Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Intruder Alarm Systems.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

20 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the environmental pollution caused by the bells of alarms which continue to ring, sometimes through the night or weekend; if he proposes to bring in new regulations to require all alarms to have a 15 minute cut off mechanism, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

A standard specification for intruder alarm systems, which among other things specifies a minimum and maximum duration for audible alarms, has been formulated by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, acting with the consent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and was issued in 1987.

Strengthened provisions for controlling noise emissions and sources have been provided for in the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992. Under section 106 of that Act, the Minister for the Environment may, following consultation with other Ministers concerned and the agency, make regulations for the purpose of preventing or limiting any noise which, inter alia, may give rise to a nuisance or disamenity.

I have no immediate proposals for extending these regulations to alarms generally, in view of the existing standard specification referred to. There are general rights of complaint to the District Court under section 108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992. These may be availed of, as necessary, by complainants in particular circumstances of noise nuisance.

Would the Minister agree it really is not the answer to say that one should go to court when a bell is ringing all night in a large housing estate keeping everybody awake? Surely something can be done when these bells go off in unattended houses, usually because of a fault in the system. They are becoming a nuisance rather than serving the purpose for which they were installed, to prevent break-ins.

I share the Deputy's concern. Much of the problem arises from faulty products in the first instance. As I said, standard 199 drawn up by the National Standards Authority of Ireland in 1987 sets standards for alarms. I have to acknowledge they are not being enforced as rigorously as one would wish. I understand the Minister for Industry and Commerce recently asked the National Standards Authority to review again the standards which were late. I hope, if we can improve the product in the first instance, the noise pollution which occurs — such as that referred to by the Deputy of having alarms ring all night — will be eliminated. I cannot think of any speedier method other than for the agency, the local authority or the complainant to seek a District Court order. I do not think it would be possible to deal with it in any other way because we must have a balance between something which is causing pollution and disturbance and something which might go off accidentally. For that reason the court is the appropriate body to deal with this. However, the Minister does have power, under section 106 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, to make regulations to control noise. I assume, when the agency is in place, the Minister will discuss this matter with them and the other Ministers concerned.

May I ask the Minister whether companies selling alarms are required to be registered and, if not, if her Department have in their possession a list of alarm companies? Will she agree that one way of helping ease the problem would be for her to write to the alarm companies urging them to contact the people to whom they supplied alarms and come to some arrangement to eliminate or reduce these very irritating occurrences?

I am not aware whether companies have to register. That would be more a matter for the Department of Industry and Commerce because it is a product standards issue rather than an environmental issue. However, if the Deputy feels it would be of help I will be delighted to contact alarm companies with a view to drawing their attention to the problems but I am sure they are well aware of them. Over many years the Garda have made them aware of the problems. The Minister for Industry and Commerce has asked the National Standards Authority to look again at the standards which apply to alarms and, hopefully, these standards can be improved along the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Is the Minister of State absolutely sure the only problem is one of standards? If there is a break-in over a weekend while the family is away and the bells ring, as they are designed to do, that is not a fault; that is the alarm system functioning properly. These are the cases that give rise to this type of irritation. I ask the Minister of State to examine this question and, if possible, make the contact I suggested.

In addition to the standards, and as part of the standards process, details should be left with a neighbour or some responsible person. The gardaí should be notified if somebody is leaving a house or premises where there is an alarm system. As Deputy Mitchell said, the problem is not just one of a faulty alarm. Sometimes people go away without leaving details as to who has their key with the result that nothing can be done until the person returns. Many of the better quality alarms automatically switch off and it is desirable that all alarms would automatically go off after a certain period.

Surely the final point raised is the nub of the issue. Would the Minister agree that applying such a standard not only to alarms to be fitted in the future but to alarms already in place would help to resolve this problem? It is not the answer to simply say neighbours should go to court about their neighbour as that can lead only to further difficulties rather than a resolution of the problem.

I am not necessarily saying neighbours should go to court but that the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, gives neighbours, or those affected, the right to go to court. A local authority, the agency and several other people can go to court. The Deputy is correct in saying the product should be of a certain standard and that appropriate conditions should apply to the product so that if the alarm goes off it will automatically switch off after a specific period. I will pursue, in so far as it is within my remit to do so, the matters raised by the Deputies with a view to improving the situation.

That disposes of questions for today.