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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022

Vol. 282 No. 4

Local Government (Surveillance Powers in Relation to Certain Offences) Bill 2022: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to listen to the debate on this legislation. A lot of work has gone into this over more than a year. I put on record my thanks to the parliamentary legal service, the Data Protection Commission, with which I engaged, and the many councillors and local authorities around the country, particularly their environmental sections, that provided input in respect of this Bill. I also thank some of my own colleagues within Fianna Fáil with whom I have discussed the Bill and my Seanad colleagues more generally, in particular Senator Wall, who brought forward a similar Bill on this issue last year. Senator Keogan has also raised this issue previously. This has been sought on a cross-party basis. During the debate on Senator Wall's Bill, a number of concerns were raised. I believe I have addressed those concerns in the Bill before the House.

The Bill provides legislative underpinning to allow local authorities to use new technologies, including fixed and mobile CCTV systems, drones, automated number plate recognition technology and any other new technology that may be developed, for a very specific purpose. As I am sure the Minister of State will know, the story has got out that the general data protection regulation, GDPR, is stopping local authorities from using CCTV and other things to catch illegal dumping. That is not the case; it is just that we do not have the legislative underpinning for that to happen. Approximately a year ago, I surveyed all of the local authorities in the country and we were able to estimate that it costs somewhere between €90 million and €100 million annually for local authorities to deal with littering and illegal dumping.

It is a scourge and an environmental hazard. From a tourism perspective, our beauty spots are often destroyed. If certain materials leak into the soil, that results in environmental damage, while littering is also hazardous to livestock and other animals. It is also heartbreaking for the local Tidy Towns groups and community development associations all over the country that make the effort to go and tidy up their areas.

This approach was one the local authorities thought they could use, but the legislative framework has not been in place until now to enable them to address this problem. In some cases, we have seen even desperate measures being taken to tackle it. I refer to what I have been told by my colleague, Councillor Aengus O'Rourke in Athlone, and I am sure people will have seen the story. He grew tired of seeing certain individuals being involved in illegal dumping and because the local authority could not use CCTV. he brought white goods the person concerned had dumped back and put them on the front lawn of the individual clearly identified as responsible for the dumping.

It is clear that this legislation is being sought on a cross-party basis and by local authorities. I get the point, and I am very much aware, that when the word “surveillance” is in the Title of legislation people immediately get alarmed. I am somebody who argues strongly for data protection and data privacy. We must have safeguards in place and this legislation is lengthy to ensure they are in place and that data controllers appointed by a local authority will have to operate in a clear architecture. The legislation stipulates that any evidence gathered can only be used for the purposes clearly outlined in the Bill, namely, to detect and prosecute offences in this area. Therefore, the safeguards are in place.

A great deal of work has gone into this legislation. I am happy for amendments to be tabled to strengthen it. I am conscious that the Government is accepting the legislation. We should all work together to support it. The Government is talking about the proposed circular economy Bill coming down the line. When we debated Senator Wall’s Bill last year we all said that this was not about whose legislation was enacted, whether mine, Senator Wall's or the Government's; we just wanted it enacted and enacted now. We thought we would have seen this happening last year. What I am not going to accept is if the Minister of State tells me this Bill is great but the Government's circular economy Bill is on the way. When are we going to see this legislation in place? In accepting this legislation, I would like the Government to give a guarantee that we could see it enacted before the summer. In other words, I would like a guarantee that local authorities will be in a position by this summer to use new technologies to catch the culprits involved in littering and illegal dumping. I will continue to push this issue. We accepted that progress was going to be made last year but we did not see it happen.

This Bill addresses many of the concerns raised during the debate last year. As I said, I have engaged with the DPC on the issue. This is not an approach that people should be worried about; in fact, it is something people are looking for. We all need to see those responsible for illegal dumping in our communities being prosecuted if they are caught and then fined or imprisoned, and we have the technology to allow that to happen. These people are committing environmental crimes and undoing much of the good work done by citizens around the country.

I appeal to the Minister of State, and I know the principle has been set in this regard, to give us a clear timeframe regarding what is going to happen. What we all want and what I am asking for is that by this summer local authorities, whether the county council in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Wexford, Limerick, Kerry, Waterford, Meath, Kildare or wherever else, will be able to start to roll out the use of technology. The architecture used should protect the individual, ensure data privacy and guarantee data are only used for the intended purposes. Many of us have seen the problem of illegal dumping during the Covid-19 pandemic. I go out running and I see the problem on country roads. It is not just a rural problem but also an urban one. People want to see it addressed and I do not think people are going to be happy to continue to see this measure being postponed.

I am pushing forward this Bill. Having accepted certain assurances last year that we would see this issue addressed, we allowed some time for that to happen, but I am not prepared to give any more time. This is now a matter of urgency. I ask the Minister of State to progress the legislation as quickly as possible so that we finally tackle the scourge of illegal dumping once and for all.

I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, for bringing forward this Bill and outlining his intentions. His motivation comes from a deep-rooted sense of community and his involvement in local government over nearly 20 years. I have been involved for the same time. We were both elected in 1999, and back then the environment departments of our local authorities were probably the smallest components of local government. They are probably one of the largest sections now because of the large swathe of areas they must deal with, especially the scourge of illegal dumping.

As Senator Malcolm Byrne has done, I pay tribute to all those who have used this Chamber to try to tackle the issue. I refer to Senator Wall and, from my own county, Senator Keogan. It is sad that we must go down this road and that we find ourselves at this crossroads where it is necessary to bring forward legislation to try to deal with the problem because many people are compliant. In the same way that a tax was imposed on plastic bags many years ago by the then Minister, Noel Dempsey, we must face this scenario. On one hand, some people are engaging in personal illegal dumping while, on the other hand, there are those who have commercialised this activity to the point where it is an industry. In responding to that, we must now arm the environmental departments in our local authorities with the full powers of the law to ensure they have the teeth required to pursue those who want to flout the law and destroy our rural and urban areas.

Senator Malcolm Byrne mentioned his research and the amount of money illegal dumping ends up costing the local authorities and, by extension, the public through local charges and rates' bills. The cumulative estimate was put at €100 million annually. In County Meath, we had a well-publicised case two years ago where one incident alone cost taxpayers some €6 million. The then environmental engineer, Declan Grimes, testified during the court case that 51 companies were involved in bringing waste to a 267-acre farm. The fallout from that illegal dumping was not just, as Senator Malcolm Byrne has said, the financial cost faced by taxpayers but also the environmental impact and the massive damage done to a particular area in Enfield.

We saw a marked increase during lockdown in the scourge of illegal dumping. Many local authorities tried to react positively by removing the charge at recycling centres to try to counteract that activity. We must also approach this issue in a positive manner in respect of the steps that can be taken to negate the need to use these unauthorised people who go around and put leaflets through people's doors to encourage them to engage in illegal dumping. As the Garda has said many times, people should think twice before they use such services. The reality is that many people still use them and illegal dumping is happening on many levels, from ad hoc activities to organised endeavours.

In responding to this situation, the type of technology that is available to us should be used, as Senator Malcolm Byrne said. The required powers should be given to local authorities to do so. There was a lacuna in this area. Senator Keogan and I know this because Meath County Council and different groups were using the available technology for community group and local authority purposes. We must ensure now that we put this approach on a statutory footing, that we have the full powers of the law behind our local authorities and that we tackle this situation once and for all.

As a result, we need to ensure that we put this on a statutory footing and that we have the full powers of the law behind our local authorities to tackle the issue once and for all. We must ensure that we bring around cultural change so that it is no longer acceptable in this country. I want to pay tribute to Senator Malcolm Byrne. As I said, I hope we see the progression of this Bill and that it is positively received.

I welcome the Minister of State. I understand the motivations of the proposer and seconder of this Bill, but I have reservations about it. As I understand it, the Bill seeks "to empower local authorities to authorise the installation and operation of surveillance devices for the purposes of deterring, preventing, detecting and prosecuting certain offences, to provide for exchange of certain data from third party data controllers to local authorities for the purposes of the performance of their functions in relation to such offences", and to provide for other related matters. The experience of the two Senators who are proposing and seconding this Bill is well known. They have been involved and have a great track record in local government. I want to acknowledge that because I think it is important. I know of their work, their commitment and their engagement in local government.

However, we must set some context here. We know, from last week's reports, that Limerick City and County Council was investigated for its use of CCTV, which brought into sharp focus for me issues around the Data Protection Commissioner, DPC. The council was given a fine of €110,000 and a reprimand, and is required to either bring all surveillance into compliance with the data protection law or turn it off entirely. Those are the findings; I had a look at them today. I accept this is an issue of concern for local authorities. As Senator Malcolm Byrne has said, they want to be on the right side of the law. They want whatever CCTV operations they wish to have to comply with legislation, but currently, they do not. In the case of Limerick City and County Council, the DPC found 48 infringements, covering 20 separate articles of the GDPR issues of concern. That is serious. Some of the key points that the Commissioner identified were that there was no precision in terms of the cameras, no joint controller agreements with An Garda Síochána, and no legal basis for the automatic number plate recognition, ANPR. That was just one issue of concern. I know that Senators have spoken about illegal dumping. However, there are other issues and impacts around this. The DPC found that Limerick City and County Council had no legal basis for the monitoring of private dwellings, houses, estates or halting sites. We must deal with that. It is an issue of concern. Councils will now have to review their own CCTV policy. I know that a number of councillors have raised it with their respective chief executives in the last few days and have expressed concerns. Such policies will have to be in line with the protocols to ensure full compliance.

Therefore, this Bill is timely and there is a lot of merit in it, but there are concerns. My concerns in relation to it are that there is an issue around CCTV pilot project schemes. I am concerned about the area of the role of the local authority, but also of the Garda Commissioner in terms of sanction and approval. Ultimately, someone has to take responsibility. Clearly, there is a role and a function for the Garda Commissioner in relation to CCTV. As the Minister of State will be aware, because he is very well-versed in the area, CCTV is a powerful, yet invasive tool in terms of personal data and the tracking of people's movements. Clearly, it can be used to assist in bringing people to justice and dealing with crimes etc., but there are many abuses of it. I have heard reports of CCTV being used in locations in the city of Dublin to track down and monitor sex workers. It has been involved in tracking other activities around universities, tracking people who are involved in certain peaceful demonstrations and engagement. We must protect that too. I know what the Senators introducing the Bill are trying to do but I am also conscious of people's civil rights and civil liberties. The balancing of those rights is a sensitive issue. There may very well be a need for community CCTV and a justification for it but there has to be a strong justification and need for it. It does not have to be ongoing. In my own local authority area, there is temporary CCTV for a period of perhaps a week on a particular hotspot. My point is that there are issues.

I would be interested in further public consultation on this. I am aware that Senator Malcolm Byrne has talked about his extensive engagement with local authorities and members. However, there are issues in relation to retrospective evidence gathering versus real-time surveillance. It is most important. I will repeat that, because it is not just something that I have picked up. I had a conversation with someone who is an expert in the area. There are issues around retrospective evidence gathering versus real-time surveillance. We need to be very careful that CCTV is not being used for profiling particular audiences, groups or segments of people. It cannot be used for targeting people on the basis of some preconceived idea that they are up to something that is not appropriate. There need to be huge constraints in relation to this legislation. I understand that the Minister of State and is Department may have reservations. I would be interested in hearing them. The Minister of State might also confirm that this area is not part of his portfolio. It is my understanding that this issue does not fall within the local government remit.

Those are my thoughts on the matter. While I accept and understand what is trying to be done here, I am deeply concerned about abuses or potential abuses that may take place under this system. I am particularly concerned. I think we must have full cognisance of the findings of the DPC in relation to Limerick City and County Council. There are issues there. We need to examine them and learn from them and see if we can improve it. I acknowledge that it is the Senator's legislation and I am interested in what the Minister of State has to say.

I would like to start by complimenting my colleagues seated to my right on bringing forward this Bill, and by complimenting Senator Wall, who brought forward a similar Bill last year on this issue. It is a very important issue. It is an issue which vexes a lot of people and rightly so, because dumping and illegal dumping is a scourge on society. It prevents people from enjoying the beautiful landscape, towns, villages and cities right across the country. While I appreciate that the Department is currently working on legislation in this respect, which will data-proof all elements of CCTV monitoring in this respect, I think that bringing forward this Bill is a genuine attempt by the promoters to try to progress this matter in a speedy fashion. I compliment them on that.

We must equip our local authorities and environmental officers with every tool possible, including the most modern and up-to-date technologies, to allow them to catch the perpetrators of illegal dumping. I agree with Senator Boyhan that there has to be a justification for it. The justification here is that we all know, in this House, that illegal dumping is rife in this country. I am sure the Senator's constituents from right across the country, including local authority members, are in contact with him constantly, because they are getting it from residents on the ground. They are asking what the council is doing to catch people who are bringing mattresses, rubbish and even goods that can be brought to the civic amenity sites free of charge out into the countryside and dumping them on the side of the road, into streams and rivers, polluting them. It is unacceptable. There is a justification for using CCTV. My understanding is that it is the DPC's view that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 do not regulate the processing of personal data, as required by the EU law enforcement directive, which is parallel legislation that came into force in May 2018 along with the GDPR legislation. That is the issue, as opposed to there being a merit in having CCTV to tackle this issue in the first place.

My local authority, in Waterford, along with many others, felt the wrath of the commissioner in that respect. Last year an article in the Irish Examiner ran with the headline "Waterford Council reprimanded for using CCTV to monitor illegal dumping". The article stated:

Waterford City and County Council has been officially reprimanded for its use of CCTV to monitor public activity by the Data Protection Commissioner.

The admonishment by the commissioner, which was handed down in October of last year and was carried out using its corrective powers under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), concerns the local authority’s use of such surveillance technology to monitor illegal littering and dumping.

We need to address the matter with legislation but, in one sense, it is a case of GDPR gone mad. We all know the issue that exists and have to tackle it. In one sense, the only way we can is to use all the technologies. I am not saying this is a silver bullet because it is not. People go to great lengths to avoid detection. I have spoken to environmental officers in Waterford City and County Council who have told me of the lengths people go to. There are people who block out their number plates while dumping. They take rubbish bags out of the back seats of their cars underneath a camera. That is what we are talking about. While CCTV will assist, it will not be the silver bullet. There needs to be a wider campaign and appeal, right at the root, starting with our youngest citizens and proceeding from primary school right through secondary school. In that respect, I compliment all those behind the work that goes on, including those behind the Green-Schools programme and the various committees, because it is only by appealing to our youngest citizens that we will see a change in society in the long run. I compliment the Senators on introducing the legislation. I urge the Minister to make progress on the Government’s legislation in this respect as a matter of urgency. It cannot come quickly enough. We have to empower our local authorities. We must not allow them to continue to have their hands tied behind their backs on this issue. That is essentially how they are operating at the moment.

The Minister of State is very welcome. I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne and all the other Fianna Fáil Senators. We have discussed this issue before, including when Senator Wall introduced legislation.

The important thing to remember about dumping is that there is no witness who can make a statement and bring it to the Garda. The ultimate victim is the environment, which is voiceless. It means extraordinary measures are required to tackle this problem. I am talking about all types of wildlife crimes, which the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is also addressing. This is a critical piece.

I am aware that there have been criticisms of the time it takes for legislation to come through. The circular economy heads of Bill did come to us at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, and that is the correct process. We have all agreed with that process now. It means that there is an extra part to it. It is appropriate. It means we can bring forward witnesses and hear what is actually happening on the ground. We have done the work and therefore the legislation has to go back to the Minister’s Department to make progress on it. When I saw the heads of Bill and saw this element appearing under them, it really jumped out at me. Many of us here have been councillors and know what happens on the ground in councils, how councils themselves are hamstrung and the difficulties our constituents are having.

Around the corner from me, there is an estate with a quite long entry road to which people drive to dump, pretty much literally on people’s doorsteps. I went there with the residents and did a clean-up. I found an entire kitchen there. There was a table, microwave and washing machine, all in a tiny estate with fewer than 100 houses. This then generates complete disrespect for such an area. The question arises as to why one should continue to do clean-ups at a location when getting nowhere and if someone is going to dump there the next weekend. It is soul-destroying for the people affected. They have been calling for CCTV for years. The same old issue of GDPR comes up and really does tie the hands of the council. I believe it is also used as a bit of an excuse in some respects to ignore the issue, the effect being a desire to wait until we have legislation or have managed to get around the GDPR issues.

In another area of Knocknacarra, I was doing another litter pick. I went up to the top of a little grass verge and noted that the entire field in the middle of a residential area was literally covered with bags of rubbish. This was because it was a quiet place into which people could drive. It only had workers there during the day. It was cleaned up by reporting the matter to the EPA and by the serving of a notice on the owner. However, there is not always a person to go back to because the land could be council owned or under the charge of the local estate. It is not an easy matter. We do require CCTV. I fully understand people’s concerns about surveillance but ultimately we are trying to protect the environment. There has to be justification, and that justification has to involve not only what local people want but consideration as to whether the environment is being damaged and biodiversity affected. I believe there is such an impact. A lot of this comes back to the concept of the consumer society, and that is why placing this issue into the context of a circular economy is appropriate. If we had less waste in the first place, there would not be as much stuff to dump.

The last point I wish to make is on what people have been doing while waiting for this issue to be resolved. I know they have been doing it in Wicklow. I am referring to lookout projects whereby people adopt a mile on which to keep an eye. It happens particularly in rural areas. Fundamentally, that is also a little like surveillance. People are still doing it. They are keeping an eye out to see who is coming past. It is not monitored in any way. If one puts in CCTV, it ultimately goes back to being somebody’s responsibility. That is the best way to handle it.

I thank Senator Byrne again for raising the issue and look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say.

I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for proposing the Bill. As I have read it, and as I understand it from listening to the debate, it seeks to allow councillors to use fixed CCTV, mobile CCTV and drones for relevant offences specified under the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Litter Pollution Act 1997, and to allow processing of data as per the Data Protection Act, ensuring that the surveillance is necessary, proportionate and specific in its purpose. There has been some conversation about that. It seems there are enough safeguards concerning data protection and review mechanisms within the Bill.

Fly-tipping, as has been mentioned here, is a huge issue for every local authority. It is a scourge in our communities. Nowhere in the debate have I heard a reference to the privatisation of our waste services. Surely there is a direct correlation between an increase in illegal dumping and the privatisation of waste services, which were under the control of local authorities successfully for so many years. The Minister of State, from the Green Party, and local authorities should seriously consider bringing domestic waste collection back under the control of local authorities as a means of combating illegal dumping and the operation of rogue waste collectors. We are aware that illegal dumping has spiralled out of control. We see it at football pitches, greens and lanes, and beside public bins. I live beside a public bin and pull my hair out when I hear glass bottles being put into it one by one.

Dublin City Council has barely any public glass recycling bins close to where we live and there are none on the route into town. There is never an excuse for illegal dumping but we need to make it as easy as possible for people to recycle. We know the Garda is already stretched in some areas where we are trying to stamp out illegal dumping. Local authorities have managed waste successfully for decades. It should not have been privatised. It has resulted in a race to the bottom. There are poorer quality services in many cases. There are increased costs for householders. There are negative environmental impacts and increased illegal dumping. We should nationalise waste services and bring bins back under public control. We should make it easy for people. Sometimes there is construction waste along the most beautiful greenways and walks in the country. I support the Bill and I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for tabling it.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is his second time here today. I congratulate Senator Malcolm Byrne and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil on bringing forward the Bill. The Senator correctly said that in 2021 I introduced a Bill on behalf of the Labour Party on the use of the CCTV and the prosecution of offences. It was quite similar to what we have before us.

The bottom line on this is what happens next. We heard Senator O'Reilly state it is with a committee at present. When I introduced the Bill last year and we spoke on it we were told it would happen long before now. It is still with the committee. I know the Minister of State will respond on the Bill before us but what is happening simply cannot continue. The destruction of our countryside in rural communities continues unabated. Senator Cummins is correct that this is not a silver bullet. Nobody has ever said it would be a silver bullet. However, it would definitely help our local authorities to combat what they face day in and day out. There is absolutely no question about that.

The Government has to act. Senator Byrne has outlined his research and I have done similar research. Our local authorities spend €90 million each year on cleaning up illegal dumping. Imagine what the local authorities could do, as I have said so many times, with €90 million. Imagine the playgrounds and community facilities we could upgrade and install if we had this €90 million back. This is the purpose of the Bill.

I acknowledge what Senator Boyhan said. I also had concerns when I drafted my Bill and spoke about them. The purpose of that Bill was to ensure there was a legal standing for the use of CCTV. Having read the Bill tabled by Senator Byrne, I know it has the same purpose. That includes the purpose of using and recording CCTV data and specifically who the CCTV may target. It is appropriate that Senator Boyhan has raised this issue and it had to be said. Having read the Bill and having written a Bill, I know it is for the purposes of dealing with illegal dumping and nothing else. This is all we are asking. We will not target anybody else. When Senator Byrne speaks again he will probably say the same. This is not to target any group or individual. It is to target those destroying our countryside and causing €90 million of local authority expenditure each year.

Several months before Christmas, Kildare County Council ran an amnesty for mattresses. It cost €50,000 to deal with the number of mattresses received on one day but within a week the countryside was destroyed once again with mattresses. Every day I am contacted about illegal dumping. This is no exaggeration. It is endemic throughout the countryside. There is no other way to say it. Housing remains the number one issue and it always will be as far as I am concerned but illegal dumping comes a very close second. We are here to introduce legislation. Senator Byrne has done the exact same as I did, which is to introduce a Bill to ensure this does not happen. If nothing comes back from the Government, we will continue to be in the same place, which is not acceptable.

In my local community there are approximately 400 houses just outside Athy. Six or seven months ago, we had a clean-up and we filled 350 plastic bags. That was in a small rural community. This just shows the type of dumping that is happening. At the weekend, I received a call from members of the community group saying we had to do another clean-up because the dumping is as bad as ever. That is within six months. I am sure that the next time we go out we will, unfortunately, fill another 350 bags. Again, I am not saying CCTV cameras will be the silver bullet but they would ensure that those who dump would think twice about driving out and dumping in the local community.

It is not just a problem in rural communities. It is also in towns and villages. The Minister of State knows the results of the Irish Business Against Litter survey. Naas did very well but other towns are suffering. Senator Cummins is also correct that there is an education element to this and it must accompany what we are trying to do with the Bill and what I tried to do last year. This is incumbent on the Minister of State. I engaged with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, a year ago in a Commencement debate. He told me he was rolling out various schemes. I am sure they are happening. An initiative mentioned by Senator O'Reilly is what we call the green kilometre in Kildare. It is a brilliant scheme. People look after the 1 km next to their home. It is a like a neighbourhood watch scheme in one sense. People look out for one another with regard to rubbish. A number of houses come together. It is a great scheme which creates great communities.

Tidy Towns has been mentioned. Councillor Thomas Phelan from Waterford contacts me regularly about what is happening. Councillor Elaine McGinty has written to a number of social media companies about those who advertise illegally for dumping. This has been mentioned by colleagues during the debate. She still has not received a reply. She has tabled motions at Meath County Council. It is unacceptable that social media companies allow people who are not registered to advertise illegal dumps. Unfortunately, this is what is happening. These people go around estates and flash their lights. People come out with black bags and, unfortunately, those black bags end up on our streets and in our countryside. This is what the Bill is targeting. It is what I targeted last year. I thank Senator Byrne.

I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for his work on this legislation. I get nervous when phrases such as "surveillance technology" are used. I could come in here and speak about the scourge of illegal dumping. We can point to it and speak about its impact on communities, where it is, what it is and what it costs to pick it up. We always fail to speak about the mechanisms we will use to address it. The mechanism in the Bill is to introduce a technology. I know how the Senator has come at this with regard to some aspects of civil liberties. When we think about this we have to talk about the technology. Technology advances very quickly. The Senator's intention is to give powers under relevant offences, such as waste management and litter pollution Acts, and for this to be very particular. However, once something is introduced, the next Government and Governments after that can add to it. I understand the intention of the Bill but where it can go is another story.

I had a contribution ready for the debate. I then went back over the Bill and wrote a few notes on the conversation we will need to have on Committee Stage on the use of technology and what it will look like. I ask the Senator to note some of them and put them on the record.

In respect of surveillance technology, the Bill needs to specify what the surveillance technology is, drone or otherwise, and that it cannot be used in combination with AI algorithm technology or facial recognition software of any kind. We probably need to specify that only certain sizes and types of drones are allowed. They should be large enough to be visible to the naked eye. That can also act as a deterrent in and of itself because somebody can see that the drone is there and they have to make another choice. It should not be the case that the drone is not that noticeable and the person commits the crime and is done for it retrospectively. Will the drone carry certain visible markings to identify it as belonging to the State?

In respect of certain calibres of drone camera technology, what will be allowed and what will not? What will the quality of them be? Will they unreasonably impinge on people's privacy from a great distance? Should high-power zoom lenses and night vision be banned? What about see-through radar imaging? The Bill should provide for details about use of surveillance technology to be published on an accessible website managed by the relevant Department. It might be necessary to look for permission to contract the operation of drones and cameras out to private companies. Will that be part of the Bill? Maybe we need an annual report laid before the Houses which specifies analysis of whether surveillance technology has been used to target particular places or people.

I went back and looked at where this type of technology has come into play in other countries such as America, also for reasons of necessity like this one in respect of illegal dumping. The American Civil Liberties Union reports repeatedly highlight the problem of mission creep. For example, when drones were introduced in the US for seemingly innocent activities such as monitoring wildfires, they were quickly embraced by law enforcement around that nation for more controversial purposes.

I think we can strengthen the Bill and tease out some of the technologies and its remit. It is not that I am against the legislation in any sense, but I do worry that we are focusing on the illegal dumping aspect when there are really important components of the legislation in terms of introducing powers to use technology. We have to do that in the safest possible way. We know how bad it can get in the use of technology. Just because that is not the Senator's intention does not mean other governments will not begin to expand those powers.

I often hear politicians speak about the use of CCTV in particular communities where there are anti-social hotspots and that stuff is really scary to me. What we do is begin to look for crime, detect crime. It is not that a crime has happened and a court case happens and we have a warrant issued to pull that information. It is being used to detect crime as it is happening. That may be what Senator Boyhan was getting at when he was talking about retrospective crime versus that kind of live-action stuff. When we use cameras or anything to do with technology, we have to make sure that everybody understands the scope of the technology being used and what it can and cannot be used for. Hopefully, we can have that level of conversation when the Bill makes it way to Committee Stage.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for letting me speak at this point. I have to leave early so I will not be here for the Minister of State's reply. I support the Bill and thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for bringing it to the House. Three great loves of mine are empowering local government, being tough on crime and good data management. I supported the Labour Party's Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 last year but argued that its scope needed to be broadened. That seems to have happened with this Bill which accounts for the data obtained via mobile camera systems and drones in addition to the more traditional fixed and permanent CCTV systems.

If it were up to me I would see a further expansion of the admissibility of CCTV footage in our courts in the prosecution of more serious crimes rather than drawing the line at litter and waste management, although perhaps this Bill is not the place to pursue that. It does strike me that it is bizarre that we would pave the way for a greater role in CCTV in the prosecution of someone who throws a bag of crisps out on the road but not an individual who commits an assault in the same spot.

I spoke last year about how local authority executives can be slow to seek authorisation for CCTV systems given the difficulty associated with being data protection officers at that scale. This is still an issue that needs to be solved. Perhaps city and county managers would be more willing to implement these systems if they felt more supported in that function. An Garda Síochána could certainly play a role in this regard.

I love the idea of this legislation coming in. The fact that almost €100 million is spent every year on waste management in this country is scandalous. The magic words in this, and Senators may take it from me because I have learned over the years from the system we set up in Duleek, are the data controller and the processor. That is it. It is really important to specify who the data controller is and how the information is going to be processed. Those roles are key.

Another thing I would like to see is the calibration of the system. It is not provided for here. Speed cameras have to be calibrated every year. Breathalysers have to be calibrated every year as well. To have a calibration system put in place for these would be ideal. I certainly welcome the Bill. There are changes that can be made but we will certainly work with the Senator to make sure it moves forward.

I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for his work on this, and Senator Wall for his previous legislation around illegal dumping. We all agree that it is a blight on everybody and on society. Senator Wall mentioned a rural area. Coming from a rural area, I can give the House example after example of dumping in the uplands. Wicklow started an initiative almost 13 years ago, the PURE project, protect the uplands and the rural environment. It has been massively successful. Senators should see how successful it is in Wicklow and what it has done for education and for the collection of waste in our uplands. It is one truck, one man driving it and a bit of administration behind it, sponsored by the Department, Wicklow County Council, South Dublin County Council and Coillte. At the early stages a few other State bodies funded it but they have backed out of it now. It has collected 3,473 tonnes of waste in the uplands in our rural communities. It is waste of every description and every kind we can mention.

The sickening thing is the majority of this waste can be brought to a recycling centre and disposed of free of charge. There is no need to bring it to the uplands. There is no need to dump in forestry entrances or sensitive woodlands. Fridges, sofas, mattresses - I could go on and on. The Minister of State is aware of it. That project should be adopted in every county. I ask the Minister of State to have a closer look at it. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about it. We are trying to get a ten-year funding stream in place for it. It is massively successful. Senator Pauline O'Reilly is aware of this. Another of the schemes is the adopt a mile scheme where the community adopts a mile of their area and looks at the biodiversity, the natural heritage. On some roads in Wicklow people might see a sign in a field that just says "Biddy's field". That gives the history of that mile of road.

We need to help organisations like the PURE project by bringing those who are dumping rubbish in our uplands to task. That is the thrust of this legislation. We might have issues around surveillance and GDPR. The thrust of it is to attack this continued illegal dumping. Despite this project going on for 13 years we still have the dumping.

It is not that this is a spur-of-the-moment thing; this is ongoing. This is 244 tonnes of rubbish collected every year in the uplands - there is no urban environment there - in Wicklow.

Given our proximity to Dublin, there are a lot of rural and scenic parks. I gave an example yesterday when we were speaking on the plinth about this. I come from Glendalough and I am lucky because there is a great deal of State influence in Glendalough. There is the national park. The Office of Public Works and Wicklow County Council ensure it is maintained and managed. There is surveillance there almost all the time through rangers and other people. However, there is a corresponding valley in Glenmalure. This weekend, the first weekend with good weather, it was thronged with campers. The level and type of waste that was left behind was disgusting and an absolute disgrace. Martina Byrne has fought a campaign, year in, year out, to try to prevent this happening. We need this legislation to support her campaign. Glenmalure welcomes the campers, but does not want them to leave their rubbish behind. When I refer to rubbish I am talking about the entire camp. The campers come down for the weekend, have a good time and walk away leaving everything else behind them. Another area, Lough Dan, was crucified during the pandemic. After one weekend, in just one collection, a trailer load of waste was collected.

This has to stop. We must do whatever we can to prevent this happening now and into the future. I accept that there are concerns about this legislation, but we cannot let what is happening in our rural environment continue. It must stop. I know this legislation will help. The PURE project has gone through hell and high water to try to bring prosecutions against illegal dumpers, but it failed. This is where this legislation can help. As other Members have said, we need to do this now. We have to get this legislation through the House now and have it enacted so we can protect our environment. At the end of the day, that is what we are doing - protecting our environment.

Where will I begin? I was a member of Louth County Council for six years and every couple of months there were motions about this subject. Many other Members of this House were in local authorities for longer than me and they would say the same, that this is a very common issue. I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne and the rest of the Fianna Fáil group on bringing this Bill forward. Over the past year Senator Wall has been very forceful about this matter as well and has put forward some very good ideas. I will offer my own 2 cent on it.

To give the context, about a year ago I went picking up litter along the verges. I was amazed at the amount of rubbish that is in our hedgerows and verges. It is really sickening. What is even more amazing is how much of it is buried in the debris of a hedgerow, which means it has been there for 12 to 18 months or even longer. This is the result of two things. One is people wilfully throwing their rubbish out the car window and people taking household rubbish and dumping it in rural, isolated places. The other is that there are people who pay disposal people to takeaway waste, but these disposal people are cowboys of one form or another and they are dumping that household rubbish in those areas and nobody is liable for it. This is an ongoing issue across the country, whether it is in the middle of Dublin city centre or in the middle of rural Ireland. It is a common issue wherever one goes.

Local authorities and people's hands are essentially tied as to what they can and cannot do. This legislation tries to offer some tools and powers to local authorities and others to do something about this. Litter wardens can only do so much. They have to physically search through bags of rubbish to try to find some type of incriminating evidence as to who the individual is. This legislation gives local and enforcement authorities more tools to combat any form of illegal dumping and littering.

One of the issues I have had over the years, and this is a personal view, is that GDPR can be an excuse to hide behind in many instances in respect of things that can be difficult to do. People say "Oh no, we cannot do that due to GDPR" without actually examining the matter. To go off on a slight tangent, I encountered that a year ago when I proposed, with regard to rubbish from takeaways, that a person's licence plate should be printed on the takeaway packaging or bags. People said that could not be done due to GDPR. I then had an online meeting with a GDPR specialist who said there are no GDPR rules here. At times, GDPR can be a red herring and a reason not to do things. I am glad we are taking a legislative approach to try to get around that.

To conclude on that point about takeaway rubbish, while I know that on the larger scale we are talking about van loads of stuff such as household waste, mattresses and the like, on a much smaller scale but equally prominent is the waste from fast food outlets. People eat the food in the car, drive away and throw the packaging out the window. There is no recourse and no way to follow up with those people. I wish to be clear about this. There will not be somebody walking around the countryside trying to pick out rubbish to catch somebody. Let us say a person gets a takeaway from McDonalds. Somebody is not going to go to the bin in which the person put the rubbish, take it out and then throw it in a hedgerow to try to catch the person out. None of that will happen. The only people who have anything to fear from car registrations going on takeaway bags or from legislation such as this are the people who are engaging in that type of illegal dumping. Nobody else has anything to fear.

I listened to Senator Casey talking about this. He comes from one of the most scenic parts of Ireland and it is horrific to hear about the dumping that takes place there by people who are coming to the county from all over the country. I see it in my area too. One of the biggest issues in County Louth, closer to the Border area, is massive dumping of tyres. Huge amounts of tyres are being dumped on Border roads and on Annaverna, one of the mountains beside the Border. It is a common occurrence and a number of councillors in Louth County Council are trying to do things about it. What they are trying to do is physically trying to block the roads off at evening times or at the times that type of dumping will take place. To go on a real tangent, there is a lot of illegal fuel laundering around the Border. Louth County Council spends hundreds of thousands of euro each year cleaning up illegal, toxic sludge and diesel. It is not as prominent now as it was when I was first elected to the council because of different things that were brought in over the last number of years to tackle it.

The point of this debate is that illegal dumping is widespread. It can range from the tyres and fuel laundering I mentioned to somebody throwing crisp bags out the window to the substantial household rubbish mentioned by Senator Malcolm Byrne and others. The important thing about this legislation is that we are trying to do something about it. We are trying to arm the bodies of the State and give them the tools to enable them to tackle it and hold the people who engage in these practices accountable. People have talked about this for many years and I am glad we are trying to do something now. I commend Senators Malcolm Byrne and Wall on their strong advocacy on this issue over the last year and a half in this House. It is great to see that we are finally trying to do something about it.

I commend my colleagues, Senators Malcolm Byrne and Wall, on the work they have done on this issue and all the Senators who I hope will support this Bill unanimously. I hope the Minister of State has come here with open ears and with a spirit of embracing this initiative from Senator Malcolm Byrne, which is supported by the Fianna Fáil group and, hopefully, by Members across the House.

I was first elected to Dublin City Council in 2004. It is the largest local authority in the city. I speak on this subject not just as a former city councillor but also as a resident in the city. I reside in Dublin Central and every year the north inner city appears as a litter black spot on the Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL, report. While my colleague, Senator Casey, lives in the beautifully scenic County Wicklow, I like to think that Dublin Central is quite scenic too.

There are many beauty spots in the Dublin Central constituency. There is the Royal Canal, the Phoenix Park, Griffith Park and Drumcondra Park and even the inner-city parks like Mountjoy Square, and in around the courts at Green Street. We have a great deal of beauty in our city but it is destroyed, degraded and undermined by illegal dumping. We have fought this issue and to be fair to Dublin City Council, it is spending more than €1 million every year dealing with and trying to respond to illegal dumping. The illegal dumping can be anything from what was described by Senator McGahon as the takeaway food wrappers and foodstuffs, to mattresses, fridges, clothes, electrical items and recyclables. Some people seem to act as if the streets of Dublin are an actual dump. They travel into Dublin Central and treat it as if it is a municipal dump. They consider it as a destination. It is probably one of their favourites on Google maps.

To be fair to the city council, staff are out sweeping the streets and picking up rubbish but it is an endless task and futile activity because no sooner have they cleaned it up but there is more dumping. They are doing this in the context of a city that has enormous footfall. We have people coming to O’Connell Street, the GPO, Henry Street, Croke Park and all of our attractions such as the Hugh Lane Gallery and it is impossible for the city council to both do the job of ordinary street cleaning and deal with the illegal dumping. The council is supplemented and supported by city residents and businesses. To every business owner, it is a cost to have to clean up outside of their property on their street and they do it willingly. They get up early in the mornings, pay their staff extra and do this on a daily basis because they know that it detracts not only from their business but from the street. The thought of having to walk through dirt and wondering what is there actively discourages people from coming into the city. Residents living in the city are giving of their time, after a long week of work no more than the rest of us, on a Saturday where they go along the canals and into the parks and along our beautiful Tolka River and pick up bags of rubbish. They are picking up so much of this, and of illegal dumping, that the city council has to send trucks to pick it up. This is indisputable.

During the pandemic alone, the city council said that it believes there is at least a 30% increase in illegal dumping in the city. The problem is indisputable. It has proven intractable to resolve using all of the resources that are already available so this legislation is needed.

The legislation is very prudent and focused. I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne on taking the approach of this legislation being discreet, measured and very controlled. It clearly sets out that the local authority will authorise use of technology. We use technology for speeding and to police our public spaces and we need to use the technology that is available for this purpose. The legislation sets out that the local authorities will have to have a prescribed code of practice and requires that that code of practice will be fit for purpose, legally compliant, GDPR-compliant and compliant with all of the human rights and equality legislation. It will provide for confidentiality, security, storage, access and the retention of data. This is comprehensive, fit-for-purpose, is completely proportionate and is completely necessary.

In the Minister of State’s response, I very much hope that he will be able to advise the House, not only that he supports the legislation but on how he is going to bring this legislation forward in an accelerated manner because it is long overdue. Gabhaim buíochas.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach and I thank him for allowing me to join this debate. I welcome the Minister of State and I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne for this legislation. I also welcome the opportunity to support the Bill and to speak on it. It is an important piece of legislation but it is also an important conversation that we need to have in a wider context. Anyone watching this debate in anticipation of the Minister of State’s response should look at what we are trying to achieve through this legislation.

Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL, and the Tidy Towns movement. If we look at the quantum journey we have come by, in the first instance, the work of the volunteers of the Tidy Towns committees and, second, the role in which IBAL has challenged all of us, whether it is local authorities, civic and community groups and business groups to make all of our areas better places and to enhance the public realm, then we are in a much better place.

There is a deficit and an issue around illegal dumping, littering and the damaging of the public realm. In my own city and county of Cork there was a great outcry at the damaging of a defibrillator, and rightly so. Similarly, as we become more aware of the environment and of the need to ensure that we act as stewards of it, then every assistance that we can bring to that must be looked at and investigated. That is why this Bill is an important move in a direction that will help to empower and assist our local authorities in the fight against litter but also against those who engage in this practice of littering our communities, towns, cities, laneway or byways. In this regard, local authorities are engaging and working in their different parks, recreation and environment staffing areas. There is an element of personal responsibility and we are bringing technology in this legislation to assist in the campaign. I use the word "campaign" deliberately because this is what it is. Our Green Schools programme has been very positive in our schools. Our Blue Flag projects, in a similar way in a European context, have also been fantastic. We are bringing here a new dimension to our campaign.

Senator Fitzpatrick in her contribution referred to the whole issue of GDPR and human rights. She has a very valid point and we must be careful with that but there is an element in which we need to ensure that we work with our local authorities to ensure that data protection is not abused. We also need to work with them to ensure we eliminate the scourge of littering and that we have a measured approach.

If we are all honest about this, the IBAL table is one we all look to, to see where we are scoring and where we rank. The Tidy Towns competition is one in which we all want to see our own area improve and, in a competitive process, perhaps emerge victorious. That is why it is important in this forum and House that we commend the volunteers and Tidy Towns committees.

This is a very important piece of legislation and is one that I hope the Government will support and that it is not just left to gather dust on a shelf. I say that with respect to all of us because this is about ensuring that we bring a new dimension to the campaign. I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne for his contribution to this debate and for this legislation. I also thank the Minister of State for being here and the work that he is doing. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I thank Senator Buttimer and I call now Senator Horkan to speak.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach very much. The Minister of State is very welcome. This is a little bit like Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown on tour here with him, Senator Ward and myself. We all soldiered together on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It is not unique but at the moment every single Member in the House, including the Minister of State, has been a former local authority member.

We have all had direct experience of working as councillors on the ground and seeing this issue play out. In 2009, I was lucky enough to be nominated as the chairperson of what at the time was called the water and waste strategic policy committee. That was a time when councils had responsibility in totality for both water and waste. We dealt with this matter a lot and we were much involved with the setting up of the Protecting Uplands and Rural Environments, PURE, project in the uplands. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was involved with that. The amount of waste in the rural areas was huge.

People are speaking about their own areas. Senator Wall covers a large rural territory, as do other Senators, but as Senator Fitzpatrick and, I am sure, Senator Ward would agree, this is also an urban matter. It covers parks, hedgerows, at and behind bottle banks. It also covers industrial areas and it is not just about somebody who is not sure how to get rid of a bag of something. It can be done on an industrial scale and in a very respectable park, for example, one might pull back a piece of foliage and see 26 bags of something. One wonders at the effort to get them under that hedge. It might have been easier to go to a bring centre or leave them at a refuse centre. The effort to leave them in the park, probably in the dead of night, would have been significant.

Senator Cummins indicated this is not a silver bullet and we know that. It sends out a message, however, that people might get caught and it is a deterrent. The fact the process is both fixed and mobile means it can be anywhere. Drones are great because there are dumps out there and we do not even know about them. They are behind banks of clay, up mountains or in fairly secluded areas. There was industrial-scale dumping in the Dublin Mountains a number of years ago. For weeks on end, trucks full of stuff was being dumped up there. It cost a fortune to clear it out.

This is measured legislation and, to his credit, Senator Malcolm Byrne has checked with the Data Protection Commissioner. This is not a free for all and people will not be looked at going down the street on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Dumping is a scourge and there is not a local authority member in the country who has not been contacted about it, I am sure. There is not a local authority that has not had environment officers dealing with it. The €90 million or €100 million figure that is being talked about does not even take into account all the man hours of all the Tidy Towns groups and clean-up groups that go out on Saturdays and Sundays. I have done it with groups in places like Mount Merrion. These may be places we might not think of as being that dirty. The groups go out road by road, hedgerow by hedgerow and park by park, coming back with 50, 60 or 80 bags of rubbish on a Saturday. They are not filled with vegetation but litter such as cans, bottles and, in some cases, road signs or supermarket trolleys. They see all kinds of things.

This is a very measured Bill. It is nice that there is almost no opposition to the legislation in the House. The latter does not happen that often, so I hope the Minister of State's response will be as positive as everybody else's. It is a good measure and as 99% of people are very good, it will not affect them at all. There may be 1% or 0.1% of people who do this kind of activity and maybe they will think twice and go to their bring centre. As Senator Casey mentioned, much of this stuff can be disposed of for free. Why do people go to the mountains with a washing machine that can be brought to a civic recycling facility at no cost? Why would people do the same with televisions? Perhaps people do not know the service is free. Equally, if people are getting waste taken away, they should ensure that the person disposing of it has a permit and is going to a place where they are getting rid of it in a measured and appropriate way.

My local authority has indicated there are people in the area who only operate there because they keep getting waste from people. If people stopped giving those people waste, they would move somewhere else. I urge people to ensure that if they are having some sort of clear-out, they should use a registered and approved contractor so we know the waste will go where it is supposed to. Otherwise, it will be a problem. This is not just people in the middle of the night dumping a small bag and this happens on an industrial level as well.

I welcome the legislation. I hope it will be passed unanimously in order that it might be speedily processed through both Houses for enactment. It will not solve the problem but it will certainly help alleviate it. I congratulate Senator Byrne on bringing it forward.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit, mo chomhghleacaí ó Dhún Laoghaire, mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Horkan. Bhíomar ar Chomhairle Contae Dhún Laoghaire-Ráth an Dúin le chéile agus cuirim fáilte roimhe.

I welcome this Bill and, in fairness, much work has gone into it and it is a very important matter. I say that as somebody generally opposed to the "Big Brother-isation" of our communities and I have a real difficulty with the way closed-circuit television, CCTV, is used in other jurisdictions. Travelling through the UK, one can see it is pervasive and intrusive. This is also true of places in the United States and Europe. I am opposed to the wholesale rolling out of CCTV everywhere, where nobody can move in public without being observed by an unseen observer, computer or whatever.

That said, we all know there are issues that must be addressed and there is an ongoing scourge of particular criminal activity. Dumping and littering has been mentioned but there are other aspects as well, and we are failing to address them in real terms. I see CCTV as part of the toolkit we can use to address those matters, starting to combat them and sending a message to people that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. We must show people that if they are going to engage in this kind of activity, they will be caught, prosecuted and suffer the consequences of disrespect and the absolute failure to have any regard to other members of the community.

Places in my area have been mentioned on a number of occasions, as well as Tidy Towns groups and community organisations that look after places from Blackrock to Shankill, Monkstown to Dún Laoghaire and everywhere in between. These are good, community-minded people who set aside every Saturday morning to keep their area tidy, clean and presentable. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have no regard for others whatever. They are not all from the area and they come from outside, as has been mentioned. Many of them have good intentions and we might see somebody arriving to a bottle bank with a box of bottles for disposal. If the bottle bank is full, the person might simply leave the box there and the cardboard will disintegrate as soon as it gets wet. People might come with other recyclable material that for whatever reason they have not put into a recycling centre and leave them at the bottle bank, where they become litter. There are also much more nefarious people who set out with the aim of littering, dumping and not taking the civic responsibility we would expect and hope everyone would exercise.

The key words I apply to this legislation is "appropriate" and "proportionate". It is appropriate and proportionate to what is involved to have a key opportunity for local authorities to get involved in a crime-solving measure that we know can work. The GDPR protects all our data. It is an important piece of European and Irish national legislation that is there to protect people's personal data from abuse and being dispersed etc. It is often, however, seen as an obstacle to doing things. When I was on the council, I often said that sometimes officialdom can find certain things as a mechanism to stop doing things or not doing things in the first place. Very often we hear discussion of insurance or legal reasons as an impediment and data protection is another example. These are all measured and reasonable legal instruments put in place to protect us all, and the GDPR is one of them. Nevertheless, it has been used by many organisations and people as an instrument to stop us using such resources. The use of CCTV has suffered as a result.

I pay particular tribute to the work done on section 7 of the Bill, which provides for the admissibility of evidence in prosecutions for acts like littering. That is entirely appropriate and proportionate. We need the message to go out that where there is evidence of people committing a crime, there would be a local authority, as the prosecutor in the legislation, to prosecute the matter and bring such people before the courts for the purposes of making people accountable for that kind of behaviour.

I am against CCTV being used in a careless or scattergun approach but there is a good notion that our local authorities, particularly councillors at the local level, should be involved with deciding there are black spot sites for particular criminal activity. Equipping them to deal with that is entirely appropriate. For the past quarter of a century we have seen the gradual diminution of local authority powers and it is entirely appropriate and right that this type of legislation would put this responsibility back in the hands of local representatives. Ultimately, they are the people closest to our communities around the country and they speak to residents and business owners around the country. They should have a serious role in putting in place a mechanism to help address matters that affect us all.

I praise Senator Malcolm Byrne for bringing forward this legislation for that reason alone. I also think it is important that this is a workable solution. This Bill can solve a problem that we know exists. Most local authorities have probably been mentioned at this stage but we know from speaking to our colleagues throughout the country that this is an ongoing issue. It is important that local authorities are equipped with the skills and legislative instruments they need to address this issue and stop this kind of behaviour. I hope the Minister of State will give a positive response to this Bill and help it on its way to becoming law and empowering local authorities again.

The Minister of State is welcome to the House. This is an excellent Bill. It equips councils to do their job more successfully. It will also equip our environmental patrol wardens who, by and large, do a great job. The problem they have is that the level of proof required to bring a conviction is significant and this Bill will help that.

I come from a nice part of the country, namely, County Clare. I live near the beach and, unfortunately, there are people in our society who believe it is appropriate to dump rubbish on the beach and in scenic areas. An asset we have as a country is phenomenal scenery. We do not have gold, too much silver or huge amounts of raw materials. The one raw material we have is our landscape and scenery. It is incumbent upon us to keep that in the precious state we find it. Unfortunately, significant numbers of people do not believe in doing that. Thousands of people think it is appropriate to throw rubbish on the street, on the beach or on our landscape. A small minority of those do it on an industrial scale. They make money from collecting and dumping rubbish. They are not registered and do not do their business right.

Sadly, the number of those people who are convicted for what they do is minuscule. We have seen the benefit of improved technology in dealing with crime. We have seen what DNA has done over the last 30 or 40 years. We have CCTV and we need to use it. There is no reason protections cannot be built into the legislation to ensure it is not abused. The vast majority of people want to see the members of our society who are acting the blackguard brought to justice.

There has to be a way to bring Senator Malcolm Byrne's Bill through Committee Stage to ensure whatever protections the Minister of State feels are necessary are built in and that our local authorities are given the necessary equipment and resources to do their job. I do not think a councillor in the country would oppose this Bill because every councillor has been contacted on many occasions about illegal dumping. Many councillors feel frustrated that the people who do it get away with it all the time. This will not be a panacea to solve all problems and eliminate illegal dumping but it will arm the toolkit in a significant way to ensure we eliminate the blight illegal dumping is causing in our landscape throughout the country.

I wish the Bill well, hope it is passed unanimously and congratulate Senator Malcolm Byrne for the great work he has done.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to speak. I do not have a whole pile to say on this other than to congratulate my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, on bringing forward this important legislation. As a councillor and active citizen in my community, I have wanted this type of legislation brought forward for a long time.

I live in probably the most beautiful part of Ireland, namely, north County Louth and the Cooley Mountains. We are scourged with fly-tipping and illegal dumping. Every weekend I go towards the Long Woman's Grave, which is a beautiful scenic spot. There are mattresses and an endless amount of people passing and thinking they can casually dump things there. Louth County Council has to clean it up. If we added up all that money and cost upon our already struggling councils working within tight budgets, it must be astronomical. It is disgraceful that, on one hand, people talk about protecting our beautiful countryside, biodiversity and what we have in this country for free, namely, the beauty thereof, while on the other hand we have scumbags coming along and leaving their scum behind. It is uncalled for and I am sick of seeing my beautiful countryside, towns and villages ruined by the scourge of fly-tipping and illegal dumping.

As a Border representative, I highlight the scourge of diesel sludge. I hope it will be prevented by this legislation. There are hotspots around the Border where diesel sludge is dumped continuously and it needs to be tackled.

I urge the Minister of State, when he meets with his northern colleagues, to focus on cross-Border co-operation, particularly along the Border. We have serious issues making sure northern-registered cars can be prosecuted and that people who have addresses in the North can be prosecuted for dumping their rubbish.

I congratulate my colleague for bringing forward this legislation. It is important that we tackle illegal dumping and fly-tipping because it is a cost and that money should be spent on far better things, such as building up our communities, looking after our streetscapes, putting in better resources and housing maintenance. There are so many better things our councils could spend their money on instead on cleaning up other people's rubbish.

It is my pleasure to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the House and invite him to respond to the debate so far.

I thank the Chair and Senators. I am back again. I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for bringing this legislation to the House. It is clearly well received by everybody. The Government will not oppose it. My staff tell me it is very well drafted and that it is fiendishly complex to do so because they have been working on the same problem.

We have had advertising and awareness-raising campaigns about littering and they have been successful. It is now socially unacceptable and shameful to throw litter on the ground. Every week, as many Senators have referenced, people get up early in the morning and clean up their town or village voluntarily in their Tidy Towns groups. In the privacy of their homes, people conscientiously segregate their waste into the correct colour bin and think about the environment. At the same time, there are people going up to beautiful scenic areas with kitchen appliances they plan to throw into a field, a mattress they will dump somewhere or, even worse, a trailer full of waste which they have been paid to dispose of and which they are furtively in the middle of the night throwing onto some farmer's land to make money.

Those people cannot be reached by an advertising or awareness campaign. They know what they are doing is wrong and the only thing that will make them change is a criminal sanction. For that, one needs evidence. Local authorities, of which we have all been members, have tried to gather that evidence and often failed because they have breached the laws on what is admissible and what they can do within the law.

Even though the GDPR is often offered as an excuse, it is a real thing and sometimes prevents people from lawfully proceeding with a course of action and gathering evidence. Therefore, underpinning primary legislation is needed to provide a legal framework under which evidence can be gathered about littering. A statutory framework is needed and is the right approach.

The Senator has asked me not to come in here and say that I have my own legislation that I will do one day and not to worry about it. Many Senators asked when the circular economy Bill will be forthcoming. The general scheme of the Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny and the report in that regard has been published. Drafting will start in the coming days. It is key priority legislation for this session. It is my intention that it will be completed as soon as possible.

Senators Boyhan, Ruane and others raised the issue of the infringement of civil liberties, which is a real concern. We are talking about surveillance here, but mass surveillance is incompatible with democracy. Nobody is suggesting that we should have cameras on every lamp post, gathering evidence all day that could be used retrospectively in respect of any crime. The circular economy Bill I will introduce does not allow for local authorities to piggyback on other people's CCTV footage and use it as a third party.

Limits and constraints are needed. Senator Malcolm Byrne's Bill proposes a code of practice for local authorities, as does my circular economy Bill. As Senator Boyhan stated, there is a difference between somebody watching a monitor in real time and seeing somebody committing a crime of dumping, for example, at a local authority recycling depot, and going through hours and hours of footage to find evidence retrospectively.

There was also mention of social media. People are advertising on social media to have rubbish taken away which is then being fly-tipped into somebody's property. That definitely needs to be looked at.

Senator Ruane, in expressing her fears on the overreach of CCTV use, referred to facial recognition and ANPR, which are also important. Will we allow for ANPR? Will we allow for facial recognition? How far would we go? How intrusive can we be? Senator Keogan asked about calibration. There is no point in having devices set up that are not functioning properly. These are all practical matters we need to consider.

The deposit-refund scheme, which I will introduce later this year, will make a big difference. Local Tidy Towns groups that gather up cans and bottles by the sackful will be aware that by September, I will introduce a scheme whereby those cans and bottles can be exchanged for roughly 20 cent at any shop that sells bottles or cans. A large portion of litter consists of those things. During the pandemic, many people were having picnics and so on, and leaving fields full of bottles and cans. People will not leave money on the ground in that way and certainly not to the same extent. What I propose in this regard will have a dramatic effect and will be very welcome.

The Government has a multifaceted approach for tackling littering and illegal dumping, incorporating enforcement, public awareness and education. We continue to invest significantly in the local authority network to ensure there is a robust, sustainable, waste-enforcement system in place to combat all illegal waste activity.

Ireland's Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, published in September 2020, commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including measures to tackle the problem of litter and illegal dumping. In a direct response to the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner on the use of CCTV and other recording devices, the action plan commits to ensuring that all waste enforcement legislation will be data-proofed to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner that is GDPR compliant. This brings me to the circular economy Bill, which will be introduced shortly. I intend that these commitments in the waste action plan will be given effect in the circular economy Bill. This will advance a number of priority provisions identified in the waste action plan. This will include provision for the GDPR-compliant use of a range of technologies such as CCTV, drones and other recording devices for waste-enforcement purposes. This will support ongoing work by local authorities to tackle illegal dumping and littering.

A combination of legislation, guidance, and the use of mandatory codes of practice will ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law. This will provide an important deterrent to protect our environment from the scourge of littering and illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens. My Department has welcomed the involvement of the Data Protection Commission in the development of these provisions. I fully expect that this co-operation will continue in the context of the development of codes of practice.

Other amendments to the Waste Management Acts in the Bill will further support local authorities in their work in this area. Provision will be made in the Bill for the use of fixed-penalty notices for additional waste streams, including under the extended producer responsibility model for dealing with waste tyres. Further provisions will help drive better segregation of waste in the commercial sector, where EPA statistics indicate that 70% of the material placed in the general waste bin should be in recycling or organic bins. This in turn will help us to attain our EU targets for recycling and landfill. The Bill will also help streamline and improve the end-of-waste and by-product application processes.

The Bill will also provide the necessary legislative basis for several key circular economy measures including the circular economy strategy and the circular economy programme. The adoption of a high-level, whole-of-government circular economy strategy will play a fundamental role and provide an overarching policy framework that works for the public, private and voluntary sectors. The first version of that strategy, which was published just before Christmas, sets out the first high-level steps we need to take to make the transition possible.

The circular economy programme, which will be implemented by the EPA, will provide critical evidence-led support to achieving the objectives of the strategy. Food waste is a global problem that has environmental, social and economic consequences. The circular economy Bill will place the national food waste prevention roadmap on a statutory footing and provide a pathway to achieving the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. Placing the strategy, programme and roadmap on a statutory footing will ensure that the circular economy transition remains a national policy priority.

The Bill will give the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the power to introduce new environmental levies on single-use items, including coffee cups, and, in due course, to prohibit the placing on the market of other environmentally harmful products, replacing and building on existing powers currently set out in waste legislation.

The general scheme of the circular economy Bill was published in June of last year and was the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Change. In October, the committee held three meetings, engaging with stakeholders and it also invited submissions. The detailed and comprehensive report of the committee was published on 16 December last and made 62 recommendations. I take this opportunity to thank the committee for its constructive and detailed engagement on the substance of the Bill. I intend to respond formally to the contents of the report when the Bill is published. Drafting of the Bill is now well advanced and, following consideration of the report of the committee, it is intended to finalise drafting and publish the Bill as soon as possible.

Senator Malcolm Byrne's Bill is well drafted. However, I am told it is fiendishly complex to come up with workable legislation and difficult to get right on the first draft. I have some minor constructive criticisms which I hope he will accept in the spirit in which they are given. The Bill intends to address the issues raised by the Data Protection Commissioner on GDPR-compliant use of CCTV by local authorities. As this seems to be its main intention, the Government has agreed in principle not to oppose the Bill. However, the Government is already well positioned to address the complex issues raised by the Data Protection Commission in the circular economy Bill.

As I outlined earlier, drafting of this Bill is well advanced. It has been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Change, and detailed consultation with the Data Protection Commission.

The circular economy Bill will ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus protecting our environment from the blight of illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.

I wish to flag some concerns with Senator Malcolm Byrne's Bill, which will require careful and detailed analysis if it is to proceed through the legislative process. The Bill tabled identifies the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage as the responsible Minister.

Senator Boyhan raised this issue. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has general responsibility for the local government system but, in this instance, policy responsibility for waste and litter pollution related offences under the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Litter Pollution Act 1997 rests with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. That is why I am here as a junior Minister at that Department with responsibility for the circular economy. It does make sense. I know it has to do with local authorities, but it also has to do with waste and waste prevention, which is my major preoccupation.

Overall, I thank all the Senators who have contributed on the Bill. The Government is not opposing it. The measures proposed in the Bill are something that would be generally welcomed and supported by the public. People want to find a way of enabling evidence to be gathered of people committing these crimes. I am advancing my legislation; the Senator has this Bill. One of them will be enacted first.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive and very positive response. As I call my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, to speak, I warmly congratulate him on the legislation and piloting it through the House with such a level of unanimity. It is a great personal achievement by him and I offer him my congratulations on that.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It was always intended to be collaborative legislation. In fact, there was almost a race between me and Senator Wall to see which of us could get legislation in first. I did not begrudge the fact that he was able to bring his legislation before this Chamber last March because the view we all expressed was that we did not care whose Bill it was; we just want to see the issue addressed. We do not care whether it is the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage or the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. It can be the Minister for Foreign Affairs as far as we are concerned. We just want this issue to be addressed quickly.

Although I appreciate the response of the Minister of State, I took the opportunity during the debate to compare his response to that of Deputy Peter Burke, the Minister of State who responded to the debate on 5 March 2021. It is interesting to compare the two response. In both instances, the Minister of State before the House stated that the circular economy Bill was coming and that there were several issues that were addressed. The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, actually stated there were several flaws in the Bill brought forward by Senator Wall. What we purposely sought to do in the past year in the context of this Bill was to consider that and address some of the concerns. I engaged with the Data Protection Commission and the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers to ensure the problems that were there could be addressed. If the circular economy Bill had arrived very soon, as was promised, I would not have had to introduce this legislation and we would not be outlining the problems we had before. I am going to progress and continue to push with this Bill because I am not as optimistic in respect of the circular economy Bill. I appreciate the kind comments of the Minister of State in respect of the Bill, but why not just adopt it? He should go with this. The circular economy Bill deals with a range of other issues. I am very supportive of the deposit scheme for bottles, for example, and he will find strong support in this House. The Bill before the House, however, aims to deal with a specific issue.

I am glad Senator Ward used the word "proportionate" because I was very careful in that regard. I probably speak about data and data privacy and protection more than any other Senator in the House. I have those big concerns in respect of surveillance issues. I certainly share the concerns in respect of mission creep. I do not want what is happening in the US or the UK to happen here. Certainly, I do not want what is happening in China to happen here. That is why this legislation is very specific in terms of the matters with which it deals. It is why the controls and necessary measures for protection are put in place.

Everyone is saying this is not a magic bullet. I entirely get that. No one thinks it is a magic bullet, but it is a tool that is really necessary. I am surprised with Senator Boyhan, who would not normally stand up here without getting the flavour of councillors, particularly Independent councillors. I know, however, that Independent councillors - in fact, councillors of every party - want this issue to be addressed. I get his concerns regarding what happened in Limerick. It should not have happened. However, this legislation would ensure it would not happen. The Bill addresses a specific concern and the safeguards are put in place. I have no problem in respect of some of the suggestions made by Senator Keogan. We can deal with many of those details on Committee Stage.

Many Senators rightly spoke about civil liberties and the right to privacy. That is something about which I feel very strongly. However, all of our rights are balanced and when we talk about civil liberties, I believe we also need to start to talk about our right to a clean environment, the right of animals not to be poisoned by people who throw rubbish onto land and the right of community land or individual property not to be destroyed by people who have no care for communities or the environment.

I will be pushing the Bill, as will Senators Wall, Cassells and Horkan and other colleagues across the House. I will be looking to move it to Committee Stage. I know the Minister of State said the circular economy Bill will be introduced shortly. The one thing we need to ensure is that, irrespective of whose legislation is progressed, by this summer, local authorities will finally have the underpinning legislation that will allow them to deploy CCTV and other technologies in a controlled and safe environment to finally tackle the scourge of illegal dumping.

I thank the Senator. I congratulate Senator Wall on his pioneering work in this area.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Although I am tempted to say we should take it now, I propose that it be taken next Tuesday.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 February 2022.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ag 7.07 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Déardaoin, an 27 Eanáir 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 7.07 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 27 January 2022.