I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher, and his officials. The Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 is quite substantial and there are more than 200 amendments to be considered. With the agreement of members, I suggest that we have a short sos around midday and that, after we resume, we continue until 3.30 p.m. I suggest that we operate according to a similar timetable tomorrow, if necessary. We can meet for a few hours on Tuesday.
Business of Select Committee.
Why not finish today and meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, if necessary?
The Dáil is sitting tomorrow and we have made arrangements to deal with the Bill today and tomorrow.
Second Stage of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 is to be resumed in the House tomorrow, and I was in possession when the debate on that Bill was adjourned. The committee should not meet while it is being considered in the House.
At what time will it be considered in the House?
It could be at any time. The Taxi Regulation Bill has to be considered first. I will have to contribute to Second Stage of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 and I cannot attend a committee and be in the House at the same time.
We will be flexible in that regard and if the main Opposition party spokespersons have to make a contribution to the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003, we will adjourn proceedings to facilitate them. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I submitted to the Chairman a motion for consideration by the committee. Will we deal with it before dealing with section 1 of the Bill?
I do not want to sound too technical but motions should generally be submitted four days before——
I do not want to be technical either. The arrangements for this committee were made before the Bill was referred to it.
We discussed the matter in some detail and outlined the type of arrangements we would be making at last week's meeting, at which Deputy Gilmore gave no indication regarding the request he is now making. The letter he wrote to the clerk to the committee states:
Dear Mr. Hickey,
Thank you for the Notice, convening a meeting of the Select Committee on Thursday June 19th, to consider the Committee Stage of the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003. As you know, the Second Stage of this Bill has not yet been completed, and Dáil Éireann has not yet made a decision to refer the Bill to the Select Committee. Should the Bill be referred to the Select Committee, I wish to table the following Motion for consideration prior to discussion of any amendments to the Bill.
"That the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government decides, that prior to the consideration of Amendments to the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003, it will invite submissions and hear evidence from interested parties as follows:-
(a) the Environment Protection Agency and such Environment NGO’s as may be agreed by the Committee, considering the complex and technical nature of some of the provisions of the Bill and
(b) the General Council of County Councils, the Local Authority Members Association, the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland, representatives of organisations campaigning on Waste Management issues including Refuse Charges, and such other bodies as may be agreed by the Committee, considering the significant changes which the Bill proposes to make to existing laws on Local Authority Estimates, Refuse Charges and related matters”.
I ask that this motion be taken prior to the consideration of amendments to the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003.
There are three main aspects to the Bill we are about to consider. The EU directive on integrated licensing will be transposed into Irish law. This is one of the more complex and technical Bills with which we are likely to deal. The committee does not have an independent resource from which it can seek advice on legislation of this kind. Those aspects of the Bill may contain provisions with implications which are not immediately obvious to the committee or the layperson. Since I submitted the letter we have received correspondence from the IFA drawing attention to implications it has identified. We know from experience that the full implications of legislation - particularly where it is technical - we are asked to pass do not emerge until a problem arises. We have ballyhoo all over the country about SPCs and SACs. The legislation went through the House at some stage but due to its technical nature, the implications of it were not spotted.
I am asking that the committee get expert opinion on the implications of this Bill before we start dealing with amendments. It would be useful to hear the views of the Environmental Protection Agency, as it is the body that will have to operate the legislation. The IFA, industry groups and environmental groups have indicated their worries about this legislation. We should hear what they have to say before we get into the nuts and bolts of amendments.
At the time of the passage of the Local Government Bill we met the representatives of the General Council of County Councils, the AMAI and LAMA. They presented their strong view that they wanted the powers of elected members of local authorities to be strengthened in the legislation. I recall submissions being made that would have effectively transferred the existing powers of county managers to elected members. This legislation proposes to transfer significant powers from locally-elected members to county managers. This includes transferring powers relating to the adoption of annual estimates and it is the first time the Oireachtas has sought to take from elected members of local authorities specific powers regarding the annual estimates of local authorities. The representative bodies of local authorities should come here and give their views on this Bill, as should other organisations. The sections relating to setting refuse charges and the way in which the estimate procedure is conducted are quite controversial, both in the community generally and among the members of local government.
The committee should hear the views of interested parties before proceeding with the making of amendments to the Bill. This is important legislation that will have serious ramifications. I do not think it should be treated as routine legislation. While I have been dealing with environment issues for some time, I do not feel that I know enough to do justice to the legislation relating to the integrated licensing procedure without the advice and opinion of the EPA and other groups that have a knowledge in this area. As it is our responsibility to scrutinise legislation line by line, it would be unwise of the committee to proceed with our consideration of this Bill without having authoritative opinion available to it.
I support Deputy Gilmore. In the Dáil last week we raised the question of rushing this Bill through the Oireachtas. I do not understand the ruling that the motion is too late or out of order as the letter was submitted prior to the Bill's passage through Second Stage. The Bill had not even been referred to this committee yet it was making decisions.
There was an expectation.
That is not good enough.
We had to work ahead.
This is dangerous and a sign of a Government that presumes it will get its way in all things. I resist that assumption.
This Bill is a Trojan horse for one of the most serious attacks on local democracy that I have seen since I was first elected as a local representative in 1979. The Bill undermines the rights of public representatives to exercise their responsibility and authority in that if they make demands for facilities in the area, they have the responsibility of raising charges to meet those demands. It transfers the responsibility from public representatives to the manager. In turn, the manager will act as an agent for the Minister in his or her functional area. In the event of a shortfall in funding from the Government, the county manager will have the power to raise local taxes, without any input from elected members, to make up the shortfall. This is a serious undermining of local democracy.
In the run-up to local elections next year, the implementation of the new Local Government Bill and the measures slipped into this Bill will make local elections almost meaningless since good calibre candidates will not put themselves forward because they see local authorities as being somewhat meaningless. If they do not have the powers to raise revenue, they do not have real power. This will give the Minister and the Department supreme power through the manager. I consider Deputy Gilmore's letter a reasonable one. I have a background in chemical technology. I am floundering with the level of detail in the Bill. I have not had the opportunity to research it or talk to the groups I feel I should be talking to.
This week there were parliamentary questions on Tuesday and the guillotining of the Bill on Tuesday evening, after it had to be abandoned last Friday, which was outrageous. On top of that, we took the Residential Tenancies Bill on Tuesday night, when it was totally unexpected. Everyone thought the Bill would not come in this week, and would not have been around next week due to the Minister's absence, therefore, we were scheduling it for two weeks' time. All the consultation with interested groups in preparation for the Bill had to be sidelined. The briefing session which was arranged with the Department for the Bill was arranged for yesterday and I had to speak on the Bill on Tuesday night. Therefore, Second Stage of the Protection of the Environment Bill finished with a vote on Tuesday night. We had parliamentary questions, the Residential Tenancies Bill and we had to prepare our detailed amendments for 11 a.m. yesterday. That makes a mockery of the democratic process. I warn the Minister and the Department that if there are serious defects as a result of the rushing through of this Bill, it will be on their heads. It is being done in an irresponsible way which ignores the rights of the Opposition and the rights of groups to make representations and have their voices heard. I will lay the responsibility on the heads of the Minister and those who pull the strings in the Department for passing defective legislation if defects come to light.
As Deputy Gilmore said, there are many provisions which affect many people. They have a right to have their views heard but they are not having those rights fulfilled. As Opposition spokespersons, we have a responsibility to give detailed consideration to the best of our ability to the Bill and we are not even getting time to think or consider. I made the point because many of my amendments have been ruled out of order because of technicalities. It will be on the heads of the Minister and his officials because this Bill is being pushed through. It has far-reaching consequences for the environment, local democracy and government and it is being treated in a haphazard and irresponsible way.
I will respond to a number of points which have been made. The Bill was taken in the Seanad before Easter, which is a number of weeks ago. It is not as if this Bill has been sprung upon us all of a sudden. As Deputy Gilmore said, there are a number of interested parties and some groups have met with Senators and have met with members of this committee to express their concerns about certain aspects of the Bill. As is normal practice, Opposition spokespersons meet with these people and inform themselves before dealing with the legislation. We outlined fairly clearly last week the arrangements we were putting in place. What seem to be major concerns this morning did not surface at last week's meeting.
They never surfaced. As regards the motion itself, I do not wish to be too technical but Standing Order 29 states that the motion must be submitted four days before the day of the meeting. I will waive it this time, but that is the Standing Order. If we were to allow the motion to go ahead, the implication of which would be to allow all these people to come in and address us, it would take up the rest of the committee's term dealing with just one Bill.
I propose we proceed with Committee Stage as planned.
We are dealing with a complex set of issues. One could not object to bringing in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency to provide a background and its opinions on it, along with others who will be affected by the broad sweep of this Bill. That would be perfectly justified. One must consider the speed and nature in which this has gone through the Oireachtas and the fact that, as mentioned by Deputy Gilmore, Second Stage of the Bill had not been completed when we made the decision to refer the Bill to select committee, which is remarkable. Most Members, including me, were not able to speak on Second Stage of the Bill which has huge consequences for local government. I fully support Deputy Gilmore's proposal and motion. It would lead to a proper discussion of the Bill rather than rushing it through on Committee Stage, as happened on Second Stage.
Is there a guillotine on ComÍmittee Stage?
In which case, what is the rush? There is no guillotine on Committee Stage. I thought Committee Stage was in order to discuss in detail the contents of the Bill. What is the problem with the Opposition's view that we should delay it?
I mentioned to the Chairman, as a matter of courtesy, that I would be exercising my right to attend the committee and speak.
I am delighted.
I am delighted that the Chairman is delighted. Deputy Kelleher makes a valid point which means there is not the massive pressure that seems to be there to rush through Committee Stage in the next few days. The proposals from Deputy Gilmore would be eminently sensible and add hugely to the abilities of Deputies on Committee and Remaining Stages in regard to the Bill. There are serious issues. Groups such the EPA and taxpayers are intimately involved and concerned with these matters. The Long Title of the Bill indicates that its main purpose concerns the implementation of Directive 96/61EC of 24 September 1996 and other purposes.
Article 1 of the directive states that its purpose is to achieve integrated prevention and control of pollution arising from the activities listed in annexe 1. Annexe 1 shows how much is involved in this Bill and its complexities. There are four pages of tightly typed categories of industrial activities referred to in the article which are therefore directly relevant. They cover issues from plants for the tanning of hides and skins to slaughter houses to complex chemical processes. The Bill is therefore attempting to enshrine that. It would be hugely beneficial for us to tease out the implications with the EPA and others, before we get into actual amendments. Deputy Allen used a description I used on Second Stage of the Bill being a Trojan horse. There are elements in the Bill which have nothing to do with pollution control but are a mechanism for a heavy burden of further taxation on householders. That should be discussed in its own right. Fianna Fáil Deputies must be worried about this. I am not scaremongering. We have ascertained that within a short period, if this Bill is passed, the ordinary householder could be faced with bills of between €700 and €1,000 per year. That is a parallel tier of local taxation disguised as protection of the environment. This deserves to be thoroughly discussed. It is a misuse of the Bill that, under its cover, these charges are to be brought in.
Some of this Bill is based on the polluter pays principle. We need a detailed discussion of what this means. It is a cliché that is thrown around to justify virtually anything the Minister wants to do in terms of extra charges. As it relates to householders, however, it is utterly invalid and wrong. To put a householder in the same bracket as a chemical factory is outrageous. The household is a receiver of waste, not a creator of waste. Successive Governments have not addressed the issue of cutting down on packaging. The hapless householder goes the supermarket and is faced with all this stuff. It goes into his or her home and naturally it has to go out. Much of it does go into the recycling bin, where such facilities exist, but much of it goes to landfill because the recycling facilities are not comprehensive enough. For the Government to try to categorise the householder as a polluter in the context of the slogan is completely wrong. That is why it would be hugely beneficial to involve the groups mentioned in Deputy Gilmore's letter in a pre-discussion.