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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001

Vol. 167 No. 14

Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad Bill amended by Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the Report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

The Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, was initiated in this House last April. The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide a legislative mechanism by which the current waste management planning process may be brought to an early and satisfactory conclusion in accordance with our EU obligations. This planning process has now been under way for several years and, while the local authorities generally have sought to address their responsibilities in this area, three out of 13 local authorities in three regional groups currently refuse to adopt the proposed regional waste management plan.

On a point of order, I do not have a copy of the Minister of State's statement. I would appreciate one before he continues because I am at a big disadvantage here.

We are arranging to have a copy made available to the Senator.

I do not wish to be rude but I need to see what the Minister of State is saying as well as hear him.

If the Senator will bear with us, copies will be made available very shortly.

I apologise to the House for the short delay. These authorities are obstructing any prospect of progress on the part of the majority and have delayed the overall planning process. As a result, we have not made the progress that we all accept is necessary and long overdue in the provision of effective and cost efficient services and infrastructure. All the time, the problems associated with proper waste management continue to grow. It is essential that all remaining waste plans are made as soon as possible so we can move forward to the implementation phase and put in train the necessary measures to meet our national and EU targets and obligations in this area.

Accordingly, the Government decided to propose an amendment to the Waste Management Act, 1996, so that the power to make a waste management plan would be transferred from the elected members of a local authority to the relevant manager, and to make other supporting legislative amendments. These are specified in section 4 of the Bill.

In bringing forward this amending legislation, the opportunity was also taken of providing a statutory basis for a number of other important waste management and anti-litter measures, including a new environmental levy on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags and potentially on other products which are problematic in waste management terms; a levy on the landfill of waste; the establishment of an environment fund, through which the proceeds of these levies will be disbursed to finance beneficial environmental initiatives in a range of areas including waste management, environmental education and awareness; and an increase in the on-the-spot litter fine to £100 and provision for future changes in the level of the fine.

In its passage through the other House, the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill was subject to a small number of essentially technical amendments not related to the key provisions in section 4 and I now advise Senators of the purpose and principal features of these amendments.

Section 34 of the 1996 Act provides for a system of permitting, by local authorities, of com mercial waste collection activities and it is proposed shortly to make regulations under this section introducing a waste collection permitting regime. Section 34 provides that after such date as may be prescribed, a commercial waste collector would require a permit from each local authority in whose functional area waste is collected. Where large waste collection businesses are operating in multiple areas, such a permitting system could give rise to a considerable administrative and cost burden.

In drafting the 1996 Act, consideration was given to a system whereby only one collection permit would be issued by the local authority in whose functional area a collector was based. At the time the view was taken that this could present implementation difficulties and would not easily meet the legitimate concerns that individual local authorities may have in relation to the conduct of operators within their functional areas.

However, following consultations with local authorities and the Waste Management Association, representing commercial waste collectors, it is proposed to amend section 34 to provide for an alternative approach which compromises between the need for effective local authority oversight of waste collection activities and administrative simplicity.

The proposed amendments are specified in section 6. They would allow local authorities to adopt a collegiate approach to waste collection permitting, particularly within the context of regional waste management plans. Where a group of local authorities have jointly made, or propose to make, a regional plan or are otherwise co-operating with one another in relation to waste management, it is proposed that they may nominate one authority to carry out waste permitting functions on behalf of the others.

The opportunity is also being taken to provide powers whereby the Minister could, in the future, prescribe that waste collection permits would be granted by a specified body rather than by local authorities. However, this is purely an enabling provision. There are no proposals for such a measure at present.

Accordingly, under section 34(1) (a) of the Act, as amended, a waste collection permit may be granted by the local authority in whose functional area waste is collected, another local authority nominated for the purpose in accordance with paragraph (aa), or such other body or bodies as may be prescribed.

Paragraph (aa), which is new, provides that where two or more local authorities have jointly made, or propose jointly to make, a waste management plan or are otherwise co-operating with one another to achieve common waste management objectives, they may, or shall if so required by the Minister, nominate one of their number to perform the permitting functions with respect to each of their functional areas. The proposed subsection is a technical drafting amendment which follows from the amendment of subsection 34(1).

A provision of the Bill that was widely welcomed is the proposed establishment of an environmental levy on plastic shopping bags and potentially other products and materials. To this end, section 9 inserts a new section 72 into the 1996 Act. In the first instance, the levy will apply to the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags to customers. Under proposed regulations, retailers will be required to pass on the amount of the levy to customers at the check-out or counter. It is intended that the Revenue Commissioners, acting on an agency basis for the Minister, will collect the levy.

There are, perhaps, 20,000 retail outlets that are potentially liable for this levy so the collection scheme will be administratively complex. Following consultations with the Revenue Commissioners, it is proposed to amend the proposed section 72 to provide, as an enabling measure, that in lieu of seeking to collect the levy directly from all individual retailers concerned, the Revenue Commissioners could, if it is deemed practical and effective for them to do so, enter into arrangements with manufacturers and distributors of plastic bags. Under such arrangements, these distributors, acting on behalf of the retailers to whom they supply plastic bags, would collect the relevant levy and remit it to the Revenue Commissioners.

Paragraph (6)(k) of the proposed section 72 would enable a collection authority to enter into arrangements with specified persons whereby, under an agreed scheme, they would agree to discharge the liabilities of others participating in that scheme and remit the levy to the collection authority.

Subsection (9)(c) of the proposed section 72 is a consequential amendment which provides that failure to comply with any terms and conditions of a collection scheme would be an offence.

This amendment is simply an enabling provision. My Department is in ongoing consultation with the Revenue Commissioners regarding the modalities of the necessary levy collection system and it remains to be seen whether this kind of arrangement is practical or necessary. It would not impact in any way on the intended requirement that the levy be passed on visibly from retailers to their customers.

The levy will apply to all retailers, large and small, who provide plastic shopping bags to consumers. The use of any arrangement or scheme under paragraph (7)(k) would not militate against the imposition of the levy on all relevant retailers. It would merely mean that the Revenue Commissioners could agree a scheme to collect the levy payable by a group of retailers through the relevant manufacturers and distributors which supply them with bags, while allowing the Revenue Commissioners to apply their enforcement effort directly on retailers not subject to any such scheme.

There are two further technical amendments to the proposed section 72 to correct an error in sub section (2) where the words or otherwise are incorrectly inserted. The purpose of the words or otherwise is to provide that the proposed environmental levy can apply to the supply of plastic bags to a customer anywhere on retail premises.

Section 11 of the Bill provides for the insertion of a new section 73 into the 1996 Act to allow for the imposition of a levy on the landfill of waste and associated regulatory powers to require that the proceeds of the levy be paid into the environment fund.

The proposed section 73 has been amended in the other House by the insertion of a new subsection (7), with a view to ensuring that provision can be made in regulations under the section so that the liability for the levy is passed on to waste producers in an equitable manner.

The intention is that local authorities operating landfill sites would recoup their levy exposure by means of an additional charge on all their customers, for example, domestic or commercial producers to whom the local authorities directly provide a collection service. Private waste collectors will pay gate fees for access to landfill.

Concerns have been raised by the commercial waste industry that local authorities could unfairly load the levy on private operators using their sites to mitigate the impact on waste collection charges payable to those authorities by domestic customers. Clearly, having regard to the polluter pays principle and the basic objective of the levy to provide an incentive for diversion of waste from landfill, this would be undesirable. It is considered necessary, therefore, to bring forward appropriate regulatory powers to direct or control local authorities as to the means by which they recoup or pass on their levy liability.

The proposed subsection (7)(a) provides that the Minister may, by regulations under section 73(1), restrict the extent to which a local authority may pass on the landfill levy in particular circumstances by means of a charge for its landfill service.

Subsection (7)(b) clarifies the purpose for such regulatory provision to ensure that one or more categories of person are not charged disproportionately for the purpose of the recoupment by a local authority of its exposure to the landfill levy. Subsection (7)(c) is a consequent technical provision.

Overall, waste management has been the "Cinderella" of environmental services. There is a wide acceptance in both Houses, supported by a broad public consensus, that this must change. We need to move rapidly from a position of excessive reliance on landfill to the establishment and operation of a modern integrated waste management system. We have reached the stage where we have a clear policy direction, underpinned by an effective legal framework. We are committing significant resources to achieve progress and we have clear objectives and targets. We now need action, implementation and deliv ery. The Bill will facilitate such progress and I commend it to this House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I appreciate the efforts he made to get us a copy of his speech. I pass on my good wishes to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, for a speedy recovery. We wish him well.

A number of issues arise from the Minister's speech. I take exception to the first statement, which is a reiteration of the old battle lines that the Minister knows best, and the democratic representatives of the people are being treated with disdain. The Minister states that three out of 15 authorities in three regional groups refuse to adopt the proposed regional waste management plan before them. The local authorities never met as a group. For example, in the region of Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, those county councils never met. They met as individual councils to discuss the plan, but it cannot be called a regional plan when there was no meeting as a region.

As I stated in the first debate, in County Louth we rejected the waste management plan because an hour before our vote we were told that the incinerator that we saw in Germany had been closed down. The elected members were acting properly, coherently and with much common sense in saying that they did not want this industry foisted on them. In this Bill the Minister is taking away the rights of local democratic communities to speak through the local councillors.

I do not accept that the Minister is correct in saying that as a result we have not made the progress that we all accept is necessary. We made significant progress in County Louth in turning down a plant that in the view of the authorities in Germany was not acceptable and was in breach of environmental regulations. To stuff incinerators down out throats as this Bill is doing is unacceptable.

I am not familiar with all aspects covered in the Minister's speech so he might be able to answer some of the questions I raise. He said he met the local authorities and the Waste Management Association, which I assume is a representative group of commercial waste collectors. He proposed an alternative method for licensing. Licensing for waste collectors should be done by a scientific body. The only body that can say that someone is qualified to collect waste is the EPA. I see no reason the Environmental Protection Agency is not the licensing authority for commercial waste collectors.

In the Minister's speech he mentioned that someone with a waste collection licence from Meath County Council must go to Navan Urban District Council to get one from it and to Drogheda Corporation etc. All these commercial companies should be able to go to the Environmental Protection Agency, get their licence and collect wherever they wish. If they have the licence from the correct scientific body, I have no problem with their ability to collect and dispose of waste. We must, however, have a proper licensing scheme.

I am not necessarily satisfied local authorities have competence to deal with the significant issues which would arise, particularly from incinerators. Incinerators produce two types of ash, apart from pollution caused as a result of dioxins being released into the air and which we all know adversely affect health. One of the issues raised recently by "Newsnight" on BBC was what happens the fly ash, which is toxic and highly dangerous, and the bottom ash, which is not as dangerous but which must be properly disposed of. In his speech the Minister said he will have the power to designate other bodies to issue licences. However, local authorities will be the initial group to issue licences. Therefore, if there is an incinerator in County Meath, the Minister's constituency, and company A gets a licence to collect the toxic fly ash, we must know they are competent and qualified to deal with it. There would have to be a hazardous dump available to which it could be brought and clear and obvious protocols for transporting fly ash. I am not satisfied that local authorities would necessarily have the competence to make decisions in this regard.

The credibility of companies also arises. In the UK, fly ash from the incinerator in Newcastle-upon-Tyne was spread on the allotments used for growing vegetables and on the aggregate which formed the children's playground. I understand fly ash from the incinerator in Edmonton was used in road construction and in the construction of concrete blocks, which were then used in the homes of ordinary people. It was discovered that the mix in those concrete blocks was of an extremely high volume, way in excess of the maximum limits for dioxins. Theoretically, if people were doing work on their house, for example, building an extension, they could release dioxins into their lungs which would have a significant adverse impact on their health.

The EPA is the only competent body in which I would have confidence to issue licences. We are not talking about collecting compressed cardboard from the local supermarket or collecting organic refuse from the local hotel. The issue is far more significant and potentially hazardous. The companies which will specifically deal with waste from incinerators must have due recourse to the EPA. The EPA will licence incineration companies, but who will ensure the companies which may be dealing with this highly dangerous ash are qualified and competent to do so?

The powers proposed by the Minister appear strange, although perhaps they are only strange to me. Where two or more local authorities have jointly made or propose jointly to make a waste management plan, they will be the licensing authority. However, the powers also talk about them "otherwise co-operating with one another to achieve common objectives with respect to waste management in their functional areas". It seems the Minister could be considering the possibility of other adjacent local authorities forming a conglomerate outside the regional waste management plans. For example, Dublin Corporation could become the licensing authority for the north-east, or Leitrim County Council could theoretically become the licensing authority for—

The west.

Yes, for the west. It does not make sense to me. I am really concerned about the phrase "the local authorities may, or shall, if the Minister requires them". From the Minister of State's speech I am not clear about the powers the Minister will have in this regard and why the Minister should become involved in this area. Perhaps the Minister will put my mind at ease on this matter. It seems a very strange provision. On the one hand the Minister is pushing forward the regional waste management plans and on the other hand is making arrangements for other significant players or people to get involved.

I am really concerned about the issues concerning hazardous waste arising from section 34 and the amendment thereto, and the specialist waste contractors who will get licences from local authorities in County Louth or County Leitrim without having to apply to the EPA. If my reading is incorrect, perhaps the Minister will explain it.

The Minister's speech also refers to the environmental levy, with which I do not have a problem. The Minister is providing for good housekeeping between the Revenue Commissions and other bodies to ensure the levy is collected in an efficient and practical manner, something with which we all agree.

I am particularly concerned about what the Minister said in relation to section 11 which provides for the landfill levy. It seems the Minister has given the commercial waste industry a significant concession. The Minister is agreeing to impose a landfill tax on every domestic dwelling, even if the local authority is providing the service. Currently local authorities provide a service to collect refuse. In many areas certain categories of people are excluded from the local charge, such as old age pensioners who do not pay refuse charges in Dublin city, or people on social welfare. Local authorities have different views in this regard. As things stand the elected members of local authorities decide on the charge, but if this Bill is passed every home will have to be levied with a charge. This takes from the local authority the discretionary powers which elected members have to run waste management as a service and not as a business. It is being run as a service for the community, but it is now being placed in the context of the landfill levy under which every household will be levied with a charge.

The commercial waste industry is very concerned that local authorities could unfairly load the levy on private operators. I am very concerned that commercial waste operators will unfairly load private domestic households where they have a monopoly. Yesterday at a meeting of Louth County Council concern was expressed that certain companies may have a monopoly in regions or areas, which is not good for business or competition. However, the Minister has indicated that his interpretation differs from mine and I would appreciate if he clarified the issue. Where a local authority wishes to take up some of that tax with regard to the "polluter pays" principle, it appears to me that the Minister is giving in to commercial pressure. The Minister is giving a concession whereby the local authority will run the landfill as a business for private domestic customers. That is unfair as it will mean we will not be able to exclude households from the charge where there are pensioners or people on social welfare.

I appreciate that the issue of waste management will continue to be vexatious. Those of us campaigning for a better environment will make our voices heard on this issue during the forthcoming general election.

Where there is a dispute between a local authority and a private collector as to the fairness of the landfill levy, what appeal procedure, if any, will be in place? Will it be a matter for the regulations, as it is one which could arise because we are dealing with the disproportionate amount of the levy? Currently it appears that local authorities are increasing charges all the time. I accept the point that they should be put on notice to explain their charges.

I am aware that the rules of the House unfortunately do not allow me to respond after the Minister's reply but I look forward to what he has to say.

I join Senator O'Dowd in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the House on this very important Bill. During the Order of Business this morning a Bill with lesser consequences became the highlight while this more substantial one was ignored – which says something about politics and the manner in which we do our business in these Houses, and how we respond to the newspapers rather than the real issues.

I will not re-hash Second Stage but I said then that the transfer of powers to the county manager is anathema to me. The fact that there is a four year moratorium on it does mitigate its effects somewhat. Given that we will have a local government Bill before us in the next couple of days, it is not the direction in which one would like to see us going. We must acknowledge that the Minister had some difficulty in trying to get the waste management strategy and plans in place. This may have had much to do with the appointment of consultants who had their own views as to how it should be pursued. These issues are being addressed by politicians and professional people within the service rather than following the lines of consultants whose reports were almost identical in each region and have given rise to much disquiet.

When Senator O'Dowd referred to the powers of local authorities to issue permits he implied that those permits could also be granted for incineration plants – I did not read that into the amendments or the Bill. Will the Minister clarify this point because that certainly would be a concern?

An investigative programme on BBC 2 last week looked at the city of Newcastle in the north-east of England and the manner in which their incinerator operators had functioned. It told an appalling tale of fly ash being mixed with bottom ash, which in some instances was put on the national roads and in other cases was made into blocks for use in house construction. If the evidence of the programme is correct, the permitted limits were greatly exceeded – it was in the region of 300 nanograms per kilogram when they analysed the blocks. If we have incineration in this country – and I hope we do not – then it will have to be rigorously policed. Depending on the industry to police and regulate its operations is manifestly unsatisfactory in other jurisdictions.

That is not the purpose of these amendments. As I understand it, private operators will be permitted to participate in the waste collection process. That is happening to some extent at present and it is appropriate that the local authority should be the body to grant those permits. They are charged with responsibility in this area and they have a vast amount of experience to set the criteria and ensure that they are adhered to in maintaining standards.

I had concerns regarding the permits being used to control competition and also that the landfill levy in the Bill could be used in this way. Arguments have been raised by private operators that the dump charges being applied distort the competition between private operators and local authority waste collection facilities and it would be wrong if that were the case.

I compliment the Minister as these were issues that were discussed in this House. It is indicative of the calibre of both the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, that at all Stages of debate on legislation going through either House – we have experienced it here at first hand on many occasions – they are prepared to take on board any sensible suggestions and include them in appropriately drafted amendments. Points which came up during the debate in this House are now reflected in the Bill before us.

There is also provision in the Bill for one local authority to be nominated at regional level in order to undertake some of the responsibilities of other local authorities – it is happening to some extent already. In many regions it has been agreed that a specific local authority will give the lead on developing the regional waste management plan – previously the waste management strategy. There is nothing wrong with that where it is agreed, but a word of caution is necessary. Some of the thrust of the Bill is going in the direction of regionalisation being best.

I would not deny that there are certain benefits, given the economies of scale that would apply by increasing the volumes. A quarter of a million tons per annum being put through will justify bailing and good environmental standards. One would need a volume of a certain scale to make it economic and some local authorities may not be in a position to go it alone and still maintain such a high standard. If we value local democracy, it is important that councils are not forced into a policy of regionalisation. If a local authority considers that within its capacity it has the necessary financial and human resources to properly manage its waste within the county, it should be allowed to do so. My local authority, similar to Senator O'Dowd's in County Louth, voted by 19 to one in favour of pursing a particular line of waste management – landfill as a strong preference to incineration. We must respect those decisions. I would not like a situation to develop whereby regionalisation in some way diluted the say and powers of local elected members who have a mandate.

I sympathise to some extent with the Minister's view that as councillors we much not abrogate our responsibility in this regard. Waste management is a major challenge to local government and there can be a temptation to take a more populous line, but that should not be acceded to. It is imperative that we act responsibly, courageously and in the best interests of the people. As the Minister has been quoted on many occasions, the Paul Daniels approach to waste management simply does not work.

The environment levy is an excellent provision. On Second and Committee Stages, Senator Quinn in particular raised some misgivings as to how the levy would be collected. I am glad the modalities of the collection system are addressed in one of the amendments. It is considered that utilising the resources of the Revenue Commissioners is an efficient method in this regard and there are also enabling provisions in the Bill to utilise the manufacturing and suppliers of plastic bags as a source for the collection. I do not subscribe to what Senator O'Dowd said in this regard. Ultimately it is the person at the end of the line who should pay the levy, the person who produces the waste. If we accept "the polluter pays" principle, it is the people who fail to apply proper standards at household level where the waste is initiated who must be charged for the ultimate cost that arises because of that failure.

At a meeting of my local authority yesterday, I was extremely surprised to see people coming up to a desk in the foyer of the county hall to purchase composting bins. Much more needs to be done in that area. If we tackle prevention of waste, its minimisation, reuse, recycling, composting and so on energetically and vigorously, there is no doubt that there will be no necessity to think about incineration in this process. That is the view of people at European Commission level. We are a small county with a small population and we must manage our affairs in this regard. I was pleased to hear that the last time the Bill was before this House the Minister identified those areas as priorities for him going forward. If we diligently pursue those at local authority level, within the space of a few years we could review the position and ascertain to what extent a reduction has been made.

It is worthy of note that this week representatives of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government are in Nova Scotia examining the success of its system under which it has reduced the volume of its waste by 50% in the past decade. Those are the types of best practice international models we should examine to ensure we not only apply the best waste management principles but preserve the green image we have as an environmentally friendly country.

I welcome the amendments to the Bill. They are exceptionally good. In particular the amendment in regard to subsection (7), which the Minister has included, ensures that local government will have to operate on a fair basis in allowing and ensuring that it cannot pass on excessive charges to private operators to skew the charge against it. Ultimately, waste management will be an extremely costly process. We will have to comply with all the EU regulations. Those of us involved in local government know that will be extremely costly. It is important, therefore, that competition introduces the necessary efficiencies to keep the cost to a level that is sustainable and not excessive because in monopolies one loses cost effectiveness and efficiency.

I compliment the Minister of State on bringing these amendments before us and I am sure we will all be pleased to support them.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I too wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, well and I hope he is on the road to recovery. I know his heart is in this Bill and his ambition is to make sure it succeeds.

I will not cover the ground of the Second Stage debate. Senators O'Dowd and Walsh spoke eloquently on areas with which they are much more familiar than I am. I will concentrate on the environmental levy. The Minister hopes that no income from such levy will be received. It would be true success if no income were received from such a levy. That would be a change having regard to nearly every other levy we have heard of. It would be a success if every citizen were to stop using plastic bags and as a result all the damage they cause by way of litter and environmental cost would be eliminated. It would be a failure if no income were received from the imposition of such a levy and plastic bags continued to cause destruction and litter the environment.

I read through the amendments to check if any steps have been taken since this Bill passed through this House many months ago on its road to success. As Senator Walsh said, I supported the Bill enthusiastically because it has the worthy objective which everyone must support, that of the removal of plastic bags from the environment. To do that, we must make sure it is a good law and that it works. We must make sure that the public responds to the imposition of an environmental levy by refusing to use plastic bags and by being threatened by the high price of 19 cents that will apply to their use. We do not want to pass a law that is unenforceable. We do not want to put a Bill through this House which will not work.

There was much reference in this House in the past to the dog muzzling Bill. I was not here when that Bill was passed, but I gather Members reacted to a strongly felt need to do something after some incidents and they passed a dog muzzling Bill which was not and could not be enforced. The prohibition Bill was passed in the United States in 1919, but by 1932 it was found to have given rise to many more problems than it had been aimed to eliminate and it was abolished in that year. Those laws were passed with the best will in the world and the intention was that they would succeed, but they did not. Will the imposition of an environmental levy succeed? When we discussed this Bill some time ago the Minister told us he hoped it would be in operation as early as October. I understood it would be in operation in January, but he said that he hoped it would be in force as early as autumn this year.

I look forward to this Bill coming back to us today to see if we can find solutions or answers to the problems and questions we have. How will it work? How will this levy be collected? I am concerned about this. The few words that I heard do not show that the steps have been taken or a decision made. I know that many good heads and hearts are behind this. The officials who are working on this have put a lot of effort into it. The Minister of State said in his speech:

The use of any arrangement or scheme under paragraph (7)(k) would not militate against the imposition of the levy on all relevant retailers. It would merely mean that the Revenue Commissioners could agree a scheme to collect the levy payable by a group of retailers through the relevant manufacturers-distributors which supply them with bags while allowing the Revenue to apply their enforcement effort directly on retailers not subject to such a scheme.

I understand the purpose of that and I think the amendment is there. Can we see that this will work? I do not understand how it will. The Minister will say that this is enabling legislation. It will enable the Revenue Commissioners, the Minister or other collection authorities to take steps in that direction, and that is fine. We are getting closer to the day that I thought we would see, and I still do not see how it will work.

I want to raise an issue about which I am concerned. A customer will be charged a 15p or 19 cent levy by a retailer, but nearby there will be someone who will not charge that levy or will pay it for the customer. The customer might threaten to shop elsewhere. Competition is such that we must ensure it is fair. To the best of my knowledge, there are no plastic bag manufacturers in the State so the onus will be on the distributors. It is possible for a retailer to travel to Newry, put a six month supply of plastic bags into his car, return to the State and use the bags. How will the levy be enforced in those circumstances? It is not as though that will not happen. It is already happening with such things as beer. Retailers cross the Border and fill their car boots or van – it is legal to do so as it is supposed to be for their own use – and use that to undercut competitors in this State.

One of the great advantages of free trade and the EU is that smuggling has been almost eliminated because there are no longer different laws in different areas. If a retailer wishes to respond to those customers who do not want to pay the levy – there are quite a few who feel that way – the retailer only has to cross the Border and buy those bags. I bet that within days of this Bill coming into operation, bags will be available in the North. I do not have an answer to this. I wish there was one.

The companies I am associated with and their competitors are working very hard to change our customers' habits. A number of customers are changing their habits. It is easier to change their habits by using the levy. When I ask a group of 20 customers what they will do when this legislation comes into force I find that six say they do not use or intend to use plastic bags while another six say that it suits them to use plastic bags but they will have to adjust to it. The remaining eight say that they prefer to use plastic bags and will continue to use them. They accept that if they are forced not to use them, reluctantly they will not do so. Those are the approximate proportions. Almost 50% of customers still use, and will continue to use, plastic bags unless we can convince them not to do so.

We will not be able to convince people not to use plastic bags if the legislation is easily got around. There will be a sufficient number of retailers who will be unable to resist the customer if he or she threatens to go to another retailer where the levy is not charged. I hope that does not happen. It will not happen if the Bill introduces a levy that is enforced on all retailers. We must make sure that is done. I thought we might have learned by this stage and got closer to achieving that. Maybe the Minister will explain how this might be done.

It is some months since the Bill passed through this House and it has been amended by the Dáil. Maybe the Minister has a secret and will tell us how this will be done. As a nation, we would love to see the elimination of plastic bags – retailers would certainly love to see that as they are a huge cost to us. Customers know that the cost is paid in the price of their groceries. If this legislation is to work, it has to be seen to be fair and unavoidable by any section of retailers. Customers will then know that no matter where they shop they will have to pay the levy. That is how we will get them to change their habits.

I encourage the Minister in his objectives. I know his intentions are right. I hope this Bill will be enforced. I have read through the Bill and the amendments and I know it is not the purpose of the Bill to describe how it will work. If it is enabling legislation and the Minister is able to satisfy those of us who worry that it will not be easily enforced, I welcome this Stage.

I support the proposed changes. I am sure they help the Minister to enforce this legislation and make it work. I want to hear the Minister's view as to how this will work. How will we make sure that we do not create another dog muzzling Bill? How will we make sure that the Bill achieves the worthy objectives that it sets out to achieve?

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and ask him to pass on our best wishes to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I want to draw attention to the opening remarks of the Minister of State's speech. They were unnecessary and provocative.

Hear, hear.

I am a member of a local authority which passed a regional waste management plan. As I said on Second Stage, as a democrat and an elected representative, I stand over the right of any elected representative or local authority to reject a proposal put to them. This is the essence of democracy. It is an essential democratic principle which is being set aside every day. Those of us who were in counties affected by motorway schemes know exactly what I am talking about. There is a major democratic deficit relating to decisions that are made and this Bill fundamentally undermines local democracy in removing one of the fundamental powers of local representatives and giving it to the county manager. We will rue the day that we made that decision. I have not doubt that it will come back to haunt us.

The Bill does not do what the Minister says it does. It does not provide a clear policy direction or an effective legal framework for the management of waste. It does the opposite. We only have to look around us, especially those of us who are members of local authorities, to see how the Government has failed in its responsibility to the community in devising an effective and environmentally sustainable waste management framework. It is the opposite of that and the Bill undermines an environmentally sustainable policy specifically where the collection and management of waste is concerned. It is a bad day's work.

The amendments made in the other House relate specifically to the issue of granting a permit for waste collection, the environmental levy on plastic bags and a levy of landfill. I echo the remarks of Senator O'Dowd on the issue of the permit. I am concerned about the framework set out for granting permits, not that I oppose it in principle. It is extraordinary that, should a local authority decide to privatise waste collection, there are few, if any, regulations for the granting of a permit. I welcome in principle the concept of a permit, but we will once again have to wait until the regulations are published before we see the fine detail of the structure for granting permits. These regulations will be published on the Order Paper and we will never get an opportunity to discuss them, even though they are important and relevant to our day to day business.

I am concerned, as are other Members such as Senator O'Dowd, that the Minister can prescribe the structure, function and manner in which a local authority can make a decision about a permit. What is the point in granting the power to a local authority if the Minister can tell it how to give the permit or to whom to give it? The idea of having two local authorities work together is fine in principle but may not work in practice. There may be serious question marks over the applicability of this, such as where a local authority grants a permit for the collection of waste in a local authority area well away from its geographical area. I have considerable reservations about this amendment. Unfortunately, the Minister of State's remarks to the House did not reassure me sufficiently in this regard.

I listened carefully to what Senator Quinn had to say about the structure devised for the collection of the levy on plastic bags. When we discussed the Bill previously, I supported the principle of the levy because it had to be done. However, the framework the Minister of State has devised is clearly unworkable and will make a nonsense of the idea. By this time next year, we will be examining a failed idea.

The environmental levy on landfill is a sound idea in principle and is set against the context of the principle of the polluter pays, one we all support and which is a fundamental principle of European Union law and directives in this area. The environmental levy on landfill does not operate in the context of a broad environmentally sustainable policy. The opposite is the case. Landfill charges are passed on in an increasingly unfair and unjust fashion to domestic householders and consumers and have become extremely onerous for many households to the extent that for many people, especially elderly people on pensions, single parents and the poor, the annual increase in landfill charges means they face an extremely onerous annual charge.

We should examine a policy whereby there is an incentive for reduction. I heard the Minister of State and Senator Walsh pay the usual lip service to the concepts of reduction and reuse. Unless real and structured incentives exist to send less material to a landfill, the idea of an environmental levy is useless because it will only add to the unfairness. We should have a system where there is an incentive to recycle, separate and reuse waste and put less of it in the wheelie bin for deposit in a landfill. Unless that exists in a structured, tax-driven manner, which is my suggestion, there will be no movement towards an environmentally sustainable policy.

What exists is an incentive for waste collectors to collect more waste because the more customers they have, the more money is generated. These are commercial operators who do not provide the service as a charity. There must be a profit motive at the heart of it. Since there is such a motive, there is no incentive to reduce unless we move the profit motive clearly towards a reduction instead of an increase in the amount being collected. We are not on that policy road and there is no sign we are moving in that direction.

Instead we have this pussy-footing around with ideas of environmental levies, a levy on plastic bags and so on. We hear great speeches from the Government about changing our ways, reducing, reusing, recycling, sending bottles to the recycling centres and so on, but it is all meaningless because the fundamental policy is wrong. The Minister of State referred to his energetic and vigorous approach to the issues of reduction, reuse and so on, and to the wider concept of the effective management of waste, but I put it to him – his amendments show this clearly – that it is a sluggish, half-baked approach to an environmentally sustainable waste management policy. The message is coming clearly from the people and communities, who are aware that the approach we take is wrong, that it is the Government which must change its ways, not the communities.

This is bad legislation. The approach of the Government to waste management has been disastrous. It has gone from bad to worse and we find ourselves with a Bill which compounds the situation and effectively undermines the role of local authorities in this issue.

The Minister has demanded that each local authority put in place a waste management scheme rather than putting together, with some decent form of leadership, a generic waste management plan and a proper set of waste management guidelines for the country, thereby doing the work for local authorities. The idea of each local authority having to draw up a separate waste management plan makes for a cumbersome, complex and overlapping system. There will be a waste management plan and a set of charges in one area which will be out of line with the charges in the neighbouring local authority as well as various proposals which will differ in local authorities. The entire approach has not been thought out. It is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Minister concentrated on imposing charges rather than on the recycling issue.

Perhaps the Minister of State will pay more attention rather than discussing extraneous matters with another Senator.

I have taken note of what the Senator said.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Costello is in possession.

It is very off-putting for another Senator to begin to speak quite loudly to the Minister of State when one is addressing one's remarks to him.

The Government has been putting the cart before the horse instead of devising a comprehensive waste management plan which would have recycling and re-use as its fundamental approach. Each local authority must devise a separate plan and impose a separate charge otherwise the Government will use a sledgehammer, to so speak, and those local authorities will be told that the Minister will sort them out. The Minister should have provided leadership on the issue in the first instance. Instead there is new legislation directed at local authorities which do not conform to what the Minister wanted. I do not blame local authorities or citizens for not being over the moon at the prospect of having an incinerator in their back garden.

The bin system which has been put in place in my local authority is ludicrous because 20,000 households do not have that system. These people will continue with the black plastic bags on which a levy may be placed. The black plastic bag is now part of the waste management plan which does not allow for the recycling or segregation of waste. The green and grey bin system – it resembles Murphys in England; the grey Murphy, green Murphy and brown Murphy – is very unsuitable for many houses in an urban setting. There has not been the slightest consultation in this regard with householders, including old age pensioners or owners of houses with steps leading to them. The manner in which the waste management system has been introduced is a mess and it has been introduced largely under duress. The Minister threatened to dissolve local authorities which did not introduce the plans.

The environmental levy will be another cumbersome issue. It is four years since the Minister promised to put a tax on plastic bags. He is now proposing a tax on plastic shopping bags. The levy will be collected through retailers of which there are approximately 20,000 outlets. The Minister of State has admitted that this will be administratively complex. Of course it will be administratively complex to collect the levy. While it might be deemed more practicable for manufacturing distributors, it will still be a mess to operate. Given that four years have passed without imposing a levy on shopping bags, would it not have been simpler to ban plastic shopping bags? Why not completely ban plastic shopping bags? Local authorities will have to collect all the charges imposed. We are aware what has happened in the Minister of State's city of Cork. People have gone to jail for refusing to deal with this issue. The administratively cumbersome process of collecting the levy will now be imposed on each retailer. This will amount to a very small sum of money. How this process will operate in 20,000 outlets is mind boggling.

The amendments refer to the co-operation of local authorities in implementing the waste management plan. The Minister is suggesting that each local authority implement the plan rather than putting in place a coherent waste management system for the entire country. The devious aspect of the amendment is that it makes provision for a body other than local authorities to have a permit to deal with waste management. The amendment proposes granting such permits for the collection of waste. This is effectively beginning the process of the privatisation of refuse collection. This is an enabling provision which will allow local authorities to off-load the collection of waste to the private sector. We are aware of what is happening in Dublin Corporation in regard to the water treatment plant in Ballymore Eustace. The private sector is involved in the new development there despite the arrangements between management, staff and the unions in Dublin Corporation. This will result in a charge for water distribution and we all know the hassle and political controversy which took place because of that issue. At least one Deputy was elected to the other House on his opposition to water charges.

One cannot quantify the extent of opposition in Dublin to what is seen as an essential service. One should not compound the situation which is currently developing by proposing to off-load the collection of waste to private contractors. Approximately 7% of householders in the Dublin Corporation area had paid a charge which had to be paid by the end of last month – it is not a successful collection rate. I can imagine what ructions will take place if Dublin Corporation off-loads the collection process to the private sector.

It is difficult to know what to do about this legislation which is wrong from start to finish. The legislation was rushed through by the Minister who simply wanted to conform to a European Union directive without considering how waste management could be implemented in a proper and coherent fashion. That has not been done in the parent or present Bill; rather the problem has been compounded. The amendments and the Bill are unsatisfactory.

I thank Senators for their contributions. Senator O'Dowd asked why we should not designate the Environmental Protection Agency to grant waste collection permits for the country as a whole. Apart from any consideration as to whether it would be a useful or necessary exercise, it is intended that local authorities should utilise the waste collection permit system to uphold operational requirements and conditions in order to support the proper implementation of the local and regional waste management plans. Section 35 of the 1996 Act provides explicitly that the local authority may require the holder of a waste collection permit to arrange for the segregated collection of household or commercial wastes.

With regard to the transport of hazardous wastes, section 34(2) of the 1996 Act provides that the agency may give guidance or directions to local authorities in relation to the controls and measures to be undertaken in permitting the collection and movement of hazardous wastes.

Senator O'Dowd asked what is entailed in the provision for co-operating authorities. As things stand in relation to waste management planning, there are three categories of local authority: those which have adopted a single regional waste management plan, as in the case of the four Dublin authorities; those which are committed to making a regional plan; the six authorities in the south-east region which currently have individual plans but propose to make a single regional plan – Cork Corporation and County Council have proposed to make individual plans but in accordance with the common waste management strategy. The provisions of subsection (1)(a) are intended to encompass these different circumstances.

Senator O'Dowd also raised the matter of the power of the manager to prescribe a single permitting body. This is only an enabling power but it would enable the Minister in the future to pass the function to the EPA or perhaps a national waste agency, if one was established. The Senator also raised the matter of the proposed amendments of a new section 73. These proposals have nothing to do with waiver systems or existing local authority powers to waive existing charges. It is an enabling provision to prevent charges being loaded on private collectors. In the event of a dispute on the level of charges, it would be open to the collector to take legal action if he considered that a local authority is in breach of the proposed regulations. The question of alleged illegal activity in another jurisdiction is not relevant to the proposed collection permit system in Ireland and the implementation and enforcement of that system.

I wish to inform Senator Quinn that the detailed implementation of the levy on plastic bags is being examined at present and will be reflected in regulations. These will be the subject of further consultation with the retail sector to ensure that the levy can be effectively applied and implemented. The provisions of the Bill are simply the general enabling powers which will underpin the regulations. It will be evident to the Revenue Commissioners if a retailer is supplying plastic bags and in that case the retailer will have to maintain detailed records. It would also be relatively easy to monitor whether a retailer is actually passing on the levy to individual customers.

I wish to inform Senator O'Meara that there is no question of the Minister telling local authorities who to permit or in what manner. What is provided for is a power to enable the Minister to require a group of authorities to nominate a single permitting authority, to be chosen by the local authorities concerned. Plastic bags cannot be banned under relevant EU regulation.

Question put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnFarrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Hayes, Maurice.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quinn, Feargal.Walsh, Jim.


Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Keogh, Helen.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and T. Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Costello and O'Dowd.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Has the Minister of State's Department met many of the county managers in relation to the Bill and, if so, will he indicate which county managers he has met?

I cannot answer that question at present. I will find out and convey the information to the Senator.

It might be helpful if the Minister of State's officials came back in.

I am not in a position to answer the question. The officials have left. I will convey the information to the Senator as soon as possible.

It is very unfortunate that the Minister's officials should suddenly abdicate their responsibility, walk out and leave him in this position. This is intolerable. I will, if necessary, propose that the House suspend to allow them to come back.

I second that.

I am sorry. I cannot take that proposal.

Question put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnFarrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.

Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.Norris, David.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quinn, Feargal.Ross, Shane.Walsh, Jim.


Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Keogh, Helen.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

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

I do not wish to disrespect the Chair, but I asked the Minister of State a simple question and he advised that he was trying to get certain people back in. Then there was an indecent rush to put the question before my finding out the information I required. I do not know if the Cathaoirleach was advised to do that, but he did not handle the situation correctly. The Cathaoirleach heard the simple question that I asked.

Yes, and the Minister of State indicated twice that he did not have the information the Senator requested. The Minister of State indicated his position and I have no control over ministerial replies in the House.

My question on who had been consulted etc. was very simple. With regard to the orders of the House, there was an indecent haste to put me down.