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.