Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Questions (380)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

510 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has taken steps to discourage illegal dumping either in landfills or throughout the countryside; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3208/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Better enforcement of the waste management code has been, and continues to be, a major priority for me since coming into office. In this regard, I have introduced or arranged for a number of important initiatives, the most significant of which are as follows: the establishment in October 2003 of a new Office of Environmental Enforcement, OEE, within the Environmental Protection Agency. The mobilisation of the new office, which is focusing particularly on the waste sector in its early stages of operation, brings greater professionalism to environmental enforcement by having a dedicated and fully resourced team with extensive powers. As a result, we will be much better placed to ensure that those who flout the law and cause environmental pollution are held to account.

At local authority level, I announced last summer the allocation of some €7 million from the environment fund to support the first year of a major five year programme of waste enforcement by local authorities and further funding, on a sliding scale, will follow in the following four years. The aim of this programme is to provide a stronger and more visible local authority enforcement presence on the ground and to ensure more frequent inspecting of permitted waste facilities, speedier responses to reports of illegal dumping and more widespread co-operation with the gardaí in conducting checks on vehicles involved in the movement of waste.

In terms of waste legislation, I have strengthened the enforcement provisions of the waste code in a number of ways through the Protection of the Environment Act 2003. In particular, the Act has provided for the following: significant increases in the fines for offences, up to a maximum of €15 million for conviction on indictment; reversal of the burden of proof in certain cases so that it will be up to the defendant to prove that an activity did not cause environmental pollution; the introduction of a presumption under which landowners can, by virtue of certain factors, be deemed to be complicit in illegal dumping activities on their lands, unless the contrary can be proved; and strengthening of the powers of "authorised persons" under the Waste Management Acts in regard to the stopping, inspection and detention of vehicles. In addition, in support of more effective involvement of the gardaí in certain enforcement activities, a mechanism has been introduced under which the Garda Commissioner can appoint members of the Garda Síochána to be "authorised persons", ensuring that the powers under the Acts can be madeavailable, speedily, to individual gardaí, where necessary.

I am confident that the combination of all these measures will lead to a more vigorous enforcement regime in regard to waste matters, serving a dual deterrent and detection purpose. I will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that these new structures, resources and powers work well and to identify any further measures that experience may demonstrate to be necessary. I will also be taking account of the outcome of a number of major investigations into illegal waste activities which are being advanced by the Garda Síochána's National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.