It is proposed to bring this Bill into operation on such day or days that the Minister will appoint by order. In relation to Part 3 of the Bill, which deals with the changed regime for making service charges, can I ask the Minister when is it intended to bring those sections into operation?
Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.
As soon as possible, or as soon as is practicable. I would not foresee the Bill being signed off before the summer recess. The sections might come into operation some time during the summer.
Regarding the new regulations on altering or amending development plans, the right was previously given to county and city managers to adopt waste management plans. This Bill gives the added right to managers to amend waste management plans. Is that regulation to be brought in at the same time - as soon as possible?
As soon as possible. I am not being evasive and I appreciate what the Deputy is saying. It changes the review and the variation. It might come into force around autumn.
Did I properly understand the Minister of State when he said it is the intention of the Minister to sign the orders for all the sections over the summer, provided the Bill is passed before the Dáil rises?
That would be the intention - certainly before the Estimate process in the local authorities.
I have two questions on that issue. The Minister's intention is that at the next local authority meeting on Estimates next December or in early January, the Bills sections will have been commenced, so that the making of a refuse charge with effect from this year will become an executive function of the manager. Is that the understanding?
That is the position.
I have two further questions arising from that. I am dealing again with the commencement. We passed a financial resolution in the House yesterday, without debate. My understanding of that financial resolution is that the House has authorised the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to impose by regulation charges or fees which will then be implemented by local authorities. We did not have a debate in the House yesterday. It is not entirely clear what was intended by that financial resolution. It is quite an extraordinary situation that the Dáil transferred such a power to the Minister yesterday without debate. My understanding of that resolution is that the Minister can now make an order directing local authorities to impose charges and fees on litter, waste and other matters. I do not know if the Minister has the answer today. Perhaps we can deal with the matter before we come to the specific sections covering fees and charges. I am putting the Minister on notice that I will seek a full explanation of the implications of the resolution passed in the House yesterday. It is my understanding that, extraordinarily, Dáil Éireann has now given to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government a power to impose charges and fees - effectively taxation - by regulation, something which even the Minister for Finance cannot do. I will require a full explanation of that before we deal with the sections on fees and charges.
My second question arising from this matter concerns this section, which deals with the collection of bins. A section in this Bill empowers local authorities not to collect the refuse bins of householders who have not paid their waste charges. When is it intended that the section in question should commence? When will we see refuse bins being left on the side of the road because householders have not paid refuse charges?
Are the Minister and his Department now determined to press ahead with the imposition of a further layer of taxes on the people? Does he intend to give the powers to the managers before the year is out? He is now exercising his right - as he sees it - to withdraw services from people who cannot or will not pay. What is the situation in local authority areas where the local authority has given to the private sector the licence to collect refuse? People in those areas enjoyed waivers because of their low incomes, but it seems now that that right is also gone. Has the Minister had any contact with local authorities about protecting the rights of those people who cannot afford to pay, enjoyed a waiver in the past and now, because the private sector is involved and they cannot afford to pay, are not getting a service?
Perhaps I might take the last question regarding the waiver first. We can go into it in more detail later, but the principle is that it will be at the discretion of the manager in the local authority in areas where the collection is carried out by the local authority.
The financial resolution under Standing Order 125 had to be passed by the House yesterday. If it had not been passed, we would not have been able to proceed with today's Committee Stage. The Standing Order in question concerns charges on the public finances. The precedent was a similar resolution in the 1992 Act. We took advice from the Attorney General's office, and we were told we had to have the financial resolution to proceed with this matter. All the resolutions are to be signed by the Minister, and we hope that can be done as soon as possible. As they fall due, they will be put into operation by the various local authorities. There is a further section about the fees, charges and the powers passed to the county managers. There is no problem in dealing with those at a later stage. As far as the waiver is concerned, there is a reference to it in the Bill.
Am I to take it from what the Minister of State has said that the rights of the elderly, the sick, the unemployed and all those who up to now have been entitled to waivers are being left at the whim of a county or city manager in areas where the service is being privatised and that, overnight, their entitlement to free collection because of their financial situation has been eliminated?
The situation appears to be worse than that, since there is no right at all to a waiver where the service is privatised. The waiver right will only arise where the service is provided by the local authority, and whereas hitherto the members of the local authority adopted the waiver scheme, now the applications for waivers will be entirely at the discretion of the county manager. This section deals with arrangements for the commencement of sections. When will the section of the Bill which empowers a local authority not to collect refuse where the charge has not been paid commence? We know now that the Government intends that the sections dealing with the transfer of power to the county manager should commence before the Estimates, but when is the section giving local authorities the power not to collect bins to commence?
At about the same time. We expect that all the regulations will be signed by the Minister at around the same time.
Let me get the timetable right. From autumn 2003 onwards, we will see local authorities leaving bins behind them on the road if the householders have not paid up. Is that the position?
Under the legislation, the member will find that those with arrears have a problem, but it does not necessarily mean non-collection, even if the arrears are considerable, for in the real world the manager and we must be realistic, and people must be treated on a case by case basis. If an elderly person has not paid for some time and has not availed of the waiver, particularly in an area where the local authority might be very reasonable, as I know from my own experience, the waiver right will still be there to be exercised by the manager.
Deputy Allen is quite right in saying that, where there is privatisation, there is no waiver, but arrangements can be made with the private collector in extenuating circumstances if someone is not able to pay. If there is a way out and we continue to allow people to have their waste collected, we are sending out the wrong signals. Why would anyone pay? However, the waiver system will still be there.
I look forward to seeing candidates from the Government parties in the run-up to the next local elections in June weaving their way around uncollected refuse bins as they canvas the streets and towns. It will make for a very interesting canvas.
Let us be very clear. The Minister has clarified that, where the service is privatised, the privateers feel no responsibility towards pensioners, the poor and the unemployed. That is one of the reasons I mentioned the huge amount of burning in some of the south-eastern counties. Perhaps I might ask the Minister something specific as Deputy Gilmore did. Sections 22 and 35 are related. The latter removes the power to set the level of the bin tax from the elected members and gives it to the manager. Section 22 gives the manager the power to leave the bins behind if otherwise compliant taxpayers are boycotting the charges or cannot afford to pay. Is the Minister of State saying those two sections will be commenced at the same time in the autumn and before the estimates procedure?
Yes. They will be signed around the same time.
Will that be in the autumn?
I trust it will not be in the run-up to the estimates procedure. I trust they will not be signed in July or August of this year.
I expect it to be the early part of the autumn. I assure the Deputy that they will not be signed in July.
So it will be September at least.
Yes, it will be in or aroundSeptember or from that time onwards.
This measure is aimed mainly at cost effectiveness. When people refer to "the real world", it should be remembered that most members are part of it. Streets littered with uncollected refuse pose a threat to public health. What will be the cost to hospitals of dealing with infections arising from that? Will the Minister for Finance or county managers provide——
The Deputy is straying a little.
It is a natural consequence of bins not being collected.
It is an exaggeration of a hypothetical situation that probably will not arise.
This will happen if bins are not collected because people cannot afford to pay for their collection. For example, what option has an 89 year old lady struggling on her pension and living in a local authority house but to leave her bin uncollected given that, until now she would have qualified for a waiver and, with it gone, she is not in a position to pay and perhaps has significant accumulated arrears of €50 to €80 which results in her bin being left uncollected? What option do her neighbours have where their health and public health generally is concerned? What are the public health implications if that is multiplied by the number of unemployed parents of four or five young children living in local authority estates who again, until now, would have qualified for a waiver? Will finance be provided to deal with the public health issue that will arise?
I am astounded that the Minister of State appears to be wiping out one of the most vital supports for the sick, elderly and unemployed in areas where refuse collection is privatised by confirming that there will not be a waiver system for these people. He says it will be a decision for the manager in each local authority area.
It always was. One always had to apply for a waiver.
The manager had the power to grant a free collection to a person on minimal income by allowing him or her either a full or partial waiver. The manager will now have to pay private collectors from already over-stretched resources to collect rubbish from those who enjoy waivers. Such a scheme will not come into operation because local authorities will not have the resources to fund the collection by a private contractor of refuse from the elderly and the deprived. Will the Minister of State reconsider this because it will otherwise develop into a series of illegal tip heads and dumps and the burning of rubbish on thousands of illegal bonfires with the consequences that will have for public health and the environment?
We made the decision recently in my county to privatise the refuse collection service. Prior to that, no waiver system was in place. A facility was in place whereby a lesser charge was placed on people on low incomes. There has been full collection of charges and not one bin has been left on the streets, never mind streets full of bins. I do not understand why the good people of counties Limerick, Cork and Kerry are prepared to pay their refuse collection charges annually and do not utter a single word of objection to it while every day we hear about the huge outcry in Dublin and other areas where people do not want to pay their charges.
Can we nail this one? It is because the 1.5 million people who live in Dublin, the bulk of whom are PAYE workers who fund the bulk of the taxation system, will not allow the Government of which Deputy Cregan's party is part to put a parallel tier of local taxation in place under the cover of this legislation. That is what is being done. The county manager is being given the power to set charges and the first thing that will be done is to increase them, perhaps up to €700. The Government also wants to reintroduce water charges. Before we know it, every householder will face a parallel tier of local taxation of up to €1,000 and beyond. That is why there is revolt in Dublin.
The Minister of State should know that, if the Government tries to bully PAYE taxpayers and pensioners - the compliant people in Dublin - it will be actively resisted. There will be civil disobedience. Non-collection of refuse will not be tolerated. The Government will face a battle similar to that which its predecessor faced on water charges and which forced their abolition. We will debate the issue in the run-up to the local elections. Before that, on the day the Minister signs the commencement order, the Government will face the communities on the streets. They will not go back to the 1970s and 1980s when PAYE workers paid for everything while millionaires salted away their ill-gotten gains in Ansbacher accounts and so on. That is the subtext of this and it is as well that people understand that.
The situation is partly as Deputy Joe Higgins outlined and partly as Deputy Cregan outlined. There are counties where service charges are paid, including my county and city, and there is no difficulty with it. The difference is that the elected members fixed those charges and therefore the elected members, including me, often had to defend them when canvassing during elections because they were reasonable charges for services provided.
The difference now and what will cause difficulty is that county managers will fix the charges. If the estimates fall short by a few hundred thousand euro, managers have the authority to make up the shortfall by fixing service charges, and some will do that. It will no longer be the responsibility of the elected representatives to fix charges. Therefore, when I canvass in the next local elections, on behalf of someone else if Deputy Ring's challenge is not successful and on my behalf if it is, I will say to people not to blame me because it had nothing to do with me, that the manager fixed the charges and I opposed them, and that the Minister introduced the measure whereby the manager could do that and Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats supported it.
This is a serious setback for local democracy. No longer will it be the case that the elected representative must answer to the people because he or she will not be responsible. Charges will now be set by the Minister, Government and manager. We can blame anyone depending on which angle we take according to the situation. This is where the matter becomes serious.
No more than Deputy Cregan, I have no difficulty facing up to the need for reasonable service charges with rebates for people who are unable to pay, but I have a serious difficulty with the manager being allowed to fix the charge and public representatives having to face the anger of the people to which Deputy Joe Higgins rightly referred. There will be great anger. There is anger already where we have set and have had to defend charges. However, we will no longer be the front line people defending charges because we will not have imposed them. That is where there is a serious flaw in the legislation and I am opposed to it.
Deputy Joe Higgins referred to the PAYE people in Dublin who are not prepared to be compliant. My argument is that the same PAYE people live in rural areas, as do those in receipt of pensions, disability benefit and other social welfare payments and the payment is the same in rural areas as in Dublin. Despite this, those people are still prepared to pay their charges.
They were bullied into it.
I beg your pardon, there was no such thing. They are quite prepared to be compliant and pay their charges.
Those are charges councillors fixed, but they will not be prepared to pay charges the manager fixes.
They were bullied into it.
We will deal with that in section 35. We will not have a major discussion on it now.
The question Deputy Cregan asked is a pertinent one. Why is there such a degree of resistance to the payment of refuse charges in areas like Dublin, Cork, Waterford and so on and not in other parts of the country? There are a number of reasons for that, one of which is that, traditionally, in many parts of the country there had not been a refuse collection service and when such services were put in place, people were happy to pay for them. There are other parts of the country where, traditionally, the refuse collection service, dating back to the public health Acts of the 19th century, was provided as a public service to deal with problems of sanitation and waste lying around the place. People who have had that service provided as a public service, for which they paid through their taxation, are understandably resistant to the payment of these charges.
There are people who are resisting paying refuse charges and there are those who take the view that it is not unreasonable to pay a modest amount for the collection of their refuse. In my constituency, for example, many people do not want to pay refuse charges but there are also those who take the view that nothing comes free and it is not unreasonable to pay €150, €200 or even €250 for the service. What this Bill will change, however, and Deputy Cregan will have to take this on board, is the level of charges that will be made. I invite Deputy Cregan to study section 30, which states that charges will have to meet the full cost of buying the site for the landfill, operating the landfill and remediation of it for 30 years afterwards. Anybody can do the sums. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, admitted at a previous meeting that he reckoned the charge will be about €700 a year.
What this Bill will do for Deputy Cregan's life and the lives of all of us who are examining it is that people who are now content to pay €150 or €200 a year to have their bins collected will be very unhappy when they get a bill for €700, €1,000 or whatever charge the Minister orders the manager to make. We are now saying that responsibility is transferred to the county manager. It is not. The decision of the Dáil yesterday to pass a Financial Resolution now allows the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make an order which will instruct the county managers on the level of charge they are to make. When people start getting bills for €700 and €1,000 per house for the collection of their refuse, many more will resist the payment of these charges. That is the fundamental change being made in this Bill. Refuse charges operated at a modest level will be changed to charge people for the full economic cost.
The day of refuse collection and the operation of our waste management system as a public service is being ended by this legislation. What this legislation is doing is making refuse collection and waste management a commercial business for which the householder will have to pay the full cost and the full cost, based on the figures we have been given previously, will be between €700 and €1,000. That is what is being done here. This is not about the €150 or the €200 level of charge that many people, even those who object to it but believe they should pay it, will have to pay. This is about a different regime entirely. I assure Deputy Cregan that there is grief coming down the track to him in Rathkeale every bit as much as there is grief in Rathgar, Ranelagh or anywhere else in Dublin.
I am reluctant to get involved in a long political debate on this issue but it is useful before we deal with the amendments. I take Deputy Cregan's point about the good people of Cork, Limerick, Kerry and elsewhere who are willing to shoulder the burden but the good people of Dublin, although there are different reactions to it, have been willing to pay charges also. Many councillors on the city council and the local authority councils have been willing to support that. Deputy Gilmore's colleague on Dublin City Council, the current mayor, is a notable supporter of the waste charges system. Members across a range of parties have been willing to take the tough political decision to introduce charges for waste collection. My own experience as a local authority member is that the greatest difficulty with that decision occurred in the Fianna Fáil Party on the council where there was huge division and anxiety about the whole process. This is not an issue on which one party is in a sense different from another.
When the charges were introduced in Dublin, the only area I can speak about with some certainty, the understanding was that what we were getting was new and additional recycling services, which we badly needed and which we had to finance. If a charge had to be placed, it was very much the understanding that that is what the fund was going towards - the rolling out of new services which were badly needed.
The point has been made that what we are dealing with here is moving away from that in that we are talking about the whole gambit of waste collection charges. That will be a difficulty because perception is everything and if the perception is that people are being charged for something they previously were not charged for, it is more difficult. If it is perceived that people are not getting the services and if the funds are not going towards new recycling and other services, that is difficult.
The point was well made that if these charges are not being imposed through our democratic process, it changes the nature of the civic sense of what these charges are, how they are imposed and what the level is. It is regrettable that we are moving towards a system where we are not providing new recycling services with the financing that arises and that the decision is not being made democratically other than at central Government level. To a certain extent the governing parties will reap the rewards of that more than anyone else. This is not an issue on which one party has the higher moral ground. The views across the political parties are similar throughout the country.
We should get on with the business but in reality we are now back to 1977. The very party that abolished rates on domestic dwellings is effectively now reintroducing rates. The Chairman may smile but he will have to face the consequences when people will be asked for between €700 and €1,000 for waste collection. The combination of what will happen in the next few days when we pass this Bill and yesterday's Financial Resolution passed in the Dáil will result in the reintroduction of domestic rates on every household. To make matters worse, people who cannot afford it in certain areas will lose their rights to a free collection.
Deputy Ryan put his finger on it when he said it is easier to defend the tough political decisions that have to be made if we make them ourselves. I am speaking as the longest serving local authority member. I have served on a county council for 27 years and on a city council for 14 or 15 years, and I am probably unique in that respect.
We all have——
You better listen to a little bit of experience, Chairman. It is difficult for me to support Estimates which include refuse collection charges. I support the estimates which include refuse service charges. I have always done so - it is a philosophy to which I subscribe. Sometimes it is not easy for me to defend them to my neighbours who are very much against service charges. It will be impossible to defend those charges - nor will I have the energy or commitment to do so - if somebody else imposes them. This Bill will allow the manager to do that.
The figures to which Deputy Gilmore referred will be insignificant compared to those in a few years' time. If there are further EU regulations about improving tip heads and security, additional costs will be passed on to the householder. That will be the new set up and it will be imposed by the Minister. Shortly after the Second Stage debate in the Dáil, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, got up and said he would have to be excused because he had to attend an important pre-arranged meeting with city and county managers. I appreciate the meeting was pre-arranged and that the Minister did not know it would take place the day the Bill was being taken, but it illustrated greatly the future of local government. The future of local government will be dealt with by the Minister of the day and the city and county managers. They will make the decisions at those important meetings like the one the Minister had to attend with city and county managers the day the Bill was being taken. Elected representatives will be shut out.
Why should I go around Renmore defending a charge of €700 or €1,000 rather than agreeing with my neighbour and saying, "Good woman, go down and protest outside the city hall", which is what she intends to do next Monday night when the city council meeting is on? In the past I would have advised the woman not do that. I would have told her we must impose the charge, which I would have defended. I will not defend what the Minister, in co-operation with the manager, will do in the future. That is the drawback.
As Deputy Ryan said, service charges were introduced at a time when there was goodwill among the public for more recycling. People wanted to tackle the problem from an environmental point of view. Galway city started with a pilot area of 1,000 houses in my area of Renmore, which was coincidental. We divided our refuse 11 different ways which has now been reduced to six or seven different ways. That is a backward step. However, we did that in preparation for the adoption of the Connacht waste management plan which the manager adopted following the last Bill. We are now handing more power over to the manager. It will no longer be a problem for Galway city, but one for Connacht. Why should we divide our waste because we will have incineration, which is part of the Connacht waste management plan, in the future? The attitude is, why should we divide our waste when it will be burned anyway? Much harm has been done by taking that responsibility from the elected member who must knock on doors. If the elected member does not support what is being done, there is no chance of getting public support. This is a retrograde step.
I wonder if colleagues who did not want to accept presentations from various groups such as An Taisce, the IFA, etc., would accept, or ask for, a presentation dating back to about 1977 from a political historian outlining the basis of these proposed costs and who would be able to demonstrate, if they were worth their salt in terms of the facts of the case, that everyone is paying these charges, although the unfortunate thing is that some people are paying twice. When rates were abolished in 1977, PAYE, VAT and a raft of taxes were increased specifically to pay for public services dealt with or administered by local authorities. Those costs have not come down but have continued to increase. People in rural Ireland are already paying through the nose for these services and some are resisting paying these charges. Not only is that happening in the larger cities, such as Waterford, but it is happening in my own area of Louth where there is considerable resistance to these charges. The town of Drogheda is up in arms about this issue. It is not only a case of people cribbing over the charges or the costs involved. One can only imagine what will happen when the charges are doubled. As that has already been mentioned, I will not be repetitive.
It is unfortunate the Minister had that meeting with the county managers following Second Stage of this Bill but it is an indication of his affinity with them. He went to a meeting with city and county managers and left Members to, more or less, chat among themselves. Unfortunately, he was sending out a clear message to us where his affinity would lie and the dangers not only public representatives in the Oireachtas would face but those the public would face as well. There are dangerous times ahead for the people.
I say to Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats members, in particular, that members here are experienced public representatives and many are councillors. Councillors are very adept. They know local authority powers are divided between the executive and the reserved - the manager and the elected. When it comes to an executive function, we know how adept councillors are at blaming county managers when they do something which upsets or which is wrong according to the people.
I predict that in the lead-up to the local elections next year, Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats candidates will go around telling the electorate how dreadful it is that the county manager has the exclusive right to set the bin tax and that it is dreadful that he or she increased it by a certain amount in the estimates procedure in December of this year. Pontius Pilate-like and washing their hands of the tax, they will say, "We can do nothing about the tax, but is it not terrible?". That will not work because we will call their bluff. Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats public representatives and Deputies are giving county managers and the Minister that power and it will be hung around their necks and the necks of their candidates if they try that. There is no escape in that situation.
Meanwhile, the stud farms on the rolling plains of Kildare, on to which Deputy Power looks every morning from his breakfast room——
In what section are they included?
It is appropriate because the €50 million or €100 million which the millionaires who own them could give the taxation system each year is not being collected. It could fund a lot of services without having to come back to the hard-pressed PAYE worker again. That is why it is relevant.
Only the stud fees are exempt.
The stable lads and girls have to pay their taxes.
I am out of my depth on the last remark because I come from an area with the most beautiful mountains, hills, valleys and lakes.
We are discussing the substantive issues in the sections, in particular section 30. We are on section 2, which is about the commencement of the Bill. I gave clear and unequivocal answers in that regard. A few matters have been raised to which I will try to respond. As far as the waiver is concerned, it was never a matter for the members. We could, and I am sure we still can, make representations to the manager. It has been and will continue to be a matter for the manager.
No. The members fixed the rights. In other words, they said an old age pensioner living alone may get a full waiver or an old age pensioner living with two people may get half a waiver.
It was not an automatic right. It was dealt with on a case-by-case basis and the manager signed the order.
There is no monopoly regarding the private sector. There is a perception that there will be a monopoly and that the manager will set the charge at whatever level he or she wishes, whether at €700 or €1,000. In my county, there has been a great transformation over the years. The private sector involved and all participants are trying to be as competitive as possible.
There is a cartel in the private sector.
Standing Order 125, which was approved without debate in the Dáil yesterday, was to give power to us to debate Committee Stage today. It was introduced on the advice of the Attorney General. Provided the Bill passes all Stages, we will empower the manager to decide on the charges. There will be no directive from the Minister to the county managers.
The Minister, Deputy Cullen, is to be applauded for meeting the county managers with the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and me. The county managers had not been met for several years and they are an integral part of the entire system. The meeting was arranged, not to direct but to get the views of the managers. We had an exchange of views. It was not a question of it coinciding with the commencement of Second Stage of the Bill.
We would have liked to send him to them with his ears burning about the issues that we wanted him to bring.
As I told the Deputy on the previous occasion, I have great respect for each of the other 165 Members of this House and I am only asking for a little in return. I am just telling the Deputy that I am elected also. DeputyHiggins should leave the personalities out of it.
It is not about personalities. I was annoyed because a few minutes before I stood up to speak on Second Stage in the opening round of speakers——
That is in the past, I have dealt with that.
——the Minister had to leave. I said to the Minister of State that I would have liked to send the Minister off to the county managers with his ears burning about the issues that Deputies here have been raising with regard to householders.
That is why we are there, to represent them and to relate to them.
Constitutionally, he is responsible.
Yes. I am not asked to sign orders but if am offered the job I might take it. The Deputy should not interrupt me. I would remind Deputies that the polluter pays principle was provided, not in the 2001 Act but in the 1996 Act. My party was not in Government in 1996. I will deal with any of the Deputies when they go into the substantive issues. On the principle, I have been as straightforward as possible on the commencement date and on other issues raised.
I would remind Deputies that perhaps my county is not a microcosm of the rest of the country, but I know full well from my experience that over the years it was not the poor who did not pay. The poor, if I can term them as such without being disrespectful, always paid their bills. It is other groups who, for other reasons, may not have paid them.
When one talks of the law of diminishing returns and the rates of tax, no other Governments has had a better rating when it comes to taxes and last night that was dealt with eloquently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, for anybody who was there to listen to him.
I hesitate to correct the Minister but it is fair to point out that the private sector is not the solution to the problem. The private sector will have no control over the rate of charge, in Deputy Cregan's constituency or any other area, because the county or city manager will dictate the charge for tipping at the landfill. When the landfill must be kept up to required standard, the tipping charge at the landfill will increase and the private collector or the local authority will have to raise their charges accordingly. The private collector will be caught in the same trap as everybody else because the tipping charge at the landfill, where he will dispose of the refuse, will increase. That does not solve the problem. It is not that competition will keep the private sector charging a great deal less than the real cost of getting rid of the refuse.
I will come back to this later.
Will the Minister of State give us the evidence that handing over the collection of refuse to the private sector will bring about more competitive rates? What is his evidence that privatisation is giving people a better deal? Has the Minister of State looked at the situation in the private sector and has he satisfied himself that there is not a cartel operating which is fixing charges at a high level? I would ask him to ask the Competition Authority if it is happy with the performance of the private sector before he makes claims here that transferring to the private sector will offer the public more competitive rates. Has the Department checked the Competition Authority's views on the performance of the private sector?
We have not checked with the Competition Authority. The committee has a right to initiate that, if it so wishes. The private sector in Sligo, for example, provided the service at a cheaper rate than that which was being provided by the local authority. I take Deputy McCormack's point that there is a co-relation there and the landfills must be kept up to standard, but we must pay a price for this.
On two points to which the Minister referred, first, it is not correct to state that yesterday's resolution in the House was simply a technical resolution which enables the Committee Stage to proceed. The resolution passed in the House yesterday empowers the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make orders setting charges and fees under the different provisions of this Act. In practice that will empower the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make orders directing the county managers as to the levels of charges and fees which they are to set in the Estimates for next year. Members, who have drawn attention to the fact - we have all had experience of it - that where at local level public representatives want to duck political responsibility they use the county manager as the whipping boy, should understand that the power will now rest with the Minister. It will not rest with the county manager. There is no point blaming the county manager in February or March of next year when the new bills come out. The person to blame will be the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who has been given that power by a decision of Dáil Éireann yesterday, which the Government insisted on putting through without any debate.
The second point relates to the polluter pays principle. We could have a long intellectual debate here, which I am sure the Chairman will not permit, about what the polluter pays principle means and the different ways in which the polluter pays principle can be applied, but let us be clear about what this legislation is doing. This legislation is going significantly beyond most people's understanding of the polluter pays principle. It is providing for payment on the basis of the recovery of full cost. Again section 30 is explicit about what is meant in that.
There is a major change here. We have all grown up with a regime where the management of waste was a public service. There are differing views on the degree to which charges might be used to influence citizens' behaviour. There is no doubt about what is being done in the legislation. The full cost of buying the land, setting up the site, paying the architect to make the drawings for the incinerator, the full cost of building it and operating it and the full cost of remediating it for 30 years after it is closed is what must be charged for. There is no escape from it because section 30 says it is not discretionary, that these are the charges which now must be met. It will be a big bill by the time it drops in through the letterbox to the individual householder. This legislation is not making minor adjustments to the existing regime pertaining to charges, whether people like them or not - it is furthering the regime not just by an inch but by miles and it will result in massive bills for the individual householder.
We agreed we would have a break at 12 noon so I ask Deputy Joe Higgins to make his contribution short.
I am sorry to have to correct any notion the Minister of State might have about a private sector nirvana in Sligo, but the privateers who collect refuse there charge €10 for one tag for one sack. This means that a household that has to dispose of one sack every week has to pay €520 per year.
I cannot discuss the micro-aspects of the matter but if the Deputy says that such is the case, I accept it. I stated that the private sector was, in principle, in a position to provide a cheaper service than the local authority. The resolution agreed in the Dáil yesterday ordained that the Minister will not have the power to set the charges - the manager will do so. Deputy Gilmore should note that the recovery of full costs is required under the landfill directive.
Amendment No. 5 is cognate on amendment No. 1 and both may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 9, after "Environment" to insert ", Heritage".
These amendments reflect the recent change in the title of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is now the Ministerfor the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(e) release of genetically modified organisms into the environment,”.
This is a simple amendment which seeks that the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment be included as an emission. It is a serious issue. There is the possibility of emissions of such organisms into the environment and that should be recognised. I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's reason for not wanting to include them. It is important to recognise that it is possible for genetically modified organisms to spread in the environment on a basis which is not predicted or desired. We recognise that as a potential problem and seek to include it in the Bill.
It is not appropriate to include genetically modified organisms in the definition of emissions. GMOs are not regulated under the IPPC Directive nor under the national IPPC system. They are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under separate arrangements which have evolved since the 1992 Environmental Protection Agency Act, at the EU and, consequently, at national level. These involve specific measures included in dedicated directives and regulations - for example, the 1998 Contained Use Directive, the 2001 Deliberate Release Directive and the impending labelling and traceability regulation - rather than through the IPPC and the associated best available technique regimes. These measures are generally demanding and have been, or will be, implemented through a specific separate regulatory regime. Section 111 of the 1992 Act is the relevant section in national primary legislation.
It disappointing that there are two separate regulatory regimes. Is it not possible to bring the two together in a section such as this so that there is one encompassing regulation which the various agencies involved in this area could follow?
GMO is a specialised area and it is covered under the legislation to which I referred. There are separate controls while at the same time, the 1992 Act is the legislative base. The advice is that we should continue as is and not include this provision in this Bill.
I have a general concern in that the Minister of State said this is a specialised area. I would be afraid if the Government was to imply that there are not the same sort of risks and problems associated with emissions of GMOs because they are technically complex in nature. That the effects and long-term consequences of their release may be a subject of scientific analysis should not mean that the Government views their release less seriously than some of the emissions at which we are looking here.
Notwithstanding what the Minister of State said, will he take the opportunity provided by this amendment to take this issue on board and bundle all of the law around it? Surely, it would make it easier for people to follow the law in that environmental issues would be covered by this Bill as opposed to a raft of legislation.
It would be a retrograde step to do that. GMOs come from many other activities. Deputies would not support this amendment if, in time, they realised acceptance of it was a retrograde step. GMOs come from many other activities and the advice is that it is much more important that it is dealt with separately.
The Minister of State said GMOs come from many other activities. Their main release is obviously through agriculture. Are there other release possibilities which are peculiar or separate?
Not only can intensive agriculture be covered but so too can laboratory situations and various other activities.
If a facility released GMO emissions, would that not be the specific framework within which this legislation would apply?
It is regulated by other legislation and I gave the examples of the Contained Use Directive, the 2001 Deliberate Release Directive and the impending labelling and traceability regulation. This is similar to the situation in other countries.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I will resubmit the amendment on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, line 34, after "2000" to insert ", provided that an environmental impact statement for the purposes of this Act shall be carried out by a person who does not benefit financially from the approval of the project to which it relates".
Amendment No. 3 addresses environmental impact statements. The definition provided for in the Bill is that an environmental impact statement has the meaning assigned to it in the Act of 2000. I seek to underline the requirement that an environmental impact statement must be carried out by an independent person or by an independent body.
At present the promoters of projects, whether a private individual, a State agency or a local authority, are, effectively, engaging their own consultants to prepare environmental impact statements. The environmental impact statements which are prepared in that way are phoney. What is happening with the environmental impact statement process at present is "make believe" environmental impact assessment. The promoters of projects engage consultants who produce an environmental impact statement which, instead of addressing the environmental impact of a project, explains away the environmental impact. By and large, the environmental impact statements prepared for projects are not evaluated. There is little or no independent evaluation of them. They become part and parcel of either the planning application or the licence application. They are signed off and then they become an absolute bible.
Although not specifically related to the environmental impact of industrial emissions, there was an example of this in the news this week which related to an area on the border of my constituency, the M50 motorway. A major environmental impact study was conducted on the environmental impact of the proposed M50 motorway and it took nearly five years to prepare. The only problem was that they did not discover there were ruins of a medieval castle on the line of the motorway. This did not transpire until the motorway was under construction. Not one iota of the EIS was changed following the public inquiry. Once the Minister signs off on it, nobody can change it. It becomes part of the orthodoxy and now part of the problem.
What I am seeking to provide is that where environmental impact studies are conducted, there is a requirement that they be independent. This business of promoters of projects engaging consultants to write up an environmental impact study with terms of reference determined by the promoter of the project and in a way which explains away whatever environmental impact problems there may be with the project is not acceptable. It stands on its head the whole purpose of environmental impact studies. The way in which environmental impact studies and assessments are being used and processed, and the lack of evaluation, is something to which the committee might usefully return on another day. For the purpose of this Bill, I am simply saying that EIS's will have to be conducted independently.
As the saying goes, if there are ten lawyers in a room, a person will get ten opinions and if a person hires a gun, he will get the opinion he wants at the other end of the barrel. The hired gun will bring out an opinion that suits the applicant in the case of a planning application. The current system is unsatisfactory. In the case of appeals, An Bord Pleanála can look at the adequacy of the EIS and look for supplementary information. In this instance, those who benefit financially from the success of an application should not be party to the preparation of the EIS. I support the amendment.
I support the amendment. It is ironic there is no provision in legislation for a measure along the lines suggested by Deputy Gilmore. It is ironic particularly because in the whole local authority arena, when a conflict of interest arises for a member, for example, even in a slight way, the member must absent himself or herself from the meeting, and certainly not vote. In some cases one cannot even participate in the discussions. At the same time there is this vital area of planning which is currently one of the important areas left to local authorities or elected members, particularly some aspects of it. There is an incredible situation whereby the people who do what should be a completely objective analysis of the environmental impact are often part of the project. There is no question but that this colours the conclusions drawn. It brings the whole process under suspicion and undermines the concept of an environmental impact study and statement which by its very nature, and by virtue of the importance of the decisions based on it, should be entirely separate from those who are applying for a particular project or those who would gain financially from it. It is surprising this aspect has not arisen previously and been enshrined in legislation. There should be a completely independent and objective assessment of the situation, therefore, and this is a good place to start.
I support the amendment. Perhaps for once I will disagree with Deputy Higgins because I am not so sure it is surprising it has not arisen before. It is certainly necessary at this stage. If we look at the whole issue of drawing up waste management plans throughout the country, we will see that one of the companies involved did five of the seven. When one talks about a company with many facets and strings to its bow, including engineering and design features, it makes the amendment very relevant. There should be just one EPA and one waste management plan for the entire island. As the island is not that big, it would not be difficult to make that effective.
The Planning and Development Regulations 2001 set out detailed provisions on environmental impact statements. These regulations are based on a requirement under EU Directive 85/337, as amended. This requires the developer to supply the relevant information to the consent authority. The planning authority, whether at local authority level or appeal level within An Bord Pleanála, is required to consider the adequacy of the EIS. Where the authority decides that the EIS is inadequate, it must ensure that the EIS is supplemented by further information.
In addition, under Article 14(2)(a) of the 1994 EPA licensing regulations, the agency is required to consider the adequacy of the EIS in so far as environmental aspects of the activity are concerned. Where the agency considers that the EIS is not adequate, it can, like the planning authority and the board, require further information. The adequacy of the EIS in relation to the IPPC licensing activity is, therefore, open to scrutiny by the local authority, An Bord Pleanála and by the EPA, as well as being open to public scrutiny and the decision making process. The substantive legislation on environmental impact statements is found in the Planning and Development Act 2000. It would be more appropriate to deal with issues of general application under the planning code. Deputy Gilmore referred to the M50 and we know the situation there. As he pointed out, this is more appropriate to the Planning and Development Act.
These regulations are based on the requirement in the EU directive. It is a matter for the developer who should supply the information and have the EIS carried out. Who pays for it? It should be the developer. I am sure any developer would like to think that the EIS and those carrying out the survey for them would carry out a survey which would eventually be in their interest, but it does not end there. As I pointed out, the planning authority can look for further information and there is the question of An Bord Pleanála looking for more information and the EPA. There are a few checks and balances. There is the question of who should do it, who should pay for it and who should appoint someone to carry out the EIS. I believe that we should stick rigidly to the requirement of the directive and the developer should be responsible for supplying the information. For these reasons I am not prepared to accept the amendment.
I will not hold up progress on the issue today but I will want to return again to the subject. I will withdraw the amendment today.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, line 22, to delete "stationary".
The definition of "installation" in the Bill means a stationary technical unit or plant where activity referred to in the First Schedule is or will be carried on and so on. The amendment was recommended by the Friends of the Irish Environment. It does not seem to make sense that installation should be confined to a stationary unit. I am seeking the deletion of the word "stationary" so that it will be any technical unit, whether stationary or not. It is a reasonable amendment.
This is further to what we spoke about earlier in regard to genetically modified organisms which might be developed in laboratory conditions. Laboratory and numerous other technical processes can now be carried out on a flexible, mobile basis. It is a sensible amendment which takes into account all installations, whether stationary or otherwise.
The word "plant" is defined later on in this section, on page 9, line 6, "plant" includes any equipment, appliance, apparatus, machinery, works, building or other structure or any land or any part of any land which is used for the purposes of, or incidental to, any activity specified in the First Schedule. The word "plant" covers a broad range of installations and would include mobile ones.
I disagree. For example, one could get a ship, fit it out and put it in a harbour. It would not be quite covered by the definition of "plant" in the Bill. It would be safer to accept this amendment and omit the word stationary.
The use of a boat is an example of taking special equipment on to a site. The word "plant" is all embracing and will cover the Deputy's concerns as far as the word "mobile" is concerned.
The definition refers to the activities in the First Schedule which include, for example, the extraction and processing of minerals. The extraction of minerals could involve an installation or plant which is not stationary. If the extraction was taking place on site the equipment being used might be moved around the site. If a facility is moved around is it regarded as stationary? Intensive agriculture and food and drink production are referred to here. Is a farm facility which can be moved regarded as stationary? Some recovery and waste disposal facilities are mobile. The facilities for many recycling activities too can be moved around and can hardly be described as stationary. There are plenty of examples of mobile facilities.
Why is the word stationary in the definition? I cannot see why this distinction is made. Surely, if it was taken out, the thresholds under which the regulations will kick in will still apply. I do not understand why it is confined to stationary facilities.
The reason is because it is a mirror image of what is in the directive. In light of some of the examples Deputy Gilmore has raised, while I do not necessarily agree with him, I will consult with the parliamentary counsel and come back to the issue on Report Stage.
Is Deputy Ryan happy with that?
I am concerned that the Minister does not use up the number of amendments he is willing to accept on minor amendments. He should save some for the more major amendments.
We take every amendment on its merits.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, line 35, after "Environment" to insert ", Heritage".
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and will be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 10, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
" 'waste stabilisation' means a policy whereby the total annual quantities of waste generated remain stable and do not increase from year to year;".
Many of the early amendments deal with definitions. This is important, particularly in regard to the two issues on which we are seeking definition in these amendments - zero waste and waste stabilisation. It is important that a 21st century Bill on the waste issue looks at how the State can address issues like waste stabilisation and aim for a zero waste policy. We must define some of these commonly used terms in our legislation so that we have a common agreement as to what we are talking about.
The definition we suggest for waste stabilisation is easy to understand as the wording explains what is desired. It is important that we set it out as a measure so that it can be clearly seen whether we are succeeding. The difficulty we have in regard to waste management has two facets. One concerns how we treat the waste but the second and more important concerns the amount of waste we create. We have a real difficulty due to the phenomenal growth in waste which came with the growth in our economy. We need to decouple that economic growth from its environmental effects, particularly waste. It is possible. We must set a target and define the problem, which is why we would like to see these terms defined in the Bill.
The issue of zero waste is more contentious. People say it is impossible to achieve and not likely to happen in our lifetime. They suggest we are over optimistic. Given that we live in an enclosed planetary system there is, ultimately, a zero waste plan in operation. The planet will recycle whatever materials we use. Our use of materials and resources is wasteful on the basis that we are using resources far beyond what the planet can provide. Ultimately, we will suffer unless we become more in tune with nature's ecological system which is not as wasteful as we are. To some extent nature will look after itself but humankind must also try to do the same.
The only way humankind can effectively use and exploit the planet's resources is to introduce a zero waste policy. We must move towards recovering everything we can and reducing where we can. We must try to use the market to develop wealth from that process. This is what we are trying to do in setting out these definitions. We believe these will be the defining terms in waste management policy as the century progresses.
I will be quite happy if the Minister comes back with his own definitions of waste stabilisation and zero waste. Our amendments seek to raise the issue that these terms should be defined in waste management legislation such as this.
These amendments seek to introduce into law the concepts of waste stabilisation and zero waste. The amendments aim to achieve this by an amendment of section 5 to include a definition of each. Many of the policies, objectives and actions promoted under the zero waste strategies have a great deal of merit. We must tackle current production and consumption patterns and minimise waste generation and maximise recycling and recovery. These are all key elements in the waste hierarchy with which Irish policy is wholly consistent. We must be honest in promoting zero waste targets for 20 or more years ahead. The concept of the elimination of all waste that cannot be recycled remains to be validated by any country around the world.
Proponents of zero waste strategies routinely promote existing initiatives as if they had achieved their stated targets. I will give two cases in point which serve as useful illustration of the facts. In 1996, the authorities in Canberra adopted a strategy of no waste by 2010. In-term targets were set for just the first two years. Despite early gains, an assessment of progress carried out by the commissioner for the environment found that the pattern of domestic waste to landfill had not declined in the way they expected. The per person rate of domestic waste to landfill had increased. New targets for progressive implementation would be required and the concept would need to be sold again to the community. The other example is Toronto which is often cited as another zero waste success story. The waste diversion task force 2010 initiative was launched in 2001 and it remains to be seen how they will move from a situation where they were exporting just under 1 million tonnes of waste to landfill outside the region to a situation in 2010 where, as they put it, all the waste will be recycled, re-used or composted. I cite these examples not for the purpose of being gratuitously disparaging towards Deputy Ryan's view on zero waste philosophy but merely to illustrate that the concept remains highly aspirational. In these circumstances I do not regard it as a realistic basis on which to develop waste policy and lesser still do I regard it as a concept appropriate to include in legislation.
As for the issue of waste stabilisation, this is not a well-defined or widely recognised concept; it is an aspirational objective which it is not appropriate to include in legislation. On the other hand, the integrated approach underpinning the Government's waste management planning is based on the internationally recognised hierarchy of waste prevention, minimisation, re-use, energy recovery and residual landfill.
The inappropriateness of these amendments is underlined by the fact that the Green Party has not put forward an amendment to later sections of the Bill to indicate how it foresees the achievement of waste stabilisation or zero waste. There is no point in the inclusion of aspirational concepts and definitions in the Bill if there is nothing there to back them up. I am unable to accept these amendments.
It is extremely important to have aspirations and if we do not set ambitious aspirations we will never get anywhere. For some people, their aspirations extend to getting to the pub tomorrow night for a couple of pints while others probably want to grow their business or become millionaires. We need to put down a marker about aspirations. If we were to set down the aspiration - if that is what the amendment wants to do and I agree that it is - then we should assert that there should be no incineration because incineration is too simple a solution. We should have very powerful aspirations in this regard and they should be stipulated in this Bill. These amendments put down by Deputies Cuffe and Ryan would assist in doing this. I ask the Minister to reflect on this amendment and give it serious consideration.
When the present Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism was Fianna Fáil spokesperson for justice prior to the 1997 general election, gave the use of the term "zero" a bad name. I recall his pronouncements about zero tolerance and he then presided over a very significant rise in crime during his tenure as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Many people regard the terms zero tolerance or zero waste as a political aspiration which is not necessarily grounded in reality. One of the things missing from the Bill is that there is no assault on the production of waste. The whole tone of the Bill is about the disposal of waste and the charging regime that we spoke about earlier is all directed at the end user, the person who has no choice but go into the shop, buy what they buy and end up having to dispose of the waste product. There is no attempt made to address the production of waste. I would be more convinced that the Government was serious about addressing the waste problem if I saw legislation which, for example, tackled things like the problem of in-built obsolescence in electrical goods. One can be certain that within five years, a washing machine will start to go wrong because that is how it has been designed. The manufacturers do not produce the goods to last but rather to become waste after a period. We have the same problem with newspapers. When one buys a newspaper, one gets a wad of paper which one could not read in a week and most of it containing the type of reference information that is available on the Internet. One thing which I find irritating is that there has been much sentimental talk about the return of the milk bottle. Most of our milk is now sold in Tetra Pak. The green bin that I have been supplied with is not to be used for the recycling of Tetra Pak. I understand the reason for that because we do not have any recycling facilities for Tetra Pak and it must be sent to Scotland. Even if we had recycling facilities for Tetra Pak, there is now a new problem with recycling Tetra Pak which is that the producers of milk cartons have now put a little plastic thing on the top of the opening of the carton. This little plastic gadget causes the milk to burst out and spill on one's clothes. I asked the milkman about it and whether there was a carton available that did not spill all over the kitchen every time it was used and I was told there was not. There is now virtually a monopoly on the production of milk for distribution in Dublin and this is the way it comes without any choice. If we are serious about addressing waste, there ought to be legislation or regulations whereby items such as milk cartons are produced so that they do not generate waste. There are now two materials in a milk carton. The Tetra Pak material cannot be recycled here anyhow. Even if it could be recycled, the plastic opening device would have to be removed before recycling which would add to the cost of the recycling operation. We need to address production of that kind of waste.
Having legislation like this will end up whacking the householder with big charges and the Government flexing its environmental muscles and claiming this to be wonderful environmental legislation. It only penalises the unfortunate householders who very often have no choice in what they purchase without addressing the production of the waste in the first place.
I am glad Deputy Gilmore made the point about this Bill not having an overall emphasis on reduction and reuse in a sense, in response to the Minister's point. The Minister said that our definition of zero waste might not be required because our own amendments do not include extensive use of such a term later in the Bill. The difficulty we have is that the Bill is not focused on reducing waste and promoting recycling. It seems to be centred on the polluter pays principle in the imposition of charges and the use of other institutional means like licensing. However, it does not address the overall aim, which should be to reduce our waste, to reuse it and ultimately to recycle it. The very inclusion of a definition sets out an aspiration and gives a picture of what is possible and where the Government's policies might lead.
It is very easy to consider Canberra and Toronto and say they are getting it wrong. However, at least they are trying. The Minister says the concept is largely aspirational and will never bear fruit. We do not need to go that far to see that it is far from aspirational. I was involved in the waste plan in Dublin going back to 1998 when it was approved. At that time it was remarkably clear that there were huge sections of our waste that could be very readily and economically taken out of the waste stream and converted into being a resource. As a young councillor, it was remarkable to discover that roughly 33% of the waste in the greater Dublin area comprised building demolition waste, which we were pouring into landfill.
The companies, which were providing cement products that were being used new every time we laid roads, were happy with that. They did not have to pay for the dumping of all the construction waste we could have recycled and reduced. We were quite happy to plough on paying top dollar for all the building materials we were using only once and then throwing away. The waste plan then was not just aspirational as we have now started to take one third of the waste from our waste stream and turn it into a resource. One small policy change to move towards reusing construction and demolition waste took one third of the waste away.
Zero waste is not that untenable when one considers the source of our waste. The main sectors generating waste are still agriculture, construction and demolition. The householder represents quite a small fraction. The other sectors are difficult but not impossible. At a domestic or small industrial level it is not hugely aspirational to segregate our waste so that biological waste can go to landfill or composting, which in a sense is a form of landfill. It is not impossible to take out dry products and recycle for re-use. Given the price of oil, any of the high calorific products have a value, not necessarily through being burnt but through being used again. We have possibilities to change the materials being used and to change the packaging and manufacturing processes so that we do not have built in obsolescence, as Deputy Gilmore said.
Within the lifetime of this legislation and before we come back to it again, I do not believe people will say such zero waste policies are purely aspirational and not achievable. In my brief involvement in a local authority, I have seen how huge sections of waste could be diverted from landfill. It is perfectly appropriate to insert some aspiration for reduction in this section of the Bill, rather than purely seeing this problem as one of paying for and licensing the current waste stream.
I take the Minister's point that we should table more amendments to address how we would apply zero waste management. To a certain extent that would result in a very different Bill and it is very difficult for us as an Opposition party to table amendments that have financial implications, as the Minister understands. It is certainly appropriate for us to insert a definition, which is one of the few ways to set out an aspiration. If the Government were to take this up and start to implement some of the policies that will bring it about, it would have our support.
These amendments get to the heart of the matter more than the provisions to charge the householders and threaten to leave their bins un-emptied if they boycott or cannot pay. We pay considerable lip service to the idea of reduction, re-use and recycling, but there is no action to live up to the stated policy of Government. The policy on waste often boils down to charging. The belief is that throwing a tax on it will sort it. Throwing a tax on something is not a policy. The same was said about water. Charging is supposed to solve the problem, but it fails to do so completely. It does not get to the heart of the matter.
In the Dáil and at local authority meetings on a number of occasions I have pointed out a few simple changes to building by-laws and regulations that could save billions of gallons of treated water each year in the case of the capital city alone. However the Government will not lift its finger to do this. In a few months or possibly next year there will be another attempt to re-impose water charges and it will be said to be a conservation measure, which is not the case. There are conservation measures, which are not being taken.
I invite the Minister to carefully examine the Environmental Protection Agency's last completed national audit of waste, which was carried out in 1998. This is a very interesting document in light of the discussions we have been having and will continue to have. That audit found that of the total going into landfill, the householder accounted for 1.5%. I bet that even surprises you, a Chathaoirligh. The bulk was big construction, big agriculture, big industry and a few other commercial sectors. As Deputy Ryan said, it was incredible that trucks dumped into landfills construction materials that could be recycled for various purposes, such as road-filling. What is wrong with adopting this amendment, which attempts to maximise recycling?
The Minister of State has to admit that the Government has not made even a token effort on the packaging encountered by the householder. When I go to the supermarket, I am given a foam tray and plastic packaging with three or four sausages. I was recently shocked to see a foam tray and plastic packaging being used to cover two ring doughnuts, even though it was covering more air than dough. The polystyrene will end up in a landfill and will not degrade for generations. Would it not be constructive for the Government to adopt a policy of reduction at source to take such material out of circulation? If householders are not faced with packaging in supermarkets, they will not bring it home, it will not be placed in a bin for disposal and it will not go into a landfill. Such a move would be the start of a real policy on waste, rather than the coercion that is provided for in this section.
A point made by Deputy Gilmore - that one cannot place plastic bottles, Tetra Pak cartons or other materials which should be recyclable in green recycling containers - bears brief repetition. Such materials do not need to reach our homes in the first instance and would not do so if the Government took effective measures to reduce and minimise waste at source. I agree with Deputy Gilmore's argument about older people and those with arthritis. The plastic rings on Tetra Pak containers are totally unfriendly to elderly people. They are very difficult to open and can cause spillages. If one has arthritis in one's fingers, one cannot open them. A decision to eliminate such containers would make sense in terms of human policy, apart from the environmental benefits. Glass bottles should be reintroduced.
The amendments proposed by Deputy Eamon Ryan relate to "zero waste" and "waste stabilisation". I cited the policies of Canberra and Toronto because of the experiences in such cities. It is important to have aspirations, but we cannot include them in legislation. The Government's aspirations and objectives are included in policy statements and its quite ambitious waste targets were set out in 1998, in Changing Our Ways. We will not solve our waste problems by legislation alone. All citizens, including legislators, have a responsibility at all levels to try to ensure that we leave the country in a better state, environmentally, than we found it. I said recently, during a debate in the Dáil on waste management, that Ireland is our country and not the Government's. Everyone is trying to work closely together to find a solution.
Denmark has a good environmental record. It seems as if its integrated policies are environmentally friendly, but it does not take a "zero waste" approach. There is minimal residual waste and we should adopt a similar strategy.
The point made by Deputy Joe Higgins, that 1.5% of waste in landfill sites comes from householders, is an interesting one. While I do not mean to minimise the importance of domestic recycling initiatives, it is important that we strive to challenge other producers of waste. Members will be aware that packaging waste is now banned from landfill sites, as it has to be recovered and recycled. Coming from rural Ireland, I did not have much experience of the problems of construction and demolition waste, but I have been quite impressed by the progress made, particularly in cities where it is economically viable to do something about the problem. It is not viable in rural Ireland. The 1998 policy statement to which I referred, Changing Our Ways, set the construction industry a recycling target of at least 50% of construction and demolition waste by 2003. This figure will increase progressively to 85% by 2013.
A further indication of what we are trying to do was the establishment in 1999 by the forum on the construction industry of a task force charged with developing a co-ordinated industry-wide programme to meet the targets I have mentioned. The task force comprised representatives of the Construction Industry Federation, the Building Materials Federation, engineers, architects' associations, local authorities, the EPA and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The report submitted by the forum to the Minister in mid-2001 recommended the establishment of a voluntary producer responsibility initiative to implement a range of measures to facilitate the increased recycling of construction and demolition waste.
The core recommendation of the report was that a national construction and demolition waste council, representative of all sectors and stake holders be established to drive the implementation of the plan and to ensure that the ambitious but realistic targets are met - the recycling of 50% of construction and demolition waste by 2003 and 85% by 2013. The council was launched in June 2002 and is drawing up a work programme to deliver the speedy implementation of the recommendations of the task force. I am dwelling on this issue because it is important that we focus on the fact that a substantial proportion of all waste comes from construction and demolition sources. All members are pleased that progress is being made in this regard.
The purpose of the national waste prevention programme is to eliminate or reduce the amount of waste coming from manufacturing or industrial sources and to develop new products. It is important to ensure that waste does not pass from the producer to the consumer, but we cannot eliminate this phenomenon entirely. Many relevant points have been made. Do we need the same packaging for four sausages as for eight sausages? A solution to this consumer problem needs to be found.
Last week in the Dáil I dealt with the issue of waste, particularly plastic waste. I do not wish to dwell on the issue of the plastic bag levy, the success of which is well known. My Department might not be the most popular in the Department of Finance, as it secured agreement that the funds collected as a result of the levy would be ring-fenced. The moneys are being used to address waste management problems. Regulations continue to assist the improvement, recycling and recovery of farm plastics. I refer to the black plastic - known as bale wrap or bale bags - that is used for silage and which can cause problems. The Irish Farm Films Producers Group, in conjunction with the farm relief services, has put in place a structure whereby such plastics are retrieved. One might ask, as I did, about the plastic bags that are being used instead of paper bags to a considerable extent. The board of the film producing group is changing to an Irish board. We have had informal talks with the board and we hope to have further informal talks with a view to collecting the other bags, which are a serious problem as they are very unsightly. There are aspects of this into which we must go in detail. Some of these bags carry chemicals which is something we must discuss. As a point of information for members, Dublin Corporation civic amenity centres will accept for recycling the Tetra Pak referred to by Deputy Gilmore even though their green bins cannot take them. Also, they accept plastic bottles and soft plastic wrappers.
I have no difficulty with anyone having aspirations, but they must be realistic. We can only put their aspirations in a policy document, we cannot put them into the legislation. It is important that if we put anything into legislation, there must be a substantive follow up, which there would not be in this case. I cannot accept Deputy Cuffe's amendments regarding waste stabilisation and zero waste, as moved by Deputy Eamon Ryan. I would like to think the day will arrive when we have zero waste, but while we have that aspiration, we should have the follow through which is included in the content of this Bill.
We have agreed that large streams of waste are not related to the domestic products. Deputy Jim Higgins is correct in his very low figure. One can mention all the voluntary policies, the green dot system, which does not add up to much, and the voluntary measures we are asking industry to adopt, but in terms of dealing with our residual waste our main policy is to burn it. In Dublin we are looking at a roughly 400,000 tonne incinerator. I would love to see a definition of "energy recovery" in the list of definitions included in the Bill. It is regularly trotted out as a term to explain incinerators. I do not have the original 1996 Act to check, but where one burns a pile of material and is left with ash, the main thing recovered is soot even if some electricity is generated. That must then be disposed of. I have often wondered how that process can be defined as one of "energy recovery".
Many definitions are needed in the Bill as words are used all the time in this area the meanings of which are slightly clouded or uncertain. The Minister of State has proved the need for the definition we are talking about. He uses the term "zero waste" very comfortably as a common term in this area. When I mention the term "zero waste", he knows what I am talking about. It is important to define exactly what it means, though it is in common parlance in this area. On that basis, I regret the Minister's position whereby he is unwilling to include this or other definitions which, in hindsight, should have been included in the relevant section of the Bill.
Deputy Eamon Ryan has referred again to the 1.5%. In my capacity as Minister of State with responsibility for local government, I have opened quite a few housing estates around the country. I have been more than impressed with the recycling measures which are put in place at minimum cost. They are successful because they are voluntary and the tenants of the houses concerned are anxious to ensure that residual waste is kept to a minimum. The voluntary approach to packaging waste seems to be working and we must give it a chance. We must impress on our people in every constituency the important role they have to play and an awareness of their responsibilities. I see progress being made in that regard.
Within the Department, we are using the environment fund to fund local authority civic amenity sites. While the funding is ring-fenced, there is a need for more publicity to make it clear to our citizens the responsibility they have to play their parts. I do not underestimate the point made by Deputy Joe Higgins with regard to packaging. It is something about which we could talk to companies to attempt to deal with the matter in a voluntary capacity as a first resort.
I agree with some of the Minister of State's last remarks. There is a huge and proven willingness among ordinary people to pitch in with regard to separation and recycling of waste. It is a goodwill which should be built upon. This is the alternative to the other provisions which we will come to later. Every council could put in place a by-law whereby anyone who uncaringly lashes waste into one bin after provision has been made for separation and recycling would be subject to spot inspections. I would not be opposed to throwing the book at them once the alternative is in place. The plastic bag levy was successful because there was a ready alternative available to people. They could bring their own bag to the shops. It is working. The point is being proven that there are alternatives to some of the draconian measures being provided for in this legislation.
I do not want to revisit the Second Stage debate, but I must respond on one matter. I would love to think the bring centres dotted around the place will solve the problem, but they have not been provided on a scale that would make any meaningful difference. I regret to say the experience in Dublin to date has been that green bins have been issued only to about half of households. Where they have been distributed I am told the usage level is only 50%. I am also told that if usage rose to 80% the process would become a cheaper method of disposing of rubbish than the grey bin collection. It is more expensive to land fill than to put in place a full green bin, or recycling, process. If we can distribute bins to households which cannot take a green bin at present and if we can get the usage of them above 80% while ensuring they are not contaminated, we will make savings.
The Green Party will favour trying all sorts of mechanisms to encourage usage, but as much as we would like to think we are making progress, I am told by those who operate the current system that current usage is about 50% while only half of households in this city have the bins. This Bill should concentrate on mechanisms to increase the level of usage. To do so would be the clever economic decision as above 80% correct usage we will save money and reduce costs.
I take this opportunity to thank the 280,000 householders in Dublin who segregate their waste. That is the best publicity for the process. Through their example others will try to emulate the segregation practices of more than one quarter of a million householders. No one measure will resolve this problem which is why we must adopt an integrated approach. While there is a great deal to be done, if everyone does a little, we can go a long way towards resolving this issue. The introduction of "pay by weight" will be a major incentive to people. I confess that I began segregating only when I entered the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as I felt I should give good example. Where we had two bags of rubbish to dispose of, only one now goes to landfill, which represents a major reduction. That is an example of just one household. It would, therefore, be a much greater incentive if we were to pay by weight.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 11, after line 47, to insert the following:
"(c) the pursuit of measures designed to enhance the sustainable ecological balance of the environment. These measures will include pollution prevention at source, the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle and the integration of environmental considerations across all policy areas.”.
This amendment relates to the terms and definitions set out in the Bill. We need to go beyond the description of "environmental protection" as being the "prevention, limitation, elimination, abatement or reduction of pollution" and "the preservation of the quality of the environment as a whole." The amendment would add several important concepts to the current definition. Earlier I described how nature is a balanced, interconnected system - some would argue it is a living system in which there is a circulatory process. It is important this ecological balance becomes the focus where the protection of the environment is concerned. The environment is a system in flux on which we can have an effect and we need to recognise this.
The amendment seeks to include in the Bill a statement that environmental protection includes measures which concentrate on prevention at source and the use of the precautionary principle. I agree with the Minister of State on the need for a polluter pays principle. The Green Party has no problem in using this principle in an appropriate fashion to try to influence behaviour. We need to develop creative ways to encourage people to do the right thing.
We recognise that environmental considerations are not restricted to one area of government or economic activity, but have an effect on a wide range of activities across the board. The current definition in the Bill is narrow and would benefit from the inclusion of concepts such as prevention at source, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.
While I support the amendment, I draw attention to one aspect of it which has been repeatedly alluded to in this debate, namely, the polluter pays principle. The term is a misnomer and should be rephrased the "producer pays principle". This would hone it to the point at which the faultline lies, that is, the production of non-recyclable products. The producer is the cause of the problem. If we do not hone the concept, who is the polluter? In these circumstances, the person who buys the product has the tag of "polluter" hung around his or her neck when, as we know, the user frequently does not have an option. This was proven in the case of the levy on plastic bags. I take this opportunity to commend the former Minster for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, for the introduction of the levy. Although I have been a vociferous opponent of the former Minister in the debates surrounding his incineration programme and waste management plan, I will not be shy in commending him for his successful initiative on plastic bags.
The civic amenity centres have also been a major success. Just a couple of weeks ago a carload of Ministers visited Dundalk where they proceeded to elbow each other out of the way in their enthusiasm to announce an extension to the town's civic amenity centre. While I was delighted at their visit and welcomed the announcement, I had no ambitions to be among them and kept well away from the event. I was one of the people who was instrumental in making sure the civic amenity centre was successful. I made a positive contribution to the debate and encouraged people to recycle.
Did the Ministers——
They never told me they were coming. As I said, I would not have wanted to be there in any case. Given my height, I would have been hit in the eye in the elbowing and was happy to watch from a distance. I wish they would come to the town more often or visit Drogheda which, like every town, needs a civic amenity centre. It is most unfortunate Drogheda does not have a civic amenity centre such as that in Dundalk which is an example for everyone. Its operators should be commended for the way they have expanded it.
I am delighted the civic amenity centre inDublin will accept Tetra Pak products. What about the example I raised earlier of an old woman of 89 years living in a local authority house? How will she and others in her position be able to visit civic amenity centres on a zimmer frame or walking stick? They are not polluters, but users of the products the polluters have given them. They do not have an option.
I have taken the opportunity presented by discussion of this amendment, which I do not criticise in any way - I completely support it, at least in theory - to raise the need to move quickly towards the use of the terminology of the "producer pays principle".
I cannot move an amendment to introduce a taxation scheme as it would cost money to the Exchequer and would be ruled out of order. Let us imagine, however, that we had a scheme which imposed no tax liabilities on recyclable packaging used by producers for their goods, for example, loaves of bread, while imposing taxation of up to 100% of the value of a product, for example, the packet of sausages referred to earlier, packaged in non-recyclable materials. One could then apply a sliding scale for other products. The introduction of such a mechanism for proactively pursuing the issue would immediately tackle the packaging problem.
In the north-east, the most significant element of waste - 83% - is generated by agriculture. Increasingly, when addressing these kinds of issues, we tend to focus on householders and devise plans to grab money from them. It is unfortunate that we do not take a broader view. I will conclude my remarks. I support the amendment.
With all the talk of sausages, my mouth is starting to water.
We will be discussing fish tomorrow, which is Friday.
Unfortunately I am not a vegetarian so a couple of fried sausages with a sprinkling of salt——
I strongly agree with the thrust of the amendment. I can even go along with the idea of the polluter pays principle because there is no satisfactory and agreed definition of who the polluter is. While I agree the polluter should pay, I do not agree with the Department, the European Commission and others on the definition of the polluter. It is certainly not the ordinary householder.
The sustainable ecological balance of the environment is an increasingly crucial concept. Unfortunately, I was not present when the Minister of State refused to accept the previous amendment which proposed to include in the Bill the release of genetically modified organisms. I understand he stated the matter is covered in other directives and so forth. The issue is intimately linked with the protection of our environment and the concept of sustainable ecological balance.
One must consider what is happening in biotechnology and what is being released into the wild, in the United States in particular, which is using its clout around the world to try and have its bioengineering and genetically modified corn, rice and so on foisted on the Third World in particular. This will become a major challenge in the years ahead. I foresee it posing a serious threat to the ecological balance of the environment.
It is a good concept to have included in legislation. While we have already referred to the question of pollution prevention at source, too much is left to the voluntary acts of businesses in respect of the reduction of waste and pollution. Big business is in it for profit. I accept that emissions have been cut in the automobile industry but in many other areas of business there is no incentive. It is purely a question of the balance sheet with them. If the profits look all right they do not mind polluting the environment. Responsibility should be on producers in this regard. There should be stringent requirements regarding research and development for the elimination of pollutants that are capable of being eliminated. Currently the incentive to eliminate does not exist and if the business world is not forced to do so, it will continue to pollute while maximising its profits.
I consider the definition of environmental protection as set out in the 1992 Act to be a good one that has worked well over the past ten years. It is, in fact, all embracing. "Sustainable ecological balance" is a somewhat unclear and difficult term for the Environmental Protection Agency to interpret - as it would be for the courts. "Environmental protection" has served us well over the years and it is one of a series of crucial definitions that have been amended on few occasions except in terms of mirroring a directive. I do not see any room for manoeuvre. It is based on the broad definition of environmental pollution in the Bill. We are already adding to the definition of environmental protection in the 1992 Act by referring to the concept of preservation of the quality of the environment as a whole, and this is consistent with the integrated pollution control directive - IPC.
I am not convinced that it is necessary to add the definition as proposed by Deputy Ryan, particularly as it is not necessary. It could be unduly limiting to include a list of the types of measures involved in protecting the environment. Legislation requires clear definitions in clear language. We must strive towards a balance. Sustainable development is just not synonymous with the environment; there is a link between the economy, the environment and the social factors and the balance has to be just right. The IPC systems in this country have set a headline and it has been a major achievement of Irish environmental practice. I do not believe the amendment is necessary.
Without demeaning what Deputy Ryan is trying to achieve, I believe the term "environmental protection" is clear and unequivocal while "sustainable ecological balance" is somewhat unclear. I am unable to accept the amendment.
Is the amendment being pressed?
According to the Minister of State, a new section has been substituted for section 4 of the 1992 Act. Our amendment states that "environmental protection" includes the preservation of the quality of the environment as a whole. It is my strong contention that this amendment sets out in far clearer terms exactly what constitutes environmental protection. To my mind the section as it stands is very weak. The Minister of State has referred to measures such as the polluter pays principle being a cornerstone of our environmental protection efforts. A definition which includes some of the measures involved in environmental protection, such as prevention at source and the precautionary principle of the polluter pays, is far more precise and detailed and is exactly the sort of direction we should be giving the EPA and other institutions rather than giving a definition that environmental protection is the preservation of the environment. This is tantamount to saying black is black. It does not really define or say anything. I would have thought that given the Minister of State's support, and correct insistence, on our need to embody principles such as the polluter pays or the precautionary principle, our amendment is exactly what is required if one wants to define what environmental protection means. The new section that is being proposed does so on a far weaker basis.
The only change to the section is the addition of three words. The operational definitions are in Part IV A of the 1992 Act, which covers the definitions of the prevention, limitation, elimination, abatement or reduction of environmental pollution. Pollution is defined on the next page and we will possibly be dealing with this later. I am advised that environmental protection, as defined in the legislation, is all embracing. We could set ourselves such a high standard of environmental legislation that few people might aspire to it which can have the reverse effect on business; it may close down businesses. There would be less people employed and while that might have its own benefits for the environment it would not be good for the economy.
As I pointed out, the phrase "sustainable development", which are buzz words all over Europe, recognises the importance of the social and economic aspects. I am convinced that the definition as set out in the Act which has been in operation for the past ten years is a good one and has worked well.
The Minister of State is correct about the word "sustainable" being commonplace throughout policies. While I agree with him that sustainability entails a balance between economic, social, environmental and ecological interests, I believe that is all the more reason it should be included in the definition proposed by our amendment. It would be appropriate to include in the definition that we are taking sustainability into account.
Deputy Ryan can be very convincing, but we will have to agree to disagree. There is no point in giving the impression that I am going to change my mind. This is not because I do not want to, but because I believe that this definition is embracing and has served us well.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, lines 4 and 5, to delete "health or the quality of the environment" and substitute ", animal or plant health or the quality of the environment, disrupt ecological systems".
While this is a lesser point than the previous one, it is equally valid. In our definition of pollution in regard to what we have just discussed, we are cognisant of pollution having been harmful to animal and plant health. I suppose the word"animal" would include us. That is a broader definition and is more appropriate than a narrow reflection of pollution that relates only to human health. Our amendment seeks to regard ecological systems as balanced, fluctuating, changeable systems, and we want a wording that would not lead to their disruption. I hope the Minister of State accepts that we should be concerned about pollution that affects other parts of nature, even if it does not have an immediate, obvious effect on human health.
The definition of environmental pollution has been expanded from the 1992 Act and the lead-in part that we are discussing derives from the IPPC directive. Section 6 states:
In this Act 'environmental pollution' means the direct or indirect introduction to an environmental medium, as a result of human activity, of substances, heat or noise which may be harmful to human health or the quality of the environment, result in damage to material property, or impair or interfere with amenities and other legitimate uses of the environment
(a) ’air pollution’ for the purposes of the Air Pollution Act 1987,
(b) the condition of waters after the entry of polluting matter within the meaning of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977,
(c) in relation to waste, the holding, transport, recovery or disposal of waste in a manner which would, to a significant extent, endanger human health or harm the environment and, in particular-
(i) create a risk to the atmosphere,waters, land, plants or animals,
(ii) create a nuisance through noise, odours or litter, or
(iii) adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest,
(d) noise which is a nuisance, or would endanger human health or damage property or harm the environment.
The definition, as it now stands, is quite comprehensive and I do not believe it is necessary or desirable to change it in the way proposed as it already covers the points made by Deputy Eamon Ryan.
I do not want to disrupt proceedings and I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 12, line 30, to delete "and land" and substitute ", land, landscapes, habitats and certain aspects of the built environment consistent with the application of the Planning Acts, the Wildlife Act and the National Monument Act".
In the definitions in the Bill, "land" includes "soil". It is valid to examine the effect on land in a slightly broader way to take into account the real value of a landscape in terms of tourism, etc. Habitats and landscapes have a value beyond their narrow definition as land and therefore the amendment seeks to recognise that land is more than physical, inert matter and that there is a range of landscape values and habitat values attached to it. These values are set out in the Planning Acts, the Wildlife Act and the National Monument Act and this amendment is to ensure that this is recognised.
The definition of "environmental medium" already includes the atmosphere, land, soil and waters. It is a broad definition and relates in particular to the media which serve as the main foci of the EPA regulations on emissions. It would not be appropriate to extend the definitions concerning the natural environment to expressly include aspects related to the built environment, as proposed. The definition is not confined to the elements as listed - it includes them and does not rule out the possibility of others. I believe we have covered the principal environmental media of direct relevance to the EPA and I do not propose to accept the amendment. Landscapes and buildings are matters for the planning authority and emissions, whether they affect the land, sea or air, are a matter for the EPA.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment in the interest of making some progress.
The improper disposal of chewing gum in public places and on promenades has been brought to my attention by people working for Cork City Council. We are spending vast sums of money to enhance the infrastructure of Cork city and the promenade on Patrick Street. However, people are disposing of chewing gum on the pavements. Is there any provision in the Bill whereby this could be discouraged by way of a local authority by-law - if this is deemed appropriate - by ministerial order or by banning sales of products that damage the environment? If not, it should be considered. Local authorities are spending huge sums of money to address this problem and it makes the paving and streets look very ugly and dirty.
I fully agree with the Deputy. Are there provisions to deal with the problem? Could a charge be levied against the producers of products such as chewing gum solely for the purchase of equipment by local authorities so they can clean the pavements? These machines are very expensive to buy and operate. Could a provision be made whereby people could have chewing gum if they wanted it but that they would have to pay enough money to clean it up where it is improperly disposed of? A very significant number of users of products such as chewing gumsimply throw them on the road.
Chewing gum presents a major problem. I read in recent days that the cost of removing it from an area of one square metre amounts to about €10 - I stand to be corrected. It is extremely expensive and those who throw it on the pavements obviously have no great respect for the environment.
We are now dealing with the EPA and the licensing system. Later, we will be examining the amendment of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and this will present an opportunity to discuss by-laws for local authorities. I would like to think that by-laws would resolve the problem. It is a matter in which the carrot, rather than the stick, is all-important. The publicity campaign to convince young people, or the not so young, that they should have more regard for the environment should be stepped up. The streets are almost littered with bins in many places. In the programme for Government we have referred to the fact that we are anxious to resolve such problems. If chewing gum was biodegradable it would not present any problems. I do not have an answer for Deputy Kelleher but the issue is very high on our agenda.
I am glad it is high on the agenda because it is causing significant difficulties for corporations and it is damaging the tourism industry. It is a matter about which I feel strongly.
I visited the Deputy's county on many occasions and I was told that he is continually raising this issue. We can work together, making use of his ideas, and if we do nothing but this we will have achieved something.
I thank the Minister of State.
I raised this issue on Question Time last Tuesday and got the impression that the Minister would be chewing on the issue over the coming months.
Section 6, which concerns environmental protection, pollution, environmental media and environmental quality standards, is the appropriate section under which to raise the issue of the open-cast lignite mine and power station proposed for Northern Ireland and the possible impact it will have, not only on the environment of Northern Ireland, but also on that of our jurisdiction. The air pollution that will be caused will affect Letterkenny and extend as far south as Newry. People were so concerned about the issue that they travelled to Dublin to raise it with us and they made a convincing and frightening argument. Dare I mention it, the British Medical Association, Northern Ireland division, opposes the mine and power station on the grounds of the effects of air pollution on human health.
We should put into practice what we are attempting to do here today. We should do this by asking the delegation to meet this committee and set out its concerns. Its main concern relates to lignite mining and the burning of lignite. Lignite is a particularly dirty fossil fuel. It would only be viable if there were a commercial agreement between the Republic and the Six Counties regarding the use of the electricity generated. We have it within our power to hammer a nail in the coffin of this proposal by making our views clear. The delegation should be met before irreversible decisions are made.
The group indicated that it would request a meeting with the committee. We will deal with that as soon as the request is received.
We committed ourselves to raising this as quickly as possible. We also asked them to make a formal application to meet the committee.
Regarding a proposed new plant, it will be covered under IPPC. There is provision for transboundary consultation. If there is one in the North that is going to have an effect there will be consultation. There would also have to be consultation if there was a plant in theBorder region that might affect the North. Provision is made for consultation and we will come across it later in the Bill.
I am glad that the Minister of State is aware of the issue. It would be ironic that as we are about to embark on a €600 million investment in Moneypoint to reduce emissions that we will experience serious transboundary pollution because of this proposed lignite mining and burning station. It will add significantly to CO2 emissions in that jurisdiction and will also have an impact on the quality of our environment. It will burn 15,000 tonnes of lignite daily for 30 years. This is quite a contribution to the air pollution problem on this island.
It is important that transboundary consultation is in place. I will attend the OSPAR Convention in Bremen next week and take the opportunity of discussing this on the margins of the meeting with Margaret Beckett, the secretary for the environment in Britain, or Mr. Elliot Morley, the new secretary, whom I know from my days in the marine portfolio.
Amendments Nos. 12 to 18, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 11. Amendments Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, can be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 12, lines 43 to 49, to delete all words from and including ", which" in line 43 down to and including "whole" in line 49.
I had tabled this amendment as I felt the section is unnecessarily detailed. Since then, I have looked at the report of the debate in the Seanad and noted the response of the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to the amendment. I understand and accept what he says and withdraw the amendment.
Regarding amendment No. 17, cost should not be a factor when determining improvements in our environment. In this amendment I ask that reference to costs should be dropped.
I referred to amendment No. 13 earlier. I am sure the IFA, IBEC and other groups concerned about certain aspects of the Bill approached other members. Amendment No. 13 refers to the best techniques as defined in the EU IPPC directive that will form the technical basis for the IPPC licensing system in this country, as in other member states. There is concern that the definition of the best available techniques is implemented in a consistent manner across the Union so that Irish industry is not put at a further competitive disadvantagevis-à-vis industry in other jurisdictions. The direct transposition of the definition, as written in the IPPC directive, would enhance such a level of consistency.
The Bill seeks to directly transpose the requirements of the EU IPPC directive. However, the definition of this in the Bill does not accurately reflect the directive in one significant respect. This section of the Bill aims to amend section 5 of the 1992 Act and provide for the definition of this as required under the IPPC directive. The proposed wording of amendment No. 13 would introduce a level of consistency in the Bill.
The wording of the definition of best available techniques comes directly from the IPPC directive. In overall terms, this represents an environmental standard that calls for a high level of protection for the environment as a whole, while balancing it against economic and technical considerations. As we discussed earlier, this is what we believe sustainable development to be about. The wording in the Bill represents the hard fought consensus achieved at EU level. The precise technical requirements represented by BAT will be influenced by ongoing work at the EU IPPC bureau in Seville to develop BAT guidance documents for each relevant sector. The definition of BAT represents a good balance between the economic and environmental elements of sustainable development.
I do not think it is desirable or necessary to move away from the directive definition as the amendments suggest. Deputy Allen's amendment proposes to add the words "relevant industrial sector" instead of "relevant class of activity specified in the First Schedule". The new words are not defined and it is not clear what they apply to. On the other hand, the classes of activity are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill. We cannot introduce uncertainty into the Bill.
The Green Party amendment proposes to delete the provision and disregard whether the techniques are used or produced within the State. This could potentially bring us into conflict with the EU in the context of the Single Market. We must retain the definition as it currently stands.
The difference between the two definitions has the potential to adversely affect certain older plants, such as combustion plants in the electricity sector. I am advised that the electricity industry is unique in that the running load factor of older plants varies year-on-year and within years, in light of system circumstances. I am further advised that the term "relevant industrial sector" should be substituted for "relevant class of activity", which would more accurately transpose the directive.
I was going to move amendments on this issue. I take the points the Minister of State and Deputy Allen have made.
On a point of order, which amendment is Deputy Morgan moving?
Amendments No. 11 to 18. Those relating to cost.
It was an aspiration.
I do not have the right to move amendments since I am not a member of the committee.
The Minister of State understood he was referring to his own amendments.
I am happy to sit here all day so long as the Chairman allows me to raise issues. We are likely to be punitive in our amendments in regard to Irish industry and essential services, for instance, in the electricity sector to which Deputy Allen referred. However, I am particularly concerned about incineration. I am setting my pitch at that level of industry because of its pollutant nature which produces high levels of dioxins. I acknowledge that we are being hard on Irish industry and that is not our intention. Perhaps we should examine that issue and hone the legislation to specify the different polluting potential of the various industries and see if we can amend the legislation accordingly. That is the nub of my contribution in terms of the cost issue.
Another issue which arises throughout the Bill is gender references to "he". I wonder if there is a dinosaur buried in the bowels of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government somewhere who refuses to recognise that a woman might seek to take out a licence or seek a copy of the report in the 21st century. There are copious references to "he". I do not know if it is an individual in the Department, but perhaps the Minister of State would ask the Department to recognise where we are with the gender balance issue.
I am slightly concerned that the Minister may be giving the impression that environmental benefits and our environmental standards are sometimes in inexorable conflict with our economic interests. The long-term development of our economy will actually be enhanced by the maintenance of environmental standards and by the development of technologies which are involved in the protection of our environment. If we are setting high standards, we may be setting the conditions by which we have an expertise in an area which we can sell elsewhere. As a country, we can only gain economically from protecting our environment and for having a reputation as a country which has the highest environmental standards.
When people come to Ireland, they expect a pristine environment. The Minister of State mentioned his own county of Donegal and he knows the value which is attached to the clean environment in attracting inward investment and tourism, as well as the benefits we can appreciate. I am wary of getting into a mindset where environmental regulation is viewed as being disadvantageous to our economy. In individual cases there may be economic difficulties with some of the environmental regulations we set. However, in general, if we have strong environmental standards, our economy will benefit.
The first amendment refers to the use of the word "possible" as opposed to "practicable". It is an appropriate change because I fear that intentions and words to follow best practice have not been followed through because we usually find a clause or a way out. We tell ourselves that we do not have to apply the highest standards and avoid the costs involved in protecting the environment in certain circumstances. I fear that the word "practicable" could be used in whatever way a person wanted and lead manufacturers or other companies to say a measure is not practicable and that, therefore, they would apply a lower standard or not eliminate emissions where it would have been possible. There needs to be flexibility. In some cases it may be impossible to reduce emissions but, in that case, "possible" is a better word because it tightens the legislation. Unfortunately, if we have a reputation for anything internationally in terms of environmental standards, it is one of being lax in the application of our laws.
If I heard the Minister of State correctly, he accepted a point to take into consideration whether or not techniques used or produced within the State might put us in breach of European competition rulings. Am I correct that he said that section might have to be deleted from the Bill? Does the Minister of State accept that? Our amendment seeks to delete it.
We must get away from the economic and technically viable conditions and look at the environmental costs and advantages. Our amendment might possibly be improved by a broader definition that would take into account economic and environmental costs and conditions. It is appropriate for us to go beyond just looking at the economic interests and those of businesses. Does the Minister of State intend deleting that sentence regarding whether something is produced in the State or not?
I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression. What I intended saying was that the Green Party proposal to delete the provision disregarding whether the techniques are used or produced in the State could potentially bring us into conflict with the EU in the context of the Single Market. I am not accepting the deletion.
In regard to the gender balance issue, the legal advice is that this Bill is an extension of the 1992 Act, and we must continue using the terms used in the Act, which was published before the introduction of "he" and "she". I appreciate that might be hard to accept.
Why not insert "or she" after it? Is it not permitted to do so under the Act? If the Minister of State can do so, why not do it? It is just two short words.
It goes back to the 1992 Act. The Deputy should not have the impression that we do not favour the gender balance. We do, but the legal advice is that because it goes into the 1992 Act, we should retain it. The Deputy can come back on this matter.
Therefore, we can amend it and come back to it.
What did Deputy Morgan say?
I did not say a word.
I do not have anything against ladies. Perhaps Sinn Féin has more respect for them, but we do too. This is just the advice which has been given.
I have to check the view that it goes back to the 1992 Act.
The Deputy can do so and perhaps he can revert to us with an amendment, so that he would at least have one.
I have a score of them.
Where? In relation to Deputy Ryan's question, getting the balance right is a serious matter and it is difficult to do. In section 7 reference is made to the best available techniques. We can overlook the first part, but I would like to draw his attention to the part in which is mentioned "the most effective and advanced stage in the development of an activity and its methods of operation, which indicate the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing . . ." and so on. That is good for the environment. Further down, however, it is found that this is balanced with other considerations. I agree the word "practicable" is somewhat weaker than "possible", but we are trying to find the balance between the environmental aspects and the economic aspects. That is the simple reason for doing that. We could have very strong environmental legislation but that would have effects on industry.
This is a win-win situation for the environment and the economy. If businesses reduce waste they will make savings, not in the immediate term if a capital investment is involved initially, but in the medium term. If industry is reducing waste then the environment wins too. It is about finding a balance. We have considered this very closely.
Would the Minister not agree that the word "practicable" is very loose in that it allows a huge breadth of interpretation? If something is possible, I am sure that the best technologies will be available, as the Minister has said. I have serious concerns because it seems we are setting the bar high and then allowing the jumper to jump under the bar because that is the only practicable thing to do. The provision is a complete get-out clause.
The problem I see here is that the definition of available techniques seems to water down section 5(1) of the 1992 Act as amended by this Bill. This section mentions, as was quoted earlier, "the most effective and advanced stage in the development of an activity and its methods of operation", and talks about "the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing, in principle, the basis for emission limit values designed to prevent or eliminate [an emission]." The definition of "available techniques", however, provides for the taking into consideration of the costs and advantages, which are very general criteria. In Deputy Ryan's amendment, the reference to taking into account the environmental costs and advantages certainly homes more tightly on what is needed, because we are talking about the effects on the environment. The definition of available techniques seriously waters down and qualifies what should be expected from section 5(1).
There are a number of issues I want to raise in relation to this section, which are not necessarily directly related to this amendment. In relation to monitoring and the monitoring processes available, I am seeking to make provision for monitoring accurately and continuously. That would tie down what is required in a much tighter fashion. Some of the requirements of this section are fairly loose in that regard. I will return to that at another stage.
The Deputy will find that the monitoring issues will come up in section 86, at which point we will be dealing with those issues specifically.
Deputy Higgins mentioned section 7 of the Bill, which amends section 5 of the 1992 Act. The wording in this section is taken from the directive. It is important that there is a level playing pitch throughout Europe. Very precise guidelines - although that is a contradiction - will be issued to all sectors from the bureau in Seville, where there will be representation and an input by both business and NGOs, who will look at this in great detail. It is not a question of our including the word "practicable" to make the provision too loose. This is what is in the directive and all sectors will be involved in the preparation of the guidelines.
Amendment No. 15 is in the name of Deputy Gilmore.
Deputy Gilmore is not here.
He has to move it.
Could somebody move it on his behalf?
He or somebody from his party must move it.
He wanted me to deputise for him, so can I move it? I work for all the members.
We have been very flexible with the Deputy so far, but his request goes a little too far.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 13, line 12, to delete "costs and".
What was the Minister's explanation?
I did not refer to that amendment. It was technical advice that we had received and the Deputy's amendment, to include the words "relevant industrial sector" instead of "relevant class"——
I am referring to amendmentsNos. 17 and 18.
It is the technical cost: the balance between the environment and the economy.
I still do not understand.
Again, the wording is taken directly from the directive. The Deputy proposes to delete "costs" and leave the wording as "taking into consideration the advantages".
Why should costs come into it?
It is in the directive. The Deputy wants to delete the word "costs", but costs will have to be taken into consideration because it may be impossible to eliminate emissions completely - it could cost millions.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 14, line 46, to delete "copy."." and substitute the following:
(d) notification of the preparation of the specification to be sent to every person who has made a written submission in relation to it or entered into correspondence with the Agency in relation to it,
(e) the specification to be published on its website, and
(f) any person who wishes to challenge the basis of a specification made according to subsection (3) may submit an appeal to An Bord Pleanála within 28 days of the specification being made stating the grounds for their objection. The Board will make a ruling on any objection within a reasonable period of time.’.”.
This is a very important amendment at a time when public participation and public access to records is a hugely controversial issue. We feel it is very important that the specification be published on a website without any great cost or difficulty, but also that notification be made to every person who has made a written submission. We are in favour of these amendments. Unfortunately, I have to leave to go to the Chamber, so I will read the Minister's response on the record later.
I presume this is one amendment the Government will accept. The extra notification as a result of the amendment is entirely reasonable. Any initial written submission should be on the website. Anyone challenging the basis of a specification may submit an appeal to An Bord Pleanála within 28 days. As a fallback position that should be accepted. The section should be slightly expanded to incorporate the rights of somebody who has sufficient interest, coming from whatever angle, to make initial submissions on the specifications, which would be made as part of the process by the agency.
Monitoring is specifically mentioned a number of times in section 7(5)(b)(x) and (xii). Is it relevant to talk about that now or should we leave it for another section given that it is mentioned again?
We will deal with the amendments first. We have a lot of amendments to go through and we will try and keep it relevant.
That is all right but I have an obligation in that if I do not refer to the issues I may not be permitted to move amendments on them later.
We can come back to this later under the relevant amendment.
That is all right.
Subsection (4) is under discussion, and the case made by Deputies Ryan and Higgins largely re-enacts the provision from the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 regarding publication of the BATNEEC, that is, best available technology not entailing excessive costs, which now is the BAT, best available technique specifications made by the agency under section 3(a). A copy of any such specifications shall be sent to the Minister, the local authorities, An Bord Pleanála and bodies that may be prescribed. Notice of a publication shall be put in Iris Oifigiúil and copies shall be made available to the public. The EPA does much of this already and also issues this on the website. Many people now have access to the Internet Do we have to fill up legislation with this?
On the proposals in the amendment, I understand it is already the board's practice to send a copy of a specification to anyone who makes a written submission about it. It is already the practice to put it on the website. Therefore, the amendments may not be necessary. We are talking about good administrative practice and that is being followed. It is not the sort of detail we need to put into the legislation. Looking at subsection (d), and I had some discussion with DeputyGilmore who had to leave to attend a meeting, I respectfully suggest, without any commitment, that I could look at that between now and Report Stage. I emphasise that I will not give an absolute commitment but allow me to discuss it with our professionals here.
On the final point it is not appropriate that an option should be given for specifications to be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. The area is within the technical remit of the agency and is a matter for decision by it. If the committee will leave the new subsection (d) with me I will look at it and see if I can come up with something.
Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 26 are related and will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 15, paragraph (a), line 15, to delete “€3,000” and substitute “€5,000”.
I tabled these amendments to bring the penalties in line with present day values. The penalties have not changed much except for conversion from punts to euro since 1992 and a minor change made in the Seanad. These amendments would reflect a greater deterrent to funders.
Regarding amendment No. 23, there is a problem because there is a limit in summary conviction of €3,000. Even if we wanted to increase it we could not do so. On increasing the figure from €15 million to €20 million, when the Bill was initiated it was €13 million and we increased it to €15 million in the Seanad which we feel is adequate. Increasing the level of fines as proposed in these amendments would be of doubtful benefit. There was an increase following debate in the Seanad and I doubt very much if increasing them further would deliver any tangible results. We discussed fines in detail here in connection with the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2002 and Deputy Allen at that time tabled an amendment suggesting that they be index-linked. I gave a commitment that the Bill, to be introduced hopefully later this year by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, would index-link all of the fines and take care of any increases.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 15, paragraph (b), line 6, to delete “€15,000,000” and substitute “€20,000,000”.
Will the Minister of State look at indexation?
There is no question about it, indexation will happen subject to the approval of the House.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 15, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
"(c) by inserting in subsection (2) after ’environment’, ’, and any remediation required,’, and”.
This amendment improves the provisions of section 9(2) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 as it applies to the matters to which a court will have regard when imposing a penalty. Under that subsection the court is required to have regard to the risk or extent of damage to the environment arising from the act or omission constituting the offence. When the courts are deciding on penalties for offences they should also be required to have regard to the costs of any site remediation that may become necessary on foot of the offence. This amendment adds this consideration to the factors to which the court must have regard.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 15, paragraph (c), line 18, to delete “€1,000” and substitute “€2,000”.
This was already discussed and I take the Minister of State's guarantee that there will be indexation.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 15, before section 11, to insert the following new section:
"11.-Section 13(4) of the Act of 1992 is amended-
(a) in paragraph (a), by inserting after ’photographs’, ’, record such information on data loggers, make such tape, electrical, video or other recordings’,
(b) in paragraph (b), by substituting ’, make such copies of documents and records (including records held in electronic form) found therein and take such samples’ for ’and take such samples’,
(c) in paragraph (c), by substituting ’such information,’ for ’such information, or’,
(d) in paragraph (d), by substituting ’(including records held in electronic form) and documents, or’ for ’and documents,’, and
(e) by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (d):
'(e) remove and retain such documents and records (including records held in electronic form) for such period as may be reasonable for further examination,’.”.
In view of the importance of implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation a range of additional powers is being given to the EPA in the Bill. The changes proposed in these amendments are technical but necessary, having regard to the experience of the agency in the various courts to date. They fill gaps which have emerged in the 1992 Act. In particular, the agency should be able to use modern information storage devices such as data loggers and other ways to gather evidence on site and to use this in a prosecution or other action. We will be dealing with some broadly similar amendments to section 14 in the Waste Management Act 1996. It is important that the EPA should be able to inspect and copy documents and records, including computer records, and if necessary remove and retain them for further examination. Similar provisions are contained in other comparable legislation. Overall, these proposed amendments to the IPPC code by inserting a new section 11 in the Bill clarify the powers of the agency under section 13 of the 1992 Act and will contribute to better implementation and enforcement. They will also ensure consistency between the IPPC and waste licensing courts.
I want clarification on this matter in regard to investigations carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency. We all agree with filling any loopholes which exist, but surely methods such as tape, video or other recordings would be admissible in court and could be used by the EPA in ongoing situations. I would be surprised if the EPA was not able to utilise evidence or backup such as that in carrying out its current remit under existing legislation, not just environmental legislation but in general.
Everyone agrees with the necessity. Since 1992 we have more developed legislation and different means of providing evidence. With regard to Deputy Higgins's question of the type of evidence such as video, sometimes this is questioned by judges. It is important in the legislation to have very tight and express rights in the interests of better enforcement. That is the only reason this is being introduced, as there are times such evidence may be questioned and not accepted. We prefer to keep the terms as tight as possible because there may be some major disasters and we do not want a clause there if the judges do not accept it.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 15, before section 12, but inChapter 1, to insert the following new section:
"12.-The following section is substituted for section 63 of the Act of 1992:
63.-(1) The Agency may request a local authority to furnish, within a specified period, to it information in relation to the performance by the authority, either generally or in a specific case, of a statutory function of that authority in relation to environmental protection and the authority shall comply with such a request.
(2) The Agency may, having notified the local authority of its intention to do so, carry out an assessment of the performance by a local authority, either generally or in a specific case, of a statutory function of that authority in relation to environmental protection; for that purpose the authority shall comply with any request for the furnishing to the Agency of information, records or reports or the results of any monitoring by the authority, or, in connection with the foregoing, the affording to the Agency of access to any premises occupied by the authority, made by the Agency during the course of such assessment.
(3) Having exercised its powers under subsection (1) or (2), and having considered any information furnished to, or otherwise coming into the possession of, it in consequence of that exercise, the Agency may, with a view to ensuring the satisfactory performance by the local authority concerned of the function in question, do all or any of the following:
(a) issue such advice and recommendations to the authority as it considers necessary,
(b) provide, on such terms and conditions as may be agreed, such assistance, support or guidance as the Agency considers, in consultation with the authority, would be helpful,
(c) without prejudice to any of its powers under this Act or any other enactment, issue to the authority the terms of a direction (“the proposed direction”) it proposes to issue, under subsection (5), to the authority requiring it to carry out, cause to be carried out, or arrange for, within a specified period, such action related to the function in question as the Agency considers necessary for the purposes of environmental protection.
(4) The proposed direction shall specify a period within which the local authority may make observations to the Agency in relation to the proposal to make the direction (and the authority may make such observations within that period accordingly).
(5) After the expiration of the period referred to in subsection (4) and consideration of any observations made by the local authority under that subsection, the Agency may confirm, with or without modification, or decide not to confirm its proposal to make the direction concerned, and, in a case where the proposal is confirmed, the Agency shall issue to the authority the direction concerned accordingly and the authority shall comply with the direction within the period specified therein.
(6) Notwithstanding anything in this section, where the Agency is of the opinion that the failure of a local authority to perform in a satisfactory manner a statutory function of the authority in relation to environmental protection is resulting in significant environmental pollution, or in a real and imminent risk of such pollution, the Agency may direct the authority to carry out, cause to be carried out, or arrange for, within a specified period, such action related to the function in question as the Agency considers necessary for the purposes of preventing, limiting, eliminating, abating or reducing such pollution, and the authority shall comply with such a direction.
(7) Where a local authority fails to comply with a direction issued under subsection (5) or (6), the Agency may carry out, cause to be carried out, or arrange for, such action related to the function in question as it considers necessary to ensure compliance with the direction and the costs of such action may be recovered by the Agency from the authority as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction.
(8) A local authority shall be guilty of an offence if it-
(a) fails to comply with a request under subsection (1) or (2), or
(b) fails to comply with a direction under subsection (5) or (6).
(9) The Minister may, with the consent of such other (if any) Minister of the Government as the Minister considers appropriate having regard to the functions of that other Minister, make regulations enabling the Agency to exercise, in relation to a public authority (other than a local authority within the meaning of this section) that, in the opinion of the Minister, performs a statutory function in relation to environmental protection, the powers conferred on the Agency by this section in relation to a local authority.
(10) Nothing in this section shall be construed as enabling the Agency to exercise any power or control under this section in relation to the making of a decision on an application for a permission under section 34 of the Act of 2000.
(11) In this section, "local authority" has the meaning assigned to it by the Local Government Act 2001.'.".
On Second Stage it was announced that it is proposed to strengthen significantly the powers of the EPA under section 63 of the 1992 Act to ensure that local authorities can exercise their environmental responsibilities. The amendment would set out to further deliver on the commitment which we gave in the programme for Government to drive forward environmental enforcement and compliance. At the outset, the good work being done by many local authorities in fulfilling their responsibilities for environmental protection across a range of areas must be acknowledged.
Much progress has been made even if this news does always receive the attention it deserves. Not all local authorities are fully discharging their environmental responsibilities. Some indeed have much ground to make up. In terms of how this is to be done, sections 56 and 57 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 already enable the EPA to provide advice and assistance to local authorities for the purposes of environmental protection. This working together approach is one that we all wish to see further developed, including as part of the work of the planned office of environmental enforcement. However, there are times when more is required and section 63 of the 1992 Act balanced the need for advice and assistance to local authorities with a recognition that the EPA needs powers to ensure local authorities are performing their environmental functions in a satisfactory manner.
The general supervisory role of the EPA envisaged under section 63 has not developed as originally foreseen. This is due in part to some rigidities in the wording of the section and in part to a "let out" clause in the section which left room for argument about financial resources available to local authorities to perform the functions in question. This needs to be addressed so that section 63 becomes an instrument for real action by the agency and local authorities in cases where this is necessary to protect the environment. The new section 63 provides for a graduated series of actions by the EPA where it is concerned as to the environmental performance of a local authority. Under the new section the agency will under subsection (1) continue to have powers to request information from local authorities with regard to the discharge of their statutory environmental protection functions, either in particular cases or on a more general basis.
This concept is added to in subsection (2) to also enable the agency to carry out broader assessments and audits of local authority performance. On the basis of information obtained from a local authority the agency will be enabled to provide advice, assistance or support or, where appropriate, issue a proposed direction to the authority to take specific action within a reasonable timescale. Where a proposed direction is issued, the local authority will be given the opportunity to make observations to the agency and following consideration of these views the agency may confirm the direction, amended as necessary, and the authority will be required to act accordingly or it may decide to confirm the direction in light of the views expressed. These provisions are set out in sections 3 to 5.
We must provide for instances where an emergency arises or is imminent. The provisions in subsections (3) and (4) could not ensure timely action. Accordingly, subsection (6) caters for such situations and enables the agency to issue a binding direction as a matter of urgency relating to significant environmental pollution. Subsection (7) empowers the agency to act where the local authority fails to comply with the direction and recover costs. The following subsection makes it an offence for an authority not to comply with requests for information or a direction.
Subsection (9) enables the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, following consultation with other relevant Ministers, to extend the operation of the section to public authorities which have environmental protection functions. Taken together, the provisions of the new section 63 will enhance the capacity of the agency to work to improve the environmental performance of local authorities where this is necessary.
I will be opposing this amendment as it was only published yesterday. It gave the Opposition little opportunity to study and take expert advice on its implications. It was published yesterday when most Deputies were tied between parliamentary questions and business in the House. I could not get expert advice on this amendment from local authority sources or from a legal expert.
Under the proposals, I fear the agency will have powers to interfere with the functions of a local authority. That is my layman's reading of it. In the proposed subsection (6), when we are talking about imminent risk of pollution and significant environmental pollution, can this be interpreted in the context of waste collection? Could it be interpreted in terms of people's refuse not being collected due to refusal or failure to pay refuse charges? Could the agency put undue pressure on the authority to take action against people? I cannot interpret the section, so I am working on the principle that I am opposing it until it is interpreted. It is a very detailed amendment on Committee Stage. Why was it not in the original Bill, and why is it being pushed through now at short notice without giving the committee an opportunity to consider it and to take advice on it? As I am not sure, I am opposing it. I may have a different attitude to it on Report Stage.
Could we leave it on the agenda?
I take a slightly different attitude. Like Deputy Allen, I too saw this amendment at short notice, but I am inclined to support it as enthusiastically as I did the other amendments this morning. I support it on the grounds of it being a positive move, because I know of a number of local authorities which have experienced fairly serious environmental issues. In one case, raw sewage poured into a lake on the edge of a town, and that was going on for almost 12 months. The local authority persistently did nothing about it. It took significant pressure from the EPA to get the authority to move. If this amendment were in place, the EPA could have got that authority to move very quickly.
I acknowledge the possibility that this amendment could be used in a way not evident to us at the moment because of our lack to time to scrutinise its details. My instinct is to support it, and I will try to sort it out before we get to Report Stage.
There is no question but that local authorities must be called to account if they are negligent regarding environmental issues. There are cases where local authorities have made bad mistakes which have resulted in pollution in streams and so on. A local authority should be made amenable in that regard. I agree, however, with Deputy Allen. This amendment gives a huge, wide-ranging authority to the EPA in an unspecified way, or in ways which we cannot see at the moment. The Minister therefore must spell out much more clearly the precise implications in terms of the powers it will give the agency vis-à-vis the local authority. For example, does this section give the agency the power to police section 30 of the Act? That is a key question for the Minister.
Consider the following paragraph of the proposed new section:
"The agency may request a local authority to furnish, within a specified period, to it information in relation to the performance by the authority, either generally or in a specific case, of a statutory function of that authority in relation to environmental protection, and the authority shall comply with such a request."
Is the power being given there so general that the onus put on an authority by section 30 with regard to the recouping of the costs of landfill or incinerators effectively makes the agency a policing agency in this regard? We have serious problems with section 30 because of the wide-ranging implications that would follow from it. Householders could end up paying speculative land prices. If 100 acres, or possibly less, are bought from a land speculator for zillions, section 30 requires that the householder and other people availing or forced to avail of the facility provided will have to pay for it. Section 30 is quite categorical in that respect.
Many things can happen by omission. It is possible, because of political and even commercial realities, that the local management, which is in effect given the power, might not insist on the exact implementation of section 30 because of its implications. I am asking the Minster of State to confirm or deny that the agency is being given the power to put a whip to the back of the local authority to make it fully implement section 30. The agency could force the authority to do its bidding in this regard, and leave it guilty of an offence if the order was not complied with. That is one scenario that occurs to me. There could undoubtedly be many more. I support Deputy Morgan's view to the extent that where there are obvious breaches of environmental law, the authorities must be amenable: there is no question about that. Regarding section 30, however, I do not think Deputy Morgan would be prepared to give it the same benefit of the doubt that he was inclined to give earlier.
We could sort the problem in two ways. We could talk this out until 3.30 p.m. and we will not have to take another day. We would have time to look at it. Should we adjourn until 3.30 p.m.?
No. We will finish the section.
I agree with Deputy Allen that the main concern of members regarding this section is that we have not had time to see the real or possible implications of the amendment. It needs far more serious teasing out than can be managed in the time given today. I do not know how we will solve the problem. Perhaps the Minister can clarify matters. I am not clear on the relationship between this amendment and the effect it might have on the implementation of section 30 of the Bill. I would like more time to look at it. I would otherwise be speaking in a vacuum because of not having had an opportunity to fully consider the amendment.
The Minister indicated on Second Stage that the amendment is proposed to strengthen the section. I accept the amendment was circulated only a few days ago and is quite detailed. I know members would like me to take the opportunity to thank the Bills Office and the officials of my Department who were still working at 4 a.m.
Deputy Higgins referred to section 30. This deals with the charges of the landfill, and that will continue to be a matter for the manager. The agency will not be dictating to the manager what the charges should be. This is about the very significant and serious failure on the part of some local authorities to perform their statutory functions. One failure, for example, relates to the creation of waste management plans. The agency can pursue the local authority on this matter. This will not happen immediately. There are a number of stages to be gone through, as outlined in the subsections. The agency will firstly give advice and assistance. A draft directive will then be followed by consultation. Then, in the unlikely event of action not being taken, it might be necessary to give a direction to the local authority. This would not happen overnight. While I appreciate that members did not have much time to consider this, it is in the best interest of every one of us. It is a question of using a stick and carrot to ensure the local authority follows its statutory obligation to ensure there is no significant failure to perform its functions. That is the essence. We are not talking about the agency pursuing them for household waste in situations where they are not performing their duties.
We will give all the members a few extra hours to consider the Bill. We agreed this morning that we would conclude our business today at 3.30 p.m. We have reached that time.
Why was the measure not included in the original Bill?
That is a plus for ourselves. We went through it after debate and discussion. That is the advantage of such debate and discussion in the Dáil and the Seanad. When we sat down and looked at it later, we felt it would be necessary to include it. When we table a large number of amendments, one can ask why we did not see any reason for them at first. We can all be wise in hindsight.
A debate is what the Minister is having with me now.
We thank the Minister, his officials and the committee members.