Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is important legislation. I have been fortunate to speak on much legislation in the Dáil over the past 12 months, but this is a Bill about which I have mixed feelings. There are some very important aspects to it but it is unfortunate the Government has decided to include others. My views on this issue are based primarily on my experience as a member of Laois County Council for the past two years. I have dealt with the midlands waste management plan, which was to cover the counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath and North Tipperary. Most people find the inclusion of North Tipperary in the overall strategy unusual but I will deal with that in due course.

One of the Bill's main provisions is to give effect to the European Council Directive of 15 July 1975, the Council Directive of 18 March 1991 and the Council Directive of 22 April 1999. In view of the debate on the Private Members' Bill, it would be far more beneficial to tease out these issues in detail on Committee Stage. We have all learned during recent debates that it is important there be a full discussion and understanding of these matters and that people do not feel there is an overbearing, big brother attitude from the Council of Europe. We need to give greater attention to these issues because it is a matter of concern to most people that the Commission is taking Ireland to the European Court of Justice on the implementation of waste management provisions. It is possible that if we are found not to be fulfilling our obligations we may be fined in due course. I am concerned if that happens the European Commission will be seen as heavy-handed and threatening. If that is how Europe is perceived we will have to ensure people have a more positive view of Council directives.

To set this debate in a European context, I have figures which derive from the Commission and the Council of the European Parliament on the implementation of community waste legislation. This information covers all 15 countries and is the data on domestic and municipal waste management practices within the EU. The overall figures, taking the European Union as a whole, show that 14.4% of waste is being recycled, 19.6% is going for thermal treatment or incineration and 62.8% is going to landfill, with 2.9% going elsewhere. We are not as out of line with the European percentage use of landfill as some would have us believe. There is a very high level of thermal treatment and recycling facilities in some countries but when one looks at the Union it is correct to say that two thirds of all domestic and municipal waste goes to landfill. The figures here are obviously much higher. We are not as industrialised a country and we are not as short of space. It is not unnatural that we would have had a higher reliance on landfill in view of our easier access to land for such facilities than other countries.

I move on to the various regional waste plans that have been drawn up by local authorities. Looking at the midlands waste management plan covering the counties I mentioned, it is proposed that 46% of waste be recycled, 36% go for thermal treatment and 17% go for landfill. Roughly the same percentages are proposed for the north east, the Dublin region, Connacht, the south west, Wicklow and Donegal. There is a relative uniformity of approach in the reports presented to local authorities to inform the regional plans and, in one or two cases, county plans. There is a high level of consistency but the process of local authorities coming together voluntarily to draw up regional plans has been a sorry saga. It was not founded on a proper understanding of the roles of local authorities and councils. Council members did not fully understand the impact they could have on these processes. Most people approached the plans county by county even though they were regionally based. The fact that some areas have not been able to agree their plans while others agreed theirs under duress is an indication that there was insufficient education on this matter in the first instance. We have tried for many years to deal with the problem of waste and stop it all going to landfill.

When we look at the waste hierarchy it is obvious that the most important step is to prevent waste, then minimise it, reuse and recycle, then energy recovery and thermal treatment, what most people call incineration. What was proposed in many of the regional plans was pure incineration. There was no element of energy recovery in some of the regional plans and I speak specifically for the midlands. Ultimately some of the waste has to go to landfill. I accept that there is no such concept as zero waste. It is a simplistic solution some people put forward but life is much more difficult than that. We must embark on a major process of education, starting with the younger generation in the schools who will help to educate the rest of us. Some of the older generation will not change their ways on these matters as Government would like them to. These are cultural matters and cannot be legislated for and what is a long-term problem requires a long-term-solution.

There is no doubt but that section 4 will generate much controversy. Maybe there is no other option but it is regrettable that we must deal with this section.

Maybe local authority members did not fulfil their responsibilities. However, I want to defend members of councils. Section 4, which gives county managers legal authority to draw up waste management plans for regions, removes power from elected members and that will have a knock-on effect. It seems a simplistic solution. I remember that the function relating to the Traveller issue was also removed from elected members and given to county managers and it has made no appreciable difference as we still have a problem in this regard. In reality county managers cannot operate in isolation from the elected members in any case, so that while the plan might go through and the manager may have statutory power, that will not make the delivery of the plan on the ground any more acceptable to the community. If we are to avoid EU penalties we will have to show we have such plans in place and perhaps this is the way to do so but signing a plan will not make waste management happen on the ground.

My single greatest complaint regarding everyone who has been involved in this debate relates to the consultants who drew up these regional waste management plans. They did a bad job and presented bad reports after poor levels of public consultation. They did not bring members with them and this will go down as one of the worst exercises of its type.

I want specific answers. They may not relate to this specific Bill but they will come to be answered. Somewhere along the line the Comptroller and Auditor General or the local government auditor should look at the costs incurred by local authorities to date in drawing up their regional plans as one will find a gross waste of taxpayers' money. I cannot understand how almost every county councillor and journalist in the country was offered free, fully funded trips abroad to look at incineration plants. They did not look at recycling plants, properly managed landfills or areas where waste is being reduced; they were brought to incineration plants by and large. I estimate the cost for that running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. It was an effort by the consultants to soften up the elected members to accept proposals for incineration. As a person who always looks at financial matters, I feel the cost for that will come out some day and there will be a proper debate.

How much were those consultants paid who were working in areas which did not finalise their plans? How much were they paid for bringing forward a plan that was unacceptable to the community? Will they be paid in full? The same consultants are involved in many of the areas experiencing difficulties; could they have done a better job? If so, they should not get the full payment. This should be revisited on another day, as we got a bad return for that investment and it should be addressed properly in the future.

People might think I am being severe on the consultants but it is right to do so. We are now finding in relation to other projects, such as motorways, that if there is not full public consultation and engagement, we will not get a satisfactory conclusion. We did not have that in this process and perhaps the consultants need to learn. I think they came with templates to each region and that they only changed the front covers on the regional reports while what they proposed for different regions was consistent across the board and did not address local circumstances. If I am being critical of these consultants I feel entitled to be and I will continue to be because if we are not getting value for taxpayers' money we should highlight it here. They are the principal reason we are here with this legislation; the plans were not adopted at regional level because the consultants did a bad job. If they had gone about their work in a more inclusive way and educated people, they would have brought the people with them. People would have understood the issues better and they would not have had the same fears; some of those are justified but others may not be.

The midland region report did not carry one word, sentence, paragraph, page or chapter dealing with health, despite all the concerns expressed by the public about the potential impact on health. When we quizzed our consultants they blandly told us that it was a matter for the Department of Health and Children and that the EPA would issue licences, so it was not a matter for the local authority as ours was not a health authority. No wonder consultants' reports ran into trouble when they did not print one word about the potential effects or otherwise on health. They dodged the issue and that is why some of these reports are being rejected. Those consultants should not be paid; they almost have to pay a surcharge for the extra costs the country is having to incur by passing this legislation and in many cases they should be forced back through the process again. I will absolutely oppose the concept of any of the consultants involved in the project to date being reappointed to complete any of these plans anywhere in the country.

The departmental officials should take that into account and ask themselves why we are in this sorry mess today. We are not here because the Minister of State is trying to put the jackboot to local authority members and we are not here because local authority members have failed in their duty. Those members are responsible people like everyone else. Something went wrong in the system and much of the difficulty relates to how consultants presented their reports. We were given deadlines and told that we would have to accept these reports as each was a fait accompli. Amendments were resisted as we were told if one county made an amendment it would impact on a neighbouring county and if both did not make the same amendment it would not be valid across the region, hence every area was tied. The process was weak and flawed and I hope we have learnt a lesson for the future. The consultants have a lot to answer for as they are not the experts they put themselves forward as being.

As I have indicated, waste management starts with schools and children. I am particularly pleased that the Brigidine convent in Mountrath and Heywood community school, my former secondary school, have recently received green flags; that is the way of the future. I have encouraged pupils in those two schools to go back to their national schools with the green flag lessons so that children can start learning them and bringing them home to their parents.

I also highlight Atlas Oil in Portlaoise, which was visited by the renowned David Bellamy, as it is recycling contaminated soil from building sites around the country. It has a small facility in Portlaoise and it is making great strides in developing new technology to clean out contaminated soil so it can be reused.

I am also concerned about the cost of taking waste to a landfill; at present it is £50 per tonne in Laois, which means a 20 tonne lorry of refuse costs £1,000 to take to the local landfill. That results in illegal dumping from construction and demolition sites. Local authorities must be vigilant and determined to go after those dumping illegally.

The legislation mentions the EPA and I look forward to new legislation dealing with that body as I have only had one experience with it in Laois. It was a sorry experience as the EPA gave a licence to Bord na Móna to carry out work in a bog in Laois but no notice in respect of the work appeared locally. The EPA said it put an advertisement in the Bord na Móna head office in Offaly. Nobody in Laois would have a chance of seeing that. Notices should appear on every site and the legislation dealing with the EPA in this regard is flawed; that body told me it complied with the letter of the law. It might have complied with the letter of the law in issuing that licence but it did not comply with the spirit of it. I look forward to the protection of our environment and to dealing with waste management because these landfill sites have proper licences from the EPA. Public confidence in the EPA in County Laois has been shattered in recent months because it did not insist that a site notice appear on every site in respect of areas where licences were given to carry out certain activities.

The "polluter pays" principle has become a cliché. Who is the polluter? It is thought that if people buy a box of cornflakes they are the polluter because they end up with the box. In fact, it is the person who produces that box who is the polluter. The end-user is not the producer of that pollution. The emphasis must change to ensure we do not produce the level of waste and packaging that we have in the past.

Like many in Ireland, I condemn President George Bush for his breaches of the Kyoto agreement and the principles agreed in Rio de Janeiro by various Heads of State on global warming. He has taken a short-sighted view that looks no further than the balance sheet of particular companies. Protecting the environment is more important than that. David Bellamy visited Laois recently and I would like George Bush to sit and listen to him for an hour.

It is a pity that Deputy Dempsey does not listen to Mr. Bellamy.

The President would learn a lot because it is a shared planet. Some six billion people must live together. Resources are finite and we must all work to protect the planet and not create unnecessary waste.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ulick Burke, by agreement. I am concerned about this Bill. At a time when we are looking at local authority reform the Bill does the opposite. We are interfering with and undermining democracy by removing powers from elected councillors in relation to waste management. One of the present buzz topics is ensuring that local government is strengthened. However, we are taking powers from local government and allocating them to management. We are giving county managers the power to over-ride local development plans in the siting of waste facilities.

The impact of landfill is well known and should be ameliorated by a strong programme of waste reduction, recycling and composting. Composting has the potential to remove all biodegradable material from landfill material which means that the source of methane – the greenhouse gas – is eliminated. Removal of biodegradable waste also reduces the hazardous aspect of leachate. The separation and removal of all hazardous material from the waste stream, both household and industrial, will eliminate the problem of heavy metals and other pollutants from the landfill site.

This morning I received a phone call from a constituent living adjacent to a landfill site in Gortadroma in County Limerick. In the past two years, I have received in excess of 60 individual complaints with regard to the management of this landfill site. The complaint told of noxious odours from the site, bird infestation and litter on land. Over the years there have been many difficulties with odours from this landfill site and a difficulty with flies, including bluebottle infestation in summer. Limerick County Council had to take action to tackle the bird infestation but it continues. There is a concern with health in the area and it is unacceptable that any community should be visited with this type of difficulty. There should be a time limit within which this community should not have to tolerate these difficulties.

Limerick County Council decided unanimously some months ago that this site should have a life of an extra five years. The county manager has now decided that he will extend the site, purchase extra land and continue using the site into the future. This is against the wishes of the people and the councillors. It is wrong and anti-democratic.

I refer to a letter from a Teagasc advisor written in the past two years with regard to a farm in that area. It says that on 20 April 1999, the land was strewn with litter which had blown in from the council landfill site. The litter was plastic and tinfoil and was not biodegradable. Due to the state of the land, it was dangerous to put animals on it at the time. Much of the rubbish had been trampled into the ground by livestock and the land contained tinfoil, plastic, bones and even glass fragments. How can a farm be operated in such circumstances? The views of the people, expressed through their public representatives, should be listened to. This Bill further removes the power of local representatives to bring the concerns of the public to the council and to respond to those views.

I am deeply concerned about incineration. A Greenpeace research document which is a scientific study of the impacts of waste incinerators on human health cites numerous scientific studies carried out in the UK, US and Sweden among other countries. It reveals that where studies into health impacts of incinerators have been conducted, waste incineration is associated with definite hazards to human health such as lung, throat, liver and respiratory problems, and heart disease. The data also reveal that despite a reduction in some chemicals in the stack emissions, even modern incinerators release numerous toxic substances into the atmosphere and into residues such as fly ash and bottom ash, often in increased concentrations.

I am not convinced by the many statements, often by consultants, that incineration is free of risk to human health. We should remember the 1970s when there was a row in Ireland between environmentalists who wanted the Government to focus its efforts on energy conservation measures such as double glazing and insulating housing. The engineering consultants of the time wanted the Government to go for a high-tech solution, a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point, regardless of the inherent risks of nuclear power and its dangerous by-product, spent uranium.

Today environmentalists want the Government to focus on waste reduction such as reuse, recycling and composting. The engineering consultants want to go for the high-tech solution, incineration, regardless of the inherent risks involved in a process which I am not convinced does not create dioxins. If we are not convinced, how can we agree to have incinerators in our areas? The Irish Doctors' Environmental Association issued a statement in 1999 which stated that it strongly opposed the plans for a waste incinerator in Kilkock and at other proposed sites. The association also indicated that its concerns relate to the adverse health effects from toxic substances in the emissions which, being mainly fat-soluble accumulating body tissues, are concentrated up the food chain, eventually being absorbed by humans through consumption of, for example, cows' milk, meat, fish, eggs, and substantially passed on to the foetus in a higher concentration. It further stated that possible ill effects from this include altered immune responses and disordered endocrine effects such as decreased fertility, lower IQ and cancer.

I wish to draw attention to an environmental problem in the Askeaton-Ballysteen area which I represent which is affecting animal and human health. In 1996, the then Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Environmental Protection Agency initiated an investigation into the deaths of animals in the area to which I refer. We expected that a report would be published within 18 months to two years. Five years later, however, it has still not emerged. A reply to a question I tabled in late April indicated that the report was being typed and that it would be ready in a matter of weeks. I have lost confidence in the bona fides of this report because it has been stated on several occasions during the years that it would be published within the following six months. I will provide examples.

In reply to a parliamentary question tabled on 5 October 1999, it was stated that the report requested on animal health problems in Askeaton was at its concluding stage and the Minister expected it to be published in early 2000. The reply to a further parliamentary question I tabled on 10 February indicated that it would be available in mid-2000. Subsequently, on 27 June 2000 I tabled another question and was informed that it would not be available until the end of October 2000. In November 2000, a further question elicited the response that the report would be available in the first quarter of 2001. It is mid-summer 2001 and it has still not appeared. How can one have confidence in the findings of a report when it is being produced in such circumstances?

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, launched Waste Management, Changing our Ways on 1 October 1998 and it is ironic that almost three years later we are waiting for them to change their ways. I accept that we might be expecting too much. There has been a great deal of discussion about waste management throughout the country. Many members of local authorities with more experience than the Minister cannot understand the reason he and the Minister of State insist that their plan and no other should be used in this area.

Let us consider some of the statements the Minister and the Minister of State have made in respect of waste management. For example, on one occasion the Minister of State said that Changing Our Ways signals a major shift away from an overwhelming reliance on landfill towards minimisation and recycling and reuse. He also stated that he wanted to force the pace of change by setting ambitious objectives with determination and vigour. We have seen the determination and vigour, but not a great deal more. The Minister and the Minister of State have also emphasised that the achievement of national waste management objectives will require a concerted effort by everyone.

Why, under the provisions of the Bill, are they now intent on denying a voice to elected members of local authorities? They are contradicting what they said on 1 October 1998 by the provisions contained in the amendment section.

In further statements the Minister and the Minister of State indicated that they look at local authorities as the key players to secure progress in this area. Now, however, they propose to deny local authority members any involvement. According to the Minister, if they make suggestions or propose alterations to plans, it will render them useless.

The Deputy is missing the point.

I am not. They are denying local elected representatives the opportunity to contribute the process of change. Local councillors from the Minister of State's party vehemently oppose what is being done in this area and a unanimous decision was taken by Galway County Council to reject the waste management plan produced in accordance with the guidelines imposed by the Minister of State and the Minister. Subsequently, the Minister travelled to County Galway, gathered everyone in a room and tried to intimidate them into accepting the plan but, wisely, they rejected it.

A firm of consultants, M. C. O'Sullivan, has prepared plans for most of the local authorities. Those plans must adhere to a long list of European requirements, from which there can be no deviation. Three sites were selected in my constituency for landfills at Kilrickle, New Inn and Newbridge. Without exception, members of these communities are opposed to the opening of landfills at the sites in question because they believe they could be opened at suitably alternative sites. Members of the council, including myself, are prepared to identify such sites. However, that is not good enough for the Minister. He wants it done his way or not at all.

It was the council's decision to make and it did not do so.

We did not make the decision because the proposal is not acceptable. We were informed that we would have to accept the Minister's proposal. That is an unacceptable way to do business in a modern democracy.

Galway County Council will be obliged to accept waste from five counties if the plan is accepted. Cork County Council will not be subjected to such treatment because it will only have to deal with waste produced within the county's boundaries. In addition to dealing with waste from five counties, Galway will be obliged to accept the construction of an incinerator.

The Minister of State has completely ignored the fact that the ash produced by an incinerator will have to be dumped on landfill sites. Will he indicate if this ash will be categorised as hazardous waste? If the answer is "Yes", has the Minister of State consulted the EPA in respect of compliance with European guidelines regarding its disposal? Only 20 years ago people stated there would be no difficulty in disposing of nuclear waste, but many problems have arisen in that regard in the interim. We will not be obliged to wait 20 years until we see the effects of the hazardous waste produced by incinerators.

How many countries in Europe have stopped building incinerators or will allow no further incinerators to be constructed? I do not know the answer, but we are still being informed that we must abide by European guidelines and provide incinerators. What is wrong with the Minister? When he recovers after a long rest, I hope he will return refreshed and reinvigorated and intent on providing a proper waste management system for this country. The members of the communities concerned about his current proposals will then be in a position to state, "He is now prepared to listen to us". Many communities and groups have made some extremely positive suggestions. These groups and the councillors in County Galway to whom I referred are not all negative in their outlook.

Amendment No. 38 amends section 6 of the 1996 Act by giving the Minister power to allow for a continued and increased volume of waste to come to Ballinasloe, if he so wishes, which is the only open landfill in County Galway. Perhaps we should simply allow Deputy Dempsey to provide the waste and then see his mistakes. It is unacceptable to the people of Ballinasloe who, under pressure, will take Galway city's waste until 2005. This Bill takes the easy option by allowing the Minister to extend the time and quantity of waste if he wishes. There is one other similar case. Is that democracy? There is time to reassess this. The Minister insists that if we do not make a decision the county manager will but that is where he is wrong. County Galway councillors and the executive will not implement his wishes because it is contrary to everything we believe in good planning and waste management. We were not given the opportunity or the finance to help to recycle. It is a success where we do it on our own initiative. That is the way to go. It will take waste from five counties to feed this incinerator which will threaten people's health.

By agreement I will share my time with Deputy Keaveney. I welcome the chance to discuss what is an emotive and passionate issue. There is an historical neglect by Administrations and local authorities to address the mounting waste problem. We turned a blind eye to the operation of landfills where large volumes of all forms of rubbish were dumped with no EPA licensing system or checks and balances to ensure that only degradable and non-toxic material was deposited. I am concerned about that. We did not recognise or take seriously the responsibilities that we have as public representatives, particularly in local authorities. I am disappointed that some local authority members use this issue for electoral gain.

We heard that all before.

It was said that the voices of local authorities should be taken into account when formulating policy. I support local democracy and local authority members having a greater say in policy. However, let us be under no illusions. Show me a councillor who would propose a landfill in his backyard. That will never happen.

We did it and were denied the opportunity to implement it.

I do not refer to County Galway but to local authorities in general. It is a fact of life that councillors will not support an electorally dangerous measure. If we had no National Roads Authority, how many motorways would be built? Could we even dream of implementing the national development plan? It would be impossible because very unpopular decisions must be made. In Cork we have difficulties over the site of a materials recovery unit and a landfill. We try to explain to the people, be positive and make difficult decisions. Politics are played with this type of issue at all levels.

Previous Administrations did not accept that there was a waste problem. Our recycling infrastructure is almost non-existent. Recently efforts were made to redress this but we are starting from a position where recycling is not inherent in our psyche. We are wasteful and are not hygienic in disposing of rubbish. It is unacceptable that at the most scenic spots, byroads and main roads, we see chip bags and papers, newspapers, burnt out cars and tyres. It is not for local authorities to pick up people's rubbish. They must take responsibility for their own areas. Even people in impoverished European countries are more conscious about keeping their environs clean, outside their houses, on the footpaths and the roads. Here we think that it is someone else's problem, the local authority's or the Government's. It is all our problem. Efforts were made in recent years to increase environmental awareness in schools for which I commend the Minister. If we want to ensure change for the next generation we must begin in the schools.

Fines should be dramatically increased, especially for large scale dumping such as putting a plastic bag of household rubbish over a ditch. Such a person should be fined at least £500 and community service should be imposed. It would be a positive step to consider community service for litter louts on Committee Stage. We have not tackled this head on. Massive resources are applied to changing people's perception of drink driving and other matters, but litter is not tackled seriously. I urge the Minister to examine an increase in fines and community service for those who breach the litter laws.

Incineration is emotive as are landfill and materials recovery. We must be brave, challenging and ask people to consider the problems of waste disposal in a cold calculating way. Many turn a blind eye to the fact that European countries, some of them models in strict environmen tal regulation, use incineration successfully. If it is properly explained and the public realise the benefits brought by modern technology and research in other countries, including their mistakes, we can take a brave leap forward with incineration. In Cork, we propose a landfill and a materials recovery unit. Wherever it is eventually situated it will be successful and we will be able to address our waste problem for the next 20 to 25 years as a county. Other counties will have to make difficult decisions and follow suit.

On the issue of the powers of the manager and associated fears, I have always been an advocate of giving more power to local authority members. That should be encouraged. This could be put in the same context as a planning issue. Nobody demands that a local authority member should have a say in where an IDA centre, a house extension or a landfill should go. I do not see any difficulty in moving and transferring this particular function from local authority members to management. The reason we have to move it is because local authority members have not had the ability to grasp the issue and make decisions that are in the interest of the public, not the ballot box.

I welcome the Bill. It is unfortunate that it needed to be brought forward at all. As one Labour Party leader in England said years ago, "There was a shiver running around the room looking for a spine to run up". We have had that attitude in regard to addressing the waste issue. We all turned our heads and hoped the issue would go away but it has not. We have mounting waste and threats of leaving bags of rubbish on the streets in tourist towns throughout the country. That is not good enough. I suggest that councillors can still make decisions through support of the manager and consensus. Many of the requirements of the 1996 legislation were not met and now we must bring forward further legislation to ensure we can bring forward a coherent waste management strategy that will benefit everybody.

The education of young people on environmental issues is something we must support. It is important that we use imaginative ways of promoting environmental awareness. Young people are very impressionable and sports and music industry figures with charisma should be used to push this. No matter how much we like ourselves, as politicians, young people are more impressed by their modern idols. I have encouraged this type of promotion with regard to under-age drinking and abuse of tobacco and drugs. This approach would be innovative and could be successful in capturing young people's imaginations, especially in conjunction with the national competitions being run in schools.

I welcome the broad provisions of the Bill. It is disappointing that we have had to bring it forward because of the fact that people shirked their responsibilities through shortsightedness. This Bill is in everybody's interest. I suggest to the Minister that he look at the idea of community service as a mandatory penalty for those convicted of offences under the Litter Act. I wish the Bill well and look forward to Committee Stage next week when I hope these issues will be addressed.

I am delighted to be able to speak on the extremely important issue of waste management. It affects all of us no matter how we look at it and we all have a choice to make. We can choose prevention through minimisation, reuse and recycling and find an environmentally sustainable method of disposal of waste which cannot be prevented or recovered, or we can choose the route chosen by a small percentage which reflects badly on our country, towns, villages and rural landscape.

I agree with the point that waste management begins and ends with each one of us. It is our own personal decision to let a match fall to the ground, a crisp packet blow out a window, throw a Coke can into a ditch or leave behind us the remains of a picnic or a dirty nappy on a beach. Too often we are inclined to say it is someone else's issue. Part of the problem arises from the affluence of society where people seem to assume there is someone coming after them with some sort of magic hoover that will clear away the rubbish. It is probably a minority but each one of us may contribute to it and we must decide to change.

One of the most important projects introduced has been the "green flag" initiative. I congratulate the Minister on his continuing support. A small number of schools on Inishowen have managed to achieve green flag status, are tremendously excited and proud of it and the envy of many other schools. The last school to which I was invited on achieving its green flag was the school in Whitecastle near my home town. The school's project looked at the issue of plastic bags. This tiny school in a tiny community decided to reduce by one the number of plastic bags coming home after each visit to the shop. Once the children were involved parents were forced to become involved. Parents involved other siblings and then the shops became involved. Not just hundreds, but thousands of plastic bags were saved from use by this initiative. The teachers, pupils, families and extended community were shocked by its impact. It is beyond time that we imposed a charge on plastic bags and it is important that people realise that they do not need a plastic bag just because they went to the shop. Plastic bags are thrust at us when we buy an item, whether it is the newspaper or something more substantial, even when we might only be going a few yards from the shop to the car. It is time it became less convenient to have plastic bags readily available.

There should be a return to some old practices of rewards for returns. I remember as a young girl scavenging and scrounging around for return bottles in order to get extra pocket money by returning them to the shops. The same principle could be applied to plastic bags. Something needs to be done in terms of incentives instead of always using the big stick approach. The best example of the motivation of children which I saw as a secondary school student and teacher was when a company asked for drink cans to be brought in to a local supermarket. The more cans brought in, the more money was earned. As I recall, this money was contributed to the Irish Wheelchair Association, or some other wheelchair organisation. A huge number of children latched on to this idea. They probably drank four times as many cans of soft drinks as normal, which might not be good in itself, but all those cans were brought back and recycled. It was a very good concept. There are many things that can catch the imagination.

We have much to learn from national schools. We often complain about children dropping litter, but perhaps they are the best informed of all. In my area there are environmental groups with glas óige members who work very hard in getting the message of a clean environment across. I get very annoyed at hillsides being destroyed with plastic bags and abandoned cars. The beaches are destroyed with nappies and everything from bags to cars. We need more litter wardens and more prosecutions. County Donegal is not a good example as regards prosecutions for littering. If we are to develop tourism, we must have clean counties, towns and villages. I congratulate Donegal County Council on having done a lot of work for communities in terms of providing skips for community clean-ups. Its waste station has been second to none. I would like to think that its costs could be kept to a minimum.

A large number of people in Inishowen have asked me about the provision of bottle banks. They are crying out for ones which need to be replaced and ones which have not yet been provided. The way in which these people are thinking is a healthy sign. I am less happy with the response of the council in providing these facilities, it claims that there are implications in terms of costs. What is the point in having a waste management plan if it will not be implemented? We often talk about the beautiful mountains in this country, but our problem is that we have more mountains of rubbish than we should. It is not an insurmountable problem. We could start here in the Houses where we use a phenomenal amount of paper on a daily basis.

Each one of us has a role to play in establishing that rubbish is not cool. The more we can highlight this issue the better.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Gerry Reynolds and Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny).It gives me no great pleasure to speak on this Bill. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, made the great promise that he would reform local government. He is not like the Meath football team, they delivered on their promises while he has faded away and is a disaster. He promised that he would bring power and local government back to the people but what has he done? He has taken away the powers of local representatives and given them to county managers in the sphere of waste management.

County managers are not elected by anybody. They remind me of EU Commissioners who are not elected by anybody either. The people spoke in the recent referendum and said that they are sick and tired of having faceless people, who are not elected by them and do not represent them, telling them how their lives should change. Deputy Kelleher, like all politicians in this House, seems to forget that we are elected by the people and are their messengers. Civil servants will still be in place after the next election, and the one after it, whether they do a good job. Some county managers have seven year contracts while others have contracts that mean they cannot be removed.

The Minister let elected public representatives down when he took powers away from local councils. He should have left them with the people and their representatives. The county manager, regardless of the county development plan, planning or anything else, can decide where he wants to have landfill sites, incinerators or other waste facilities located. That is an insult to the people. The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, have let down the people who elected them. They have let down the grass roots who think it is worthwhile to cast their vote. They elect us to this House and what do we do? We take powers away from elected members, both of this House and county councils, and give them to county managers. Every county manager, county secretary and county assistant manager should have to stand for election. If they did, we would not have the same number elected for a second term. It should be like the American system where they should have to face the people.

It is wrong that, as elected Members of this House, we are told we have to obey European legislation and county managers. If a Member tables a Dáil question about a local authority, the Minister will reply that he has no control over county managers or county councils. How true that is, they are uncontrollable. Deputy Kelleher spoke about the planning system. There should be a planning system in place where the public, public representatives and officials adjudicate on every application. Why should a planner educated in Belfast or Dublin – they all have different views and ideas – tell ordinary people what they should and should not have in relation to planning?

On the issue of waste management, why do we always put the pressure on the consumer? Why do we not put the pressure on Coca Cola, Guinness or Tayto? When I was a child the milkman would come on his bike, a bottle would be brought out to him and filled with milk. That cannot be done anymore, now the milk would be seen as diseased. Those milkmen, small abattoirs and small suppliers have been put out of business. The philosophy has been to get rid of the small fellow and leave it to the big fellow. Why not tackle Coca Cola and make it reintroduce recyclable bottles? Children used to collect Coke, Guinness and milk bottles, bring them to shops and get two or three pence for their troubles. If that was done now, there would not be as many bottles on the streets or roadsides. That kind of rubbish destroyed the countryside.

The policy is always to aim for the easy target, the consumer. If one were to build a house, one would want to set aside a room in it for rubbish. That is the way things have gone, it is daft. Who has to pay for this? The answer is the consumer. Why not tax the big companies? If taxes were levied on Guinness, Coca Cola, Pepsi or Tayto, they would come up with something that would stop people littering our streets.

Last year in County Mayo prices were increased for use of landfill dumps. The rubbish from homes in rural parts was collected by private contractors which could not compete with the county council. The county council took the easiest option at the best price and went into the big housing estates. Private operators were put out of business as a result of the price increases. The small person was left without a service. We have a lot to learn in this country.

I am reluctant to intervene but the Deputy's time has run out.

I have much more to say about the Minister for the Environment and Local Government but in deference to my colleagues I will sit down.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak briefly on this Bill. I am conscious that waste management is one of the most serious issues of our time and the most serious affecting local government. The way in which it has been dealt with by the Government in the past four years has been abysmal. It is wrong and fundamentally flawed to bring in legislation to remove the democratic right of public representatives to make decisions. As local and national public representatives, we find it difficult to express the role we have to play in the future of this country. We stand at elections so we may become legislators and decision makers. If the Government does not have confidence in the ability of public representatives to make decisions, locally and nationally, democracy will encounter difficulties. There will be a greater sense of apathy if we continue to take power from public representatives and local authorities.

I do not understand why this legislation is necessary or why it is being introduced. As a public representative I know we have difficult decisions to make but if they are not made soon we will encounter a crisis. Waste management is already in crisis. I have no difficulty in putting my head on the block to decide whether there should be thermal treatment, incineration, landfill or recycling. I do not think one has to be a genius to know that the public wants as much recycling as possible. Only 40% of waste can be recycled so what are we to do with the other 60%? Should we throw it into the air and hope it goes away? As public representatives we must sell this issue. The Government has a specific responsibility in that regard, but it has failed to get its message across.

During the debate in this House prior to the referendum on the Nice treaty, I said that our desire to see the treaty accepted by the electorate would not be met if we did not sell our message. The treaty was rejected. We face the same situation with the structure of waste management. A number of bodies are anti-landfill, anti-thermal treatment and anti-incineration, but the Government has sat on its hands instead of trying to put its case. It should set down the terms of its policies.

It has all been explained.

If the Government has explained it why does nobody know about it?

It has been in the newspapers.

Why are so many people opposed to the waste management proposals?

Some authorities have signed up to the plan.

The message is not being sold. This has been one of the principal failures of the Government. I am only here to help.

That is impossible.

I am one of the few public representatives prepared to put my head on the block by saying there cannot be a waste management strategy without thermal treatment, incineration of some form or landfill. Recycling should also be part of the strategy, however. I am willing to sell the message, but I am receiving no help from a Government that is trying to bring everyone onside, which is impossible. Government is about making strong, hard decisions.

We are making them.

The Government seems incapable of making them. Its strategy has been a failure.

Decisions are not being made at local level which is why we are here tonight.

I do not care what the Minister of State has to say as his Government has failed. I ask the Minister of State to come out fighting by telling the public what the Govern ment believes and why it believes it. He is unwilling to do so, however.

The Deputy's party did not do so.

The Minister of State can go back as far as Adam and Eve if he is looking for someone to blame. If I had been in power for four years, I guarantee I would have put a waste management strategy in place.

The Deputy is inviting interruptions.

The Government will be supported in its handling of this serious issue if it sells the message. It should not blame the messenger but do the work itself. If the message is not transmitted, another strategy will have to be developed.

Another issue I feel strongly about in this area and which has become apparent in recent years is refuse collection charges. Those living in rural Ireland pay such charges, which is proper. The county I represent has 750 rate payers, the lowest number in Ireland. We have to ask the general public to pay refuse charges which have increased by 100% in the past 12 months. Many elderly people find it difficult to pay them. We cannot provide a landfill site in County Leitrim so must ask other counties to allow us to use their facilities. Because Dublin is the largest city in the country with the largest population and a large rate base, people living there do not have to pay refuse charges. It is not an easy matter to decide on, but it is unfair that the weak have to pay the charges while the strong do not because they can generate income in other ways.

I ask the Minister of State to sell the message so that we will be able to put a proper waste management strategy in place.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá mar gheall ar an mBille seo, ag moladh agus ag fáil locht leis na rudaí atá ann agus nach bhfuil ann. It has been pointed out that section 4 presents a major dilemma for the Fianna Fáil dissidents who were so vocal last week about their right to be paid at the same level as councillors. Four Independent Members almost brought down the Government in an attempt to remain on local authorities. This Bill tells them they are dummies and that it does not make any difference whether they are on local authorities as the manager will do their work for them.

It is make or break time for the Deputies to whom I have referred as if they have it both ways, they are the real Tadhg an dá thaobh. They want to be on councils and insist on being there, but managers will now do the work and make the decisions so local representatives can sit back. It will be interesting to see what happens. Giving managers such power also helps those on councils who make their names by attending public pro test meetings. They will be able to back objections to incinerators or landfill sites and if the projects go ahead they will be able to say that if they had the power they would not have allowed it to happen. They will have a field day by being against pollution but also against every solution to it. They will have the best of both worlds and we can do without them.

My colleague, Deputy Reynolds, said that politicians have to show enough backbone to make decisions. I have no objection to voting for or against proposals as that is what politicians are elected to do. The public must be informed of how public representatives stand on issues. Those who try to get out of situations by having two different stories and by being on two different sides, which is quite common, should be run out of the country. Politicians should go one way or the other, be prepared to take the flak that may result and defend what has been done. The electorate is entitled to take whatever action it wishes if it does not like what its representatives do.

We have heard so much about recycling that it is almost becoming a bad word. Recycling, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It is time that something was done about it as we have been talking about it for too long. Small but welcome measures have been taken, such as the introduction of bottle banks in every town in County Carlow. A colleague of the Minister of State made a good point about paper used in this House. A huge amount of paper is used throughout the country, including acres of newsprint. It is time that we made a decent effort at recycling paper and others have suggested that we subsidise those prepared to do so. It is time that the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, introduced a subsidy for firms that recycle paper.

It is not known how many trees are cut down. Reams of paper are produced and dumped in landfill sites. If the paper were shredded properly it could be used in stables and so on.

The Minister of State said 90% of waste goes into landfills but this could be prevented by recycling. Could a major study be conducted in Ireland by medical experts on the dangers, if any, of incinerators? Protesters attending anti-incinerator meetings quote experts in Japan, France and Canada and if somebody has a different view he or she is wrong. Could a medical team be established to ascertain the dangers of incineration? Colleagues who have visited various countries as part of parliamentary delegations were amazed that incinerators had been built in the middle of cities and towns and were operating well. Other people have come back from the same places and claimed the incinerators emit toxins in order to frighten people. A serious study should be conducted on the potential dangers of incineration.

The green flag scheme for primary schools was mentioned. The Minister of State presented an award under the scheme to Oleighlin national school in Carlow earlier. I taught for 28 years and during my career bosca bruscair were placed everywhere in the school and the school yard was always kept tidy. However, one wonders when children become adults whether they consider littering to be a form of protest. Adults leave towns and cities littered with rubbish at weekends and it is like the Battle of Dunkirk on Sunday mornings in some town and city centres. What is the justification for it?

It is time individuals carried the can in regard to pollution. People should be held responsible for throwing litter around. I have advocated the introduction of fines for littering for years. It is the only measure that will have any impact on preventing people from doing so. The more fines that are imposed the better because some people do not bat an eyelid when they throw rubbish on the streets or out of a car and so on. I do not know what businesses can do to help because every individual has a responsibility to look after his or her own litter. If one has a picnic at the seaside, one should not leave rubbish on the sand afterwards.

Schemes such as floral pride, which is promoted by Carlow County Council, are marvellous. There is a superb member on the council who co-ordinates the tidy towns competition in towns and villages in County Carlow and the Entente Florale, in which Leighlinbridge will represent Ireland this year. Such schemes give people a sense of pride in their surroundings and they help immensely to create a spirit of cleanliness and tidiness. They are an antidote to litter pollution in many areas.

I welcome the levy on plastic bags. I do not know how it will work in practice but often when one buys a newspaper in a shop, the shop assistant puts it into a plastic bag before one has an opportunity to stop him or her. There is too much plastic in circulation and I welcome anything that minimises its use.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Collins. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the legislation and on waste management generally. Deputy Browne referred to litter awareness in primary schools. It is more than 20 years since I left primary school but at the time a great effort was put into litter awareness and encouraging young children to be more environmentally-friendly and look after their localities. Ireland has not improved one iota over the past 20 years in regard to litter pollution.

People had a tendency in the past to dump old scrap cars in farmers' yards and fields. This phenomenon dissipated but it has been replaced by the dumping of bale wrap and plastic bags of every description. I welcome the provision of an anti-litter tariff on plastic bags. The only ways to ensure people will become environmentally-friendly and will not litter the countryside are to fine them or introduce a tax. I also welcome the clarification regarding on-the-spot litter fines in the legislation.

Many farmers have dumps in the corner of a field. However, I am delighted officials of Cork County Council are visiting these farmers even though the dumps are on their lands and asking them to stop dumping or risk a fine. We must get tough on litter and the Government and the Oireachtas must send a message that we will no longer accept litter strewn streets on Sunday mornings in town and city centres. Litter pollution must be stamped out and we must send a strong message that it is no longer acceptable.

Up to a few years ago smoking was allowed in public buildings and on public transport but nowadays this is frowned upon and one can only smoke in designated areas. We should get tough and introduce anti-pollution measures to ensure the polluter pays.

The Bill outlines various ways to dispose of waste, whether through incinerators, thermal treatment plants or landfill sites. It must be accepted that tough decisions must be made to ensure the facilities are in place throughout the State to tackle the waste we generate. It is not possible to minimise waste through recycling.

Debate adjourned.