Topical Issue Debate

European Court of Human Rights Judgments

I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber to take this most important matter.

Time is not on our side. On 9 August 1971 Operation Demetrius was introduced by the British army after being sought by the sitting unionist government. Nationalists and republicans from across the Six Counties were waking up to internment without trial. Over 350 men were taken in the first swoops. Many of these men and boys had no connection to republican politics or the republican movement. Fourteen of the men were specially selected by the British army, with approval from the British Government, the then unionist government and the RUC, to be experimented on using various torture techniques. They were taken without their families' knowledge to a secret location in the North, which has since been established as Ballykelly British army barracks. The men selected became known as the hooded men.

There were five torture techniques used during their illegal detention. They were forced to spread-eagle against a wall for prolonged periods, permanently hooded and exposed to a permanent loud hissing noise. They were also exposed to deprivation of sleep and deprivation of food and drink. They received prolonged and routine vicious beatings by their captors during their illegal detention. The effects of this torture included prolonged pain, physical and mental exhaustion, fear and paranoia, severe anxiety, depression, hallucinations, disorientation and loss of consciousness.

In 1976 the Irish Government took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, which found the British Government guilty of torture. The British appealed and managed to have the judgment overturned in 1978 when the ECHR judged that the five techniques used to torture the 14 men amounted to "inhuman and degrading" treatment but not torture. The Irish Government brought a case back to the ECHR in 2014 following the uncovering of new evidence, the location of the torture chamber in Ballykelly and the declassification of documents related to the torture treatment employed. Earlier this year the ECHR rejected the Irish Government's application to reverse the 1978 decision and classify the men's treatment as torture. The Irish Government has until 20 June, which is less than three weeks away, to launch an appeal against this latest judgment. As we know, torture, as a technique against prisoners, is still employed in many settings across the globe.

Has the Government decided to appeal this decision?

I have introduced this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the surviving hooded men: Liam Shannon, Jim Auld, Kevin Hannaway, Francis McGuigan, Joe Clarke, Brian Turley, P. J. McLean, Michael Donnelly, Patrick McNally and Davy Rodgers and in memory of those who have since passed without justice having been achieved. I pay my respects to them today and offer my sympathy and solidarity to the families of Seán McKenna, Micky Montgomery, Pat Shivers and Gerry McKerr. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a ainmeacha dílse.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for putting down this important Topical Issue matter. I am taking this on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who cannot be with us.

In 1971, the deep concern of the Irish Government and the Irish people led to Ireland bringing a case against the UK before the European Commission and Court of Human Rights alleging human rights violations arising from internment. A particular focus of the proceedings was the use of the so-called "five techniques", as outlined by the Deputy, of interrogation suffered by 14 detainees, who became known as the hooded men. My thoughts tonight are with the men who suffered this treatment, and who have had to deal with the long-lasting effects, as well as all those who suffered during the period of internment.

While the Commission held that torture had occurred, in 1978 the court held that the treatment of the men amounted to "inhuman and degrading treatment" but not torture. The UK Government did not dispute this finding. The Irish Government has always considered that these men were subject to torture and jurisprudence since 1978 would suggest that the treatment endured by the men would be recognised internationally today as such.

In the interests of justice and international human rights, in 2014 the Government decided to request the European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment. On the basis of the new material uncovered, it was contended that the ill-treatment suffered by the hooded men should be recognised as torture. The court's judgment was delivered on 20 March of this year. As Deputies are well aware, the court refused the Government's application to revise the 1978 judgment and find that the men had suffered torture. The refusal was made on two grounds: first, the court did not believe the new documents contained a sufficient prima facie case that one of the witnesses had misled the Commission and the court about the long-term effects of the "five techniques" of interrogation; and, second, the court did not accept that, even if the witness had given misleading evidence, it might have had a decisive influence on the court's finding in the original judgment.

My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, met the men recently to hear their experiences, and I know that he was deeply moved by what they told him on that day. The men have understandably been disappointed by the judgment as have many of their supporters. A further referral of the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is possible. However, there is no automatic right for referral and any application to have the application heard by the Grand Chamber would be considered by a panel of five judges.

I understand that many in Ireland and beyond would like to see this application for referral proceed. I want to stress that the Government is taking the time available to consider the ruling carefully and will not take this decision lightly. The Government's intensive focus since the judgment of the court on 20 March has been on legal considerations and to give this case the due weight and attention it deserves, including by seeking the advice of the Attorney General. We will consider this advice before any Cabinet decision on whether to move ahead with the application. When the Government has made a decision on whether to apply for a referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, that decision will be communicated to the men and their representatives and it will also be made public.

I am going to take the Minister of State's reply in the positive. A decision has not been made not to proceed, therefore the door remains ajar. It is very important that the right decision be taken in this case. An appeal is imperative for those surviving ten of the 14 who were subjected to this grievous torture all those years ago.

I have known a small number of them over my many years of service as a public elected representative and I am very aware of the great hurt and harm done to them in their personal lives as a result of what they went through. I can say without any question about one of the four who have passed, in this instance many years ago, Seán McKenna, that his early demise was directly attributable to all that he was subjected to. Like me, Seán was a native of County Monaghan and he and his family have always been held in the highest regard, not only by the broader republican family in our county but by all within the community of north Monaghan, whence he came.

It is very important for the men and their families but also for Ireland because, as the Minister of State rightly said, there is a universal acceptance on all our parts irrespective of our political differences, that what these men were subjected to was torture by any measure or reckoning. It is absolutely essential that we take this further step to explore the recognition on the part of the European Court of Human Rights that it was indeed torture that these men were subjected to, and not the milder reference to "inhuman and degrading treatment". I make a final appeal to the Minister of State and to all in the Government today to decide to lodge that appeal before 20 June.

The Government has taken this very seriously. In 2014 it requested the European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment and the Tánaiste took it upon himself to meet those men who had survived and was very taken with their stories and the impact of what was done to them.

I know that the Deputy is eager and he has expressed his view that the Government should seek a referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights as soon as possible. The Government has not ruled out making an application for referral but this decision will not be taken lightly. The Government has three months up to 20 June from the date of decision to apply for referral and it is using the time to consider things carefully before any Cabinet decision on whether to move ahead with an application.

The Tánaiste would like to assure the men whose treatment led Ireland to take the case in 1971 and all those who have campaigned with them in the decades since that the Government regards this with the utmost seriousness and that is why it will consider the judgment of 20 March very carefully before reaching a decision based on the information and advice we have.

Water Services

Last night we got word that the water supply for Drogheda-east Meath had once again been disrupted with a significant burst main, one which had burst about a year ago. The concerns and worries that the people of the area had were communicated and Irish Water and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government were very much aware of what needed to happen. Instead of having a tale of woe here today we have had good responses from Irish Water. It had failed miserably this time last year, the first time the main burst. It took it two or three days to get into action.

Its crisis management team was mobilised immediately, the Minister's office was fully aware of all actions and when I went out this morning at 7 a.m. there were approximately ten or 15 workers on site. There were large lorries and the earth had been dug out overnight. I understand that they worked under floodlights and that workers from Meath County Council, Louth County Council and Irish Water proved that they had 100% commitment to public service. I welcome the work done.

The crisis management team has worked because there is one in place. Communications with the public and public representatives are excellent. That is a huge improvement. It is what we need and what the public is entitled to.

I thank the Minister for attending to take this matter. I appreciate he has been very concerned, both last year and this year, about the significance of the problems that could arise as a result of a burst water main such as that one that occurred previously. Lessons have been learned from last year and what new lesson must we now learn? The first is that we will have a €12 million investment in improving the water supply for the Louth-east Meath area. I welcome that new pipes have been ordered to ensure we have a completely new fresh physical supply system in place and that those pipes are currently in Dublin Port. The part that needed to be replaced was available and on-site, and is ready to go. That is hugely positive. Can the Minister give me an assurance that the position is now 100% as best it can be, that the pipe has been fixed and the supply will return to normal? I await the Minister's reply and then I will comment further.

I thank the Deputy for giving me this opportunity to update the House on the burst which occurred late yesterday evening on a pipeline from the Staleen water treatment plant which serves Drogheda and east Meath. The burst is close to the same location as the burst that happened last year.

Staff from Irish Water, the local authority and contractors have been mobilised. Repair crews have been on-site throughout the night working under lights in tough conditions, as referred to by the Deputy, going down to around 4 m in depth. As a result, a new pipe section has been installed and couplings fitted. Irish Water started to restore pressure in the repaired pipeline late this morning and we will soon know if the repair has been successful. I can update the House that it has been.

As a result of the pipe burst, Staleen water treatment plant has been working at around 40% capacity. The treated water reservoir serving Drogheda and most of east Meath has enough water to maintain a water supply to customers for the present. However, a water outage is impacting on some east Meath customers, including in the areas of Ratoath, Kilbride and Duleek, and it may through the evening and perhaps into the early morning as well.

Irish Water has implemented contingency arrangements as a result of this burst during the emergency works. For example, alternative water supplies, including nine tankers, bulk containers and bottled water, were mobilised. These are currently located in Ratoath and Kilbride and will be in place in Duleek shortly if they are not already.

Vulnerable customers have been contacted by Irish Water and it is working with them, arranging alternative water supplies as required. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has been prioritised, as have schools, crèches and nursing homes. In addition, I understand the organisers of a number of important events which are due to be held in the area were contacted by Irish Water in order that it could do everything it could to cater for them in the event that the fix was not successful. Irish Water asked people to conserve water until the restoration of a normal water supply could be confirmed. It mobilised its crisis management team with full contingency measures put in place to respond to whatever circumstances arose.

I visited Irish Water's control centre this morning and I was confident then, as I am now, that the problem was being dealt with cohesively and comprehensively and with the utmost seriousness. Irish Water has learned from the previous incident at this location last year. Specialist equipment is readily available and was utilised in the repair work. We hope to see a normal service being restored very quickly to all parts of the area that were affected last night and earlier today.

Irish Water has approved the budget and design for a new pipeline to replace the existing lines. The new pipeline has been procured and Irish Water is in the final stages of resolving all the contractual and regulatory issues. Construction of this pipeline is expected to commence within weeks, with the aim of completing the project by the end of the year.

I confirm the update I received as I was coming into the House. As of 6 p.m. the Staleen plant is up to full production once again. There is full pressure in the pipe and there are no reported issues. The situation will be monitored overnight by Irish Water and it will keep in close contact with me and my officials. There are still a few areas in Meath that may have reduced pressure or no supply currently but this will come back as the network replenishes itself overnight.

If I may, I would like to respond.

I welcome the Minister's statement that things are back to normal. Thanks be to God for that. However, unfortunately, as we both know, there is nothing normal about this pipe and that is the reason it is being fully replaced. What issues, if any, must now be addressed by Irish Water? While I acknowledge the tremendous work that has been done, the contract is for an 18-month period. It was signed last September. Is there any way in which the rest of the process can be accelerated? In other words, rather than wait until the end of the year, can we shorten that timeline and make sure when the new pipes are installed there will be a seamless and continuous water supply for many years to come?

I thank the Deputy for his question. It is one I explored with officials earlier this morning as to whether we could accelerate some of the delivery of this pipeline. The Deputy and I both know the site very well. We know the type of pipe we are talking about. It is a very old asbestos concrete pipe which is particularly weak at the point of the bottom of the hill because of the severe pressure that is placed on it. Therefore, it has been prone to break, as we have seen. That repair fit has happened but, obviously, the long-term solution is to replace the whole pipeline.

Regarding the particular project that is being undertaken by the Irish Water, the pipe has been delivered and we have it for installation. A contract is in place with someone to install it. The design is done for the section that needs to be replaced. Agreement has been almost reached with every landowner. There is just one final piece to be resolved but I am assured it will be resolved very quickly. There is an application for consent that is needed in regard to some of the archaeological sites that are there. This is for the whole piece of pipe that is to be replaced. We are still on time to start that work in a matter of weeks and to have all of the pipeline replaced by the end of the year. I have asked officials if they can look at that particular section of the pipe at the bottom of the hill where the pressure is and try to expedite that piece of work. There could be another break - let us be honest about it.

It is an old pipe. We will try to accelerate that piece of the work and they are looking at that at the moment.

I thank the Minister for that.

We will wait for the Minister who is taking the next matter. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is taking Deputy Mick Barry's Topical Issue matter.

The Topical Issue debate was due to start at 8 p.m. and I was late because it began sooner.

This business was brought forward because previous business finished sooner than expected.

Deputy Barry's issue concerns a proposed incinerator in Ringaskiddy.

All the Minister needs to know is that it is bad.

I live less than an kilometre from an incinerator and it is bigger than any I have ever seen.

Garda Divisional Headquarters

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is taking the Topical Issue matter on a Garda headquarters for County Meath; he is from County Cork but he will manage that.

I have raised the issue of Garda resources in Meath on several occasions with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in this Chamber but that was specifically to do with the personnel requirements for our county which still rank as the lowest in the country, a fact confirmed on Monday of this week when the chief superintendent confirmed that resources allocated to Kildare have relegated us to bottom position when it comes to the number of the gardaí per capita in the division.

The issue I specifically want to raise is the physical resources and the fact that there is no Garda divisional headquarters building for the force in County Meath. I believe County Meath is the only county in the country where there is no divisional headquarters. The net result of having no divisional headquarters building was laid out fairly firmly by our chief superintendent, Fergus Healy, and superintendent Mick Devine at a joint policing committee meeting with our members on Monday of this week.

I want to stress the following point, and it is a little like my exchanges with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in respect of personnel.

I make the call for divisional headquarters in Meath on behalf of our chief superintendent, the head of our force in County Meath. He asks for these resources so that he can do his job, and he has stated openly at a recent meeting that this needs to happen.

The net result of not having a divisional headquarters has real impacts for him and his force because they are not able to conduct policing in Meath in a cohesive and strategic way, and I shall explain why. There are more than 100 members of the force crammed into an outdated district station in Navan. Key services are spread out all over the county away from the county town. The drugs unit is based in Slane. The scene of crime unit is located in a civilian building in Athlumney. The traffic corps is based in Dunshaughlin in the south of the county while the inspector in charge of it is based in Navan. The victims' office and the child protection office are in Athlumney. The key superintendent is based in a Garda station in Navan while the chief superintendent and other members are away in other civilian offices. There is no cohesiveness to the force whatsoever and this has a very real impact in the way policing is carried out in County Meath.

I have argued on several occasions in the Chamber over the last year for more gardaí for the county but if more are allocated there is nowhere in the main station in Navan to put them. In fact, there is nowhere to put the criminals because the building has only four cells. On a Saturday night the four cells are full before midnight and it is like a taxi service bringing the lads around the county to find a room for the criminals. There is only one interview room in Navan station and as a result there is a queue outside to bring them in. Our plain-clothes detectives are located in prefabs to the rear of the station.

I appeal to the Minister to look at the situation and to engage positively with the force so that they can do the job that the Minister, the Department and I are so proud of. We expect gardaí to do a job and they should be properly resourced to do it. Currently they are not. I am here today to speak on their behalf.

I am aware of the role the Office of Public Works, OPW, plays in this process. During a Topical Issue debate on the matter on 17 October 2017, I asked the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, about this divisional headquarters. The Minister told me that he would approach the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Boxer Moran, about the site and that he would come back to me. That has not happened. I too have mentioned the site to the Minister of State and there has been no word back from either office since last October. This site has been earmarked by the chief superintendent. It could accommodate such a building.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, informed me last October that he expected my area to benefit from the capital plan and the envelope of funding that had been put aside. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, indicate by how much Meath will benefit and will we get the divisional headquarters that County Meath requires? Meath is the only county in the State without a divisional headquarters.

I speak on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who cannot be here as he is on official business. He sends his apologies. He and I thank Deputy Cassells for raising this matter in the House.

The Deputy will be aware that the programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is progressed by the Garda authorities working in close co-operation with the Office of Public Works. The Minister for Justice and Equality has no direct role in these matters.

Significant efforts are being made by the Government to enhance the working environment generally for members of An Garda Síochána and major investment has been committed under the capital plan 2016-21 to upgrade Garda premises. The Garda station building and refurbishment programme 2016-21 is an ambitious five-year programme based on agreed Garda priorities that will benefit more than 30 locations around the State. It includes more than €60 million of Exchequer funding as part of Government’s capital plan 2016-21 as well as a major public private partnership project. The programme is providing new stations and modernising older stations at key locations around the State, ensuring safe, modern working environments for members and staff of An Garda Síochána as well as fit-for-purpose facilities for visitors, victims and suspects.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has been informed by the Garda authorities that the divisional headquarters for the Meath division is based in Navan. The programme 2016-21 does not include the development of a new divisional headquarters for County Meath. Provision is made, however, under the programme for significant works at the existing divisional headquarters involving the complete demolition of the existing cell block as well as the construction of a new cell block and overhead office accommodation at Navan Garda station. The Minister is further informed that An Garda Síochána is actively engaged with the OPW to progress these works.

The Minister confirms that the Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the State in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. To achieve this, the Government has put in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. We are making real, tangible progress on achieving this goal.

The allocation and management of resources, including Garda personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. The Minister has been informed that the strength of the Meath division on 30 April 2018, the latest date for which information is readily available, was 312. He has been further informed that there are also 16 Garda Reserve members and 30 Garda civilian staff attached to the Meath division. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

In his reply the Minister of State has said, "The Minister for Justice and Equality has been informed by the Garda authorities that the divisional headquarters for the Meath division is based in Navan". There is no divisional headquarters in Navan. This is why I am here. The chief superintendent outlined this fact to the joint policing committee meeting on Monday. I am in the House constantly arguing on their behalf. It is really annoying that nobody in this building seems to listen to the force. It would be different if I was coming in here to attack the Ministers for a lack of resources by making political charges. This man has spoken publicly on Monday of this week that he cannot cohesively or effectively do the job he is expected to do with the current set up. I keep going back to this point.

The chief superintendent has called for more personnel and is now calling for a proper divisional headquarters. Meath is the only county in the State without a divisional headquarters. This is coming from the leader of a force that the Government is here to support. The chief superintendent feels so passionately about it that he is bringing all of the members of the joint policing committee, JPC, on a tour to Wexford to see what a proper divisional headquarters building looks like. He wants to clearly illustrate to the elected members, and to the civilian and community leaders on that JPC, how a force in another part of the State is well resourced to the tune of a €30 million building, and yet the Meath force is expected to work out of a multiple of prefabs dotted around the county.

In his reply this evening the Minister of State said that, "The Minister for Justice and Equality has been informed by the Garda authorities that the divisional headquarters for the Meath division is based in Navan". I have read to the House where all the different units are located: the traffic corps is in Dunshaughlin, the drugs unit is in Slane and different units are based elsewhere. They are all over the county. There is no divisional headquarters. The Topical Issue speaks to the fact that there is none and we require a building for the force to be able to do its job.

At the meeting of the JPC on Monday we discussed the Meath divisional plan. The document cannot, however, be implemented properly if the men and women of the force are not properly resourced. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, ask the Minister to make sure the force in Meath is properly resourced so it can meet the challenges of the job it is expected to do. There is no point in Garda authorities spinning a line to the Minister for Justice and Equality saying there is a divisional headquarters in Navan, when quite clearly there is not. If the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State would like to come to Navan we can show them that no such building exists. This is why I am here tonight arguing the case.

Last October I was given a promise that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran, would revert to me on the examination of the site. It is not acceptable that not even a courtesy has been shown to come back to me since then with regard to the examination of the site as an option for building a divisional headquarters for County Meath.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, I thank Deputy Cassells for rasing the matter. I can sense his passion and how strongly he feels on the issue.

I assure the Deputy that significant efforts are being made to enhance the working environment generally for members of An Garda Síochána and unprecedented investment has been committed under the capital plan 2016-21 to upgrade Garda premises. The Garda station building and refurbishment programme is an ambitious five-year programme based on agreed Garda priorities that will benefit more than 30 locations around the State. It includes more than €60 million of Exchequer funding as part of Government’s capital plan 2016-21 as well as a major public private partnership project. The programme is providing new stations and modernising older stations at key locations around the State, ensuring safe, modern working environments for members and staff of An Garda Síochána as well as fit-for-purpose facilities for visitors, victims and suspects. Although the programme does not include the development of a new divisional headquarters for County Meath provision is made under the programme for significant works at the existing divisional headquarters: the complete demolition of the existing cell block as well as the construction of a new cell block and overhead office accommodation at Navan Garda station. An Garda Síochána is actively engaged with the OPW to progress these works. When completed, these works will enhance the working conditions of all concerned. An Garda Síochána and the OPW are working closely together at the moment to bring this about.

Will the Minister of State comment on the status of the site?

I thank the Deputy and the Minister of State. We shall move on.

It is not good enough.

Disposal of Hazardous Waste

There is shock, disgust and rage in the communities of the lower harbour in Cork at the decision announced this morning by An Bord Pleanála to give the green light to a 240,000 tonne per year hazardous waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy. I got a text before coming to the Chamber from a resident of Cobh, one of the harbour communities, who told me that the phrase on people's lips was "Only money matters, not lives".

As the Minister knows, this was not the first or second application, but the third, by Indaver for planning permission for this monstrosity. Over the past 17 years, the two previous applications were rejected. An oral hearing on the third application was held in 2016. The inspector, Mr. Derek Daly, recommended against granting planning permission and said that the environmental impact statement lacked robustness. He raised questions re health implications, the dioxin intake and the implications for air quality. He indicated his belief that planning permission would not have been compatible with tourism initiatives in the Cork lower harbour or with the National Maritime College of Ireland, which is situated there. He also raised questions as to the safety of air navigation at Haulbowline naval base should this project proceed.

A decision was expected in 2016, but it never came. A decision was expected last year, but it never came. A decision was deferred not once, twice or three times, but nine times. In fact, one report I heard today put that number at ten. The decision was delayed time and again for two years. The question that people are rightly asking is what the hell was going on behind the scenes while those deferrals were taking place. Will the Minister comment on that point? Is he aware of any major planning permission decision that has been deferred as often and for as long as this one? Can he offer an explanation as to why that might be the case?

Indaver is involved in for-profit waste disposal, with profitability predicated on a steady flow of waste to a facility. Indaver will have its facility for 30 years, so it must maximise the feed of waste to it. How does one square 240,000 tonnes of municipal waste and 24,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year with a policy of reduce, reuse and recycle? The two point in opposite directions. If recycling facilities are successful, it undermines the incinerator. If recycling initiatives fail, it adds to the success of the incinerator. Does the Minister agree that this undermines recycling initiatives?

I wish to make a number of points about the campaign to stop this monstrosity, but I will save them for my supplementary contribution and await the Minister's reply to my questions.

It is important to point out that, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I have no role or remit in the decision made by An Bord Pleanála today, nor do I have any role in planning policy or planning legislation. I am advised by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that An Bord Pleanála is independent in discharging its functions under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Furthermore, section 30 of the Act provides that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government shall not exercise any power or control in respect of any case with which the board is or may be concerned other than in specified circumstances that do not apply in this case.

My role as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in waste management is to provide a comprehensive legislative and policy framework through which the relevant regulatory bodies, such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, operate. Our national waste policy is predicated on and consistent with European Union waste policy, which has the waste hierarchy as its cornerstone. Under the waste hierarchy, the prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling and recovery of waste is preferred to the disposal or landfill of waste.

In Ireland, Deputies will be aware that waste management planning, including with regard to infrastructure provision, is the responsibility of local authorities under the Waste Management Act 1996, as amended. Furthermore, under section 60(3) of that Act, I am precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of the performance, in specific cases, by a local authority of its statutory functions under the Act.

The local authority sector has met its waste planning obligations through the development and delivery of regional waste management plans by the three regional waste management offices. The most recent iteration of regional waste management plans sets out how waste generated will be managed over the period from 2015 to 2021, which is in line with national and EU waste management policy, and supports the development of up to 300,000 tonnes of additional thermal recovery capacity nationally, which includes waste to energy, out to 2030. This figure was determined to ensure in the first instance adequate and competitive treatment capacity in the market and, second, that the State's self-sufficiency requirements for the recovery of municipal waste are met. The plans also reflect the move away from landfilling because it is the least desirable method of managing waste. Furthermore, that level of thermal recovery capacity takes account of the requirement to achieve a recycling rate of municipal waste in excess of 60% by 2030, which is in line with one of the new EU recycling targets.

The three regional waste management plans have a headline target for the prevention and recycling of waste. Good waste management planning aims to maximise prevention and recycling and minimise the quantity of residual waste arising. It also recognises the need for sustainable infrastructure to deal with residual waste as we move away from the less sustainable practice of landfilling.

As the Deputy knows, the House had a protracted debate in or around this time last year on the issue of flat-rate bin charges. I made the point then that the objective was, first, to discourage the generation of waste and, second, the segregation of waste into brown and recycling bins. I am still determined to do that.

A question on levies was asked during Question Time. I am currently reviewing all levies. My priority is to encourage the prevention of waste or, where that is not possible, its recycling as opposed to other methods. We must ensure that it is only as a last resort that waste goes into one of our four landfills, a number that will have decreased to three by the end of this year.

The Minister mentioned the question of levies, so I will ask a question about levies. Were I him, toxic incineration of this kind would be knocked on the head. A previous Minister, former Deputy John Gormley, introduced something that was not a ban on, but disincentive of, incineration, namely, the incineration levy. Another former Minister who is a member of the party that the current Minister, Deputy Naughten, is in coalition government with, the now European Commissioner Phil Hogan, had that levy removed. What is the Minister's opinion on the idea of reintroducing the levy? That is a direct question.

In my opening remarks, I asked the Minister a different direct question to which he did not reply. I would like him to reply when he concludes. I asked whether he was aware of any case in the history of planning at An Bord Pleanála where there had been nine or ten deferrals and delays over a period of two years on such a serious issue. Can he offer any explanation as to why that might be the case?

The immediate issue for the campaign in the harbour communities is to fund a judicial review.

That seems to be what they are looking at. They are trying to raise €150,000 and the GoFundMe campaign, from what I have seen, is well under way. Another discussion is under way. It comes in the aftermath of the success of the anti-water charges campaign, and the idea that people power and civil disobedience is a powerful weapon in the hands of ordinary people, the idea of physically blocking the construction of this monstrosity. Nearly 20 years ago in Cobh, people power stopped the pylons and a discussion is beginning in communities tonight about whether people power might be necessary to block construction of this thing in Ringaskiddy. It would be a big step to take. It would need serious planning, organisation and discussion but it is a discussion that I believe is under way from now.

The Deputy has asked me two questions. I answered the first in my initial statement, that I do not have any role whatsoever in planning policy or legislation.

It was not a question.

That is the answer. I have a role relating to levies. I am currently looking at reviewing the levies both with regard to putting material on the market in the first place and also landfill, export of waste and incineration. All of those levies are up for consideration, as are individual levies for consumers. We have been working on that for some time and we hope to make progress on that over the coming months.