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Waste Management

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (39)

Pádraig O'Sullivan


39. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will expedite legislation to amend the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 to provide a lawful basis for local authorities to use closed-circuit television, CCTV, to detect and prosecute illegal dumping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61339/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I ask the Minister of State about plans to expedite legislation to amend the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and Waste Management Act 1996 to provide a lawful basis for local authorities to use CCTV to detect and prosecute illegal dumping.

I thank the Deputy. It is a question close to my heart. I spent several years in local government and came across this matter. My Department published the general scheme of the circular economy Bill 2021 on 15 June 2021. It is my intention under the Bill to facilitate not only the use of CCTV but also the use of a broad range of audiovisual recording equipment in order to assist local authorities in their efforts to combat litter and illegal dumping. Drafting of the Bill is well advanced, as is, I understand, the pre-legislative scrutiny process before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. The Bill will be published and enacted as soon as possible after pre-legislative scrutiny has been completed and I have considered the report of the committee. I look forward to receiving the committee's recommendations and will respond constructively to them.

A combination of legislation and guidance will help to ensure the processing of personal data obtained through the use of CCTV and audiovisual equipment may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing both litter and waste legislation, thus providing an important deterrent in order to protect our environment from the scourge of illegal dumping while at the same time respecting the privacy of our citizens.

The Deputy knows this type of crime is often furtive and it is a shameful act. People do it when they think nobody's looking. We cannot cover the country with CCTV but in certain locations, such as at council recycling facilities where people might just rock up and throw stuff on the ground, it would really help with the problem. The use of audio equipment also helps and I have seen cases where local authorities call out people who are dumping through a loudspeaker. They record the details of a car, such as the registration number, and send them a fine afterwards.

Penalties are not the only element but there is a persistent recidivist section of the population - a small minority - that causes much of the waste being thrown around. I do not want to drive through rural Ireland and see sofas, cars and things thrown into fields. I would be very happy for us to improve enforcement and catch people doing this.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. As he said, none of us wants to drive through rural Ireland or even the outskirts of Cork city in my case, where we can see sofas, washing machines, dishwashers; you name it and it is there, unfortunately, in many of the ditches and dykes, especially on the county boundaries with the city.

The Minister of State mentions the response of the local authorities and all the local authorities I deal with are excellent in cleaning up initiatives and anti-littering units. They are well resourced and very good at their job. Unfortunately, much of the interaction I have with local authorities in Cork indicates their wariness at being saddled with becoming a data controller.

They say they are not resourced to do that and that is their big concern. If any changes are coming down the track, they need to be followed up with the appropriate resources and money. Naming and shaming is a contentious issue but, insofar as possible and practicable in regard to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, it needs to be considered.

Privacy concerns are the issue here and a number of local authorities have gotten into hot water where they have been found, by whatever State agency, to be breaching privacy concerns. With that in mind and in light of the precepts of the GDPR legislation, one of the rules concerns whether it is lawful to do something that is permitted under primary legislation. That is why, when I bring in the circular economy Bill in the spring with, I hope, the Deputy's help, we will provide in primary legislation a statutory underpinning for when CCTV can be used to enforce the law and to provide evidence for the prosecution of people who dump litter.

It goes without saying the Minister of State will have overwhelming support for that Bill when it comes before the House.

Does the Department have details on the numbers of offences and prosecutions that have been taken by Cork city and county councils over recent years? That would be illuminating. I recall sitting on Cork County Council with Deputy Cairns, when the numbers of prosecutions initiated or cases that came before the courts were minute. That is a cause of concern for me and others. This is about providing a deterrent to people in regard to their activity. As the Minister of State noted, it is a small minority who are destroying our beautiful countryside but we need to tackle them head on. I would welcome any information he might be able to provide on prosecutions and offences.

I echo Deputy O'Sullivan's comments and very much welcome the Minister of State's commitment to legislating for this. Waterford City and County Council was one of seven local authorities that were reprimanded by the Data Protection Commissioner on the basis the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 did not provide legal grounds for its actions. It is a case of legislation having to catch up with technology and with the GDPR to ensure councils will be covered in this regard because this issue is a significant draw on resources, in terms of both policing it in the first instance and the subsequent clean-up for those instances that are missed. As was noted, it is a significant kind of recidivist cohort of the population who engage in this, and we should use the full rigours of the law to stamp it out wherever we can. I am glad to hear the Minister of State's commitment to legislating in order that Waterford City and County Council will not again find itself in this position in future.

The statistics are really important because they show whether the law is functioning. I fully commit to providing county-by-county details on successful waste prosecutions and I will be happy to revert to the Deputies on that. Most people go to a lot of trouble to dispose of their waste correctly and wonder whether an item should go into the green or black bin or whatever the case may be. They are conscientious and they represent the vast majority of the population. They can be contrasted with somebody who, as was highlighted, might throw a washing machine into a field in a suburban area, well aware of what he or she is doing. That kind of person cannot be converted by a public information campaign. We cannot appeal to their better nature. The only thing they understand is prosecution, a fine and shaming, so that is the approach we are going to take.

I thank Deputy Ó Cathasaigh for his comments. I understand his local authority suffered under the privacy laws. The changes to the privacy legislation within the circular economy Bill will not be unlimited. They will be available to be used in certain circumstances only.