Business of Joint Committee.

Apologies have been received from Senators Ciaran Cannon and Paudie Coffey.

The minutes of the meeting of 5 May have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed.

The next item on our agenda is correspondence received since the last meeting as follows: 2009/442 — Europe's World Newsletter; 2009/443 — Newsletter on Environmental Issues from GLOBE International; 2009/444 — European Water Newletter; 2009.445 — Irish Human Rights Commission Bulletin; 2009/446 — a report from the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on electric cars; 2009/447 — a report on drinking water from the EPA entitled The Provision of Quality Drinking Water in Ireland — members may consider that individually if they wish; 2009/448 — Business Magazine from Chambers Ireland; 2009/449 — letter of acknowledgement from Dublin Docklands Development Authority in respect of our visit; 2009/450 — list of decisions taken by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny at its meeting of 28 April — we will come back to that topic later; and 2009/451 — list of decisions taken by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny at its meeting of 24 March 2009. We will note the correspondence.

The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny has referred three proposals to us: (1) COM (2008) 754 — a proposal for Council approval to place a genetically modified carnation — modified for flower colour — on the market for import, distribution and retailing; (2) COM (2008) 809 — a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the restriction on the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment; and (3) COM (2008) 810 — a proposal for a new directive of the European Parliament and the Council on waste and electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) repealing directive 2002/96/EC on WEEE.

The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny has asked us to note the first one for information only. It states that the second one is purely technical and does not warrant further scrutiny, but it relates to the third one which is in the important area of waste management in respect of electrical equipment. That raises some concerns for Ireland. It therefore warrants further scrutiny. The joint committee therefore agreed to forward these proposals to us for written observations to be returned to it, preferably within four weeks of the date of this meeting and within six weeks at the latest. We should note that supplementary information was received by e-mail as requested from Mr. Seán Ó Súilleabháin from the Department. It appears that the purpose of the proposal is to recast the WEEE and RoHS directives. Ireland appears to be content with the proposals and there is ongoing consultation with the industry here. Do members have views on this? Is further information sought?

Can the committee invite MEPs to attend a meeting on issues of concern? There may be legislation relevant to Ireland passing through the European Parliament on which they could brief us.

I am not aware of any impediment.

I understand that we are entitled to summon MEPs at any stage. The clerk could probably enlighten us.

Perhaps something can be done in that regard.

We should consider a meeting with MEPs to deal with relevant issues.

It is a good idea and we will agree to it.

On this issue, due to calendar farming and the nitrates directive I feel a joint meeting of this committee and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with someone from the Commission would be in order. Last year there were difficulties relating to the spreading of slurry until Christmas and there were many extensions. A bit of common sense in this area would be beneficial to agriculture and the environment generally. No matter how heavy the rain, nitrogen and slurry can be spread irrespective of the weather and they can run into rivers and do much harm. A bit of common sense is in order. I would like to see this committee and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food work together on this issue.

Those of us from a rural background understand common sense must prevail in this area. Farmers cannot farm by the calendar. For example, this year some days after Christmas were very suitable for the spreading of slurry but farmers could not do so because the calendar dictated as such. We need a degree of common sense in this issue and I support the idea of having officials from the EU visit this committee. Much of what they discuss is fine in theory but is different in practice.

This is certainly an area we can come back to as I think there is general agreement. The waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE, directive prompted that discussion and there is briefing information here. The position of Ireland in the negotiations is that we welcome the Commission's proposal to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing WEEE directive. We also welcome the new proposal for renewed recycling targets, enhanced producer responsibility and minimum inspection and monitoring requirements to strengthen enforcement. Ireland looks forward to working with the Commission member states. Based on our experience, producer responsibility should be based on placing products on national markets rather than the community market.

Are we satisfied with the Irish negotiating position on this? If so, we can report to the EU scrutiny committee that we are satisfied. Is that agreed? Agreed. There is nothing too controversial here; it is a new area and it is working quite well.

The following list of new circulars is from the Department to city and county managers and has been copied to us for the purposes of this meeting: S2/2009 — return of superannuation expenditure and income 2008, and WSP3/09 — wastewater complaint notice form. Circular 05/09 concerns the implementation of savings measures on public service numbers through the hiring of temporary lifeguards. No. 3/09 relates to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, in which there is an 8% reduction in professional fees with effect from 1 March 2009. It is normal for the joint committee to receive a copy of the circulars in question.

The next item of correspondence is a list of decisions taken at the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny on 6 May 2009, sent to us for information only. We do not have to carry out any scrutiny so we will note it.

No. 2009/453 concerns an estimate on the costs of attending a world conference, Parliamentarians for Global Action, in Washington on 21 and 22 October, an invitation for which has been received by the Ceann Comhairle. It is proposed to approve an estimate and decide on the delegation to attend. The Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security is also attending, so we suggested we would restrict the numbers to two. It has to go to a special working group of committee chairpersons for approval. We will put forward a proposal that one member from the Government side and one from the Opposition attend. I ask the convenors to contact the clerk in that regard.

Is the Chairman to attend?

I am not attending personally.

No. 2009/454 concerns access to local authorities. The circular in question was part of the backlog of circulars which we received last week. They are addressed to local authorities asking for the number of meetings they had held with Members of the Oireachtas in 2008 and 2009. The Department issued a questionnaire to check that Oireachtas Members were meeting local authorities. I am pleased the Department is watching that issue throughout the country. When the circulars are returned to the Department from each local authority we will ask for a report on the numbers, where the meetings took place and those meetings which did not take place.

I am sure Deputy Bannon will back me up in respect of the situation in Mullingar in this regard. I have to go to Navan for such meetings but there is a great difference between the two counties. The manager in Mullingar provides a report on what is happening and what he is looking for. Then there is a question and answer session but in my own county there is report after report and slide after slide for two or three hours. It really bores me. The manager should be able to tell us what he proposes to do and what he is looking for, followed by a question and answer session, and the procedure should be same in every county. The Westmeath system is a great system and county managers should do the same across the board.

Are there any other observations?

As is the case with Deputy Brady I cover two counties, Longford and Westmeath, and I compliment the managers in both on the manner in which they conduct their business. The manager is present at the meetings, as are all the directors of services, who are the front-line team in the local authority. Each gives an outline of his or her programme and we query them on the issues. There is good consultation between the Members of the Oireachtas and the executive of the council. The council will propose that we keep our eye out for drawing down grants for various projects in the local authority area and such co-operation is vital. That system should be rolled out for local authorities throughout the country. Our experience in County Longford is similar to that in County Westmeath. It is more important to engage with the executive of the local authority than to have it speaking down to one and showing slides, and so on. The type of dialogue between Oireachtas Members and directors and managers in counties such as Longford and Westmeath is good for the development of the areas in question.

I am pleased the Department has taken an interest in this matter. I supported the abolition of the dual mandate and while I do not propose to discuss the reasons, some Oireachtas Members were nervous about the prospect of no longer being members of local authorities. From conversing with several of them, the fears of some were well founded.

I am pleased we do not have the problem referred to by others in County Westmeath. I will go to the meeting between Oireachtas Members and the local authority in Longford next Monday. A common approach should be taken across the local authority spectrum. As an Oireachtas Member, I have found these meetings invaluable. I spent almost 25 years as a member of a local authority and continue to enjoy exactly the same facilities in terms of contacts and responses as I did previously. That also applies in the case of County Longford.

Oireachtas Members may, under "Any Other Business", raise any issue they believe needs to be discussed.

While I do not wish to labour the point, if one writes to management about any issue in advance, one will receive a response at the meeting, which is a great service.

While Deputies need to have a good working relationship with officials from local authorities, I find this difficult to achieve at a distance. I commend the Department of Social and Family Affairs on establishing link persons for Oireachtas Members to contact with queries to ensure they receive quick responses. We do not mind whether the response is positive or negative provided we receive one.

My office spends an inordinate amount of time trying to contact officials in my local authority and waiting for the relevant information to be provided. This requires making numerous telephone calls and spending time trying to get through. While meetings between Oireachtas Members and local authority officials are useful, they are confined to debate and discussion and Members do not have an input into policy. Should an issue arise, it should be possible to contact a specific person in the local authority with a query and receive a prompt response. We need local authorities to respond quickly because they are the seat of democracy at local level.

I have before me the form which was issued to local authorities seeking details of the dates on which meetings were held with Oireachtas Members in 2008 and 2009. The forms were to be completed and returned to the Department by 13 April. We should write to the Department asking for a report on the outcome of that circular. Perhaps we could discuss the information it provides.

I second that proposal.

It would be no harm to have the chairman of the City and County Managers Association before us to discuss the possibility of rolling out a national format for these meetings.

I would like to invite the association before the joint committee. It would be good to speak to the city and county managers who are on the front line in delivering policy on many issues. We will invite the association before the joint committee in the near future.

The final item of correspondence, No. 455, is an e-mail from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland seeking updates on our letter to all local authorities concerning radon gas. It includes a copy of our letter and a table showing the replies received to date. We have copied the letters we received thus far to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. We are still awaiting a response from some local authorities. As agreed at last week's meeting, we will discuss the replies when all of them have been received. That concludes the correspondence.