Domestic Refuse Charges: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

—calls on the Government to introduce a uniform national waiver scheme for domestic refuse charges in view of:

—the way in which the decision of the Government in 2003 to transfer responsibility for setting waste charges from democratically elected councillors to local authority managers has led to a very significant increase in the level of charges;

—the fact that these charges can result in financial difficulties for pensioners and others on low incomes, or those who have large families or exceptional household circumstances; and

—the great variation in waste charges and existing waiver schemes operated by local authorities and the total absence of any waiver scheme in some areas.

I wish to share time with Deputies Lynch, Costello and Sherlock.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The purpose of this motion is to persuade the Government to introduce a national waiver scheme for domestic waste charges, to apply to households with low income.

Tens of thousands of households have refuse collection bills they simply cannot afford to pay. These include pensioners, the widowed, people dependent on social welfare, workers on low wages, large families or parents of children with special needs. The widow who contacted me yesterday is a typical case in point. She is the full-time carer of her paralysed adult daughter. Her income is €179 per week. She has just received a waste charges bill from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for €350. The maximum waiver for which she will qualify is €80, leaving her with a bill which is almost twice her weekly income. She cannot pay it, and there is no case to justify her having to pay it. She is not alone. There are many like her in every part of the country. Theirs is the need the Labour Party is highlighting with this motion tonight. Their need is urgent. They have waste charges bills they cannot afford to pay. In some cases they are facing imminent non-collection. In most cases they are worried sick about it. These people cannot be left waiting while political parties argue over the idea of charging for waste, or the role of waste charges in environmental taxation.

The Government should introduce a national waiver scheme to address the financial hardship waste charges are now causing for low income households and families. The collection of domestic waste is now charged for in every part of the country, whether the local authority or a private operator provides the service. In preparation for this debate the Labour Party conducted a survey of the waste collection arrangements and charges in 30 of the larger local authorities. Although there are some similarities, the charging system is different in every one of the 30 local authorities surveyed.

In some counties and towns there are still flat weekly, monthly or annual charges for collection of household waste. Some charge by the bag or bin, some charge by weight, and others have a combination of weight, volume and flat charging. The amounts charged per bag, per lift or per kilogram vary from one county or town to another. No two charging systems are the same.

The stated annual amounts range from €90 in County Leitrim to €590 in County Mayo. The charge per bag ranges from €3.50 in County Limerick to €9 in County Donegal. It is difficult to estimate an average charge for areas which have a pay-by-weight system, but from the information supplied to the Labour Party the annual average appears to be around €350 to €400. The charges are higher than this in some areas.

Some people in our society can pay €350 or €400 without even noticing it. The Labour Party does not subscribe to the argument that waste charges should be abolished for everyone, so that those who can manifestly afford to pay can benefit. Many in our country, including me, are prepared to pay a reasonable charge for the waste collection service. We ask only that the service is efficient and that recycling and recovery facilities are improved so that we can reduce the amounts of waste we generate.

For many households and families the present level of charges is an unfair and unacceptable financial hardship. The sum of €350 or €400 represents more than two weeks income for a pensioner dependent on the non-contributory social welfare pension. That sum is up to €70 more than the weekly income for a couple with four children where the breadwinner is ill and the family is dependent on the disability allowance. It represents between 50 and 60 hours of work for a worker on the national minimum wage of €7 per hour and it is nearly twice the income threshold for a medical card for a couple which is currently €222. It is also above the income limit at which a family begins to qualify for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance.

Even by the restricted criteria used by the State for its various social welfare and supplementary welfare schemes, the current levels of domestic waste charges are unaffordable for low income households. However, these charges are demanded from them and their waste will not be collected if they cannot pay. That is the official position enshrined in legislation. Only a minority of low income households qualify at present for any kind of waiver for their waste charges.

The survey undertaken by the Labour Party shows that in 21 of the 30 larger local authorities, private companies now collect domestic waste. In the vast majority of these areas, there is no waiver scheme at all. It is now the case in 18 of the 30 councils surveyed that the householder must pay up or keep his or her waste. The survey suggests that 60% of householders who cannot afford the waste charges have no access at all to a waiver scheme, even an inadequate one.

In a small number of cases — three, according to the Labour Party survey — local authorities have made some arrangement with their private contractors for some kind of waiver. However, the legal basis for this appears to be in some doubt. At the end of last year the Attorney General wrote to the manager of Limerick City Council informing him that the continuation of the waiver system was illegal because the service there was private and not run by the council itself. That advice was subsequently amended and I understand there is now some court action in regard to the scheme in that area.

Even where waiver schemes exist, and these are mostly in the one third of services still run by local authorities, the terms of the waivers are varied, inconsistent and in many cases inadequate. Some councils give waivers to old age pensioners but not to other social welfare recipients. In my constituency, the county manager has changed the waiver scheme so that only a small proportion of the charge is now waived. In none of the areas surveyed is there a waiver for households where the breadwinner is working and is on low income or where there are large family responsibilities.

The Labour Party is proposing to Dáil Éireann that the Government should introduce a national waiver scheme for waste charges that would apply uniformly across the country. The scheme could easily be administered through the social welfare system and through the tax system. The waste waiver could be added as an additional free scheme for pensioners. For others on social welfare and for pensioners who would not qualify for free schemes, the waiver could be paid as an additional payment like the living-alone allowance or the fuel scheme. For workers on low incomes the waiver could come as a tax credit.

The scheme should be designed to take into account the needs of differing family and household circumstances. A family with a large number of children would inevitably have more waste than a single-person household. Large families should not be financially penalised by higher levels of waste charge. Account should also be taken of households with special needs, such as a family member with a medical condition which might give rise to extra or heavier waste.

There are several advantages to the introduction of a national waiver scheme along these lines. First, it can be done quickly and thereby provide immediate relief now to those whose needs are greatest, rather than obliging them to wait until all issues relating to waste charges and waste management are resolved. Second, it would be easy to administer and would reduce the cost in local authorities of having to duplicate means testing which existing waiver schemes require. Third, the Government could introduce the waiver scheme without having to unravel its current waste management strategy, even though the Labour Party believes there is a clear need to change the Government's approach to the waste issue. Fourth, the national waiver scheme would not be vulnerable to a challenge that it infringes European regulations on charging for waste since it is confined to the "ability to pay" principle. Finally and most importantly, a national waiver scheme would be fair and would at least ensure that the poorest households do not have to bear a disproportionate share of the country's waste problem.

In any event, the Government has a particular responsibility to those who cannot afford to pay the current waste charges because it was the present Government which introduced these charges in their present form. The current waste charges arise directly from legislation which was introduced and argued for by the present Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. The so-called Protection of the Environment Act 2003 was pushed and rushed through this House by former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen.

The inappropriately-titled legislation, which should perhaps be better called "Cullen's law", made five major changes. It removed from elected councillors the power to decide on waste charges and waiver schemes and it transferred that power to unelected city and county managers. Section 52(8) of the Act states: "Notwithstanding the provisions of any order made under any other enactment, the making of a charge in respect of the provision of a waste service and any exercise of the power of waiver under subsection (3) shall each be an executive function". As we all know, in local government, an executive function is performed by the manager, not by the elected council.

Cullen's law prohibits elected councillors from having any hand, act or part in the making of waste charges or waiver schemes. Section 52(9) states: "A local authority shall not by resolution under section 140 of the Local Government Act 2001 give a direction or require any act, matter or thing to be done or effected, where the effect of such direction or requirement would be contrary to or inconsistent with this section and any such resolution purporting to be passed under the said section 140 which contravenes this subsection shall be void".

Cullen's law goes on to oblige county managers and other waste operators to charge the full economic cost of the waste service. Section 43 of the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 legally obliges the operators of landfill facilities to impose charges and makes it clear that they must charge the full economic cost. Section 43(4) states: "The aggregate amount of charges imposed by the operator, in relation to the facility concerned, during the relevant period will be not less than the amount which would meet the total of the following costs (irrespective of whether these costs or any of them have been or will be met from any other financial measures available to the operator". The costs are then listed as: "the acquisition and development of the facility"; "the operating costs"; and "the estimated costs for a period of 30 years after the closure of the facility of the costs of closure, restoration, remediation and after-care".

A financial resolution which the Government introduced in this House on 18 June 2003 and which, by a vote of 70 to 57, it insisted be passed without debate, gives the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the power to order charges for waste services. Cullen's Law also gives local authorities and other waste operators the power to refuse collection of waste from any householder who has not paid his or her charges.

It is necessary to remind the House and the public of the provisions of Cullen's law of 2003 because since the last local elections, when Fianna Fáil lost control of most councils, party members and some of their fellow travellers have been busily putting it about that the new waste charging regimes are the work of the Opposition parties which now hold the chairs of local authorities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cullen's law gives the councillors no say whatever over waste charges, it gives the power to managers, it forces managers to charge the full economic cost and if any manager fails to do that, it gives the Minister the power to "order" the charges and anyone who does not pay the charges will not have his or her bin collected. When that legislation was moved in this House, it was vigorously opposed by the Labour Party.

I encourage any person who is seriously interested in the politics of waste charges to read the Dáil debates on this legislation. They are available on the Oireachtas website at Second Stage debate was taken on 29 May and 13 and 17 June 2003, Committee Stage took place in the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government on 19, 20, 24, and 25 June and Report Stage was taken on 1 July 2003.

The Labour Party argued that the main purpose of the legislation was to increase waste charges to perhaps €700 per annum. We are now well on the way to that figure. We also predicted that the waste charging regime being set up in Cullen's law would result in financial hardship for many households and an increase in illegal dumping and waste burning, and that there would be public health problems arising from uncollected waste. However, the proposals put forward by the Labour Party and other Opposition parties were voted down by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats majority in the House and in the committee.

It is little comfort to us that we have been proved right in our predictions. However, we are determined to change Cullen's law when the Labour Party is returned to Government. In the meantime, our priority is with those who are on low incomes, whether from work, pensions or social welfare, and who are finding it extremely painful and sometimes impossible to pay the waste charges which were prescribed in Cullen's law.

That is why the Labour Party proposes the national waiver scheme. I ask the Government, no matter how wedded it is to waste charges, to at least release those who cannot pay. I ask every Member of this House, no matter what his or her views on waste charges or waste management, to at least agree that those who are least able to pay should get some relief now and not have to wait until some undetermined time in the future.

There are many households in this country which are struggling to get by, which the new economic fortunes have passed by and for which the waste charges represent a bill too far. Among them are people who have always paid their way and who worry about being in debt. These people need relief, and they need it soon. I ask the Government to agree to the Labour Party proposal for a national waiver scheme and I call on all Members of this House to support the Labour Party motion.


Hear, hear.

I rise in support of the motion tabled by my colleague, Deputy Gilmore. Anyone with an ear for accents and who listens to me will have no doubt as to where I am from; I am from Cork city. We do not distinguish between constituencies in Cork city except where we have to, and in this case I have to distinguish, I represent Cork North-Central. I suppose there is no-one in the country who does not know that Cork is designated European Capital of Culture for 2005. That is an honour of which the rest of the country should be proud and of which we in Cork are justifiably proud. We put much work into ensuring the city looked its best for the start of its year as European Capital of Culture. One can imagine our surprise when on 17 January, after discussions about illegal dumping and how we would manage to keep the city clean, a new regime — it is a regime — was introduced without consultation with councillors and without warning by a manager who does not have to stand for election and who does not have a great deal of contact with the ordinary Joe Soap in the street. He seems more content to meet the business community. I have to hand it to him. Cork is looking extremely well. What passed us by for years, the sort of development the rest of the country had, is beginning to happen in Cork.

On 17 January, the manager in Cork introduced a new regime. From that day people were obliged to pay a flat waste collection charge of €255 and after that a tag price of €3, €5 or €7 per lift. That seems fairly reasonable until one considers that up to 17 January the charge was €355 per year, which took in everything and included a very generous waiver scheme. That scheme was generous because councillors were in charge. They set the charge and determined the waiver scheme. Now it is set by someone who has very little contact with the ordinary public and who does not have to stand for election. As my colleague Deputy Gilmore said, he was given that power under legislation which was rushed through this House.

From 17 January, bins were all of a sudden not being collected. The following week, rubbish from a household where the bin was not collected was simply put out beside the bin, and so it continued until there was a pyramid of rubbish. That occurred on virtually every street corner and worst of all right in front of Shandon. By means of the Internet and advertising around the world, Shandon is the symbol of the European Capital of Culture for 2005, yet that pyramid of rubbish was right in front of it. That was the photograph taken.

There are people in Cork, as elsewhere in the country, who cannot afford the annual flat charge of €255 plus the additional weekly tagging. The manager in Cork has decided that an old age pensioner on €171 weekly will have the flat charge waived. However, a person perhaps next door, on disability benefit, less money than the old age pensioner gets, does not have the charge waived. That is why it is essential we have a national waiver scheme. In other areas of the country such as Naas, rubbish collection has been privatised by a council controlled by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. In that case the manager has decided that because the scheme is privatised, there is no waiver scheme, nor will there be, even for pensioners, those on disability or people with big families and very low incomes. We cannot continue to say we have a policy on waste collection and waste management if at the same time we allow unelected members to introduce mechanisms which will ensure we will have continued uncollected dumping.

Last week and the week before I got legal advice on the manager's responsibility, an issue I raised at a committee meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I asked if, under the Waste Management Act, the manager was obliged to collect rubbish left for a period of time, and it seems he or she is not obliged to do so because of changes made in 2003 as a result of a Supreme Court decision. Under the Litter Act, however, the manager must collect that rubbish and pursue those who litter.

I am convinced that when the Cork council manger finishes sifting through rubbish to find evidence of who left it, and a case eventually comes to court, the manager will find that most of the rubbish was put out for collection by people who could not afford either the flat fee or the tags. That is what we will find when such cases come to court. What position will the manager be in then, when the judge says certain people cannot afford to pay the charges, and the manger must collect the litter? The only solution to this problem is a national waiver scheme. I hope the Minister will listen to what we are saying and introduce such a scheme as a matter of urgency.

I support this simple, straightforward and humane Private Members' motion from the Labour Party.

The European Union directive published towards the end of 1996 was not acted on by the Government until 2000. The Government then panicked because it was going to fall victim to European Union criticism, so the directive was urgently implemented by all the local authorities countrywide. There was no national structure, guideline or model. Each local authority had to try to put together an individual structure in its own right. The local authorities, of which there are more than 40, came up with different models, costs, charges and methods of collection.

In my area, covered by Dublin City Council, I have never had a wheelie-bin. I have a plastic bag but cannot get a wheelie-bin whether I like it or not because I live more or less between the canals. Major sections of that area, particularly south of the North Circular Road, are not allowed wheelie-bins. What am I to do in those circumstances? What are people in those areas to do when they see a new charge imposed on them without any additional service? They do not view this as a particularly forward-looking approach to waste management.

At the same time as having this mishmash and hodgepodge of waste management charges and collections in every local authority, nothing was done by the Government to deal with the principle enunciated by the European Union, namely that the polluter pays. As we all know, the vast majority of waste comes from the industry sector. It comes from building rubble, from certain undesirable farming methods and from excessive manufacturing packaging. The Government has done nothing about that. I hope the Minister decides to impose the same type of penalties in this regard as on the compliant domestic householder.

As Deputy Gilmore outlined, Deputy Cullen, when Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, compounded the situation in 2003 by shifting not only the responsibility but also the right to levy a charge from the local elected representatives to the city manager. The operation of the full whack of the charges from January of this year has been an absolute mess. No proper preparation has taken place, particularly with regard to waivers. There were no waivers ready. An Post had not got them from the local authorities in order to send them out to those entitled to them. I spend half my time on the telephone contacting the waste management section of Dublin City Council to tell them that six weeks after the system has been put in place, certain people have not got the waivers to which they are entitled. The answer given is that those involved are trying to process matters. All the processing should have been done prior to the implementation of the schedules but it was not. I have been told that in many cases, certain pensioners, the unemployed or those on disability benefit will not get their waivers until April. In the meantime, they must go and purchase tags. One can only buy them in bunches of three rather than individually, and people are told they will not be refunded. Those people are entitled to a waiver in the first place because of the lack of preparation and the totally unorthodox way in which the whole system was put in place. The result is a great deal of illegal dumping in Dublin Central, my constituency and that of the Taoiseach. Tags are being stolen from plastic bags. People who are not putting their waste into bins are taking plastic bags and dumping them in an area where uplift is by plastic bag only. Great abuse of the system is taking place. Health and safety issues are not being dealt with, and of course, even the most compliant taxpayers and householders are extremely annoyed and angry with the manner in which the scheme has been implemented, with the result that there is support for anyone who does not wish to be compliant. A sense of grievance is abroad because of the total mismanagement of the system.

At least regarding waivers we should have some uniformity or national system whereby the most vulnerable, pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed and those at the lower end of the scale who are entitled to a fair crack of the whip get that. We must do it through a national scheme rather than willy-nilly, which seems to be the only way we are able to do business in this country. The Minister and Government should have examined the issue of incentives. Surely anyone in his or her right mind would start off not with a levy but with powerful recycling incentives. One does not start with a stick but with a carrot, but that has certainly not happened in this case.

As pointed out by other speakers, there is a great need for a national waiver scheme. There is no consistency in the effort. Before I come to my point, I wish to say two things. If one looks in the Gallery, one sees that there is no one from the press to report what is happening in this House. That is the issue, and that is why the Labour Party is the authentic voice of the people. I hope that is conveyed.

I was a member of a local authority for many years. The Minister should note that the Government gave local authorities a rate support grant. It changed it in later years to a "local government bond". That is only about 40% of what the Government should be giving the councils. The local manager of Cork County Council said he did not have the finances to give people the waivers it is required to grant because the Government has withheld from the local authority the funding it committed itself to provide in the first instance. For the disposal of refuse to be carried out in an equitable fashion and in line with the "polluter pays" principle, local authorities must move towards a waiver system without a standing charge. That has become a big issue in my area, and I am quite sure it is the same in many other areas.

People bought their tags when they could afford to buy them, but now they must pay an overhead charge as well as what they pay under the pay by weight system. That is not on, and that is why I am quite sure this motion will have the support of other parties in the House. Since the inception of the pay by weight system in County Cork in 2004, Cork County Council has insisted on a standing charge as well as one for every kilogram of waste disposed of. That is contrary to the polluter pays principle, as it penalises the householder who endeavours to recycle. The person recycling pays a standing charge as well as the person who does not do so, and the effect is that the former subsidises the latter.

The most equitable system is one based on weight. That allows the householder to be charged only for what is being disposed of. It facilitates smaller households, especially those consisting of pensioners who do not qualify for waivers. If local authorities were serious about the polluter pays principle, the instigation of a refuse charge based only on weight would encourage each individual to recycle more without penalising those who up to now have endeavoured to recycle most of their waste.

In the absence of any clear policy in town councils on recycling, the introduction of kerbside collection of dry recyclables must be considered. Local authorities, to keep landfill costs down, must endeavour to give householders the opportunity to recycle waste. Such a policy would be suitable for elderly people in particular who do not have the means to drive to a civic amenity or bring site. This has been mentioned many times by different speakers. It was Fianna Fáil which pressed the button and brought in the system now being imposed on people. It brought in the service charges with which we now have to contend. The way in which Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Deputies decided in 2003 to transfer responsibility for setting waste charges from elected councillors to local authority managers has led to a significant increase in charges, resulting in financial difficulties for pensioners and families on low incomes. That must be changed, and the only way to do so is to adopt this motion and introduce a proper system giving consideration to those people who depend on an equitable system for the disposal of waste.

I will make a brief contribution in support of this motion. In the context of this debate, both in the House and throughout the country, we need a little honesty if at all possible. The reality is very clear. The Government introduced the legislation in 2003 that took the power to set charges from elected members and gave it to an unelected person, the county manager. In my county council area, the vast majority of people have come to a realisation that, in the context of waste charges, they are prepared to make a contribution. However, they will not be taken for granted.

One of the great problems in this regard is that we will get a situation where the county manager, with the power granted him by the Government, will embark on massive increases in charges of 20%, 30% or 40% annually. That will not be accepted by the electorate. Regarding a uniform waiver system, in Fingal we have a system that works very well. If one does not pay tax, one is entitled to a waiver. In general, that is relatively fair. It can be examined and amended but a major problem is the lack of uniformity throughout the country, particularly in areas where Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have a majority — they do not have a majority now so I hope it will not happen — in that their priority is privatisation. When privatisation takes place, there is no mechanism at local or national level for a waiver. The Minister has the support of the working people to introduce a fair waiver system. The case for such a system is clear. With this motion the Minister has the support of the Labour Party and the other Members of this House. The Minister should deliver on it.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"(i) notes:

that the operational details of waste management services have never been the responsibility of central Government;

that local authorities have received record levels of discretionary general purpose grants from the local government fund in the current year;

the very significant investment which has been made by the Government in developing modern integrated waste management infrastructure and services;

that the costs of maintaining these services must be met;

that many local authorities have availed of the existing statutory provisions which allow for the operation of waste waiver schemes; and

that the introduction of use based charges is a more equitable way of meeting these costs and encouraging waste reduction and recycling;

(ii) supports the continuing discussions within the social partnership process which seek to identify and address any inequitable impact which the charging system may place on the disadvantaged."

I listened with great interest to the debate. Waste services are perhaps the most quintessentially local of all services. They have never been administered nationally; they have always been determined locally. When the then Labour Party leader, Dick Spring, introduced the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Bill in 1983, he touched, wisely in my view, on this issue. Speaking in regard to the application of local charges, the then Minister said: "There is no good reason why charges should be fixed centrally." The then Minister went on to say that discretion should reside with local authorities and be determined so that "account can be taken of what is needed, and what is fair and reasonable, and also of the best means of applying the powers in the local circumstances". At that time the Minister clearly envisaged that different service charges would be raised by different local authorities as was appropriate in their individual circumstances. The then Minister went on to discuss the general issue of waivers or the mitigation of charges——

That was 1983.

If the Deputy will hold on for a second, I will bring him up to date. I am giving him a history lesson because he spoke about honesty, but it might not be a bad idea if he applied a little honesty.

The Minister is bereft of ideas.

The then Minister, former Deputy Spring, went on to discuss the general issue of waivers or the mitigation of charges. He made the point that the Bill did not attempt to "define the grounds" where waivers would apply or "to restrict the exercise of this power" as this was an area where the decisions might best be based on local knowledge or experience. The Minister's views are as valid today as they were in 1983.

Indeed, the Minister, when he held this portfolio, was so convinced that local services and the associated charges should be determined locally that he provided in the 1983 Act that centrally imposed statutory restrictions on the level of charges should be removed. In short, the Minister, in the 1983 Act, which was the basis for introducing service charging for water, waste and other services, provided that the issues regarding the non-payment of service charges were a matter for local determination and decidedly not a matter in which the Minister of the day should interfere.

There was much wisdom in the then Minister's contribution, so much so that 13 years later another Labour Party Minister for the Environment returned to the theme.

Is the Minister bereft of ideas?

Nobody interrupted the Deputies opposite when they were speaking.

Nobody interrupted the group of Deputies opposite when they were spieling out their nonsense. I am simply telling the truth.

The Minister is bereft of ideas.

The Minister, without interruption.

I repeat, there was so much wisdom in the contribution of the then Minister, Dick Spring, who was a good friend of Deputy Sherlock's at the time, that his wisdom was returned to 13 years later by yet another Labour Party Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin. In his programme, Better Local Government — A Programme for Change, the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, recognised the commendable clarity that locally determined charges for domestic refuse collection were "an appropriate instrument in waste management policy".

The waste management policies in place today are directly built on the policies foreseen in the policy document, Better Local Government — A Programme for Change, by the then Minister, Deputy Howlin. More importantly, that provided the basic foundation on which the Waste Management Act 1996 was steered through the Houses of the Oireachtas by none other than the then Minister, Deputy Howlin.

What about successive Governments?

The truth often hurts and I ask the Deputy to bear with me for a few minutes and I will give him a few more lashes.

The Minister should give us some of his own ideas.

Tonight's debate is about a fundamental principle, the principle of subsidiarity. It is a debate about whether local government should be allowed to decide how local services are to be delivered, taking into account local needs and conditions, or whether we should instead look to micro-management by the Minister of the day of these essentially local services.

We have come a long way in the past eight years in terms of an integrated waste management strategy. The issue of waste charges is a central element in any sustainable waste management policy. Ireland is following an approach adopted by best practice in Europe. The comprehensive policy framework for modernising our approach to waste management was put in place in the 1998 document, Waste Management: Changing our Ways. That policy approach is centred on the integrated waste management approach based on the internationally adopted hierarchy of waste options.

The policy context was strengthened in 2002 with the publication of Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change. These policy statements will remain the bedrock of waste management policy in Ireland in the coming period. They are designed to achieve, by 2013, the ambitious targets set out in Waste Management: Changing Our Ways, which include recycling of 35% of municipal waste and recycling of at least 50% of C and D waste. Waste Management — Changing our Ways also set a number of complementary targets aimed at increasing recycling rates, including, for example, a diversion of 50% of household waste from landfill, a minimum 65% reduction in biodegradable waste consigned to landfill, and the development of composting and other biological treatment facilities. I make these points because these services cost money.

Progress towards these targets has been very encouraging. In its national waste database report for 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that only 9% of municipal waste was recovered for recycling that year. The figure for 2003 is 28%. The recovery rate of packaging waste is estimated to have increased from 15% in 1998 to 42% in 2003.

All the indications are that the recycling position has improved even further with the progressive roll-out of two-bin or dual-bin collections. Dual-bin collection is now available to 560,000 households, approximately 42% of all households nationally, and there is the continued expansion of the bring bank network. Over 1,800 bring banks are currently in place compared with 850 only six years ago. The increased network of civic amenity recycling centres is now another reality.

The expansion in the waste recycling infrastructure has been assisted by significant funding provided to local authorities from the environment fund. A capital grants scheme established in 2002 has provided €50 million so far for 90 projects. However, all this notable development comes at a price. The scale of investment is reflected in the charges which need to be levied by both public and private sector operators. That our waste management costs should be met in this way has been the policy of successive Governments. I recall that Deputy Howlin, when Minister for the Environment, made the point in the document, Better Local Government, that "Unlike charges for domestic water supply and sewerage facilities, charges for domestic refuse collection can be related to usage, and will be an important instrument in waste management policy". Deputy Howlin was correct. The move to pay-by-use charging now being implemented flows directly from that statement. It is dishonest to suggest otherwise.

The setting of such waste charges is a matter for the individual local authorities or private operators. The polluter pays principle, which is espoused by so many Members, advocates that the cost of managing waste is met by those who generate it. As in many cases, the reality is that what is preached here is quite often not practised at local level. Historically a system of flat rate charging applied in most local authorities. The switch to use-based charges will reward those who generate least waste and who are most active in recycling. Deputy Gilmore, when appearing on RTE recently, accepted that pay-by-use waste charges are an equitable method of charging for waste services.

Was that the programme for which the Minister failed to appear?

As far as I am aware, I never missed a programme about which I have known.

I heard the Minister was invited to appear.

The Deputy heard wrong. He has selective hearing.

The objective of pay-by-use charging is environmental in its focus and it encourages recycling. The less waste produced, the lower the charge. The precise charging mechanism in any given area will inevitably be fitted to local circumstances, costs and available technology. I note, for example, that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, on the basis of a motion supported by former Labour Party Minister Niamh Bhreathnach, has opted for a quite sophisticated system with standing and lift charging components and a weight-based element.

That is not correct. The Minister is misleading the House.

I am not misleading the House. The Deputy's colleague and his party supported the new charging system——

Will the Minister give way?

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

Let the record show that the Labour Party supported the system that is currently in place.

Will the Minister give way? He is misleading the House. I wish to correct the record.

It is worth recalling——

I wish to correct the record.

The Deputy is equivocating because the truth hurts.

The Minister is misleading the House.

The Minister, without interruption.

The Minister will not give way. He is afraid to do so.

I will not be filibustered either.


It is worth recalling that the service provided in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is not in the hands of a private operator, it is in the hands of the council which is dominated by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. I understand the Labour Party changed its long-standing view on the issue of service charging and on that of waivers. Perhaps Deputy Gilmore would like to inform the House of his record in that regard.

My record is absolutely consistent.

It is absolutely consistently inconsistent. The Deputy is quite right.


The Minister, without interruption.

Others have opted for a combination of a standing charge and a charge per lift, while the humble prepaid tag also has its place.

The point must be accepted that waste charges generally have increased in line with the exponential increase in the cost of waste management. We have moved from a position where we relied on a large number of poorly managed landfills to one where we are rapidly putting in place modern waste management infrastructure.

Each individual local authority has the power, where it is the service provider, to make a waiver scheme or to make appropriate arrangements with the private sector, where it is not. In this way local solutions can be tailored to local circumstances with proper application of the subsidiarity principle. In this regard, I again remind the House of the sentiments of the then Minister, Dick Spring, in 1983 in proposing a legislative basis for waiver type schemes. He explained that "decisions must be made on the basis of local knowledge and experience". I fully concur with this view. Local authorities are best placed to decide what is needed to address the differing circumstances that present to them. What is more, they now have the resources to allow them to do so.

Local authorities are now in a far better financial position than they have been for many decades. This is due in large part to the establishment by this Government of the local government fund. For 2005, I was glad to be in a position to notify local authorities of record levels of general purpose grants from the fund. This year, these discretionary block grants, which authorities can use as they see fit, will amount to a staggering €817 million.

The fact is that the Minister is not telling the truth.

This represents an increase of over 9% on 2004, which far exceeds the rate of inflation. It is almost 2.5 times the level of funding provided in 1997, when the parties opposite were in Government. In anyone's language, this represents a tremendous boost for local government and it enhances the ability of local authorities to provide quality services, including the operation of appropriate waiver schemes to their customers.

The Minister is misleading the House.

Repeating the mantra is not in any way to deflect from the truth. The relevant figures are those I have placed before the House.

In practice, waiver schemes are generally available where a local authority provides the service directly. In general, where services are provided by private collectors, local authorities have not considered it necessary to put any supplementary arrangement in place. There are, however, a number of limited exceptions. Local authorities have the power, in existing provisions, to make special arrangements in the case of hardship if they consider it necessary to do so.

The motion tabled by the Labour Party calls on the Government to introduce a uniform national waiver scheme, irrespective of circumstances, across the board. It will be clear from what I have said that this approach would be fundamentally in conflict with the thinking of successive Ministers for the Environment, including those who served with distinction from Deputy Gilmore's party. I do not believe it would be wise to simply reverse all of that which has gone before.

I made previous reference in the House to the discussions currently taking place between my Department and the Department of Social and Family Affairs and which follow on from discussions with the social partners in the context of the implementation of Sustaining Progress. The purpose of these discussions is to consider whether there is a role for some supplemental arrangement to address any cases of real hardship which may arise as a result of waste charges and which are not addressed by local waiver schemes.

The Minister is coming to it now.

I expect these discussions to conclude shortly.

I wish to make a further point, which I think is appropriate in the context of this debate, about the private sector and the way it has operated. In recent years we have witnessed the emergence of an extensive and vibrant private waste management industry working alongside local authorities. This is to be welcomed but it brings new issues to the surface. I am determined to ensure that equity and best practice prevail in the delivery of all waste management services. In this regard, I am unhappy at an apparent lack of flexibility and customer response in the case of some private operators. In cases which have come to my attention, customers feel that their complaints are being ignored, that operators are too inflexible or that they adopt a "take it or leave it" attitude to complaints. This is not acceptable.

Waste management is unique among the commercially provided public utilities in not having a regulator. Regulators were put in place in telecommunications, electricity and gas. When the Waste Management Act 1996 was introduced, no consideration appears to have been given to appointing a regulator. I do not say this to fault the author of the legislation. The concept of regulation was novel at that stage and private sector provision of waste services was in its infancy. All of that has dramatically changed and I am giving consideration to the additional regulatory arrangements that may be necessary to ensure price competition, best practice, good customer service and to guard against monopolistic practices, whether by local authorities or private operators. This will ensure that those paying waste charges can be confident of getting value for money.

I reiterate that it has never been, nor should it be, the practice for central Government to determine operational matters in regard to waste management. Waste management is one of the oldest services provided by local authorities. Working to national and European Union environmental standards, local authorities should be free to tailor services to local needs. The Labour Party motion would involve an unacceptable degree of interference with this principle which, as already stated, has been articulated by successive Ministers for the Environment, including those from the Deputy's party.

Deputy Gilmore represents Dún Laoghaire. The new waste charges in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council were passed without debate last month.

There was no vote on this matter. They had no say.

No Labour Party or Fine Gael councillors spoke out against the charges and not one of them voted against the scheme.

That is unworthy and dishonest.

Labour Party and Fine Gael councillors unanimously supported the council's estimates, which included the waste charges. However, Deputy Gilmore, the local representative, is now criticising a system of local charges introduced by a council dominated by his party and its putative partner in Government, Fine Gael, in a resolution which won the specific endorsement of his party colleague and potential running mate, Councillor Bhreathnach. Labour and Fine Gael councillors unanimously supported the council's estimates, which included the waste charges. However, we now have the constituency representative, Deputy Gilmore, criticising a system of local charges introduced by a council dominated by his party and his putative partners in Fine Gael, in a resolution which won the specific endorsement of his party colleague and potential running made, Councillor Bhreathnach. Deputy Seán Ryan is right when he calls for honesty in the House. A little bit of honesty would go long way. It is time for honesty in the issue of waste charges.

The Minister should try practising it.

There is no honesty in the approach that involves actions at local level which differ significantly from what has been expressed locally.

If the Minister made that speech in Cork, he would quickly be told where to go.

The people of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown expect people to act as they say and to say as they act.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Kelleher. The waiver is a good idea. Nobody argues with that and I have a proposal the House might consider appropriate involving a typical situation. Perhaps Members could comment on it.

The Deputy should mention it to the Minister.

A 50% waiver might be considered for householders living alone or with dependants, in receipt of one of the following payments: a non-contributory old age pension; blind pension; unemployment assistance. The following persons could qualify for a 50% waiver: householders in receipt of family income supplement; householders who possess a medical card; or householders in receipt of a small occupational pension. The following persons should qualify for a further 50% waiver, which effectively means a complete waiver: any householder who qualifies for a 50% waiver and who is in receipt of a living alone allowance. To any objective observer that seems to be a generous enough scheme. This was the very proposal Labour Party councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown voted against in 1999 and in 2000.

They had no say in the scheme.

I challenge anybody in the Labour Party to tell me that this is not a fair scheme or that it was a waiver scheme in the context——

The Deputy's party is in government and it should introduce it.

The Deputy should hang on a second. I have a short period in which to make my points. If they do not suit the Deputy, he can reply to them tomorrow when he is winding up the debate.

This was a waiver scheme in the context of a publicly delivered waste management scheme by the staff of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, in the context of an overall charge of £150 at the time. The Labour Party councillors voted against this. Now they are trying to go back into history and return to the stage when this type of proposal was before them. It is somewhat rich for them to say now that they would love to see this being reintroduced, when they did not have the courage to vote for what they knew to be commonsense, fair and equitable at that time. The irony was that the principle of it had been introduced by one of their own in Dáil Éireann in 1996. It is all very well to introduce legislation with all the fine words and great intentions when one cannot deliver on the ground. That was the constant theme of the Labour Party councillors' behaviour in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in the period 1999-2004.

The next thing that happened was Labour ascended to the chairmanship of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. On 11 January 2005 a number of resolutions were passed. Among them was a requirement that the Government introduce the waiver scheme. There was nothing concrete in this, just a general idea that the Government should introduce a waiver scheme. Also, every Labour and Fine Gael councillor supported the passing of the resolution. A sophisticated electorate will consider that these parties' disavowal of this vote rings hollow. Nobody will believe that on the one hand Labour was against the waiver in 1999-2001 etc. and only voted in favour of all of these measures in 2005 because somebody put a gun to their head. It is also disappointing that in all that period so much progress has been made with waste management in Dún Laoghaire, with the introduction of bring centres, the green and grey bins, waste packaging regulations and progress has been made within the green business network and on every step of the way the Labour Party refused to vote in favour of any of these measures. It is no use re-writing history and seeking to go back in time. Matters have changed and people will not believe there is any sincerity in this motion.

It is nice to see the Labour Party decided not to behave like a spoilt brat when the writs were moved today with its threat of opposition and disruption to the business of the Dáil. It is nice to see Labour Party Deputies tabling a motion that ultimately gives us the opportunity to highlight all the positive aspects to waste management that have occurred in recent years.

Does the Deputy know what is happening in the city of Cork? Has he been in the city?

I have listened to a great deal of nonsense from that side of the House with regard to waste management. The vast majority of people in Cork city pay their service charges. For years Members opposite opposed every opportunity to bring forward an equitable system. It took Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and some other members of Cork Corporation to make bold decisions with regard to the introduction of a liberal waiver system. The figures show that one third of all waivers nationally were delivered by Cork City Council, so there is an opportunity for local authorities to be flexible in their approach to refuse charges.

The people of Cork have responded tremendously to the system introduced. A handful of people are actively discouraging others from co-operating with the system passed by Cork City Council. Many people are recycling their waste, paying their service charges and are quite willing to do so. However, a handful of people are intent on disruption and seeking to bring about what must be considered to be a state of civil disobedience in opposing this measure. I do not mind someone highlighting his or her opinions in a chamber, but it is not acceptable to encourage people to dump rubbish on the public highways of Cork city. I would like councillors to condemn this publicly.

On the question of waste management, there is no doubt that in recent years people have responded. We could not have continued as we were. Cork City Council has taken the lead in this regard and been proactive in ensuring there are proper waste management facilities, bring centres and civic amenities. However, we have a long way to go and I accept that. In recent years, though, tremendous steps have been taken nationally, as well. In 1999 9% of all municipal waste was recycled. The figure is now almost 30% and I am sure that when the figures are published for this year, after the introduction of this system, there will be a dramatic increase in recyclable waste usage in--——

How come people from Cork city come to north Cork to dispose of their waste?

That is Deputy Sherlock's problem, not in my backyard, NIMBY. He has been saying that all his life. However, there is the greater good to be considered as well. Perhaps he should start acting in that system as well.

On bring sites, I acknowledge great advances have been made. However, we need to be proactive in ensuring that the bring sites are monitored and cleaned up on a regular basis. That is one area in which major advances must be made. In my constituency there was a case recently where the bring sites were not emptied over the Christmas period. People who had brought their bottles, cardboard, plastics and papers with the best intentions, were left with no choice but to take them home again over the Christmas period. That is an area in which we will have to move to ensure that there is a, more than adequate, supply of bring sites and always more space to cater for the volume of recyclable waste.

In general, this motion highlights the hypocrisy of the Labour Party as regards waste management and trying to bring about a fair and equitable system. If Labour Deputies were responsible they would visit the city council in Cork where there is a generous waiver system in place. A person in receipt of an old age pension does not pay the charge. However, we have ensured that those who can afford to pay will do so and those who cannot will not. That is a very equitable system. The Labour Party should actively encourage waste management charges for those who can afford to pay, so that we can assist those who cannot pay. By its continued opposition down through the years, it has forced many civic minded people to dig deep into their pockets.

This is an important debate and I welcome the Labour Party motion. If there is some disagreement, then that is healthy because there are different views on waste management.

I was surfing the Internet recently and I went into the Progressive Democrats website for light relief to check its manifesto for the local elections.

It makes a change from those who check out my website.

No one ever reads the Minister's website except myself. He should change his statistics. I discovered from the Progressive Democrats website that the party had made a promise during the local election that it would introduce a similar national waiver scheme to that outlined by the Labour Party tonight. There is a real need for it. There is much controversy over waste management and there are many fundamental issues involved. In my town, all the parties got together and dealt with the issue at a local level, as a community should do. However, there were hard men outside the door. One night, they burst in during a debate. The mayor, a member of the Fianna Fáil party, was wearing a yellow shirt and tie and he was accused of being an Orangeman. I think the protest was led by Sinn Féin that night. There were marches on our streets, with hundreds of people giving out about it. Eventually, logic won out. The logic is that we must have a waste management strategy and that everyone should pay according to their means. When a system exists where someone only pays for putting out the bin, senior citizens reduce their use. They are the best at recycling in Drogheda today, with many of them putting out the bin once every six weeks. They are very happy to do that.

The problem arises with large families or where many people are living in a home. Many people in that situation and those on low incomes cannot afford to pay. If one cannot afford to pay, there should be a system in place to deal with that. It is a tenet of Progressive Democrats policy and it is something on which we all agree. I welcome the Minister's reference to that in his statement. I ask the Minister of State to write to all local councils to state what the Minister actually said, which is that where the service is privatised, the local authority can make an arrangement with the service provider to have a waiver system. Many councils are not aware of that. If that is clarified, it could make a significant difference on how councillors view the issue. I think it was in Limerick that the opposite view was expressed by senior counsel.

I also want to address the question of a regulator. The Minister spoke about bringing in a regulator to regulate the price of refuse charges. I would not be happy about that as I believe the best regulator is competition. If a company has a monopoly it will apply to the regulator and will get its price increase. The perception is that the regulator gives price increases which consumers do not believe necessary. A regulator for refuse charges is a bad idea. We should encourage more competition and more privatisation.

Illegal dumping has been mentioned and we are aware of a national strategy on it. One of the problems is that the EPA, which has much responsibility for our waste management and for the enforcement of illegal dumping regulations, is not accountable to the Dáil. We need to make the EPA accountable to the Dáil. We can bring representatives of the EPA before a Dáil committee, but they seem to be a law unto themselves. The EPA can also do what it likes in regard to the issue of the incinerator in Cork. It does not need to have regard to public opinion.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. The problem of waste, waste charges and the application of the waiver scheme is always contentious. The issue of waivers concerns me particularly with respect to the financial difficulties waste charges can create for pensioners and others on low incomes. As usual, this comes back to an issue of fairness. I accept we cannot continue to produce waste without covering the costs of dealing with it. We cannot continue to bury or export our waste. Recycling and re-use is the way forward. The polluter must pay and many cases have been highlighted tonight where people are known to dump rubbish. With the advent of charges for waste, some people have a tendency to go to the countryside to dump their rubbish. That is happening on a far too regular basis and it must be condemned. We should be far more severe on people who carry out such scandalous activity.

Bring banks and bottle banks have proved very successful. Some local authorities have dumps overflowing with bottles, clothes, papers and so on. Local authorities should be to the forefront in setting an example for the community. There is a realisation across the country that we want to keep our environment clean. In South Tipperary County Council, we have run a tidy schools competition. There is a special prize-giving day which is extremely successful. It sends out the right message to young people, who look forward to the day when their school can receive a small token of appreciation for being kept tidy. This creates a healthy environment for our younger people and is something that should also be encouraged nationally by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The theory that the polluter must pay, like all good progressive tax systems, must be based on the ability to pay. Large families, the sick and the elderly sometime struggle to pay waste charges and we cannot ignore them. There is a problem when the service is provided by operators and people in vulnerable situations cannot avail of such private operators. It is very unfair that they have to pay the full amount and we need to tackle that. If this motion does nothing else tonight it should highlight that situation. We need to look after the old and vulnerable people who looked after the environment in more difficult times. I fully support this motion.

We are debating the principle that the polluter pays. We all accept this principle, but there is such a range of operators and charges throughout the country that there is a great variation in the existence and type of waiver system. The key concern is that the polluter-pays principle fails to take into account the ability to pay the charge with resulting difficulties for low-income households. This has been especially true in recent years as charges have increased dramatically.

There are currently two methods to reduce refuse charges. These are tax relief provided by the State and waivers or partial waivers provided by local authorities. The waivers depend on each local authority as no national guidelines have been set out by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. An example of this farce exists in my constituency at Baylough on the Roscommon-Westmeath border. As the white line down the middle of the road through the village is the county boundary, older people or those on the minimum wage on the right hand side are entitled to a waiver while those on the left are not. There is no assistance of any kind for refuse charges for those on the left. On the left hand side of the road, the charge for refuse collection by a private contractor is approximately €100 per annum more expensive than on the right hand side where the waiver system is already in place.

There is no waiver scheme in place in my county because the collection of refuse was privatised in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The current charge for refuse collection is approximately €368. This flat-rate charge is one of the highest in the country and does not take into consideration people who recycle their refuse. Private contractors have approached Roscommon and Galway County Councils on a number of occasions to discuss the introduction of a waiver, but no assistance has been forthcoming. The local authority in Roscommon claims it does not have available to it the resources to fund a waiver. The authority has focused on the area of hardship and contends the matter should be addressed by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. When one contacts that Department or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the buck is passed back to local authorities. The Minister of State has done that again this evening. I note that last year in Sligo, the manager of the borough council stated that it was illegal to introduce a waiver scheme. There appears to be a great deal of ambiguity on the matter.

While the State makes support available through tax relief, it is only beneficial to those in employment who pay income tax. Those who rely solely on social welfare payments cannot benefit. While those who have an income receive a 20% discount, those who cannot afford the charge, such as pensioners, get nothing. In other words, the most vulnerable in society receive no assistance from the Government. People in low-paid employment may not be entitled to tax relief due to their low level of income. We must put in place a similar system to the one which exists to provide mortgage relief and VHI cover whereby tax relief is applied at source. Such a system would also benefit the self-employed who must currently wait for up to two years to obtain the relief.

We must put in place a sensible national waiver scheme and establish a decent level of recycling facilities. Facilities to recycle are not widely available, especially for people in isolated rural communities.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important motion. As one who lives in a Border area, I am more aware of illegal dumping than anything else. While the activity is not relevant to the Bill, I mention it in passing. I raised in the Dáil the other day the fact that last week illegal dumping of oil waste took place in Monaghan once again. This cost Monaghan County Council €500,000 in 2004 and is potentially lethal.

The waiver system is not available in Monaghan though there is a relief system from which it is extremely difficult to benefit. I pay tribute to McElvaney Waste and Recycling Service which introduced the first weigh-in system in Ireland. The company belongs to my Fine Gael colleague, Councillor Hugh McElvaney. The year before the company introduced the system each customer produced 1.25 tonnes of waste. After one year, that was down to less than 0.75 tonnes, a 40% reduction. Of that reduction, 55% was related to blue bin, or kerb-side collections while some went to home composting. The cost to the consumer was reduced considerably as customers paid only for what waste had to be collected. The county manager in Monaghan introduced a charge for 2004 of €125 per tonne, but competition from landfills in Cavan and Louth forced a reduction to €115 per tonne in 2005. I question the need for a regulator when open competition is so effective.

The waiver system is important. The special hardship scheme has not worked in my county. Only last night a constituent called me and was crying because she had no idea if the scheme would apply to her. She said she lay awake at night worrying about the cost of waste. That is not what we want and it is not characteristic of a fair community. Waste charges should be realistic.

I support the comments of Deputy Hayes regarding teaching about waste in schools. We have the same programme in Monaghan where it is wonderful to see schools bringing ideas home to people and encouraging them to recycle. The rate of increase in the number of bottle banks in County Monaghan, which is the highest in the country, demonstrates how teaching can be of benefit in the context of recycling.

I come from Westport which is one of the tidiest towns in Ireland and has won the tidy towns competition on many occasions. It came second last year in the overall competition and was deemed Ireland's tidiest large town.

The issue tonight is not about waste, however, it is about who can afford to pay for a refuse service. I have a suggestion for the Government. I thought it had developed a new social conscience when it went to Cork and Father Healy came to talk to its members. In the recent budget, the Government lectured the House and told us there was a new socialist party in the country. While the Government says it has moved over with the Labour Party, it has failed to prove as much in its actions. Pensioners earn €179 per week but the cheapest refuse service in Westport is €300. While there is a 50% waiver for pensioners, it is not right that they must still put aside a full week's pension to pay for a refuse service. The issue is not one of keeping towns, villages or the country clean, it is one of fairness.

We have free schemes for fuel, electricity supply and telephone services. Any elderly person benefiting from a free scheme should have his or her refuse collected for free whether it is by the public or private sector. I heard Deputy Crawford refer to local authorities. Some are good and do their best to promote the environment and provide bins and bottle banks while others make no effort. The latter authorities are delighted to have as much refuse to collect as possible to allow them to earn more revenue. While they tell us it costs a great deal to collect refuse, who monitors their claims? Refuse collection has been the greatest money-making racket for local authorities across the country. They never had as much money and never found it as easy to collect. In this context, it is wrong to penalise people on pensions.

A waiver scheme should be introduced which functions like the free schemes to provide free refuse collection to pensioners. They are the people who put this country where it is today. How can a person on €179 per week be expected to put money aside to pay heavy refuse charges to local authorities? We must be realistic and fair to protect the vulnerable people in society. We must not talk about it, but take action. Local authorities do not care about the elderly or anyone else as long as they get their money. When the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, spoke about all the money he gave local authorities this year, he failed to tell the House that most of it will, among other things, be absorbed by inflation and used to pay for benchmarking.

Debate adjourned.