I wish everyone a happy St. Brigid's Day. I thank the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for coming to the House to discuss this important matter.
Notwithstanding the dreadful pandemic that our country continues to face, one issue continues to dominate the work of public representatives from every corner of our country, namely, illegal dumping. The problem is not confined to our remote beautiful countryside, although the problem there is at its worst. This problem can be found on the main streets of our cities, the main roads through our towns, as well as every secondary road and laneway in our country.
One positive outcome of this lockdown has been the number of our citizens who are out walking and exercising within the 5 km limit that is in place. However, this increase in those walking our streets and country roads has led to realisation of what we, as a nation, are doing to our environment. What people are seeing in greater numbers is simply environmental vandalism. Our main roads resemble advertising dumping grounds, as discarded packets, cups and boxes fight with one another for the little spots available on these roads and are constantly blown about in the wind. Our country lanes are now extensions of our landfill sites such is the amount of rubbish being illegally deposited there. Our farming community is constantly having to remove piled up rubbish from headlands, entrances and fields. Rubbish is just flung over ditches by those passing in vans or cars.
We try to sell this country as a beautiful unspoilt island with 40 shades of green and landscapes to die for. We have to intervene, however, as those green fields, those important city streets, our beautiful hills, those quaint country lanes, not to mention our precious bogland, will disappear under mountains of discarded fridges, sofas, tyres and household rubbish. These are all illegally dumped by those who consider themselves above the law and, for some bizarre reason, untouchable because they gave a person driving a van or a car a few bob to get rid of it.
My local authority, Kildare County Council, is now dealing with 40 to 50 incidents each week and is spending more than €3 million per year on mitigating matters. If this is replicated across our 31 local authorities, it means that approximately €90 million will be spent on this problem. This does not include the additional moneys the Department may have allocated and does not include the time and effort of the many volunteers who do their best to clean up after this unacceptable behaviour.
I am aware, from parliamentary replies from the Minister to Labour Party colleagues, of an anti-dumping awareness communication campaign entitled Your Country, Your Waste. With respect, this is not working, however. I deal with the magnificent community wardens every single week which, thankfully, the Department's money has provided to local authorities to employ. They do a great job but in one case of which I am aware the wardens are on their fourth clean-up of an area within the last year. This location is not a rural backwater.
Local authorities need the Department's help. They need to know what is contained in the Minister's so-called anti-dumping toolkit for local authorities. The national campaign that I, along with many other public representatives, am looking for must include enforcement. I am aware of a person with a van being caught red-handed with illegal rubbish, heading out to our countryside to dump it. Three years later, there still has not been a prosecution. It is no wonder that those who give these people a few bob are not scared by the consequences. I have spoken to a large number of public representatives on this matter over the past number of weeks and months. They are all in agreement that a national campaign must come with enforcement. We have all read recent articles in which local authorities have been effectively warned not to use CCTV or other surveillance methods because of data protection issues.
This problem is now so serious that I and others are looking at these data protection issues, and if legislation is needed, we will bring it forward.
I urge the Minister to address this issue. There should be no comfort in giving one's rubbish to a person who is obviously not registered. There must be no escape from prosecution for taking it upon oneself to get rid of rubbish in what one thinks is an isolated spot or for tossing an empty packet out the window or throwing it away as one walks along our streets. We live in the best country in the world. We have the best scenery, the best tourist destinations and the best locations to exercise even within a restricted 5 km.
On behalf of so many, I urge the Minister to launch a national campaign that includes effective enforcement and surveillance as well as proper guidelines for our local authorities that allow them to employ surveillance without the fear that they will never be able to use it. It is time to name those who deliberately set out to ruin our environment and to ensure the legislation is there in a timely manner to prosecute those who commit environmental vandalism. The clock is ticking.