Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (27, 28)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

18 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will elaborate on his recent comments that action against illegal waste activity would have the highest priority in his ministerial role; the efforts he will make to stamp out illegal waste activity throughout Ireland; the specific measures he proposes to take; the timetable for an action plan on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27326/04]

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Kathleen Lynch

Question:

58 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the details of the new guidelines he is considering to force illegal waste operators and landowners to remove refuse from illegal dumps rather than treat it on site; if he has met the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the scope for accelerating and sharpening action against illegal waste operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27327/04]

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 58 together.

Tackling environmental crime, including Illegal waste activity, demands the highest priority. While such enforcement is a matter for the local authorities and the office of environmental enforcement, I am determined to ensure that they actively use the legislative framework and resources now in place. Very significant powers are available to local authorities under the Waste Management Act 1996 to enable them to tackle illegal waste activity, and they were further strengthened by the Protection of the Environment Act 2003. They are empowered to order measures to be taken in relation to the disposal of waste, including the remediation of any effects arising from illegal activities. They may directly take appropriate actions to remedy or counteract such activities and to recover their costs through the courts. They also have substantial powers to halt vehicles, inspect premises and examine records. Maximum penalties of €15 million and-or a ten year sentence attaching to illegal waste activities are also substantial.

To assist local authorities in acting on these powers some €7 million has been allocated from the environment fund to directly support a more vigorous approach to environmental enforcement, with a particular emphasis on combating dumping and other unauthorised waste activities. This is now being reflected in the presence of additional enforcement personnel on the ground.

I have met the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, within which the OEE is located, and have stressed the importance I attach to its work. The office is well placed to mobilise a co-ordinated national response across all local authorities to what is a national priority. Those involved in environmental crime do not respect local authority boundaries or national frontiers and our response to them must be as comprehensive and sophisticated as possible.

I am particularly concerned to ensure that detected illegal landfills are dealt with to the highest environmental standards. My Department is developing guidelines on best practice in this regard in consultation with the OEE. I intend shortly to issue these as policy directions under the power available to me in the Waste Management Acts.

In addition, a comprehensive study has been commissioned by the OEE to establish and document the extent of unauthorised waste activities in Ireland. Among the objectives of the project are to review and document current procedures and practices used by the relevant authorities to investigate unauthorised waste activities, as well as the use of powers available to tackle unauthorised activities. I will carefully consider the results of this study to identify any further actions that may be necessary in consequence of its findings.

The OEE has also established a working group on unauthorised waste, including representatives of the local authorities and my Department, whose functions include co-ordination of enforcement actions against companies and individuals involved in the illegal movement and disposal of waste in Ireland. I am fully supporting this more integrated approach to enforcement.