Commencement Matters

Greenways Development

I welcome the Minister to his alma mater.

I emphasise the need for refocused efforts to progress the Athlone to Ballinasloe greenway. The project was paused in 2015 and it is important to see progress now. A report was completed on route selection and a number of options have been identified. The national greenway strategy was launched a number of months ago and it is important that this project benefit fully from the available funding of €53 million. The Mayo greenway has been hugely successful, while the Waterford greenway has attracted 250,000 visitors this year alone. It has led to the economic revival of the region. The greenway from Ballinasloe to Athlone and on to Dublin could also provide a boost for south Roscommon and east Galway region. I am regularly in the area which has a lot of potential. The Athlone to Ballinasloe greenway can rival the greenways in counties Waterford and Mayo. The River Shannon runs through the region and there are also the Wake House at Nure, the Clonmacnoise viewing point across the river and the historic village of Shannonbridge across the border in County Offaly. The new tourism brand for the region, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, places a strong emphasis on being active in nature. This project, with the Beara-Breifne Way and the Shannon blueway, should be at the centre of the brand.

Route selection has been an issue in greenway development across the country and the Minister will be very aware of issues that can arise. We need to learn lessons from these experiences and ensure final route chosen is the one that will best utilise the amenities in the region. This can be done through proper engagement with local landowners and communities and each local authority, as well as other relevant stakeholders. I understand much of the route could cross State lands. Engagement must occur as early as possible and in the most open manner possible. We need the greatest possible buy-in by the local community to support the successful development of the greenway. There is significant untapped potential in the region and it is essential that we see further progress in the development of this section of the greenway between Athlone and Ballinasloe.

I thank the Senator and congratulate her on the case she has made for the development of this greenway, to which we are equally committed. I acknowledge that there have been difficulties and welcome the opportunity to recommit ourselves to it. We will all move in the same direction because greenways are a very important part of the tourism strategy the Government has promoted. We are very keen that this greenway be expedited.

As I am sure the Senator is aware, on 20 July this year I launched on the Old Rail Trail in Moate, County Westmeath the strategy for the future development of national and regional greenways. The strategy provides a framework for the development of Ireland’s greenways and will determine the type of project to be funded by my Department in the coming decade. It is a long-term strategy, with the aim of increasing the number, length and regional spread of greenways across the country. It sets out guidance for project promoters on various matters, including strategic nature, length, design standards, accommodation works and early consultation with communities and landowners along proposed routes. The strategy sets out the general high level criteria on what we think makes for a good greenway - one that is scenic, provides access to things to see and do, is sustainable, substantially segregated or where there is shared use, and is strategic. This is based on Fáilte Ireland research and experience on the ground of what has and has not worked in previous investments.

I was delighted to secure funding of €53 million for greenways projects to be constructed in the period 2019 to 2021. In addition to the strategy, the application form for this funding call has also been published. The closing date for the receipt of applications is 30 November. The quality and deliverability of projects will determine whether the full amount of €53 million will be allocated following this funding call. If the full amount is not allocated, there will be further funding calls.

With regards to the Senator's specific query about a greenway between Athlone and Ballinasloe, as the Senator will be aware my predecessor paused work on the Galway to Athlone route in 2015 until a number of issues were clarified. Those issues were set out in detail at the time. They essentially related to the need for a reconsideration of the route, with the need to minimise the impact on landowners emphasised and consideration given to levels of compensation for landowners while also maintaining the goal of creating a coast-to-coast, off-road greenway from Galway to Dublin. The strategy has addressed a number of those issues and the Department is currently in the process of setting up a group to develop a code of best practice for developing greenways that will look at the remaining outstanding issues. This group will look at consultation, route selection, land purchase and compensation matters, and should hopefully lead us to a position whereby an agreed route can be found between Athlone and Galway.

Progress on the construction of the eastern sections of the route has continued and I expect that the section from Maynooth to Athlone will be completed in 2019. This should significantly increase the numbers using the route.

I understand that there was less opposition to the original preferred route between Athlone and Ballinasloe. However, we need to start again and look at all route options for the entire Athlone to Galway section. I will not pre-empt the work of the group devising the code of best practise and it would not be appropriate for me to go into any great detail about the specific route between Athlone and Galway. It is important to reiterate, however, that we have ample evidence from the current long distance greenways, such as those in Waterford and Mayo, of the economic benefits that accrue to the towns and villages along these routes. Jobs have been created in cafés, restaurants, hotels and bike hire companies that would not otherwise have been created and those jobs support other jobs and households in the locality. This has assisted in retaining people in their own locality rather than them having to leave for jobs in our larger cities. That is why we regard greenways as so important for regional tourism development as well as health and well-being. The benefits to the entire local community are significant and finding agreed routes that respect the rights of landowners while providing a sensible route for greenway users will be a key goal of the group developing the code.

We continue to view the Galway to Dublin greenway as the most likely national greenway of scale and international appeal and are committed to its construction should an agreed route be found. I do not want anybody to get the impression that we lack determination or there is any diminution in our determination that this greenway will go ahead. The Senator's contribution today will assist us in our resolve to finish this project.

That was a positive answer.

I thank the Minister. It is positive that the Minister is keen to see the greenway being expedited. However, I emphasise the need. When we are aware that there has been less opposition with regard to the Athlone to Ballinasloe section, I am a little concerned when the Minister stated, "we need to start again". I would like to see progress in terms of that section, particularly when it forms part of the new tourism brand, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, and offers a significant amount of untapped tourism potential at present.

The Minister mentioned the group that will devise a code of practice which is positive in terms of ensuring proper engagement with all relevant stakeholders but I am a little concerned when he states that ""we need to start again" with regard to looking at all of the route options, particularly when we know that there is a high level of positivity towards developing that greenway section between Athlone and Ballinasloe.

Senator Hopkins is understandably impatient when we say this but she will also be aware as much as anybody else of the sensitivities surrounding this and the difficulties that we ran into. Rather than say "start again", maybe I should say "a fresh start and a fresh attitude and fresh outlook", because there were difficulties and sensitivities in which we, as much as every other side, made mistakes. We want to ensure that those mistakes are not repeated and that we are aware of those and prepared to take careful but prudent steps to avoid those sensitivities being aroused again so that we get the result that we want.

I thank the Minister. Tread carefully.

Illegal Dumping

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to the Chamber.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to the Chamber. I thank him for coming in to take this Commencement matter and thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting it. This relates to the need for the Minister to make a statement on the alleged illegal dumping of toxic waste at a site in Bunnamayne, County Donegal.

Without listing them, a number of public representatives in this area have made contact with my office. They are extremely frustrated at the lack of any progress made in Donegal County Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the regulatory authorities which should be dealing with this matter.

This is a long dispute which has been ongoing for over 20 years. The Minister of State, as someone who is very much in contact with and close to his constituents, can imagine the importance of an illegal dump in terms of pollution into the water stream and general environmental nuisance. There appears to be a major issue.

I thank the media, particularly the provincial newspapers in Donegal and Donegal Now, which is an online publication that has done a great deal of work in highlighting this issue.

There is general frustration that nothing is happening. To date, Donegal County Council confirmed there is an issue. There is an ongoing investigation into it. The local authority accepts it has responsibility for safety and for prosecuting those who are in breach of the law. The EPA has confirmed that it carried out tests in 2014 and that there is contamination of the soil and the water, and in conjunction with Donegal County Council, it was trying to pursue the matter.

I thank public broadcasting, particularly "RTÉ Investigates". Fair play to them. "RTÉ Investigates" decided to investigate the matter and we saw a programme televised on 18 June last.

The real issue is there is a festering dispute and a sore that has gone on for 20 years regarding the leeching of toxic waste into the environment. It is putting people and animals in the community at risk.

I hope to hear from the Minister of State today how this matter will be resolved. It is not a matter of the blame game at this stage. It has gone on for 20 years. There is an acknowledgement by the Environmental Protection Agency, the local authority and the Department, that something - pardon the pun - stinks and it needs to be resolved. I want to hear today how we can resolve this issue, remediate the site and, ultimately, support the campaign of local residents and councillors. Having spoken to somebody today, I might add that they plan to field their own candidates in the next local elections because they feel this is so important and no one is listening to them. It is important now, after 20 years, that we find a resolution to this ongoing dispute.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter as it is important, at both local and national levels, how such matters are being dealt with.

The role of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is to provide a comprehensive legislative and waste policy framework through which the enforcement authorities operate. Under section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is precluded from exercising any power or control regarding the performance by the Environmental Protection Agency or a local authority in particular circumstances of a statutory function vested in it. Notwithstanding this fact, the Department is aware of waste management issues regarding the site at Bunnamayne, Bridgend, and the response to these issues by Donegal County Council.

The local authority has had extensive involvement with various statutory stakeholders, landowners and other parties in respect of these matters. Following investigations which involved the excavation of trial pits at the site, Donegal County Council issued a section 55 notice in 2011 which covered a portion of the site in which waste material was found to have been deposited illegally. On foot of the section 55 notice, this waste was removed from the site.

The council carried out further extensive investigations on other areas of the site and on adjoining lands in 2015 with the co-operation of the EPA, with a view to obtaining evidence as to the extent of any further areas of waste deposition. The council continues to work with the EPA and the Department in order to determine any further risk to the environment and to identify remedial measures that may need to be put in place at this location. To support this, the Department has granted €104,000 of landfill remediation funding in 2017 in respect of two sites, including Bunnamayne, Bridgend. A total of €8,000 was used to complete the first stage risk assessment, or tier 1 assessment, in 2017. In 2018 the Department granted €80,000 of funding to Donegal County Council under the landfill remediation programme for the completion of the second stage risk assessment, or tier 2 assessment. The site in question is the subject of ongoing enforcement action for illegal waste activity and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment on matters which may ultimately be brought before the courts.

With respect to support being provided by the Department to Donegal County Council in respect of this site, as the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, stated, funding has been allocated to complete the environmental risk assessment process. The risk assessment process is completed in accordance with the EPA code of practice which was developed in 2007 to manage landfill remediation sites. The environmental risk assessment works are comprised of a three-tier risk assessment process to inform the remediation that may be required. The first-tier risk assessment involves a review of all available data, helps to create a conceptual site model and informs the prioritisation of environmental risks posed. The second-tier risk assessment involves site investigation works and testing of the site itself. On completion of this stage, a third-tier risk assessment allows for a refined conceptual site model to be created and a final quantitative risk assessment to be completed. This determines the level of environmental risk posed by the site and identifies what necessary remedial works or management systems need to be specified and put in place to militate against any environmental risk posed.

At the Bunnamayne, Bridgend, site, significant work has already been undertaken to conclude a tier 1 risk assessment. This has included extensive trial pitting and trenching on the site. The testing has helped to inform the risk assessment process. The tier 1 report is currently being considered by Donegal County Council and will be forwarded to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the EPA for consideration in due course. The works to inform the next stage of managing the site, the tier 2 risk assessment, is under way and due for completion this year.

I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive report but it in itself tells us how serious this matter is. He acknowledges it has gone on for 20 years. What I ask today is that we get closure to it eventually. It is very substantial. I acknowledge money is being given for it, but more substantial moneys are required to remediate these sites. I mentioned one particular site with which I am very familiar. We have a problem here that really needs to be resolved.

I acknowledge the comprehensive report the Minister of State has given. Community activists are now leading the charge. Some councillors are effectively outside the loop and do not even know what is happening. They are constantly told the same words that are in the Minister of State's report: "As this matter is subject to ongoing investigations, it would not be appropriate for Donegal County Council executives to comment at this point in time." That is the standard old catchphrase that councillors up there receive all the time. It is not good enough. I ask the Minister of State to bring the matter back to the relevant person in the Department who is responsible and tell him or her that the Department has a responsibility. The councils have a right to be informed of what is going on in their communities so they in turn can inform the communities they represent. I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response.

If the corporate body that is Donegal County Council has the information, it is a matter for it to pass it to its board of directors, that is, the members of Donegal County Council. As I said in my statement, if the matter is before the courts, it is inappropriate to comment. While trialling and trenching is happening and analysis is being carried out, there may or may not be a requirement to remove the landfill product - I do not know. If something illegal has occurred, there may or may not be a prosecution. What none of us wants to do is put at risk a prosecution if illegal activities are occurring or have occurred to date. This would be an error of this Chamber or any other chamber and is something we just cannot do. As I said, the matter was dealt with in 2011. The second report will be concluded by the end of this year, at which stage we should be able to see what necessary works are required. There may be a requirement for this product to be removed; there may not be. If the product is not damaging to the environment, that is a decision to be made by people who are better qualified in this area than I am. I trust the people doing the analysis to try to bring the matter to a conclusion.

Recycling Policy

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this issue. I am asking the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to increase funding for, and the number of, collection centres for agricultural tyre recycling. This follows on from the announcement last September of four locations nationwide for agricultural tyres to be collected. The four locations were distributed around the country in Cavan, Wexford, Galway and Tipperary. It was an amazingly successful initiative. Many hundreds of thousands of tyres were collected. Members of the agricultural community were charged a fee if the weight of the tyres collected went over a certain limit - 3 tonnes, I think. We really need a policy on this area. Picking four areas around the country and having them as the collection centres was an appropriate start but now we need to roll out a full scheme.

The scheme does not make sense in many ways. I will give the example of my county of Cork. There are more cows in Cork than in Northern Ireland, but there was no collection centre in Cork. If tyres had to be transported from parts of my constituency up to the nearest location, being in Tipperary, the distance travelled would be over 250 km. It would cost literally €1,000 to get a lorry up there and down again. It was therefore not logical for farming in my part of the world to avail of this very important scheme. Speaking parochially again, in Cork we had the Dunlop tyre factory, which closed in the early 1980s. As a result we had a massive array of tyres that were distributed locally to farmers, so we have a history in the county of having an awful lot of tyres. We needed a solution and the nearest solution we got was Tipperary.

There is already a scheme, as the Minister of State knows, for farm plastics. Farm plastics are collected in every co-operative the length and breadth of this country at least annually. There is a fee attached, but everyone goes to their local co-operative and recycles their farm plastics. They travel 2 miles, 3 miles or 4 miles, depending on the location. That is the logical space into which we need to move the agricultural tyre recycling service: in the same dynamic and the same situation we have with recycling of farm plastics.

What I am asking for today is an increase in the funding in this regard and that we look at the model that has already been very successful for recycling farm plastics being used for the recycling of farm tyres. The tyres that are there are a blight on us, a blight on society and a blight on our farmyards. We have now moved into a greener space. Farming has become in many ways a green industry because it had to do so. The world has changed. Farmers want to be a part of this revolution, ensuring that our environment is appropriately clean. This is a very important initiative. For it to have a major effect, it must come down to every parish and to the co-op and follow the model that has been in place for farm plastics. If I told the Minister of State 20 years ago that there would be a scheme for the collection of farm plastics, he would think I had gone mad, but now it is the norm. The question now is to expand it into this space so farmers have the opportunity to recycle these waste tyres for which they no longer have any use.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Both of us are dairy farmers and know that this is a serious issue. The farming sector is becoming much greener than ever before, which is a really good step.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, thanks the Senator for bringing forward this Commencement matter. Repak End of Life Tyres, Repak ELT, commenced operations on 1 October 2017 as the compliance scheme for the tyres and waste tyres sector, under the Waste Management (Tyres and Waste Tyres) Regulations 2017, with a registration and reporting role for The Producer Register Limited. The compliance scheme carries out regulatory functions on behalf of its members and is funded by a visible environmental management charge. Under the Waste Management (Tyres and Waste Tyres) Regulations 2017, farmers are not allowed to stockpile tyres on farms. Where farmers use tyres to cover silage, they are prohibited from having more than eight tyres per square metre of any silage pit’s floor area. Since 1 October 2017, any farmer who wishes to take in waste tyres for the purpose of anchoring silage must register with the new tyre compliance scheme, Repak ELT.

The previous Minister made funding of €1 million available in 2017 for local authorities to deal with the clean-up of existing stockpiles of waste tyres across the country. The funding was provided to support the introduction of the new compliance scheme. At the time, he also indicated that he would look at the issue of tyres on farms. To that end, he announced on 13 September this year that funding of €700,000 would be made available in 2018 to assist farmers in removing waste tyre stockpiles from farms. The funding was intended to give farmers an opportunity to remove unwanted tyres from farms and ensure the tyres were treated in an environmentally sound manner. The vast majority of tyres collected are to be recycled in Ireland, which will support Irish jobs and the circular economy. Irish Farm Film Producers Group Limited, the national farm plastics recycling compliance scheme, agreed to organise the removal of waste tyres from farms through the holding of four bring centre collection days throughout the country. The collections - the centres were chosen because they represented a good geographical spread - took place in Cavan, New Ross, Athenry Mart in Galway and Monard, County Tipperary. In total, approximately 4,253 tonnes of tyres were collected at the bring centres and the €700,000 budget for 2018 was fully spent. The Department is reviewing the results of the process and, in conjunction with other stakeholders, will assess whether further collection days could be centrally funded during 2019.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. The success of the scheme is the issue. It has been a great success. The Minister of State has mentioned a figure of 4,253 tonnes of tyres being collected in the four centres. That is an indication of how successful the scheme has been, but it also proves that there is a huge appetite among farmers to ensure they can apply for and work within the scheme. When reviewing it, we have to take into account that there were only four locations. It can be argued that they were geographically central, but some farmers had to travel over 250 miles. That is probably the biggest issue. To make the scheme workable, we need to look at the model that has worked, namely, the model for farm plastics. We need to review the scheme and look at the model which has worked to see if we can follow it through to have a much cleaner environment and farmyards.

The Senator is making the point that there are farmers living in his constituency who, when driving to Dublin, have still not come halfway when they reach Mitchelstown.

Very well said.

I am also very close to that border, but the Minister of State might want to have a final word.

The Cathaoirleach is also well aware of the constituency.

That was in the past.

I am aware of where we are and that the farming sector is much more responsible than ever before, which is good. Having said that, it is important that farmers do not allow large stockpiles of tyres to accumulate. If they are not required, they should be removed. While funding of €1 million was allocated initially and €700,000 subsequently, I am aware that there were large queues in New Ross, although I do not know about the other centres.

That is appropriate. It is important that where there are stockpiles of tyres, farmers do the right thing and remove them. We have not yet advanced it. I am not saying we will, but the matter is to be considered. If there are stockpiles, they have the potential to cause pollution and should be recycled. I know from speaking to tyre centres throughout the country that there might be a small cost involved, but it is the right thing to do, rather than have the tyres on farms, polluting and causing damage. If there was a check, it could potentially cost somebody money under the basic payment scheme. That would not be a good result and nobody wants it to happen. We are still looking at the issue, but the Minister is aware of the success of the scheme. There were 4,200 tonnes of waste taken out and properly disposed of. It was the right thing to do, but there is more to be done, of which we are aware. I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I understand the size of County Cork. I also know the number of cows in the county. The Senator is a very good advocate in that regard.

I thank the Senator and the Minister of State.

Sitting suspended at 11.05 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.