I thank Deputy Dooley for the question on what I have or have not said about the programme. The first thing I would say on the RTÉ programme is that I would welcome the concept. It has been very useful, we are having a conversation here today and we are able to share some of our experiences with the committee and we would not otherwise be doing that had the programme not been broadcast. I fully endorse the principle of highlighting that and the value of same.
What I did say is that I am not satisfied that the metric that they used to describe the performance of Donegal County Council was appropriate and I still stand over that. I look at the league table and I see a comparator county that has 25% less resources that is many places further up the league table and I cannot quite understand that. Of the three cases featured, one of those cases has been a very complex case where the council has prosecuted the individual and concerned parties on numerous occasions. There have been 13 successful prosecutions that have resulted in nine findings. That was not fully represented in the programme and it would have been useful had it been. Part of the difficulty we have in taking that as an example is that many of the fines that were imposed along the way were relatively small and not a sufficient deterrent.
On the resources, a decision was taken in 2017 to increase our resources significantly. At that point in time we considered that we needed more. That was as a consequence of being aware of particularly complex cases that were ongoing and being aware of how the new resource of the waste enforcement regional lead authority, WERLA, of which Donegal County Council is a lead partner, could be further enhanced by having more resources at local level. I am satisfied that the resource allocation we have now is much more appropriate to what we are facing.
There have been several incidents of an insidious and nasty nature as I referred to. Over a three-year period I recall approximately ten in number, that would have included individuals being approached, private property being damaged - including private homes and individuals being approached at social and community events. All of those were reported to the Garda. Unfortunately, sufficient evidence could not be gleaned to bring those through to a successful outcome but having spoken to the Garda and the people involved, I can understand that. Consequently, I am satisfied that sufficient attention was given to it by the authorities but nonetheless a successful outcome was not achieved. That is a significant issue but I am pleased to say that the individuals who were impacted by that were not deterred from their work. They continued and perhaps it even tightened their resolve to ensure that what needed to be done was done.
One of the values of the programme for us was that we set up a help desk afterwards back at base and a number for people to call. We have had 35 calls to that number and those calls have come as a consequence of the programme. They relate to approximately 20 cases. The majority of those are cases that were already known to us or cases that were on the fly-tipping side of things. Nevertheless, there were a number within that which must be looked at more closely and might warrant further significant attention. There has been considerable value in that for us.
Deputy Eamon Ryan talked about the fly-tipping and one initiative that Donegal County Council does on an annual basis is to involve about 5,000 people across the county in 300 to 500 community clean ups.
The engagement process there is very strong and there is a real understanding of and commitment not only to cleaning up but also to ensuring it does not happen again. Reference was made to the challenges faced and the cost of prosecuting littering fines. That is a challenge. Sometimes they are difficult cases on which to get a successful prosecution and the cost to public authorities is often multiples of the fine involved. If we are often unsuccessful in a prosecution, it sends a bad message also. That is one of the reasons we have moved to such an extent to the community side and working with them to have many thousands of enforcement officers across the county who can watch this on a daily basis.
One of the barometers I have watched on the performance of the organisation over the past period, apart from the publications of the EPA and others, is where we sit in relation to the number of complaints received. The rate of complaints received for Donegal in 2017 from the public was about 50% of the national average. While it is still too many complaints, it is a barometer of the performance. I appreciate that the more resources we can put into it, the better. I am satisfied that where we are now brings a good balance and that we will achieve good outcomes.
Deputy Stanley asked about the renewal of a facility permit. That facility permit was issued in 2013 and predated any of the prosecutions to which I have just referred. In fact, the facility is now completely closed and the subject of a court process. The facility operator is no longer allowed to operate and that includes the collection permits as well. In terms of what would make things better, the barrier at the moment for the public and enforcement authorities is that one has to meet a very strong burden to prove that an operator should not continue to have a licence. It should be the other way around and there should be an easier mechanism for enforcement authorities to say that, having taken a lot of things into consideration, an operator's licence will be revoked within two months unless the operator proves otherwise. The person should have the opportunity to go to court and protect it on the other side. The balance needs to be shifted in that respect. I appreciate that on occasion, the balance should be in favour of the citizen or operator but in this instance, it would work well the other way around for a period.