Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (3, 4)

Arthur Morgan

Question:

3 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures he is taking to address the serious problem of illegal dumping of waste from the State in the Six Counties and the discussions which have been held with the authorities in the North on this problem. [7323/04]

View answer

Arthur Morgan

Question:

128 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures he is taking to address the serious problem of illegal dumping of waste in the State and of waste from the State being disposed of illegally in the Six Counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7324/04]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 128 together.

There can be no excuse for illegal waste activities, irrespective of whether they take the form of illegal dumping within the State or the illegal exportation of waste to another jurisdiction. I have, therefore, introduced a number of significant initiatives designed to achieve more vigorous enforcement of the waste code.

I took the opportunity by way of the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 to provide new enforcement powers for the environmental authorities concerned and to increase the maximum fines that can be imposed for contraventions of the waste code. I have recognised the need for improved structural arrangements to underpin the enforcement effort. Last October I announced details of the establishment of a new Office of Environmental Enforcement, OEE, located within the Environmental Protection Agency. While it has a wide remit, the OEE, at my request, is focusing on waste related enforcement activities as a priority.

I have allocated €7 million from the environment fund to support the first year of a major five year programme of local authority waste enforcement activities. The aim is to provide a stronger and more visible local authority enforcement presence on the ground and ensure more frequent inspections and speedier responses to reported instances of illegal dumping.

I am not in a position to comment on individual cases of suggested illegal dumping in this jurisdiction as the investigation of such complaints is a matter for the relevant local authority, the OEE and, in some cases, the Garda. On reported incidences of illegal cross-Border dumping in Northern Ireland, the OEE is considering how the extent of such incidences might be more precisely established. I am aware that there are ongoing contacts on individual cases between the relevant authorities, North and South. I have also recenltly received correspondence on the matter from Omagh District Council, in response to which I have sought a report from the OEE. The relevant authorities in this jurisdiction will co-operate actively with the authorities in Northern Ireland with a view to dealing effectively with illegal cross-Border movements of waste.

Is the Minister satisfied with the action being taken by his Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, local authorities and the OEE? If so, why is the activity of illegal dumpers continuing? If not, what action will he take to make the relevant groups more effective? He will agree that they have not been effective given that between six and eight 40-foot trucks per day are trundling in and out of Eskra, County Tyrone, containing documents from a Department. Does he agree that waste from the State is mounting in illegal dumps throughout the North, in Border areas in particular, because of a lack of activity and seriousness on the part of the relevant agencies in pursuing the illegal operators? Does he further agree that it is increasingly evident that illegal waste contractors are getting a clear message that they are free to continue their illegal activity, in the North in particular?

I agree with the Deputy in that there was a weakness in the system and that we needed to upscale enforcement of waste regulations substantially. We have done this in the past year with the support of all Members of the Oireachtas and it is already beginning to have a significant effect.

I do not agree that wholesale dumping is taking place in Northern Ireland but if Sinn Féin, given its extensive contacts, has information on who is engaged in illegal dumping, I would be delighted to receive it. Equally, I would be very pleased if it informed the Garda or the OEE in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Or the PSNI.

Yes. All of these bodies can combat the problem. I can only act on the facts as they are presented but if the Deputy has more information, we would be more than happy to receive it.

It is not necessarily illegal to ship waste, for which there is a legal basis. There are legal activities but as the Deputy is well aware, there are always those who seek to undermine and break the law, and they can be very clever in doing so. We must be ever vigilant regarding such activities. The OEE which is now beginning to take major action will certainly be of great assistance.

As a matter of interest to the House, I was astonished about ten days ago while trying to get onto the M50 not far from Rathfarnham when I saw a major roadblock. When I approached it, I asked what it was for and was told it had been initiated by the local authority and the Garda to detect illegal dumping. It was the first time I had come across such a roadblock.

Did they suspect the Minister?

No. It was a spot check. I was thrilled to see the authorities doing such a check and assure the Deputy that they were surprised to see me. Everybody was happy.

Such activities are very much part of the efforts being made by the local authorities, the Garda and the OEE within the Environmental Protection Agency. I very much welcome this development and hope to see many local authorities and the Garda co-operating in making spot checks throughout the country. If they do not rid us entirely of the problem, we can certainly reduce it to a manageable level. Those operating illegally will be brought to book. Any effort Members of the House can make in achieving this end will be very welcome.

Did the Minister discuss specific dumps in his contacts with agencies in the North? Were investigations launched? If so, when will the results be available and will the House be informed of them? Does the Minister agree that the Government's failure to pursue a policy of reduce, reuse and recycle is one of the root causes of the waste management crisis and fuelling the illegal dumping of waste?

I have stated I recently received correspondence on the matter from Omagh District Council, in response to which I sought a report from the OEE. Obviously, there is much contact at official level. I do not have any further details of individual contacts but my Department certainly works very closely with its co-Department in Northern Ireland. We are involved in many issues together. There is weekly contact. As the Deputy knows, we are taking an all-island approach to resolving some waste management issues.

The illegal dumpers are also taking an all-island view.

If the Deputy and his party could be of assistance, we would welcome it.

Last summer I visited——

We must proceed to the next question.

——every location in south Tyrone.

Question No. 4, please.

I am delighted with the success of the Race against Waste campaign. I was surprised and very heartened to find out today that some of the St. Patrick's Day parades had adopted the theme "reduce, reuse and recycle". If this is not driving the message home and winning the argument, I do not know what is.

St. Patrick will look after the snakes.

I am sure he will. He drove the snakes out of Ireland.

He did not get all of them.

He might also help us to drive out the illegal dumpers and their fellow travellers.