Other Questions. - Litter Pollution.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

10 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he expects to receive the report of the anti-litter forum; the steps, if any, he will take to deal with the litter crisis, particularly in view of the serious litter problem experienced in the Dublin area over the St. Patrick's holiday; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10024/00]

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

14 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the support, if any, his Department will provide for the national spring clean campaign, sponsored by An Taisce, which is due to run for the month of April; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10025/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 14 together.

Since taking office the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I have made litter eradication a priority. As part of our initiatives in this area, the National Anti-Litter Forum established last July has been tasked with reviewing existing anti-litter actions and developing a programme of measures to enhance and extend these actions. I understand that good progress has been made by the forum in its work and that its report will be submitted shortly to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

As regards An Taisce's project, National Spring Clean 2000, my Department is contributing £140,000 towards the estimated overall cost of £230,000 for this year's campaign. The balance of the cost is being met through commercial sponsorship. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I co-hosted the formal launch of National Spring Clean 2000 last Monday in Dublin Castle. National spring clean is an innovative and ambitious project which deserves our support as part of the national effort to tackle litter pollution in this country.

In addition to these measures, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I are pursuing other anti-litter initiatives, including doubling the on-the-spot fine to £50; allocating almost £1 million to local authorities for anti-litter initiatives in the past three years – a similar grant scheme will operate in 2000; approving the development of a national monitoring system to assess local authority anti-litter action – the system will be fully implemented over coming months; writing recently to all Ministers and Ministers of State enlisting their support for anti-litter action and urging that all Departments and agencies take the necessary steps to keep lands and properties under their control litter free and continuing strong personal support at many fora, conferences and launches of local litter campaigns.

Primary responsibility for tackling litter pollution, including clean-up measures, rests with local authorities. Many local authorities are using the extended powers available to them under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, to take a more proac tive approach to combating litter. This is reflected in the statistics on local authority enforcement action available in the Oireachtas Library which demonstrate significant improvement since 1997. Clearly there is no room for complacency. Local authority anti-litter performance must continue to improve and extend to all authorities. I will continue to convey my views on this matter directly to elected members and managers.

Does the Minister of State accept that, given the scale of the litter problem in this country and the resources available to the Government, £140,000 nationally for an anti-litter campaign and £1 million for anti-litter initiatives over three years is Mickey Mouse money and is an indication that the Government is not serious about dealing with litter and is probably contributing to rather than solving the problem by the amount of paper generated in discussing it rather than dealing with it? Will the Minister of State direct local authorities to recruit a significant number of additional litter wardens so that there can be a massive drive at enforcing the Litter Pollution Act? Will he accept that local authorities are not meeting their own obligations under that Act to keep streets and public places free of litter and to do the routine job which every county and urban council in the country always did, which was to get out with the brush and shovel, clean the streets and keep areas free from litter?

It is misleading to suggest that only £140,000 is being allocated for litter. Some £26 million nationally has been allocated for cleansing, litter wardens and so on. In the Dublin Corporation area alone the budget for cleansing and litter wardens was increased from £10 million the year before last to £11 million last year and the number of litter wardens was increased from two to 20. The corporation has a seven day, 24 hour a day service with 11 mobile units.

I agree with the Deputy that there should be more litter wardens. In 1997 there were 29 full-time and 56 part-time wardens. We now have 60 full-time wardens and 238 part-time wardens.

There are now almost 300 wardens which we did not have just over two years ago. I share the Deputy's concern but I do not need to direct local authorities on this issue. It is within their remit to employ wardens.

It has also been suggested that we do not have the funds to tackle this problem. Litter wardens are self financing but the will does not exist in some councils. I pay tribute to some local authorities. Last month I wrote to every manager and local authority member appealing to them to pursue their local authorities on their litter management plans. Have those plans been assessed or updated recently? Are local authorities ensuring that the plans are being implemented and that laws passed by this House are being enforced? This issue will be resolved at local level.

We would need many shovels and brushes to deal with the situation which occurred after the St. Patrick's weekend in Dublin. People are breaking the law and we must all play our part to stop it. The Minister and I have given every support and I appeal to every local authority member and Member of this House to support the National Spring Clean in April.

If I understood him correctly, the Minister of State said that one of the things he would do would be assess the anti-litter actions of local authorities. What does that mean? Is he aware that streets in every city, town and village are dirtier on Saturday and Sunday mornings than at any other time of the week, yet local authorities make less effort to clean up at that time than during the rest of the week? If he is serious about assessing the anti-litter actions of local authorities, will he tell them that they need to deploy greater resources on Saturday and Sunday mornings than during the rest of the week? This might be a good start to his spring clean campaign.

I have no problem with that suggestion and I welcome the Deputy's comments.

The Minister of State is welcome in Athy at any time.

I have been to Athy and we had a good experience there when we complimented all concerned. I was delighted the Deputy turned up and the Minister and I will be very active during April. I hope Deputy Gilmore will lead the National Spring Clean campaign. An Taisce and the National Spring Clean did a tremendous job last year when they collected more than 7,000 tonnes of rubbish. The target is 10,000 tonnes this year. We all owe it to them to give them our support. The campaign only lasts for a month but where there is a will there is a way. The strength is in local authorities implementing the legislation introduced by the previous Government. It is good legislation.

What about Saturday and Sunday mornings?

We must ensure that local authorities carry out their enforcement functions. We have education awareness programmes and that is important but we must work together to deal with this problem. The Government, the Minister and I are determined to eradicate the problem of litter.

Does the Minister of State agree with the suggestion by my party colleague on Dublin Corporation, Councillor Humphries, that those on whom litter fines are imposed should be named and shamed publicly? Does he also agree that we need to get to a point where there is heightened public awareness of the problem of litter and measures taken to, if nothing else, embarrass people to stop them littering our streets?

This practice already exists in other areas. We must do everything to bring home to people their responsibility for dealing with this issue. The problem costs £26 million annually. This is unnecessary spending which could be diverted to other areas to provide much needed facilities at local level. The demands on local resources need not happen if people become aware that we all have a responsibility and we all have a role to play. What happened in Dublin over the St. Patrick's weekend was unnecessary and unacceptable. People must realise that they have an individual responsibility. If we approach the problem in this way I am confident we can make inroads.