Protection of the Environment Bill 2003: Motion.

I move:

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 Environmental Protection Agency and such environment NGOs 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 will accept the motion. Is it being pressed?

Is it opposed?

I am very impressed with Deputy Cregan's enthusiasm to get on with the Bill. As I said earlier, this Bill has very serious implications for agriculture and industry. I must confess that I do not fully understand the extent of those implications, which is why I am asking that the committee obtain some assistance. Deputy Cregan may understand it. For example, what are the implications of this Bill for Aughinish, in his own constituency? Deputy Kelleher's constituency contains a lot of industry. What are the implications for the licensing arrangements for those industries? It is all very well to exhort us to get on with the Bill. When this Bill is passed and problems arise in constituencies - when farmers find that a particular form of activity is closing down, or when the noose is tightened on a particular industry - what will happen? I happen to be in favour of strengthening environmental legislation, but Deputies who are on this committee now will be crying crocodile tears about officers of the EPA doing this, that and the other, when this committee and the Oireachtas are the ones providing the power for it to be done, just as the Oireachtas provided the power to Dúchas to do what it did regarding SPCs and SPAs.

Before we plough ahead, blindfolded, into dealing with the legislation, the committee should take the opportunity of hearing expert opinions on the implications of what we are being asked to do and hearing from bodies that have already signalled that they have a problem with it. The IFA, for example, has already mentioned that it has a problem with some provisions of this legislation. This committee should hear from the IFA directly about its difficulties with the legislation and then we can do our job in light of that information. Deputy Kelleher is right; there is no great urgency about this Bill. This is legislation with which we can take a bit of time. There is no mad urgency with Committee Stage of this Bill. I do not see why we cannot bring in the representative and expert bodies to address the committee and set out their concerns. It will not take forever and it would help the committee. We can park our proceedings, hear what the different bodies have to say and then do our business.

I do not understand why we should not do this. If there is a reason we should not hear from these groups, nobody has said it yet today. I have heard no case made that we should not hear from these organisations, nor has any case been made for great urgency in dealing with the amendments. Why should we not wait a couple of weeks until we have heard from the different bodies?

We have one thing in common. Everybody on this committee and in all parties in the House support the Bill in principle, which represents a substantial strengthening of environmental legislation and will bring our integrated pollution control and waste licensing system, which is already the most advanced operation in the EU, into line with EU legislation. The Bill amends the environmental protection Acts to secure better implementation and enforcement and implementing commitments in the programme for Government regarding the Litter Pollution Act. In principle, there are no difficulties, but then we go into the detail.

I am the first to acknowledge that this is a complicated area. There is no doubt about that. An indication of that is that we have presented the House with a very detailed explanatory memorandum - possible more detailed than any other. This indicates the seriousness with which the Government is taking this and our desire to make the relevant information available to Members.

I also appreciate the interest of Deputies, which is reflected in the seven hours of debate we had on Second Stage in the Dáil. The Bill also benefited from extended debate in the Seanad and from public debate since it was launched back in January. The Bill is in the public arena. It is not a question of trying to rush it through over a short period. I know from representations made to me as late as this morning by members of my own party that consultation has taken place with the IFA and IBEC. During the course of the drafting of the Bill, the Department consulted with the EPA on its wide experience with the implementation of the ITC and the waste licensing system since its inception and on the approach to the transposition of 96/61/EC. As is normal, consultation also took place with the IFA and IBEC, which made submissions.

I am also aware that some local government interests have expressed reservations about some aspects of the Bill. Deputy Gilmore referred to the councillors not being in a position to adopt the estimates but there have been some changes in the waste charges and the waste management plan. The review and variation of the plan is now a matter for management. Deputy Higgins referred to the annexe but most of those listed in the Schedule are already licensed under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. We are running into the summer and I shall ensure that those of us who are here will respond to the detail, where clarification is needed, and it is a matter for the committee to decide where it should go from here. We should move on. We have had consultations with the IFA and IBEC and we can take on board some of their recommendations but others we cannot.

I had intended to be here on time but ironically an important environmental matter in my constituency delayed me. The requirement for this Bill has been around since 1996 and it was to have been passed by 1999 but only now, four years later, are we at that point. Surely it would be best to take another few days to consult, if that is all that is needed. I commend Deputy Gilmore on his suggestion because organisations like An Taisce and the IFA, representing considerable sectors of the population would have useful angles and ideas on this and it is most unfortunate that we have not had an opportunity until now to formally meet those groups. I would like to do so. We would then proceed with more knowledge and more confidence in processing this legislation. It would help us all. I strongly support the idea suggested by Deputy Gilmore and I am at a loss to know the arguments against that.

The committee system is working in the Dáil, or is starting to work very well, and it works best when we invite other organisations across a broad spectrum to give us an overview on a particular issue. The Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, of which I am also a member, set aside days to bring in 12 or 15 agencies to discuss an issue regarding broadband. It provided a broad perspective across the area and gave us a good understanding of the direction we wanted to take. Something very similar could be accomplished here by accepting DeputyGilmore's motion. It would be limited and we would have to be very careful and not just open up a can of worms and talk ad infinitum. If we set aside a certain number of sessions within a one or two day period to get soundings from the interested bodies such as the EPA, IBEC, the IFA, An Taisce, or other environmental groups, that would not take long and it would strengthen the committee and legislative processes. Given that there is no immediate time deadline for this legislation I would appreciate the chance to do that.

If later on, when this Bill is passed, organisations come to us and say they have problems all I could and would say is that some of us requested that their views be heard and were refused by a majority vote because I presume this will be pressed.

The Deputy is anticipating.

Maybe I am anticipating. The Minister of State said that groups had been consulted and had given their views. Was the Local Authority Members' Association consulted regarding the erosion of powers for public representatives? Was the General Council of County Councils consulted? Were they asked for their views? They are two very important groups concerned with local democracy. They should be heard. If we sat for one day we could meet six or seven organisations in that day and then get on with the Bill and we could deal with it in a more effective way.

There is another provision of the Bill which needs more time. I am not sure when the sanitation authorities were set up in Dublin city but I would say it was well over 100 years ago. Organised sanitation involved the collection of household refuse. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government proposes to overthrow more than 100 years of custom and practice in Dublin by leaving uncollected the bins of householders who have not paid their domestic charges. In his constituency area six local authorities from the south east conducted a survey of how people disposed of their household refuse. Incredibly almost up to 40% of them burned refuse in their back gardens thereby releasing all kinds of emissions in an uncontrolled way into the environment. That was related to the policies of the local authorities or the privatisation of the service, whichever applied, and the level of charges rising.

Now, in Dublin, regardless of whether the Minister likes it, the bin tax is very controversial. There are tens of thousands of taxpayers protesting against this new imposition, who otherwise pay every penny of tax and who fund most of the taxation system. What will be the implications if this is passed through the Dáil, if the section is not dropped? They do not bear thinking about in terms of the effect on the environment, with the pollution and so forth that will become rampant. That is apart from the fact that the Minister will face concerted and determined social opposition in the communities and peaceful civil disobedience if he tries to implement this. It will be a nightmare for the Government but if we leave aside for a moment the impact on the environment which this Bill aims to protect, he will achieve the opposite. That merits inviting those local authorities which represent the six areas coming in here and going through that with us, as well as the EPA. This is another reason the time that Deputy Gilmore is suggesting should be taken.

Deputy Allen mentioned submissions. We did not invite submissions. This was in the public arena and many of the Deputies here repeatedly questioned the Taoiseach in the Dáil when the Bill was published, so it has been in the public arena for some time and those who were interested had an opportunity to make submissions. The IFA and IBEC have made them and we gave those and any other submissions serious consideration. Deputy Higgins went into some detail referring to the sanitation authority. We can deal with this as we go on but as I said in a recent reply in the Dáil if we decided that some people should not have to pay we would send out the wrong signal. That means nobody will pay and we are obliged to pay for this service. If more people pay it may perhaps reduce per household the cost of waste collection. Later we can go into the detail on the other matters - if we get that far.

I thank the colleagues who have supported my proposal. We have heard a number of arguments on why it should be accepted. I have not yet heard any reason given by anybody at this committee so far today why we should not invite into the committee, and hear the views of, the organisations suggested. Is there a reason we cannot do this?

Maybe we have not accepted them as reasons. However, there is a different view being taken. The Deputy proposed a motion and there is another motion from Deputy Cregan. We have debated this for 45 minutes and we must conclude debate on that aspect. Is the motion being pressed?

I suggested that we should bring in the EPA and interested bodies to discuss the licensing regime that is being proposed. We should bring in the representative bodies in local government and interested parties on the changed regime on refuse collection and charging for it. Nobody has offered a reason we should not do that.

The Minister of State, DeputyGallagher, has already indicated that there have been consultations with some of these groups. Some of the groups and interested parties mentioned have made their views known, have met members, maybe not collectively, and written and made submissions on the proposals.

With regard to Deputy Gilmore's proposal, we would not have had a problem with the motion if it was brought before committee a number of weeks ago. Tabling the motion this morning is disruptive of the planned Committee Stage of the Bill. All of us have the utmost respect for the groups and bodies mentioned by Deputy Gilmore. We had the benefit of their presentations at an earlier stage. Now, people are saying what is the rush with the Bill? There is a rush because on the Order of Business every morning in the Dáil, the Taoiseach and Ministers are asked to bring forward legislation. If we adopt the attitude of disrupting Committee Stage of a Bill, we are setting a dangerous precedent. It is on those grounds that we should now proceed with the Bill.

I wish to respond to those comments. The Chairman made remarks that were not entirely dissimilar. I am not trying to disrupt the Committee Stage. I am trying to ensure that the select committee has the most informed possible approach in dealing with the Bill. That is why I am proposing we invite in these bodies.

With regard to the tabling of the motion, I remind Deputy Cregan and the Chairman that this Bill was referred to the select committee only on Tuesday evening. I am within my rights, after the Bill has been referred to the committee, to table a motion for consideration.

A Deputy

We are allowing the Deputy to table the motion.

I have always been co-operative in arrangements made by the select committee for taking business and dealing with legislation. If members wish, we can get to a situation where we do not make any arrangements at this committee for dealing with legislation until business has been formally referred to it. If people want to get smart about procedure, we can all play that game. The motion was properly tabled before the Bill was referred to this committee, but drew attention to the fact that it had not been referred to this committee. I do not accept that argument.

We should have these organisations in and members will have to make up their minds on it. However, if any of those organisations return after this legislation is passed, drawing attention to problems they are having with it or if any local authority, when adopting their estimates in December, asks why something did or did not happen, it must be made known that some of the committee wanted to give them an opportunity to participate in the proceedings. Those members who vote against giving those organisations that opportunity, will have to answer to them when the time comes.

I have outlined clearly Standing Order 29. The Deputy is not being denied the opportunity to table the motion to the committee.

I may be repeating myself but there has been extensive consultation with the EPA and my indication is that it is happy with the Bill. We do not speak for the EPA as it has autonomy, but this Bill was not taken lightly.

There is a serious conflict here regarding the Chair's ruling when he said that technically Deputy Gilmore's motion was not in the required time. It is almost an act of charity that it is accepted.

I will just clarify that under Standing Orders the motion must be submitted within four days of the meeting taking place. It is at the discretion of the Chairman——

Fair enough.

I am explaining it clearly and I am accepting the motion. This is the last contribution on the matter——

I will not argue with the Chair. I am arguing about the Standing Order. If that Standing Order is mentioned, we as a committee in future cannot order our business and we cannot assume that any legislation will be approved on Second Stage. We cannot order our business until the Bill has gone through Second Stage.

That is a separate matter and we will not discuss it now.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • McCormack, Padraic.

Níl

  • Cregan, James.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Sean.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Power, Sean.
Question declared lost.

What is the time scale today?

We will break about noon for a few minutes, then return, and conclude about3.30 p.m.