerned. Today the General Council of County Councils meets in Carlow and the general secretaries of the seven parties with Dáil representation are giving a presentation as we speak on the implications of the Local Government Bill on local democracy, while the Government is within a half an hour of smashing an important facet of that same local democracy in the Dáil.

The whole thrust of the Bill is to impose bigger landfill sites and to impose incinerators arising out of the grotesque failure of the Government to address the growing problem of waste management by meaningful and effective policies to reduce waste at source and to re-use and recycle. The provision of incinerators and more landfill sites is the wrong procedure in every sense. It encourages the accumulation of waste which is the problem that has to be faced. It encourages [1039] the throw-away practices of capitalist production, retail and consumption. Therefore, it carries on the excessive exploitation of natural resources which end up as waste after being used for a short period in many cases. This has critical implications for virtually every sector of the world. It has implications for the forests of the world which are under severe threat and are reducing by the year as a result of over exploitation, for the wildlife habitats in those forests, for the stability of the climate as it is now threatened by the excessive burning of resources and emission of pollutants.

Hundreds of millions of pounds are proposed to be deployed to build incinerators. Instead, money should go towards reducing waste at source and into the technology of re-use and recycle. It is a false solution to say that incineration is a solution even for one simple thing. Apart from the health implications arising from the pollutants emitted, 40% or 50% of the space of compacted unburned waste will be taken up by the ash. It will have to go from the incinerator to landfill.

The four Independent Deputies supporting the Government are ensuring the passage of the Bill. As has been remarked only a few weeks ago, the self same four stuck like barnacles to a rock in their opposition to Dáil Deputies being debarred from membership of local authorities. Contrast that with what is happening today and it reveals the stark picture of the Government being supported by four Independents whose driving force is only grubby self interest. What a pity they did not stay at the parish pump where they might have some role but even that is doubtful. Likewise, Fianna Fáil Deputies were whipped shamefacedly in here during Second Stage with prepared scripts from the Fianna Fáil production office and are agreeing because of their inability to stand up to the Government and to proposals that will have drastic implications for them. Some of them also threatened insurrection over the dual mandate and particularly over not getting the same salaries as councillors. Again, this is grubby self interest rather than the welfare of communities.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  The Deputy is doing well with £22,000.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): I hope the arguments marshalled here today by the Opposition Deputies and parties means a commitment by them to reverse this legislation, if passed, if and when they are in Government.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  The Deputy got £22,000.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): The Government may pass this legislation but that is only the beginning of the story. All that will happen is that [1040] the issue will move from the stage of the council chamber to the stage of public protests and community organisation and to the courts. There will be mass meetings against proposals to foist incinerators on communities.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  Like Russia.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): There will be protest demonstrations, civil disobedience and every peaceful form of protest and opposition. I will be there supporting those communities to prevent practices that are counterproductive in every way for the environment and for the health of communities being foisted on them in this dictatorial way.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  I wish the Minister a full and speedy recovery to health and send him the best wishes of the House. The amendments proposed are reasonable, fair, common sense and democratic. If the Bill proceeds without taking on board our amendments there will be widespread public disapproval. There will be huge campaigns because people will feel they have no democratic input into their local environment and that their rights are being ignored. People have a democratic right to change public representatives at election time. Politicians are elected by the people and they have to understand what people are thinking. Those who are elected have to respond to the wishes of communities and must understand that they want to have a say in how their lives are affected.

Reports on incinerators and on landfill will be prepared by consultants. We get an abundance of consultants' reports nowadays. Usually, the consultants are groups of accountants, engineers and scientists who have no real understanding of the different areas about which they are making decisions. They are not from the area concerned and many of them are not even from within the country. Decisions made by highly paid consultants will affect the lives of people. It is a very serious mistake to leave the final say to county managers about where incinerators will be built or where landfill will take place. One of the amendments before us proposes to delete “the manager” and substitute “members”. That is a common sense amendment which the Minister should accept. The decisions will be made by county managers from here on in. That is wrong. There is big money in waste – there are millions of pounds involved. Decisions on such matters should not rest with one individual in any given county. Those decisions should be made by politicians, after consultation with local people.

This Bill flies in the face of democracy. It proposes to take away rights from public representatives. People criticise members of local authorities for not making decisions. There is criticism about the building and location of new housing estates. People are averse to having halting sites [1041] built near them. Other unpopular issues also arise from time to time and local authorities have met those challenges. They have provided housing in the face of opposition. Halting sites and homes have been provided for members of the Travelling community. Public representatives had the courage of their convictions, often against public opinion, to decide on the provision of such services. I believe that public representatives, if they are allowed, will be equally courageous in making decisions about incinerators. Legislation which allows county managers to make those decisions should not be shoved down the throats of the people. I do not believe that county managers want those decisions, nor is it fair to them to have to make personal decisions on such issues. Democracy should be respected. This Bill is a denial of democracy.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important but shameful legislation. It marks an extraordinary day in the history of legislation. There are no Government Deputies in the House except Deputy Mattie Brennan and the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace. We are asked to agree to the diminution of the rights of local representatives and local democracy. I wish to deal with the implications of the enactment of section 4 of the Bill or, to put it another way, the defeat of the amendments directed at section 4. If the Bill is passed without the amendments in the name of Deputy Gilmore and others, it will be legally flawed for one fundamental reason. It seeks to give an appointed official the right to impose a levy for a strategy in relation to management of an issue such as waste management without the assent of elected public representatives. It further purports to give the right to an appointed official to vary a development plan which would have previously enjoyed the assent of elected representatives. Not alone does it give the right to impose an undemocratic strategy and a supporting levy which has not got public assent, it also proposes to shorten the appeal process.

None of the existing guarantees in the City and County Management Act, 1955, as amended in 1960 and 1992, or the basic legislation on planning would sustain such an arrogant abuse of power. I believe the Bill will fall on the first challenge based on grounds of natural justice. Without dwelling on a point which has been made earlier, its constitutionality is open to question. Indeed, the Bill is unconstitutional.

In Galway city, more than 30,000 people signed a public petition and supported a campaign which eventually led to the local authority unanimously rejecting the imposition of incineration. The Labour Party, the Green Party and other parties have been in favour of a democratic approach to waste management. The approach in this Bill is entirely wrong. It makes no reference to a hierarchy of [1042] waste management. It is offensively untrue to suggest, having taken the shortest, most irresponsible and most medically risky strategy which will voraciously require large volumes of waste, that there will be waste reduction, recycling, reuse etc. If one begins with that strategy, one has already driven all the other approaches – reduction, reuse and recycling – into the ground. They are killed before they start.

Who does this serve? It serves those who favour one technical solution above every other democratic option. People should remember the County Management Act, 1940, and its original model in the 1920s which was based on the view that local representatives could not be trusted. It was amended in 1955 and was debated in the journal of the Institute of Public Administration between 1955 and 1960. Can anyone argue that the same conditions apply in local democracy in Ireland today as applied in the 1940s or the 1950s or whenever? We should be taking power from managers and giving it back to local representatives, rather than excluding local representatives and loading obligations on to managers. The suggestion under this system is that the manager can take the technical option and impose it on the elected representatives. In doing so, he is also excluding every ecologically responsible approach. Qualification of the plan is not allowed. Duties of managers are expanded in an undemocratic way. People are gagged with regard to an appeal. The development plan is thrown over. Planning permission can be given by the manager, who is also the only person to consider objections and there is no consideration for the democratic will of the people. I am not surprised that Government Deputies are unwilling to come into the House for this debate on such a profoundly outrageous and undemocratic Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Durkan has just less than one minute remaining.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue but, regretfully, one can hardly do it justice in one minute. I reiterate the concerns expressed by other speakers about the proposals in the Bill to take away from the elected members of local authorities the powers which they previously had and on the basis of which they were elected repeatedly. Handing those powers to county and city managers simply will not work. One of the lessons from recent electoral outings is that removing power from elected public representatives and bypassing them in favour of administrators is not democratic and is not seen by the people as democratic. Like Deputy Michael D. Higgins, I am not sure this Bill is constitutional. In the final analysis the people might give their answer at the polls.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  I do not propose to accept these amendments as they seek, to one extent or [1043] another, to overturn or negate the main provision of the Bill and frustrate its key objective which is to provide a legal mechanism by which the current waste management planning process can be satisfactorily concluded as soon as possible.

First and foremost, section 4 of the Bill, amending section 22 of the Waste Management Act, 1996, provides that the power to make a waste management plan should be transferred from the elected members of a local authority to the relevant manager. It also provides for other supporting legislative amendments. This move will allow local authority management to conclude the planning process and clear the way to deliver on all aspects of waste modernisation – segregated collection services, higher recycling and recovery performance and a dramatic reduction in disposal to landfill.

This proposed change will have effect only in respect of the small number of local authorities which have so far failed to make a waste management plan or which have purported to make a plan but whose decisions would be invalid by virtue of qualifications imposed. Obviously, it would have been preferable if the measures at the core of this Bill were not necessary. However, the waste management planning process has effectively been under way for over four years. Currently, three out of 15 local authorities in three regional groups have refused to adopt the proposed regional plan before them. The legal advice available to Government is clear. A proposed regional waste management plan must be adopted on the same substantive basis by all the authorities concerned, or none can be considered to have a valid plan. Therefore, the decisions of this small number of authorities are obstructing any prospect of progress on the part of the majority and have thrown the overall planning process into disarray.

Because of the delays in making and implementing waste management plans, we have not made the progress that we all accept is vitally necessary and long overdue in the provision of the effective and cost efficient waste services and infrastructure. All the time the problems associated with proper waste management continue to grow.

Clearly, we have to act now to put a modern and efficient waste management infrastructure and improved waste services in place. The Minister must have regard to the overall national interest and take steps that will facilitate the satisfactory completion of this planning process. He has considered the various legal options open to him and concluded that existing regulatory powers under the 1996 Act are not in themselves enough to ensure a decisive and satisfactory outcome. He is satisfied that the proposed measure is necessary and, in the circumstances, reasonable.

[1044] I am not impressed by assertions that these proposals are an attack on local democracy. The Minister's record in supporting and empowering local authorities speaks for itself. It is also very significant that critics of these proposals have not put forward any viable alternative. The fact is that the status quo– ongoing impasse and drift – is not an option. Neither is the suggestion that local authorities, collectively or individually, go back to the drawing board after three or four years work. The reality is that unless legislative action is taken now to free up the planning process, our current difficulties in relation to waste management will continue to be needlessly compounded.

I am equally unimpressed with the predictable assertions that the Government is pushing incineration. I emphasise that the proposed waste management plans are local authority plans and not about thermal treatment. They are about better services and an integrated waste management infrastructure serving the needs of each region. They are about the delivery of a much higher recycling performance, recovering energy from waste that cannot be recycled and using landfill as the last resort for residual wastes which cannot otherwise be recovered.

Thermal treatment of waste, whether by incineration or other technologies, is only one component of this integrated infrastructure. One cannot segregate and recycle all waste. There will always be residual waste which must either be thermally treated or landfilled, and no amount of aspiration or pursuit of 20 year zero waste strategies will change this reality.

For my part, I am satisfied that our independent planning and regulatory regimes, which will adjudicate on infrastructural proposals, will adequately protect and serve the public interest. New waste facilities of any significance are subject to full environmental impact assessment, planning controls and a rigorous environmental licensing system operated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA must take the precautionary principle into account and is legally precluded from licensing a waste facility unless, among other considerations, it is satisfied that the activity concerned will not cause environmental pollution.

Deputy Sargent alleged, again, that waste incinerators are being closed and banned throughout Europe.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Exactly.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  This is, quite simply, false. In 2000, there were 304 incineration facilities in Europe, 269 in the European Union, with some 30 new or expanded facilities commencing operation in ten EU member states in the period 1997-2000.

[1045]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 5 July: “That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

[1046] Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cullen, Martin.
Daly, Brendan.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McGennis, Marian.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Wright, G. V.

Barnes, Monica.
Bell, Michael.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Crawford, Seymour.
Currie, Austin.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gormley, John.
Gregory, Tony.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Bill, which is considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2º of the Constitution as a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann, will now be sent to the Seanad.


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