Noise Bill 2006: Second Stage.

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

I propose share my time with Deputies Boyle, Gormley, Morgan, Healy, Cowley and Finian McGrath.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Noise Bill 2006 to the House. It is hard to find peace and quiet in the new Ireland. If it is not jack hammers, it is car alarms. If it is not the roar of traffic from the bypass, it is the noisy party in the flat next door. We need remedies that are timely, effective and simple. The problem is that the current legislation is cumbersome, unwieldy and ineffective.

One issue that comes up time and again in queries from constituents is noise. It can be the next door neighbour, car alarms, the baying of dogs. We have to introduce legislation that works in fighting noise pollution. I was perturbed by the reply from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government two weeks ago, when I asked whether he had any plans to modernise the legislation on noise pollution. He said that given the extensive controls on noise pollution from various sources, it was not proposed to introduce further legislation in this area. The Minister is living in cloud cuckoo land if he does not recognise that there is a serious problem as regards noise pollution for many people today.

The purpose of our noise Bill is to introduce a one-stop shop for noise pollution. We want to tackle loud noise coming from building work, car alarms and barking dogs. The purpose of the Bill is to simplify and enhance the system that protects people from forms of noise pollution that are being inadequately tackled by the current laws. The existing legislation only deals with certain types of environmental noise and it involves an enormous range of bodies as well as the courts. We need to put in place simple measures that work, that are timely and are easily accessible. Our Bill provides a one-stop shop for noise complaints and gives local authorities real powers to stop noise pollution at source. We are not reinventing the wheel with this. We are looking at best practice examples, from London, Paris and around the world. We are becoming a more urbanised people. Many more of us are living in towns and cities. We are living in terraced houses and apartments. Life is becoming a misery for many of us because we lack the tools in law to tackle problem noises that are keeping people awake at night. We need to modernise this system.

All of us will have experienced problems with neighbourhood noise at some point in our lives. Yet for some reason noise does not receive the same levels of attention as other forms of pollution. It is only recently that the European Union took steps to compel local authorities to map noise pollution in municipalities. We welcome this and see it as an effective step in realising and coming to grips with the scale of the problem. However, we must place the obligation on local authorities to tackle such noise. It is not good enough to just say something needs to be done about noise pollution. We need to put in place clear easily accessible legislation that gives the ordinary citizen the power to tackle the problem of noise.

At the moment the laws are inadequate and the system is very confusing for people who wish to make a complaint. The forms are on the Internet and available from the post office or ENFO office. One may put down a complaint and give it to the courts. In the event, one has to wait two or three weeks for the case to come up, if one is lucky. That is not much use if one is being kept awake with a young child at 3 o'clock in the morning. We need to put in place measures that work at the same time that the noise is registered rather than waiting for the courts to come up with a remedy. Not too many people can afford the time off from work, minding the children or whatever to go to court and to wait, hopefully, for their cases to be heard. More often than not the case will be adjourned because the other side has not turned up. That is not effective or clear and it is not working.

We want, this evening, to point out that there are different types of noise, ranging from house and vehicle alarms, construction and animal noise, traffic and air traffic such as low flying helicopters which are often significant sources of noise pollution for many people in urban areas today. All of these issues need to be dealt with at a single focal point. We propose that the local authority should be the lead agency.

We do not want the local authority to say, "Go and talk to the Irish Aviation Authority", or that the dog warden is dealing with something. We want the local authority to be given the power to tackle this form of pollution.

Under the existing law various agencies are responsible for dealing with noise from different sources. Barking dogs are dealt with by local authority dog control officers, loud music by the HSE's environmental health officers, while the Irish Aviation Authority is responsible for noise from low flying helicopters. We need to ensure that matters move quickly and that people have an effective remedy to hand. We suggest that noise control officers are employed by local authorities to take immediate action once a complaint has been received. They will have the powers to take action 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if necessary. The funding for this, we believe, will be partially financed by the revenue generated by fines accruing from breaches of the legislation.

We need to give people the effective remedies. If there is a party with Michael Jackson playing at top volume at 3 o'clock in the morning, one does not want to have to go to the courts to deal with that. One wants a noise control officer to turn up within an hour and warn the person that something will be done about the situation if he or she does not deal with the noise. That is what happens in London and in other cities. There are clear and effective remedies. There are other long-term issues that need to be tackled, for example, the building regulations. While they specify a maximum level of noise transmission from apartment to apartment, I am not convinced that the "as built" versions match what is said on plans. Very often there are complaints from apartment dwellers that they are losing sleep at night because of the noise from next door. We want both the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities to take a more proactive approach to the management of the building regulations. Far more frequent inspections are needed and there must be clear data from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicating where the breaches occurred and what was done about them. It is ridiculous if the Minister cannot give clarity as to what problems accrued from court cases involving breaches of the building regulations.

In essence, however, we believe this Bill goes part of the way towards tackling noise pollution. We are not arguing that it contains every remedy and we are handicapped by the fact that we cannot impose financial measures that would be a charge on the Exchequer. The actions in our proposed legislation are discretionary rather than mandatory. However, we believe that if the legislation is passed it will result in noise control officers being hired by the larger local authorities to control noise levels in large populations in urban areas. This is about helping people whose lives are a misery due to noise. Noise is often there on an ongoing basis and it is not so much the loudness as the persistence of the noise. A small noise that persists week in and out from a next door neighbour, the air conditioning on the shop next door or the neighbours who turn the decibels up every weekend are examples of what need to be dealt with. This legislation goes much of the way towards addressing the concerns that exist in this regard.

We are not looking for the impossible but we believe that people are entitled to some peace and quiet. That is the purpose of the Bill we are tabling this evening and I commend it to the House.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this Private Members' Bill from the Green Party. I regret that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, having been in the Chamber for a number of other debates, has left for this one. I hope he will read the debate and that he will have a chance to contribute later in the proceedings. Alternatively, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport could relay many of the concerns expressed by my colleague when introducing this Bill.

The legislation regarding noise clearly requires amendment. It has already been argued clearly that inappropriate sound — which is what noise is — should be under the control of a single authority, rather than the current situation in which several State agencies are responsible for identifying and prosecuting its existence in local communities. It is an instance of anti-social behaviour, which is all too prevalent in many communities, that local authorities could go a long way towards tackling if provided with the resources and legislative means.

I recently had the privilege of attending a 40th anniversary commemoration by the Cork Deaf Association. In respect of noise legislation, Members tend to forget that just as inconveniently-placed street furniture constitutes an intrusion on those who are partially sighted or visually impaired, the existence of any inappropriate sound for those who are hard of hearing makes life more difficult. The need for stronger legislation in this regard was made clear to me at the aforementioned commemoration, which included a speaker from Denmark who outlined how changes had been made to Danish legislation and how ongoing campaigning continued in Denmark to improve their advanced legislation in this regard. His presentation noted the existence on Danish public transport — and on trains in particular — of designated carriages. Where there used to be non-smoking carriages, many European countries now have public transport carriages in which people are not permitted to use mobile telephones or other extraneous sound material. This gives people the option of travelling in a better environment, particularly those with partial or impaired hearing.

Another issue that must be raised in this debate is that for too long the legislation pertaining to noise has been concerned with the volume of a particular noise at a given time. This debate should be concerned with inappropriate sound. I refer to continual and persistent car and house alarms, as well as the noise from kango hammers. Moreover, for many people who live adjacent to our ever-expanding road network, the sound volumes that can be reached simply by passing traffic — which is now practically a 24 hour activity — can be extremely difficult to live with. I live next door to a road that is part of the inner city road network in Cork, namely the south city link road. In recent years I have recorded noise levels from traffic there between midnight and 6 a.m., in excess of 100 decibels, which is far above existing permitted levels. These are examples of simple quotidian noise with which people live. I refer to the inconvenience of being woken up unnecessarily and to the cacophony associated with living with noise in one's garden or household that is not of one's choosing and over which one has little control. Consequently, the need for this legislation becomes all too apparent. The Minister of State or whoever will speak for the Government should articulate its understanding that the legislation under discussion is badly in need of reform.

The real problem with the existing noise legislation is that it is virtually impossible to secure a proper prosecution regarding individual citizens' complaints because it is so cumbersome. First, there is an obligation to have the volume levels recorded. Members are aware that local authorities lack both the technology and the resources to properly record volumes on an ongoing basis. Often, the requisite machines must be imported or leased on an ongoing basis. While I am open to correction, I know of no local authority that possesses decibel recording equipment as part of its arsenal of matériel used to police the public realm. They simply do not exist and there is too much reliance on other agencies and private companies to carry out such recording on behalf of local authorities.

If complainants are sufficiently lucky to have their complaints accepted as having validity and to have the sound recorded, the law obliges the sound to be recorded on three separate occasions, namely, when the sound is at its highest, at a time deemed to be in the middle of the day and at a time deemed to be the quietest period of the day. The latter is usually in the middle of the night. When the existing legislation puts such an onus on individual citizens to prove the burden under which they live in terms of inappropriate sound, the Government must realise this is simple legislation that can be changed quite easily. If the will exists, the House can act collectively to put in place some necessary changes that will improve the quality of many people's lives.

This Bill is not concerned with the quality of sounds and I still wish to have the ability to play my Sex Pistols' CDs at an appropriate volume without disturbing my local neighbours. It does not pertain to how people choose what constitutes good or bad sounds. The current legislation determines that volume is the main basis on which people may use the legislation, albeit in a cumbersome manner. There are good health and safety reasons for volume to be the key determinant. However, as my colleague has already noted, the legislation should be broadened to encompass inappropriate sounds. I refer to the persistence of particular sounds that have become part of the sound track — particularly in urban areas — of too many people's lives. Unless Members are prepared to make such changes, I fear that public unhappiness regarding living in such a fashion might be translated into other types of activities. As legislators, Members would not wish to see such developments in their local communities.

It is curious that the first ASBO issued in Northern Ireland was to a person who was deemed to be playing his record player or CD player too loudly. This legislation is not about that. It pertains to the fact that in many communities, people who live in housing that is not effectively insulated hear the aforementioned sound track of urban life coming through their doors and windows. I refer to heavy vehicles rumbling along roadways and to other sounds that might be linked to industrial installations. These sounds are in addition to the type of sound track with which people in such communities live in any event. Moreover, this legislation does not pertain to groups of young people hanging around street corners and engaging in boisterous activities. It is to try to induce the Government to understand that a problem faced by too many people in too many communities can be solved easily through a simple piece of legislation.

I accept the Bill requires further definition and would require passage through Committee Stage. Deputy Cuffe is willing to engage in this process and since publishing the Bill, he has identified another section that could be added to this Bill on Committee Stage with regard to the sound threats posed by low-flying helicopters. This risk appears to have arisen from the Celtic tiger. On these grounds, there are compelling arguments for the Government to accept this Bill graciously. It could be worked on collectively by Members and could be enacted to add to the existing legislation in this area, which Members have learned from experience is not effective and must be dramatically changed for the public to gain confidence in it. This should be done in order that in future, individual citizens and communities who live with unnecessary inappropriate sounds can identify a route to remedy such problems and can seek quick and easy alleviation. The Government should be prepared to respond graciously.

I wonder whether waffling Ministers could be included as a noise pollution effect. While I do not refer to the Minister of State who is present, the idea would be interesting.

I welcome this legislation from the Green Party. While there are some who might be inclined to view this proposal as slightly amusing, it highlights what is a serious problem for many people. There is substantial literature on the effect noise can have on people and it is a significant feature of anti-social behaviour. One British survey found that nearly 10% of complaints about anti-social behaviour concerned domestic noise and that the cost of tackling these issues came to more than Stg£1 million per year. The effects on those concerned included serious health problems as well as a general undermining of their quality of life.

Public representatives and local authorities here will also have experience of complaints made about domestic noise and it is obviously a problem to be dealt with. This proposal represents one such attempt. At a basic level, every person should have the right to enjoy their own home space without noise interference from neighbours or other sources, including industrial plants. The bottom line on domestic noise ought to be that no person should have to put up with interference from another which causes serious disruption to him or her.

It is only part of generalised anti-social behaviour, which is a key concern for many people, particularly in urban areas. It is interesting that when the mayor of Dublin last year established a consultation process with citizens on this, many of their recommendations were similar to my party's recommendations. These included a much more prominent and long-term role for community policing and effective measures on the part of local authorities to deal with habitual offenders and persistent problems. Sinn Féin in Dublin is currently engaged in a similar process and the response is much the same.

What most people seem to want is a more visible presence by the Garda and that the Garda would be seen to be part of the community rather than a remote, and sometimes inaccessible, external agency that only appears in emergencies, if they are lucky. There is a lack of trust between some communities and the Garda, based on a lack of understanding and contact. Many young gardaí know little or nothing of working class communities other than those who offend and are often ignorant of the sources of many of the problems, for example, around drug dealing.

An agency with the legislative authority to deal with noise issues there and then is what is needed. This legislation is long overdue. I welcome this Bill from Deputy Cuffe and the Green Party.

I wholeheartedly welcome this debate. I am sure I am not alone in finding noise pollution and inappropriate noise probably one of the most frustrating issues brought to my attention as a public representative on a regular, if not a daily, basis. It is frequently difficult to solve the problem. All involved become frustrated and the system is undermined. The reason is that the existing legislation is totally inadequate, confused, unclear and cumbersome. No doubt the lack of a single agency to deal with the area of inappropriate noise is a serious problem in ensuring that something is done about it.

I am satisfied that the current legislation is in need of review and updating. The Noise Bill 2006 put forward by the Green Party should be a template for the Government to take on board and, through the parliamentary process and particularly the committee system, to expand and outline in more detail. I hope the Government will take that view of this legislation because it provides an opportunity to once and for all take the issue of inappropriate noise by the scruff of the neck and ensure that something positive and effective is done for ordinary people who frequently find themselves in difficult circumstances as a result of noise.

The Bill seems reasonably simple, fairly practical and, above all, workable. If taken on board by the Government and by the Parliamentary Counsel, it could be fine legislation that would solve many of the problems in this area. The key to the legislation is that the matter be the responsibility on a single agency. In this case the local authority is identified as that agency. The current position is that there are two, three, four or perhaps more agencies involved and people find it difficult to deal effectively with the matter.

The Bill provides for immediate action on the difficulties that arise with inappropriate noise. The current lack of an immediate remedy is one of the most frustrating aspects of this problem for individuals affected by this noise and for politicians like me. I am sure Members on all sides of this House find the entire process frustrating because it is impossible to deal effectively with noise. The question of immediate action, which is vitally important, is addressed in the legislation.

The Bill contains a section on barking dogs. For almost 12 months I have been trying to deal with a problem concerning barking dogs. This case has been kicked from Billy to Jack — from the dog control officer to the tenant liaison officer, the EPA and the courts — without a result. This tenant involved will shortly turn the key in the local authority house door and go into private rented accommodation because he and his family simply cannot live with the situation for much longer. I, therefore, welcome the section in the Bill dealing with that area.

Construction is good example of another area in which there is need for the immediate action provision and for a single responsible agency. While noise levels are generally addressed in planning permission, in an attempt to ensure a project is brought in on time developers are often prepared to carry on work out of specified hours, and involving noise levels exceeding those contained in, the planning permission. They can only do that because there is no immediate or effective action to stop them. Under this Bill, however, the local authority noise control officer could go to such individuals and within a short period could stop the noise. We have all regularly come across cases where local residents complain about noisy developers working into the night. When one tries to sort out the situation one finds that the noise has been continuing for two or three nights to complete a job. The work was done quickly and finished in a couple of days but there is no immediate or effective action to stop it. A noise control officer could deal with such situations as they arise, which is one of the attractions of this legislation.

I would like to address a number of other issues but I will give way to my Independent colleague, Deputy Cowley.

I am glad to support the Green Party's Noise Bill. Noise is defined as any unwanted sound which is a nuisance, would endanger human health, damage property or harm the environment. In my experience, there are two or three noise-related matters which I would like to see resolved, but they cannot be dealt with due to the lack of adequate control mechanisms. The first matter concerns blasts from quarries. I have come across several cases involving damage to houses caused by such blasts, but nothing can be done due to faulty monitoring and inadequate legislation. People have been frightened out of their lives by quarry blasting which has caused cracks in their houses. Such explosions are supposed to be conducted under the auspices of local authorities but the regulations have not been properly enforced.

Second, rock breaking continues around the clock in quarries but while people have adequate remedies in that regard, local authorities are not doing their job. I have come across a number of such instances.

Third, major noise pollution is occurring in a pristine, 400-acre footprint in Bellanaboy, County Mayo. The sound of pile-driving there is certainly an unwanted nuisance. It creates a terrible racket in an area where before now the only noise came from the twittering of birds or the howl of the wind through the glen. Those sounds were much more welcome than the current nuisance going on in that area. I would like to see the passage of legislation, such as the Noise Bill, to put an end to that pile-driving work, which is very unwelcome. Those 400 acres will be taken over as the Government wishes, and as Fine Gael would also wish.

The plan for enterprise in the north west involves ten billion barrels of gas, which is worth €50 billion to €60 billion. It is a lot of money which could do much for our roads. It could do much for our country generally instead of going to places like Norway. I do not begrudge the Norwegian people anything but they have gone further towards nationalising their natural resources than we have. We have just given it all away. Currently, there is no EPA legislation that can stop what is happening. Those involved have not applied for any EPA licence so far. We may be witnessing the silent theft of our natural resources. What is being established there is a sub-sea system that will syphon all the resources away through a thin-gauge pipe. Our future resources will disappear through a pipe to anywhere and everywhere except to those for whom it could be of real benefit, and for what cause?

If we ever get that gas, we will pay the same price as if we were getting it from Russia, the United States or Norway. We will pay the market price for it because that is the law governing the situation. It is a great scandal. The unwanted noise we hear from Shell's cheer leaders in the Government parties and in Fine Gael is trying to drown out the desperate cries of the ordinary decent people of Rossport. It has to end.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to speak about this Bill. I commend the Green Party for proposing the Bill to deal with the huge increase in noise pollution in our community. Let us hope it has an impact and will give support to everyone who has had to put up with this situation. Noise is defined in the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 as an unwanted sound which is a nuisance, would endanger human health, damage property or harm the environment.

I wish to deal with some recent events that could have been dealt with under this Bill. During construction of the Dublin Port tunnel, the residents of Fairview, Marino, Drumcondra and Santry had to put up with a lot of noise and disruption. This commenced with disturbing noise coming from the huge tunnel boring machines, which woke children in their beds. Toilets even moved during the construction phase. To make matters worse, there are now 273 damaged homes and another 117 cases are awaiting resolution. This has been ignored by the Government as the rights of local residents were trampled on in the name of so-called progress. It is neither acceptable nor good enough. I stand by all the residents affected by the construction of the tunnel in Dublin North-Central. Even if it is not popular or fashionable to do so, I will stand with the residents on this matter. The silence from the major political parties is deafening and the silence from the other Deputies in the constituency is an absolute disgrace.

Section 3 of the Bill deals with complaints about neighbourhood noise at night. The issue of anti-social behaviour arises and the noise and disruption caused to residents in this respect is not good enough. Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night residents of the Howth Road and surrounding areas must put up with noise, violence and disruption coming from the Bar Code centre at the end of the Howth Road. I urge the council and the Garda Síochána to do something urgently before we have another Anabel's situation. I do not say this lightly and I urge action to prevent serious injury or death in my constituency. I am demanding action forthwith.

Section 12 refers to noise from barking dogs. I have received complaints about noisy dogs that are left unattended all day long and disturb people going about their business. Meanwhile, night workers are unable to sleep during the day. These mad dogs are barking day and night, waking up families throughout the neighbourhood. Dog owners should have more respect for their neighbours. This situation cannot be tolerated and, as legislators, we must do something about it.

I urge dog owners not to allow their pets to roam the streets biting children, postal workers and even politicians. I have been bitten twice by dogs while working in my constituency, which is very serious. Two of my election workers were also bitten by dogs while doing voluntary work in the constituency. A little more respect and manners are needed as a priority. To resolve this matter, I had to buy a dog dazer which emits a high-pitched sound to distract dogs.

Noise pollution.

It is an important piece of equipment for any politician during an election campaign. It sends out a high-pitched sound and can protect postal workers, politicians and political activists from dogs. It is a valuable piece of equipment, which all Members of the Oireachtas should seriously consider using. I understand that in the United States all postal staff are supplied with a dog dazer free of charge when undertaking their duties. I have raised these issues because the legislation concerns noise pollution and related issues of public safety.

Another issue that has arisen recently in my constituency, particularly around Clontarf, is the noise from jet-skis which emit a high-pitched buzzing sound. It is unacceptable that young children are awoken by such noise at 8 o'clock in the evening in residences on the Clontarf Road and surrounding areas. Questions of public safety also relate to these issues. These are not trivial matters and I urge action before they get out of control. The Green Party has been creative and radical and it is not the first time it has brought a sensible Bill before the House. This is well thought out legislation and I urge all Deputies to support the Green Party's Bill because it will be important in dealing with noise pollution.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this Bill and to outline Government policy in this area. Environmental noise arises from a great many sources, from large scale activities such as industrial installations, urban road and rail traffic and major construction sites to more local noise associated with security alarms, social activity and general neighbourhood noise. Many industrial and commercial activities are no longer confined to traditional business hours and noise at night, especially between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., can be very stressful for many people.

Noise is a very individual issue. On one side, some people tend to be naturally noisy while others are very quiet, and a significant majority falls somewhere between the two extremes. On the other side, some people are very sensitive to all forms of noise while others are generally unaffected by the din of everyday activities. Seeking to address environmental noise is ultimately a matter of balance and reasonableness.

Environmental noise is a symptom of our very active and busy lifestyle that presents a catch-22 type situation in that we all need some quiet time to rest and recharge our batteries if we are to keep pace with family, business demands, and social activity. In many instances it seems that social activities are more likely to begin rather then end at midnight. Unlike other areas of environmental pollution on which we have developed a very definite and determined focus over many years, such as air quality, water quality and waste management, noise is something that has crept up on us to a certain extent.

If time permitted, I am quite sure every Deputy in the House would be able to provide examples of noise issues for the purposes of this debate. I fully understand the background to the Bill, my difficulty is that no context is presented in terms of the various provisions that already exist in law. This is the appropriate starting point for any debate on environmental noise.

Controlling environmental noise pollution is principally addressed through section 107 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 (Noise) Regulations 1994. More recently, the Environmental Noise Regulations 2006 give effect to EU Directive 2002/49/EC concerning the assessment and management of environmental noise. On foot of this legislation, local authorities have significant powers to address environmental noise. These powers enable local authorities to intervene to prevent or limit noise in a wide range of activities and they have proved effective for many years. An immediate area of interest in this debate is the opinion of local authorities on the effectiveness of the existing legislation and whether there are improvements that might be made from their perspective.

In addition to the powers available to local authorities, individuals and groups of individuals now have access to an inexpensive and simplified legal remedy to noise nuisance under the 1994 regulations. This allows any person experiencing noise nuisance to bring a case before the District Court for a nominal fee of just €18 and with no requirement to have legal representation. As a general rule of thumb, non-domestic environmental noise issues are pursued by local authorities while domestic cases, such as issues between neighbours over anti-social use of radios, televisions and other sound systems, are a matter for the individual affected by the noise. In such domestic cases, direct access to the District Court offers a simple and effective remedy. To bring as much clarity as possible to the debate, I now propose to look at the existing legal remedies in more detail.

Section 107 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 provides local authorities with powers to have measures taken to prevent or limit noise. These powers are generally exercised in preventing and limiting noise from commercial and industrial premises within their functional areas. Notice can be served by a local authority on any person in charge of any premises, processes or works, other than an activity which is subject to the integrated pollution prevention and control licensing system administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. In the case of an activity that is required to be licensed by the agency, it is a matter for the agency to address all complaints about the activity, including those related to noise.

The Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 (Noise) Regulations 1994 allows any individual or local authority to take a noise complaint to a District Court and to seek an order from the court to deal with the noise nuisance. For example, an order might be sought to address a case of noise that is so loud, so continuous, so repeated, of such pitch or duration or occurring at such times, that it gives a person reasonable cause for annoyance.

First, the person or local authority submitting the complaint must give notice to the person causing the noise of the intention to take the matter to the District Court. The court will hear both sides and where it finds in favour of the person who made the complaint, it can order the person or body making the noise to reduce it to a specific level, to limit it — for example, to specified times — or to stop it altogether.

My Department has produced a leaflet for the public providing general information about noise nuisance which also details the procedures to be followed when taking a case under the 1994 regulations. The leaflet is available from the Department, ENFO, and from their respective websites.

Noise nuisance caused by neighbours makes up the vast majority of noise complaints to my Department. The source of the noise generally dictates the most appropriate course of action. A key element in most neighbourhood issues over noise is whether the individual causing the noise is a private homeowner, a private rented tenant or a local authority tenant.

If the person causing a noise nuisance is a private homeowner, the most appropriate course is for the person experiencing the noise nuisance to use the legal remedy provided under the 1994 regulations and take the matter to the District Court. I appreciate that such a course is not suitable in every instance but it should not be overlooked as a simple and effective course of action that is available to everyone at a very modest cost.

Since December 2004 all privately rented properties must be registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. In the case of noise nuisance being caused by individuals in private rented accommodation, the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 imposes statutory obligations on landlords and tenants of private residential tenancies. Tenant responsibilities under the Act include an obligation not to engage or allow visitors to engage in anti-social behaviour, which is defined as including persistent noise that interferes with the peaceful occupation of other dwellings in the neighbourhood. The Act also imposes a responsibility on landlords to enforce the tenant obligations.

There is provision in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 for third parties who are adversely affected by a failure on the part of a landlord to enforce tenant obligations to refer a complaint to the Private Residential Tenancies Board. If an alternative legal remedy is being pursued, such as the remedy provided for under the 1994 noise regulations, then the board cannot intervene. It is important, therefore, for persons who are affected by noise from a private rented dwelling to examine both options before acting.

Local authorities are empowered under section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 to initiate proceedings to secure an eviction where a tenant has breached the conditions of a tenancy agreement. Noise nuisance is one of the areas covered under this legislation. The tenancy agreement, the legal basis of the relationship between the local authority and its tenants, will generally contain provisions on the types of behaviour which are acceptable and not acceptable. A person who is affected by noise caused by a tenant of a local authority property should raise the matter directly with the local authority in the first instance.

Noise nuisance from domestic and commercial intruder alarms is one of the most noticeable problems and a common cause of complaint. Generally, noise nuisance caused by an intruder alarm on commercial premises is a matter for the local authority concerned. I have mentioned the extensive powers available to local authorities to address noise.

Noise nuisance from domestic security alarms should be taken up with the occupier of the property in the first instance. If this course of direct action proves ineffective — I am aware of how unaccommodating some people can be in matters of this nature — the matter should be pursued as a neighbourhood noise nuisance problem which should be referred to the local authority and, if necessary, the District Court.

Noise nuisance from alarms has also been addressed through industry standards. The new European standard, EN 50131, was introduced in March 2004 and incorporates considerably stricter controls regarding minimum and maximum durations for the sounding of external intruder alarms in buildings. The minimum time is 90 seconds and the maximum time is 15 minutes. Furthermore, from 1 November 2005, installers of alarms are required to register with the Private Security Authority and from 1 August 2006, installers cannot operate in the State without a licence from the authority. For the purpose of obtaining a licence, applicants mush show they have attained the European standard EN 50131. In addition, I understand that the connection of monitored business intruder alarm systems to Garda stations is contingent upon, inter alia, the use of alarm systems that are certified by the National Standards Authority of Ireland and installed by certified installers.

Noise nuisance from pubs and nightclubs is another common source of complaint. The problem can be addressed by the local authority concerned or on foot of an application to the District Court by any individual or group of individuals. A complaint can also be pursued through the licensing laws and should be brought to the attention of the Garda.

The Control of Dogs Act 1986 consolidates, amends and extends the law relating to the control of dogs and contains powers to deal more effectively with the problem of dangerous dogs and general dog control. A series of regulations was introduced under the Act, including 1987 regulations which prescribe the form of notice to be served on the occupier of a premises in which a dog is kept and where a person intends to make a complaint to the District Court regarding a nuisance due to excessive barking of a dog. Recourse to the 1994 noise regulations is also available as a legal option.

Outdoor events, especially during the summer months, are important to the social life of town and cities and, in some cases, the nation. From a noise point of view, these events present local authorities with a new challenge. For example, Dublin City Council reported that 2003 was an extremely busy year for outdoor events in the city. The noise control unit of the city council carried out monitoring at a number of venues, including most notably the highly successful opening and closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics, both during the sound tests and over the duration of the events. Furthermore, members of the unit are engaged at the pre-planning stages, liaising with promoters and organisers of events. An important element of the city council's success in this area is the issuing of notices under section 107 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 prior to all events. A successful prosecution was secured for breach of a notice during one event in 2003.

On noise nuisance caused by building or construction work, there is a common misconception that a specified statutory period applies during which certain works, for example, construction, road works and DIY, are prohibited. While this is not the case, a planning authority may attach conditions to individual planning permissions for any development on a case by case basis. These tailored conditions may include restrictions on the times at which construction work can be undertaken. A person who experiences unacceptable noise from a construction site should, in the first instance, contact the local planning authority to ascertain whether any such conditions apply. If no conditions apply, a local authority may still address the issue under section 107 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 or the person affected by the noise may pursue the matter under the 1994 regulations.

Part E of the 1997 building regulations sets out minimum requirements for sound insulation in buildings, including new dwellings. Home Bond is carrying out a major study of sound insulation standards in Ireland and a number of other European Union member states. The survey is due for completion by mid-2007 and it is intended to initiate a review of Part E of the regulations and the related technical guidance document in the light of its results and in consultation with the building regulations advisory body.

It is a little late for the Minister to shut the stable door.

Action is being taken. The 2006 environmental noise regulations, which entered into force in March this year, give effect in Ireland to EU Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise. Environmental noise is defined in the regulations as unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise emitted by means of transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic and from sites of industrial activity. The regulations are designed to address noise at a strategic level and are not intended to address domestic or neighbourhood noise.

A two stage approach to the assessment and management of environmental noise is provided for in the regulations. First, they provide for the preparation of strategic noise maps for areas and infrastructure falling within defined criteria, for example, large agglomerations, major roads, railways and airports. Second, based on the results of the mapping process, the regulations require the preparation of noise action plans for each area concerned. The fundamental objective of action plans is the prevention and reduction of environmental noise.

The regulations provide for strategic noise maps and action plans to be made available to the general public. They also provide for public consultation on proposed action plans and for the results of public consultation to be taken into account in finalising action plans or reviews of action plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the national authority with overall responsibility for implementing the regulations. At local level it is a matter for the local authorities concerned and Dublin Airport Authority, the National Roads Authority, Iarnród Éireann, and the Railway Procurement Agency. As the regulations are implemented they will allow people who live in areas affected by environmental noise to have a genuine voice in influencing appropriate responses. These regulations are a first step in addressing noise pollution at a strategic level and will deliver wider benefits over time.

I hope this overview of the range of provisions already in place to address environmental noise will help to inform the debate over the course of Private Members' time. Noise is a very individual issue and individuals on both sides of the argument — those causing excessive noise and those affected by it — can be unreasonable to varying degrees. In many cases, a lack of thought about the impact of noise on others is the fundamental issue; in some cases there is also an element of unreasonableness on the part of one or both parties. I am not convinced that further legislation is the answer but it is timely to look at the issues and this discussion of the Bill tabled by the Green Party is a welcome starting point.

The Government will not oppose this reading of the Bill. That said, the Government believes the proposed provisions therein are premature pending further consideration of the underlying issues in existing legislation.

The ink is the wrong colour.

The Government takes the view that the matter should be referred to the Select Committee on Environment and Local Government for consideration. In referring the Bill to the select committee, it would be beneficial for all sides to do so on foot of an open and constructive debate in the House. I look forward, therefore, to hearing the views on all sides and to taking the matter forward in the select committee in due course. I should add we have no difficulty with dogs because Fianna Fáil is dog-friendly.

I thought for a moment that the Minister of State would accept the Bill and allow us to get on to Committee Stage, where we could iron out the minor difficulties in the Bill. Sadly, he changed his tune at the last minute.

On behalf of Fine Gael, I thank the Green Party for introducing this Bill. While we, like the Minister of State, have some reservations about aspects of the Bill, it is a worthy effort and we will vote for it with a view to discussing the details on Committee Stage. That is what the Minister of State should have advocated.

Anyone who lives in a built-up area knows the nuisance and distress noise can cause. Car alarms, house alarms and building work at ungodly hours are par for the course these days, particularly with developers trying to finish estates at night. Apartment life has greatly increased existing problems. Poor insulation in new apartment blocks means the neighbour's burglar alarm is not just a distant irritant but a serious disturbance. It is for those reasons we intend to view the Bill in a sympathetic light and we urge the Minister of State to do likewise, although he killed that hope in his speech.

Noise pollution is getting to Deputy McCormack too because he obviously did not hear me.

Like so many areas in the environment portfolio, the Government has effectively washed its hands of the matter.

The Department's website notes that 12 years ago the then Minister made regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 whereby any individual, person or local authority may complain to the District Court to seek an order to deal with noise pollution. The nuisance was defined as noise so loud, so continuous, so repetitive, of such pitch or duration or occurring at such times that it gives a person reasonable cause for annoyance.

The process which the individual or group must go through to seek redress, however, is too tough in our view. A complainant must give notice to the person making the noise of the intention to make a formal complaint to the District Court and then he or she must serve a notice on the alleged offender that a complaint is being made at least seven days in advance of that complaint being made to the court. The District Court will hear both sides of the complaint and where it finds in favour of a complainant, it can order the person or bodies making the noise to reduce it to a specific level, limit it to specific times or stop it all together. The process for doing that is far too long and cumbersome, it is like using a machine gun to swat a fly. The courts should not be involved at all, we should be able to devise a system where a satisfactory solution can be reached without resorting to the time and expense of the District Court.

The most recent move in the noise pollution area came from the Minister in April but it did not even refer to domestic noise. The Environmental Noise Regulations 2006 dealt only with unwanted or harmful outdoor noise created by road, rail or air traffic or industrial sites. While we welcome any regulations aimed at managing noise in urban areas and around major national infrastructure works, it is a remarkable oversight that measures to deal with the problems addressed by this Bill were not taken.

The Minister said in April, "I know that neighbourhood noise nuisance is a serious problem in many areas, and a number of options already exist to address it". Could the Minister clarify these comments in his response to the debate? Is he happy with the current framework for complaints and does he think nothing needs to be done or does he now feel differently? If so, what does he intend to do about it and when?

The Environmental Protection Agency will have overall responsibility for the implementation of April's regulations but governance at local level will be a matter for the local authorities and Dublin Airport Authority, the National Roads Authority, Iarnród Éireann and the Railway Procurement Agency. Part of the problem, however, with much of what the Government tries and fails to do is the lack of joined-up Government and the tendency for things to fall through the cracks because so many Departments and agencies are responsible. I am concerned that the lack of over-arching responsibility will act against the proper implementation of such regulations and I am glad this Bill touches on the area by establishing a one-stop shop for noise complaints while empowering local authorities to do what needs to be done.

I welcome the provisions in section 11 of the Bill regarding intruder alarms. Far too often these alarms sound when there has been no intrusion onto or into someone's property and the din goes on for hours at a time because the property owner is not present. Indeed, it is not uncommon for such alarms to sound for days on end while residents are on holiday. The Bill states that external intruder alarms which remain activated after a 15 minute maximum will be considered unmonitored and may be removed on foot of a complaint to a noise control officer to cease the noise. That is eminently sensible.

As a party of rights and responsibilities, Fine Gael believes that being a good, thoughtful citizen is one of the most important duties of every individual and ensuring that neighbours are not subjected to endless noise is a part of that. It is easy to programme an intruder alarm to ensure it does not disturb one's neighbour for an undue length of time but often people do not think of doing this.

Section 11(6) states an alarm device fitted to a vehicle may be activated for a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 90 seconds. While this provision is welcome, if the Minister were to allow the Bill to progress to Committee Stage it would be possible to debate the 90 seconds time limit and the other provisions. I favour a 15 minute maximum limit similar to the provisions in the Bill relating to home intruder alarms. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's or the Government's views on having two different maximum time limits.

That can be debated on Committee Stage.

We must ensure that any legislation passed in this area does not become used by cranks. It is a truism that wherever there are neighbours, there will be disputes. New living and settlement patterns especially in apartment blocks mean that people live in closer proximity than ever before and this can lead to friction and disputes. As legislators we should do everything we can to ensure that unreasonable demands from a neighbour are not unfairly entertained by local authorities. Where there is a legitimate grievance, I agree that local authorities should be available to sort out the matter but not in cases where the complaint is driven by malice or spite, or bad neighbours.

Fine Gael is also a little concerned by the provisions in section 12 relating to barking dogs. While it is obviously not right to keep a hound in the back garden barking constantly, we must be careful to ensure that this Bill becomes more than an order to muzzle all dogs. Fine Gael would also seek to amend the Bill relating to the provisions that where the local authority receives two or more complaints regarding the same dwelling or premises within a two-week period from the issuing of the notice, a fine of €100 shall be imposed. It should be made more explicit in the legislation that the complaints would have to come from two separate households and not two complaints from the one person or household. The complaint should be independently verified by an independent witness.

On the issue of house and car alarms, I suggest we need to look beyond the issue of personal responsibility and instead concentrate on the type of products being put on the market. The Green Party will be more aware than most of the campaign in Europe to eliminate the standby function on electrical items such as televisions and video recorders. Leaving such machinery on standby is hugely wasteful and damaging to the environment. It is up to us to fully switch off appliances and not leave them on standby. It would be preferable if the standby function simply did not exist on such items. While Fine Gael favours this Bill, manufacturers of these house and car alarms need to be compelled to build into their design an automatic switch off function which means the noise ceases when they are sounded and ignored. This function should be installed on all alarms. I would be interested to hear the views of the Minister of State on this issue.

Fine Gael compliments the Green Party on proposing this Bill. While we cannot support every provision we will be supporting it in principle at this stage and look forward to a vigorous debate later as suggested by the Minister of State. It is to be regretted that the Minister of State did not allow this Bill to proceed to Committee Stage for debate.

That is exactly what I am doing. The Deputy has been long enough in the House to know the procedure.

Deputy McCormack has been long enough in the House to know that this has been side-tracked.

That is an open debate.

I congratulate the Green Party and Deputy Cuffe on bringing forward this Bill. Many people around the country will have more than a passing interest in its contents. A person's home is his or her castle. With all the activity and hustle and bustle of modern living, everybody to some degree experiences an encroachment on their private space, but the line has to be drawn on the degree of encroachment. Many people will be interested in ensuring that the neighbours from hell syndrome is stopped. There was nothing with which I disagreed in the Minister of State's speech except that when people look for help, they find it very difficult to get it.

I know of one dog in one rural area which nearly drove the townland mad for a year. There was a legion of people trying to nail him in one way or other, or to nail the owner, but between the dog and his owner, they won. This is the sort of situation which makes many people fed up to the teeth, especially when they cannot get a night's sleep. There seems to be no overall responsibility.

I come from a rural background——

With cattle roaring.

That is true. I refer to anti-social behaviour and louts who make noise at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. This has been discussed in this House in various guises down through the years but there are more louts on the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights than ever before. They are making more noise and they seem to be getting away with it. If the Green Party Bill can put a silencer on those fellows, I am in favour of it. It can be arranged and it is a matter of control.

I will be surprised if in the rural areas of the Minister of State's new constituency a dog does not take a bite out of his heel at some stage. It will be different canvassing in the city the next time——

The dogs will welcome me.

——with all the bonfires which his colleagues will have for him, he will feel hot on every side.

He will be lucky if his colleagues do not take a bite out of him.

On a more serious note, I can never understand the level of noise at a disco. I am far past the disco stage but I note the outrageous decibel level at weddings. This cannot be good for young people's eardrums. The Army deafness controversy would pale into insignificance compared to the damage being done to young people's ears. It seems nothing can be done about this. Planning regulations stipulate a control on the decibel levels, but in my experience of the few discos I have witnessed in recent years, the levels seem to be louder. It could be argued that my hearing is going down but I do not think so. There could be a significant health danger associated with these levels. I also note people using MP3 players as they cycle, dance and mess around. I understand that due to the volume of the earpieces they would not hear an airplane passing, never mind a car. These are all noise problems that need to be tackled. It could be argued that an individual should be allowed do what he or she likes.

Noises can be appropriate to their locations. What would be a real problem in one part of the country or in one set of circumstances, might not be so bad in another. Those of us living in rural areas often welcome people who come to live in our area. It is noted that such people can become very upset and hot under the collar if they hear cows lowing at night on the occasion when calves are being weaned and they are in for a chorus for two or three nights. I agree this is not pleasant, but try telling the calves to stop. If one is in a rural area, one must accept rural ways.

There is also the issue of control. A barking dog would appear to be a small matter to me, but it can be a serious matter to affected householders. As Deputy McCormack said, it is a pity that something like this would have to be brought to the District Court. The Minister of State described going to the District Court as a simple route. It is not all that simple because many people do not like going to court if they can help it. I would be surprised if there was not a simpler solution. Most sittings of the District Court are jammed with cases involving anti-social behaviour.

The encroachment of noise levels into the private life of the citizen has become a serious issue. Let us consider the question of noise levels on construction sites. In fairness to the current and previous Governments, efforts have been made to make such sites more pleasant and safe to work in, and that extends to noise levels. However, the earplugs workers might use are not sufficient to drown out construction site noise.

I do not know how soon this Bill will be discussed again. It is an important aspect of living. I hope the Government will take this issue seriously. Whatever we come up with, whether that is everything that Deputy Cuffe has suggested or parts thereof, tonight's business has not been in vain. I look forward to this issue returning to the House.

I congratulate the Green Party for introducing this Bill. The Minister of State mentioned the various sources from which noise emanates. At one stage of my career, I was chairman of a safety committee in a very noisy industrial installation. At that time, the decibel levels were far above what was permitted. Many of my colleagues suffered hearing damage. However, this was before the time that people took legal action against employers regarding such matters. We must recognise the work done by health and safety organisations in controlling noise levels and preventing hearing damage.

One instance that highlights this issue is the experience of the State in the Army deafness claims. This occurred at the same time as damage was being done in industrial and construction environments. At that time, noise levels were accepted as a matter of life and there was no understanding or recognition of the damage it could do to people's hearing. Some people were unable to hear conversations unless they were speaking on a one-to-one basis.

Some Members have mentioned anti-social behaviour. This issue has been raised with me regarding noise levels after weekend discos close in Newcastle West. There is a considerable level of noise in residential areas in the town. Gardaí find it difficult to control such behaviour when there is no apparent breaking of the law. A gang of young men can create a lot of noise and wake up residents, particularly elderly residents. The Bill will be more than welcome if it addresses this problem. This is a serious issue and while people tend to tolerate it, it is unfair on those who must endure it.

We have all come across the issue of dogs barking loudly. It is specifically mentioned in the Bill, and the Green Party has qualified this by stating that an independent witness would be required to activate the involvement of the noise control officer. A night-shift nurse living on a council estate told me that she cannot sleep because of the noise emanating from her neighbour's dogs. I asked permission to report this to Limerick County Council, but she asked me not to as she did not want to draw attention to it or upset the neighbours. An elderly couple nearby also raised the issue, but they too insisted that it should not be reported because of the upset and difficulty it may have caused. That is unfair on those people. I was in a dilemma over whether I should report this problem, but chose not to because I felt the finger would be pointed at the individuals in question.

Some method of taking positive action with the council or noise control officers would be useful. This does not only happen in local authority housing estates where some action can be taken, but it also happens in private housing estates where the council has no involvement.

The Minister of State also referred to noise caused by urban road and rail traffic. I do not know what can be done about such traffic. It would be difficult to reduce noise on our main thoroughfares. I presume the approach will involve limiting noise output from vehicles or reducing speed limits. However, it would be contradictory to reduce speed limits when we are building highways. When I was growing up I lived quite close to a railway and we found the whistle of passing trains to be quite attractive.

Debate adjourned.