Other Questions

Septic Tank Regulation

Barry Cowen

Question:

6 Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has examined other jurisdictions who have also had to introduce a new system for inspecting and monitoring septic tanks but who managed to avoid the imposition of any charges on households; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24067/11]

Dara Calleary

Question:

8 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the cost involved in establishing a new system for the inspection and monitoring of the performance of all septic tanks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24062/11]

Sean Fleming

Question:

15 Deputy eán Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views that the charge for inspecting and monitoring septic tanks is discriminatory in that it targets rural dwellers only and that the very principle of taxation is that it must be fair and equitable; and if he will make a statement. [24071/11]

Mattie McGrath

Question:

28 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will clarify the position regarding septic tanks in view of the uncertainty following recent media reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23974/11]

Denis Naughten

Question:

38 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will outline his plans for the registration of septic tanks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23972/11]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

44 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if in advance of the new requirement, he announced recently, whereby local authorities are to provide an annual inspection of septic tanks, he consulted with the local authorities concerned; and if he is satisfied they have adequate resources to carry out this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23970/11]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

113 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which it is intended to regulate the operation of septic tanks with particular reference to inspection and-or regulation charges; the way such charges will apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24364/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 8, 15, 28, 38, 44 and 113 together.

I refer to the reply to Priority Questions Nos. 1 and 2 on today's Order Paper. On 29 October 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled against Ireland in relation to the treatment of waste waters from septic tanks and other on-site wastewater treatment systems. The court found that by failing to adopt the necessary legislation to comply with Articles 4 and 8 of the 1975 Waste Directive as regards domestic waste waters disposed of in the countryside through septic tanks and other individual wastewater treatment systems, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under that directive.

I have been in discussions with the Attorney General about this matter with a view to bringing forward legislation in the near future. The Department has examined in detail the regulatory systems in place in other jurisdictions, both in the EU and internationally. There is no single consistent approach to regulating the use of on-site treatment systems, although monitoring and inspection are common features in many of the countries reviewed. Notwithstanding the approach being taken in other countries, the legislation being drafted must ensure that we have compliance with the court ruling, which requires the establishment of a system of inspection.

The new legislation is being framed to minimise the impact on householders. Householders can be assured that if their systems are working properly and are being maintained they need not be concerned. Householders will be required to register details of their on-site systems on a national register. In response to a previous question, I indicated that it will be a risk-based approach rather than a universal system.

I do not accept that the proposed legislation will discriminate against rural dwellers. Where the new inspection system gives rise to any costs, including for additional individual householders, every effort will be made to keep those to a minimum. The key objective of the new legislation will be to enhance and protect public health and the environment which will, in turn, benefit rural dwellers in terms of a better quality of life and better quality water.

It is important also to appreciate the implications of failing to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling. In July 2011, the European Commission applied to the court to have fines imposed on Ireland. Such fines could involve a lump-sum penalty of €2.7 million and daily fines for continued non-compliance of more than €26,000 per day equivalent to more than €9.5 million per annum.

My Department has undertaken extensive consultations for purposes of the draft legislation, which is being prepared with the intention of minimising the resource implications for public authorities and for owners of on-site waste water treatment systems.

Will there be any exemptions from paying the registration fee, or any exemptions from having to register in the first instance? Many houses are served by bio-cycle treatment systems that already have an inspection, maintenance and management contract, which is dictated by planning permission conditions. Local authorities must have sight of the maintenance agreement signed with various contractors. For instance, compared to a house with a concrete septic tank that operates on such a system, a complex bio-cycle system is much more expensive to install and maintain and attracts an annual maintenance charge by an outside company. Will relief be available for those people using the bio-cycle system?

If the system works there will be no need to worry because no remediation will be required. Systems such as bio-cycle operations are working and are already in compliance with planning law. The planning officer or relevant local government official who will inspect the system will, I am sure, find that if those systems are doing what they are supposed to do when installed, there will be no difficulty and they will receive a clean bill of health.

It has come to my attention that one local authority has done a recent survey which showed that 77% of all tanks surveyed in this matter were compliant. I do not think it will be an onerous task for home owners to comply with the proposed regulations.

Will householders be required to keep a register or a log of maintenance work? In his reply to Deputy Niall Collins, the Minister said it is proposed to have a national register for septic tanks. I understand from what he said previously that local authorities would deal with the inspections and registration. I ask the Minister to clarify whether local authorities keep the register or whether it is a national register to be kept in the Custom House?

There will be a national and local register because it will be the same information that will be available to the local authorities and to the Department. Once the registration system is complete, after one year the local authorities will be charged with inspecting the tanks on the basis of a risk-based approach. The areas which pose the greatest risk to the ground water will be those around streams, rivers and lakes. These areas will be well-known to the local authorities and the EPA and they will be prioritised.

Regarding a maintenance agreement, the local authority will seek assurances that any required work will be verified as being completed and a maintenance agreement will need to be drawn up to ensure the system — just as in the case of the bio-cycle systems — is doing what it was intended to do. The guidelines will be published following the enactment of the legislation. I will outline the process when the Bill comes before the House in approximately four to six weeks.

I will first call the Deputies who have put down questions.

I have a few brief questions for the Minister. Is it not true that other than the registration, the Minister is announcing exactly what is already in force in each local authority area in the country and where problems are being identified? Will financial or grant aid be provided to those people who need to upgrade their septic tanks? With regard to research, the EPA is carrying out research on new septic tanks in cases where planning permission is being sought. This is an issue in my constituency in County Leitrim. Householders may be in control of only a quarter of an acre site and no research has been done on the situation where the septic tank is not functioning. Can research be carried out to come up with a solution to this? If a septic tank is operated properly and situated in proper ground conditions, it would not be necessary to carry out desludging of the tank. Will advice, support and research be provided to householders to encourage them to desist from using Domestos, for example, which kills the bacteria that make the septic tank work? We could then reduce the potential costs for householders.

I agree with Deputy Naughten's last point about giving advice and support to householders to minimise the impact on our ground water and to minimise potential environmental damage in the future caused by the use of certain products. This is in tune with my basic philosophy on local government that there should be a devolved function in so far as possible for many of our national policy objectives which are also being pursued by our agencies. These functions should be carried out at local level by local authority staff and this is my policy.

I confirm that the EPA is carrying out research to find necessary solutions in the instances referred to by the Deputy. I expect a report in the near future about potential solutions. I emphasise that every possible effort will be made to find solutions which will be reasonable for people and which will solve the problem of the over-riding concern, the protection of ground water. The matter of financial assistance does not arise until 2013 or 2014 because all we are doing next year is asking people to register.

I do not think anyone, especially those who own septic tanks, wants to poison the ground water because it is in their interests to ensure the ground water where they live is of good quality. I agree with the Minister on the devolving of power to the local authorities. The devolution of power also includes quantifying the resources of local authorities. Has the Minister consulted the local authorities? What additional resources will be required? I deal primarily with Kildare County Council. I know the council cannot carry out work that is within its remit because it does not have the resources. Will inspections continue until a satisfactory result is obtained in cases where septic tanks fail a test and require to be upgraded? What will be the regime and the obligation on local authorities?

The question of additional staff resources does not arise as there is capacity in the local government system. Unfortunately, compared to five years ago, as a result of the economic downturn there is a low level of activity in all planning and engineering sections of local authorities. I am sure the Deputy knows this is the case in County Kildare as well as elsewhere.

A lot of people were employed on temporary contracts. Does the Minister expect them to go out inspecting septic tanks?

Anyone who has no planning work to do or anyone wishing to carry out additional work where there is spare capacity will be asked to do other work such as this. This would be the prudent policy for any local authority management in order to ensure that staff are working to full capacity. The Department will consider carefully any additional staff resources requested by Kildare County Council. I do not think we have refused any requests for additional staff of a permanent nature who have been required to fulfil certain objectives, contrary to what the Deputy might have been told.

The Deputy also asked about the role of the local authority with regard to continuous inspection. When an inspection is carried out, certain remedial action will be requested and, as in the case of an NCT inspection for a car, it is up to the home owner to ensure the remedial action is carried out.

One can do without a car but not without a septic tank.

I will answer Deputy Flanagan in turn.

A follow-up inspection will ensure the remediation plan is carried out.

I am flabbergasted at the Minister's lack of knowledge about what is happening in local authorities and the idea he would say that some local authority staff have no work to do. Everybody knows the local authorities cannot even undertake the functions which have been assigned to them because of the public sector recruitment embargo.

The Deputy must ask a question.

I am sorry, Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

The Deputy has been carried away.

I am shocked that the Minister is so off the beam on this matter. Will the Minister lift the public sector recruitment embargo? The question has been asked and people are concerned about funding. Many septic tanks will be deemed to be defective and why would rural dwellers not be entitled to funding when billions of euro have been spent on upgrading the wastewater treatment plants? The Minister's response was that this is not an issue until 2014 but this is not good enough. Will there be financial assistance for the necessary upgrades that will follow the inspections?

I know Deputy Daly's response to these matters is to raise more taxes, in other words, to get more money in income tax from people and then we will be able to provide every possible service. We have put that view to the test with the electorate in February and the Deputy's party failed; two members of the Socialist Party were elected while 76 members of Fine Gael were elected. That particular philosophical argument has been already put to the test. I assert there is spare capacity in local government relative to other years. Deputy Daly would not be expected to know the situation in every local authority but I get reports on a regular basis from all local authorities. There is spare capacity but not in every local authority, just in some local authorities. I will find the necessary resources to ensure this inspection regime is carried out. It is a matter for the Minister for Finance when the issue will arise as to whether funds will be made available in the form of a home improvement grant to carry out these remediation works. We should first wait to see what the inspection throws up. The issue may not be as big as the Deputy purports.

Given that we have had a planning system since 1963, why is a registration fee required? Local authorities should be aware of the location of houses and septic tanks because all planning applications are registered with them. They should be able to inspect them without needing to charge for a new registration system.

In regard to the proposed national register of septic tanks, will it be available for sale to private companies who might want to encourage householders to spend money, just like the electoral register is available for sale to marketing companies?

There is no doubt that some septic tanks are not functioning properly but I had the pleasure of building a number of tanks.

I hope the Deputy did a good job.

That is why he is bankrupt.

We built them properly according to the regulations of the time. However, when we built our first tanks there was no requirement to test the soil. The reason why so many tanks are not working is because their method of operation does not suit every land type. While the regulations now require land to be tested, until a number of years ago this was not necessary. If the tank is not working properly because the local authority did not require that the ground be tested, the person who owns the house is innocent. It would be unfair to make the owner fix the problem given that he or she observed the regulations in the first place.

I concur with Deputy Wallace that a county council is liable if it passes a septic tank on the basis of the information submitted in a planning application. If it is subsequently found that the system does not work, the council is responsible. We will take that into account.

A survey carried out in the Deputy's county of Wexford revealed that 77% of those surveyed were in compliance. It is, therefore, not a big issue in County Wexford.

They must be the houses built by Deputy Wallace.

I hope Deputy Wallace was involved in constructing some of those tanks. I am pleased to be able to give him the good news that Wexford is not too bad in terms of how we intend to implement the programme.

Perhaps I am partly responsible for the high compliance rate.

Perhaps he is responsible for the remaining 23%.

I thank Deputy Wallace for the contribution he has made to good quality groundwater in County Wexford.

In regard to Deputy Pringle's question, I am sure he is aware from his experience of water services that plenty of septic tanks predate 1963. I am sure they are located in County Donegal as well as County Kilkenny. We want to know their locations because they could be damaging groundwater and the environment. We want to catch everyone in order to ensure a proper and full register.

The Deputy can access the register of electors but I do not foresee him being able to access the register of septic tanks. It will not be for sale.

Waste Management

Derek Keating

Question:

7 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the control that he has over the imposition of charges by private contractors who are replacing the local authority refuse collection service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24238/11]

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

10 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to introduce competitive tendering for the waste collection market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24089/11]

Derek Keating

Question:

39 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the fact that the private refuse contractor (details supplied) has imposed an administrative charge of €60 per household in Dublin, his views that this contravenes his policy of polluter pays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24237/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 10 and 39 together.

As the waste collection market is currently structured, the pricing schemes used by private waste collectors are a matter for determination between the service providers and consumers of the service, subject to a service provider's collection permit and other legal responsibilities being complied with. The Waste Management (Collection Permit) Regulations 2007 provide that a permitting authority must require a permit holder to apply charges for household waste collection which respect the polluter pays principle. Any consumer who is dissatisfied with the service currently provided to them may consider switching to an alternative service provider, although this may not always be a realistic option in certain areas.

As regards policy developments in this area, the programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, whereby service providers will bid to provide waste collection services in a given area for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service. A public consultation designed to inform the policy development process has recently concluded. The responses received are currently being examined and I intend to bring policy proposals to Government before the end of the year.

An objective of any such policy will be to help ensure that households and service providers are incentivised to behave in a sustainable fashion. Pricing structures more closely aligned with the polluter pays principle are one such method of driving improved environmental performance.

The Minister will be aware that I was a member of South Dublin County Council for 12 years. After many years of effort, we eventually implemented the polluter pays principle which, as the Minister's response demonstrates, is the only acceptable solution to waste management. I was horrified to learn recently that many of my constituents in Dublin Mid-West and throughout the south Dublin area have received notices from Greyhound, which succeeded South Dublin County Council in providing waste collection services, about its intention to impose an annual administrative fee. Not only does this outrageous development represent a retrograde step but it was given at such short notice that the many people who have lost jobs or suffered loss of income will be hard-pressed to pay the fee in addition to their regular collection charges. The fee is not environmentally friendly because it is against the polluter pays principle and I ask the Minister to send a clear message that it is not acceptable.

I share Deputy Keating's surprise and disappointment that an individual company used the fact that we are diverting waste from landfill to other parts of the waste hierarchy to take this course of action. I will examine the situation outlined by Deputy Keating in the context of the review of waste policy and reach a conclusion by the end of the year.

I ask the Minister to clarify his intentions on competitive tendering. Does he intend to issue competitive tenders for waste collectors to become sole operators within the relevant local authority administrative areas? If that is the case, he needs to ensure the customer's interest is protected in terms of competition and service levels.

A number of operators provide waste collection services in my own county of Limerick but none of them will travel to certain parts of the county. If a company is licensed to be the sole operator, there are implications for price and service levels, particularly in rural areas. The Minister ought to give further consideration to the matter.

Deputy Collins is correct in regard to the difficulties we may encounter in resolving this issue. The issues he outlined are arising elsewhere but I am aware of one provincial town which is served by 14 waste collection companies, five of which collect from the same estate. That is not sustainable nor is it in the interest of the companies concerned. I am considering the idea of franchised areas in which companies would compete to operate for a defined period, subject to certain quality provisions, or some alternative methodology.

Will the price be fixed?

Issues of competition arise and the report of the Competition Authority makes it clear that local authorities are getting out of the market because they cannot compete with private operators in terms of delivering quality services.

I have always been opposed to the privatisation of services in urban areas, even if we can argue until the cows come home about the country. Dublin City Council has indicated that it is giving consideration to privatising its service. That is already a stark reality at South Dublin County Council where a standard charge is being imposed and where there has been a move against all the principles in terms of the polluter pays, recycling and so on. Privatisation was sold in various locations on the basis that there would be adherence to those principles.

There are many people in receipt of waivers from the various local authorities who are struggling in difficult circumstances. I am not sure how much influence the Minister has in this matter but I urge him to put pressure on private companies to retain those waivers. We should not simply accept that such provisions cannot be accommodated in an open market; we must have standards to which we adhere, which accord with the principles that were presented to people.

The Ombudsman issued a report some time ago advocating the provision of waivers in regard to waste collection. I am sympathetic to that position and have asked that it be taken into account in the context of the waste policy review I am currently overseeing. There are people who can afford these services and others who cannot. However, I am also concerned to have a comprehensive service in place. Deputy Niall Collins observed that some rural areas have no service at all. We must have a competitive, comprehensive collection system which allows us to meet our EU obligations in terms of reducing landfill by providing alternative waste mechanisms. Nevertheless, I will take into account Deputy Ellis's views in the context of the waste policy review.

I am reminded of the old saying, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive". We have arrived at the current situation in regard to waste management as a result of decisions made by the previous Government and by members of the Minister's party in local authorities throughout the State. It was inevitable that we would end up with a situation where 14 different private companies are plying for business in the same area, or even the same street, a situation which is not in line with environmental policy regarding carbon taxes and so on.

In regard to the Poolbeg incinerator, does the Minister expect private companies to facilitate local authorities in administering the disposal of the waste at that facility or does he agree it is more likely they will take them to court again?

I had not heard that the Poolbeg facility is going ahead. Perhaps the Deputy has more information than I on this issue and is making an announcement here this evening. From my perspective, it is a matter for contract between a United States company and Dublin City Council. As a member of that local authority, Deputy Joan Collins will have been hearing reports about it on a regular basis. However, I have not heard whether this facility will proceed. When a decision is made on the matter, that will inform waste policy.

Will the Minister consider a system whereby private contractors would be encouraged to offer a waiver service? Many of them have been competing unfairly against the local authority system in recent years, putting councils at a disadvantage in the process and sometimes abusing competition law. In order to bring about a level playing pitch, would it be possible to take into consideration the provision of a waiver system when comparing tendering prices?

I already indicated to Deputy Ellis that I am sympathetic to this consideration and that, moreover, we are obliged to consider the Ombudsman's report on this matter which supports the provision of waivers, whether by public or private collectors. That report will inform Government policy in regard to the provision of waivers when we have completed our review of waste policy at the end of the year.

In regard to the waiver scheme, one of the problems is that it costs money in a situation where resources are extremely limited. I remain a fan of the polluter pays principle but there are limitations to it. It has been proven at this stage, as far as I can see, that if the polluter cannot pay, the polluter will, unfortunately, dump, and that costs a great deal to clean up. All one has to do is walk along the roads anywhere in the country when the grass is receding and the leaves falling from the trees to see the extent of dumping that is happening. People resort to desperate measures if they do not have the money to dispose of their waste legally. During my time as a member of Roscommon County Council, every one of the Fine Gael councillors made a call, every couple of months, for the Minister to introduce a waiver scheme. It was becoming very boring and repetitive. Ultimately, however, some type of scheme must be introduced, because it will cost more money in the long run not to do so.

As I said, I am sympathetic to the consideration of providing a waiver facility for private and public collections, depending on income. I agree that indiscriminate dumping and fly tipping is happening throughout the country. It is also a question of reviewing our litter legislation and facing up to the cultural change that is required. People must be made to understand that this type of behaviour is anti-social and damaging to the environment, to our economic recovery and to the tourism potential of all counties, including Roscommon. I am looking at bringing forward additional measures that will concentrate the minds of those who engage in this indiscriminate activity. I am also very sympathetic to the possibility of a waiver system in the context of national waste policy.

I am sure the Minister is aware that many people are concerned not only about the introduction of this charge but also that it is likely to represent merely the thin edge of the wedge. It will be no surprise if we are back here next year discussing an increase in the stand-alone charge.

That is a comment, not a question.

While I fully agree that some people are driven to dumping because they cannot afford waste charges, there are others who can well afford them but choose to dump instead. In County Laois, the waste collection service has been privatised for 24 years and there has never been a waiver scheme in place.

It was my understanding that the Deputy's party held the balance of power on the local authority.

I tried my best but there were 12 Fine Gael members and only one of me. There are many low-income households in Laois, particularly pensioners, who are struggling to pay waste charges. Will the Minister consider introducing a waiver scheme for a county like Laois where one has not been in place because the service was privatised many years ago?

I am sure there are pensioners and low-income families in every county. I am not in a position to ring-fence a national policy position for County Laois. I am sorry to disappoint the Deputy.

I am sure the Minister would do it for Kilkenny.

If it were apply to Laois, it would have to apply everywhere else.

Leader Programmes

Denis Naughten

Question:

9 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the progress made to date on addressing the issue of funding food projects under the Leader programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23973/11]

The Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 is divided into four axes. Axis 1 deals with the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and axis 2 aims to improve the countryside and environment. The objectives of axis 3 are to support the diversification of the rural economy and improve the quality of life in rural areas. Axis 4 provides support for the use of a "bottom-up" approach to development which ensures local people are involved in decision making, thereby facilitating sustainable development in a more inclusive way. In Ireland the Leader approach is used to implement axis 3 measures.

A significant number of projects funded under the previous Leader+ programme, 2000-06, and under the diversification and business-creation measures of the current rural development programme, RDP, involve support for enterprise initiatives that add value to agrifood products. Basic agricultural products are listed in annexe 1 to the EC Treaty and are commonly called annexe 1 products. Under the main rural development regulation, support for adding value to annexe 1 products is facilitated under axis 1 of the programme. Early this year, Ireland was notified by the European Commission that support for adding value to agrifood products is only allowable under axis 1 and not under axis 3 of the RDP. As a result, grant aid under axis 3 of the RDP for this type of activity remains suspended.

Food and food-related businesses are a significant driver of enterprise activity in rural areas. These businesses require continued support as we look to ways to generate employment in rural Ireland. I and my Department continue to work with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in pursuing a solution that meets the regulatory requirements. We are also maintaining ongoing contacts with the European Commission on the matter. While it is my objective to find an appropriate solution in the context of our overall budgetary situation, it is important to recognise that, overall, €62 million is available this year for the Leader elements of the RDP.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is access rather than Axis that we should be talking about here today. Is it not the case that there are many food businesses that are looking to expand or start up? Some ten food businesses in my county are waiting for funding under the Leader programme. Would the Minister agree that the Leader programme has been extremely successful in the past in creating indigenous jobs in the food sector? The Minister's colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, stated in the House last May that she believed progress would be made in this area in the immediate future. We are now a number of months down the road and that progress has not been made, which is costing jobs. From a retail perspective, this industry is worth €475 million to the Irish economy. Surely, we must find some type of a mechanism to release those funds.

I agree with Deputy Naughten that this is a serious issue. That is the reason I continue to try to resolve it. What is needed is more flexibility in regard to how moneys can be drawn down through the various programmes. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods, as the lead Department, also has a role to play in providing funds through the rural development programme. I will be taking the opportunity when in Brussels in the near future to see what can be done to progress matters. A better draw down of funds from the European side would also help. I await the outcome of the negotiations. I am conscious of the fact that many food businesses in rural areas cannot start up until such time as these funds are released.

I have two brief supplementary questions for the Minister. Will the Minister, when he goes to Brussels, make the case to the Commission that at a time when the troika is trying to stimulate our economy and create jobs we are being hampered in the creation of jobs in some of the most disadvantaged rural communities in the country because of a difficulty in regard to the interpretation of the rules coming from Brussels? It makes sense in light of the error that is being made to try to address this.

One of the most successful tents at the ploughing championships during the past number of years has been the Leader tent. Droves of people have visited that tent to view and sample the produce of local food companies. Does the Minister believe it is crazy that next week, there will sadly be no food companies in the Leader tent because of the bureaucracy attached to this? Surely it makes sense to try to release these funds and to get these businesses up and running and to promote and support them.

There is no bureaucracy tied up in it rather, it is a question of money. The European Commission decided to suspend the axis 1 programme.

The money is in place.

No, it is not. If the money was in place there would be no difficulty. The money is not in the programme to which the European Commission allocated the money, as the Deputy knows. If it was in place, we would not be having this conversation. I will be visiting the Leader tent at the ploughing championships. I have been lobbied on this issue by the Deputy and other Members and by Leader people around the country. I am setting out an honest appraisal of where we are at. I am telling the Deputy exactly what I, with my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, are trying to do to achieve an outcome. We will try to make some progress during the next few weeks. I am disappointed we have not made further progress to date.

Waste Management

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

11 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason he decided not to proceed with the introduction of a waste facility levy as part of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; if he now supports incineration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24080/11]

The legislative provisions in relation to the waste facility levy were deleted from the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 during its passage through the Oireachtas in order to avoid a situation of non-compliance with the EU waste framework directive which I transposed by regulations at the end of March 2011.

If the levy, as proposed in the previous Government's Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011, had been proceeded with, the same levy system as applies to a disposal activity such as landfill would have applied to waste to energy plants which achieve recovery status. This would be contrary to the waste hierarchy as set out in Article 4 of the waste framework directive and would be inconsistent with the need to make significant further early progress to reduce the almost two-thirds of municipal waste still going to landfill in Ireland and to meet the challenging requirements of the EU landfill directive.

While the issue of appropriate waste infrastructure is in the first instance a matter for determination by local authorities through their regional waste management plans, it is necessary that the appropriate range of infrastructure is available to treat the waste we generate. That process of infrastructural diversification must be guided, not by a fixation in favour of or against any particular process or technology but by adherence to the internationally recognised and respected waste hierarchy. This will be reflected in the new national waste policy which I intend to complete by the end of the year.

How seriously has mechanical biological treatment technology been considered given it is another form of waste to energy? If landfill is the problem, one must also take into account the fact that following the incineration process one must also landfill, including landfill of toxic waste which costs a great deal of money to monitor. I know that a process is underway but has the Minister or Government given serious consideration to this technology?

I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who want to show me the new technologies available in regard to conversion from waste to energy. This is an exciting time for the marketplace in terms of the opportunities and technologies, including that mentioned by the Deputy. I have no favoured outcome. I want to see us diverting from landfill into whatever process will work, be it MBT, gasification or pyrolysis, as well as enhancing our recycling in certain categories of waste. I am re-examining the packaging levy with a view to reducing the amount of packaging we have, which should in the first instance be recycled. The newspaper industry has a greater role to play in terms of the amount of material included with one's newspaper at the weekend. That industry should take responsibility for ensuring we do not have those volumes of materials which ultimately end up in landfill.

I am very open on these issues. I have no difficulty in coming to conclusions on matters, which will be adhering to the waste hierarchy and diverting away from landfill in order to ensure we have a proper national waste policy and do not have to pay fines to the European Commission.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

The Dáil adjourned at 6 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 September 2011.