Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to provide a legal mechanism to bring the current waste management planning process to an early and satisfactory conclusion. This is essential for us to meet our national and EU obligations.

The waste planning process has been taken forward systematically since the enactment of the Waste Management Act, 1996, and while local authorities generally have sought to address their responsibilities in this area, a minority have not adopted plans. As a result, we have not made the progress that we all accept is vitally necessary and long overdue towards the provision of efficient and cost effective waste services and infrastructure. Our waste arisings continue to grow at a conservatively estimated rate of 3% to 4% each year. At the same time, there is an increasing scarcity of disposal options as landfill facilities throughout the country are being closed on reaching the end of their life span.

We need to act to tackle these difficulties. Continued debate is not an option as we have already lost very extensive time. The legislative measures proposed by the Government will ensure the early completion of the planning process and rapid movement towards the implementation of proposed waste management plans.

In bringing forward amending legislation, the Government is taking the opportunity of providing a statutory basis for a number of other important waste management and anti-litter measures, including the following: a new environmental levy of up to 15p on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags and, potentially the extension of the levy to other products that are problematic in waste management terms; a levy on the landfill of waste at an initial rate of not more than £15 per tonne; the establishment of an environment fund through which the proceeds of these levies will be disbursed to finance beneficial environmental initiatives in a range of areas, including waste management, environmental education and awareness; an increase of the on-the-spot litter fine to £100 and provision for future changes in the level of the fine and a number of technical amendments to the Waste Management Act, 1996, to bring legal clarity to the licensing, by the Environmental Protection Agency, of certain waste related activities.

Strategic planning is fundamental to good waste management. The failure, until relatively recently, to develop comprehensive and modern strategies in this area has left us with an unenviable legacy. We landfill about 90% of our municipal waste, often in small, inadequate landfill facilities. We have a limited recycling infrastructure, almost no biological treatment capability and no means of recovering energy from waste. Our waste recycling rate is among the lowest in the EU and that is simply not sustainable. The Government is committed to a planned and integrated approach to waste management based firmly on the internationally recognised hierarchy. The proposed plans focus firstly on prevention and minimisation and place high emphasis on waste segregation, reuse and recovery. They advocate a range of technologies to deliver a more sustainable and effective recycling and recovery performance and significantly reduce our reliance on landfill. My Department and I strongly support a regional approach to the making and implementation of the necessary waste management plans. The great majority of local authorities are committed to the making of joint or regional plans in line with our policy statement of October 1998 entitled Changing Our Ways. Considerable financial and human resources, including EU grant assistance towards dedicated strategic studies, have been allocated to this process, which entailed significant public consultation throughout.

However, we have encountered ongoing problems and delays in the formal adoption of regional plans. Three out of 15 local authorities, in three regional groups, have refused to adopt the proposed regional plan before them. In effect, these authorities are obstructing any prospect of progress on the part of the majority and they have severely impeded the overall planning process. Even in the two regions where all the local authorities concerned decided to adopt their regional plan, some did so subject to potentially significant qualifications. My Department has received clear legal advice on the issue. A proposed regional waste management plan must be adopted on the same substantive basis by all the authorities concerned or none can be considered to have a valid plan. We cannot allow the current drift to continue. We have to meet national and EU targets for waste recovery and the diversion of wastes from landfill. More immediately, we see pressing waste management problems on the ground, in Clare and Galway for example, and the European Commission has taken a case against Ireland to the European Court of Justice because of the ongoing failure to respect waste planning obligations. A judgment against Ireland may be unavoidable, particularly if authorities persist in their refusal to adopt the balanced and comprehensive plans before them.

The Government must act in the overall national interest and take steps to facilitate the satisfactory completion of the planning process. That is the basis for addressing all aspects of the waste hierarchy and advancing the provision of a vital element of our infrastructure. The legal options have been considered and we have concluded that the existing regulatory powers under the 1996 Act are not enough to ensure a decisive and satisfactory outcome. Accordingly, the Government has decided the power to make the waste management plans – now before local authorities – should be transferred from the elected members to the relevant manager. The Government also proposes to make other supporting legislative amendments. This will allow local authority management to conclude the planning process and remove any perceived obstacles to the effective implementation of regional plans. I emphasise that this will clear the way to deliver on all aspects of waste modernisation such as segregated collection services, higher recycling and recovery performance, and a dramatic reduction in disposal to landfill.

Last April when the Bill was debated in the Seanad much of the debate focused on two issues. Those were the implications of these proposals for the local decision making process and concern regarding thermal treatment, which is an integral part of most of the proposed regional plans. I do not accept that these proposals undermine the local government process. A small number of local authorities clearly have difficulty in addressing their waste planning obligations and Government is compelled to respond. The proposed changes will not affect the substance of the waste management plans adopted by the majority of local authorities. It is clearly undemocratic that a few authorities can hold up the implementation of important regional plans and, far from eroding local democracy, the proposed Bill will allow the wishes of the majority of local authorities to be implemented. It is telling that, to date, there have been no practical alternatives offered to these proposals. Indeed, the thrust of public commen tary has been to recognise the inevitability and urgency of these proposals.

The second point of contention involved thermal treatment. The proposed regional waste management plans are not just, or even mainly, about thermal treatment. They are concerned with better integrated waste management services for the regions, delivering a much higher recycling performance, recovering energy from waste which cannot be recycled and using landfill as the last resort for residual wastes which cannot otherwise be treated. Thermal treatment, whether by incineration or other technologies, is envisaged as only one component of an integrated infrastructure which will facilitate recycling and biological treatment of 40% to 50% of waste. Opposition to thermal treatment proposals centres on perceived risks to public health and a perceived conflict between incineration and materials recycling. However, there is an informed consensus that modern municipal waste incinerators, employing modern technologies and subject to compliance with strict environmental standards, do not present a significant risk to the environment or public health. All significant waste facilities are subject to full environmental impact assessment, planning controls and a rigorous environmental licensing system operated by the EPA which must take the precautionary principle into account.

The EPA is specifically and legally precluded from licensing a waste facility unless, among other considerations, it is satisfied that the activity concerned will not cause environmental pollution. The agency, which is statutorily independent in the performance of its functions, considers municipal waste incineration, operating to the best modern standards and incorporating energy recovery, to be preferable to landfill from an environmental point of view. While it is now common to decry the advice of experts, rational decision making requires that we, as decision makers, take expert views into account. However, we must also address a wider public demand for good information and assurance. I accept there are many people who have real and genuine concerns about perceived health threats from thermal treatment or incineration. These concerns arise in no small measure from misinformation and misrepresentation. We clearly face a challenge in countering negative public perceptions and the need to disseminate reasoned, well founded information and advice to the public will be addressed in the coming months.

Incineration and high recycling levels are not mutually exclusive. I accept they could be if incineration were prioritised and insufficient effort was put into composting and materials recycling. However, the regional plans clearly do the reverse. They first provide for maximum achievable recycling, with targets of up to 50%, and only then do they give consideration to thermal treatment and landfill of the remaining waste. Under these plans, the proportion of waste which may be disposed of by proposed thermal treat ment is deliberately limited. Argument that the provision of thermal treatment means incinerators would have to be fed, thereby reducing efforts to recycle, are not valid. We are committed to and must meet specific EU and national recycling targets. Throughout the EU the most environmentally progressive member states combine an impressive recycling performance with a significant reliance on thermal treatment as part of an integrated approach to waste management. Unfortunately, the focus of debate on incineration detracts from the very positive minimisation and recycling elements of the proposed plans. Local authorities in the regional groups are being asked to prioritise those elements of the plans dealing with waste minimisation, the delivery of segregated collection services and waste recycling infrastructure, public education and awareness and to prepare a clear programme of action to fast track the implementation of these aspects of the plans.

To support these initiatives the Government intends to publish a comprehensive policy statement on waste prevention, recycling and recovery. That will address in detail practical considerations associated with the achievement of our policy objectives and targets in this area and will outline specific proposals in relation to waste prevention, market development for recyclables and the provision of greater infrastructural and reprocessing capacity.

I will deal with the substantive provisions of the Bill. Section 4 amends section 22 of the 1996 Act to provide that the making of a waste management plan will become an executive function. Where a local authority manager considers that a waste management plan is invalid because the purported decision of the relevant authority was subject to qualification, the manager will adopt the said plan. The variation or replacement of a waste management plan will generally remain a reserved function, but a local authority may not, without the consent of the relevant manager, vary or replace a plan within a period of four years of its being made. This is to ensure a period of stability during which local authorities can focus on the implementation of plans.

Incinerators.

A local authority will be precluded from making resolutions under sections 3 or 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, or section 179 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, that would be contrary to, or inconsistent with, any provision of a waste management plan or would limit or restrict the proper implementation of such plans. Section 5 provides for a consequential amendment of the definition of waste management plan in section 22(1) of the 1996 Act.

Section 6 provides for a technical amendment of section 38(5) of the 1996 Act, to remove a perceived legal impediment and allow for the intensification of use of an existing waste facility oper ated by an urban district council. The 1996 Act currently empowers only county councils and city corporations to develop waste disposal facilities. However, a unique and problematic situation has arisen in Galway, where the only available landfill is operated by Ballinasloe UDC.

As this section now stands, the EPA is precluded from granting a waste licence authorising the expansion of this facility to receive waste inputs of the level required in the period to 2005, at which time the landfill will close and be replaced by a new facility within the regional framework. At current intake levels this landfill will reach its authorised capacity next year with no prospect of replacement in that timescale. Accordingly, this provision is a short-term measure to allow the necessary intensification of use of this facility where so provided for in the relevant regional plan.

Section 7 provides for the amendment of section 39 of the 1996 Act to allow for a prohibition or limitation of the recovery or disposal of a specified class of waste in specified waste facilities. This is an enabling provision that will facilitate transposition of certain aspects of the EU landfill directive which require certain wastes, such as tyres and liquids, to be prohibited from landfills but may also facilitate measures to support recycling.

Section 8 provides for the insertion of a new section 72 in the 1996 Act providing for the imposition of an environmental levy of not more than 15p or 19 cents in respect of the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags; the subsequent increase of this amount to be in accordance with increases in the consumer price index, the possible extension by provisional order of an environmental levy to other products or articles, such order requiring to be confirmed by an Act of the Oireachtas before it has effect, and related regulatory powers, including power to require that the net proceeds of the levy be paid into the environment fund.

Plastic bags are a visible and persistent component of litter pollution in urban, rural and coastal settings. They impact on ecosystems and on habitats and wildlife and they undermine Ireland's clean green image. It is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags are provided free of charge to consumers at retail outlets annually. This equates to roughly 325 plastic bags per head of population per year, which is excessive and largely unnecessary. The primary purpose of the proposed measure is to directly influence consumer behaviour and to achieve a significant reduction in the consumption of plastic shopping bags dispensed at retail outlets. The levy will be imposed as a point of sale levy on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags to customers. It is intended under the proposed regulations that retailers will be required to pass on the full amount of the levy as a charge to customers at the checkout. The responsibility for collecting the levy will rest with the Revenue Commissioners.

Section 9 provides for a consequential technical amendment to section 7 of the 1996 Act in relation to provisional orders made under section 72(12).

Section 10 provides for the insertion of a new section, section 73, in the 1996 Act to allow for the imposition of a levy on the landfill of waste at an initial rate of not more than £15 per tonne or 19 per tonne from 1 January 2002, the subsequent increase of this amount by not more than 5 per tonne annually and related regulatory powers, including powers to require that the proceeds of the levy be paid into the environment fund. The levy will be payable by the person who carries on the waste activity concerned, in most cases local authorities, and regulations made under the section will give local authorities powers to collect the levy from any private operator in whose functional area the waste disposal activity is carried on. Historically, the relatively low cost of landfill in Ireland has contributed to an undue reliance on this option and has militated against other more desirable waste recovery options. The intention of a landfill levy is to encourage the diversion of waste away from landfill and generate revenues for the new environment fund that can be applied in support of waste minimisation and recycling initiatives.

Section 11 provides for the insertion of a new section 74 in the 1996 Act providing for the establishment of an environment fund to be managed and controlled by the Minister and to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Minister may pay money from the fund for a range of measures, including programmes to prevent or reduce waste, the establishment and operation of waste recovery activities, litter prevention, producer responsibility initiatives, environmental partnership projects and environmental awareness, education and training.

Section 12 provides for the amendment of the First Schedule to the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, and section 39 of the 1996 Act to provide legal clarity and remove a potential duplication of licensing requirements for certain waste recovery and disposal facilities. A dual licence covering the requirements of both regimes, or two separate but similar licences, would lack the necessary clarity and enforceability. Accordingly the section provides that waste recovery and disposal facilities will be licensable by the Environmental Protection Agency under the 1996 Act, except where the facilities are connected or associated with an activity which is or will be licensed by the agency under the 1992 Act. Section 13 provides for amendments to the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, in relation to on-the-spot fines for litter offences. The section provides for an increase of the fine to £100 or 125 from a future date to be set by ministerial order. Further increases in the fine in the future are not to exceed 25% in any three year period. The section also confirms the Litter Pollution Regulations, 1999, which had increased the fine to £50.

The Waste Management (Amendment) Bill, when enacted, will provide a legal mechanism to satisfactorily conclude the stalled waste management planning process. It will facilitate the delivery of improved waste services and the development of an effective and safe waste infrastructure. The Bill will also provide for a range of environmentally important and desirable initiatives to be undertaken in the near future. I look forward to the debate on the Bill which I hope will range across its many full important provisions. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deasy.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Section 4 is the most contentious part of this Bill. We will be opposing it because it takes away powers from elected members, the representatives of the people, and gives those powers to unelected managers who are not accountable and under no obligation to meet local communities. This is a hamfisted measure which seeks to force policy through. It is an inadequate way to proceed and we will oppose it.

However, I welcome the opportunity this Bill gives us to debate the waste management issue and our difficulties in developing real, efficient and workable waste management systems, though we have policies, wonderful statements, targets, proposals and suggestions. We have examined waste management in detail in other countries and the Minister of State has visited other States to find out how waste management can be carried out effectively. Councillors and Deputies have travelled abroad to see how successful waste management can be achieved. The Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Local Government is to travel to Nova Scotia next month to view their successful structures. It is a country similar to our own and had little recycling originally. There was opposition to landfill and incineration yet they have managed to turn matters around in a short space of time. Nova Scotia has a similar population to Ireland. I am encouraged that it is possible to achieve recycling targets, both those that we have set for ourselves and European targets, and it is also possible to effectively manage our waste problem.

Section 4 proposes that the making of waste management plans become an Executive function. This measure is anti-democratic. It is another nail in the coffin for local democracy following the revolutions last week concerning the Local Government Bill, 2000. The managers of local authorities will now have the power to make a plan to manage waste without consulting the members. These are un-elected and unaccountable officials who are not obliged to meet the public for whom they are supposed to work. How can they know the views of the people if they do not consult them?

This measure will further alienate communities from their elected representatives. By introducing this measure the Minister has made a mockery of local elected representatives and their position. He has insulted them in front of the communities they represent. The Minister has criticised local representatives for not showing leadership and for failing to implement waste management plans. I disagree. Most local representatives reflect the huge concerns of the public, concerns that are not addressed by the Minister and his Department. The Minister has said that he will face the challenge in the coming months and that the concerns of the public will be addressed. It is a little late for that. We have had draft waste management plans for a number of years. To address the concerns of the public at this late stage is to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The history of waste management facilities in Ireland leaves much to be desired. Traditional dumps have given local authorities a bad name and have created huge environmental problems. Everything was discarded into them. With hindsight and with increased knowledge, European environmental laws can be seen to be a great improvement. We know the risk to ground waters of dumping in unlined sites. We understand the need to collect and treat leachate. We are forced to cover landfills suitably on a daily basis to reduce emissions.

Unfortunately, we did not know in the past what we know now, and local authorities have lost the trust of the public. Local authorities blotted their copy-books in many cases and have lost respect. We are reaping the harvest of that in many areas as we face the public with new proposals for waste facilities, be they transfer sites, sorting facilities, landfill sites or incinerators. The public do not have confidence in the authorities to safely manage these facilities.

This Bill is termed an Act to amend the Waste Management Act, 1996, and to amend the Act with regard to the procedure for the making of waste management plans under it so that any obstacles to the State may be removed. The obstacles that the Minister refers to in the Bill are local authority members and local people in areas where waste management facilities are to be located. This is arrogant and insulting, and I object to the use of the word "obstacles" in the Bill. The Minister wants to railroad through reports prepared by consultants who may have no affinity with the area or the communities involved.

The communities are the obstacles in the Minister's path. He produces legislation to eliminate the obstacles. Why not talk to the communities involved, listen to them and focus on their concerns? Documents such as "Changing Our Ways" are excellent and desirable but their message is not heard by the people on the ground. There are three plans which have not yet been ratified by local authorities. The main stumbling blocks to these plans concern incineration. That is widely acknowledged. The main objections are based on health fears and the concern that incinerators will have to be constantly fed and will do little or nothing to encourage recycling of waste products.

We need a health study on the risks of incineration. I am aware of recent EU directives which reduce emission levels for dioxins. This means that future facilities will have lower emission rates than existing plants in Europe. However, the word "dioxin" instils fear in people, and rightly so. There is much information in this area and I am disturbed that various experts on both sides of the argument have addressed gatherings on the subject. I am always suspicious and cautious when taking advice from so-called experts. One can always wheel out an expert to support one's argument.

What is needed is independent expert advice by a recognised profession established under the aegis of the health research board. Incineration should not be considered or tolerated until we address all issues relating to waste minimisation, reduction of waste, re-using and recycling. Let us achieve realistic and effective targets in this area before seeing what balance remains. Do we need five thermal treatment plants? Will we have the volume of waste to support them? When we address these questions we will see the wood for the trees and will have raised serious questions about the viability of a number of these facilities.

There are seven regional waste plans that have been produced by three different consultants who were told the parameters within which to work. Not all of these plans include incineration. I am familiar with the Cork area which did not include recommendations for a thermal treatment plant in its plan. When I questioned the county engineer at a regional waste meeting, I was informed that such a facility was not economically viable. I accept this but ask why it is viable in some regions with a low population and not in others with a higher population. This requires serious consideration.

The Cork plan is not being adopted for legitimate reasons. The local authority requested the production of a waste management plan but the proposals they received referred to a particular location for a facility. This is unacceptable to a majority of the council. It is one thing to prepare a general plan but quite another to suggest specific locations. That is a function of the elected members. The plan would be approved tomorrow if the reference to that particular location were removed. However, I suspect that the county manager is waiting for this Bill to be passed to that he can go ahead in accordance with his own views on the matter.

In my discussions with groups throughout the country, a key point made to me is that little consideration is given to recycling. The only proposals which are considered in waste management plans – although I accept that there are others – are for landfill or incineration. I am asked what happens between the production of the waste and its disposal. Many people travel abroad and see how the Germans and Dutch separate their waste and present it for collection. They want to know the reason the same cannot be done here and the answer is that there is nothing to prevent us from following the example set in these countries.

We must involve citizens in the recycling process by educating them and allowing them to play a part. Waste is a valuable resource, not something we should merely throw away. I am encouraged by what Dublin Corporation is trying to do and congratulate it on its proposals to introduce separate collection facilities. I know it will manage its new waste collection facilities in an efficient manner, but what will happen to the collected products? Are such products really recycled? Of course not, because we do not have the necessary infrastructure to allow us to recycle. The reality is that most packaging is either exported or dumped on landfill sites. Are we fooling members of the public by encouraging them to separate their waste, when such waste is not then recycled? The current system is merely a sham.

Bottle banks and repositories for aluminium cans are the only effective recycling initiatives in place, because it is easy to recycle glass and aluminium. However, there is a company which recycles plastics which is obliged to import plastic bottles because there is no method by which these can be collected. Why is there not a paper recycling mill in Ireland? If we can justify the need for five incinerators, surely we can also justify the need for such a mill? The sad truth is that we lack the necessary infrastructure. In addition, there is a need to encourage and develop the marketing of recyclable products.

This matter must be addressed on a national basis and not by local authorities, because the latter will promote local issues and concerns. I accept that they can organise separate collections, but the necessary manufacturing facilities must be provided, aided and supported on a national basis. The requisite markets must also be dealt with in this way. Progress will not be made if this matter is left in the hands of county managers or local authorities.

There has been a lack of progress in terms of the advancement of recycling of waste products in Ireland because the Minister is content to leave the matter to local authorities in the hope the system will fall into place. That has not happened. In the past four years our recycling rates have not increased. Ireland only recycles 3% of domestic waste and 9% of municipal waste and has one of the lowest recycling rates in Europe. There has been a great deal of discussion but a decided lack of action in respect of this matter. For example, nothing has been done about construction and demolition waste, one of the easiest products to recycle. The Minister has received the report of the construction forum in respect of this matter but it has not yet been published. We have been tardy in taking action in this area, in respect of which only a low level of intervention and support would be required in order to allow progress to be made.

The Bill proposes the imposition of a tax on the use of plastic bags. I welcome any measure designed to reduce the number of plastic bags we use. We should focus, however, not on the fact that these bags cause a litter problem but on the negative effect they have on the environment. Plastic bags have a long lifetime, millions have been dumped on landfill sites and the highly toxic chemicals they contain contaminate water sources.

As stated, I would welcome any measure that would reduce the number of plastic bags of which we dispose and will be interested in teasing out on Committee Stage the details of how the Minister's proposal will work. For example, there are over 9,000 grocery outlets and 31,700 retail outlets throughout the country. Who will be responsible for collecting the tax from the owners of these outlets? I understand the Revenue has been charged with this duty, but will it have the necessary resources to allow it to do so? This procedure will be open to circumvention and it will be easy for retailers to import plastic bags from outside the State, sell them to customers at a cost of 15p and turn a tidy profit. There will be no record of such bags being purchased in the State. The procedures for collecting the proposed tax will be open to interference and I am concerned about the level of success we will enjoy in terms of imposing it.

Will a tax be placed on every plastic bag? I refer to the smaller bags in supermarkets into which people place meat, fruit, vegetables, etc. There is a great deal of confusion among retailers – particularly the members of RGDATA – regarding how the tax will be imposed. I am sure its introduction will focus consumers' minds on reducing the amount of plastic products they use, but I am concerned about how it will be imposed and the moneys collected from it.

I am also concerned about the proposed £15 levy for landfill collection. Most landfills are operated by local authorities, which are responsible for setting rates and service charges. It is obvious that this £15 charge will be passed on to waste producers – in many instances householders or ratepayers – and, therefore, local authorities will encounter difficulties in collecting this additional tax, which is to be collected locally and distributed nationally. The fact that they collect rates and service charges and will now be obliged to collect the proposed levy will lead to a conflict of interests and give rise to many difficulties.

The proposals for the spending of the moneys in the environmental fund are interesting and I am sure we will discuss the matter further on Committee Stage. I am interested in discovering who will be the members of the committee to which the Minister of State referred and also who will be responsible for overseeing the spending of the moneys collected under the levy. He indicated that the accounts will be audited each year, but I am interested in discussing the principle of how the fund will be spent and the areas on which such spending will be focused.

I welcome the increase in on-the-spot litter fines to £100. I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, is extremely interested in this area. Anything that will stop people littering is a welcome advance. Will the Minister of State investigate the problem of streets not being cleaned at weekends? It makes no sense that street cleaners go off duty at 5 p.m. on a Friday evening and, in some areas, do not return until 9 a.m. the following Monday morning. I accept that members of the public treat the streets with contempt. On Saturday and Sunday mornings some of the streets in my area are littered with empty chip bags and Coke cans. Our streets are busy at night and we must ensure they are adequately cleansed at weekends when most littering occurs.

I reiterate my opposition to section 4 of the Bill, the provisions of which represent a ham-fisted, narrow and blinkered approach to waste management. They will not help us to solve the problems which exist nationally.

I wish to commiserate with the Acting Chairman on the back three holes he played yesterday in the Captain of the Guard's golf tournament.

Acting Chairman

That matter has nothing to do with the Bill.

I understand the course was littered with people playing bad shots.

We did not obtain the title of the "dirty Irish" for no reason. We are prone to litter and damage the environment because of indifference, ignorance or contempt for authority. The latter is the most likely reason for our behaviour. Littering of our streets and roadsides is disgraceful. After visiting another European Union member state, one is struck by the filth on arriving into Dublin or Cork Airport. It is an everyday occurrence although it is particularly bad at weekends. Local authority employees collect litter deposited by our citizens, some of them supposedly pillars of society. Well-heeled people throw half empty bags of chips or cigarette packages out of car windows. One would think that they are so well placed in society that they would be incapable of such deeds. Being litter bugs is endemic to our nation. Local authorities, such as that in County Waterford, employ litter wardens who prosecute those who deposit litter in illegal dumps. Having their names published in the local media has a sobering affect. Are Travellers, who create the greatest mess, ever prosecuted? Recently, it cost £60,000 to clean up a site they occupied in Dublin. We tolerate some groups littering and causing a nuisance while others are prosecuted. It should not be so.

The issue of dumps, litter and waste disposal is so topical and emotional that if people knew that this debate was taking place, the Public Gallery would be packed. I saw only one person, so people must not know. The protest groups against landfills, dumps and incinerators form a formidable association.

People want to come in but are prevented because they are protesting. They are not allowed under the rules of the House to come into the Public Gallery. They are protesting outside.

That is good to know because I wondered about it. If farmers, teachers, nurses or any other group are protesting, they fill the Public Gallery and listen to the debate. It is peculiar that it is not happening today.

There is nothing to prevent anyone coming into the Public Gallery. Protesting outside the gates does not prevent them from coming into the Gallery.

That is a relevant point. People who are most concerned are entitled to listen to the debate. This is a democracy and they are entitled to be here like other groups. The Minister's statement that we landfill about 90% of municipal waste, often in small inadequate facilities, sums up much of the problem. Saying that we have limited recycling infrastructure is an understatement. We have almost no biological treatment capability and no means of recovering energy from waste. Our recycling rate is among the lowest in the EU. The Minister says this is not sustainable. Of course it is not. I repeatedly raised the necessity for recycling. The Minister ought to give an honest answer, not an evasive one which he invariably does. We must face up to the fact that we are not doing the job properly and that we have the problem of economy of scale in recycling. We must import certain plastic materials to make a recycling operation viable. Most of these operations are not viable because of the economy of scale. Britain, with 60 million people, Germany and France have the economy of scale. I advocate subsidising people who engage in recycling here because they cannot make a living out of it. The operation does not pay. People get tax breaks for getting rid of urban blight, such as replacing derelict buildings with blocks of flats, but no thought is given to getting rid of the blight of rubbish in the countryside and streets. People should be given an incentive to make a living out of recycling and so get rid of an awful nuisance.

Every town and city has banks for bottles, plastics and metals. In my household, as with most, the biggest item of waste is newsprint. It is a disgrace that there are no facilities to recycle it. Politicians in general have an affinity for newspapers, wanting to see if their name occurs, and that may be why my household has so many. Bishop Lucey, in the Minister's diocese, had a huge newsprint recycling effort, which he made pay. That is gone and people say that they do not want newsprint. We are not tackling the problem professionally.

I have mixed feelings about the best way to dispose of material that cannot be recycled. The target is to recycle about 50%. We recycle about 3%, which may be optimistic, and that is why the European Commission is bringing us to the European Court of Justice. I am uncertain whether landfills or incineration is the solution. In Denmark incinerators operate in urban centres without any objection or problem. That might be the best solution. Landfills cause problems because everyone will be in a catchment area for some river or some stream leading into a river. Fear of pollution is reason most people protest. It is a real problem but this is a better solution than the smouldering dumps we have on the edge of every town and village, often on the banks of a river or at the back of a beach such as the one that was in Greystones for many years. We need to make up our minds which solution to accept. My solution is to recycle to the maximum degree and to try to attain the 50% figure. We should pay people to do it. We should subsidise them and get the builders' confederation to get rid of the solid materials. We must come up with a plan. It has been done in other countries. They get the solidified material and use it elsewhere in building and in backfills. We would then be left with a very small amount of rubbish and materials to get rid of and that should be our aim. Let us stop being at cross purposes. People should not have to protest and the Minister should stop acting the heavy by taking powers away from local representatives. Let us show a little imagination.

The Labour Party is opposed to the Second Stage of this Bill and we will call a vote on it tomorrow as the Government attempts to guillotine and prevent further debate on this important measure.

It is four years ago to the day since this patchwork Government spent its first day in office. It was stitched together on the basis of a Programme for Government that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats entitled "An Action Programme for the New Millennium". Page 21 of that document states: "Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government are committed to the restoration of real decision making and power to local authorities and local people". Further along the same page it states that "key priorities will include removing the democratic deficit by restoring real power to the elected members". Here we are, four years later, debating a Bill which removes powers from the elected members and transfers them to the managers of local authorities, in effect increasing the democratic deficit at local level.

On page eight of the same document it states: "Concern for the environment will be central to all policy decisions of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government. We believe that the time has come to develop and implement an integrated environmental policy in partnership and consultation with local communities". It goes on to state: "Key priorities will include implementing waste management policies which reflect the priorities of prevention, minimisation, reuse, recycling and environmentally sustainable disposal". This Bill is designed to force through a waste management strategy in the face of opposition and concern from local communities. It has thrown the idea of environmentally sustainable disposal, whatever that meant, out the window. It is essentially based on incineration and flies in the face of the wishes of local communities.

Given the embarrassing contradiction between the contents of the Bill and the Programme for Government it is tempting to point to the hypocrisy of the Government in introducing this measure. It is tempting to point to the gulf between the promise of the Programme for Government and the action being taken today and to excoriate Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats for their downright bad faith with the public on this measure. We can take Government hypocrisy as read.

I appeal to the Fianna Fáil Members and to the four Independents who support this Government to examine closely what is provided for in this Bill before lunch time tomorrow when they will be required to go through the lobby and support it. I ask them to exercise good authority and refuse to support it. Last week the four Independents who support the Government, and quite a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies, effectively changed Government policy on their continued membership of local authorities. I did not agree with the position taken last week but I understand it. I accept that the Independent Members and the Members of Fianna Fáil who were vocal in their parliamentary party last week were genuinely concerned with making a continued contribution to local democracy and local government. I say to them that they cannot insist on remaining a member of a local authority last week and this week come in and support a measure which takes away from those authorities and their elected members some of their most crucial powers.

At lunch time tomorrow the Members of Fianna Fáil and the four Independents who were so prominent on the local government legislation last week will demonstrate whether their commitment to local democracy and local government is just skin deep, whether it is just about preserving their own continued membership of those local authorities or whether there is a genuine commitment to the concept of local government, local democracy and the democratic will of local communities.

I draw the attention of the Members of Fianna Fáil to the provisions in this Bill. Section 4 has already received a degree of publicity in that it proposes to remove from the elected members of local authorities the right to make waste management plans. That has been represented publicly by some commentators, some of whom consider themselves to be a more advanced form of evolution than mere members of local authorities, as being necessary because some local authorities have not agreed to adopt waste management plans. That was repeated here by the Minister. They say it is a necessary measure because there are a few recalcitrant local authorities that will not buckle under and adopt the waste management plans.

This Bill goes much further and I want Members of this House, particularly those who serve on local authorities, to examine this in greater detail. We are not just talking about the adoption of waste management plans or about those waste management plans which have already been made by local authorities but where local authorities, such as Roscommon County Council, have expressed qualifications in relation to the management plan adopted. The Bill states that if there is a qualification added to the adoption of the waste management plan the county manager can declare that plan invalid. The county manager does not have to go through any process in order to do that. He simply has to give it as his opinion. I do not make this up. The text of the legislation states "as his opinion". In those circumstances the waste management plan is set aside and the county manager is given exclusive power to make a plan. It goes on to state in section 4(10)(e): “A local authority shall not, without the consent of the manager of the authority, vary or replace, under section 4, a waste management plan”. It removes from a local authority the powers elected members had under sections 3 and 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, that gives specific directions to the local authority. If this Bill is passed, members of local authorities will be expressly prohibited from giving a direction to their county manager on anything to do with a waste management facility, which includes not only incinerators but landfill dumps and other facilities.

It gets worse, section 4(10)(a) states: “The development plan for the time being in force in relation to the functional area of a local authority shall be deemed to include the objectives for the time being contained in the waste management plan in force in relation to that area.” The county manager is given the power to make the waste management plan which ipso facto is then deemed, under this Bill, to be automatically part of the county development plan. There is no consultation by the public and no decision by the elected members. The plan just appears. What does that mean? If it was not clear enough from that provision, the Bill goes on to spell it out. Where a planning application is made for a waste management facility, and where the manager considers that that planning application is in some way at variance with a city or county development plan, section 4(10)(b) sets out the procedure for making a material contravention to it. All of us who have served on local authorities are fam iliar with that procedure. It is subject to public consultation and the elected members of the local authority make the decision to vary the development plan or grant planning permission that materially contravenes the plan. Under this Bill a planning application for a waste facility will not come back to the elected members of a local authority. The county manager will decide on the material contravention of the development plan and grant planning permission.

I appeal to Fianna Fáil Members, particularly those who are members of local authorities and understand perfectly well what this means, and the Independent Members, who last week were so anxious to remain members of local authorities precisely in order that they could represent their communities on these matters, to consider carefully what this Bill means. We know that the Government intends that some facilities will be provided through pubilc-private partnerships and therefore planning applications will come from private companies. First, the initial proposal will come in the waste management plan – the county manager will now effectively decide what will be in it – under this Bill it will then be considered "deemed to include the objectives". It will automatically be considered to be part of the county development plan. The normal planning process for waste facilities is being set aside in this Bill.

I want to remind the House that this Bill has been authored by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. I am sorry he is not present in the House and have sent him my personal good wishes for his recovery. I recall that he is the same Minister who, in a previous portfolio, attempted to locate interpretative centres at Mullaghmore and Luggala without planning permission and had to be brought to heel in the Supreme Court. He now proposes that a waste facility can be built anywhere in the country and has effectively set aside the normal planning processes. That is what this Bill is about.

It is profoundly undemocratic. It is suggested to us that it is being done in the interests of efficiency. The Minister of State's speech refers to the need for efficient and cost effective waste services and infrastructure. Every coup anywhere in the world has been justified on the grounds of efficiency. This is a coup against local democracy. Setting aside the powers of elected representatives at local level is as much an exercise of dictatorial anti-democratic politics as a military regime removing a parliament and its elected representatives.

I resent the language used by the Minister of State in his contribution in saying "it is now common to decry the advice of experts". He speaks in patronising terms about the people's concerns of health threats from terminal treatment or incineration and goes on to say "these concerns arise, in no small measure, because of misinformation and misrepresentation". How utterly patronising and wrong. That is typical of the Government's arrogance, which resulted in the decision on the Treaty of Nice referendum. It is as much as to say that the people are wrong. The people have every right – whether it is in County Louth, Ballinasloe, Newbridge, County Clare or any other area of the country – to express their concerns. Whether those concerns are about the health risks associated with incineration, pollution from a landfill dump or the traffic that will be generated in an area where a waste facility is provided, it is a fundamental democratic right to express those concerns. It is also fundamental to our democracy that they be enabled to have their elected representatives articulate and reflect those concerns in the decision making process. What is happening here is an attempt to drive a legislative bulldozer through these democratic rights.

In this Bill, the people are being told that they are wrong and have no right to air their concerns through their local representatives on any aspect of the planning for a waste facility. Is it any wonder that democracy in this country is in such a poor state? The Government should reflect on this. Because of the lack of consultation and the attempt to take short cuts, we have people in many areas who oppose the plans of the National Roads Authority. People in many areas oppose the waste plans foisted on them. We will go down a dangerous road by pursuing legislation in this manner, as democratic rights are being taken from the public.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.