Waste Disposal: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for his proposals to further erode local democracy through his proposals on waste disposal; and demands that before any final decisions are taken the Minister enters into a full debate on all the issues involved, including especially the possible health hazards of incineration.

I welcome the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This is a critically important debate which has ramifications for every part of the country. It has been brought about by a lack of effective policy on waste management, nationally and locally. We all ignored the problem until waste was literally piling up in our dumps. Powers were given to local authorities to draw up and develop waste management plans. The waste management plan for County Louth, in which I was involved, was rejected by the elected members. We were left with no choice, but to reject it. The only concerns of those who voted against it were the health and environmental effects of the policy on incineration contained in the plan. On the basis of legal advice, we were told that we had to either accept the plan or reject it in total. We rejected it totally because we were, and still remain, deeply concerned about the health effects of incineration.

I will not be drawn down a side route with regard to the amended proposals. I will concentrate instead on the key tenor of the proposal, that we have a full debate on the issues of waste management, including especially the possible health hazards of incineration. The Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs of the British Parliament published its fifth report on 21 March, following a number of public hearings on waste management. This all-party committee discussed at length the health effects of incineration. The report states:

There is real public concern about the impacts of emissions from incinerators upon human health. These emissions include pollutants with known toxic properties, such as dioxins and nitrous oxides, but the health concerns do not centre solely on gaseous emissions. There are also worries about the content and treatment of the fly ash and so on. There is a significant body of epidemiological evidence which shows health effects resulting from older incinerators. Even today's exponents of incineration accept that the older incinerators were relatively dirty, and probably did have direct health effects.

Those who draw a distinction between new and old incinerators, must take cognisance of the fact that many older incinerators were closed down in the mid 1990s as new standards were introduced. Certainly, there is good evi dence that the emission standards have driven down the actual emissions from incinerators and this will continue with the implementation of the waste incineration directive. However, it is also generally accepted that emission standards are still based on what can be measured and what is technologically achievable, rather than what is safe.

That goes to the core of our argument – what is safe? How do we know that it is safe? Our waste management plans have been drawn up by experts in technology, engineering and other fields, but nowhere has the health aspect of incineration been brought into consideration. This is a critical and core aspect of the whole debate. The Minister is well aware that the people of south County Louth and east County Meath are up in arms about incineration, not because they do not believe in waste management, recycling or composting, but because they do not believe that the case has been proven that incinerators are safe and should be allowed in our community.

The planning process will not take these health fears into account. If the Minister wishes – we urge him to do so – he can order an immediate moratorium on all planning applications for incineration. He should institute a public debate in the House, at the environmental committee or in whatever medium he chooses. We, on this side of the House, will co-operate fully. The debate should involve the expertise of the EPA, the Health Research Board and health experts from the United Kingdom and the United States of America. We will not accept that incineration is a safe process unless and until all the facts are presented.

The Minister's policy is misdirected. Nowhere in the amendment he has tabled are the health aspects of the issue acknowledged. The EPA, to whose views the Minister refers, is not concerned with health matters, but with environmental issues, rightly so. The main health issue is completely and utterly ignored. The impact of the British report from which I quoted is that the public will not trust the incineration process until it believes it to be safe. People in the United Kingdom believe that the history of incineration is unacceptable. The arguments on the health effects are complex and based on incomplete knowledge.

There are, however, some truths which can be drawn from the debate on health impacts. The health effects resulting from incinerator emissions are not yet fully known. The regulation of incinerators has been rather poor to date, resulting in inappropriate practices at some incinerators. This, in turn, has raised the level of anxiety among the general public. Regulation must encompass emissions, the proper handling of the ash and all other aspects of the operation. The lack of pre-separation of potentially hazardous materials, such as PVC, treated wood and batter ies, increases the risk of emission limits being exceeded.

The British report takes the UK Environmental Protection Agency to task by stating that it must provide for a better standard of inspection of incinerators if public confidence is to be regained. It also urges the agency to examine a strategy for publicly communicating the risks from incineration. Critically, it recommends continuous monitoring of emissions from all incinerator stacks, that the resulting data should be made freely available to the public and that where there are recurring breaches of limit values, the operator should be fined and, if the offence continues, closed down.

The reality is that dioxin and heavy metal emissions from incineration cannot be measured in real time. One can only judge them at a specific time, not continuously. This really concerns people.

The key point is that three councils have rejected the waste management plan. The amendment to this motion states that the Seanad notes with regret the ongoing failure of a small number of local authorities to comply with their legal obligation under the Waste Management Act, 1996, to make waste management plans and that the minority is, therefore, obstructing necessary progress on the part of the majority. That is false, unacceptable and misleading. The true patriots are the people who stood up to the Minister, the waste management plan and the continuous browbeating from the Minister's office in relation to waste management.

There is little at issue between the Minister and his Department and the public. The problem, however, is the safety of incineration and the health impact of the emissions. If the Minister will acknowledge that and carry out an inquiry based in this House with all the experts coming to give their views, we can look at it again. I accept that some people support incineration. I do not and will not.

The other aspect of concern with incineration is what will happen to the toxic ash. If there is an incinerator in the Meath constituency beside Drogheda, a total of 400 twenty tonne lorries full of toxic ash will pass through the town annually. Where will the toxic ash go? Beside whose home will it be brought? How will it be treated?

The House of Commons report pointed out that the incinerator ash in Newcastle was put on the paving stones of that city. It was discovered after a number of years that it was highly dangerous when mixed with the concrete and that people were being exposed to dioxins and other health hazards, which was unacceptable. According to the report, it shattered the credibility of the incinerator argument in the United Kingdom. It also shatters it in Ireland.

This is an important debate. I urge the Minister to think again, to agree to a moratorium on incineration and to carry out an assessment which would involve the Health Research Board, the EPA and other relevant bodies and report on all aspects of this issue. If he does that, we can make much progress. If he does not, there will be great difficulty and trouble in the councils throughout the country. Most importantly, public health will have been utterly and cynically disregarded.

I second the motion. It was a great shock to discover the other night that the Minister had finally imposed his threat on local authorities. Initially, I thought he had made the threat to stimulate argument or to try to bully his councillors into agreeing with the waste management policies he was imposing. The Minister travelled throughout the country and spoke to a number of Fianna Fáil councillors to get them to change their votes. He was not successful.

In my constituency, a Fianna Fáil Member of the Seanad voted against the plan. I did not disagree with that vote. I believe the Senator, a member of Galway Corporation, had the same views as mine. I strongly hold those views and they have been emphasised this evening by the previous speaker. Incineration has not been proven to be safe. I have listened to numerous debates conducted by experts on both sides. As long as there is a question over the possible health hazards of incineration councillors will not vote for it, and rightly so.

The Minister has refused time and again to come to the Seanad to discuss incineration.

When was I invited?

I had a motion on the Order Paper and I have asked the Leader of the House, time and again, to invite the Minister to come before the Seanad to assure us that incineration is safe. That is all I asked—

I was never asked before. This is the first motion to come before the House and I will not have any Member of the Seanad say I refused to come to the Seanad. That is totally untrue.

Perhaps the Leader of the House did not inform the Minister that I have consistently, over the last three years, asked the House to debate this issue. Each time I asked, the Leader failed to bring the Minister to the House.

That is different.

I have to assume the Leader will contact the Minister to inform him that this issue has been raised on many occasions by Opposition Members. Each time I ask he promises me the debate will take place. I simply wanted the Minister to come to the House and to prove that incineration is safe. This opportunity tonight is due to the fact that the Minister has decided the heavy hand of centralised Government should take over from local government. That is wrong.

I always thought this Minister, as a former member of LAMA, believed in local democracy. I still think he does but he has made a mistake in this regard and I am sad about that. I have read all the policy documents from the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The first item they highlight is reduction, the second is recycling and the third is reuse. Those policies should have been put in place in the period since 1996, when the Waste Management Bill was first published, before we even discussed incineration.

Denmark, a country about the same size as Ireland, recycles over 54% of its waste. We should have attained a similar figure before even thinking about moving beyond recycling. However, we did not do it. Because we failed to implement the policies we are now only at the infancy stage of waste management.

Maybe in Galway.

It saddens me that the Government is removing from local authorities the right to make decisions. We are against the idea that local democracy cannot make decisions. I believe they could make decisions in favour of incineration, as the Minister wants, if it could be proven that incineration is safe.

I have listened many times to people talking about incineration. The issues of toxins, dioxins and the use of ash in concrete have been well established by Senator O'Dowd. Can the Minister refute any of the claims outlined by my colleague? Can he say there will be no ill effects from incineration? Can he confirm that the technology is safe?

In Europe there is recognition that a waste management policy is critical but there is greater emphasis on how to deal with it. New technology is constantly coming on stream. We could race to accept technology that might be out of date in two or three years and that might create a health hazard. Can the Minister say that it will not?

I never had any belief in the regional waste policy, for a number of reasons. I believed it was just a geographical design on a map. Figures have been quoted to indicate that it will work but I believe a central authority is required to examine the entire country. Even if one wishes to call it a means of creating energy to provide heat, although that is just another disguise, waste incineration means burning materials and emitting dioxides. Can the Minister assure the House that the policy of establishing so many incinerators throughout the country will not result in the opposite effect to that which his Department has emphasised time and again, that waste management should start with reduction and move to recycling, reuse and other options? I believe these incinerators will demand more and more waste and that this will kill the original policy.

I am not making a political point. I genuinely believe this is the position. The Minister may laugh his heart out if he so wishes, but as long as there was a possibility, his own councillors did not support him, nor his own Senators because they were not assured by him or his Department about the potential health hazard.

It is the policy of the EU to allow decisions to be made at the lowest possible level. This is a reversal of that. It is the heavy hand of central Government. This is dictatorship. If the Minister had persuaded local authorities that his beliefs were valid, he would have convinced them. There are people out there who have as good an IQ as those in here and they decided not to go down that road.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

welcomes and supports the proposals of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to secure the completion of proper waste management planning in compliance with Ireland's EU obligations, and as a basis for the provision of effective and cost efficient waste services and infrastructure;

welcomes other important provisions of the proposed Bill, including enabling powers with regard to proposed levies on plastic shopping bags and the landfill of waste, and the proposed establishment of an environment fund;

notes with regret the ongoing failure of a small number of local authorities to comply with their legal obligation under the Waste Management Act, 1996, to make waste management plans and accepts that a minority are therefore obstructing necessary progress on the part of the majority; recognises that the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill, 2001, is in the overall national interest, and will facilitate local authorities in exercising an effective and meaningful role in modernising waste management;

notes that all significant waste management facilities are subject to rigorous planning control and a stringent licensing regime operated by the Environmental Protection Agency; and

notes EPA advice that emissions from proposed new thermal treatment facilities, employing modern technologies and subject to compliance with strict environmental standards, would not have any appreciable environmental impact or contribute significantly to background levels of dioxins or other pollutants, either locally or nationally.

I am taken aback by the comments of my two colleagues on the other side when they say that democracy and powers are being taken away from local authorities. Local authorities had every opportunity to bring in waste management policies, and those that did not were asleep. In County Kerry, we have a compost operation working satisfactorily, bottle banks and other forms of recycling. These challenges faced us as they did every local authority. We adopted the waste management policy, and it is unfortunate that others did not.

We have to move on. Does the Opposition want the refuse to pile up in every town and village as we saw in Galway? Only when the rubbish was being dumped in the street were moves made there. People seem to think that waste disappears when it goes into a landfill, but they begin to fill up and we must make alternative arrangements for waste disposal. There are many ways to move forward.

There are several problem areas. The landfills in County Clare are full. They must get other ways of disposing of their refuse. They approached their neighbours in Counties Galway, Limerick, Tipperary and Kerry. They put to us a good proposal whereby we would take their refuse for 18 months with no guarantees.

As soon as the application came before us and was discussed by our environmental committee, a picket was placed by residents on the landfill at Muingnaminnane, Tralee. The landfill was closed down and refuse piled up everywhere. The county council had to get a high court injunction to remove the pickets. The residents wanted something else done with the refuse.

The bullet had to be bitten, and the Minister has done that, although many people are critical. I read a report about wind power and I proposed in Kerry County Council that there should be a national policy on wind farms. Instead of coming from the bottom up, it should come from the top down. At a planning meeting I attended recently, planners from eight or ten local authorities objected that there was no national policy. They stated that if there was a national directive, they could move on a local basis.

The Minister gave plenty of notice to local authorities to get their house in order and devise a waste management plan, but they did not act. It is unfortunate, but the Minister had to do what he did when three out of 15 local authorities refused to adopt a regional plan. The plan can only exist if everybody moves simultaneously.

There is more to this matter. I visited Denmark and the Netherlands where they talk about recycling, compost heaps and other measures, but the best example in the best country in Europe can only recycle 16% or 18% of waste without incineration or thermal treatment. If other figures are put before me, I will reconsider, but I examined all these matters in detail. Even with recycling and other works, more cannot be done. The most efficient thermal treatment plant in Europe deals with 78% of waste, but still has to dispose of 22% of ash.

There is an ideal opportunity here for people and the Government to move forward. We can be thankful that we have no nuclear power station here. We have seen the catastrophes like Chernobyl and the continuing threat of Sellafield. There were plans for a nuclear plant here but the people were listened to. There is an ideal oppor tunity now to generate electricity from waste. We should consider that.

The Minister might know about the position in Nova Scotia which I read about recently. They seem to be most efficient in their management of waste and we should take a leaf from their book. We must go down the right road. There is new technology and many ways of disposing of waste. Landfills are on the way out. People the length and breadth of the country reject them. I have seen for myself signs saying that they do not want a dump or rubbish, but where will it be disposed of?

When the three or four local authorities did not act responsibly, pressure was put on the Minister to do something and he is acting now. I compliment him for the actions he is taking. If the local authorities did their work, I would say that the Minister is wrong. If nothing happens we will have a situation like in Galway and part of my own county where waste is piling up.

I welcome the Minister's initiative and the national move on this. Someone has to lead, to bite the bullet and decide to tackle the waste problem through a policy. When we were asked to take refuge for 18 months by our neighbours, there was an outcry from the Kerry people who said that we had trouble getting rid of our rubbish. The lifetime of our dump will end in another nine years. That is a short time because we have to plan three or four years in advance. Over the next few years we have to plan to extend the landfill in Kerry or look at alternatives. We thought we would be in a region with Clare and Limerick where we could use a thermal treatment plant.

We need to recycle as much as possible. Everything asked of us in Kerry has been done; there are bottle banks everywhere, and people use compost where possible. If other counties or local authorities did not do likewise, shame on them and I ask why not. Something has to give, however, as we cannot allow refuse to pile up in every town and village. The finger will be pointed at the Minister, who will be asked why he did not act.

I return to Senator Coogan's remark about the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. I have been in the House for a number of years, and Deputy Dempsey has been the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for the past four of them. He has been in this House more times than any other Minister, with the exception of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue. More local government legislation has been introduced by this Minister than by any in the past 20 years. He does not play around or fob anybody off, but he bites the bullet, makes decisions and gets on with his job. He should be complimented for that, and I welcome him to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House too, but he has a profoundly difficult task. Since 1995, we have seen the closure of 250 dumps, which is a better word for them than landfills. During the same period, we have produced an increasing amount of waste. People forget that we are not just talking about household waste, as there has been a huge increase in waste from manufacturers, agriculture, toxic sources, hospitals and building work. Nobody is prepared to tackle it in their own areas.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the three councils who refuse to bring forward plans, as they represent areas in which incinerators are to be built. It is easy to be virtuous if one is not being tempted, but if an incinerator is about to be built in an area, there naturally will be concern. I am sure the Minister has looked at the health issues involved with incineration. I will not go into the long and difficult pros and cons, but the main problem is of dioxins in the emissions. There are also concerns regarding particulate dust and the disposal of ash.

If we are to have incinerators, as seems to be inclination of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, I regret that it has happened so rapidly. Little attempt has been made to look at the rest of the waste management hierarchy, whether it is prevention, minimisation, re-use, recycling, energy recovery – another name for incineration – or disposal. This country is in an appalling situation regarding disposal, as there are simply no more places where dumps are acceptable. I have deep sympathy for those who live in north Dublin, Meath and Wicklow, where there is beautiful agricultural land. Why should their good land be taken for dumps?

To pursue a policy of incineration, as seems to be the case, seems to be to build incinerators in areas which are not those where the most amount of waste is produced. That is unfair, and surely incinerators should be built in those areas producing the waste. Why locate them in pristine places where there have been no problems, not even with dumps? Whatever incinerators we are to have should be built in areas where the greatest pollution is taking place. That will not be popular, as the area of greatest pollution is Dublin. To have an incinerator in Dublin would be to disrupt voters, who have the power to deal a blow to whatever party introduces the measure. As Dublin is the area with the greatest number of seats, everyone will be reluctant to do that. If we are serious in our concerns about emissions from incinerators, it is essential to locate them on the east coast where the west wind will blow emissions out over the Irish Sea.

The issues of dioxins and incineration are linked to whether we should adopt a policy of energy recovery. Dioxins are formed between 700 and 1,100 degrees centigrade. Energy recovery will mean the production of energy on the way up and on the way down the temperature scale. If we decide to have incinerators without the recovery of energy from furnaces, we could cool rapidly the furnaces so that dioxins are emitted only on the way up. I do not know if such an approach has been looked at, but I would prefer if we looked at the hierarchy nearer the top of the waste management pyramid.

Many people are very interested in recycling, and we are good at collecting recyclable material. We have probably enough bottles to keep us going for the rest of our lives, even considering the amount we drink. The collection of aluminium cans has been so successful throughout Europe that the price of aluminium is on the way down. It has gone from £800 per tonne to £650, because there is not as much need for bauxite from which to produce aluminium as there was a few years ago. Recycling can therefore make products cheaper for us if we get involved.

We are not great when it comes to biodegradable waste. When I am shopping, I look at the amount of packaging in my basket and see that very little of it is biodegradable. Far bigger efforts have to be made in this regard. We also need to re-use as much as we can, as various supermarkets and organisations encourage us to do, and more education is needed. The Minister's proposed tax on plastic bags is five or ten years too late. If it could be brought in tomorrow, it would be a great help, although I think 15p is a very small levy. I ask those in supermarkets to make people beg for plastic bags, as it is said that people ask for a plastic bag for a packet of crisps. If crisps cost 40p, and the plastic bag is 15p, people may think a little more on the matter and some bags may be re-used.

This debate has not yet addressed the issues of toxic waste and hospital waste, which worries me considerably. I would be very interested to hear the Minister's proposals in that regard, as I am concerned the amount of both kinds of waste is increasing. Following the BSE crisis, we are told to use disposable instruments for some operations, and they will have to be got rid of. I wonder what the outbreak of foot and mouth disease has done for the use of disposable overalls. Imagine the amount of waste that has been produced as a result.

I have a little knowledge of the tyre industry and I wonder why more effort has not been put into recycling them. In countries as far apart as the Czech Republic and Canada, tyres have been ground up and put into the road surface. We try to address noise pollution by lowering the amount of noise emitted by engines, but the vibration of tyres is a huge source of noise pollution in city areas and near roads. Perhaps rubber compounds should be used in city roads at least. Not only would it make the road surface better, but it would be important in cutting down the amount of noise that is produced.

It is good to see that gardening programmes on television are beginning to emphasise composting. All of us have gardens and corners where we try to grow plants and it is important that efforts are made to show us that it is an easy thing to do.

The recycling of building materials is also important. The Minister may remember that in the past bricks were placed in cement mixers to make them look old. This has become fashionable again. We have now come round to salvaging something from demolished buildings.

I understand the concerns expressed by Senators who are members of county councils in areas where incinerators may be built. Why should they be built in the areas producing the least waste? It causes dreadful problems with the transport of the waste around the country. It also seems harsh that those who have produced the least amount of the problem should have to suffer most. I encourage the Minister to look at the top of the pyramid when it comes to waste disposal as we have not done anything like enough in this area yet.

Let me start with a few quotations:

Waste disposal is a key national issue. There is no disagreement about either the scale or the urgency of Ireland's waste problem . . . Every waste management system, no matter how successful, must eventually address the issue of disposing of residual and unavoidable waste.

Would any Senator or Deputy disagree with this? I think not, not even the Green Party with its Paul Daniels solution to the waste problem which would have us believe that waste can disappear, nor the Labour Party with its Walter Mitty approach which enables it to oppose every individual landfill facility and then publish a policy document which advocates at least one landfill in every county, increasing our reliance on landfills when the thrust of national and EU policy is aimed at reducing it.

Let me give another quotation: "We can safely avail of the benefits of well-managed and monitored waste incineration without incurring the inherent risks." That would provoke a reaction, not only from the Greens and Labour Party, but from those who sought this debate. None of those statements was written by me or my Department. They are taken directly from section 7 of the Fine Gael policy document, A Plan for the Nation. We have come to a sorry pass when, to join with the irresponsibility of the Greens and the Labour Party, the largest Opposition party is engaging in "Yes Minister" policy-making: identify the solution and when one is put under pressure, try to examine it out of existence. This particular "Yes Minister" approach is all too evident in the Fine Gael motion.

There is an urgent need, as Senators, Deputies and councillors have said, to move the waste management planning process forward. The public is also aware of this. Yet, Fine Gael wants further examination, in addition to the examination of issues during the debate on the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill, which I hope to introduce in the Seanad next week.

Let me go back to basics. The primary purpose of the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill is to provide a legal mechanism by which the current waste management planning process, which has been under way for approximately three years, can be brought to an early and satisfactory conclusion in accordance with our EU obligations. I am also taking the opportunity of providing a statutory basis for a number of other important measures, in particular the introduction of a levy on plastic shopping bags and, potentially, other environmentally problematic products, including some mentioned by Senator Henry, a levy on the landfill of waste and the establishment of an environmental fund through which the proceeds of these levies will be disbursed for appropriate waste management, litter control and other environmental initiatives.

Proper waste management planning is essential for the provision of effective and cost-efficient waste services and infrastructure. Currently, we landfill about 90% of our municipal waste, often in small and inadequate landfill facilities. We have a limited recycling infrastructure, almost no biological treatment capability and no means of recovering energy from waste. Our waste recycling rate is among the lowest in the European Union. This is, simply, unsustainable.

Despite what Senators O'Dowd and Coogan said, we do have a waste management policy. I am surprised that people who would speak at great length on the necessity of dealing with waste management are not even aware of the fact that a national policy was put in place when we published Changing our Ways which, in essence, promoted the concept of an integrated approach to waste management, utilising a range of technologies to deliver a more sustainable and effective recycling and recovery performance and significantly reduce our reliance on landfill. I assure Senator Henry and others that that is firmly based on the waste hierarchy. Nobody would be happier if, at the end of our planning and putting in place the draft waste management plans, we had nothing to go to final disposal, whether landfill, incineration or thermal treatment.

It was clear to me that 34 individual local authorities operating in isolation could not realistically hope to achieve the necessary economies of scale to support this integrated approach. Accordingly, I strongly advocated a regional approach to the making and implementation of waste management plans. Many local authorities are committed to the making of joint or regional plans. Considerable financial and human resources have been allocated to the development of detailed and ambitious regional plans. There was also significant public consultation throughout the planning process. The local authorities made the decision as to whether they would remain as single local authorities, which I did not favour, but a number of them did so. Others decided to take the regional route, but I did not force them to do so. We have now encountered ongoing problems and delays in the formal adoption of regional plans. Currently, three out of 15 local authorities in the three regional groups have refused to adopt the proposed regional plans before them. The decisions of this small number of local authorities are obstructing any prospect of progress on the part of the majority and have thrown the overall planning process into disarray. Even in the two regions where all of the local authorities concerned decided to adopt their regional plan, some did so subject to potentially significant qualifications.

The legal advice available to me is clear. A proposed regional waste management plan must be adopted on the same substantive basis by all the local authorities concerned, or none can be considered to have passed it. That is the situation I face with these three local authorities. In the case of at least two there was no real indication as to where thermal treatment plants might be sited or if they would be sited within those local authorities.

It would make a mockery of my stewardship of the environment brief to allow the current drift to continue. We have lost too much time. We have to act now to put a modern and efficient waste management infrastructure and improved waste services in place. I was castigated last week by some of the parties which tabled the motion for allowing this to go on for as long as I have, but I gave fair warning, as Senator Coogan acknowledged, and the time to act is now. I have to act in the overall national interest to take the steps that will facilitate the satisfactory completion of the planning process.

Accordingly, the Government has decided that the power to make a waste management plan should be transferred from the elected members of a local authority to the relevant manager. This will allow local authority management to conclude the planning process and remove any perceived obstacles to the effective implementation of regional plans. It will clear the way to deliver on all aspects of waste modernisation: segregated collection services, higher recycling and recovery performance, and a dramatic reduction in disposal to landfill.

Some of the Senators and others outside this House have put forward nice handy soundbites stating that the Minister is imposing incineration on a particular region or county. That accusation is not true. I did not draft the waste management plans that we are talking about. I did not instruct any local authority to come up with any solution. A number of local authorities came up with solutions that do not entail thermal treatment. The local and regional authorities themselves, with the best advice available to them, proposed to go this route and to use one of the rungs of the waste management hierarchy – recovery – as a valuable part of their strategies

I am addressing my responsibilities as Minister. A small number of local authorities clearly have difficulty in addressing their planning obligations and I am compelled to respond. The proposed changes will not affect the substance of the waste management plans adopted by the majority of local authorities. I do not consider it democratic that just three local authorities can hold up the implementation of important regional plans. Far from eroding local democracy, the proposed Bill will allow the wishes of the majority of local authorities to be implemented. I would prefer not to have to bring the Bill forward, but the time is long past for talking about it.

My commitment to a vigorous and more relevant local government system is as strong as ever. I have worked continually to drive forward a major programme of local renewal, including the current local government Bill. My belief in local democracy has not faltered; if anything, the improvements that have been achieved in the local government system since I became Minister have convinced me that we are on the right track. I will not be deterred from this route.

The issue of thermal treatment has been raised. This encompasses more than just incineration. There are thermolysis, pyrolysis, gassification, incineration, waste to energy and vitrification.

The proposed regional waste management plans are not just, or even mainly, about thermal treatment. That is why the people opposing thermal treatment are doing no service to the concept of integrated waste management. Thermal treatment of waste, whether by incineration or by other technologies, is envisaged as only one component of a new integrated infrastructure, which will facilitate recycling and biological treatment of 40% to 50% of waste.

I will be happy, when the proposed Bill comes before this House, to address in detail specific concerns that are routinely raised in relation to thermal treatment. Having said that, I accept that there are many people who have real and genuine concerns about perceived health threats from thermal treatment or incineration. Apart from the scare-mongering, these largely arise from the incinerators of the 1960s and 1970s and the history associated with them. Those fears are no longer valid in the current highly regulated world in which incinerators have to operate. It is particularly galling to think that unnecessary fears are being raised and expert opinion is being ignored, credible statistics are being distorted, reports from the World Health Organisation, European and UK sources are being discounted and rubbished by people to advance their own political agendas. In short, there is much misinformation in circulation. We have to go forward on a well informed basis.

On the one hand, we have an alliance of doctrinaire greens, who appear out of touch with the views of their European counterparts and propose hopelessly impractical solutions to our waste problem. I have spoken to Green Ministers in Germany and France and neither of them has a problem with properly run and properly regulated incinerators. We also have globetrotting self-appointed "experts" supplying a niche market with stock, simplistic answers, usually based on the experience of the 1960s and 1970s. We have political opportunists, who are happy to jump on any bandwagon they believe to be populist and that might get them elected. We have groups clearly motivated by a NIMBY agenda.

On the other hand, we have a clear preponderance of expert advice, to the effect that emissions from proposed new thermal treatment facilities, employing modern technologies and subject to compliance with strict environmental standards, would not have any appreciable environmental impact or contribute significantly to background levels of dioxins or other pollutants, either locally or nationally.

Senator Coogan asked if I could give an absolute assurance of the safety of incinerators. I wonder if Senator Coogan can assure me that, if I get out of bed tomorrow morning, I will be perfectly safe for the whole day or when I get into my car to go home—

That is no response.

That is irresponsible and puerile.

—that I am going to reach home. That is the kind of nonsensical rhetorical question that is being put forward.


We can rely on independent planning and environmental assessment designed to protect the public interest. New waste facilities of any significance are subject to full environmental impact assessment, planning controls and a rigorous environmental licensing system operated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA must take the precautionary principle into account and is legally precluded from licensing a waste facility unless, among other considerations, it is satisfied that the activity concerned will not cause environmental pollution. The EPA considers that municipal waste incineration, operating to the best modern standards, and incorporating energy recovery, is preferable to landfill from an environmental viewpoint.

We can look to waste management practices in the most environmentally progressive EU member states and ask ourselves whether they have all got it wrong. Are Governments and regulatory agencies throughout the EU knowingly acquiescing in causing damage to the environment and public health? I think not.

This brings me back to my opening comments. I thought that Fine Gael accepted this position. Their document, A Plan for the Nation, clearly advocates thermal treatment as an integral part of a modern waste management strategy when it states, "We can safely avail of the benefits of well managed and monitored waste incineration without incurring the inherent risks." Are we to assume that the proponents of tonight's motion do not subscribe to this policy position?

Our policy has changed.

Are they changing their policies as fast as their leaders?

In relation to their facile comments on the erosion of local democracy, this goes to prove that the "hard neck" is alive and well and living in Fine Gael even if they did change their leader.

We want a debate, not political rubbish.

Are we to forget that both Fine Gael and Labour spokesmen, including speakers tonight, have advocated a national waste management authority where all the functions pertaining to waste would be taken over by a quango? And they talk about local democracy.

I am very disappointed that the Fine Gael motion did not acknowledge very positive features of the Bill that I outlined at the start. Senator O'Dowd has suggested that we should have a full debate and I dealt with that at the outset. I wonder why Senator O'Dowd is looking for more discussion on this issue when, in answer to a question on local radio, he stated that he will always be totally opposed to incineration. That is a very open-minded approach, a wonderful way to enter into debate – have one's mind totally closed on the issue from the word go.

Just as I was totally opposed to this Government and always will be. It is the same thing to me. It is something I do not want and will not accept.

I produced evidence from the independent chief medical officer and director of public health in the Isle of Man who responded to public concerns about dioxins and particular emissions from a proposed new incineration facility for the island. He conducted a detailed examination and concluded, in September last:

I am satisfied that the proposed plant can operate reliably within stringent EC emission limits; that emissions will be at very low levels and make a very small contribution to the much higher pre-existing levels in the environment. Provided all emission limits are complied with, there would not, in my opinion, be any significant risk to human health arising from the proposed plant.

The scientific response to that from Senator O'Dowd was "Some doctor in the Isle of Man has come up with some kind of a notion about this." The man in question is a very eminent and respected independent chief medical officer and director of public health on the island.

What about our own eminent doctors?

Senator O'Dowd is looking for studies on incineration in Ireland. We have no municipal incineration in this country and cannot study something we do not have.

We can study the literature.

The next best thing is to look at studies undertaken by countries which have incinerators and have concluded very positively that this is an acceptable form of waste disposal, provided all the standards are met. It is not true to say, as has been suggested, that the planning process does not take into account possible health effects. That is fully taken on board by the planning process and EPA licensing system.

Senator Henry referred to the streams of waste to be dealt with, tyres, plastics, C and D waste and so on. It is absolutely necessary to finish the planning process so that we can put in place the type of schemes all of us profess to want. I do not doubt anybody's sincerity in this regard. Waste management plans are already in place in draft form. They deal with prevention, minimisation, recycling and reuse. Recycling will be carried out in all the waste management plans I have seen by door-to-door collection of recyclables in population areas of 5,000 plus, in bring banks or civic amenity sites in population areas of 1,000 plus, with an increase in the number of bring-centres in smaller towns and villages. We are talking about centralised composting facilities in each region, designed to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

We are also, with the introduction of the forthcoming Bill, giving the Minister power to prohibit certain streams of waste going to landfill. We are very advanced in achieving our target of a 50% reduction in C and D waste. Plans are in place and we need to move ahead with the planning process and implement the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill. Subject to agreement with the Whips I will introduce the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill in this House next week when we will have a further opportunity to discuss the issues relating to it.

I welcome the Minister of State. The motion tabled by the Fine Gael Party is not confrontational and I am surprised the Minister reacted in such a confrontational manner. The motion calls on the Minister to debate the issues involved, recycling, composting, incineration and gasification, with particular reference to possible consequences to public health.

I am amazed at the Minister's response. We have received a series of lectures from him, a criticism of anybody who dares to have a concern in this regard. The Minister spoke of doctrinaire greens, globetrotting self-appointed experts, political opportunists and groups motivated by a NIMBY agenda. Is he suggesting that people should not discuss the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste, thermal treatment and incineration? All the public meetings I have attended have been very balanced. The Minister obviously has not consulted on this with officials in local authorities who have stated that they cannot implement the reduce, re-use, recycling of waste because of a lack of funding.

I cannot understand why the Minister is reacting in such a negative fashion. He has failed to foster public support for waste reduction over the past three and a half years. If anything, it is local councillors who are always at the coalface of public meetings, who have responded to public meetings where no alternative viewpoint was available to people regarding possible health risks. If anything creates public interest – we witnessed it regarding BSE and foot and mouth disease – it is the issue of health risks to humans. Everyone is asking questions.

I do not understand what the Minister is saying about the Fine Gael Party but we have been extremely responsible at local authority level in providing informed debates on this issue. As yet, we in Limerick County Council, have not been given an alternative to the M. C. O'Sullivan operation, which appears to be dominating the debate as regards thermal treatment. They are but one voice and that is all we are getting. We want another voice which will provide us with the possible health risks which exist. I have a great deal of information in that regard.

I visited four different areas operating incineration-thermal treatment gasification. We are not going on junkets, we want to be informed of the risks. Those involved in the incineration industry are prepared to admit there are risks involved. I am sure the Minister of State will take on board this information. I am finding over and over again that incineration gobbles everything up – it has to be fed like the veracious creature it is. A group of Limerick councillors visited Chester county which is about one and a half hours from New York on the banks of the Hudson last St. Patrick's weekend. There was no segregation of waste at that incineration plant. Everything, even the kitchen sink, was incinerated. I was told segregation could not take place because it would cost too much and the consumer was not prepared to pay. The people operating this incineration business also operated several others at which no segregation of waste took place because, they said, the public simply would not buy. I do not believe that. The public would buy reduce, reuse, recycle, but this was the voice of an incinerator company which just shrugged its shoulders and said no to segregation.

I would like to know the Minister's response to the claim that, if we were to go the incinerator route, it could happen here. He has done nothing about reduce, reuse, recycle. He criticises Fine Gael for its policy of producing, at enormous expense to itself, a bag that it can distribute free to give people an alternative to paying 15p for a plastic bag. It asks them to take the recyclable, biodegradable bag and they say thank you. Many come in with their own bags, educated by local authorities, not by the Minister, because they certainly have heard nothing from him regarding funding for local authorities to be able to reduce, reuse and recycle. I fear that the Minister has the notion that the incinerator is the silver bullet solution when in reality waste reduction, separation and recycling needs to happen first. I do not say that Fine Gael will not look at it, but he must have read an out of date policy.

He read selectively.

Exactly. We can update our policy every day of the week because we in Limerick County Council put a proviso on our acceptance of a waste management plan to the effect that in two years' time we will revisit thermal treatment. We would like to know what has been done technically regarding gasification, another option in terms of thermal treatment. We would like to know what advances occur and maybe in two years time there might be a better method because progress is swift. If we revise, it means that we are keeping in touch with what is happening and all we have done, which unlike the Minister I do not consider dangerous, is call on the Government to immediately commission a detailed, definitive international health and environmental study on the impact of an incineration programme. He says it cannot be done because we do not have incineration, but we should be able to inform public opinion. I have got so much documentation about this in relation to Japan, the USA, Britain and elsewhere and you can inform public opinion, or at least say that you are interested in broaching the health issues and the safety or otherwise of these facilities.

Fine Gael's approach is very sensible. The study would renew the standards and procedures set out in EU Directive 2000/76/EEC and determine if they are strict enough for Ireland. That is the most logical and co-operative statement that could be made in this House. The Minister is worried that an election will prompt questions of what he has done. He says he did not hear us asking for debate. I do not know what the leader of Fianna Fáil is doing about informing his Ministers, but he keeps telling us he has asked the Minister to come to the House. He has not come in. He is coming in now in a reactionary way whereas he should be sitting down with us and stating that the health issue should be debated. He will be under greater pressure in relation to BSE. He is pushed from all angles and he comes too late.

I address myself to the initial part of the motion which has two parts. I am inclined to agree with certain elements of the second part of it, but I will address myself to that part which says that Seanad Éireann condemns the Minister for his proposal to further erode local democracy. I would be the first to condemn this Minister, or any Minister, for proposing to erode local democracy if local politicians were, in all cases, exercising their responsibility, the responsibility that local democracy confers on them.

Give them a chance.

If the Fine Gael Party wishes me to address myself to it I would have no hesitation in so doing. I will, however, address myself to the motion instead.

I am a strong believer in putting in place a healthy, functioning local democracy. It is the essence and bedrock of all democracy, but we have to talk, not from the viewpoint of the textbook or the theory but from the perspective of our experience. The experience is that certain local authorities are refusing to exercise the responsibility that local democracy puts on them and because of that the issue of waste management is drifting. It cannot be allowed to drift any further without decisions and action being taken. I am afraid that those I want to condemn are the local authorities which are running from their responsibilities, not the Minister who is trying to grapple with circumstances not of his making.

On other issues, like the situating and development of halting sites, there have been huge difficulties in getting certain local authorities to do their duty. That was another function that had to be taken on by local government and it is a sad day for local democracy that the Minister is left with no option but to take away the responsibility for proceeding with proper waste management policies, a black and sad day which can be delayed no longer. I have expressed great annoyance that this has not been grappled with before, but it is being grappled with now and it has my full support. We cannot let this go on as we are blatantly and irresponsibly creating mountains of waste and never asking what is to happen to it. As citizens, we can no longer go down that road so I am glad that, at last, the Government is beginning to put in place stronger measures.

It is a matter of huge puzzlement to people who come here and see how well we can perform economically, how we can deliver a first class, educated and motivated workforce to function in the most advanced industries and how we can outpace countries that are longer in the business than we are, yet we cannot handle waste or litter. We cannot handle any of these issues. It is a matter of puzzlement to people that we can be so clever, efficient and competent at one level and so remiss and careless on another. The net point is that if we continue to allow the waste issue to drift in such a manner, inevitably, there will be an adverse impact on our image. People will say that we are not so bright after all, that we do not know how to manage our waste, that we cannot keep our streets clean or dispose of our litter. They will say that we cannot prevent pollution of water and are not prepared to prevent air pollution, and inevitably our poor image will affect our ability to be prime providers of good food. People will not want to eat animals or vegetables from land that is polluted and unhealthy. They will not want to take fish from waters that are heavily polluted even if the fish are able to survive in them and they will not wish to holiday in places where the quality of the food and the environment is not first class. There is a bill to be paid down the road if we do not grasp the nettle now.

Waste management strategies were put in place by the rainbow coalition Government. The then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, introduced the relevant legislation. While it was good on paper, it has not worked well in practice. There is little point in enacting legislation unless it is enforced.

It is right to revisit the issue. On many occasions I have supported Senator Jackman's call for a debate on waste management. We must engage in debate with a view to accelerating a response to the problem, finding remedies and getting things done.

On the question of recycling, while there are great plans on paper, nothing is happening in practice. Every week more than 50% of the content of my wheeliebin is made up of paper because there is nothing else I can do with it. There is no accessible recycling facility available to me. This needs to be looked at. The market for recycled paper fluctuates greatly. This is the reason a good Government policy is required to ensure downward market trends can be addressed by subsidies.

Much concern has been expressed about incineration. Those who oppose it are not prepared to recycle, reduce, compost or face up to the other alternatives. At some stage the waste mountains will be so high that recycling will become inevitable. Countries which are much more environmentally conscious and respectful of their environments have recycling systems. We should not close our minds to, at least, investigating the new technologies if and when a policy decision is made to introduce incineration.

Regrettably, some are against everything. It is part of the tradition of being against the Government for no good reason. The issue must be addressed with vigour and courage. Ultimately, the public has more respect for politicians who take tough decisions. While members of the public might plámás politicians who play the populist tune, I am not sure if they will vote for them.

Mr. Ryan

I am intrigued to hear about the extraordinary performance of many of our Euro pean neighbours, especially the very high quality of environmental protection in countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. They all operate an economic and social model of which the Tánaiste disapproves. It is a model of regulation and state intervention funded by moderately high taxation to enhance quality of life. I referred to this when I contributed to a debate in the House a week ago. The countries concerned operate in this way because they are open participative democracies in which the state provides good services funded by moderately high levels of taxation. In our give-away economy there is a perception that waste is a problem for others. Unless we reintegrate into our society a sense that responsibility goes with affluence, we will make no progress on the issue.

This is not a technical issue. It is not about landfill, incineration and so on. It is a political crisis because those who wish to claim all the credit for our economic success will not take the responsibility for its consequences which they want to pass on to others. That is the fundamental problem. While central government wants to take the credit for the wonderful performance of the last few years, it wants local authority members to take the stick for the negative side, the explosion in waste.

The motion condemns the Government for eroding the powers of local authorities. We are not concerned in this debate with the cost of living in China or other such countries.

Senator Ryan to continue without interruption.

Mr. Ryan

My views are not inconsistent with the motion which is about political leadership, not dictatorship. It is regrettable if my Opposition colleague does not understand the distinction between the two. The problem arises because the Minister refused to create the political conditions in which the problem could be solved. He ran away from it and landed it in the lap of local authorities.

Deputy Howlin did that when he was Minister. The Senator has not read the legislation which was introduced in 1996.

Acting Chairman

The Senator has made her contribution. She should allow Senator Ryan to continue without interruption.

Mr. Ryan

It was recognised as long as eight years ago that the country would have a waste problem. In the course of a technical presentation to the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on Sustainable Development I said then what I continue to believe, that many of the fears about incineration are unreal and exaggerated. I would not ask anybody to accept it, however, because we have not created the political conditions in which a sensible debate can take place. That is the problem. The difference between this country and those to which I referred is that they created the political conditions in which sensible debate could take place. We lack the element of trust, leadership and responsibility to proceed on that basis.

It is up to those who claim the credit for creating the good times to take responsibility for them. I do not blame local authority members who see themselves as being hung out to dry by central government. While claiming credit for the good things, it has told them to produce a waste management plan and decide to do things for which it will not accept responsibility. Underfunded local authorities are supposed to raise charges to pay for recycling and decide where the waste is to be disposed of. They are supposed to take the heat while the Minister makes eloquent speeches about the environment in the abstract.

This is an issue about political leadership. It is a national issue that must be solved locally, but it must be led from the top. The glorious fudge from the top announced recently is not the way forward any more than the suppression of local democracy is a solution.

There is no suppression of local democracy.

Acting Chairman

Senator Ryan to continue without interruption.

Mr. Ryan

Apart from the fact that it is anti-democratic, handing the issue over to executive authority does not guarantee a better solution. One county manager approved of large numbers of holiday home developments despite the absence of water or sewerage services. A big environmental mess has arisen because of an executive decision. County mangers are not necessarily any more competent or knowledgeable, but it is convenient to delegate responsibility to them because in that way the Minister is not blamed while local authorities do not have to take responsibility.

Any local authority which does not agree to play its part in an integrated regional waste management scheme should be required to keep all waste from its area of authority within its own boundaries. That would concentrate the minds extremely well. This is not an issue about how to deal with waste. It is about how to deal with a fundamental issue in society and it is a question of who is responsible. The ultimate responsible is a national responsibility because it is a national problem. The implementation of the solution will take place at local level and it will never be implemented satisfactorily without local consent. One cannot manufacture that consent by simply ignoring the views of the people who live in those areas. One must do something with which the Government perhaps has a problem, that is, one must win consent. One cannot simply create an artificial majority and bully it through. One must actually win and that involves persuasion, transparency and funding. This should not be more expensive for local people. It should not be threatening for local people. It should not be based on ignoring the reality.

Some 40% of our municipal waste is building rubble. In most civilised countries that does not go to landfill but is used again in further building. Surely that is a huge economic waste in a country where the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources is investigating using offshore resources to provide further supplies of sand and gravel because we are running out of it. Paper, which was mentioned by Senator Quill, should never going to landfill and neither should glass. If one addresses those three areas, the landfill crisis will be stretched over the sort of period of time in which political leadership can talk to the people, in a way which they can trust and understand, about the technical solutions to this, of which there are many.

Earlier Senator Coogan suggested that the Minister had done a tour of the country to convince Fianna Fáil councillors that they should change their positions and vote for management plans which they had previously rejected. That is completely untrue. I refuted that allegation locally in Galway when he made it and I refute it again here. That is not what the Minister did and it is not what happened.

When he came to Roscommon that is what he did.

I also refute the allegations that the Minister bullied and pushed local authorities into making decisions. That is not the case. Local authorities made decisions because they had to do so. However, the process that we went through, preparing the strategy for the waste management plans and then preparing the plans themselves for adoption by councils, was poor. We did not prepare our councillors properly. We did not educate them about what was involved.

I would be critical of the consultants involved in the various plans throughout the country in that early in the process it would have been important, because they had knowledge which perhaps councillors did not, to make councillors aware in consultations, meetings or visits that the issue of thermal treatment and waste-to-energy recovery facilities was a problematic area. It had always been problematic in the countries where it was introduced. It may have been accepted, it may be the way in which many countries are going and there may be a belief that it is actually safe and that it is more environmentally friendly than continued landfill, however they were certainly aware that it was the one area which created the most controversy and which most upset people and that there were real fears regarding health issues.

No doubt, even at the end of this debate, there will be two bodies of opinion regarding the safety aspects of modern incineration. In the future I will probably still be on the other side of that opinion. However, I accept and respect that there are two bodies of opinion. Anybody involved in the debate must accept that there will always be experts who will say that this is true and there will be other experts who can state that what they said is not true and make another case.

This evening I did not want to get tied up on the issue of incineration but to talk about the broader issue of waste management. I spoke to the Minister earlier today and I am delighted the Minister of Stage, Deputy Dan Wallace, is present to hear my suggestion on the issue of waste minimisation. Last year there was a national car free day, where people were encouraged not to take their cars to work. In Galway, it was extremely successful. Today I told the Minister about a suggestion which has come from one of the reforms he has been introducing into local government, that is, the strategic policy committees. On the environmental strategic policy in my area, one of the members representing the community suggested that there should be a national packaging-free day. On that day everybody going to the shops would not accept a plastic bag and would leave any excess packaging in the shop. We would use cardboard boxes, reuse plastic bags, and use paper bags, cloth bags, etc. I am hopeful that the Minister will investigate this and perhaps take up the idea, and that soon there will be a national packaging free day.

We use 1.26 billion plastic bags in Ireland per annum, that is, 14,000 tonnes of waste. It either goes to landfill or in many occasions ends up as litter on our streets. We need to encourage the "bags for life" campaign. I commend the members of the Fine Gael Party who have gone down this route and who have used and produced bags for life, whether of paper or cloth. Many people in the Fianna Fáil Party have also participated in that scheme. This is about education and it is an issue not only for women but for men, children and everybody who shops. We need to use fewer bags, not one for every one or two items. We should refuse bags when we do not need them. How often, when one goes into a shop to buy a newspaper or a carton of milk, is one offered a bag? We must learn to say, "No". Sometimes one does not even have a chance to say it because the item is wrapped almost before one realises it.

We can ask for cardboard boxes in the supermarket when we are getting our groceries. Instead of packing items individually in plastic bags, one should ask for a cardboard box, which is easier to carry and more environmentally friendly. We should be buying loose produce, not produce which is already packed and which must be repacked again in plastic bags.

If we work on the whole area, issue by issue, starting with prevention and minimisation, then we can move into the area of reuse, recycling and composting. In Galway we implemented a pilot scheme in a small area with 500 houses. After eight weeks the results from that scheme are amazing. We are achieving targeted recycling levels of up to 70%.

As Senator Quill stated, the one way we will fight thermal treatment is by making sure that it is commercially unviable. We will do that by proving, as I believe is possible, that we can achieve the necessary rates of recycling, minimisation and reduction of waste to ensure that thermal treatment will be unviable and we will not see it used in Ireland.

There will always be differences of opinion on the health effects of incineration and other forms of thermal treatment. However the challenge for each of us, instead of scoring political points and jumping from one bandwagon to another, as is often the case, is to stand together and reduce, minimise and prevent waste and reuse it. If we do so, we will not need thermal treatment, which is obviously the most divisive subject we have talked about in this House for a long time.

I wish to share time with Senator Tom Hayes.

The reaction across the floor to the debate is quite extraordinary. I do not know if they have read the motion. We are simply seeking that the Minister—

He should read it aloud.

We call on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to debate the issues involved—

That is not what it states.

—in waste reduction, recycling, composting, incineration and classification with particular—

The motion "condemns the Minister for the Environment and Local Government". The Senator should start at the beginning.

Can I have the protection of the Chair from these rather shrill voices from across the House?

Acting Chairman

The Senator, without interruption.

It certainly does nothing for the dignity of this House.

Acting Chairman, in my most dulcet tones, may I invite the Senator to read the full motion? That is all I ask.

Acting Chairman

Senator Connor, without interruption.

Obviously this is a time wasting exercise. We are effectively asking for a debate with particular reference to any possible consequences to public health. The one thing that has attended this debate on waste management is the failure to look at the health hazard that is, without doubt, a consequence of incineration.

Hear, hear.

People in the 1960s and 1970s said Chernobyl was safe, but it was not. We are simply asking that the Minister start a debate on the public health consequences, whether there be some or none. That is what we want to find out in the debate.

First and foremost, it was not the decision of any local authority to have a regional waste management plan. That decision was imposed on them by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. He has been almost four years in office and the most abject failure of his ministry has been his total failure to deal with waste management. That is his primary responsibility. A group of consultants – I take it with the full approval of his Department – prepared waste management plans for every county and every regional cluster of counties. The agenda of that group, or company of consultants, was to put as much emphasis as possible on things like thermal treatment and landfill. If one looks at the draft waste management plan for every regional cluster of counties, one will find that more than 50% of waste – 60% in the case of Roscommon, Galway and Mayo, about which I know most – was to be disposed of either thermally or in landfill. We have a disgraceful record in that we send 90% of all our waste to landfill.

Dublin has the lowest level of recycling. If one goes to London, Liverpool, Paris or any city on the Continent, one will find these large bins on the streets for recycling – for glass and for plastic. Where does on find them in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or in any of the other large centres?

We have them in Kerry.

We are simply asking the Minister to open a debate on any health consequence. We are fully willing to accept that there may be none—

There are.

—but at least let us have a debate. The mean point scoring speech the Minister made tonight totally ignored the substance of the motion.

The Senator is talking about the wrong motion.

Acting Chairman

The Senator, without interruption.

I will leave it at that. I should be given injury time because I was severely restricted in what I had to say.

I am sorry to interrupt Senator Connor who was in full flow.

The motion condemns the Minister for his proposal to further erode local democracy through his proposals on waste disposal, etc. It would be a disgrace if any public representative worth their salt allowed the erosion of the powers of local councillors.

I agree.

I do not care from what Minister it comes. It is certainly coming from this Minister in the proposals he intends to bring before this House next week. As members of local authorities, we have to be seen to stand up to that. County councillors, urban councillors or anyone who gets involved in local government is aware of the lack of powers they have in relation to management and all the issues and decisions made. We have to take a firm stand, regardless of who is Minister for the Environment and Local Government. We go to meetings of the General Council of County Councils and LAMA and we stand up in front of councillors and make a point of being popular with them, yet here we are considering bringing in legislation which further erodes and takes power from the people. This is something against which I will do my best to fight. We should unite in this House and be strong when the Minister seeks to erode powers.

I would be the first to say that waste management is a huge problem for councils. If one looks at councils that have taken a stand and have adopted a plan, there has been no adverse reaction.

That is right.

I will give Members an example. Prior to the by-election, a decision was taken by South Tipperary County Council to locate a landfill site in Grange Hardbog and I was one of those in favour of locating it in that area. When the votes in the box from that area were counted, I got more votes than those who were—


The more I listen to this debate, the more confused I get because there are such conflicting statements from the other side of the House about whether this is an erosion of local democracy, whether they are pro-landfill or against waste disposalper se. I am confused as to what they are doing tonight or what the exercise is.

Let us start at the beginning. Those opposite spoke about the erosion of local democracy. I know better than anybody how much the Minister has done for local democracy. The Minister and the Minister of State have spent days listening to the concerns of local councillors. He has had more consultation with local democracy and how best to implement this than any other Minister since I came into the House. I have been a county councillor for 16 years and God knows I know my stuff. I know when and how waste disposal plans should be implemented, where we go from here and about the policy.

We have to move into the future and decide what policy we can bring forward. Waste disposal is a broad concept. Fine Gael is against waste disposal and is talking about the erosion—

That is rubbish.

—of local democracy as a result of the proposals on waste disposal. There a number of means of waste disposal, including minimisation, recycling and composting. What do we do with unavoidable waste? The future of local democracy will be how best we can implement that decision. Three local authorities decided that they could not do this and I have sympathy with those local authorities.

There have been no studies in Ireland yet. It is up to each of us to do our own thinking and reading to establish what is at risk. I have never heard so many statements that were wide of the mark regarding incineration. We must have concerns and we must examine the incinerators that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, which could not exist today. The Minister has made a commitment to examine and introduce new technologies. The EPA will rigorously apply and monitor the conditions of the licences. Local authorities will introduce monitoring and planning regulations for this area.

I absolutely trust my local authority. I will make sure the manager will consult community councils and residents' groups. I would not be worth my salt if I did not reject the input of local people. I will make sure my county manager will invite local groups in before a decision is made. There is no better man than the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for consultation.

Why did he not consult on the legislation? Why is it in the House next Wednesday?

We must move forward and we must have leaders to do so. We must also reflect on what we will do with the unavoidable waste.

Tell that to Senator Cox.

What is the best way forward? Landfill is not the answer and nobody wants dumps.

This should be a debate, not argy bargy.

We must examine the way forward. I am not convinced about incineration but it is the best solution at this time. Society needs leaders and I congratulate the Minister of State for having the guts to come into the House to confront the debate.

We must be concerned about health issues and the Minister of State made a powerful contribution earlier. We will reflect the views of residents' associations if there are health risks. We cannot allow that to happen and I trust the Government to make sure there will no health hazards.

The debate is similar to a trade union meeting. It is certainly not the type of dignified debate I have come to expect in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

It has been the worst evening of argy bargy ever.

I am used to it. I have not read the detail of the Minister's proposals but I know my position. I believe the issue should be approached in the same way as striking a rate. There should be a subsidiarity of approach. A national policy should be determined by Government and EU directives and implemented through local authorities. Any local authority which fails to properly implement the national policy should lose the right to do so. It is similar to striking a rate. There can be no difference and that is the way people will want it.

There is an extraordinary lack of education in this area. People do not understand the jargon such as thermal treatment, incineration and landfill. They think a dump is a dump. We have also not managed to address the issue of people's responsibility for their own waste. Those issues should unite both sides of the House. This is a national problem which should be determined and addressed through political consensus.

As Senator Hayes correctly stated, there are no votes to be gained on this. Whether one votes for or against, people will forget. Hard decisions, which need leadership, must be taken. We should be prepared to stand up to the bullies who always lead the opposition in local communities and take the necessary decisions.

We need to give a lead on this issue nationally and locally. We need to say there is a responsibility on everybody to look after his or her own waste. If everybody was asked to look after their own waste for six months, and we had not all died from disease at the end of that period, we might have a clearer and more responsible attitude to dealing with waste management in the future. The issue should not be allowed to become a political football and the debate should not be party political as it is too important. We need to address this as responsible individuals in society moving forward to reach a conclusion and delivering a policy locally that is determined nationally in line with European directives.

This is one of the most important debates in the House for many years. It has been stated that the time has come when we must stand up and be counted and that we should transcend political barriers and vote in accordance with our conscience. I was interested in the contribution of my colleague from Galway, Senator Cox. When waste management was debated by Galway Corporation, the Senator deviated from the Fianna Fáil stance. She blamed councillors and the consultants, M. C. O'Sullivan, and referred to waste thermal treatment causing health problems in many countries. The Senator completely avoided incinerators and mentioned strategic policy committees and a national package free day. She did not refer to the proposed incinerator for Galway city. I challenge Senator Cox in regard to her vote on this motion.

The Government and the Minister of State have said that incineration is the solution to our problems. Fine Gael disputes that and is totally against incineration. Anyone who is against incineration should stand up and be counted. There is no point running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. I support the motion on this important issue. Fine Gael is not seeking increased popularity. We have highlighted the effect incineration will have on people's health and I have proven statistics from various European countries which I do not have time to outline. Incineration is not the answer and we are voting against it. Galway County Council and Galway Corporation are opposed to incineration. Tonight the time has come to stand up and be counted. Is Senator Cox for or against incineration?

I welcome the Minister of State. The debate is about new technologies, not just incinerators. We were invited to Karlsruhe, Germany, to view the most modern and "progressive" incinerator-gasification plant in the world. Everything looked fine but when we returned home we discovered the plant had been closed because of high emissions which were in breach of regulations. How can we trust technology that is unproven and unsafe?

The American EPA in a House of Commons report published on 21 March stated: "In particular, the scientific evidence and consensus about the health risk posed by dioxins is not fully developed and the United States Environmental Protection Agency has recently published for consultation a review which concludes that dioxins could be 1,000 times more toxic than previously thought".

The debate covers health, cancers, incinerator emissions and unproven, unsafe technologies.

What is the view of the Minister for Health and Children? A letter of 9 March from the Minister, Deputy Martin, to Deputy Bruton on this very issue states:

In general, waste management objectives are designed to minimise waste production, encourage recycling and energy recovery, while ensuring safe and nuisance-free management and disposal, so as to protect public health and safeguard the environment. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the EPA have primary responsibility in the development of policy on waste management.

I am concerned to ensure that the implications for public health of policy decisions in this area, are taken into account.

That last sentence is the important one. That is what our motion is about. If the Minister does not listen to us, maybe he will listen to the Minister for Health and Children. If he goes to the file of objections to the proposed incinerator in County Meath and reads objection No. 140, he will find the name of Councillor Mick Killian, a Fianna Fáil councillor, who is opposed to that incinerator. Under objection No. 141, he will find that his colleague, Deputy Mary Wallace, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is also opposed to incineration. The people are not behind the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and his Department on this issue. They do not support his policy on waste management and incineration. We do not want it and we will not wear it. We are absolutely and totally opposed to it.

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.

Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kiely, Daniel.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ormonde, Ann. Quill, Máirín.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.Jackman, Mary.

Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and Ridge.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.

Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kiely, Daniel.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.Jackman, Mary.

Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and Ridge.
Question declared carried.