Waste Disposal: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the importance of incentives to encourage recycling so that Ireland's dependency on landfill is decreased;

— the importance of a properly funded and consistent awareness and education campaign for the general public about waste management, reduction and recycling;

— the need for greater focus on waste reduction initiatives from Government and industry to help consumers create less waste;

— the crucial need for an efficient, cost-effective waste collection processing sector;

— the concern about lack of competition in some areas leading to excessive costs;

— the recent increases in illegal dumping in urban and rural areas; and

— that a sudden and unexpected increase in the cost of waste collection will create a disproportionate burden on low-income families and must be avoided;

condemns:

— illegal dumping which is destroying our countryside;

— unilateral unjustified increases in bin charges; and

— the exclusion of some communities in rural areas from availing of free brown bins for food waste;

agrees:

— that waste collectors need to be open and transparent in relation to their transactions and costs for customers;

— that there should be an incentivised, fair and transparent pricing structure that allows for best value for money for the consumer;

— to monitor waste collection providers to prevent the formation of cartels; and

— that unilateral increases to waste collection charges are unacceptable;

and calls for:

— the establishment of a new independent waste regulator to:

— establish the true cost associated with the collection and processing of waste by the waste collection industry;

— ensure an effective, competitive market with fair and transparent pricing; and

— ensure that households with special needs, including large families and those with incontinence needs, are not unduly penalised where they have already made full efforts to reduce their waste;

— the Environmental Protection Agency to analyse the increased frequency of illegal dumping, to assess whether this has coincided with the privatisation of waste collection and to make recommendations;

— increased funding for local authorities so that they can detect and introduce increased fines for those who dump illegally; and

— increased funding to local authorities to allow them to clean up and dispose of rubbish which is having a negative impact on many urban and rural areas."

I welcome the opportunity to address this important debate in the House. Fianna Fáil's motivation for the presentation of this motion is to ensure hard-pressed home owners will not be gouged by a free-for-all pricing arrangement by unscrupulous waste collectors. We are deeply concerned over the potential for this practice to continue and believe the only fair and safe method of ensuring this price-gouging does not happen is through the introduction of a regulator. They say history repeats itself but I did not know it would do so in such a short timeframe until the Minister, Deputy Naughten, announced his plans to change how waste collection charges are determined. His plan to introduce a new weight or lift-based system without any information on how these structural changes will affect prices for consumers bore more than a passing resemblance to the plan of his Cabinet colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, last year. Therefore, consumers unfortunately find themselves exactly the same situation as last year, which is completely open and exposed to the whims of the most unscrupulous waste collection operators in the marketplace today.

Last year, Fianna Fáil called on the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to suspend the new charges regime until we established why families were experiencing a massive increase in their bills. In addressing this, he promised a public awareness campaign, which did not transpire, unfortunately, and the introduction of dual pricing so people could compare the cost of a pay-by-weight arrangement relative to a fixed-charge system, which also did not transpire, unfortunately. Therefore, it is very clear that in the intervening 12-month period, nothing by way of an effort to convince the public of the necessity to go away from the flat fee has taken place. This year, we will again challenge the Government not to make false promises. We are calling for the establishment of an independent waste regulator, which will establish the true costs of waste collection and management and ensure that consumer prices directly reflect these. This regulator will make it easier for consumers to shop around and compare their options, and prevent price gouging. In other words, it is to give certainty to the consumer that he or she is getting value for money from the operator in his or her area, whether there is a competitive environment or a single operator.

Unlike proposals put forth by certain other parties present, Fianna Fáil's motion does not endanger the environmental underpinnings of this new weight-based collection system. We recognise and support the need for Ireland to reduce the amount of waste it produces, and particularly to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill. I know of no community that wants another landfill in its area. Doing what we propose will require a multi-pronged approach. In the first instance, we must ensure that landfill is the last resort for everyone involved. Under the landfill directive, Ireland has been directed to divert biodegradable waste, such as food waste, timber or garden waste, away from landfill. I am happy to say that while in government, Fianna Fáil successfully ensured that Ireland's first target under this directive was met.

Under the waste directive, we have to achieve reuse and recycling targets of 50% by weight of household waste derived from paper, metal, plastic and glass by 2020. This includes metal and plastic estimates from household WEEE. As Ireland's landfills rapidly approach maximum capacity, we now have to increase the amount of biodegradable waste that we divert.

Our conversation cannot end at better management of waste, however. Even when material is recycled, its initial production, transportation and disposal have a huge impact on the earth's resources. It is totally unacceptable, and I do not need to remind my fellow Deputies of the immense humanitarian, environmental, and societal costs that await us if we do not change our ways on this issue.

For these reasons, Fianna Fáil believes we need to get serious, as a society, about waste reduction. Consumers, by and large, have no control over how much packaging their groceries, household items or consumer goods come in. All of us have had the experience of buying a tiny electronic device that comes in a box ten times its size, or of buying a piece of fruit that is wrapped in layers of plastic. Why should the consumer, or the environment for that matter, pay the price for the disposal of this material? We need to encourage and support innovative measures to cut down on unnecessary packaging, and for this reason we support the establishment of a waste-reduction task force to identify opportunities to reduce waste.

Also related to waste disposal is the regrettable phenomenon of illegal dumping and fly-tipping. Too many communities around the country are totally blighted by mounds of waste that have been unscrupulously emptied onto green spaces on housing estates, back roads, riverways, and other community assets. Sadly, illegal dumping is often most likely to occur in remote scenic areas, such as viewing points, forests and nature hotspots. It is a visual blight on the landscape, places an undue burden on communities and has dire impacts on the ecosystem. We believe the Government must devote more resources to analysing and addressing the underlying causes of illegal dumping, in addition to taking progressive steps to crack down on those responsible.

All this aside, we must ensure we do not shift the cost of waste from the environment onto the consumer. To do so would be unfair and counterproductive to our long-term goal of building an environmentally responsible nation. To return to my earlier point, this is where a regulator comes in. The regulator does not need to be a bulky operation to work well. It must have teeth, but its remit is, by definition, narrow in focus. The Environmental Protection Agency already does a good job in ensuring that all waste collection operators meet our environmental standards in terms of how they handle the waste that they collect. Simply put, it must have the ability to monitor the true costs of providing a waste-collection service and prevent any egregious price increases by companies.

The regulator must be established as quickly as possible, although I accept it will take time to establish it. If this does not happen, unscrupulous operators can simply swoop in and hike up their prices before the regulator is even established. The Government's proposal today on the establishment of a watchdog can be seen as an interim measure, but will be acceptable to us only if it ensures that an appropriate regulator is put in place at the earliest opportunity.

We are not opposed to working with other parties to ensure that reasonable politics wins out for the sake of the consumer. Compromise is possible provided that it protects and supports the consumer. To this end, I come to the Government's motion, which establishes a regulator. This is a considerable shift from its original position, which saw it use every excuse under the sun as to why a regulator could not be established. Instead, it is now committed to introducing a regulator, with the watchdog as a temporary measure to prevent proactive price increases while it is being established.

Furthermore, in response to our motion, the Government has backtracked on its initial proposal to provide assistance only to those people with long-term medical incontinence needs. The Government is also now committed to providing support to families experiencing genuine hardship, a much-needed recognition of the impacts that altered prices may have on households, such as low-income families or those with many young children who simply cannot cut down on the amount they put into their black bins. This is a much-needed and more humane policy, and one for which Fianna Fáil takes some responsibility of ensuring that the Government has included.

In short, we believe that while we have not yet reached where we need to go, we have made considerable progress. Rather than allowing a vicious free-for-all to unfold, in which waste collection charges are hiked up without any reason or rhyme, Fianna Fáil has today ensured that waste collection operators must operate in a manner that is fair to the consumer and to the environment. I reiterate that our only objective in putting this motion before the House is to ensure that consumers are treated fairly and equitably, that they get value for money for the service provided and that a regulator is put in place to ensure that unscrupulous waste collectors cannot gouge home owners out of their hard-pressed earnings.

This time last year, the Minister's predecessor tried to introduce a pay-by-weight scheme. The problems that arose from that saw an agreement with the waste collection industry to have a price freeze and afford an opportunity for a new pricing and management structure to be implemented. I have asked the Minister questions regularly over the course of the year because it is an area about which I have had considerable concern. This day last week, while I was asking him questions, the Minister used the opportunity to outline his new proposal, which is the abolition of the all-in flat rate over time. I fully understand why he is doing it. There are the issues of recycling, reuse and so forth. There are also the issues that have been referred to, such as dumping and all of that. However, the concern I had at that point was that we had not dealt with the core issue that we saw last year. When the pay-by-weight regime was being introduced, we saw particular price increases.

The Taoiseach spoke today about a watchdog and about how 50% of people are already paying for multiple bins, tags and so forth. Last year, it was people who had green bins, black bins and brown bins who also saw the price increase. My view and my concern is this that we do not have a functioning and competitive market. In the absence of that, we need a regulator. What convinces me of that are the potential price increases that were published last year, when individual families could compare what they would be paying going forward versus what they paid last year. The increases were not minor. They were significant. Many households were looking at double bills. I am convinced that that competitive market does not exist. The only way that we can have a fair and transparent system is through the establishment and appointment of a regulator. In the interim, during the establishment period, it is also important to continue and extend the agreement of the price freeze with the industry to afford the Minister the opportunity to establish a regulator.

I will conclude on this point. I come from an ordinary suburb of Dublin. I have pizza delivery guys, Sky and Eir all competing for business. Not one other refuse collection company canvasses looking for my business. It is not a competitive market. In the absence of that, I urge the Minister to bite the bullet on this and establish a regulator to control those prices as soon as possible.

I take this opportunity to support my colleague, Deputy Timmy Dooley, and the Private Members' motion he has tabled. All proposed bin charges need to be suspended until appropriate measures are put in place to ensure that this is comprehensively dealt with in a robust manner. In our view, it is important to have an independent regulator's office in place to adjudicate on whether such increases are necessary at all and, if so, what they should be. Currently, where there is an industry that is self-regulating, it is not fair and is completely unacceptable to the public. In the past, we have seen the private sector being opportune and putting forward unacceptable increases to the public, who were already stretched to limits beyond acceptability through the day-to-day running of their lives and the other Bills that come into play on a regular basis.

No increase is fair here because people are paying enough already. We only need to look at the increases currently being paid by people for motor insurance, which is out of control, and variable interest rates on mortgages, which are way higher than our colleagues in other European countries. We are now looking at an increase in bin charges. We talk about having modest decreases in the USC. However, the modest decrease in the USC, which we all want to see coming into people's pockets to give them the power of spending in the local economies, is already absorbed and consumed by the inflated increases in the areas we have spoken about.

It is very important that an independent regulator is appointed in this area to adjudicate on the current self-regulatory practice that is completely unacceptable. It is negatively impacting on the public with massively increased charges that cannot be condoned into the future. The Government's proposal on this initiative is that the polluter pays. That is not correct in this case. When these increases were spoken about last year, we saw that the actual people who were separating their waste and doing everything properly and in a good manner were seeing their standing charge increase by 100%. That is not acceptable. What was their reward for being compliant? The reward was getting a 100% increase. That comes back to self-regulation, which is no longer acceptable. The €75 grant that was spoken about being offered is completely at odds with this and is unacceptable. It does not meet with the requirements of people who are caring for someone elderly at home or people with young families.

The other problem we have is fly-tipping and the people who burn waste in their own back gardens at the weekend or in the evening. Local authorities are no longer resourced to deal with that, as the Minister knows. This will only get worse in the time ahead if it is allowed to be pressed on with. I ask the Minister to look at this motion, put charges on hold and establish an independent office to see if increases are necessary and, if so, what they should be.

I commend Deputy Dooley as our spokesperson on this area on tabling this motion on this vital matter. As I am sure is the case with all parties in the House, Fianna Fáil is fully paid up to the polluter pays principle and is very cognisant of our obligations both moral and legal in making sure that it is indeed the polluter who pays. We are fully aware of the targets that we signed up to as a country, as well as the moral obligation on all of us to support them. However, the experience has differed from that. There has been an exploitation of users. The opportunity was taken by commercial operators to increase charges when it presented in the past. That kind of charging, overcharging and complication of the marketplace has unfortunately been a feature that we saw in evidence just 12 months ago. It is regrettable that the past year has gone by and we are having this debate again. It does not appear as if the ground has shifted very much in terms of an education policy, an outreach programme or a public information programme that we might have expected in the meantime to try to engage with those operators and with the public in order to avoid déjà vu 12 months on. I believe the date is now set for 1 September. It continues to slide out.

This morning, the offices of some insurance companies were raided. I think there was cartel-type behaviour being discussed and suspected. While I would hesitate to allege that anybody in the waste industry participates in such practices, we do know that there are some colourful operators within the waste industry. There are rag-and-bone men and many of them have various different patterns of behaviour. One of the items in the motion seeks to increase the resources of local authorities. Unfortunately, the environment section is often the least resourced section of every local authority. That is in terms of fly-tipping, as my colleagues have spoken about, right up to the high-end commercial operators and enforcement. If a landfill operator decides to break the rules and throw an extra load in at midnight or even in plain daylight, it is often very difficult to go after the operator because the authorities lack the resources that are needed.

The idea of a regulator is eminently sensible. It is needed. The more fragmentation and complication of the marketplace and the greater plethora of offerings, the more likely it is for there to be customer confusion, obfuscation and people getting duped by operators. While it seems sensible on one level to operate per lift or per kilo with flat charges of different offerings, it has been seen in other markets, such as in utilities, health insurance and banking, that switching does not really happen.

Inertia comes into the system. The more complicated that system becomes, the more difficult it is for the consumer to navigate and, ultimately and unfortunately, the supplier wins out because they are the ones that benefit from that inertia. Regulators have worked well in other markets. The Health Insurance Authority regulates the health insurance market. There is less regulation in banking but, belatedly, a switching market is now in place. This would lend itself very well to this kind of complex offering in the waste market.

I compliment Deputy Dooley on tabling this Private Members' motion. It is very important. Last year, we called on the Minister to implement a transition period for the new system to ensure that households were fully informed and could financially plan around their expected charges. It is fair to say that they were more informed last year than they are this year. It is crucial that people are properly informed about what is happening.

My main concern is that indiscriminate dumping could increase. While I am on my feet, I also wish to compliment the environment section of Sligo County Council which applied for and received funding to clean up a rural road in County Sligo that was a lovely walkway used by many people but where there had been indiscriminate dumping. I went to see it myself and it was disgraceful. The local community got together, went to Sligo County Council and applied for funding. It will take two to three skips to get rid of the stuff that is there and a Hymac to take it out of the ground. I urge the Minister to ensure the funding is there for that type of work in which the community is involved and where it is prepared to go down, do the work itself and help the local authority to clean up areas. The follow up is crucial as well such as cameras to detect people who are indiscriminately dumping across the countryside. We have four bad cases in County Sligo and those four areas will be funded this year. It is crucial that we do everything to support the local authorities to deal with this issue because what is happening is disgraceful.

As far as I can see, there is one collector in my area of Ballymote in Sligo. There are supposed to be two but there is only one. My household, which contains two people, pays €360 per year. That is the set charge. People are very concerned that this could change. For many people, it is a lot of money to find but they are doing it. We do not have a brown bin either. There is no competition whatsoever in our area. I cannot speak about other areas. I can only speak about my own area. There must be protection for everybody but particularly for areas where there is no opposition and there is only one operator. It is important that this regulator has some authority to deal with people and that people have some place to go when issues arise and where they feel they are being overcharged.

I move amendment No. 6:

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

"notes:

— the importance of incentives to encourage waste reduction and recycling so that Ireland's dependency on landfill is reduced and avoids the need for new or expanded landfill facilities;

— the ongoing difficulties in dealing with the amount of household and municipal waste being collected which resulted in the need for emergency landfill measures to be taken twice last year to ensure that household bins could continue to be collected;

— that the amount of municipal waste going to landfill has increased in 2015 and 2016;

— that in the absence of further appropriate action by Government, industry and consumers there is a real risk of insufficient capacity to accept 280,000 tonnes of waste by 2020;

— the importance of a properly funded and consistent awareness and education campaign for the general public about waste management, reduction and recycling;

— the need for continued focus on waste reduction initiatives from Government and industry that will cut down on packaging and help consumers create less waste;

— that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA, food waste is costing Irish householders €700 each yearly;

— the crucial need for an efficient, cost-effective waste collection processing sector;

— that waste collectors already have obligations under competition and consumer protection law, including adequate notice of changes to terms and conditions of existing contracts, clear information on consumers' rights to terminate their contracts, clear and accurate information to consumers prior to entering into new contracts, and avoiding anti-competitive agreements;

— that household waste collection operates in a commercial marketplace and that the State should not be involved in setting prices, other than ensuring that pricing structures incentivise waste prevention and segregation;

— that current European Union, EU, obligations oblige the State to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill in 2020 by 65% compared to 1995;

— the challenging EU targets for reducing waste going to landfill which are currently being negotiated in Brussels, which, based on the European Commission proposals, would require the amount of total municipal waste going to landfill to be reduced to 10% by 2030;

— the need to take action now to prevent the State from being fined daily by the EU if targets are not met;

— the anti-social and unacceptable level of illegal dumping in urban and rural areas;

— the importance of incentivised, fair and transparent pricing structures which are environmentally sustainable, are designed to reduce the amount of residual waste going to landfill, provide best value for money for the consumer and will assist in decoupling economic growth with increases in waste generation; and

— that over half of household customers are already on an incentivised pricing system;

welcomes:

— the phasing-out of flat rate fees charges for kerbside household waste collection over the next 15 months as people enter or renew contracts, as an essential step to reduce our reliance on landfill for residual waste, in line with established waste policy that the household waste collection sector will operate pricing structures designed to incentivise environmentally sustainable behaviours by households in terms of waste reduction and segregation;

— giving flexibility to service providers to offer a wider choice of incentivised domestic waste collection charging structures, which will enable households to manage their waste costs and to prevent and separate their waste;

— the provision of a financial support to persons with lifelong-long-term medical incontinence to help meet the cost of disposal of medical incontinence wear, and for families in genuine hardship;

— the roll-out of food-organic 'brown' bins;

— an anti-dumping initiative to support the clean-up of dumping black-spots and to target those who engage in this illegal practice through appropriate enforcement actions and the use of overt and covert surveillance equipment, drone technology and other enforcement tools;

— the expansion of the EPA's 'stop food waste' campaign, as well as the launch of a food waste charter in March 2017, and an action group on wasted food in the retail sector;

— the student-led 'green schools' programme, which promotes long-term, whole-school action for the environment with involvement from the wider community and has resulted in diverting 4,700 tonnes of waste from landfill in a single academic year;

— the Repak 'recycle and change for the better' schools programme, launched in the last school term, which educates our future generations about the benefits of best recycling practices, changing behaviours towards recycling and ultimately reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and the level of recycling bin contamination;

— the introduction of a new scheme to manage end-of-life vehicles to stop the dumping of vehicles;

— the imminent launch of a new scheme to manage waste tyres, to tackle the widespread dumping of tyres in rural areas;

— the ongoing awareness and education campaign by the regional waste management planning offices to assist householders in reducing their waste and recycling more effectively; and

— the role of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in the enforcement of competition and consumer protection law, the promotion of consumer and economic welfare, and their role in investigating and challenging practices that are damaging to consumers and-or the wider economy and bringing anti-competitive behaviour and practices that are harmful to consumers to an end where necessary by court actions; and

calls on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to immediately establish a pricing watchdog monitoring unit that will provide monthly reports on pricing developments and to ask the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to report on the operation of the household waste collection market in order to inform the future development of national waste management policy before year end, which will provide an evidence base to establish a regulator to prevent price gouging."

We live in an era where "fake news" can often inform public debate as much as reality and hard facts. There is an onus on all of us who are serious about how we deal with waste to ensure that the public debate is founded on hard facts and reality. One of those realities is that we must act now to prevent a return to an over-dependence on landfill. As a Minister and Deputy, it would be inexcusable for me to do nothing and to allow a situation to develop whereby household bins go uncollected on our streets because there is nowhere to bring waste. That is what motivates these proposals and that is why I have listened carefully to those who want to contribute constructively to that debate. I am looking to implement Deputy Curran's proposals from last week on customer information and Senator Ardagh's proposals from last month on litter fines.

For this reason and to acknowledge the concerns of some households, I will establish a pricing watchdog monitoring unit that will provide monthly reports on pricing developments and I will ask the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to report on the operation of the household waste collection market. This will inform the future development of national waste management policy before year end, which will provide an evidence base to establish a regulator to prevent price gouging. This unit will comprise representatives from the CCPC, my Department, a consumer representative from an organisation such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and an external economic expert with market knowledge.

I have been saying clearly for some time that I am not introducing a mandatory pay-per-kilo model. Such a model is too restrictive and would not be the most appropriate model for certain household profiles. Indeed, I have expressed my own concerns regarding those with lifelong or long-term medical incontinence. Over half of households currently on a kerb side waste collection are already on an incentivised pricing option and are happy to continue with this model. In fact, and this is a point that has not been sufficiently emphasised, there will be no change in the situation of those people as a result of the measures I am introducing with the exception of those using medical incontinence wear who will get an additional €75 discount per person.

Over the past 12 months, my Department and I have engaged with a wide variety of different stakeholders. As a result, the Government made a decision last week on the future of the household waste collection market. As I stated at the outset, there is insufficient capacity to deal with household waste unless we make some changes and either we change the amount of waste being presented by householders or we build additional facilities to deal with the waste. The choice facing us is stark. We have moved in this country from having a landfill in each local authority area to having only four landfills currently accepting household municipal waste. None of us wishes to revert to the situation we had previously and so difficult decisions are necessary.

Flat rate fees are not a good option to encourage behaviour change as it does not matter how often the household presents bins and it also does not matter how much waste is in the bin presented. This is why flat rate fees are being phased out over the next 15 months. The second change facilitated under last week's announcement is the roll-out of the organic, or brown, bin to households in communities of greater than 500 people. I am sure Ballymote will fall into this category. This will encourage households to minimise the amount of waste they generate and segregate the remaining waste. This is to ensure that the minimum waste possible is presented in the residual, or black, bin. The final change is to provide a Government support of €75 per year to assist persons with medical incontinence. This is based on the average cost of disposal of 650 kilograms of incontinence products and was developed in consultation with industry and patient stakeholder groups.

It is important to point out that emergency measures were needed twice last year to deal with the capacity crisis that took place. If emergency measures had not been taken, it would not have been possible to have people's bins collected. This is an ongoing issue. We need to deal with the problem or we will be in a situation where by 2020, we will have no facilities available to deal with two months of waste collection. Surely nobody wants to see bins left uncollected for the months of July and August. Rhetoric and grandstanding will not change this, and decisions are required. We are also facing challenging EU targets and we need to incentivise households to do the right thing and to reduce the amount of residual waste we generate. Failure to meet an existing or future target leaves the State open to infringement proceedings and potentially punitive fines.

The changes the Government is making to the proposed mandatory per kilo charging system mean that there is the potential for more competition in the market. Rather than only being able to offer a per kilo rate, companies can now offer a range of incentivised pricing options. Examples of these include a per kilo charge, a lift fee and per kilo charge, weight band charging or a weight allowance plus per kilo surcharge for excess weights.

Labour Deputies have proposed that the EPA should replace local authorities and run competitions for waste collection. However, when Deputy Kelly was Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, he did not introduce competition for the market and he did not agree with the introduction of a regulator as he launched pay-by-weight in 2015.

The EPA is an environmental regulator and, therefore, it has no expertise in economic or pricing regulation. It would not be advisable to divert the EPA from its primary goal of improving Ireland’s environment. People Before Profit Deputies want to turn back time and remunicipalise waste collection and abolish all charges. However, it is clearly unrealistic to manage waste for free. Who will pay for those services? If remunicipalised waste is to be environmentally sustainable, why should a good recycler pay the same as someone who makes no effort to reduce waste?

Sinn Féin claims that this new arrangement unfairly impacts on vulnerable customers. Half of households are already using the new arrangements. However, we are providing a support for incontinence products that is based on the weight of these products to every family throughout the country. We are rolling out more organic and food bins so that families can divert more waste from landfill. It is important to point out that every year, on average, a typical family in Ireland throws away €700 worth of food, the majority of which is going into the black bin. There is a significant opportunity for people to change that practice. Families can choose a lift charge option that gives them certainty on cost if they put their bin out once per month and there is nothing in the new arrangement that would prevent a local authority from implementing a waiver scheme in its area.

The changes I have announced will allow for far greater competition than the option for a single pricing plan, which would have restricted competitors and what they could offer. What I have announced means no change for half of households in the market using a kerbside collector and, for the other half, the operators can offer a variety of plans as long as they incentivise waste reduction and segregation. If a company is not offering what the market wants, it is open to a competitor to offer a different plan which meets market demand. Open competition and pricing options drive prices down.

The basic message to households is to think about the waste they produce. When price plans are offered to less than half of the market not currently on an incentivised plan from autumn this year to autumn next year, it will make some demands on households. To control waste costs, it will be necessary for households to minimise the waste they generate and segregate the remaining waste properly. We have to make changes and it is only right that we move to a situation where people produce less waste and throw away less. Unless people want to see the re-emergence of landfills in every local authority area, we need, collectively, to make the transition from taking little notice of what goes into the black bin to being conscious of what we are dumping.

What we are doing is most certainly not about imposing financial hardship on families - far from it. Nobody leaves lights and the immersion on anymore when there is an incentive to turn them off. This is a similar behavioural change that we need to introduce in the waste area. We in Ireland were the first to introduce behavioural changes in relation to plastic bags and it worked. Using our bins properly will not only make a difference to our waste costs, but it will also make an enormous difference to our environment and our future. I look forward to hearing the constructive suggestions coming from the Deputies and I commend the amendment to the House.

I am sharing time with Deputies Maurice Quinlivan, Carol Nolan and Imelda Munster.

What is happening with this proposal is that waste is being turned into a commodity, and it has the potential to increase prices massively. The purpose of our amendment is to immediately block these proposed changes. Fianna Fáil has chosen not to stop the new charges and changes, but to set up another quango to oversee them. Our amendment stops the potential for runaway prices, puts in place a waiver scheme for low income households and people with medical need, puts an obligation on manufacturers and big businesses to reduce the volumes of waste they produce, and ensures that local authorities have the powers and resources to deal with illegal dumping.

We understand the objective of regulation and the requirement for it but we have structures and we do not need another quango. The EPA and the Department are there. I heard what the Minister said, but the EPA has a role in this and that can be put in place with regard to oversight and enforcement powers. People must have an efficient waste collection service which includes segregation and recycling. It is dreadfully neglected with regard to oversight for such a basic public service. Regulation is needed because this was an industry privatised and allowed free rein under past Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments. Now Fianna Fáil wants to create a pretence of difference between itself and Fine Gael, but it is just letting the Government off the hook with its amendment. It is strong in language but has little substance. Arguments made by conservative politicians that the service was privatised because of campaigns against bin charges do not stand up. In County Laois, the service was privatised just over 30 years ago, in 1987, when there was absolutely no campaign against bin charges. Even the landfill site at Kyletalisha just outside Portlaoise is now under private control. The result of all this is that people across the county pay increasing charges despite the fact that there are numerous collectors. There are situations, as outlined earlier on, in rural areas, where there may only be one collector, so the competition argument does not stack up.

The lack of control in waste collection in this country is a great example of laissez-faire economics. With 67 separate collectors, it is a free-for-all and the Government proposal has the potential to make this worse. Alongside regulation, we must also examine the possibility of taking back control, under local authorities, of the waste collection system, and that needs to be pursued. These things are ruled out, but other EU states do this very effectively. The Taoiseach said today that this new system "incentivises people to throw less away", but excessive packaging is still being churned out by the tonne by producers and by big business, and it is commodifying waste because people have to pay for this, and that will continue to be the case, and that puts a demand on landfill.

The Government has a choice here, but the one it is taking is the one towards the end of the conveyor belt, not the producer. It is about cost on the householder and not putting the penalty and restrictions on big business and manufacturers. Some manufacturers, as the Minister knows, have taken a responsible attitude towards this and massively reduced the volumes of waste produced, and increased recycling and reuse rates. Repak and others in the industry can talk all about that, but very significant progress is being made and we need to accelerate that.

The polluter pays principle in the EU waste directive states that “the costs of waste management shall be borne by the original waste producer or by the current or previous waste holders”. It goes on to state that “Member States may decide that the costs of waste management are to be borne partly or wholly by the producer of the product from which the waste came and that the distributors of such product may share these costs”. That is what it says, but what has happened here is that it has been placed on the householders who already have skyrocketing costs with car insurance, home insurance, family home tax, mortgages and spiralling rents which are out of control as well. I believe the Government is portraying an awful image of the ordinary person as being wasteful with no concern for the environment. This is completely wrong. We are in fact one of the top recyclers in Europe now. We are actually in fourth place and on target to meet our requirements for household waste recycling for 2020. We are currently, according to figures from the Minister's Department, at 45% with an objective to reach 50%. We fully support that and want to drive that on as fast as possible.

There is no initiative here for waste reduction, which should be the key to waste policy. The average citizen now pays many times for waste and for products. Once he or she has purchased the item and all the lovely waste that it is wrapped in, we heavily subsidise the waste industry to dispose of this, in particular incineration. Along with not addressing waste reduction, the burden is placed on the householder. We ask the Minister to put in place a waiver system for low income householders. The proposal of €75 per year for those with medical incontinence is inadequate. It is possible to have a waiver scheme; Limerick County Council has one at the moment. The last Government - which the Minister was not in, but Fine Gael and the Labour Party were - promised one, but it never happened.

The Minister needs to immediately withdraw the proposed changes on pricing, put in place a proper waiver scheme, conduct a feasibility study on bringing back the service under local authority control and give sufficient powers to local authorities to stop illegal dumping. My party's amendment does exactly that and we urge Members to support it.

This move by the Government highlights how out of touch it is. As usual, Fianna Fáil is waiting in the wings to support its partners in government no matter what.

Fianna Fáil's motion does not block these new charges, but simply lets the Government off the hook. It amazes me that the Government has no hesitation in introducing measures that will result in increased bills for hard-pressed families but at the same time refuses to even consider increasing the minimum wage or tackling the spiralling cost of living for the same people. Did the Government consider people's ability to pay when it came up with this idea? Did it consider those who produced more rubbish due to their age, infirmity, family size or personal circumstances? I doubt it.

We have heard that the aim of this measure is to reduce the amount of waste. Financially penalising people will not achieve this. In fact, it will probably make the problem worse. Pay-by-weight or by lift will more than likely increase the level of illegal dumping — simply transferring the problem of waste in our landfills to illegally dumped rubbish in our lanes, countryside and bogs. This will have a heavy environmental and financial impact. I have seen this in my own city of Limerick.

Why not tackle companies using excess plastic packaging in their products? Why not introduce effective measures to tackle illegal dumping? Why not introduce a bottle return scheme or something similar? Why not think of innovative solutions? The Government's solution to most issues is to simply get citizens to pay more and hope for the best. It did not work with the water charges and it will not work for this.

Taking away refuse collection from local authorities was a huge mistake. In Limerick, waste collection is now a mess. When it was privatised by the then Labour Party Mayor, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, a bin waiver was devised for some of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens across the city. The scheme still exists but has been gutted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on Limerick council over the years. No doubt the same will happen with the Government's pathetic €75 grant.

The large number of waste companies does not result in good competition and low prices, but it means bins on every street almost every day of the week and bin lorries operating and making noise at all hours of the night with multiple operators on different days, often in the same small areas.

I am very much in favour of reducing the amount of rubbish we produce in Ireland but these punitive charges will not address the issue. They will increase illegal dumping and will create greater financial uncertainty. I urge the Minister to look at these proposals again.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht an deis chun labhairt ar an topaic fíor-thábhachtach seo.

Sinn Féin initially opposed the introduction of bin charges by the then Fianna Fáil Government. We foresaw that the privatisation of waste collection would result in increases in prices for ordinary families and we were right. Fianna Fáil could not be trusted then and it certainly cannot be trusted now, on this issue or on many, many more.

Citizens are being hit with the prospect of yet another steep rise in an essential household bill - a basic necessity. There are no meaningful waiver or alleviation measures within the new charging scheme to provide relief for low-income households which will find it difficult to meet the increased charges. The provision of an annual sum of €75 for persons with lifelong or long-term medical incontinence is little more than an insult and woefully inadequate.

These proposed changes give too much leeway to private companies and less to the consumer. Waste collection, in general, is poorly regulated and we have seen the rise in illegal dumping in recent years. Clearly, Government policy in this area has failed miserably.

Sinn Féin believes that these proposals should be scrapped. They do nothing for the environment. This system does nothing to reduce the amount of waste being produced in the first instance.

We need to look at taking waste collection back into public ownership, introducing policies to reduce packaging and providing waiver schemes to low-income households so that costs do not become a barrier to responsible waste management. This would be a much better and fairer way forward and I call on all Deputies to support our amendment to the motion.

This motion, and the announcement made by Government last week that these charges are to be introduced, have made it clear that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Independents in government are in favour of increased charges for waste collection.

Fianna Fáil has tabled this motion, not seeking to block the new charges but simply to regulate them. Additional red tape will not solve this problem. This motion is pointless. It says absolutely nothing. In fact, it gives the Government free rein to plough ahead with this. It is ordinary people who will suffer.

This is no surprise. It was Fianna Fáil which introduced the privatisation of the waste collection services. At the time, Sinn Féin warned about the financial hardship that would face people down the tracks, with huge increases in charges. This has come to pass. This is the latest example of increased charges, that will only continue to increase.

It is absolutely shocking that the new charges, and Fianna Fáil's motion, do not make exemptions for low earners. People living in poverty will not be able to afford these charges. The Government and Fianna Fáil might think that the hard times are over, but people across the State continue to be hard pressed to pay for all the additional taxes and charges that have been loaded on them throughout the recession by previous Fianna FáiI and Fine Gael Governments. People are already burdened with PAYE, PRSI, universal social charge, accident and emergency charges, prescription charges, local property tax, motor tax and bin charges, and now these bin charges are set to increase. It is an insult to allow €75 a year for families which will have additional waste for medical reasons. It is €1.50 a week. Is that the best the Minister could do?

There is no reward for recycling or composting. Increased recycling or composting food waste will mean that the waste or rubbish bin has less in it and the charge for all bins will increase to compensate for this. To claim otherwise is attempting to fool people. Everybody knows that is precisely what these waste companies will do. There is also no maximum limit for the standing charge allowing it to increase at the companies' will, even for households that rarely put a bin out for collection.

Sinn Féin's motion is seeking to block the introduction of the pay-by-weight charges. Fianna Fáil's motion falls well short of that. We are also seeking waivers for low-income families. Fianna Fáil's motion falls way short of that also. We are also seeking waivers for families who are already living in poverty. Fianna Fáil's motion also does not address that. We are in favour of waivers for those with disabilities which can lead to additional waste costs. We would also like to see waste collection under local authority control to avoid spiralling costs and lack of accountability.

Fianna Fáil's motion is pointless. There is nothing in it. It does nothing to address the issues that I have raised. It is only a sop to the Government. It is a pretend motion and is nothing more than one would expect from Fianna Fáil.

I was hoping for some positive message on the regulation of the sector in the Minister's speech and I have to say in all sincerity that I am not seeing anything that is worthwhile. The Minister states that he is acknowledging the concerns of some households and in that regard he will introduce a pricing watchdog monitoring unit. I have never heard of a "pricing watchdog monitoring unit" that will have teeth. This is without teeth. It is, in all honesty, an attempt to placate the Members on the opposite side of the House in order to ensure that this new regime will get as smooth a political passage as possible.

The monthly reports on pricing developments involving the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to report on the household waste collection market is wholly inadequate. In fairness, the Minister has been in situ for a year. This was announced well over a year ago. What was the Minister doing for the last year on objectively examining how the market for waste operates in Ireland?

The idea that the Minister will set up or establish a regulator on the basis of an evidence base or information that is going to come in does not stand up. We are now into July 2017. This is an attempt to kick the can further down the line.

I am making the argument, notwithstanding the Minister's rejection of our proposal, to give more power to the Environmental Protection Agency and to set up a pricing division in the agency as such measures would ensure the State has a role in the regulation of the market. There would be no major cost impediment to do that. The Minister would have goodwill towards the idea if the EPA was already regulating the market, that is, if legislation was in place to back that up and if the EPA was already researching and analysing the market. The very act of setting up some sort of watchdog or monitoring unit is pointless. There was an opportunity in the past year to set up something that had real teeth and that could have really looked at the market.

I do not accept that it is adequate for the Minister to say we are providing choice in the market in respect of the pricing mechanisms, that is, the per kilo charge, the lift and per kilo charge, the weight band charges or the weight allowance plus per kilo surcharge for excess weight. All these different products are already in existence in the market. If we are making the argument on the basis of increased competition, then we have to analyse properly the exact nature of the market at the moment. It is not a perfectly competitive market in spite of the Minister's contention. In fact, the Minister has potentially created a vacuum within a short space of time whereby the waste management companies can come together, act like a cartel and start fixing prices in a manner that they so choose, thereby adversely affecting consumers, in the absence of any proper regulatory regime.

People want honesty in the debate. If one considers the polluter pays principle, one cannot have a situation whereby those who recycle every week to the tune of 30%, 40%, 50% or higher of their waste are subsidising those who do not. We need proper analysis of how the market actually works before we introduce any move away from the flat charge structure. There is still a lack of information and of consumer information in particular with regard to what products are available. Most people are price takers because depending on geography, they have no choice but to be price takers. If they live in large conurbations, they may have competition. However, if a person lives in rural west Cork and there is only one operator there, that person is subjected to the pricing mechanism. Let us not call that competition, because it is not.

We believe there could be a role for the local authorities in future. In the past, local authorities guaranteed universal service but that universal service is no longer in existence. As some people do not have access to waste collection, there is apartheid in that sense.

The new structure the Minister proposed to introduce will encourage more people to dispose of their waste illegally. It is not good enough for the Minister to come back to the House after a year with this temporary quick-fix solution. There should have been proper analysis during the past year. We will stand with our hands up if the Minister wants to critique our position – that is fair enough. However, in politics one is also allowed to evolve and advance one's position and the Minister has been in situ for over a year.

We have to look at the green schools programme. We all agree with the Repak recycle and change for the better educational programme. All such programmes are having a positive effect on behaviour. However, it is no good teaching a child of seven, eight or ten years of age about the need to recycle if the family of the child does not have the bins at home to be able to do so. That is the current position in large swathes of the country.

There should be a postponement in this regard. There is a role for the EPA and we need to look at Repak because while there may be an industry view on what Repak does, I do not believe there is a consumer-facing view on what Repak does. We are reaching dangerous levels of plastics production globally. The amount of plastic going into refuse and not being recycled is dangerous at this stage and is resulting in major environmental cost. There is no need to rehash the evidence on what is happening in the environment vis-à-vis the production of plastics. We need an overview and proper analysis of what exactly is going on.

I reiterate the point that a watchdog monitoring unit is not a sufficient response. We have been in government. I understand that the Government has to respond politically and try to get the motion over the line and so on. There is a confidence and supply arrangement and one should be realistic about that. However, this should not be at the expense of the consumers, who are not fools.

As for parts of the Minister's speech, for him to stand up in the Dáil and state no one leaves lights or the immersion on any more when there is an incentive to turn them off is schoolboy stuff. It is unbecoming of the Minister to come in and make statements like that. The people are educated and are not to be treated like fools. The people want a market and want to be able to recycle. They want access to proper services. However, the regime the Minister is proposing is not going to provide this because it is not a perfectly competitive market. It is actually going to be more of the same. The people who have the flat charge at the moment are concerned about how much their charges are going to increase as a result of this. They need certainty. People need certainty in their household budget.

Joe Cooney, a retired city council worker from Ballyfermot, left his bin out this morning and it remains uncollected this evening. Mr. Cooney is not on a gold-plated pension, despite the common perception of public sector workers. On 29 June, he checked his account with Greyhound. He had €21 in credit. Today, when he telephoned Greyhound to see why his bin remained uncollected, he was told that he was short €19. Let us do the arithmetic: that is a difference of €40. When he asked why, he was told that it was because the company had brought in pay-by-weight since the beginning of June and he did not have enough money in his account to meet the weight of the collection today. As a result, the company has left his bin uncollected.

When Mr. Cooney rang the Minister's office, he was told that someone would get back to him. Someone got back to him and said that the companies had introduced pay-by-weight. The Minister said in a statement last week that there is nothing he can do about these companies and their behaviour. I am unsure whether that was a slip of the tongue, whether I am misquoting the Minister or whether I am quoting him without context. My understanding of what goes on with these companies is that on the one hand they act like a cartel and on the other they do whatever the hell they like. By allowing any sense of removing a freeze on the current charges or changing the current charges, we are going to have multiple Joe Cooneys throughout the country. In doing so, the Minister is sowing bitterness, frustration, disappointment and anger with the Government. The Government could do without this after the recent defeat on water charges.

There is no reason the Government should have deferred it until September unless it believed that it was a possibility. Obviously, the Minister has recognised that the possibility of a reaction from the Joe Cooneys of this country is real. Hence the Government has deferred it until September in another classic kick to touch. The Government did the same last year and was supported to the hilt in doing so by Fianna Fáil.

The idea that we can regulate these people is something of a ruse. That is why I am opposing the Fianna Fáil motion and why I have tabled an amendment to it. This is not an environmental measure. It is not about the polluter pays principle.

A regulator will not deal with the main issue of increases in bin charges. According to Fianna Fáil, a regulator will ensure there is a competitive market. The reality is that the market is the problem, it is not part of the solution. Waste collection was introduced here in the late 1800s to address the problem of cholera on our streets. It is an essential service. Nobody could tolerate uncollected bins throughout the months of July and August. Joe Cooney's bin remains uncollected tonight and there are probably more uncollected bins out there.

This problem stems from the policy of privatisation of public services. This particular service was privatised by Fianna Fáil. Had the shoe been on the other foot, it would have been privatised by Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil withdrew from the provision of the service and used the Trojan horse that if people did not pay bin charges, it would lead to privatisation. As other Deputies have pointed out, in significant parts of rural Ireland where there was no campaign against bin charges, privatisation took place well in advance of the privatisation in Dublin city. Now that the service is in private hands, waivers have been abandoned, charges have increased and, crucially, the level of environmental damage remains unacceptably high. We export our recycled waste to China and elsewhere. We have practically zero waste treatment facilities here. The only measure taken in this area was the putting in place of the incinerator at Poolbeg against the will of the people. Three times city councillors voted against the incinerator at Poolbeg and on each occasion they were told by management, at the behest of Government, that it was going ahead regardless. Recently, 11 workers at the incinerator were poisoned.

In terms of advances, current recycling levels here stand at 34%, which is above the European average. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, is aware that the European average is 28%. Those advances did not come about through forcing people to pay, rather they were achieved through the provision of facilities. Around the corner from where I live there is a wonderful bring centre at which people can dispose of plastic, cans, paper, bottles and so on. Everybody uses it. Provide the services and people will use them. All we need is a little re-education of the population. People in other countries are incentivised to recycle. When I was a child, one could get money for returning Cidona bottles and so on. Incentivising people does no harm. They could be given a receipt for an amount which they can use in the supermarket against purchases.

The proposed new system is about boosting the revenues of companies that engage in a race to the bottom in terms of their workers. The Greyhound strike of two years ago was the worst example of a ruthless employer dismissing workers and slashing the pay and conditions of others. The workers who replaced those who had been dismissed were forced to run up and down the street engaging in a piecemeal collection of bins because the quicker they worked the more money they were paid. The company justified this by saying that business is very tight and it is impossible for it to make a profit. Hence the demand for an increase in charges now. It is impossible for us to know whether these companies are making profits because they hide them offshore. Most of these companies are registered in the Isle of Man and elsewhere so we cannot see their profits. I note the Minister is nodding his head. I will give a few examples. Panda Waste last filed public accounts here in 2011, at which time it retained €23.2 million in profits. City Bin last filed accounts here in 2006, at which time it retained profits of €1.7 million.

The law was changed.

Dillon Waste last filed accounts here in 2007, at which time it retained profits of €3.3 million, and Greyhound last filed accounts here in 2009, at which time it retained profits of €8.5 million. How are we supposed to know whether these companies are losing money, are profitable or are going to the wall? There is a proliferation of them. As in the case of Tony Soprano, it was no accident that these companies got involved in waste management. It is a lucrative industry that is very loosely regulated, so much so that when Solidarity-People Before Profit put a motion before a meeting of Dublin City Council last night in respect of the remunicipalisation of the service, it had the support of management. Those in management are tearing their hair out. This year alone, Dublin City Council has spent €1.5 million on the clean-up of illegal dumping. The companies that are making profits from waste do nothing to tackle illegal dumping and so responsibility for it falls to the public services. Management supporting a People Before Profit motion is extraordinary.

Our amendment calls on the Government to immediately commission a report on how best to proceed to remunicipalise the domestic waste industry to achieve an environmentally sustainable waste management policy for the country; extend the current price freeze for all waste management users until the report has been completed; and abolish all domestic waste management charges. I am sure the Minister's response will be to ask where we are going to get the money to do that because we are strapped for cash. When I was a councillor, we were very frustrated in trying to meet the demands of local authorities when we did not get the full property tax back despite it having been imposed on people as an austerity measure. The local authority fund has practically disappeared. The guts were slashed out of it. If even a fraction of it were reinstated, waste management services could be remunicipalised - that is a hard word to say but it is an important word. In doing so, we would be doing workers a favour, the environment a favour and, most of all, we would be delivering for ordinary citizens - the Joe Cooneys of this world - the justice that they deserve. Their pockets are not bottomless: they cannot keep digging deeper and deeper to enhance the profits of greedy profiteers over whom we have no control and who will tell Joe Cooney, barefaced on the telephone, that they can do what they like because the Government does not control them. The Minister needs to address the fact that these companies are making a joke of his Ministry.

I understand Deputies Connolly, Joan Collins and Broughan are sharing time. The Deputies have three minutes each.

I have great respect for the Minister, Deputy Naughten, but in terms of his comments tonight regarding fake news, I despair of the stale and predominantly male vision of the world that looks on us as passive consumers and passive recipients of services, with an absolute refusal to look at evidence that might inform Government policy. The Minister should stop insulting us, telling us about fake news, stating that the market is the only way forward and indicating that he is being forced to regulate a market that, of its nature, cannot be regulated. Some services are essential. They are essential for any civilised, democratic society. We should not seek to divide and conquer on these issues and we should not seek to distinguish the poor people and those who need incontinence sheets from those who do not. This is an essential service. If the Minister does not accept that, perhaps he might consider what was done in Galway, a matter to which I have referred ad nauseam in this House since I was elected.

Galway local authority waste management services was the second last to be privatised. A particular union played a very bad role in that process. We showed what was possible. I will rephrase that - the people of Galway showed politicians and, more importantly, management what was possible. They led us by the nose. When we were told by engineers, whose reports cost millions of euros, that we could not achieve zero waste and that we could only get to 45% recycling, we reached 70% recycling on a shoestring budget on a pilot project. On an ongoing basis, we diverted 56% from landfill on a shoestring budget. The people said, "We are not passive consumers, we are not people to be told, we will tell you, we want to be part of society, we know how important it is", and they led the way. What happened? The service was privatised under Government policy. As my time has expired, I would be delighted to give the Minister all of the facts and figures another time.

I find the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour Party and potentially the Green Party position on this issue bizarre. All of them were complicit in the privatisation of our waste services, a service provided for 80 to 100 years through local authorities and introduced specifically to address the issue of cholera, waste on our streets and to prevent the spread of disease. It was a very progressive step forward. Every household had their waste collected from outside their door.

As has been said already, I and other Deputies who were involved in the anti-bin charges campaign in Dublin in the early 2000s were blamed for privatisation of the service here. Almost 94% of the local authorities that privatised their services did so before the Dublin authority did so. The reason Dublin City Council was so late privatising its service was because people refused to pay by means of a mass non-payment campaign because they knew that once the service was commodified through EU legislation, it would have to be opened up to the market and competition.

People knew that they were not the polluters. They were receiving the polluted goods and were then told they had to divide up the waste themselves, in other words, do the work for the waste industry. They had to recycle, put all the waste in the different bins and then pay for those to be collected. People were well aware of what was going on and that these companies were coming into the market to make profits, and that is what they have done.

The situation with Greyhound, which locked out its workers in 2014, is disgraceful. Those workers were supposed to have been protected through the transfer of undertakings in that industry, yet they were locked out of their workplace. They lost their jobs because the company said they were eating into its profits and it had to reduce the wages of those people. They were only 30% above what other workers were getting. It was disgraceful that those other workers were getting such low money. Those Greyhound workers were literally taken from the car parks and brought to the industry at the time.

We have had this debate on the waste industry over and over again. Waste management has to be brought back under local authority control. These prices should be frozen until an investigation takes place into the industry. That was supposed to have happened two years ago and a report on the industry and the cartel nature of these companies was to have been brought forward.

I want to make a specific point about the €75 annual payment to householders for the disposal of incontinence pads. That is not going to the householder; it is going to the waste industry. It is subsidising the waste industry. That waste is going to landfill but it should be incinerated. I received an email from a citizen in which he stated that the HSE supplies 54,000 users with incontinence wear at home or in residential care, and that the HSE supplies 10,000 deliveries to acute hospitals. He further stated this means that if each of the 54,000 users use four pads per day, multiplied by seven days, multiplied by 52 weeks, a staggering 78 million incontinence nappies are going to landfill when they should be incinerated.

Fifteen years ago, we should have been examining how we could encourage people to recycle their waste. If people are still putting waste in black bins, they should pay for it, but everything should be put in place. People want to recycle, and they want to go down to their recycling centres to do that.

The Minister, Deputy Naughten's decision to phase out the all-in flat rate charging system for household waste from this autumn is typical of several half-baked policy decisions of this Government when it bothers to make a decision. The Minister knows well that the household waste market is a cartel and that households are at the mercy of a few large operators, some of them foreign based, in this largely dysfunctional market. When the previous Government proposed a similar new crazy pricing regime in SI 24 of 2016, it was beyond belief that there were no maximum lift and flat charges in article 20 of that document. Now after the former Minister, Deputy Coveney's continued inaction to address price gouging by waste companies, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is announcing so-called incentivised pricing options which include a range of standing charges, per lift and per weight charges. Once again, there is no plan to address market failure of any description or even to help change consumer behaviours.

The reality is that Irish householders have tried hard to address the aims of the EU's waste hierarchy and directives, including prevention, reuse and recycling. It is notable that, with the help of a four-year derogation, we achieved the first two landfill targets of the landfill directive of 1994, that is, the 75% and 50% reductions on 1995 levels. Preliminary data seem to indicate that we have also met the third target of 35% reduction on 1995 levels by July 2016. While landfill capacity has been said to be very low, and I heard one of the Minister's colleagues say that again tonight, we have recently fired up the massive incinerator on the Poolbeg peninsula. There were question marks over whether there would be enough waste for it only a few months ago. Constituents often complain that business needs to do much more to reduce the endless packaging of modern retail products, including food items. Why has the Minister, Deputy Naughten, not taken a single initiative in that regard? Why is the polluter pays principle not being applied all across business, including our ubiquitous food takeaways and coffee shops? I note the Bill introduced by our Green Party colleague addressing the use of plastic cups in coffee shops.

In the 1990s, as chairperson of the rainbow alliance in Dublin City Council, I strongly opposed the privatisation of household waste. Colleagues and I saw the introduction of waste charges by the then city manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald, as a Trojan horse for the full privatisation of household waste. We also feared the price gouging, the unaccountability of waste companies, the non-existent regulation and all the market chaos, which we have experienced and which the Minister is further threatening to inflict on us again, that is all happening. None of the promises of the city and county managers such as Mr. John Fitzgerald and Mr. John Tierney was upheld and ordinary households have paid dearly for that.

The former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, told us in September 2015 that the waste management companies were in the "last chance saloon" and that a race to the bottom in waste collection has to end, but nothing has happened. This time last year we had threats of standing charges rises of up to 140% and rises of 200% to 400% by companies such as Greyhound and Thorntons.

The previous Fine Gael and successive Fianna Fáil Governments totally failed to implement the promised competitive tendering by district or the promised industry regulation by the city and county councils. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has likewise done nothing to give us a paper even on the economics of household waste pricing. With respect to the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is supposed to become the commission for regulation of utilities, the Minister could simply have added waste management to its remit and brought in some proper regulation.

My personal strong belief is that household waste management should be renationalised with perhaps a single publicly owned operation reporting to, for example, our four Dublin councils and on a regional basis in other counties. Waste management is a critical issue for householders and should be included in the high local property tax which we pay and which has become a significant local tax. Once again, the Minister is threatening to start another "bintifada".

I call Deputy Michael Collins from the Rural Independent group and there are nine minutes in this timeslot.

I am very happy to speak on this motion but I have a number of concerns about it. I am aware that the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, proposed this legislation as one of his last projects in the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition. Having faced much opposition at the time, this proposal was put on the long finger and was due to be reviewed and a public awareness campaign created around it. Now, here we are, more than a year later with no review or no public awareness campaign. There would have been a number of concerns about the public awareness campaign on bin charges, but because that campaign never happened, the ordinary working public did not have the opportunity to raise these concerns. Therefore, I will raise them on their behalf.

In very rural areas like my own constituency of Cork South-West, there is only one waste provider, and in many cases it is KWD. It provides a brilliant service and I will not take that from it. The problem is that it may well sell the company. If it does, a new provider may come in. The proposal is to allow providers to set up their own prices, and that will allow those same providers to exploit their market as they will have a monopoly in these areas. Competition does not exist in rural Cork, as in many places in rural Ireland, so the proposed pricing mechanism will not work there.

A number of industries and areas in our country are over-regulated but it is important that we have greater regulation of this industry. That would halt the rising level of illegal dumping around our beautiful countryside. Young families, carers of the elderly or the sick, all of whom use diapers or nappies, will suffer increased pressure due to the pay-by-weight proposal. The Department must clearly set out what support these demographics will get to cover this very expensive proposal, one that seems to hit those who are already struggling once again.

With respect to the local authority dump sites, we are dealing with the dumping and illegal dumping of waste that is destroying our environment. As a councillor in County Cork, I vehemently opposed the closure of some dumps, where their opening times were reduced from six days a week to two and half days a week. Unfortunately, it went unheeded. Now I am being told by people involved in the Tidy Towns and community councils in the greater Schull and Castletownbere area, where these major cuts took place at local authority dump sites, that in the past few years they have collected 2,700 bags of rubbish on the roadside and 500 bags of rubbish on the beaches. These are volunteers such as the chairman, Mr. Tom McCarthy, in Schull, rural social workers and Tidy Town volunteers. That is terrible. There will be further cases of that inflicted on people, whether it will be in Schull or Castletownbere or other places throughout rural Ireland.

We need to find ways to incentivise people to recycle and get rid of their waste in an efficient way. I am not wholly sure that some of these proposals are the best way to do it.

In February 2016, I called on the then Minister with responsibility for the environment, Deputy Alan Kelly, who never showed his face in the Chamber tonight, to immediately suspend the introduction of increases in the cost of recycling household waste after he signalled at the time that he was set to approve a move that would have seen an additional per-kilo cost, which would have been passed on to families. He was a Labour Party representative and one would wonder where he came from given all that the Labour Party did over the years regarding charges.

He did the same with the tyre industry and got away with it. Everyone has been fleeced, there is €3 or €4 on each car tyre. At the time I said that if the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, was as creative in finding ways to address the homelessness crisis as he had been in creating extra charges for households, we might actually have got somewhere but he did not do anything there either. We know the answer he got from the electorate.

At the time, a one year review was put in place and now we are talking about another six months. The ball is in the Minister's court now. He is suggesting a watchdog and Deputy Dooley is agreeing with it. I know it is Independence Day in America where they talk about garbage. It is a garbage day. I hope this dog has teeth so that it can get into this garbage and he can chew on it and it will not choke him because I do not believe there is any kind of equal playing field here. People want to recycle, to reuse, they want to be prudent about their waste, but we are not allowing them. I am all for private enterprise and I salute it, and would like to mention one person, Pat Maher of Kedrah in Cahir who did a lot of good work in that area. He met an untimely death recently, dying suddenly as many do. Many others are unscrupulous and want to screw householders and they will do that. It is up to the Minister to put some kind of cap on these providers. It was passed on to him from the last Minister. He has it in his remit and we expect him to do something for it. A watchdog will be toothless. It will not be much good to anyone. We have plenty of regulators. We have one for business. There is a company shedding jobs in Tipperary next week. The competition regulator looked at it. They are toothless and useless and fruitless. They must look after the people.

The people want to pay and have a service and want to reuse and recycle. Like Deputy Joan Collins, I know community workers and members of tidy towns committees. We are all going around, sometimes trying to watch people out fly-tipping by night. We try to help local authorities. The amount of dumping is increasing because access to tip heads is gone and then there are charges. It is not a level playing field. We need to start at the schools so that we have the young people on board. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. We have started there and they are good. It is the older people and fly-by-night cowboys, some of them in criminal gangs, who are taking waste away, cleaning up houses for elderly women and dumping it at the side of the road, leaving county councils and volunteers to pick it up. There is a lot of work to be done to clean up the House here before the Minister starts penalising ordinary workers, not to mention the sick. There is a paltry agreement there for those who are incontinent and use nappies. There is a lot of work to be done here. It needs consultation. The Government has to get it right. We do not want another debacle like the one on water.

I am protecting the rights of Deputy Healy-Rae.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It is very unfair of some speakers to call waste collectors gougers. It is very unfair to paint them as gougers and to tar them all with the one brush. I will stand up for the waste collector we have in Kerry, KWD, which has serviced the people of our county and beyond for many years. I do not know what is happening in other counties but we do not have gougers operating in County Kerry.

KWD also provides a county clean up day which it operates free of charge. Everything that is collected by voluntary groups is heaped up in different towns and villages and it collects it and deals with it. We thank it very much for that. Kerry County Council got out of waste collecting a number of years ago. Since then, KWD and others have operated a very good service and we have no complaints. For the last seven or eight years, KWD has operated a flat rate pay system alongside a pay-by-weight for those who want to pay that way. We will still have to operate the two systems side-by-side because the pay-by-weight will suit some but not others. It may be the fairest for elderly people who would not have much waste.

There must be recognition for people who are medically incontinent, and €75 is not enough. Big families with a lot of children cannot cut down on their waste, as hard as they might try. They will have to have some allowance or help as it is already clear that some of these people cannot provide enough food to feed their children. When the Minister suggested that a local authority could provide a waiver system if it wanted, where does he think it will get the money? Will the Government give it that money? Will the Government give the cost of the waiver back to the local authority? The Minister must answer that question. We were told that local authorities could operate the local improvement scheme, and they could but they have no money to do that. This is the same story. The Government collects around €50 million from the 13.5% VAT charged to every customer that waste is collected from.

If we go back a short time -----

The Deputy does not have time.

-----when the local authorities were collecting the waste, some Minister took away the county councils' role in waste services and handed it over to management. Even then they did not make a success of it.

The Deputy is over time. He will have to make an arrangement in his own group. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Sorry, Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am sharing with Deputies Ryan and Healy. The Social Democrats have submitted two amendments to the Fianna Fáil motion. As we know, waste licences or permits are currently issued by local authorities. Many, if not most, of the large waste collection providers are incorporated in the Isle of Man. There is no point in having a regulator if the information essential to stop price gouging is not available. We argue that in order to qualify for a waste licence or permit, an operator should be required to publish accounts in Ireland.

That is the law now.

A key issue at the moment is that there is a lack of clarity for households. I listened this morning to the Taoiseach describe the waste permit mechanism as some grand scheme of oversight. In fact, it is more like a box ticking exercise. The permit or licensing system needs to be considerably strengthened. The Fianna Fáil motion notes that sudden and unexpected increases in the cost of waste collection will create a disproportionate burden on low income families and must be avoided but the motion does nothing to address the issue other than relying on the market being regulated. The second aspect of our amendment relates to the introduction of a national waiver scheme for households. Any such scheme should involve minimising or segregating waste. An interdepartmental committee was established some years ago to try to devise a waiver system Three separate reports were provided to Government but no decision was made. They need to be published.

I accept the need to reduce waste. My constituency has one of four landfills in the country. We see daily convoys of trucks carrying waste not only from different counties, but different provinces. The road system was never designed to carry these types of convoys. Good environmental practice would see waste disposed of close to where it is produced. Ironically, while we have one of four in the country, there is not even a single recycling facility in the constituency. The incinerator will pose the same problem for communities along the route. Policy drives behaviour and reliance on competition to regulate price will mean a continuance of multiple operations in some housing estates in urban areas until one company drives the other out of business. In rural areas, there simply will not be the competition because of the dispersed nature of the population. It will not be a question that there will be a cartel but households will be invited to take it or leave it.

There are certain things about which we are in agreement. We want to stop putting material into landfill. That is something we agree with but we do not think that is sufficient. We need to go further, particularly in the promotion of recycling and reusing and creating a new circular economy that can create jobs as well as improving our environment. Our amendments today are geared towards steering the country in that direction and we look for support from other parties, which I have heard today say they want to push recycling. We need to do something about it. While I welcome some of the measures in other amendments, such as a national regulator looking at price gouging, we need to go further than that and strengthen the role of local government in this area, giving it back real control over how waste collection is done rather than letting the market decide as though it is a consumer product, as the Government seems to imply. It is not.

More than anything else I hope this might be an opportunity for us to seek a common purpose with any and all parties in supporting the waste reduction Bill that we introduced in this House some weeks ago. It is very simple and it was supported by a letter last week from 17 of the leading environmental organisations, including bodies like VOICE Ireland, which has done much work in this area of thinking about how to reduce waste.

There are mechanisms to cut waste at source through regulation by stipulating there cannot be a wasteful plastic and paper cup but rather it should be compostable. It would keep something out of the black bin and it would cost nothing; it would save people money. Similarly, giving money back for a bottle would save 2.5 billion plastic bottles per year going to landfill, according to VOICE Ireland. If we can get them out of the system, it is a way to start protecting against landfill use. It is a win-win scenario for the householder, who would be getting money back. Everybody would be buying into what would be a step in the right direction in the management of recycling.

Whatever about this debate and the way the vote goes, I hope this emphasis on the waste recycling and management system might see cross-party support, with parties willing to sign up to pieces of legislation and put them through the Dáil so we can demonstrate to householders that we are not just charging them but looking to give back money. We must show that we are cutting out waste at source, which is the best way to go in this area.

I was a member of Clonmel Corporation when the authority introduced domestic waste charges at £5 per year. I opposed the charge on the basis that it was the thin end of the wedge and it would lead to charges of £300 or £400 per family. I also argued the waiver scheme for low-income families and those with health problems would be abolished over time. I stated that as sure as night follows day, it would lead to the privatisation of the waste collection service. Of course, I was ridiculed and laughed at, with one councillor firing a box of matches at me across the table and saying the cost would not even come to the price of a box of matches per week. I was proven correct on all counts. The privatisation of domestic waste has been an unmitigated disaster, both for the public and the environment. It has led to increased costs and it has fleeced low and middle-income families while duplicating services and producing widespread dumping.

This pay-by-weight proposal is not about recycling. We already have higher recycling rates than the European Union average, and we have already exceeded EU targets for electrical and electronic waste. This proposal is about making more profit for private companies and heaping further austerity on low and middle-income families. There is no provision in this system, for example, for the reduction of the large amount of packaging associated with modern production. Many private companies operating in this sector are engaged in a race to the bottom with regard to wages and conditions of employment. The State is forced to subsidise these very profitable companies through the family income supplement. Privatisation has been an abject failure and we must now hand back domestic waste collection services to local authorities to operate as a public service and abolish all domestic waste charges.

The first matter for clarification is the Taoiseach's statement today that it could be up to 15 months before this kicks in. From what I am hearing around the country - I know other Deputies will speak to this later - some of the providers have already told customers that when the contracts are up, they are ready to go. It is a matter of divide and conquer.

There is much consternation around the country, especially in rural areas. As everybody knows, if one lives in a rural part of Ireland, it costs more when compared with the more numerous houses in urban areas. If a pay-by-weight system is used and bills increase, the amount of dumping in rural areas would increase. It is human nature. When the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, announced the changes to waste collection some time ago, any rural Deputy going around the country could see the by-roads and bog roads filling again. The Minister put money into trying to solve that problem but, unfortunately, it was not solved. Many community groups put much work into trying to make areas better but, unfortunately, with the proposed system, we will see the same thing again. The councils need to ensure the recycling centres get more resources to encourage people to use them. With regard to brown bins being provided where there are more than 500 people in an area, does this refer to a town, a parish or village?

I have listened to many motions being debated. A motion was passed that we would not sell the shares in AIB but a few weeks later we read in the newspapers that the shares were to be sold anyway. I do not know the value of a motion. Nevertheless, it is clear that the message followed by people in all parts of Ireland and the majority in this Dáil is that this is not a good idea. Will Fianna Fáil bring the Government to the top of the hill before letting it slide down again or will we finally, for once in our lives, stand up and be counted as politicians?

The Government’s proposals have caused anxiety among customers of the bin companies. A constituent in Templeogue already reports that Greyhound is increasing his black bin lift charges by 23% from €8.50 to €10.50. This matter is striking fear and anxiety into people on low or no incomes and who are reliant on State supports to help them live from week to week. Flat charges enable predictability for vulnerable households and confidence that their bills are static from week to week, allowing them to budget responsibly.

I requested figures today from the housing department of South Dublin County Council seeking information on the number of rental accounts in arrears in the council’s administrative area among its tenant base, which numbers about 12,000 householders. I did this to illustrate the kind of pressure low-income households are under and 60% of tenants of one variety or another are in arrears. These are some of the most vulnerable and challenged communities in Ireland living in my constituency. There are large communities of senior people relying on their life-earned State pension to enable them to live from week to week. Any upward changes made to the demands on their small allowances causes much anxiety and leads to increased hardship. There is also a large cohort of middle Ireland who simply cannot afford a financial shock in any given month, so delicately balanced are their incomes and budgets.

The Minister needs to take a long look at the practices of the main players in the bin collection industry in Dublin because there are sufficient grounds for public disquiet in the manner in which some of these companies operate to such a degree that it is essential that a regulator be appointed. My colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, wrote to the Minister in October last year and received no response when he alerted the Government to his concerns on a number of issues that had been brought to his attention by whistleblowers with a keen knowledge of the Dublin market. Deputy Cowen requested that the Department, as the overseer of the waste industry, would commission investigations into matters of an anti-competitive nature.

Deputy Cowen alerted the Minister to the need for a widespread investigation into the extent of collusion between waste operators and barriers to entry in the waste market in the Dublin region. Why was this? Dublin waste operators are heavily reliant on each other's facilities and are consequently forced to enter commercial relationships with each other that ultimately diminish competition. If Dublin operators were not as reliant on each other, it is highly likely more competition would exist.

One of the major barriers to entry into the domestic waste market in Dublin for new operators is having outlets for their waste and recyclables. This is particularly the case with regard to the Dublin City Council owned mixed dry recycling facility, which is leased and operated by the market leader, the Panda waste collection company. There is an argument that an independent body should be appointed to run this facility, which is by far the largest in the region, to encourage more competition in the industry.

The Minister was also alerted to the issue of evidence of price collusion when three major waste companies in Dublin announced massive price hikes all on the same day last year before the new charging regime was suspended, indicating a high probability of collusion. There is no legitimate reason the introduction of the pay-by-weight regulations should have led to price hikes by all companies on the same day. In the absence of real competition, providers saw an opportunity to take advantage of consumer uncertainty and to impose price hikes.

There are concerns in the public arena that need to be addressed. These were brought to the Minister's attention by Fianna Fáil and we are still awaiting a response a month later as to whether they are being investigated.

That is not true.

These conspiracy theories must be examined. There are four major bin collection companies in Dublin which has a population of 1.5 million people. When was the last time householders in Dublin were approached by a waste company offering to compete for their business? There is evidence that these companies are buying up smaller companies throughout the country. The raids on insurance bodies were mentioned earlier. If the bin collection companies in Dublin are to avoid comparison with "The Sopranos" they must be investigated in a similar manner so public confidence can be upheld and hard-pressed consumers can be protected from price gouging.

I commend the many environmental organisations, including Tidy Towns, green schools and the local authorities, for their valued efforts to ensure we have some from of waste control and education in the whole process.

The polluter pays principle has always been the cornerstone of waste management plans and the inevitable pay-by-weight regime is slowly but surely starting to bite. Fianna Fáil is of the view that the pay-by-weight system should not be introduced, particularly in areas where there is little or no competition, until a regulator is put in place to monitor the regimes and a fair price per kilo is set across the board.

We have all said that 50% of households are already paying by weight, so their costs should not be subject to any increase. We need to work with and educate the remaining 50%. The objective should be reducing people’s bills. If the Minister believes in the system he is proposing, he should be able to give a guarantee that if those people do the right thing in terms of what he is saying is required, they will not see an undue hike in their charges. The objective should also be reducing our waste as a society by nurturing good recycling habits. Irish people have a great track record in adopting new good habits, as we saw not just in the plastic bag issue but using reusable shopping bags.

It should be possible to establish a reasonable cost for disposal of waste that allows for a percentage profit for waste companies. A regulator should be capable of ensuring unscrupulous profiteering by waste management companies is not allowed over the interests of the householder.

Ireland has a serious situation looming on the horizon regarding landfill diversion targets. Increased recycling could see us divert another 35% of waste away from landfill. Some of the steps could include the minimisation of packaging waste at the point of manufacturing, offering more loose food products that are packaging free, and encouraging retailers to take back unwanted packaging. Our spokesperson, Deputy Dooley, cited the example of the size of the packaging of a new mobile phone. There is no reason the consumer should have to pay to get rid of that waste. We must encourage consumers to think before they purchase and only to purchase what will be consumed.

I am acutely aware of the growing fly tipping problem throughout the country. However, the problem is not just fly tipping. In two townlands in my parish, the biggest ever illegal dumps were discovered. I know the cost of that as against all the work being done by the various community groups. The consumer must also be cognisant of those smaller services offering to dispose of larger goods and should check their waste disposal licence as many of those services are not licensed and the material ends up being dumped in a ditch.

I could speak on this topic all night, but I wish to give my colleagues an opportunity to contribute.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Dooley, for bringing forward this very important motion. The position is clear. The Government has had 12 months to deal with this issue and it has completely failed to address the problems around waste collection. Ultimately, it has failed to protect households which are now being exposed to higher prices and a raft of new stealth charges.

The Taoiseach talks about the new so-called hidden fiscal space and that he wants to give tax cuts to the people who follow a similar early morning regime to him, but we know that with the regime the Minister is trying to introduce, that will be gone with the raft of new bin charges facing people. There is a lack of clarity, education and awareness about the new charging system for many hard-pressed families who will inevitably pay more.

This is an issue that is causing concern and distress for many individuals and families. I have been made aware that one waste collector, Panda, is now imposing different charges, fees, fines and penalties, seemingly at will. Under a new agreement and terms and conditions it has proposed, it has said it will charge between €10 and €25 if a customer accidentally puts the wrong item in the wrong bin. One Pringles can put in a green bin could result in a fine of between €10 and €25. This is outrageous and the Minister is doing nothing about it. We have a toothless watchdog. We need a fully financed regulator such as the one we proposed.

The agreement also orders the customer to reimburse Panda for all expenses and costs if there is any delay to bins being collected, and the agreement also gives the company “sole discretion” over the price of service. As my colleague, Deputy Lahart, mentioned, we are giving an effective cartel sole discretion over the setting of price. This is a €1 billion industry that requires regulation and intervention from Government around pricing.

Most concerning of all, Panda states that its representatives shall have access to the premises where the bins are located. If there are any delays due to access being delayed or unavailable, Panda will be reimbursed by customers. Panda is giving itself more power to enter property and premises than that available to gardaí. That is outrageous in what is a draft agreement and terms and conditions of which customers are not aware.

We know that waste collection companies are exploiting the Government’s inaction and are bringing in whatever hidden charges and penalties they wish. This is a cash cow industry with unlimited companies. We are uncertain of their profits because they do not publish their accounts. It is important we have proper regulation and oversight. When we are talking about a €1 billion industry for a public utility, we need to intervene. We must do the right thing. This is the Minister's opportunity to do that, but giving the likes of Panda sole discretion to set the rules in the market will undermine waste collection for many years to come. This is the Minister's chance to get off the fence and deal with this matter.

Twelve months ago, there was a plan to introduce pay-by-weight per kilogram as the only pricing model which would be available to customers of household waste collection. This caused some concern as it appeared that certain collectors were using the new initiative as an opportunity to increase prices and the Government made a decision not to introduce pay-by-weight at that time. A voluntary agreement was reached with waste operators to hold the current prices and plans for 12 months. The potential introduction of pay-by-weight was to be reviewed to inform decisions in regard to the charging arrangements beyond 1 July 2017.

The Government has decided to proceed with a new framework that will give waste collectors the flexibility to continue to offer, or to introduce, a range of incentivised pricing options which encourage householders to reduce and separate their waste while choosing the service price offering that best suits their circumstances and allows them to manage their costs. These options include elements or combinations of per lift, per kilogramme, weight bands, weight allowances and standing charges. This offers the widest choice to consumers to help them manage their costs. Approximately half of households are already on these types of offerings, so the public is familiar with these options.

Mandatory nationwide per kilogramme charging is not being introduced. However, all-in flat charging for household waste will start to be phased out by waste collectors as customers renew or enter new service contracts from September onwards.

It should be noted that the existing level of waste charges, which people are seeking to preserve, is the result of an open and competitive market. The 12-month industry voluntary arrangement essentially held those prices at that level while the Government reviewed the introduction of pay per kilogram charging. The new arrangements announced by the Minister encourage innovation and competition between operators and enhance choice for consumers. They do not reduce the competitive pressures on waste collectors to ensure they are offering competitive services.

An annual support of €75 will be introduced for persons with lifelong or long-term medical incontinence. This will help people meet the average annual cost of disposal of incontinence products. The details and arrangements of this support will be finalised later this year after further consultation with the stakeholder groups. Already there has been a considerable amount of consultation with the groups.

The amount of waste sent to landfill has increased in the past two years. In 2016, there was insufficient capacity to dispose of residual waste and emergency powers were invoked by the regulatory authorities to make additional landfill capacity available. As the Taoiseach said today and as Deputy Dooley should know, no one wants to see new landfills opening in their constituencies. Many communities have been through that experience. We went through it in our county a number of years ago and it was very difficult for people in localities.

All waste collectors will be required to start rolling out food organic brown bins to all communities nationwide with a population greater than 500 people. This will help more households divert waste away from their standard black bins.

An information and awareness campaign will also be implemented by the Department and the regional waste management planning offices later this summer and autumn. It will take account of the new approach to charging.

Ireland faces real challenges to meet its European obligations in regard to waste.

Ireland has an obligation under the waste framework directive to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020. New EU circular economy targets currently being negotiated in Brussels include a proposal to limit landfill to 10% of municipal waste generated by 2030. On the other hand, there are significant economic, employment and climate benefits arising from preparing for reuse, recycling and recovery of waste as opposed to disposing of waste in landfill.

A principle of national waste policy since 1998 has been that the level of waste charges should vary according to usage. Phasing out of all-in flat rate charges for residual or "black bin" household waste is consistent with national Government waste policy. Landfill is the least environmentally sustainable waste management method. Exploiting the potential of waste as a resource – less to landfill, more prevention, recycling and recovery – will contribute to the creation of employment and alternative energy options. Households on plans which have a variable charge element, such as per lift or some form of weight or usage-based charging, generate significantly less waste. Waste collection in Ireland is serviced by private companies, which operate in a competitive market, and the State has no role in setting prices. All decisions on the pricing of individual services have been a matter for waste collection companies.

In recognition of some of the concerns raised, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, proposes to set up a pricing monitoring unit that will provide monthly reports on pricing developments and will commission an in-depth analysis on the operation of the household waste market by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission by year-end. This will provide an evidence base to establish a regulator to prevent price gouging. One aim is to assist householders to both reduce and segregate their waste. The alternative is to consider new landfills or expand the use of current landfill sites, which I do not believe anyone would welcome or propose. In addition, we need to allow the 67 collectors the flexibility to offer householders a range of charging options. Households, as consumers, choose the option that suits their circumstances.

With regard to the issues concerning unnecessary waste, Repak is the authorised compliance scheme for packaging waste in Ireland. In 2016, Repak funded the recovery and recycling of 795,000 tonnes of household and commercial packaging waste. We have seen the work that took place in recent years in regard to reducing the level of Easter egg packaging, for example, although more could be done on that.

A number of Deputies raised the question of companies with offshore accounts. From 2017 offshore companies operating here must publish their accounts and this applies also to waste companies. I commend the Minister, Deputy Naughten, on establishing the task force to reduce waste packaging that shoppers bring home from supermarkets, which is important and something I would like to see progressed. Some operators have bin sharing facilities for customers. I believe the potential of bin sharing will grow under the new proposals, particularly for those with low levels of waste.

With the growth in our economy, there is a growth in the level of waste produced, and given more stringent EU targets, we need to improve recycling and composting and to reduce black bin rates. Even with the Poolbeg incinerator, we have and will have serious capacity issues in terms of waste management and landfill. I believe we must act now.

Fianna Fáil supports the enactment of a waste reduction task force and a waste regulator that will ensure fair practice within the waste sector and prevent price gouging for all households. However, a pay-by-weight bin charge initiative has not been fleshed out in full, leaving us with more questions than answers. The Government has tried to rush through a pay-by-weight bin charge but with little transparency as to what the pricing system and charging system will entail. The previous Minister promised to raise public awareness on the matter and introduce dual pricing in order that people could compare the cost of pay-by-weight relative to a fixed charge system, all of which has not transpired. Last year, bin companies threatened to considerably increase their prices, disseminating fear across the country. Households throughout the country still share that anguish and fear.

I want to bring to the Minister's attention an issue I have often raised with him, namely, illegal dumping. My biggest fear is that such illegal dumping will flourish and, as usual, rural Ireland will be at the coalface. The constituency of Cavan-Monaghan has seen numerous incidents involving the dumping of tyres, domestic waste, mattresses and all the rest but its local authorities lack the proper resources to deal with it. There is one person in County Cavan and perhaps two in County Monaghan to deal with this issue across the entire constituency. I ask the Minister not to do anything that will encourage illegal dumping as it is a huge problem nationwide at present.

This is a difficult situation for the Minister, which I acknowledge. Everybody in this House has to realise this matter must be faced up to. That is why, in our own election promises, we opted for pay-by-weight, and we acknowledge that, although not for green bins. There has been much talk in the House this evening about Fianna Fáil going up to the top of the hill and then coming down. We went to the top of the hill and we got a regulator from the Minister, so we came down with something. That is far better than the people who stay at the bottom of the hill, look up and say, "No, we will not do anything". I think we are playing a major role in this regard.

There is a responsibility on us all. In my own area, the Minister got money to help clean up a massive illegal dump in a beautiful area that people use for walking. This issue has to be dealt with. We must commend the many people in our society who are doing unbelievable work to clean up our countryside. This is the way I read the public: they want this matter dealt with but they want it dealt with properly. In dealing with it, we must ensure we support those who need assistance, such as larger families and those with incontinence issues, for whom the €75 payment should be increased. This problem must be dealt with properly. Fianna Fáil will be bringing forward further suggestions. I hope we will get a proper policy in place that will address all of the issues.

Rural communities will be very exposed by this plan if it goes ahead as proposed. It could hit very hard in places where having two bins is the only option available to people. I understand the Minister proposes that three bins would only be compulsory in places where there are more than 500 households. I do not believe there should be any limit or cap and it should be open to every householder to have the opportunity to recycle. The "two bins only" option means that people in rural communities would be faced with having to put in compostable material and paying more to dump it. That should not be the case and everybody should be given an option in this regard.

Having the regulator is very important and is necessary to ensure there will not be price gouging. When I was a member of Cork County Council, it introduced a pay-by-weight system throughout the county. One issue that came forward was that many householders were concerned about what they were going to pay because they could not see what the end-of-year cost was going to be. Certainty was needed and many of them moved over to alternative providers and away from the council at the time. There needs to be certainty and dual pricing must be in place. It was supposed to be introduced earlier this year but it has not happened in many places. Those companies are blackguarding the Minister. He needs to stand firm with them and ensure they are protecting customers and householders around the country, and not blackguarding customers as they have been.

The Minister's willingness to compromise on the Fianna Fáil proposal to establish a regulator is welcome and, as such, is a step in the right direction. However, there obviously is a period of time in which the regulator must be established. I hope that in tandem with his work with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which will provide the monthly reports, the Minister will begin the procedures associated with the establishment of the regulator.

He may rest assured that if this does not happen, Fianna Fáil will bring its own Bill to the House.

Notwithstanding the Government's commitments last year to attempt to resolve this issue over a protracted period, nothing happened. I accept that responsibility transferred from one Minister to another, so it is not entirely on the Minister's shoulders. If, however, the same lethargy is holding sway again, we will proceed and move to bring our own Bill forward. I ask the Minister to use his contacts in the waste collection sector to seek to continue the moratorium on price increases for that period of time. The Taoiseach indicated earlier today that he does not expect to see any change in the charging structure for the next 15 to 18 months. This gives adequate time for the report the Minister will seek to be compiled and for the regulator to be established.

Unfortunately, Sinn Féin has failed to understand the marketplace that exists at present. It seems to think the decision that was taken effectively removed the capacity of waste operators to increase charges. A number of the 68 waste collection operators increased their prices over the past 12 months. Sinn Féin would like to present this as being some kind of cataclysmic event but it is not. The free market has dictated that some have raised their prices. If Sinn Féin was as serious about protecting consumers as it says it is, it would support the introduction of the regulator, as set out by the Minister, because it is in the long-term interest to ensure that price gouging does not take place.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae would be wise to look at the record of what was said. No one referred to any of those involved in the waste collection sector as being gougers. Price gouging is different in meaning to the colloquial term "gouger". What was said was that there are some unscrupulous waste collectors in the sector. Nobody ever mentioned the Deputy's local operator. If I were to speak about promoting the interests of parties in this regard, Clean Ireland, which is based in Clare, is one of the finest in terms of embracing modern technology, collecting on the basis of pay-by-weight and spearheading the introduction of new technologies. It is outstanding. If the rest of the sector was half as well versed in the development of technology as the O'Donoghue brothers were in developing Clean Ireland, there would be no need for us to be here today. Sadly, there are some who reside outside the group that advocates for the industry and do not participate in it. We must put that kind of a structure in place.

Sinn Féin would also be wise to recognise there is a compromise and the Minister proposes to ensure consideration is given to families experiencing financial hardship. This should be addressed as part of a social welfare Bill rather than attempting to do it through the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. However, since the Minister is responding on behalf of the Government and this is a Government amendment, I am pleased we achieved this level of success.

In so far as is possible, the price freeze must, with the support of the mainstream industry, remain in place. We must ensure that, in tandem with the work the Minister has undertaken with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, we begin the process to establish a regulator and that we all work towards the main objective, which is to change the behaviour of how we dispose of our waste in a manner that gives certainty to consumers so that if they make this shift and decide to participate in the better management of waste, they will not be penalised and gouged by unscrupulous operators.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 July 2017.