I move amendment No. 4:
In page 14, before section 14, to insert the following new section:
14.—(1) The practice of incineration or thermal treatment of waste shall no longer be legal within this state.
(2) Sections 4 and 5 of the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 are repealed.
(3) The making of a waste management plan shall be a reserved function of the local authority.".
This is an important issue. Our approach to waste management should be based on community and environmental sustainability. There are two aspects to the amendment, one of which deals with incineration or thermal treatment and the other with a repeal of sections of the Waste Management (Amendment) Act to allow councillors and elected representatives, rather than unelected officials, to make decisions on waste management. When the legislation was amended by former Minister Martin Cullen, there was much controversy over the fact that local politicians were being disregarded and that the views of local representatives were being put to one side in favour of giving unelected officials powers to make decisions on waste management. The argument made at the time was that elected representatives were not able to make the tough decisions required because of NIMBYism and other reasons. It is for this reason the law was changed. I remember very clearly that Fine Gael and other parties joined us in opposing the weakening of the powers of local government and local councillors. In keeping with this, I hope my amendment can be accepted.
We face a very significant waste management crisis. We have just debated the issue of costs. The Minister is absolutely correct that we must ensure we have waste management policies that are environmentally sustainable and robust and that encourage people to recycle and reduce waste. The Government is under pressure from EU directives, but we should not have to wait for the European Union, through a directive, to tell us to do the right thing. We should do it independently. Unfortunately, as regards incineration, the State has not done the right thing.
If one considers the Poolbeg incinerator project and the associated farce, for example, one will realise it was designed to take a volume of waste far greater than that which would be generated in Dublin. This is one of the arguments my party made against incineration. We spent years burying waste in landfill sites. The Minister touched on that issue in a previous discussion and stated we were being brought to court by the European Court of Justice because of our failure to divert waste from landfill properly. We spent years making mistakes in burying waste. My central point is that we should not make the same mistakes again by burning waste. We need to concentrate more on recycling and aim at the target of having zero waste. We should ensure the measures about which the Minister spoke, including packaging, are put in place. Thus, we could reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill or, potentially, to an incinerator.
Members of the Oireachtas and local authorities have been on a number of field trips to examine incinerators, mainly to learn about the environmental and health aspects thereof, and whether they pose a danger to health. Many of those who went on the trips saw waste incinerated that could easily have been recycled properly. That is part of the problem.
The farce surrounding the Poolbeg incinerator project was demonstrated when the councillors and elected representatives were not made party to information on costs associated with the project. Full information was not given to them, yet they were being asked to make decisions. There was outrage recently when the costs far exceeded the projected costs. Incineration is not the best way to go because if we put in place a network of incinerators across the State, we will be encouraging people to continue as they are. When incinerators are built, they need to be fed and reach a certain capacity, implying that we will end up servicing the incinerators rather than putting in place targets to reduce waste. This is the wrong approach and does not represent international best environmental practice in waste management. If we continue with failed policies, attempts to put in place incinerators and to use the same formula adopted at Poolbeg, we are heading for disaster.
The previous Government was reviewing the concept of incineration because of what had happened with the Poolbeg project. The Green Party which is also opposed to incineration was involved, and, therefore, there was a shift in Government thinking. I am not sure about the current position on that shift or about the Government's thoughts. However, I would be interested to hear them. Building a network of incinerators is not the best way to divert, reduce or manage waste. It would be the wrong approach and replace one failed system, namely, burying waste, with another, namely, burning waste.