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.