Topical Issue Debate

Citizens Assembly

I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter.

With respect to Government-sponsored forums, there is a clear and important need for the highest measures of impartiality and independence to be observed if we wish to avoid the charge that such forums are merely proxy vehicles designed to implement Government policies. I have a particular concern about what is perhaps the most important Government-sponsored forum that is currently deliberating, namely the so-called Citizens Assembly.

There are mounting concerns about the composition of the expert panel and the robustness of the selection methodology that was employed by the Red C polling company. The published details on the membership of the Citizens Assembly reveal that no fewer than 11 counties in the State do not have a single representative in the deliberations of the assembly. Citizens from counties Tipperary, Leitrim, Cavan, Louth, Sligo, Longford, Offaly, Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford and Kerry are entirely absent, which cannot be accepted. In light of this information, the pretence that the assembly is a remotely democratic process cannot be maintained. It is being asked to deliberate on and recommend profound changes to the Constitution of the nation that will affect all of us, born and unborn, for generations to come. Yet, counties with a combined population of at least 970,000 people have not one representative.

From the outset serious questions have been raised about the integrity of this absurd process which has been established as a parallel legislative body to the Oireachtas. This is deeply concerning in its own right, and I have made my views known about this several times. There is an imperative to question the validity of the entire process and the robustness of the polling methodology that was employed to select members by Red C. Why, for instance, despite Red C specifically reminding people who were polled that active campaigners on either side of the issues were to be excluded, was at least one high-profile social media campaigner for repeal selected? The person has now been removed.

I have total faith in Ms Justice Laffoy. Unfortunately, of the five people chosen as expert advisers, two have previously stated positions that raise serious questions about their suitability. They were appointed by the Government - the Minister might tell me by whom. In 2000 Dr. Declan Keane, when he was master of Holles Street, gave evidence before an Oireachtas all-party committee on the Constitution. In the course of his testimony he expressed dissatisfaction that abortions for fatal abnormalities could not be performed in Irish hospitals. Since the question of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for abortions for so-called fatal fetal abnormalities is one of the key issues on which the assembly will be called to give its opinion, it is surely inappropriate that one of the supposedly impartial experts should be someone with a clearly stated position on one side of this controversial question.

Even more problematic than Dr. Keane, however, is the presence of Professor Deirdre Madden from University College Cork. She has a long record on a range of issues related to human life and dignity. Professor Madden joined the commission on human reproduction set up by the former Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin. The commission issued its controversial report in 2005 and recommended that destructive research on human embryos should be permitted. Prominent among Professor Madden's activities and particularly relevant is her membership of the expert group established by the Department of Health to study the options available to comply with rulings of the European Court of human rights on the cases of A, B and C v. Ireland. Not one of the options endorsed by this group excluded abortion.

Some 900,000 people have been excluded from the process. We now find that the expert group is not fit for purpose. I have great faith in Ms Justice Laffoy being able to deal with the assembly. She will rely heavily on so-called eminent people to advise her. If they have this record, how did they get through the ropes? How are they allowed in? Serious questions need to be answered by the Government.

I remind Members that we cannot allow charges to be made in the House against people who are not here.

I thank Deputy McGrath for raising this matter.

The text that will be circulated to him deals with the general issue of consultation on Government-sponsored forums. The Deputy raised a specific matter, namely the Citizens' Assembly and its role in the consideration of matters such as the status of the Eighth amendment of the Constitution. As opposed to giving the Deputy a text that does not address his question, I will do my best to answer his points. I, on behalf of the Government, will then come back to him imminently with an answer to the issues he has raised.

Deputy McGrath recognised the impartiality and expertise of the chairperson of the assembly, Ms Justice Laffoy. He was at pains to recognise her ability and impartiality to do good work on behalf of the State.

The Deputy raised two issues. The first is his concern about the expert advisers that are open to the body and the second is the selection criteria that led to the appointment of the assembly. On the latter, it is my understanding that the Department of the Taoiseach, which oversees the body, used selection criteria that came up with a group of people who are representative of the country overall. The reason that may have led to some counties being excluded is that, as I understand it, the role of members of the assembly is not to represent the views of their communities or counties. Rather, it is to represent their own views. The selection criteria, as I understand it, used by Red C tried to come up with a group of people whose body of opinion would reflect where Ireland is at the moment rather than a group of people who represented the geographical distribution of population across our country.

However, I will double-check the point and revert to the Deputy with an answer from the Department of the Taoiseach on the matter.

On the composition of the group of expert advisers available to the assembly, a difficulty that Ms Justice Laffoy and the organisers of the assembly may well face is that the number of people in the country who have expertise in the area is, I imagine, limited. If these people have built up expertise in the area, at some point in their professional careers they will either have been involved in the issue or had an opinion on it. Given the scale of the country, it would be difficult to establish a group of advisers who have been involved in what is a very important matter but have never expressed an opinion on it. However, I am confident that those who are being employed by the State to advise the assembly will be able to give impartial views on the matter.

Ultimately this is an assembly which will in no way challenge the democratic workings of this House. The assembly will produce a report that will be brought before the Oireachtas to be considered by it and which may then lead to a vote by the people. Even if the Deputy's worst fears were to materialise, although I do not believe that they will, this is only one part of an entire process which, at each stage, will involve either the Oireachtas or the direct expression of the views of the people.

I accept the Minister will revert to me on the specific issues, but I am disappointed with his reply. He stated that the Department of the Taoiseach set up this group of advisers. Last week I asked the Taoiseach if he was satisfied with this five-member group and he said he was. I have read into the record pertinent reasons demonstrating how two of them are totally unsuitable for the role.

The Minister stated that the assembly would represent where Ireland is at at the moment. I do not wish to be in any way disrespectful to the Minister, who is a Dublin-based Deputy, but, sadly, he is mistaken if he thinks disallowing 11 counties from having any representative is a fair representation of Ireland. To me, that is downright insulting. It is pedantic and silly of the Minister to say it. How could he? What about the good people of Tipperary, Kerry, the mid west and the south? These people vote and are actively involved in the political system. Do we want to turn off the tap on them? We cannot do that. I put it to the Minister that the Taoiseach has not answered the question. I have the greatest respect for Ms Justice Laffoy, who has a hard job to do, as well as those who have been selected for the assembly. However, we cannot have a flawed selection process that left 11 counties with no representation, including my county of Tipperary.

The Minister said that there are not many people in Ireland with the relevant experience and influence. How well the two of several who had experience were picked. Prominent and particularly relevant among Professor Madden's activity is-----

-----her membership of the expert group set up by the Department of Health to study options available to comply with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C case. How lucky it was her.

Will the Deputy listen to the Chair?

I will, of course.

Do not refer to people who are not in the Chamber.

I accept that, but they are on the-----

Please, I am only asking the Deputy to be careful. He has only a few seconds left.

I accept that, but the Acting Chairman took up some of my time so he might allow me get it back.

Very little of it.

How come these two people with their track records could be chosen? Let us be fair. The wool is not being pulled over anyone's eyes. This five-member group cannot go ahead in this construct nor can an assembly that disallows 11 counties. I will be fair and objective with anyone and let people represent the country, but it is not possible when 11 counties are left out. There are also question marks-----

-----over the RED C polling company and how it carried this out. Did it contact enough people? Did it contact people in Tipperary and those other counties?

I did my best to respond to the specific matters raised by Deputy McGrath, because I felt he was due an answer on the issues he raised about the assembly. As I stated, I will now ensure that the Deputy receives a response on the specific issue raised, as opposed to the general matter of the criteria for consultation on Government-sponsored fora, which was the subject matter of this Topical Issue. There needs to be a presumption of good faith on the part of both sides of the debate.

Have fair ground rules so.

With respect, I do not think it is fair to say that because the Deputy has a concern about the process it is automatically, to use the Deputy's phrase, "a flawed one".

My understanding is that this process was to select a group of people that would be representative of our country overall. The Deputy has raised the fair point on the exclusion of particular counties from the panel.

Yes; I heard the Deputy. I will raise the matter with the Department overseeing the process and will ask it to respond directly to the Deputy on the point. As I stated earlier, I believe this process can work. The reason for a process such as this one is that we have seen how it worked on other matters.

It is a bad combination. The Government cannot do that.

The Deputy comes into this House seeking a debate on the matter and I am delighted to answer his questions, but every time I give an answer that Deputy McGrath is not happy with-----

The Minister has not answered my question.

-----he challenges it.

Cá bhfuil an freagra?

I wanted to respond to the Deputy on the matters he has raised in a reasonable way and I have done so. I will also-----

The Minister has given a commitment to revert to the Deputy.

I will ensure the Deputy receives an answer in respect of those matters on which I cannot give an answer now.

Special Educational Needs

I thank the Minister for Education and Skills for attending personally to take this Topical Issue.

I was very disturbed to read in the media recently an amount of commentary that was largely headed "Diagnosis for Dollars". It referred to a practice in the United States of various diagnostics professionals being used to identify disorders or disabilities in children so that, consequently, the children would be labelled as having limited capacity. Equally, my heart went out to the parents of children with a range of behavioural disorders. These parents often have a difficult time in dealing with a child who may need care and attention that is more than the norm for other children of the same age. In this discussion, we should be careful not to add to the hurt of parents and those working in schools where particular children may be identified as being in need of additional help at various times in their school lives. The chief executive officer of the National Council for Special Education was reported as having commented that parents with more resources could seek a private diagnosis and thereby get access to resources over and above what they might otherwise be entitled to.

The disorders that are being cited are largely behavioural or neuro-behavioural disorders. The reality is that medical science is only gradually broadening our knowledge and understanding of these disorders, how they affect the life of the child and the family, how parents can help the child and how it may impact on the child's education, particularly in the early years.

Early identification and mechanisms to assist the child may result in significantly better outcomes for him or her. Members may have heard a recent BBC Radio 4 broadcast by the well known British performer, comedian and impersonator, Rory Bremner, in which he discussed the extent to which the ADHD was misunderstood. If left undiagnosed, it can have very serious negative consequences for individuals. However, the use of modern therapies and the provision of structures to assist the child, whether at school or at home, can lead to very positive outcomes.

I ask the Minister to outline his proposals to respond to the review of special educational needs in order that the special educational needs of all children will be dealt with in the best way possible.

I thank the Deputy for the considered way in which she raised this complex issue. We must deal sensitively with the genuine worries of parents about how their children's needs will be catered for in the education system.

My Department employs approximately 12,500 resource and learning support teachers who are allocated annually to mainstream schools. This is a significant investment, one which increased throughout the difficult period we endured, which is as it should be. Approximately 7,500 of these teachers are allocated annually by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, in response to applications from schools in respect of children with diagnosed conditions, including emotional behaviour disturbance and severe emotional behaviour disturbance. The remaining posts are allocated using the general allocation model.

The Deputy raises the concern that the current model is no longer fit for purpose because it is over-reliant on diagnosis. This was the view adopted by one of my predecessors in the Department, the former Minister, Ruairí Quinn, who requested that the NCSE review the model. The review which has been published found a number of defects in the current model, including the danger that diagnosis is occurring simply for resource allocation purposes. The Deputy alluded to this danger. Other defects identified include the long delay in some cases in accessing diagnostic assessments and differences in accessing resources, which mean that people who have much money can access assessments.

For these reasons, the NCSE recommended changes in the current model. We have acted on this advice and taken steps to address the concerns raised about the current model by developing a new model for allocating teaching supports. Once implemented, this model will remove the need for a diagnosis of disability to ground the allocation of resources and will focus primarily on the educational needs of the relevant cohort of children.

As the Deputy will be aware, we have piloted the new model in 47 schools. In the budget funding was provided to roll out the model nationwide, starting in September 2017. I am optimistic that this change will provide assurance for parents who have been unable to access the diagnostic route that their child will be identified early and have his or her educational needs assessed and that the assignment of resources to schools will be based on educational needs. The allocation will be provided across the school and reflect a more holistic approach to the needs of children. This will mean that children will not have labels attached to them that may not be necessary and are certainly not perfectly connected to the educational needs we are trying to address.

The Minister has provided a little clarification. When I was first elected to the Dáil at the end of 1992, I was invited to visit a centre in my constituency which had many children with different levels of intellectual disability who ranged in age from young primary school children to children aged approximately 14 years. In those days many children with intellectual disabilities were grouped together and, as the Minister may recall, experts vigorously disagreed on whether, apart from full-blown cases of the condition, autism was a real diagnosis.

The Minister must be exceptionally careful when it comes to behavioural disorders. All children go through phases of development, strength, growth and difficulty. Where parents experience consistent difficulties with a child, despite their best efforts and good advice from family and friends, it is understandable they may seek a degree of expert advice on how best to influence their child's development and growth in a positive way. We should not lose sight of this.

Dealing with these conditions in school is also a developmental issue. I outlined an experience I had had in 1992, when there was little opportunity to get a proper diagnosis for children on the autism spectrum. The position has obviously changed.

The Deputy must be brief. She is way over time.

As Minister for Social Protection in the previous Government, I had a close connection with this issue in that many parents applied for the domiciliary care allowance. The test in dealing with such applications was to ascertain the level of care and attention their child required over and above the normal level of good quality care and attention required. I strongly recommend that the Department of Education and Skills keep this in mind when implementing the changes to which the Minister referred.

I assure the Deputy that there will be no sense in which the value of expert assistance or referrals will be downgraded. These factors will continue to be valued in the assessment. However, we will remove the requirement to have a diagnosis carried out to identify that a child has an educational need and in calculating what that need will be. We will ensure each child is supported. The current system which dates from 1993 takes a rigid input and output approach, with a diagnosis on one side and resources on the other. It does not focus specifically on educational needs and takes a very limited approach. The new model will focus much more on educational need and how schools can best cope with it. Parents will not be advised against obtaining referrals and referrals will be examined. However, they will not be the primary or only basis on which to deal with a child with a special need. While we will remove the requirement to have an assessment made, this should not prevent parents, the National Educational Psychological Service or another entity from taking the view that an assessment would help in an individual case.

Industrial Disputes

I sought to raise this issue with the Minister a number of weeks ago. However, such is the nature of the Topical Issues debate that it has taken some time for it to come up for discussion in the House. I did not remove the matter from the agenda because, having corresponded with the Minister and the Department and spoken to those who raised it with me, I noted a level of dissatisfaction with the manner in which the individuals in question were being treated. One could argue that if they wanted to have a collective voice, they should join a trade union. However, some of them made a conscientious decision not to join a trade union and were happy not to be union members.

Their concern is the manner in which they are treated by the Department.

While I am not going to identify a particular school, I want to look at one particular person. The manner in which he has related his story to me clearly outlines the nature of the issue. He is a teacher in a designated community college under the auspices of the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board. The board is his employer and, in accordance with the Education and Training Boards Act 2013, comes under the auspices of the Department. The school in which the gentleman in question works was founded in 1984 by a then VEC as a designated community college on a greenfield site. Since its inception, teachers at the school who have sought to join a trade union have been represented only by the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI. In the school's history there has never been a teacher who has been represented by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI. This, apparently, is quite common in designated community colleges, even though the ASTI has negotiating rights in such colleges. In non-designated community colleges, only the TUI has negotiating rights.

The TUI has agreed to accept the Lansdowne Road public service agreement, but the ASTI has chosen to reject it. As a result, according to the Department, teachers who are members of the ASTI are subject to the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. However, in order to apply FEMPI legislation penalties to ASTI members, the Department must be able to distinguish between them and other teachers. Even though it has the information on which teachers are members of the ASTI for payroll purposes to enable union dues to be deducted at source, under data protection legislation, it cannot use this information to identify members of the ASTI for the purpose of applying the FEMPI legislation. Accordingly, it has taken another route. It has decided to ask teachers who are members of the TUI to identify themselves to it or the education and training boards, whichever is relevant to the type of school involved, in order that the benefits of the Lansdowne Road agreement can be applied to them because the TUI has accepted the agreement. Accordingly, any teacher who does not indicate he or she is a member of the TUI will be, according to the Department, treated as not subscribing to the terms and conditions of the Lansdowne Road agreement and will, therefore, face the penalties of the FEMPI legislation. However, currently there are teachers in designated community colleges who are not and never have been members of any trade union. By the measure being taken by the Department, teachers who are not members of a trade union and, therefore, cannot indicate that they are members of the TUI will now face penalties under the FEMPI legislation. In other words, teachers in designated community colleges who conscientiously and continuously chose not to join a trade union will be subject to financial penalties as a result. That is the crux of the problem.

In the particular school every teacher is a member of the TUI, bar a handful who are non-union members who are not being afforded the opportunity because of the manner set out by the Department in Circular 0045/2016 which the Minister has indicated to me in correspondence. No matter how I look at this, there is an inequity and unfairness. Those who have chosen not to join any union are prepared to carry out all duties expected of them, but they do not have an opportunity to express this view to the Department.

I understand the Deputy's frustration. However, one must go back to how collective agreements are put together. It is the norm in industrial relations practice in the public service that the decision of the trade union recognised as holding representative rights for a particular grade or sector will determine the position for all relevant staff in that grade or sector. This context does not allow for acceptance or rejection of collective agreements by staff on an individual basis. There are sound reasons for this approach. The Lansdowne Road agreement is a collective agreement between the Government and the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and applies to members of affiliate unions. Allowing for acceptance or rejection of collective agreements by staff on an individual basis would not be consistent with the collective approach taken to public service pay agreements to date. In addition, it could also give rise to issues in the negotiation of change and industrial relations agreements on an individual basis with every public servant. It would also give rise to the converse question of whether individual union members would be allowed to opt out of agreements reached by their union.

To explain this in layman's terms, essentially the way the system works is that schools are defined in different sectors. In the schools described by the Deputy there are mixed schools in which both the ASTI and the TUI have negotiating rights. The FEMPI legislation provides that the benefits of a collective agreement will apply to those who have signed up to it. In this instance, the ASTI took action to take itself outside the agreement by not working to the 33-hour measure. The FEMPI legislation provides that the TUI members who are party to a collective agreement will receive the benefits of it. Those in sectors in which there are joint negotiating rights do not receive such benefits.

In the instance described by the Deputy the ASTI does not have a member in the school. If it did, using the Deputy's logic, we would be changing the rule because of the ASTI suddenly having a member and would have to apply different rules. Another way of looking at it is that if one is in a dispute and rewards are going to people who are not party to it, one could be accused of encouraging people to leave unions to gain the benefits of agreements negotiated by others to which they were not party. There is a long-standing approach to this issue. As it is an element of industrial relations, this approach is part of the way in which one has to deal fairly with those who enter in good faith into collective agreements to negotiate on behalf of their members.

That is the best explanation I can offer. It makes absolute sense in managing industrial relations in a stable environment to work in this way.

The Minister has not given me a definitive position on how those teachers who are non-union members can go about exercising their rights. There is clearly a pathway for those in the TUI to identify themselves to the Department. The problem is that there is dual recognition of unions in the particular school. The assumption, therefore, is that non-union members are receiving the ASTI treatment in the sense that there is no procedure for them which is facilitated by the circular. That is the crux of the problem. Those teachers who are non-union members have worked the 33 hours and are doing everything their TUI colleagues are doing. The reason I chose this specific school is there are no ASTI members in it. Every teacher in the school is a member of the TUI, apart from a handful of individuals. They are not in dispute, but they have no method by which to advance their case. The Department's circular does not facilitate them in making a claim. They are prepared to do the work, but they are being discriminated against because of the default position taken in the circular. That is the crux of the problem. How will they represent themselves to the Department? How will they gain from the benefits TUI members have received, given that they are doing exactly the same work? I cannot see equality in the system. I acknowledge that from an industrial relations point of view, it is complex. However, I have not seen a clear opportunity for these individuals to advance their individual cases.

People join trade unions to negotiate collective agreements. In this instance, a union, the TUI, entered into negotiations with the Government and reached an agreement. As a result, benefits have followed. Another union chose not to enter into such negotiations and withdrew from various commitments. It does not have the benefit of the collective agreements. Those who have not made a decision to be party to collective agreements-----

They have not made the decision not to be either.

There is freedom of association and people have a perfect right not to join a trade union. If the TUI negotiates a deal for its members, it is a collective agreement with that union. In this instance, we would be quite happy to negotiate what we have agreed with the TUI with others, but we are in circumstances in which we have not reached such an agreement and I hope we can reach agreement. Those who have not been party to the negotiations organised by the TUI which resulted in benefits do not have access to those benefits. The only way we can do this is on a sectoral basis. If those concerned were in a union in which the TUI had exclusive negotiating rights, it would not arise, but they are in the sector in which there are two trade unions that have negotiating rights recognised. We can confer benefits only on those who have entered into the collective agreements. If we were to do otherwise and try to foster non-membership, we could be accused of trying to break unions. That would be hostile to the collective approach the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and others have articulated as the one we want to use to resolve issues. Not using it would undermine the value of an agreement such as the Lansdowne Road agreement, whereby people would have a more à la carte view of it. That is the reasoning. I can understand the Deputy's frustration because it took me a long time to gain an understanding of why circumstances are as they are. I can understand why and have to admit, having gained that understanding, that I cannot offer to change it. It is integral to the way in which we negotiate collectively with public service unions.

Waste Management

Last Friday evening an email was circulated by the chief executive officer of Wicklow County Council to county councillors and the five Deputies for County Wicklow informing them of a decision that had already been made and signed off on. It will mean that the waste intake at the Ballynagran landfill site in County Wicklow will be increased to 190,000 tonnes. That represents an additional 40,000 tonnes above the maximum allowed under the planning conditions set out in the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, waste licence. The EPA has agreed to this change and I am sure the Minister signed off on it also. The EPA has granted technical amendments to the licence for the Ballynagran landfill site. This has come about because the landfill site at Drehid, County Kildare has exceeded its annual EPA licence capacity. Clearly, this emergency was seen coming, but there was a failure to put in place any plan to deal with it. County Wicklow will now become the dumping ground of the State because of this failure. Was the Minister aware of the emergency arising in County Kildare? If so, when exactly was he made aware of it? Who contacted him and when was he first contacted?

We know that the Ballynagran landfill site is already rated by the EPA as the worst dump in the State. Is the Minister aware of this fact? In 2013 the EPA received over 140 official complaints about the Ballynagran landfill site, the highest number of complaints associated with any landfill site in the State at that stage. In total, there were 500. This year a substantial number of official complaints have been lodged with the EPA. A community liaison committee was established under a planning condition such was the concern and opposition to the dump when it was first planned a number of years ago. That committee was not consulted during the decision-making process. In fact, there was no consultation whatsoever with the community or elected representatives. This decision has been railroaded through with no consultation whatsoever. Is the Minister aware of the ongoing concerns surrounding the Ballynagran landfill site and the additional intake of 40,000 tonnes?

I drove to the site yesterday evening and noted in driving by that the smell was totally unbearable. At this time of the year, winter, one can imagine what it is like for locals living there 365 days a year. Is the Minister aware that a family have been forced out of their own home because of the odours? They were forced out of their home last December and have been unable to return to it for nearly a full year. Is the Minister aware of the potential legal cases and the legal cases that have been filed against the Ballynagran landfill site? Owing to the sheer lack of planning and absolute incompetence, emergency legislation was rammed through over the heads of the community, in the process ignoring their legitimate concerns. That was totally wrong and avoidable.

In its correspondence Wicklow County Council seems to be reliant on the view that the Poolbeg site will potentially open at some point next year. However, this gives little or no comfort to the locals living in the vicinity of the Ballynagran landfill site. These are serious questions and I urge the Minister to answer them for the people of County Wicklow, particularly those who must live in Ballynagran daily, even without the additional 40,000 tonnes of waste that will be taken into the landfill site.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue with me.

Waste management planning is the responsibility of local authorities under Part II of the Waste Management Act 1996. I am precluded under section 60(3) of that Act from the exercise of any power or control in the performance by a local authority in particular circumstances of a statutory function vested in it under the Act. To answer the Deputy's question, I did not sign off on anything.

The big issue is that of waste capacity nationally. Waste capacity developments, including any potential pinch point and the coming on stream of additional capacity, are kept under constant review by the three regional waste management planning offices in consultation with the industry, waste regulatory bodies and my Department. On 11 November 2016 the three waste management planning offices circulated a communication to all local authorities advising of a serious and urgent problem with regard to waste operators' lack of access to outlets for the disposal of residual and related waste in the period up to 31 December 2016. The shortfall in the availability of municipal residual waste disposal and treatment capacity is due to a number of issues, including the recent closure to all third parties of the largest landfill site in the country, at Drehid, County Kildare. The shortfall in capacity at the end of this year can be attributed to a very significant reduction in the amount of waste exported in 2016 compared to previous years. In the course of the last week there have been extensive discussions between the various regulatory authorities in seeking solutions to address the difficulties. Such discussions have included the Environmental Protection Agency, the County and City Management Association, the regional waste management planning offices and the local authorities.

To prevent or limit potential environmental pollution, Meath and Wicklow County councils have activated the available landfill site capacity at Knockharley and Ballynagran under section 56 of the Waste Management Act 1996. Dublin City Council, as lead authority for the eastern and midlands regional waste management planning office, has also invoked this legislative provision which gives a local authority broad powers to take measures in order to prevent or limit environmental pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency, on foot of applications received, granted technical amendments to the licences for both facilities which provide for the additional intake of waste between now and year end. These actions were necessitated by a serious and urgent scenario that was unfolding. It was, however, a temporary measure, as other waste facilities will become available at the start of January and later in 2017.

My primary concern was to avoid circumstances where waste went uncollected, given the associated public health and environmental risks. Throughout this process I have been kept fully apprised of the discussions and decisions of the relevant regulatory authorities.

I thank the Minister for reading that, but it did not answer even one of my questions. There are legitimate concerns. I outlined the number of official complaints made to the EPA. The Minister stated he did not sign off on this, but I asked him whether he was aware of the pending emergency. Will he consider the matter? The volume of concerns facing the people of County Wicklow is significant. Will the Minister intervene? A family have been forced out of their home and unable to return for more than a year. There are pending legal cases because of the difficulties at Ballynagran. There was a fire at the site in 2015. In correspondence, the CEO stated it was understood that the Drehid landfill site would be in a position to resume accepting waste from 1 January. However, there is no guarantee that the landfill site will be available come 1 January. Some 190,000 tonnes of waste are going into the landfill site.

There are major concerns. I asked the Minister a specific question, namely, whether he had been made aware of the pending emergency. Will he intervene? It is not good enough that County Wicklow is expected to deal with an emergency that has been flagged for months. This e-mail was sent out at 4.30 p.m., 4.45 p.m. or whatever time on a Friday and no public representatives were consulted, least of all the liaison committee that was put in place as part of the planning process. This issue has been foisted on an entire county. What has the Minister done? Is he abdicating his responsibility? If not, he should intervene personally. County Wicklow cannot become a dumping ground because of the State's failure to deal with this so-called emergency. That would be unacceptable.

The main part of Ireland's problem is that we have insufficient landfill sites to meet our needs. The Poolbeg incinerator that will come on stream next year will help to alleviate that problem. We must also encourage people to reduce the amount of waste that they produce and segregate waste-----

Deal with this issue, please.

-----in order that less waste will go into landfill sites.

There has been a series of crises with landfill site capacity during my term as Minister as well as during the terms of Deputies Simon Coveney and Alan Kelly. We have been working on the relevant issues with the three waste management planning offices in order to address the crises as they have arisen. That is part of the problem.

Concerning the Deputy's question, the Drehid landfill site will open on 1 January and will take waste from that time. There is no issue in that regard. It will have a licensed capacity of 360,000 tonnes in 2017. A landfill site in New Inn in County Galway that had gone into receivership-----

What about the concerns of the-----

-----will become fully operational next year and the Poolbeg incinerator will come on stream next year.

What about the immediate problem? There was no consultation.

There is an ongoing problem in trying to manage a difficult issue. Legally, I cannot intervene. I am precluded from doing so under the law. However, I have taken note of the Deputy's points and will follow up on them.