This is a Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.
Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] : Report and Final Stages.
I am pleased to be here to report on the amendments that were made to the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 during its passage through the Dáil. However, before I do that, I wish to make two broad comments. First, the Bill has genuinely benefited from the consideration given to it in both Houses. This has resulted in significant amendments to the text by the Government but also as a result of changes proposed by the Opposition. Second, the improvements to the Bill are in no small way related to the length of time given to its consideration by the Houses since publication of the Bill last January.
The Bill has been considered for over 40 hours in the two Houses and this is an indication of our commitment both to the environment and to the legislative process itself. The extensiveness of the amendments may well provoke comment. In response, I point out that the production of legislation is not an everyday matter. It takes time to draft and it is often problematic to find time for debate in the Houses. It is right that, when an opportunity such as this Bill presents itself, we should take that opportunity to deal with as many issues as possible for the benefit of the environment. In view of the significance of the amendments, Senators will understand if I deal with those of substance and leave to one side those that are purely technical or consequential. If Members have queries on amendments not specifically referred to, I will be glad to elaborate on them later.
Changes that were made to the Bill in the latter stages of its consideration in the Dáil are contained in amendments Nos. 25, 32, 46, 51 and 52 which provide for the transposition of European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles – commonly referred to as the ELV directive – and for a legislative framework for its implementation in Ireland. The amendments are primarily concerned with providing enabling powers to facilitate the satisfactory implementation of the ELV directive.
The directive incorporates measures aimed at meeting new ELV recovery and recycling targets of 85% reuse/recovery by 1 January 2006 – 80% materials recycling – and 95% reuse/recovery by 1 January 2015 – 85% materials recycling; ensuring that all ELVs that come within the scope of the directive can be deposited free of charge by their final owners at authorised treatment facilities and then dismantled, treated and recovered in an environmentally sound manner; introducing systems whereby certificates of destruction are notified to the competent vehicle registration authorities on the deposit of ELVs at authorised treatment facilities for appropriate treatment and recovery; and minimising the use by vehicle manufacturers of hazardous substances in vehicles.
In simple terms, the directive requires producers to take financial responsibility for the free take-back and recovery of ELVs with effect from 1 July 2002 in respect of vehicles put on the market from that date and 1 January 2007 in respect of all vehicles. Thus, the final owners of ELVs covered by the directive will be entitled to deposit their vehicles at permitted dismantlers free of charge from not later than 1 January 2007. This will be a far cry from the current position where responsible ELV owners generally deposit their vehicles at vehicle dismantlers or shredders for treatment and recovery, incurring, in a significant percentage of cases, a gate fee in the process. The implementation of the free ELV take-back provisions of the directive should result in a reduction in the number of ELVs abandoned by their last owners, thereby reducing their availability for joy-riding and other anti-social purposes. This should ease the burden on local authorities who have had to deal with the collection and recovery of abandoned vehicles from their own resources.
Significant costs will be involved in upgrading dismantling facilities to the standard required by the directive. It is generally acknowledged that there are significant deficiencies in the vehicle dismantling and shredding sectors and these issues will have to be addressed to ensure that these will be capable of meeting the onerous new standards which the directive will impose. These matters have been, and will continue to be, the subject of discussions with the economic sectors concerned with a view to the early introduction of workable arrangements which will be not only in the interests of the environment, but also of road safety and car owners generally.
In relation to the transposition of the IPPC directive, one of the key underlying aims of the Bill is to enhance environmental compliance. Of particular importance in this regard is amendment No. 8, which introduces a revised section 63 to the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. The purpose of the revised section is to ensure that local authorities can, and do, exercise their environmental responsibilities.
The original section 63 foresaw the EPA providing advice and assistance to local authorities for the purposes of environmental protection and, where necessary, requiring local authorities to act in a specified manner. However, the general supervisory role for the EPA envisaged under section 63 did not develop as originally foreseen. This was due in part to some rigidities in the wording of the section and, in part, to a "let out" clause which left room for argument about financial resources available to local authorities to perform the functions in question. The new section 63 is an instrument for real action by the EPA and local authorities in cases where this is necessary to protect the environment. It provides for a graduated series of actions by the EPA, initially relying on a partnership approach, where it is concerned as to the environmental performance of a local authority.
The Environmental Protection Agency will be able to request information from local authorities; carry out broader assessments of local authority performance; provide advice, assistance or support; where appropriate, issue for comments a proposed direction to the authority to take specific action within a specified timescale; and amend or confirm the direction following consideration of any views offered by the authority or decide not to confirm it. In addition, where an emergency arises or is imminent the agency will be able to issue a direction immediately to ensure timely action. Other important amendments aim to improve environmental enforcement and compliance.
Amendment No. 6 requires the courts, in imposing penalties under the Environmental Protection Agency Act, not only to have regard to the risk or extent of damage caused to the environment arising from an offence, but also to have regard to the remediation required. The issue of remediation is also dealt with in amendment No. 10 which precludes the agency from issuing an IPPC licence unless it is satisfied that necessary remedial measures will be taken if an accident occurs.
On the general issue of pursuing environmental compliance, amendment No. 9 makes provision for implementation in Ireland of possible future EU legislation to secure better implementation and enforcement of EU environmental legislation. One of the results of the work to date in this regard at EU level has been a recommendation of the Council and Parliament on minimum criteria or standards to be followed by competent authorities in the carrying out of environmental inspections. The new section makes appropriate provision for its implementation in Ireland.
The application of IPPC licensing to the intensive agricultural sector was raised in this House. Some changes were made in the Dáil on foot of these discussions, namely, in amendments Nos. 12, 14, 58 and 59. The key points are that the threshold at which licensing becomes mandatory for pig breeding units has moved for sows from 650 places to 750 places and in relation to integrated units licensing will occur at 285 places rather than 275 places as originally proposed. It has also been made mandatory, rather than discretionary, for the EPA to operate the special concession in the directive which allows practical considerations to be taken into account in the licensing of intensive agriculture. It has been clarified that the EPA may require information in relation to lands proposed to be used for land-spreading of slurry.
Part 3 of the Bill relates to the enforcement provisions of the Waste Management Acts. These are being strengthened through a number of important amendments made in the Dáil. The fines for offences under the Acts have been increased significantly by virtue of amendment No. 27. As in the IPPC code, the courts will have regard to remediation when deciding on the penalties.
Under amendment No. 28 a new provision is being included through which landowners can, having regard to certain factors, be deemed to be complicit in illegal dumping activities on their lands until the contrary can be proved.
The powers of authorised persons to stop, inspect and detain vehicles under the Waste Management Acts are also being strengthened by virtue of amendment No. 29. In addition, in support of more effective involvement of the Garda Síochána in certain enforcement cases, amendment No. 26 enables the Garda Commissioner to appoint members of the Garda Síochána to be "authorised persons", ensuring that the powers under the Acts can be made available speedily to individual gardaí, where necessary.
In relation to enforcement issues, amendment No. 49 provides that the courts, when addressing the costs dimension to orders under section 57 of the 1996 Act, can make provision to cover the costs incurred by the agency in carrying out investigations associated with the section 57 order application.
The Dáil also made amendments which introduce a number of improvements to the licensing provisions of the waste management code. Amendment No. 36 explicitly requires the agency, in making decisions on licence applications, to have regard to the policies of the Minister and the Government in relation to waste. In addition, the matters in relation to which the agency must be satisfied before granting a licence have been expanded, under amendment No. 37, to include a number of additional issues, largely mirroring the IPPC code.
Given that waste licences issued by the EPA include provisions in relation to post-closure after care of waste facilities, it is no longer necessary that the EPA should be required to review a waste licence in every case where an activity ceases. Accordingly, amendment No. 42 changes the current mandatory requirement in this regard and gives the agency discretion in the matter. At the same time, however, amendment No. 45 provides that while licences shall cease to have effect after three years have elapsed since the cessation of an activity, it makes clear that the cessation of a licence does not affect or diminish the conditions, obligations or requirements the licence places on the licensee.
Amendment No. 35 introduces an important mechanism for resolving any dispute as to whether a particular waste activity is licensable by the agency or permissible by a local authority. In the event of such a dispute, the agency will make the final determination on the matter.
In relation to the licensing provisions of the waste code, amendment No. 55 includes a provision which sets out the transitional arrangements to apply in moving from the waste manage ment code as it now stands to the new scenario following the commencement of the relevant provisions of this Bill.
Regarding the charging provisions of the Bill, amendment No. 33 clarifies that the power of local authorities to refuse to collect waste can be invoked not just where there are unpaid charges under the new regime to be introduced under the Bill, but also in relation to charges under the existing regime which remain unpaid. In addition, amendments Nos. 33 and 54 will ensure that the making and enforcement of waste charges by the local authority manager cannot be frustrated by actions taken by the elected members under other provisions of the local government and waste management codes.
Amendment No. 31 makes a number of changes in relation to issues connected with the interface between planning and waste. In response to circumstances which have arisen in one local authority area, whereby the elected members have adopted a development plan which includes provisions designed to undermine the regional waste management plan, the amendment provides that in such circumstances the provisions of the waste management plan must prevail. In addition, to support the continued growth in recycling activities, the amendment introduces a requirement that new developments make appropriate provision for modern waste management facilities.
This is important and extensive legislation which has benefited greatly from lengthy consideration in both Houses. As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, stated at the start of the Second Stage debate in this House: "Legislation alone is not enough, but without a strong framework of rules and regulations we will not achieve the environmental quality to which we aspire and to which the Government is committed."
On a point of information, I seek clarification of a matter. The Minister of State has presented a report to the House on the amendments made by the other House. I do not consider his statement to be a full report as it does not include commentary on several amendments. I do not know what the technical amendments mean, as required of me as a legislator.
I request that the Acting Chairman ask the Minister of State to make available to the House, before the end of the debate and in adequate time, an explanation of the technical amendments. Failing this, I ask that the debate be adjourned until such time as the requested explanation is available. As a legislator, I am not in a position to judge the technical amendments and their effects as we have not been given a full report.
It is perhaps stretching it to accept it as a point of information.
It is probably a point of order. I am trying to be helpful in asking the Acting Chairman for information.
I have some empathy with the Senator if she is expected to respond in the absence of information. The Chair has no control over that aspect, but perhaps the Minster of State's officials will deal with the matter and endeavour to provide the information before the Senator is called upon to speak. I remind Senators they can speak only once on this Stage.
I am disappointed at the time allocated to this Stage, especially given that 62 amendments, covering 35 pages, have been made by the Dáil. It now appears that the Bill was not thoroughly thought through at draft stage. When it was debated in the House, Members on this side submitted numerous amendments, probably as many as were submitted in the Dáil. Many of them were guillotined. I am glad to see that, on reflection, the Minister changed his mind in that he accepted in the Dáil a number of amendments he refused to accept when moved in this House. We do not like piecemeal legislation of this kind. Rushed legislation makes bad law.
I abhor the manner in which the Minister has used the legislation to remove functions from local authorities.
He has emasculated them.
In view of the provisions of amendment No. 54, the Minister's next step will be to abolish local authorities. As it is, he is reducing the functions of local authority members on a daily basis, despite the fact that they seek a mandate from the people every five years. They are the voice of the people at local level. The Local Government Act has also further depleted their powers. It is a shabby way to treat the bedrock of local democracy.
I am gravely disappointed at the manner in which this Bill is presented to the Seanad on the penultimate sitting day of this session. I support my colleagues in seeking additional time for debate. We cannot realistically be expected to accept the Minister of State's report, especially in view of the number of amendments made to the Bill by the Dáil. Matters have been compounded by the fact that Members received copies of the amendments only this morning. Mistakes have been made in the past by rushing legislation through the Oireachtas. Several Bills have had to be amended in consequence and I have no doubt that amending legislation will be required to rectify the mistakes inherent in this Bill.
The Minister of State indicated his intention only to explain the purpose of the main amendments made by the Dáil. However, in fairness to the public, all amendments must be fully explained. The Minister must explain why he accepted an amendment in the Dáil which he emphatically rejected when proposed by this side of the house on Report Stage. It extends the threshold at which licensing becomes mandatory for pig breeding units, from 650 places for sows to 750 places, while licensing for integrated units will occur at 285 places rather than 275, as originally proposed. On Report Stage, we pointed out that the 750 places and 285 places, respectively, were a requirement of a European Union directive. Why did the original draft contravene these requirements?
Several other amendments require detailed explanation, including those dealing with the right of local authorities not to collect household waste. Will the Minister of State indicate who will make people comply with waste collection charges? Senator O'Meara, the Minister of State and I travel to this House from counties Tipperary, Donegal and Longford respectively and we see the way in which fields, pavements, roadsides and ditches are littered owing to indiscriminate dumping from cars and so on. When will this problem be addressed? It is the most often discussed issue among foreign visitors. Indiscriminate dumping in the countryside gives them a very bad impression. It will only increase if local authorities are not obliged to collect refuse.
There are no provisions for waivers for the elderly and others who are not in a position to pay the full charge for the collection of waste. When this becomes law, the cost of domestic waste collection will greatly accelerate. The less well off will not be in a position to bear the brunt of the charges. The waste will have to go somewhere and the result will be more indiscriminate dumping. The matter must be addressed.
Funding to implement the provisions on waste collection and dumping, such as the provision of cameras on cul-de-sac roads, is required. Most local authorities do not have the money to provide the necessary infrastructure to implement this and previous legislation. It is several years since there was a national anti-litter campaign. It is time all local authorities were encouraged to combine their efforts in all-out campaign against indiscriminate dumping in the countryside. The Minister should be proactive in this and should ensure that the necessary assistance is provided. He could, for example, ensure the availability of freephone numbers to enable members of the public to highlight instances of illegal dumping.
I am disappointed at the short time allocated to consider the 62 amendments made by the Dáil to the Bill. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could explain them in more detail and highlight the major changes. Perhaps he would consider our request to give more time to this Stage. Rushed legislation makes bad law. We do not want to waste the time of the House in having to consider amendments to the legislation at a later date.
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this extremely important legislation. I cannot understand why Senator Bannon feels there has not been adequate time to discuss the Bill when 40 hours have been devoted to it in both Houses. As the Minister pointed out, he has dealt in great detail with the main amendments and I have every confidence in the Members of the Dáil and in the Department's officials. By addressing its technicalities, they can only have enhanced and strengthened the Bill.
I welcome the amendment which addresses end-of-life vehicles. Dublin has long had a huge problem with abandoned cars and vehicles which are commonly referred to as "company cars". Children as young as 12 years of age can buy an abandoned vehicle for as little as €50 and take it onto the roads. It is a major problem. The amendments made in the Dáil deal comprehensively with this issue and this is to be warmly welcomed. The achievement of the goal of 85% recycling of materials by 2007 can only be of benefit to everyone. A person with a vehicle which has reached the end of its life can bring it to a centre without incurring a charge as the cost is borne by the original supplier of the car. The person can be secure in the knowledge that cars left at such a centre will not return to the roads under a different registration or in the hands of a child of 13 or 14 years of age. This provision is also welcome.
When this Bill was discussed in the House previously, particularly on Committee Stage, I felt the Minister paid very close attention. It is obvious now that he did. While he is under no obligation to accept Committee Stage amendments in the Seanad, during the time which elapsed before the legislation came before the Dáil a process of discussion and democracy in action took place. Changes were made on foot of that process. While a Minister may reject an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad, a similar provision may be produced after a period of discussion within his party and with other parties and outside bodies. The changes made through this process can only strengthen a Bill. In this instance, the Minister is to be commended for making the changes he did to the Bill while it was before the Dáil. In many cases the changes which have been made serve to strengthen the hands of local authorities in the area of waste management.
We have had a huge problem with the issue of charges, particularly in Dublin where certain political parties have hijacked for political purposes the fact that people are now required to pay for waste removal. Their motives have nothing to do with the good of the environment or of the people who produce the waste. These parties have used people's fears to score political points, but it is not working. Since wheely bins were introduced, the streets have been cleaned up. On estates in the suburbs, the bins can be seen outside houses on collection day. The vast majority of people have no problem with paying to have their waste removed. They realise that we will reach a point at which charges will be imposed according to the weight or volume of waste, which is an encouragement to begin to recycle. If my children see me throwing out a newspaper, they point it out to me as a result of changes in the educational process.
The amendments made in the Dáil serve only to enhance the Bill. When the legislation was first before the Seanad I gave it a warm welcome. As the Minister pointed out, it represents part of an overall strategy to improve our environment. Senator Bannon spoke of driving across the country to see streets which are littered with rubbish, but there have been vast improvements in the past three or four years. No one can argue with that. The plastic bag levy has worked and the revenues being generated are being invested directly in waste management. Only this week, the world's foremost waste water management facility opened in Ringsend. Such are the changes taking place. I commend the Minister on the introduction of the Bill. As part of our overall strategy, it will strengthen the effects of the changes being made to our environment.
I have already expressed my unhappiness at the manner in which we are dealing with this legislation. I stated on the Order of Business my dissatisfaction with the time allowed, but I am also unhappy with the way in which information is being imparted to us. I am not happy that we are not addressing technical amendments. I have not been provided with the information necessary to do that. While I hope the Minister covers the technical amendments in his reply, the unsatisfactory nature of the procedure in respect of this Bill means we will not be given an opportunity to respond to any issue raised. I am very unhappy about that and I intend to take the matter further. At the very least, spokespersons should be briefed on all amendments before coming to the House in time to be able to consider them actively. The Minister's statement should have been circulated well in advance of this Stage.
During yesterday's discussion of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill 2002, many Members on all sides expressed concern at the treatment of the House. Unless we stand up for ourselves, we will continue to be walked over. I do not approve of the way we are operating this morning. Clearly, it is a poor way to approach legislation. I will raise the matter with the Leader of the House and my colleagues on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and ask that departmental officials brief Members. On this Bill alone, there are 62 amendments, most of which the Minister says are technical. We have no way of knowing if he is correct. Sometimes a Minister tells the House an amendment is technical which subsequently turns out not to be. At the very least, ministerial statements should be circulated in advance and a briefing should be available. Departments have no problem with briefing Members generally and when a scenario such as this occurs, that should be built into the process. We have such a scenario in two instances today and it is simply not good enough.
I would not be at all surprised if problems were to arise in respect of this legislation at a future date. The Bill was substantial when it came before this House originally and it has been considerably amended by the Dáil. Major elements are contained in this important legislation which have significant implications, particularly for local authorities and the way in which they do their business, especially in terms of the environment. It also has huge implications for householders and major implications for the role of local authorities which we have, in effect, emasculated. I am still a member of a local authority and my colleagues and I have been carved out of the process. One wonders why anyone would wish to be elected to a local authority when one sees the extent to which powers have been undermined and abolished, particularly in relation to waste. Local authority members have been undermined in terms of how they may speak and act on behalf of their communities.
The last amendments referred to by the Minister, particularly amendments Nos. 35 and 54, are draconian and should be challenged under the Constitution. Unfortunately, I will not make that challenge but they should be challenged because they are far too wide ranging and draconian in their intent and effect.
This legislation was designed to do two things in general, to transpose the directive and remove from local authority members the power to impose charges for the disposal of waste, particularly household waste. It was designed to give the manager superpower status in setting charges and ensure that people who do not pay them do not have their bins collected. However, the legislation that has returned to this House is a more powerful measure.
There are some welcome amendments, such as the ELV amendments. I am relying on the Minister's interpretation of these amendments but I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The amendments relate to the ELV directive and the recovery and recycling targets for ELVs. The disposal of ELVs is a thorny issue and has become more so with the introduction of the NCT. I have had experience with this problem in a wooded area where I go walking when I get the opportunity. One day I counted five dumped vehicles in this beautiful environment, damaging it considerably. Happily, when Coillte was alerted to the situation, it dealt with the disposal of the vehicles at its own expense.
Old vehicles are regularly dumped. One often gets calls from residents' associations, for instance, to notify one that a car has been abandoned in an estate or on the side of the road. In some cases, when a car is abandoned, the local authority collects it and leaves it in a local authority yard. That is not acceptable or fair. It is an uncivil thing to do and I hope the provisions in this legislation will discourage people from damaging their environment and being uncivil to their communities in this way. However, as with litter and dumping, there are some people who will not comply with the law, regardless of how easy compliance is made for them. Nevertheless, I hope the framework in this legislation will work.
Who will carry the burden for implementing these provisions? The Minister referred to the original producers. I am glad there is an attempt to ease the burden on local authorities but the Minister also spoke of the "significant costs involved in upgrading dismantling facilities". I presume we will be lobbied about that as well. Who will pay for it and will it be free to the user who will, ultimately, pay for the upgrading of dismantling facilities and the disposal of ELVs?
Amendment No. 8 deals with the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities. This is one of the more substantial amendments to what is, in effect, a new Bill. The amendment looks good when one reads it. However, how will it work in practice? It gives the Environmental Protection Agency considerable powers to direct a local authority to carry out certain functions, reports and so forth and to act in a particular way. In general, that is a solid and good proposal. I support giving the EPA such powers. However, what will the effect be on local authorities?
The issue of resources is critical. The main reason that local authorities are unable to carry out their statutory functions in relation to the environment is lack of resources in terms of personnel and money. I can give one example, although it is not a particularly good one because it relates to old mining activity, which is not covered by the waste management legislation. I have raised this matter on several occasions in the House. There is a severe environmental problem in the Silvermines area outside Nenagh which is caused by the old mine sites that were abandoned by Mogul Ireland and other mining companies. The EPA and the local authority have roles in dealing with it but, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Department is currently working on it but, unfortunately, at a snail's pace, which is not as fast as I or the community would like.
The local authority has the role of monitoring pollution from the tailings pond but I do not believe it has sufficient resources, in terms of personnel and so forth, to carry out that function. If the local authorities are being given such a major role in environmental controls relating to pig farms, dumps and the like, they must be resourced to carry out that role. Giving the EPA the power to force the local authorities to act in a certain way sounds good in theory but we must ensure that the local authorities are not placed in an unfair position due to lack of resources. The framework in the legislation is stronger than it was originally and I accept the Minister's comments on the need to strengthen it.
We have to conclude this debate at 12.30 p.m. and I am aware that other Members wish to contribute and the Minister will have to reply. However, there is a great deal to discuss in the amendments. I will limit my remarks but I must comment on amendment No. 54, a draconian amendment which provides that "a local authority shall not, by resolution, . . . . . require any act, matter or thing to be done or effected where the effect of such direction or requirement would be contrary to, or inconsistent with, this section and any such resolution purporting to be passed under the said section 140 which contravenes this subsection shall be void." It further provides: "The manager of a local authority may make an order prescribing that waste placed for the purposes of its being collected. . . . . In so far as there is any inconsistency between the provisions of an order under this subsection and bye-laws made by the local authority . . . . . the provisions of the order shall prevail." Paragraph (c) provides: "The manager of a local authority may by order amend or revoke an order made by him or her under this subsection. . . "
The effect of this amendment is, according to the Minister, to ensure that the making and enforcement of waste charges by the local authority manager cannot be frustrated by actions taken by the elected members under other provisions of the local government and waste management codes. It is designed to ensure that elected members cannot do anything the manager does not wish them to do with regard to waste management and collection. The manner in which the amendment is devised goes so far as to undermine local government completely and to deliver an unprecedented blow to the role and powers of local authority members. In that regard, it cannot be supported.
I could say more on these amendments but I will defer to other Members who wish to speak. The manner in which we are dealing with this Bill is wrong.
Many of the amendments made during the 40 hours of discussion on the Bill since it last came before this House serve to strengthen it. Senator Bannon spoke about the agricultural sector and the amendments in that regard are welcome. The Minister also took note of the discussion in this House. Many of the amendments that were made in the Dáil had previously been discussed here.
In regard to the EPA, the powers of local authorities and local elected members were mentioned. I, too, would like to see how this Bill will be operated by the EPA because its responsibilities are enormous. The elected members of local authorities agreed the waste management plans which county managers are now implementing, with very little change. Where councillors identify problems within their own area, it is important that the EPA act as a judge in terms of how the local authority members view the Waste Management Bill and the county manager operates it. We look forward to seeing what happens. County managers have a responsibility to take into account the views of the elected members of local authorities and only a very unwise county man ager would implement something that did not have support in his or her own area.
Many changes may be made to environmental legislation in the future. This is an honest attempt by the Minister and the Houses of the Oireachtas to implement the most important and fundamental legislation to come before the Houses in many years, the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003, transposing EU law into Irish law. We recognise the tremendous responsibility of local authorities and Members of the Oireachtas to protect our environment. Many tributes have been paid to the youth of the country who have played their part in the past. Old age pensioners currently benefit from the provision of free services such as electricity. Given that the cost of waste disposal is so high, this issue should be examined, perhaps not under this Bill but in the context of the Finance Bill and the free schemes.
I congratulate the Minister on implementing these changes and look forward to dealing with the amendments in this House.
In my introductory statement I stated clearly that I would focus on amendments other than those of a technical, textual or consequential nature. Examples of such are amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Since the Bill was first introduced, the title of the Minister has changed to include heritage. Amendment No. 4 is a correction to the text – it is more appropriate to refer to the 1992 Act as a whole rather than the preliminary part of the Act. In amending the Bill we will capture all parts of it. Amendment No. 17 is a correction to the syntax of the Bill by replacing the word "for" with the word "of". This is merely a flavour of the textual amendments. We do not have much time. That is the reason I focused on the more substantive amendments.
The Bill is an important one and all Members of both Houses appreciate the necessity for it. We differ on various sections and amendments but it has the effect of strengthening the law on industrial and other activities which have the potential to damage the environment. Its provisions impact for the good of all. The key environmental media are given an enhanced focus for action by the Environmental Protection Agency to secure energy efficiency and regulate greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The Bill also contains new provisions to improve the implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation. It contains a number of key decisions which are essential in order to further strengthen our approach to waste management. In short, the Bill is significant and a substantial addition to Ireland's environmental legislation and signals the Government's determination to ensure the environment receives the protection it deserves.
The EU directive on end-of-life vehicles is a major addition, one which is welcomed by all. The Minister and I were very anxious to take this opportunity, if the House will forgive the pun, to use the Bill as a vehicle to transpose the EU directive into Irish law. Senator Brennan is right in saying we have problems throughout the country in relation to this. This will ensure there will be a structure in place. We will sit down with the stakeholders and vested interests with a view to working out what is best for Ireland before the Minister signs any regulations.
It is a credit to this House and the Members of this and the other House that changes have been made in relation to the issue of pigs and sows. Senator Brennan and others were anxious that such changes be taken on board. We did not make the changes here on the day in question but took the opportunity to reflect on what Senators had said. We also tried to take into account and include other suggestions to strengthen the Bill as best we could and make it much more practical.
In regard to indiscriminate dumping, we took the opportunity in Part 4 of the Bill which comprises a number of amendments, to improve and further strengthen anti-litter action. Legislation is being implemented but I am sure everyone would agree that it is not enough. Citizens have a major role to play. All of us should call on our own people up and down the country. The country does not belong to the Government, the Seanad or the Dáil. The counties do not belong to the councillors. They belong to the people who have a responsibility to ensure the environment is protected. The buzzword is "sustainability". This applies to employment also, not just the environment. It also applies to social and economic factors. The people are responsible. We are the custodians of the environment and must pass on this country in a better state than we found it. We have a broad framework of legislation within which we must work in relation to the collection of waste.
I served on a local authority for many years and my county is a microcosm of the rest of the country. I know from experience that it is not the less well-off who do not pay their rates or meet their commitments. They are anxious to do this. What they want is a good service. The privatisation of waste collection has resulted in a reduction in some counties. Sligo is a typical example. If people are unable to pay, they can make a case to the county manager, if it is being collected by the local authority, to consider granting a waiver. If it is being collected by the private sector, a case can be made to the community welfare officer. Generally, there are not many people who cannot pay and county managers or community welfare officers should try to deal with these cases. It would not be right not to pay to let waste built up in the front garden in the hope it will be collected some time. That will not happen. It would be sending out the wrong message if we allowed people to think that.
In considering the Bill both here and in the Dáil the Minister and I were open to and accepted Opposition amendments, including amendments Nos. 58 and 59 to which Senator Brennan referred on the question of farming interests. We had a long debate in our own party about this. The Minister thought long and hard about it and agreed to introduce these amendments.
The question of waste charges has been discussed at length. Waste charges must be levied. We accept the polluter pays principle. It is a matter of EU law. This cannot be avoided, even if we wished to do so. Neither can I allow a situation to materialise where some elected representatives may attempt to frustrate the manager in collecting charges. Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 will address these concerns. We know from recent experience that some councillors have attempted to undermine their own plans.
Senator O'Meara referred, in particular, to amendment No. 8 and issues concerning resources. Such issues are important and are being addressed. However, there is a danger that doing so can become an excuse for inaction in specific cases. We, therefore, need a general instrument for the EPA to supervise local authorities properly in crucial cases which will not be a daily question for it.
I will refer briefly to waste plans, since I am aware of the time constraint.
I am sure the Minister of State would wish to be facilitated to conclude his remarks, which might take another five or six minutes.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Making the design of waste management plans an executive function has already been discussed at length in both Houses. Our approach is fully vindicated by the recent attempts on the part of a small number of councillors to undermine their own waste and development plans in Galway. We cannot allow further stalling. The plan currently in place must be implemented as soon as possible. We simply cannot have it both ways.
As I said in my opening remarks, the Bill has received extensive consideration in the Houses, from which it has benefited greatly. Other than in a relatively small number of respects, it has been generally well received. This reflects the fact that care for the environment is a key responsibility for everyone. As I said, we are all custodians of the environment and cannot point the finger at local authorities. We all have a responsibility when we see people flicking the cigarette packet, the bottle, the plastic bag or whatever it may be, which brings me to the major success of the plastic bag levy. When we see this happen, we have a responsibility to report those concerned. We cannot have local authority representatives at every crossroads to police matters. First and foremost, this is our country and we have a responsibility to ensure we pass it on in a better state than we found it.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the Bill completes the transposition into law of the 1996 EU directive on integrated pollution pre vention and control. The control licensing system operated by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1992 is generally acknowledged to have secured a substantial improvement in environmental performance in industrial and other activities, for example, reduced air and water emissions, energy savings, and a movement to more environmentally friendly processes and lower noise emissions. The Bill will build on our success in implementing integrated licensing in Ireland in advance of the directive. We had the vision to look further ahead when introducing legislation some time ago, even before the directive was introduced. We are achieving substantial compliance in advance of its deadlines.
I thank the Leader for her proposal to grant me a few extra minutes to elaborate. I deliberately decided to focus in my introductory statement on the substantive amendments to the Bill which have greatly improved it. The other amendments, as Senators will find if they go through them, are textual, technical or consequential.
Bohan, Eddie.Brady, Cyprian.Brennan, Michael.Callanan, Peter.Dooley, Timmy.Feeney, Geraldine.Fitzgerald, Liam.Glynn, Camillus.Kenneally, Brendan.Kett, Tony.Kitt, Michael P.Leyden, Terry.
MacSharry, Marc.Mansergh, Martin.Minihan, John.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Rourke, Mary.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Phelan, Kieran.Walsh, Jim.White, Mary M.Wilson, Diarmuid.
Bannon, James.Bradford, Paul.Browne, Fergal.Burke, Paddy.Burke, Ulick.Feighan, Frank.Finucane, Michael.Hayes, Brian.
Henry, Mary.McDowell, Derek.McHugh, Joe.O'Meara, Kathleen.Phelan, John.Ryan, Brendan.Terry, Sheila.Tuffy, Joanna.