Wednesday, 5 February 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Bannon: While welcoming the Minister to the House, I wish to protest in the strongest terms that this Bill is being dealt with less than a week after its publication. Given the complexity of the content and the fact that we lack the resources available to the Minister, it is unrealistic to expect the necessary research to be completed within such a short period. Such undue haste is not in anybody's best interest.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Bill is the proposal to give city and county managers the power to impose charges for waste collection, making it a purely executive function and removing control from elected public representatives. Local councillors, who are sensitive to the needs of the public, will no longer have any function in deciding household waste charges or regional waste management plans.
Local self-government is the basis of democracy and the arena in which people can participate, but this fact is being ignored by the Minister. The Local Government Act 2001, in which it was promised that elected representatives' commitment of service to the community would be strengthened, is also being ignored. By doing so, the Government will remove power from the democratically elected local representatives and transfer it to managers who are not answerable to the public. The proposal will effectively emasculate local authority members and the voice of the people they represent will be silenced.
If passed, this legislation will give city and county managers power to impose increased waste charges unilaterally. Whether a decision is taken to charge householders by weight or other measures are put in place, local elected representatives will be powerless to intervene. Already this year we have seen some local authorities forced to increase their charges by over 30% because they have been left with serious shortfalls due to Government cutbacks. Once again, the public is being asked to make up for the serious mismanagement of public funds by the Government. How much further can the public purse be expected to stretch to prop up the financial ineptitude of the Minister for Finance who has grossly misled the public and seriously squandered public resources?
The Bill will give explicit powers to local authorities to cease collecting domestic waste from households which have not paid the imposed charges, overturning a Supreme Court judgment of 2001 which ruled that they did not have the power to do so. The Supreme Court judgment did not challenge the right of local authorities to levy charges but its effect was that they could only recover unpaid charges as normal contract debt except where charges were waived in cases of financial hardship. The only function left to elected local representatives in this matter is to vote against the annual budgets. This would mean risking abolition, as threatened by the Minister during votes on the budgets of many local authorities before Christmas.
Mr. Bannon: The Bill also proposes that the power to adopt waste management plans will be permanently given to city and county managers. This proposal was controversially introduced as a temporary measure in April 2001 to attempt to overcome opposition by some local councils. If the Bill is passed, consumers will be at the mercy of their local county manager who can impose charges at will without consultation or any democratic input. Where do these proposals leave the Government's talk of strengthening local democracy in the lead-up to the 2004 local elections? I presume these are more empty words.
With every man, woman and child in the State now producing approximately 600 kg of waste per year – an increase of 60% since the Celtic tiger boom commenced in 1995 – we undoubtedly have a waste disposal crisis. Action is urgently needed but hitting the public yet again with backdoor taxation is both unrealistic and grossly unfair. What is needed is real reform of the funding structures for local authorities, not piecemeal add-ons, and value for money for the customer. Re-education and the policy of zero waste would remove the need for measures such as incinceration, which is a highly controversial issue. To cope with the waste disposal crisis, promotion of the acceptance of re-using and recycling of residual waste is urgently needed. Councillors are committed to safe handling, effective recycling and environmentally sound disposal of waste products—
Mr. Bannon: —and want to have state-of-the-art technology to achieve their goals. They want a programme of recycling and re-using waste. What is holding the local authorities back is financial drought caused by the Government.
Mr. Bannon: The Minister should check any of our county development plans put together and adopted by public representatives. Elected members are dedicated to providing superior customer service, seeking out innovative solutions to waste management issues and implementing technological procedures with a strong commitment to environmental stewardship. Yesterday the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, called on the Minister to make provision for an ongoing subsidy fund of €150 million per annum for ten years for recycling of domestic waste. Deputy Bruton said:
Just as some form of ongoing public subsidy for public transport is allowed in the general interest, I believe that an ongoing public subsidy for recycling should also be allowed. Capital grants alone are not enough because recycling is loss making on a year-on-year basis.
The Bill's defining of the Environmental Protection Agency's integrated pollution control licensing system to bring it into line with the EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control is to be broadly welcomed. We must, as a matter of urgency, place greater emphasis on pollution prevention and minimise environmental problems at source. We are reaching a crisis in waste management and it is obvious that the present measures are ineffective. The European Commission has been a major driver of environmental reform and Ireland a somewhat reluctant conformer, often having to be faced with court action before adopting EU directives. Almost every piece of progressive environmental legislation passed during the term of the Government has resulted from direct intervention by the European Union.
Our recent economic boom has not only affected the increase in household waste it has also affected the environment in almost every area, including rivers, lakes, groundwater, ambient air and drinking water. Economic growth has accelerated pressures on the environment. It has effected pollution of inland waters, growing waste mountains, increased traffic in urban areas, soaring greenhouse gas emissions and the exploitation of natural resources. Ireland urgently needs a modern waste management infrastructure to address these issues.
While recognising that urgent action is needed in the area of waste disposal and other environmental issues covered by the proposed Bill, the resulting attack on the democratic process, which the Government considers it can bypass, is not acceptable. The Minister must look at what ails the system and how to rescue it from decline. Democracy is not for sale and certainly not to be used as a tool in the Government's frantic attempts to cover up its gross mismanagement of public funds.
When the Minister was in the House before Christmas to debate the Social Housing Bill, he talked in great detail about reforming that legislation, which was only in place for two years. He said he took the views of local authorities which had made representation to him into consideration. I would like to know who has requested this legislation. Did the request come from the County and City Managers Association? It certainly did not come from the local authority representatives associations. Is the measure sought by officials of the Minister's Department in order to dismantle local government in the future? I hope the Minister will respond to these questions. I totally reject the Bill.
Mr. Kitt: I welcome the Minister. I strongly support the Bill and what the Minister has said about it on radio and television. He has mentioned the need for strong action, with which I agree totally. He has also commented that legislation alone will not improve the environment, which is true.
In my time on the Council of Europe I was a member of the science and technology committee and we spent much time looking at the question of pollution. It is interesting to consider the efforts made by each country to prevent pollution. There are good examples of positive steps being taken. There are also examples of some governments in Europe saying they would have it stated in their constitutions that everyone is entitled to fresh air and a good environment. That is not enough. Some of the places to which I refer were affected by smog problems similar to those experienced in Dublin in the late 1980s before the then Minister of State and current Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, took action. This is a salutary lesson which shows that legislation must be introduced and the necessary decisions taken.
Last week I visited Iraq with Deputy Michael Higgins. There will be an opportunity to debate that issue tomorrow. In relation to the environment and pollution in that country, a friend took us to a restaurant and said the food was very good but not to eat fish caught in the local river because of the pollution. This shows that pollution can affect even our eating habits.
There are a number of areas I want to mention in regard to the environment and pollution. The first concerns water supplies. In some areas water supplies have become so polluted that it is only now we are now dealing with issues that should have been dealt with many years ago. All credit must go to the Minister, Deputy Cullen, and other Ministers who have taken decisions on water supplies.
The last report on water supplies in County Galway, where there is a huge number of group water schemes, referred to some pollution from septic tanks and agricultural activity. It is important to move to a situation where all water supplies come from local authority sources. For too long we have had supplies from rivers, springs and lakes and they have not been successful. All the studies carried out show that those supplies have been polluted. While I accept that this issue is being addressed by the Minister, I hope further action will be taken.
While quarrying is an activity I do not particularly like, it has to be carried out under proper planning and strict guidelines. There should be more monitoring of the actual quarrying that takes place, because a great deal of damage has been done. I have taken up many complaints with the local authority and the Department regarding the way in which areas are left completely destroyed, roads damaged and water supplies affected. That area could also be looked under the heading of environmental control.
During my term on the Council of Europe, I was impressed by the concept of separating waste. In Ireland we are beginning to tackle this issue. I listened to the Minister on radio this morning speaking about further grants to be announced for recycling. In County Galway, Rehab has done wonderful work in providing facilities in towns and small villages for the disposal of drinking cans and bottles. We have not made sufficient progress regarding the disposal of paper and much remains to be done in this area. Some of the larger towns have centres to which old clothes can be brought. If we obtain the grants to which the Minister referred, a major change can be made in the way we deal with waste disposal. Some European airports have different compartments for paper, drinking cans, bottles and so on. However, such progress has not been made in Ireland because facilities of this type are not provided at our airports.
Some marvellous schemes have been initiated in our schools. The green flag is a coveted award which schools seek to have bestowed upon them. Great credit is due to An Taisce for its work with schools. That organisation has come in for much criticism from this House, the lower House and people throughout the country in relation to planning objections. However, it has done great work with primary and second level schools, the students and teachers of which have worked hard to win green flag status.
Wonderful work has been done by schools not only in terms of tackling the litter problem but also in respect of recycling. There are wormeries in schools and many beautiful products are being made from the recycled materials. Children have done this work at school but perhaps they do not see the same principle applying at home or when walking along the streets of their towns. This good work will have to be built on and hopefully, with the Minister's commitment to further recycling, we can obtain the necessary funding.
I was interested in what the Minister stated about the polluter pays principle. He was absolutely correct in what he has said. For too long people have been subsidising their neighbours. It makes sense that people should pay for a service that is provided. In some cases two neighbours are using the same service or, perhaps, another neighbour's service and that should not happen. It is important that the legislation clearly provides that people are levied for the use of the service. The Supreme Court judgment, which found that local authorities did not have the right to charge, was wrong and the matter will now be put right in the Bill.
On the issue of refuse collection, many counties have privatised the system and it is working well. I am aware that in Dublin there was a debate on charges for larger and smaller bins and I understand a waiver system applies in some local authority areas. We have now reached a situation where there have been problems with the privatised system in relation to charges. I have spoken to some of those who operate these systems. When I refer to the fact that charges have increased substantially in some counties, they say that local authorities are charging extra for the use of tipheads. This has caused many problems.
Some private sector companies are applying for landfill sites at the same time that local authorities are drawing up county development plans and designating proposed landfill sites. In County Galway, Celtic Waste has applied for planning permission for a particular site while the local authority has three sites and will select one with a view to establishing a landfill site for southern Connacht. I understand there are to be two landfill sites in Connacht. Perhaps the Leas-Chathaoirleach can tell the House where the site for Mayo will be located.
Mr. Kitt: I understood counties Mayo and Galway would deal with it when the planning process was complete. If private developers can quickly obtain planning permission and are in a position to operate, will they be able to provide a site for both the county and the region? It will be interesting to see what happens when the planning process is developed.
I hope that more of the type of recycling centres used at shopping centres in Spain and Portugal will be put in place at shopping centres here, which are responsible for generating large amounts of litter. The Minister spoke about shopping trolleys as well. In the past one saw fliers left on cars outside shops, cinemas or supermarkets. I think there was legislation to deal with that but this legislation is stronger.
There have been problems with litter but, on the plus side, we have a very successful tidy towns competition. Every town and village gets a mark each year when they enter the competition and they like to see whether they have improved on that mark. There is a prize for every county and region and communities like to improve their situation. The presentation of prizes is one of the loveliest occasions I have attended. It usually takes place in Roscommon or Mayo – in our region. It is a source of pride to communities when they are able to say their mark has gone up and they can move on to other projects. Some very good projects have come out of the tidy towns competition.
Many recycling centres set up in towns and villages do not deal with paper. There are perhaps security and safety reasons for that. Could the newspaper industry do a bit more? There was a question of bringing papers to the Rehab centres in Galway. Pat Kenny put the question this morning as to whether the newspaper industry would take newspapers back when people are finished with them. I do not know whether it would. There should be a better system of disposing of paper. Students in schools have looked at ways to deal with the disposal of plastic containers. That is another area where more funding and direction is needed.
I welcome this legislation and I am glad the Minister has dealt with the 2001 Supreme Court judgment. That is the most immediate issue which has got the most attention in the media. I hope this Bill passes quickly through the House.
Mr. Norris: I welcome the Bill, which is appropriate. It is, by and large, a good Bill and I agree with most of its sections. My only problem is that it does not seem to go quite far enough. I recognise that it implements an EU directive of 1996, so it is something we are required to do and the Minister is being a good European by doing so. I am in favour of virtually all the provisions of the Bill but my only problem is that I am not sure of the extent to which enforceability is ensured in it. All this means absolutely nothing unless and until it is enforced.
I do not entirely agree with Senator Bannon because I believe councils all over the country have been in dereliction of their duty. I am glad we have a Minister who is prepared to take them on, particularly with regard to waste disposal. There is a very clear principle involved and it is not BATNEEC – it is NIMBY, not in my back yard. Each council wants to shift the responsibility from one area to another. That is because councillors are responding to the pressures of local politics – they want to get re-elected and to secure their political careers – but that is not good enough in terms of what amounts to a national waste crisis.
I know I will make myself very unpopular and lose votes when I say there is a case for incineration. I would like to see this country move to the highest possible level of recycling, which I think can be as high as 80% or 90%, but there will still be that intractable fraction. Other countries use incineration. Denmark is frequently cited and it has a considerable number of incinerators. Canada also has incinerators. Why not use the best available technology in this circumstance to get rid of waste?
At the moment we are being as hypocritical about this as we were in the past about abortion – we are exporting the problem. I understand – perhaps the Minister will confirm this – we export certain amounts of hazardous waste to other European countries. We are simply off loading the problem on to them. It is time we grew up as adults and dealt with our own problems. I am glad the Minister is taking this on board and I congratulate him on doing so.
Mr. Norris: That is shameful. We have to grow up and deal with it. If the local councils will not deal with waste for their own small political reasons, then it is right and appropriate that these powers should be transferred to the manager or to the Minister because, as a country, we have to be good neighbours and be responsible.
I greatly regret the collapse of the Irish Glass Bottle Company, partly because I knew that area of Dublin very well when I was younger. I used to walk the dogs along the strand. The IGBC was a real part of old Dublin and it is a great pity that with its collapse we have lost a certain element of recycling, even though I heard the Minister say on radio this morning that it is part of an all-Ireland solution and that we can still export to the North of Ireland, but we are dependent on it for a facility over which we have no control. I wish there had been another possibility.
I am all in favour of recycling but we should keep an eye on these facilities – the bottle banks and the recycling bins. They are obviously not cleared frequently enough and there are occasions in which they create their own little pool of pollution around the facility. That is a very bad advertisement, particularly for young people. They see something which is supposed to be green, environmentally friendly and so forth but it is simply creating further waste, mess and rubbish. I have seen this not only in Dublin but also in a number of provincial towns and it is a great pity.
There has been a proliferation of dumps with hazardous waste around the country. In the last session I drew the attention of the House to a serious situation, particularly in Wicklow where there seemed to be an explosion of these dumps with enormous deposits of waste. Some of these dumps contained hazardous hospital material. That is simply not tolerable and the people responsible should be pursued vigorously.
I deplore the attack yesterday on a decent RTÉ reporter, Ciarán Mullooly, who was in Roscommon going about his legitimate business investigating this. He had film in his camera showing an illegal dump but he was attacked and the camera was taken from him and thrown into some kind of slurry pit. I hope those people will be prosecuted. That is not something a decent community can support.
I was glad to hear Senator Kitt, and I congratulate him on his return from Baghdad. I know, because I had the experience there two years ago, how sad the pollution situation is that city. I was very glad to hear him give some praise to An Taisce on its green policy in schools and on the educational projects in which it is involved. He mentioned that it has come under considerable criticism for the number of objections it is supposed to have lodged. It was accused of objecting to almost every planning application in the county of Leitrim, for example. That is simply not true – it is a big lie. There were about 9,000 planning applications last year and the number of objections from An Taisce was in single figures. It is about time we nailed this kind of lie and I glad Senator Kitt gave some degree of praise to An Taisce.
There is a very serious problem with regard to packaging. We are an over-packaged consumer society and something should be done about that. There should be legislation to ensure it is either recyclable or biodegradable. Senator Kitt raised the question of bottles. Why do we not make a start on plastic bottles in the same way as we did with plastic bags? Everybody has said how successful that measure was. It was marvellous, although there was a lot of groaning about it when it was introduced. People now accept it and it has had a huge and immediate impact.
There is a significant omission from the Bill, but perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure the House that he will bring forward legislation to deal with it. As far as I am aware, the legislation contains nothing about carbon fuel taxes. Such taxes will be required to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. I know this would have an effect on the economy, but it is something to which we will have to face up. Ireland's greenhouse gas emission levels are way over the limits set by the Kyoto protocols. If we are going to live up to those protocols, we had better start preparing now before the introduction of fines for exceeding the limits.
The Minister stated: “The new section 83(5) changes the technical basis of the licensing system from best available technology not entailing excessive costs – BATNEEC – to best available techniques – BAT.” This involves a kind of massaging where the Minister is seeking to reassure industry that the change will not be too difficult. I hope it will still bite and that we are moving towards the use of best available technology. I am sure the Minister intended to reassure industry, but I am somewhat concerned.
Problems arise with the creation of tail ponds from mineral exploration, as well as from the dumping of animal waste and milk products. We know that such material has often been dumped into rivers and lakes and resulted in enormous fish kills.
The display of advertisements on private houses should be examined, particularly when they are protected list 1 houses. For example – I am being parochial here – there are two huge advertisement hoardings in North Great George's Street, despite the fact that every house in the street is a list 1 building. That is not appropriate and it should be examined by the Minister.
As regards advertising on cars, I rather like the advertising on New York taxis and I see that some Irish taxis are beginning to carry them also. In my view such advertisements brighten up the vehicles.
Mr. Norris: I did not realise that. I thank the Minister for that clarification. Such behaviour is absolutely outrageous and should be stopped, as should the pollution caused by shoving dozens of flyers through every letter box. I receive thousands of these, despite the fact that I do not want them.
Mr. Norris: The same is true in this House, where every day I receive two or three copies of enormously bulky, colour-illustrated reports from here, there and everywhere. I do not want the bloody things.
Mr. Norris: I am afraid we all receive such reports, but they should be lodged in the Oireachtas Library with a simple circular sent to Members to say they can consult them there. Why is all this material being wasted?
Before handing over to Senator Quinn, I wish to refer to two matters. First, the idea of transferring the burden of proof to the polluter is excellent; the polluter should pay. Second, I understand what the Minister is doing with regard to refuse collection in terms of trying to overturn the Supreme Court judgment. However, what about the neighbours? If my neighbour does not pay his or her bill, why should I suffer the pollution? That is the real problem which will have to be addressed because it is not fair. If I have a lousy neighbour, why should I have to put up with the terribly offensive smell from his or her uncollected rubbish? The authorities should pursue such people and fine them. By and large, the bin service is quite good but there are occasions when that is not the case. The Minister should look at what happens in Parnell Street when things are just dumped in the middle of the road. I refer here to the fact that refuse bags can burst which leads to rubbish being blown across the road.
Mr. Quinn: I thank Senator Norris for sharing time. The Bill is welcome and, although I deplore the undemocratic aspect of it, I realise that the Minister did not have a choice. He has grasped the nettle and because there was a need to do so.
The user pays concept is essential, but I not sure the Bill emphasises that in the case of household rubbish. I realise that in section 35 the Minister has made provision for taking into account the type and volume of waste, which is essential. If a local authority does not judge the amount of rubbish from individual households, that is the same as making it free because everybody, whether they have a lot of rubbish or only a little, will be obliged to pay the same amount. It is essential that a provision to deal with this problem is included in the legislation.
I was on the board of Repak for some time and one of the problems with which we were faced was newspaper, which is not packaging. Newspapers around Europe have gathered together to ensure they do not make a contribution to any recycling efforts. They claim that if they ever did so, it would set a standard which says “We are responsible for having to recycle the product produced”. A newspaper in Flanders in Belgium did so once, but the other newspapers asked it to stop. There is plenty of legislation for the recycling of packaging, but not for products. As a result, newspapers are anxious to protect what they produce being regarded as packaging.
Since the Bill is not just about rubbish and incineration, I have a question about the longer term. The success of the plastic bag levy was such that the public changed its attitude and behaviour. That was because the previous Minister, Deputy Dempsey, listened carefully to the concerns of those of us in the affected businesses. On each occasion we had a problem, the Department found a way to overcome it and so the levy has been a success. I urge the Minister to make sure there is a wide debate in this area. I know he will listen to the concerns that are expressed.
If we return to using glass bottles, they will have to be delivered, collected and cleaned and deposits will have to be paid on them. The damage to the environment of all that waste of energy has to be taken into account and I am sure it will be. I know such a system will not necessarily be imposed without taking these considerations into account, but in other countries I have seen the huge difficulties that can arise over taking deposits. Such bottles have to be cleaned and transported, which uses energy, and a health issue also arises. We will have to tackle such problems through discussions with the industry.
The Minister referred to supermarket trolleys, for which I was reluctant to force customers to pay. However, we were eventually embarrassed into doing so when two of our trolleys were found on the road and we were accused, quite rightly, of littering. We were guilty because we had allowed customers to take trolleys off the supermarket premises and they had been left by the roadside. Eventually, we grasped the nettle – as the Minister is now doing – and put a refundable deposit charge on the trolleys. We came up with the idea of providing a token for customers to use, although we could not be too generous with it because the system would be abused. The charging system for supermarket trolleys has been accepted, although it required a campaign to convince the public to take such steps. Members of the public may not like it, as happened initially with the plastic bag levy, but when they see the benefits they appreciate them.
The Bill will give power to local authority executives regarding payment for the amount of domestic waste produced. We must grasp that fact, just as the European Union has recognised that water must be paid for by the amount that is used. We are being forced into that practice and while we may not like it, we will eventually recognise that the user must pay. If one uses very little water, one will not pay much, whereas if one uses a lot of money, the cost will be higher. While the Minister does not intend it to happen, local councils will charge everybody the same amount for the collection of domestic waste unless we find a way of enforcing a different system. A neighbour of mine produces very little domestic rubbish because she lives on her own. However, her container is quite big and she has to pay the same amount as everyone else, even though we may produce more waste. We should insist on the user pays principle being applied.
The Minster has met the challenge through this Bill, which is well worthy of support, although in certain areas it may be more a question of emphasis. I know this enabling Bill will help the Minister achieve a great deal.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister. The fact that this Bill is being introduced in the Seanad is in keeping with the tradition of Bills of this nature. The Environmental Protection Agency Bill 1992 was introduced here by the then Minister, Deputy Harney. I commend the Minister on the remarks he made this morning on radio when dealing with the Bill. A statement was made in the subsequent discussion that this was the first step but it is not. There has been successive legislation over the past 12 years, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, Waste Management Acts, litter Bills and so on.
This generation has been responsible for a great deal of environmental degradation, deliberate and significant damage to the environment. We have many tribunals and inquiries into what happened ten or 15 years ago with regard to planning. One wonders what we will look back on in 20 years' time and say was wrong. I believe the next generation will blame us for the way we have mis-treated and damaged the environment, degraded our lakes, rivers and sensitive areas. It is time to call a halt.
There is a suggestion that we are dilatory in adopting European directives. There is substance to that, but it is notable that in this case we are dealing with a 1996 directive. By the standards of previous Administrations it is a reasonably rapid response for which we cannot be criticised.
Apart from the moral imperative with regard to protection of the environment, another aspect which is frequently lost sight of is the great economic imperative. We depend heavily on tourism and the promotion of clean air, water and the environment not just for tourism but for our agriculture and food industries. Even if we were not convinced on moral grounds, as we should be, there is a great economic imperative to get these matters right and ensure they are done properly.
In his remarks on 30 January the Minister spoke about the tough decisions that are necessary. He is correct in that. There are tough decisions to be made and it is unquestionably the case that the members of local authorities have not been prepared to make them. I say that as a member of a local authority, albeit one that the Minister will soon remove from that position. However, that is a debate for another day. Kildare County Council, of which I am a member, was faced with serious increases this year in bin charges. If we come back to the principle of the polluter pays, which I believe is an absolute, there is no choice in these matters.
I live close to the Kildare County Council landfill site and I know that it is flaring off gases into the atmosphere 24 hours a day. Hopefully, some of that will be recovered by way of waste to energy, which is something on which we could make progress. Ground water pollution emanates from a time when liners were not put into the bottom of landfill sites. The gases are flared off. They infiltrated the strata underneath to the point where people had to be evacuated from their houses at Christmas and put into rented accommodation. If the wind is in the right direction you can smell the gases three or four miles away.
There is a cost. In this case it is borne by the local community. It is not visible but it is a cost nonetheless and we must ensure that local communities do not have to bear it. If we can do that, while we may not remove the difficulties we have with the “not in my back yard” principle, much of them would be ameliorated. Local authority members must accept their responsibilities and acknowledge there are costs involved that must be met and not, as we had in Kildare County Council, have a debate that goes on for a day with lots of rhetoric about the need to protect the environment. At the end of the day you must put your money where your mouth is. Unfortunately, for populist reasons, many people are not prepared to do that and it is time they were shown up for what they are.
With regard to the executive function on waste management, I agree with the Minister. If it can be shown that local authority members will not make those decisions the Minister is right. We talk about subsidiarity and devolved powers. It is my experience that when powers are devolved members will not use them. We have been fudging the issue of taxis in my county for two years because people will not make hard decisions.
I am less with the Minister on the question of charges. Perhaps members should be responsible for that but I accept the principle that if we are not prepared to make hard decisions they must be made by the executive. The Minister is correct in saying that someone somewhere pays. If I pay a bin charge why should I pick up the cost for the person beside me who does not do so?
In my county there is not much incentive to recycle. I recycle as much as I can – newspapers, bottles, plastic and batteries. I live in a rural area and I put it in my car and bring it to the dump. There is a cost to me but I am prepared to meet it. There is no encouragement to help me meet that cost. If the charge were on the amount of waste I produce rather than a one off charge irrespective of whether I fill my bin every week, there would be more of an incentive.
I commend Kildare County Council on the great strides it has made in improving the dump, making sure it is better managed and that there are proper facilities there. I can bring small volumes of agricultural chemicals, which are a major problem in terms of their disposal, and they can be disposed of there. Some 30% of the weight of the waste going into the Kildare County Council landfill site in the recent past was paper. That is not by volume but by weight and is a vast amount. There is a large commercial facility for shredding documents which works very well.
Several Members mentioned packaging. I recently bought a computer. It was in a large box inside which was styrofoam to stop it from moving about, plastic bags containing all the pieces to be added on to it and a solid plastic piece inside the machine to stop it shaking. If you want to recycle the packaging you must separate out five different elements. The annual report of Kildare County Council, which promotes recycling, has a glossy hard cover on the front and back with glossy dividers at intervals and spiral binding. If you want to recycle that you must separate three elements. We do not think these issues through in the way we should.
The Minister is correct when he mentions matters being done on a regional basis. When one drives around the country it is extraordinary to see that the signs are never opposed to a dump, it is always a super dump. Perhaps the Minister will say if there is such a thing as an ordinary dump or if it is proposed to have super dumps everywhere.
With regard to incineration, and I say this with some scientific training, there is much less potential for pollution and less threat to human health from incineration than from landfill. It is difficult to get that message across. We had a major campaign in north Kildare when there was a proposal to build an incinerator in Kilcock. Like the super dump, there is no such thing as an incinerator, it is always a toxic incinerator. One would think that everything being incinerated is toxic material, which it is not. We can separate toxic material from other materials.
The other point relates to the whole question of BATNEEC, an opt-out for local authorities, in particular. A limit must be set because one cannot allow an open cheque book in this regard. The term BATNEEC has been used not to do things that should have been done. It must be acknowledged that local authorities have been serious polluters. In much legislation during the years there has been an opt-out for local authorities. Everyone else is required to obey the law bar the local authorities.
With regard to the River Liffey, a very sensitive and important national resource, there is a view among the technical staff of local authorities that it is a source of water and a place to dispose of waste. It is not sustainable to keep taking more and more water out of Ballymore Eustace in order that it can be wasted in Dublin where, if there is a cold night, people leave taps on and let the water run without being penalised. Someone somewhere pays. Those responsible for wasting water should have to pay. Perhaps that is a matter for wider debate for another day.
In regard to the problem of litter, reference was made to the effect of charging for plastic bags, which has been hugely beneficial to an extent which might not have been thought possible at first. I would like to proclaim Dardis's first law of take-away. Dardis's first law of take-away states, “The average family in the average motor car, travelling at average speed, consumes one take-away in a mile and a half”. I have tested this hypothesis at some length and been in a position to verify it on the basis that my house is a mile and a half from three take-aways, and I know styrofoam from them is disposed of outside my gate. It seems incredible that styrofoam is still being used as containers for some foods. At least paper will rot but styrofoam does not and blows all over the place. There are responsibilities in that regard also.
I agree with the Minister in regard to the fit person, which is very important. There was a case not too far from where I live, near the Pollardstown Fen on which there was huge public concern about the effect of the motorway, rightly so. This has been rectified. However, there was a dump within yards of the fen and, despite the determination of the local authority and the EPA to end it, it took an enormous length of time to get the matter through the courts and the various orders complied with. There must be an effective system whereby when matters are brought to public attention, or are discovered by vigilant county council officials or EPA personnel, something can be done immediately to stop people who persist in this type of activity from continuing in business, in the same way directors of public companies who commit an offence can be disqualified from their directorship.
As Senator Norris said, some matters must be dealt with on an international basis. Where toxic materials are concerned, it may be that the only way the costs of a facility can be met is on an international basis.
I am pleased that promoters of events are being dealt with. While the ploughing match this year was a great event, a particular national newspaper distributed free copies every morning to those going into the event and in the evening the hedges were covered with newspapers. I do not particularly hold the National Ploughing Association culpable because it runs a good operation and cleans up after the event. However, the fact that a national newspaper had plastic bags available for those going into the ploughing match should be looked at.
I agree with the Minister in regard to dealing with the potential effects of the processing industry. Milk is a highly toxic material and, as watercourses can do enormous damage, this issue needs to be attended to. At the end of the day, we must realise it is our community, our country and our responsibility to hand on to the next generation something we want to have for ourselves.
Ms O'Meara: I welcome the Minister and commend him on first bringing this legislation to the Seanad. As Senator Dardis pointed out, quite a record has been established of allowing Senators to have the first say on environmental legislation, which I welcome. There is much to be welcomed in this legislation and I look forward to an in-depth examination of it in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, it provides for a very regrettable diminution and undermining of local democracy. In that context, we cannot support the provision.
I suppose one will ask how can anyone oppose, in principle, a Bill called the Protection of the Environment Bill. If it was purely about that, I would have no difficulty with it. However, it has been one of the singular failures of Government, and public administration in general, that we should have landed ourselves in this situation in 2003. We have a serious waste crisis. There is a major pollution problem in our rivers, streams and lakes, which are effectively dead as a result of pollution. There is the very difficult issue of illegal dumping, which has clearly been ongoing for a number of years. We have never managed to raise the levels of recycling material above very small figures. We have an increasing and very difficult litter problem, which is having a very bad effect on our towns and tourism industry. We have not tackled our responsibilities in regard to reducing waste and the amount of material being placed in landfill, and not advanced alternative safe technologies which have the confidence of the public. Instead, there are irreconcilable differences, which emerge at local authority and local community level, in particular, where populism is blamed for causing our waste problems. I would like to set the record straight on this.
It is not populism which has caused a waste crisis but a failure to tackle the waste problem. It is time to say the regional waste management structures which we have attempted to put in place have not worked. The facts are there to prove this. Landfills, on which there is still almost complete reliance, are rapidly filling. There is a problem with pollution and low levels of recycling. It seems impossible to reduce the amount of waste being produced while there is huge resistance on the part of the public to pay waste charges. This is all blamed on politicians and called populism. I will return to this issue.
I will now deal with the elements of the Bill which I welcome, including the role of the EPA. While listing all the failures, perhaps one of the few successes is the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the work it has carried out. While the Bill is a response to an EU directive, the manner in which it is framed and the proposals contained therein in regard to the EPA and the licensing system are to be welcomed. There are some good elements in the Bill, which are not included in the directive but are the Minister's proposals.
In regard to the EPA and the role of local authorities, I would like to touch on one example in the north Tipperary area. The Environmental Protection Agency took an initiative at an early stage of a huge environmental problem. It was a proper response to the huge environmental difficulties faced by the community of Silvermines, when a mining company left a tailings management facility in a state that caused an environmental hazard in the area. Some members of the community and I contacted the EPA in 1999 following a number of animal deaths in the area. There were concerns that the tailings facility was being used for purposes other than those for which it was intended. The EPA responded to our concerns rapidly and a report was published on the matter. Following consideration of the report by the local authority and the EPA, action was taken against those concerned and an inter-agency group was established. The group has conducted extraordinarily good work in relation to environmental pollution arising from the mining experiences in the Silvermines area.
A consultant's report on the matter was published by the former Department of Marine and Natural Resources in March 2002. It revealed a worrying level of toxicity and environmental pollution on five sites in the Silvermines area. The report appears to be bogged down, however, by the question of whether the Department has the power to act and difficulties in acquiring the funding required. The EPA should be driving forward the rehabilitation and remediation of former mining sites.
I ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to reflect on the importance of this issue. The Department informed me this morning that there is deadlock in relation to the rehabilitation of the tailings site, in particular, as well as the other sites. I know that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is not directly responsible for this matter, but I put it to him that the question of what will happen next at Silvermines is a major environmental issue.
We need an agency, with powers similar to those of the EPA, that will take a proactive approach to this type of problem. Such an agency should be able to lead legal action, where necessary, and should have the resources to ensure that former mining sites, some of which date back to the 1840s, are rehabilitated and made environmentally safe, which is not the case at present. Having seen at first hand that the EPA acts effectively where it can, I would welcome a strengthening of its powers. Its role should be enhanced so that it can deal with all major environmental problems and I suggest that this could be done under the terms of the Bill.
I realise that Senator Dardis is not in the House – perhaps he is listening to me in his office – but I would like to discuss the topic of superdumps to which he referred. Having been involved in a campaign against a proposed dump in County Tipperary, I appreciate that one should not immediately jump to conclusions when one sees posters proclaiming that a community is against proposals to provide a site for such a commercial waste management facility in the locality. A proposal to locate such a facility in the Silvermines area was not accepted as the suggested site was entirely unsuitable. It was prone to subsidence and it would have been an unsafe location for a superdump. While media attention will focus on the resistance of communities to large waste management facilities, the EPA or local authorities will reject applications for such facilities for legitimate reasons, such as environmental or planning issues. The fact that the decision may have little to do with the feelings of the local community bears witness to the nature of our planning laws and the licensing system. The community in north Tipperary will stand over the role of the planning authorities and the EPA in this regard.
The well-run landfill in north Tipperary is managed by the local authority. The community near the site deserves to be applauded for the manner in which it has co-operated with the county council. Not only has the landfill been extended, but until recently it was used as the dump for County Clare when that county found itself without landfill capacity. North Tipperary County Council was willing to help in that instance, but such assistance is not the answer to landfill problems.
One of the difficulties resulting from our failure to reduce the amount of waste being dumped in landfill sites is that such sites have become major commercial operations. They are run by local authorities at present, but one can imagine that they will be run by private operators in future. There is an incentive for landfill operators to generate more income by encouraging the generation of more waste. There is little incentive, on the other hand, for recycling. My home town is in the fortunate position of having a recycling box outside every house, but this country is failing to create incentives for consumers and companies to recycle. We will not reach our recycling targets if we do not offer real incentives, such as tax breaks, to recycling facilities. People want to recycle – they are happy to take bottles and cans to recycling centres – but the recycling industry will not reach the necessary level without a major push and the attachment of major incentives.
I agree with Senator Dardis and others in relation to the amount of paper we, as public representatives, see used. I am aware of individuals in other organisations who encounter similar problems. It should be entirely unacceptable for glossy magazines to be wrapped in plastic, just as it is no longer acceptable for fast food restaurants to use styrofoam. We need to be vigilant in relation to how we proceed so we can reduce the amount of waste that is produced.
Packaging is a huge problem, as everything one buys seems to be surrounded by a large amount of plastic or other non-recyclable material. This runs contrary to this country's stated ambition of reducing the amount of waste that is generated. I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on the fact that as we have become more prosperous as a nation, we have produced more waste. Does it follow automatically that a prosperous country should produce so much waste?
The fact that litter is having detrimental effects on tourism has been mentioned, but pollution is also damaging that industry. One only need look at Lough Derg, which has been unsuitable for fishing for an unacceptably long number of years. While attempts are being made to restock the lake, serious problems are still being encountered as a result of the high level of phosphorus running into it from various streams. This poisonous run-off can be attributed, in part, to the agriculture industry. North Tipperary County Council has not been afraid to deal with this issue. It introduced by-laws based entirely on scientific evidence that demonstrates the need to reduce the amount of fertiliser used on the land. The timeframe in place is so long that one wonders whether we will ever meet our targets.
I am looking forward to an in-depth discussion of this legislation. Much contained within it is to be welcomed but unfortunately it also provides for such a serious diminution of the role of the public representative and local authorities that it must be opposed at that level.
I welcome the Minister and the publication of the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on grasping the nettle and taking on this sometimes emotive but extremely important issue – pollution prevention and control. The thrust of the Bill is to bring the 1992 and 1996 Acts into line with legislation in the rest of the European Union using the best available techniques. It is a balanced Bill – it balances enforcement with protection. That is the key to how prevention and control can be implemented. While it increases the fines and strengthens the requirements for an applicant to be a fit and proper person, it still maintains a number of safeguards such as the new provision for an objector to request an oral hearing. This is most important to many communities. My own experience in the city, where quite a number of issues have arisen regarding waste disposal and the control of pollution, was that much of the hysteria was generated purely for political reasons. The controls included in the Bill ensure this is tackled head on.
The changes at local authority level are very welcome. Dublin has had a problem for the last two or three years at city council level, as the Minister knows, in that it could not strike a rate. This was because members of the smaller parties did not want to go out and tell people that they would have to pay if they wanted a playground in their flat complex or new windows in their senior citizens' home. Good money could not be thrown after bad in trying to maintain a whole system of pollution control. The culture is changing. Huge advances are being made, particularly at school level. There is an amazing programme called Green Schools which has been a huge success.
Mr. Brady: My own children come home and give out to me if I throw out a newspaper and they separate rubbish. That is a cultural change. If one had said five years ago that we would have wheelie bins in Dublin and people would be separating their waste automatically, one would have been laughed at. This is how the Bill balances enforcement with encouragement to comply with regulations.
I also welcome the enhancement of the role of the EPA. The agency is a body of which one only hears when there is a crisis. Nobody hears of the work it does on a day-to-day basis protecting individuals, companies, farmers and so on. The new powers, for instance, to revoke or suspend licences or require a landfill operator to levy charges are all enhancements of powers the agency already has – it may provide explicitly for court orders where waste activity is carried on other than in accordance with any requisite authorisation. The licensing of waste disposal is something that must be tackled in the immediate future.
The strengthening of the provisions of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the imposition of greater restrictions on advertising material in public places are to be welcomed. As politicians, we all experience at election time postering and fly-postering, which, particularly in Dublin city, are practised outside of election times by political parties and individuals. They stick up posters which may have no name or contact number and are left there for months on end. They rot and fall down but no action is taken. Even at election time, certain individuals and groups put up posters at night in order that there is no way of knowing who is responsible. Political parties are fined if they are a couple of weeks late in removing posters but no action is taken against the people concerned. This must be dealt with. I welcome this provision in the Bill.
There is a provision in the Bill dealing with transboundary environmental impact. This is a huge issue: everybody has been talking about major catastrophes for the last few weeks. We could very easily suffer the way Spain has suffered, given the amount of traffic in the Irish Sea. I welcome the Bill which I fully support. I congratulate the Minister and his Department.
Ms Ormonde: The Minister is very welcome. I also welcome this get-tough legislation and congratulate the Minister on his determination to improve the environment and give it a new look. It is a very challenging job.
I am delighted with many sections of the Bill which deal with the enhancement of the role of the EPA and the widening of the scope for licensing. I endorse all the comments of previous speakers in that regard. The Minister grasped the nettle with regard to waste charges when councils were unable to strike rates. While he had to do it, it is a pity because it looks as though we are diminishing the role of the councillor. I hope he will find a way of enhancing that role in future legislation. Unfortunately, because of the desire for local political advantage, some local authorities have not been able to fulfil their responsibilities. I regret this. It might not be an easy decision but responsibility should be faced. At the same time, however, I am conscious of the role of the councillor and hope the Minister will respect it. I know he will when dealing with other areas.
In relation to reducing waste and waste charges, we will have to go down the road of paying by weight. This must be the way forward. When people's pockets are hit – when they know they can reduce their payments by lowering the weight of their rubbish – they will make the effort to reduce it. It will put full responsibility back on the household. Householders want to throw the responsibility away and blame somebody else, calling the waste charges an extra tax. If they are made responsible, the amount of waste will be reduced. How do we educate the public about recycling? There is the potential for a huge programme. We have a great system in south Dublin – we went into the local schools and had parent meetings and evening meetings at which the separation of waste was demonstrated – and it is working.
The size of the bin should also be reassessed. Even one person households have a large bin which has to be struggled with through the hall door and out the back door and again in the other direction. We should consider introducing a small, adaptable bin. Many older people who live in big houses struggle to drag big bins outside. Will the Minister look at ways of varying the size of bins?
I am delighted the legislation allows for severe penalties for people who do not pay their charges and empowers local authorities to refuse to collect their waste. It is disgraceful that people can throw rubbish out and leave it for others to clean up. This is a get-tough Bill, which the public will like, and it will reach into every household, which is what we want it to do. The plastic bag levy was a great idea and this is an extension of that concept. If we make resources available for litter wardens to implement decisions, enforce penalties and support legislation through implementation, the Minister will have done a superb job.
Mr. Cummins: I welcome the Minister. It is always gratifying to see a Waterford man in a senior position. While we have sparred with one another on numerous occasions, and will no doubt do so again in the future, I wish him continued success.
There is no doubt that there was a need to introduce legislation on waste management and environmental protection in order to bring our laws into line with EU directives. The Bill before us has many merits. I welcome the strengthening of the anti-litter laws and the increased penalties. I also welcome the clarification and strengthening of the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency, bringing the waste-licensing system fully in line with the integrated pollution prevention and control directive. The Bill also places greater emphasis on energy efficiency.
I have no objection to the obligation on local authorities to refuse to collect household waste from a person who has failed to pay the relevant charge. Failure to change the law in this area would have made a mockery of the system. One cannot have a system where one person pays while the person next door does not and is not penalised. Local authorities must be able to take action in such circumstances.
I welcome the provisions on the protection of groundwater and the upgrading of water quality. Senator Kitt referred to the importance of the prevention of pollution in our rivers and I welcome the new conditions concerning emissions.
The strengthening of the powers of the EPA will place a significant burden on it Will additional resources be put in place for the agency? There is no point increasing its powers if it does not have the resources necessary to implement them.
I welcome the ban on flyers. Is it an offence to paste posters to poles? This is a dreadful practice because posters are often left in place for a long time and, as Senator Brady stated, in many instances one does not know who is responsible. The practice should be banned completely.
There are many provisions of merit in the Bill, but I do not support the section which makes the review and variation or replacement of waste management plans an executive rather than a reserve function. This is a negation of democracy and a further erosion of local democracy. This provision transfers responsibility for an area which affects every community to an un-elected person to whom the public will have little or no redress. This is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and it surely flies in the face of the concept of better local government, to which the Government, in its current and previous incarnations, has paid lip service.
We are being presented with the usual catch-phrases and sound bites, which have little or no substance. One wonders whether the Better Local Government document was geared towards and benefited the providers and administrators of the services, rather than the people who are supposed to receive them. Have the services to ordinary people improved significantly as a result of the document to which I refer? I do not believe so. Transferring further powers from elected members to people who will say “Yes, Minister” in order to comply with his or her wishes will further erode the power of elected members and, more importantly, the people they represent.
There is no doubt the Bill will further strengthen the Government's intention to proceed with a number of incinerators. This will be justified by referring to advanced technology and the examples of well-run facilities in other countries such as Denmark. The Minister may be correct in this regard. I have not seen such facilities at first hand, but I am sceptical that this is the solution to our waste management crisis. The Government is not fully committed to recycling minimisation and waste re-use because it has come out against the subsidisation of the recycling of domestic waste, as evidenced by the Minister's answer to Deputy John Bruton's parliamentary question in the Lower House.
I accept, in theory, that the polluter pays principle requires that householders in Waterford and elsewhere pay the full economic cost of the recycling of their waste. The practical reality is that this would probably require refuse charges to increase to almost €1,000 per house, which is politically and practically unrealistic. Perhaps this is the direction in which the Government intends to go. Some say this is the re-introduction of rates through the back door and it is hard to disagree with this theory.
The ongoing public subsidy for recycling should remain in place. Capital grants alone will not be enough. Recycling is loss-making on a year to year basis, but I note from reports from the United States that the cost of recycling is in excess of 33% cheaper than incineration. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind when he is advocating the use of incinerators, because householders will be obliged to foot the bill.
Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council have been waiting for a reserve judgment from the High Court since last February in order to decide whether they can proceed with a landfill site. This is a ludicrous situation and surely a timescale should be imposed on reserve judgments, particularly on crucial environmental issues that will have repercussions for local authorities throughout the country. While acknowledging that this is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I ask that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government bring this issue to the attention of his colleague with a view to changing legislation in the area as a matter of urgency.
An Taisce has come in for praise and I support it on many issues. However, a facility is planned in Dungarvan, County Waterford, which will rejuvenate the town and, while the local branch of An Taisce is firmly in favour of the development, we have had interference from the national parent body, which is objecting. In many instances there are pluses and minuses where An Taisce is concerned.
There are many laudable aspects to the Bill which will give greater protection to the environment. However, I have grave reservations regarding other areas I have highlighted, which will have devastating financial and environmental effects on everyone. Will the Minister rethink these areas?
Mr. Brennan: I, too, welcome the Minister. I fully agree with him that it is time for tough decisions and new regulations to be made in regard to pollution prevention, control of the licensing system and the new amendments to the 1997 Act. The Bill also includes measures to strengthen the existing licensing system in terms of implementation and enforcement, especially with regard to pollution prevention and the minimising of environmental problems at source.
The inclusion of emission levels in licences is to be welcomed. Applicants for licences will have to fit the official criteria defined in the Bill and the provision for withdrawing and suspending licences.
In the light of the fact that responsibility for waste management plans is being passed to managerial level, I thank the members of local authorities who have played a leading role in implementing the plans in recent years. I refer to my own area of the mid-west where the waste management plan was adopted by all the councils. Management will be implementing only what the councillors passed in their own local authorities. It is very important to recognise that any amendments to be made to a plan will involve consultation between each county manager and the local authorities concerned.
Let us consider circumstances in which local authority managers are operating as regulators as regards the issuing of licences. We have all seen numerous milk trucks going down the one road doing the one service. Will local authorities have power, when issuing licences, to determine what areas in which these operators can operate? Will they dictate the charges for the collection of refuse, as issued under the licences?
The regional waste management plan will now focus on implementation of these crucial regional plans. It is important to put in place the infrastructure necessary to maximise waste prevention. Also, it is important that local authorities have the means and funding to implement the new laws.
I welcome the amendments to the Litter Pollution Act 1997. The requirement for articles or advertisements exhibited in public places to include the name and address of persons on whose behalf they are exhibited is very important, as are the local authority by-laws regarding distribution of advertising material. The provision stating promoters of events have to take necessary steps regarding litter pollution is very important. Will the Minister comment on the obligations on businesses regarding public areas outside their premises?
I thank schools for the role they have played. Schoolchildren have the future of our environment at heart and, please God, will also have a leading role to play. I also thank the tidy towns committees for the role they have played and which they will continue to play. I wish the Minister every success in the implementation of the plans. They have been on the drawing board at local authority level for the past two years and it is now time for action.
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister and the Bill. However, it is very unfortunate that we have to bring forward a Bill amending, to a great extent, one we passed so recently. This is not the fault of the Minister but we must try to make sure the Bills we pass do not require amendment within a few years, which is what has happened in respect of the 1996 Bill. I was present when it passed through the House. From the point of view of the public it is unfortunate that we have to change legislation so rapidly. All the changes do not have to be made because of an EU directive because the EU directive was issued in 1992. It took us a long time to do anything about that directive and, in the meantime, it was very hard for the public to know where it stood. It left the private sector wondering what kinds of pollution controls applied to it.
As many Senators have said, the Bill takes away substantial power from locally represented politicians in terms of having control over waste management. While I have never been a member of a county council, I have been a member of a health board. What the Minister has done is understandable because unfortunately it is frequently very difficult to make elected representatives bring forward any form of control, local legislation or policy which does not bring good news. If there is any bad news, they are most reluctant to deal with it. While the Bill may involve a diminution of local democracy, I see the reason the Minister believed he had to give the power to local managers. Where local democracy is concerned, this move is objectionable, in principle, but there have been so many problems in this area.
Given that we are talking about a greater devolution of powers, it is extraordinary that the Bill takes back such serious powers from local representatives. As I said, they only want to deal with the good news. Unfortunately, they have only themselves to blame in this instance. It is worth pointing out that councillors in England, following the Nolan report, have to had to be educated in the areas of law with which they are dealing. It might be worthwhile if we considered doing this here to make councillors realise they have huge responsibilities as well as major powers at local level. Does the Minister believe there is a possibility of having some form of training for councillors in this area because much of the legislation with which they have to deal is very complicated, as is the Bill before us?
Would it not be splendid if we could use plainer and more comprehensible language in legislation, particularly legislation that has to be dealt with by ordinary people at local level? Section 12 of the Bill substitutes a new Part in the place of Part IV of the Act of 1992, section 99A(3) of which new Part states, “Regulations under paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1) shall not be made otherwise than with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment”. I think it means that regulations made under section 99A(1) must be made with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. They mean the same sort of thing.
How can an ordinary person read section 19(2)(b)? It reads as follows: “.in subsection (10), by substituting the following paragraph for paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) (inserted by the Act of 2001.”. It becomes extraordinarily complicated. Officials will be delighted to hear that the Bill is being read very thoroughly by someone.
Dr. Henry: Schedule 1 refers to activities to which Part IV applies. If two or more activities falling within the same paragraph under a particular heading of this Schedule are carried on in the same installation by the same person, for the purpose of any threshold specified in the paragraph, the capacities of these activities shall be aggregated.
I am interested in matters relating to food and drink. Paragraph 7.3 refers to commercial brewing, distilling or malting installations, where production capacity exceeds 100,000 tonnes per year, not included in paragraph 7.8. Paragraph 7.8(b) refers to vegetable raw materials with a finished product production capacity greater than 300 tonnes per day – averaged on a quarterly basis. Brewing is based on barley, a vegetable raw material. If the capacities of activities are to be aggregated, are we to aggregate the 100,000 tonnes per year with the 300 tonnes per day multiplied by the number of days per year on which production takes place? This is very complicated for someone who wishes to stay within the law. I presume the provision is in place because the Government does not wish the legislation to apply to those involved in home brewing but I might be wrong. I found the Bill quite difficult to follow.
Senator Kitt referred to the report on the quality of drinking water in Ireland which was published recently. It is a very fine report. While public water supply is pretty good, there are some very worrying issues with certain group water supplies which should be looked at. The Bill contains an excellent section on groundwater but it would be good to include the report's recommendations on the quality of drinking water. If we do not, we will have to bring forward another Bill to take account of them. Some of the issues involved are urgent, one of which is the problem of cryptosporidium in the water supply. We do not have legislation which demands a search for cryptosporidium, a very unpleasant parasite usually originating in calves with scour. It can get into groundwater through the spreading of slurry from where it can get into the drinking water supply which makes this a serious problem. The last time I raised the matter I said there had been a problem in the Westmeath County Council local authority area. The council wrote to me to ask what I meant by this, which I thought was great. It recognised that there was a problem and discovered what its source in Mullingar was. There was no onus on it to look for cryptosporidium but it did and was able to get rid of it pretty briskly.
Cryptosporidium is a dangerous water pollutant because it can cause very serious diarrhoea. An outbreak in eastern Canada several years ago resulted in the deaths of seven people. We do not know how many outbreaks we have had in which the cause of diarrhoea in an area was cryptosporidium because we do not enforce regulations which direct the authorities to look for the parasite. We know there has been an outbreak in Northern Ireland, which means that far from thinking Westmeath County Council was not doing a good job, we should recognise that it was. I am quite sure that is because it has the only female chief executive officer in the country. She looked at the hygiene of the area's water supply very closely.
It would be a good idea to implement the report's recommendations now rather than wait for yet another Bill. Some of the problems we face are extraordinarily serious. The Bill is a fine example of good and technical legislation but it is not very clear in many places to people like me who attempt to read it. I look forward to hearing about brewing and hope I am right to think that the legislation is phrased as it is to avoid a scenario in which we chase home brewers around the countryside under the regulations. It is not clear to me from the Bill whether the EPA now has the power to bring people to court through its notices on licences or if it must still obtain notices under various pollution Acts. There is much in the Bill which I look forward to addressing on Committee Stage. In fact, I feel a few amendments coming on.
Mr. Kenneally: I welcome this legislation which addresses long-overdue issues. For too many years we have taken the environment for granted and looked at the world around us as an unlimited resource capable of absorbing whatever battering we gave it. We know now that this is not the case and that too much damage has already been done, though thankfully not so much as to be irreversible. We are much more aware of the need to care for the environment and that it is sometimes the simple things we do which will have a long lasting effect on the quality of our way of life. Measures we take can range from protecting the air we breathe through the non-production of smoke and toxins to keeping our streets clean by ensuring our dogs do not spoil them. Such simple and common-sense measures would have been laughed at a decade or two ago but we have all grown to understand much more about our environment.
More controls have been introduced and, as a result of a programme of public education, much more is expected of everyone today. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Bill at this stage, though there are certain sections about which I am not entirely happy. Section 19 deals with waste management plans, sufficient progress on which has been delayed for far too long. The matter is fraught with difficulty but in order to progress the Minister has decided to make the plans a management function, bypassing elected council members. While I understand his reasoning and agree that experience to date points to this action being the only way to make progress, I cannot but feel that it contravenes a sacred principle and represents a significant erosion of democratic practice. I understand the Minister's intent and the frustration from he and his predecessor have suffered which is the reason, with some reluctance, I support the measure. It is quite obvious that in many areas a variety of pressures have made councillors reluctant to make the hard decisions called for by a faltering environment. Accordingly, if power to decide must be taken from them and given to someone who will make the hard choices, so be it.
I do not agree, however, with the divesting of the power to decide waste management charges. The city or county manager will decide what the charges will be and authority members will have no power of veto. That is a total erosion of democracy as such decisions have traditionally been the exclusive preserve of elected members and we do not find ourselves in circumstances which warrant the change. I urge the Minister to review this element of the measure. This is not to suggest that city or county managers are reckless or lacking in understanding. My experience of them has been otherwise. However, we cannot see the future or what the next crop of managers will be like. The principle involved is one with which I do not agree. This is the first time there has been a departure from the traditional method of setting charges and rates. It is a dangerous precedent and an unnecessary departure. Will there be any need for Estimates meetings in the future if the manager is to do it all? Is this the first of a series of such decisions? Local authority members are answerable to the public and should be the ones who decide. While I do not wish to labour the point, I ask the Minister to review the section.
If councils, as landfill operators, must recover the full cost of their operations, the cost of waste management to the consumer will be horrendous. The Minister recently referred to a cost of €11 per collection but this may be a conservative estimate. With newer and higher standards for landfill sites being implemented on a continuing basis, costs will escalate and charges to the consumer will rise accordingly. Cross-subsidisation occurs in many areas of the public services. For example, the excise duty on petrol, car registration fees and motor taxation are not the only moneys spent on roads. There was a time when the road fund supplemented the Exchequer, much to the annoyance of regular road users.
In this context we should be realistic about waste management, or bin charges, to use the better known term. We cannot ask people to pay the economic cost no more than they are expected to pay the economic cost for an overnight stay in hospital or a copy of the Flood tribunal interim report. I agree with the Minister's stance on those who do not wish to pay anything for the service. Neighbour should not subsidise neighbour, which principle should be copper-fastened in legislation. I am pleased the Minister is doing something about this.
The Bill provides that the EPA will have the power to revoke or suspend waste licences. Will this apply to emissions or smells? It needs to be spelled out who is responsible and in what jurisdiction. For example, in Waterford city a noxious smell can originate from a different local authority area and jurisdiction across the River Suir. The legislation may not deal with this aspect but it must be clarified.
Chapter 3 deals with the pollution of groundwater supplies in the context of the European Union directive on integrated pollution, prevention and control. The leakage of farm effluent into groundwater sources can be a major cause of pollution. Is this covered under the legislation? Will every farmer have to be licensed and monitored? If so, it will open a new vista and create immense new work. Clarification is required on this aspect.
Section 21 appears to deal with the practice of burning rubbish, which until recently was widespread. The Bill refers to an act being deemed likely to cause pollution until the contrary is shown. This appears to suggest that a person will have to prove that he or she did not do something, which would be a departure from what would be regarded as the norm, namely, the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.
Section 38 deals with litter pollution, something that has plagued the country for generations and a practice which is becoming less acceptable. While the situation has noticeably improved, there is still a long way go before the country is litter free. Unfortunately, those at school, our best educated generation, have little thought for litter. Whether it be fast food cartons, crisp bags, sweet wrappers or chewing gum, they scatter it freely and without thought for the consequences. Despite a concerted campaign, this activity still appears to be the norm.
Dog control and the toilet habits of pets in public are also a cause of concern. I ask the Minister to clarify the position arising from a recent case where a dog soiled a footpath but, being 20 or 30 yards from the owner, was not effectively under his control. Is this practice open to prosecution? A dog or litter warden should be able to prosecute on the basis of the owner's name on the dog's collar but other opinion takes the view that this would not be possible.
I am pleased the Minister has decided to prohibit the dubious and problematic practice of placing leaflets on cars. This is long overdue because it inevitably means that huge numbers of leaflets are left on the ground. I thought this matter had been previously dealt with but I am pleased it will no longer be lawful.
I am also pleased that local authorities will be able to make by-laws and exercise discretion on the question of poster advertising. Circuses have made a plea for latitude for their business and it would be regrettable if their existence was further jeopardised by removing their main source of advertising. I hope the local authorities will apply this measure in a humane, flexible and understanding way.
Auctioneers' signs can be a major blight on a streetscape, especially in cities, where a large number of properties in a street can change hands at the one time. They appear to be erected with impunity, yet they are more ugly than circus or other entertainment posters and can be in situ for much longer. Perhaps the Minister will clarify if this aspect is covered by the legislation.
Ms Tuffy: Waste and other service charges are an unfair form of taxation. They are not income related and waivers do not address this aspect. Often, those on low incomes must pay. For example, in South Dublin County Council, of which I am a member, people are entitled to waivers if their sole income is from social welfare or if they are entitled to family income supplement. This means that those on small occupational pensions or who have a supplementary income to their social welfare income are excluded from the waiver provisions. This form of taxation is unfair to those on lower and middle incomes, particularly those in the PAYE sector. By contrast, service charges are small change for top income earners who manage to pay very little tax.
These charges are a combination of new charges and increases in present charges. They have nothing to do with the environment and are being introduced because of the income tax cuts introduced by the Government, which have most benefited the better off. As a form of non-income related taxation, they are unfair, yet they are to become the means by which local government must make up the shortfall in Government investment.
The proposal to make charges an executive function is undemocratic. It removes any semblance of local democracy. The practice of councillors in this area has been subject to much myth making. They are making decisions and imposing charges. Differences of opinion or dissent does not mean there is a problem, rather it indicates that democracy is at work. The Government wishes to remove dissent on this issue, which is a bad move.
These taxes have nothing to do with the polluter pays principle, about which many more myths have arisen. For example, the many people in my county who take the trouble to bring their empty bottles to collection centres and separate their cardboard and aluminium waste from other waste are not polluters. They are good citizens and we should not penalise them for what we want them to do, that is, recycle and segregate their waste.
Genuine green taxes would impose penalties on those who do not engage in environmentally sound practices. The plastic bag levy is an example as it means that people can use alternatives without having to pay the levy. These are the types of charges that should be considered. Fines should be imposed on those who, given the opportunity, refuse to recycle or overuse water.
The Government and management of councils are considering introducing pay by weight charges but it will be a long time before this happens. At present, flat charges apply. When I was a member of the Forum for Europe, it was addressed by a representative of the European Commissioner on the Environment. The issue of environmental charges was raised and he said flat charges were the least environmentally sound.
The provision in the Bill which allows local authorities to refuse to collect waste from households which have not paid the charge contravenes the Supreme Court judgment of 2001 and is certain to be challenged. If a citizen fails to pay income tax his child is not prevented from going to school. The same logic can be applied to the payment of water and waste charges. It is one thing to pursue the collection of a debt but quite another to deny a family a basic service which is essential to health and safety simply because the head of the household has failed to pay a local authority charge, perhaps on principled grounds. I believe the courts will rule against this measure in due course.
The Government is strangling local government. This is happening partly because of the Government's policy of reducing the income tax base. Through this lack of funding it is forcing unfair tax policies on local authorities while people are seeing a reduced level of local services. By reducing the powers of local authority members the Government is showing that it does not care about local government. With the abolition of the dual mandate the Government is casting local government adrift to irrelevance. At the same time it is getting rid of directly elected mayors and reducing the powers of councillors. The abolition of the dual mandate will mean that things will continue in this direction because the only true social democrats left in Fianna Fáil are those Oireachtas Members who are also county councillors. They, at least, are in touch with the issues on the ground.
The threat to abolish county councils which do not adopt an Estimate within the allotted time has been referred to. The Minister says this is the law but this law is profoundly unconstitutional. One of the few positive measures taken by this Government in relation to local government was the insertion of a provision referring to local government in the Constitution. This provision says there shall be directly elected local authorities. An unelected commissioner cannot be consistent with this constitutional provision. This constitutional amendment may be the saviour of local government in the end.
Senator Henry mentioned education for county councillors on the law. If we educate county councillors enough in the legal background to the Government's provisions they may be the ones to challenge the Government's actions.
Dr. Mansergh: I broadly welcome the thrust of the Bill, although I do not agree with everything in it. A clean environment is of immense importance to our quality of life and standard of living and is economically beneficial. An unclean environment is often a sign of economic and social backwardness. We saw this in central and eastern Europe when the Iron Curtain fell. To the extent that this Bill means we are becoming more serious about environmental protection I entirely support it.
We remember the days 50 years ago when cattle markets were held in the streets and one could only go into the main street of a town if one was wearing boots. More recently we have seen hedgerows strewn with litter, and animals, if not humans, suffering from mysterious ill-health caused by pollution, the source of which was difficult to locate. People were afraid to complain for fear that they might endanger employment in an industry even though it was a dirty industry. Today, we can afford higher environmental standards. Indeed, we cannot afford not to have them.
I have little sympathy with the anti-service charge campaigns which are routinely conducted, mainly by parties and independent politicians of the left. I remind Senator Tuffy that service charges legislation was introduced by the leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Dick Spring, when he was Minister for the Environment in 1983. In the 1980s when taxation was very heavy there was a case to be made about double taxation. However, in the present situation when taxation levels have been vastly reduced, as the Labour Party is the first to say, there is no case whatsoever for complaining about double taxation.
Senator Tuffy's criticism about service charges could be made against any form of indirect taxation which is not directly income related. Our entire taxation system cannot be based on income tax and, besides, there are exemptions to service charges. Such arguments are made by people who preach social solidarity but in this case solidarity breaks down and people are encouraged not to support the community. The same politicians criticise taxation levels as being too low. I do not understand their logic and I believe theirs is a very tired campaign.
I have grave reservations about removing responsibility for service charges from local representatives to the manager. A fundamental principle of western democracy is that there should be no taxation without representation. The proposed measure will provoke popular movements of revolt if people feel that charges can be imposed by someone who is not democratically accountable. I do not like this principle and I believe the measure should be looked at again.
As a possible compromise solution I suggest the one used in Europe. The Commission has many executive powers for which it does not necessarily need the consent of a majority of the Council of Ministers. However, the Council of Ministers can unanimously overturn a decision by the Commission. There is something to be said for a local authority having the power, if voting unanimously, to overturn any decision of the manager. I ask the Minister to look at that proposal.
There is enormous scope for improvement in recycling. I fully accept the view that seeping landfill sites and toxic dumps here and there are no longer an acceptable way of dealing with waste. What I am going to say is informed by involvement in the debate taking place in south Tipperary about a very specific type of incinerator. I will not refer to the specifics of the case but I will make some general points.
What I welcome most about the Bill is that it seems that it will provide more serious enforcement and that facilities responsible for emissions and unacceptable smells and which have bad day-to-day operations will, if necessary, be closed down. I do not believe that sensitive, environmental facilities should be entrusted to people who have a bad environmental track record and who are courting ongoing problems for which there does not appear to be redress. I would certainly like the EPA to adopt a tougher approach. This may be quite wrong, but I have heard a comment attributed to a member of the EPA to the effect that it has never closed anything down. I am not sure that is a very proud boast. If facilities are causing serious pollution, they should be closed down.
I have not adopted an absolutist anti-incinerator position. There are specific matters relating to the position in Tipperary. I can understand why councils visiting places such as Denmark or Vienna – at the very heart of which an incinerator is situated – can see that there is a technically more advanced form of dealing with waste than exists here.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to interesting reports in The Independent and The Guardian because there is a debate taking place on this subject across the water. An environmental directive will come into force in 2005 which will cut dioxin emissions from incinerators. I presume any incinerator built under regional auspices here will reach those high standards and fully conform to EU directives. The British Environment Minister, Michael Meacher is quoted in The Guardian on 17 January 2003 as saying that “Dioxins are very nasty, but these are incredibly low levels . Even so the government is anxious that the numbers are reduced as much as possible.” A number of incinerators will simply be closed because they do not meet the standards. The Minister and the Department of the Environment and Local Government should look seriously into this matter and have discussions with their British counterparts.
Mr. Meacher said he believed that more modern solutions, such as rubbish digesters, which produced gas to make electricity and left the residue as compost, would replace incinerators as a way of getting rid of rubbish. This would avoid the risk of creating dioxins altogether.
We need to be at the cutting edge of the debate on this issue. For example, a demonstration took place at University College Dublin of a process called alkaline hydrolysis which is used for the incineration of meat and bonemeal.
I would not like to see incinerators being put in place all across the country. I accept they will probably be built to very high standards and will help reduce dioxins. I accept the latter are caused by other things, such as traffic, bonfires, burning cars, etc, but if there is a more sophisticated option we should consider it. I can only refer to the press cutting in my possession, but it is clear that the British Environment Minister has something specific in mind. I encourage the Irish Government to become involved in discussions with the British Government to see if there are better methods of eliminating waste than the use of incinerators.
Mr. U. Burke: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, but I regret that the Minister is not present. He stated earlier: “In a democratic society legislation is the foundation for action in the interests of the common good.” In the past, his Department produced documents entitled, Better Local Government and Changing our Ways. The public has responded to a great extent to requests for change in the way in which waste is disposed of, but I heard the Minister say earlier that it is a matter of getting tough and staying tough. Here we have a Minister using language that does nothing to encourage the population. He has made a clear statement that he is not in favour of turning, regardless of the protests and concerns.
I welcome Senator Mansergh's identification of his serious concern – which is shared by many Members and the public at large – regarding incineration. The Minister is saying that, come hell or high water, we are going to have incineration because that is the best way forward. He is getting tough. That is the language he used. It is a pity that a Minister whose Department asked the public to change its ways has used such language.
Much of what the Minister said previously seems to dictate that this is the way it is going to be and that we must do as he says. Once again he has seriously encroached upon, and rapped the knuckles of, every public representative. However, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, fails to recognise that, in most instances, because of the make-up of many local authorities, it is his party's councillors who have rebelled and said “No” to his desires and those of the Department of the Environment with regard to waste management.
There is a waste management plan for every county. When those plans were democratically voted on, they were, by and large, rejected. The Minister said that since councillors have failed to take action he will give the power to somebody else. This has happened before and it is regrettable that it is happening again. It is clear from the content of the Bill that the Minister is saying that he will empower somebody who will do the job his way. I recognise the aspirational content of the Bill, but, in that context, we must consider the record of the Department of the Environment and Local Government and local authorities which were responsible for the greatest amount of pollution in the past.
Let us consider the River Shannon and its lakes and the sewerage system in towns such as Athlone, Portumna and Limerick. The discharge of untreated sewage into the lakes and rivers in the area to which I refer has been unbelievable. The sewerage facilities in these towns are inadequate to properly treat such sewage, which is then dumped into the Shannon and its lakes. Lough Derg is being attacked, on one hand, by local government, which has responsibility for maintaining the quality of water at a high standard, and, on the other, by another government agency, Bord na Móna, which controls the discharge of silt into the lake. Effectively, this fresh water lake has been destroyed. Until recently, Bord na Móna failed to put in place the proper mechanism to reduce – not eliminate – the discharge of silt into the Shannon and Lough Derg.
In Kinvara in my constituency in County Galway, there is a discharge of raw sewage, despite requests in the past for funding to put in place a proper sewerage system in the most sensitive of areas where the oyster beds are situated. Scientists have found that the nature of the currents has magnified the discharge in that it constantly circulates within the bay and it has done, and has the potential to do, serious damage to the oyster beds which are renowned worldwide.
On the one hand, there are aspirational contents in this Bill which we must bring into effect, while on the other hand there is the serious situation whereby the Department of the Environment and Local Government is turning a blind eye to what is going in practice in regard to pollution. The main contributors to the pollution of our waterways are local authorities and State agencies and many others besides.
This is a retrograde step. We have been told local authorities have failed to bring in the necessary by-laws and charges and to identify sites for landfills. It is unacceptable that four landfill sites have been proposed for a small section of County Galway. These sites were identified by consultants engaged by the Department. Senator Norris accused all public representatives of having a NIMBY attitude in regard to landfills and incinerators. The sad reality is that he is not responsible to the electorate. A select privileged group elects him to the House and he is not responsible for the identification or provision of landfills or incinerators. It is easy for him to come into the House and to be glib in his remarks in that instance. It is worth noting that.
The Minister has decided to give the power to the executives to make those changes. In the case of County Galway, three proposed landfill sites have been identified. The difficulty in regard to a number of them has been highlighted and they are being put through a very tortuous process. The reality is that there are far more acceptable and suitable sites available in County Galway but the consultants have made up their minds and will not even consider them. Senator Kitt will verify that the consultants were invited to view sites which were ideally suited. The public representatives begged the management and the consultants to look at those sites but they would not do so as they had made up their minds. That is the very attitude emanating from the Minister when he says, “Get tough, stay tough.” That is a very wrong attitude to any public utility, public policy or public representative at national level. It is that bed on which the Minister will have to lie and accept the responsibility.
Mr. U. Burke: That is what I said earlier. I said in the Minister's absence that if the contents of this Bill were being put into practice by his Department, we would willing accept it but that is not the case in many instances.
In the last two days, a transport carrier brought a consignment of goods from Northern Ireland to Cork. On the return journey to the North, the licensed carrier took on board a huge quantity of waste, some of which was identified as Government originated waste. On the journey to Northern Ireland, the truck overturned outside Athlone – hence we had a problem. Will the Minister ask the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate fully and report back to this House on whether the cargo was legitimate and whether the carrier was licensed to carry waste, including Government waste, from Cork to Northern Ireland for export, maybe to some landfill in Northern Ireland? Is that in accordance with our laws? Is it in order that that is going on? If there are legitimate licensed waste disposal agencies in the South of Ireland, why is some of that waste being carried – maybe illegally, although I will hold my judgment on that – to Northern Ireland for disposal in landfills in there or for transportation to Scotland?
I see in the media today reference to the possible, or potential, danger of transporting waste. This is a practical example which happened in the past two days. Will the Minister ask the Environmental Protection Agency to report on whether all the licences are in order and so on?
There is serious concern about the use of nitrates, particularly by the agriculture sector. The Minister expressed the wish that the country be treated as one unit in terms of measures which he hopes will be introduced in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food in regard to the use of nitrates. Most experienced professionals dealing with this matter agree that it is not necessary to treat the country as one unit and that it is necessary to differentiate between the west and the intensive agricultural areas of Leinster and the dairying areas of the south where there is extensive use of nitrates. There is no doubt the agriculture industry, which is already on its knees, must accept the reasonable imposition of rules and regulations to ensure a safer environment and quality of water.
Mr. U. Burke: However, most of the recent reports on the quality of water indicate that where there are private group water schemes, the quality of water on average is far better than that in many outdated public water systems. Will the Minister differentiate the different areas of the country with regard to nitrate usage?
This Bill which implements an EU directive is important. However, when I see the serious effects of some of the directives which have been transposed into Irish law, I hope the Minister is not implementing a directive which will cause as much difficulty as the Habitats Directive under which 25% of some counties is designated. This has had consequences for the way of life of many people. If we are now going to encroach upon a reasonable way of life, we are fast entering a cul-de-sac from which we will not be able to exit.
We need high quality water supplies, yet the Department and its agencies have been the greatest offenders in destroying them. The River Shannon and Lough Derg are classic examples of this, as the Minister would see if he ever cared to visit them. I welcome Senator Mansergh's concern about incineration. We have to change our ways. It is time for the Minister to change his also instead of saying, “Get tough, stay tough.”
Mr. J. Walsh: Aontaím leis na Seanadóirí eile agus iad ag gabháil fáilte leis an Aire agus leis an mBille seo. I welcome certain provisions of the Bill which will help to tackle some of the environmental difficulties we are experiencing. Like other Members, however – even those on this side of the House – I have strong reservations about other provisions of the Bill about which I will speak presently. Integrated pollution prevention and control is a welcome initiative. The old adage that prevention is better than cure definitely applies in this instance.
The change from best available technology not entailing excessive costs, BATNEEC, to best available techniques, BAT, concerns me a little. Despite this, I note from the Minister's address that there are some mitigating provisions within the Bill in that economic aspects will have to be examined, even in the context of best available technology.
My experience in industry has been that often when regulating authorities receive applications for various licences, particular those of a very technical nature, they do not always have the in-house expertise to deal with them. Consequently, they may go to outside consultants whose cost effectiveness criteria are not always what industry would want. In bringing about this change we must not cause costs to escalate for industry. Our competitiveness is one of the serious challenges facing the economy which many economic commentators have been debating. Any further erosion of our competitiveness in any sphere will be detrimental to our future economic well being. The Minister may well deal with those concerns.
The Bill will give the Environmental Protection Agency power to regulate greenhouse gases in order to meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. As we are currently struggling to meet them, I applaud the Minister for his efforts in that regard. Our generation has benefited from the technological revolution but the environment has paid a price as a result of that process. When one considers that the earth has been in existence for billions of years, a human lifespan gives us but a short lease on the earth's wellbeing. It behoves us to ensure we can stand over our legacy and that it will not prove detrimental to future generations. I applaud any initiatives taken in that regard.
When the Waste Management Bill was introduced, I had difficulties with it, even though I was spokesman on environmental matters for my party. I am strongly opposed, in principle, to the replacement of a waste management plan with an executive function. It must be conceded that in certain instances councils did not face their responsibilities in making such plans. While I am aware of the frustrations of the previous Minister who faced a particularly difficult challenge, I did not agree with the route followed in making the waste management plan a management function. I did not consider it to be the correct course of action because there were other ways of achieving the same outcome. I had a particular difficulty with the situation in the south-east, with which the Minister will be familiar. In Wexford we took a decision to adopt our own waste management plan which excluded incineration. It is the democratic right of local people to do so, as long as they deal responsibly with the waste issue. I concede, however, that this matter presents a major challenge nationally and locally. We excluded incineration on a 19-1 vote for a number of reasons.
All the regional waste management plans were undertaken by a small number of consultants who in some instances were working for people operating incinerators or applying for permission to do so. I have no doubt that some of them have been, or will be, consultants for some of the applicants who may come before us. There is a severe conflict of interest involved in that process which is flawed as a consequence.
I do not want to reopen the debate on incineration other than to say we will have made a major mistake if we end up with an incinerator in every region. A number of us were in Florida recently and visited a county where they are still operating landfill; their intention is to continue doing so. Unlike Ireland, they have made provision for landfill for the next 50 to 60 years and it may be of interest to the Minister that this method of disposal costs $33 per tonne. They say they make a small profit, even though they are only obliged to break even. The neighbouring county is using incineration and the corresponding cost of disposal is $80 per tonne. They made the point that the incineration process had an almost insatiable appetite for waste. Therefore, the environmental provisions – which the Minister is rightly going to pursue – of prevention, minimisation, recycling and reuse tend to get a lower priority. That is because if they fail to supply sufficient waste, the local authority must pay a penalty for the shortfall.
I am delighted the Minister has been appointed to this portfolio and I am familiar with his activities locally in the south-east. He has the capability, energy and drive to be an excellent Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I urge him to examine this matter thoroughly. There may well be an argument for incineration, particularly concerning hazardous waste. However, if every tonne of domestic waste went for incineration, it would drive costs through the roof.
Mr. J. Walsh: We visited a landfill site also and saw the operation there. While it would not be up to the standards of the Kill site, it would be up to the standard of others. They had taken off the leechate and were also burning the gases.
By making waste management an executive function, however, we are removing what should be the primary responsibility of the elected representatives. I would much prefer a system which placed a mandatory responsibility on local authorities to make reasonable, practical and cost-effective arrangements for all their activities, including waste management. Just as with striking a rate and providing finances, if they fail to do so there should be a penalty. That underwrites the mandatory approach to it. I would prefer that to the approach of giving it to management who often, no more than councillors, do not have the technical expertise to properly assess the issues and make decisions. They depend on consultants as much as we do. In the current climate of tribunals, investing such powers in one individual rather than in a group of people where it is transparent and open to public debate is a weakness. That aspect might be looked at.
If I am opposed to powers in that regard being an executive function, obviously I am strongly opposed to the charges being applied by managers. I have been involved for a long time in local government and have seen the continual erosion of powers. In part, we as councillors have been the architects of that. We often shy away from difficult decisions, whether it is traveller accommodation or whatever, and hide behind the manager.
A report on competitiveness published in 1995 found that of all the countries surveyed Ireland had the most centralised system. That was remarkable, considering there were countries such as China and communist states emerging from the eastern bloc. We must find a mechanism where we will be forced, as councillors, to make decisions. I have no time for the populist politics in which all parties have participated. Fianna Fáil removed rates in 1977. It had nothing to do with local government but was in order to win the election. Fine Gael outbid it in the removal of agricultural rates. Between them agricultural rates were removed.
I agree with Senator Mansergh. When Dick Spring introduced water charges, I attended meetings where people complained about the cost. I remember pointing out that the cost per week was less than one glass of beer or a television licence and a fraction of an electricity bill. I asked if they had to do without either electricity or water which they would choose. It would be a difficult decision. It is as ludicrous to argue that electricity should be free as it is to argue that water or the collection of waste should be free. It does not stand up. While I oppose what the Minister is doing I understand the reason and have some sympathy with it.
Mr. J. Walsh: Absolutely, and the opposition to that from the leader of the party was a serious infringement on local democracy. All political parties make a plaything of local government and we should oppose that. We should go in the other direction.
Mr. J. Walsh: I agree with Senator Mansergh. I applaud the Lord Mayor of Dublin for his action. I agree with him when he said, “No taxation without representation.” If we make the imposition of charges an executive function, managers will use them to prop up other services.
I read the Minister's comments with regard to the cost per tonne. In our county, we use surplus funding from the charges towards other services. I note that while the charges will be an executive function there is provision in the Bill requiring a landfill operator to levy such landfill charges “as to ensure recovery of the full cost of the facility concerned”. I do not disagree with that, but if it is included in the Bill why should it be necessary for the manager to be given the right to make the charge? If that is a reserved function, am I right in saying there is a statutory obligation on councillors to ensure they comply with it, which means that the charge levied must recover the cost of the service and the landfill operation?
Mr. J. Walsh: That is because we are behind in the environment provision of regulating landfills and so on. The Minister should look at this before Committee Stage. If local government is continually eroded, how can we expect people of ability to go forward for election and make a contribution?
The removal of the dual mandate and the proposed removal of the directly elected chair will leave local government, to some extent, leaderless. We should strive to make local government fulfilling and of interest to those who give of their time, seven days a week, year in, year out. There are several examples of people who do that in every county. If we remove many of the powers and functions from local government, who will be interested in participating? The challenge is to have a process that meets the obligations the Minister seeks to set out which not only preserves but strengthens local government and gives us local authorities on a par with continental Europe.
Much of what I have said on those issues has been negative but I would welcome the obligation on all to pay the charges. The Minister is right in saying that if people do not pay they should not get the service. That principle applies in business. A local authority is a big business and it should apply equally here. The time has come to stop people free loading on others.
Any initiative taken on litter fines is welcome. There are community wardens. We have a pilot scheme in our county and they do excellent work. However, as regards litter they are ineffective because they do not have the legal or moral authority to get people's names and addresses. That is a practical difficulty that should be examined. Any efforts made in this area would be productive.
Mr. McCarthy: I wish to set the record straight. The Leader of the Labour Party declared quite clearly in Cork on the weekend in question of the famous issue of bin charges in Dublin that it was a matter for each local authority. In certain respects, that is correct but as the Minister pointed out the increases in Dublin were quite small by comparison with those in Cork county where it was €200 which is an increase of 105%, from €190 to €390. That is excessive. Two groups opposed this extraordinary increase, Labour and the Independents.
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