It would be premature to comment in detail on the relevant opinion of the Advocate General, given the further consideration which must be given to this matter by the European Court. However, I intend that the opinion will be carefully assessed and where gaps have been identified in our current control regime these will be urgently rectified. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that this case relates to past activities and, in the interim, substantial advances have been made in the statutory provisions governing waste management in Ireland, and their enforcement.
The Waste Management Act 1996, as amended by the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 and the Protection of the Environment Act 2003, along with a range of supporting regulations, have brought the law in relation to waste into line with best European practice. The licensing regime operated by the EPA has also significantly evolved and over 160 waste licences have been issued by the agency to date. The provision of modernised waste infrastructure and services, all fully licensed, is continuing at an accelerated pace.
A comprehensive review of waste management policy, Taking Stock and Moving Forward, issued in April 2004, demonstrated considerable advances in the provision of waste services between 2001 and 2003, for example, the number of bring banks increased from 1,400 to 1,700, and the number of civic amenity sites increased from 46 to 61 and the position regarding licensed landfill capacity also showed improvement.
I regard enforcement as a key element in making further progress. This objective is being advanced in a number of ways. There has been considerable strengthening of enforcement powers and penalties under the Protection of the Environment Act 2003. Some €7 million has been allocated for the first year of a major five-year campaign of waste enforcement activity with the objective of supporting and enhancing local authority enforcement activity. The Office of Environmental Enforcement, OEE, has been established and has in turn established a national enforcement network to ensure a consistent standard of enforcement quality and evenness of activity across local authorities. The OEE has recently engaged consultants to conduct a study of unauthorised waste activities, which will include establishing the extent of unauthorised activities, a review of current procedures and the development of guidance on investigation of unauthorised activity.
I intend to continue to place major emphasis on ensuring further progress, including any further measures which may prove necessary in response to the prospective judgment of the European Court.