Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Questions (8)

Bernard Allen

Question:

137 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the national waste management plan will be published; and if he will make a statement on his plans to deal with toxic and nuclear waste. [2845/04]

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Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Under the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2003, each local authority is required to make a waste management plan in respect of its functional area. All local authorities involved in the waste management planning process have made plans and are now actively engaged in the process of implementation.

My Department has been developing a national overview of waste management plans. This national overview will not take precedence over the current generation of waste management plans; rather it is designed to provide a composite national picture of the infrastructure and services which the plans provide for, to outline progress achieved and to address issues which have arisen in the implementation process to date. The national overview is at an advanced stage and I expect it will be concluded very shortly.

Responsibility for the preparation of a national hazardous waste management plan is assigned to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, under the Waste Management Act 1996. The agency published such a plan in 2001, setting out recommendations in respect of four main areas: implementation of a national hazardous waste prevention programme; improved measures for the collection of hazardous wastes from households, small and medium enterprises, agriculture and other sources of unreported hazardous wastes; provision of requisite infrastructure to attain national self-sufficiency in the recovery and disposal of hazardous wastes; and identification, risk assessment and, where necessary, remediation of sites where hazardous wastes were disposed of in the past.

A committee, chaired by the agency, has been established to oversee the implementation of the plan. In addition, under section 26 of the Waste Management Act 1996, relevant public authorities are required to have regard to the plan and, where they consider it appropriate to do so, to take measures to implement or otherwise give effect to recommendations contained in it.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It must also be borne in mind that activities involving hazardous waste are strictly regulated under the waste management licensing system.

In relation to the safe management of nuclear waste, it should be borne in mind that Ireland's radioactive waste is mainly low level and low volume and arises from hospital, educational and industrial applications. All users of radioactive materials in Ireland do so under licence from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. Radioactive waste is currently stored in hospitals, third level educational establishments and on industrial premises also under licence from the RPII. The RPII inspects storage premises regularly to ensure that licence conditions are being upheld.

While the RPII does not consider that radioactive waste is stored unsafely, storage in diverse locations is not an acceptable long-term solution and is inconsistent with Council Directive 2003/122/Euratom on the control of high-activity sealed radioactive sources and orphan sources which came into force on 31 December 2003. Both the RPII and my Department have been exploring possible locations for a storage facility. A suitable location has yet to identified.

I have heard enough to know the Minister is putting the cart before the horse. He is admitting in the Dáil that he expects local authorities to produce a waste management plan, yet no national waste management plan exists. Would the Minister agree that it is highly negligent to involve himself in very expensive advertising campaigns on television and radio, when people cannot implement the composting, recycling or minimisation of waste due to a lack of facilities? People are on a guilt trip over domestic waste and at the same time the Minister has no national waste management plan.

Has he a secret plan to introduce incineration rather than to reduce, recycle or compost waste? Is incineration at Ringaskiddy and in County Meath a fact now and is he proceeding to introduce incineration into Ringsend? Is the Minister implementing a secret plan by stealth? He continues to lecture local authorities about their lack of plans but will he come clean and inform the House of his national plan for waste management?

I am not surprised that the Deputy, a member of the Fine Gael Party who brought in the legislation, does not know what is in the legislation they introduced. It delegated specific authority. We agreed in Ireland to a regional approach to the implementation of the hierarchy of integrated waste management plans. I am glad to say that in spite of the bleating from the Fine Gael and Labour parties on this issue, these plans are being put in place and what is involved is quite clear in the public domain.

I said I would give a national overview of all the plan, so that we could have a clear picture nationally about what is happening. We will be able to identify how advanced each region is under the key headings of reducing, recycling facilities, composting facilities, major waste stations and all the issues involved. That will show the progressive regions. The proposals on thermal treatment, residual landfill and so on will be quite clear from the plan, which was agreed by the Oireachtas. The rainbow Government of which the Deputy's party was a member led the debate in 1996 on the waste management structure that we are implementing because we thought it a wise approach and supported what the rainbow Government did in 1996.

The plans are quite clear; there is nothing secretive about them. We know what is required in term of termal treatment, residual land fill and recycling facilities and these are going in at quite a pace, as the Deputy knows. I was in Cork last week and was delighted to see the 'pay for weight' system in operation. I would advise anybody in the media who is interested in seeing how these things work to look at the extraordinary technology involved. The back-up computerisation system in the lorry is such that each householder can be told what is happening.

The public knows about the plans and what is happening in their regional area. That is the basis of going forward. The Deputy and the Fine Gael Party, in spite of having introduced the legislation, seem to ignore the facts and pretend that nothing is in place, while the public is getting on with solving the crisis of waste.

The six minutes for this question are concluded.

The Minister spent most of the time speaking but I did not get an opportunity to ask supplementary questions.

Surely the Minister cannot waffle out of the situation. That is ridiculous. I have one supplementary question. Where is he proposing to store the nuclear waste? He said in committee that four sites were being considered. Where are they?

I regret I could not answer the question in full, but the remainder will be made available.

I ask Deputy Allen to resume his seat.

On a point of order, the Minister deliberately wasted time giving a history lecture to the Opposition Members. If that is the way it will proceed, we are wasting our time here

I am asking Deputy Durkan to resume his seat.

You can. The Chair could have interrupted the Minister when he was wasting time, but he did not.

The Chair has no control over the length of replies. If Deputies are not happy with the way questions are organised, I suggest they go to the Dáil reform committee.

The detail is in the question, as the Chair rightly said. I could not finish within the rules of the House. That is not my fault. The information will be made available to the Deputies. The final decisions——

The Minister initially had two minutes, which the Chair intervened to point out and the Minister resumed his seat. Deputy Allen then took two minutes to ask a question and the Minister took another two minutes. I intervened to tell the Minister the six minutes were up. I now call Question No. 139

I think it is Question No. 138.

Question No. 139 in the name of Deputy Joe Higgins as Deputy Gilmore is not here.

On a procedural matter, a Cheann Comhairle, can Deputy Gilmore's Question No. 138 not be taken when I am here?

A Priority Question is never taken unless the Deputy who submitted it is present.