I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House.
Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank my Labour Party colleagues for agreeing to use our Private Members' time to bring the Bill to Second Stage. I acknowledge the support of all Members of the House on this important matter, particularly those on the Government benches with whom I have discussed the need for and content of the Bill. I am aware of the work of Senator Byrne in the area and thank him for discussing the Bill. I also thank Senator Cummins who has worked with colleagues in the Government on the importance of this legislation. They are just two of the Senators to whom I have spoken on the issues raised by the Bill. I understand the Government is not opposing the Bill at this stage which is very good, and I thank it for this cross-party support on such an important matter.
I wish to use some of my time today to outline the provisions of this important Bill. Local authorities are competent authorities performing law enforcement functions when prosecuting offences under waste and litter legislation. The law enforcement directive applies to these activities. In 2018 the Data Protection Commission, DPC, inquired into the use of surveillance technologies by both the Garda Síochána and local authorities. This included an examination of the use of CCTV by local authorities in the enforcement of litter and waste management legislation. The DPC concluded that neither the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the Waste Management Act 1996 nor the Local Government Act 2001 are sufficient to meet the requirements of the law enforcement directive provisions in Part 5 of the 2018 Act regarding the deployment of CCTV cameras for law enforcement purposes.
It is important to stress that the directive does not prohibit the use of CCTV for such purposes. However, it requires that such use be properly authorised by law. Under the directive, two criteria must be fulfilled for data processing to be lawful. First, the processing must be necessary for the performance of a task of a competent authority. Second, the processing must be based on either European Union or member state law.
Where member state law forms the basis for processing, that law should specify the objective of processing, the personal data to be processed and the purposes of the processing. In other words, the local authorities' function of prosecuting crime as confirmed by law is not sufficient. The local authorities' processing of personal data, such as gathering and using images of identifiable individuals by CCTV to use as evidence in the prosecution of dumping cases, must also be based a provision of Union or member state law.
According to the DPC, the matters that member state law must specify do not necessarily need to be codified in an Act of the Oireachtas, but they must have a clear legal basis either in common law or in an enactment. It is illegitimate for an Act of the Oireachtas to implicitly provide for the processing of certain personal data without expressly listing each category of personal data that is to be processed. Such an Act would be sufficient to provide a lawful basis once the objectives, the personal data to be processed and the purposes are clear and foreseeable from the Act.
For example, the DPC examined section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which regulates the use of CCTV in public places by gardaí. The examination concluded that the section meets the requirements of Part 5 of the Data Protection Act 2018, interpreted along with the law enforcement directive. It is clear that personal data are being processed for the purposes of securing public order and safety in facilitating the prevention, detection and prosecution of offences.
Following my outline of the technicalities of this Bill, the simple fact is that illegal dumping is out of control. The problem is not confined to the remote, beautiful countryside, although it is at its worst there. This problem can be found on the main streets of cities and the main roads through towns as well as every secondary road and laneway in the country. One of the very few positives of the lockdown has been the number of citizens out walking and exercising within the 5 km limit currently in place. However, this increase in exercise has also led to the realisation by so many of what we are doing to the environment. What people are seeing in greater numbers is simply environmental vandalism. Our main roads resemble dumping grounds where one is more likely to see discarded coffee cups, cans and anything else that will fit out a vehicle window as it is drives by. Such is the volume of rubbish being illegally deposited, country lanes are now extensions of landfill sites.
As I indicated recently in the House, the farming community is also under attack. We admire the beautiful green fields and the colours of the crops growing there, but the headlands, ditches and gateways of farms have become the favourite dumping spots of the professional and amateur illegal dumper.
The Bill would allow the use of CCTV by local authorities to facilitate the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of the offence of illegal dumping. There is no doubt that CCTV is one of the most effective tools in the fight against the blight that is illegal dumping.
The figures involved in the clean-up of this vandalism are mind-blowing. Three local authorities on which Labour Party colleagues sought information are spending an average of €3 million a year on clean-ups. Those local authorities are Kildare, Meath and South Dublin. If this is replicated throughout the 31 local authorities, then we are wasting an average of €90 million per year on clean-ups. The figure does not include the many volunteer hours so many groups and individuals put in each year trying to keep their localities clean. I pay special tribute to all involved.
Yesterday, we learned that our sports clubs and local authorities have applied for grants valued at €200 million through sports capital grant schemes. Let us imagine if we had €90 million to spend on those grants each year, rather than cleaning up the mess of those who wish to destroy the environment and landscape. Let us imagine for a moment the facilities we would have in every corner of this country.
My local authority in Kildare is now dealing with 40 to 50 incidents each week, up from an average of ten to 20 per week a couple of years ago. My Labour Party colleagues in Clondalkin, Councillor Joanna Tuffy, and the local area representative, Chris O'Dwyer, tell me that South Dublin County Council has cleaned up an additional 750 tonnes of illegal dumping this year, bringing the total tonnage of illegal waste collected by the local authority to 6,760 in 2020. It has budgeted for an additional €200,000 this year to cope with the level of dumping.
In 2020, my Labour Party colleague in Drogheda, Councillor Pio Smith, told me the local authority collected 792 tonnes of fly-tipping waste at a cost of €26,900 in direct disposal costs alone. My colleague in Kerry, Councillor Marie Moloney, told me there were 954 complaints of littering to Kerry County Council last year but no court prosecutions. I could go on. There is a common thread throughout my conversations: this problem is on the increase and dumping is now widespread in every corner of this country.
From replies to parliamentary questions to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to Labour Party colleagues, I am aware of an anti-dumping awareness communications campaign entitled Your Country-Your Waste. With respect to everybody involved, this is simply not working. What we need now are detections and prosecutions of those who feel that they are above the law. In recent months, I have discussed the increase in this problem with colleagues from all over the country. This Bill is the first and most important step in the fightback. We are all aware of those who advertise refuse collections illegally through the distribution of flyers or what is a bigger problem, advertising on social media.
Colleagues such as Councillor Elaine McGinty in Meath have contacted the social media companies to highlight this illegal practice. Replies from the companies have not been forthcoming but perhaps that is a debate for another day. The practice of a person with a car or van calling to homes to collect rubbish for a few bob definitely needs to be tackled. Catching these people will become a bit easier if we pass this Bill. We must limit the availability of those who carry out such crimes on our landscape and attack our beautiful country every day.
I congratulate the Department on the additional moneys it has provided to local authorities to employ community wardens. My experience of dealing with local wardens has been extremely positive. They are passionate about their job. They go above and beyond to assist public representatives and the public in general by cleaning up after this disgusting behaviour. Wardens are to be seen climbing into drains and sifting through mounds of rubbish to deal with this growing disaster.
We rightly promote Ireland as a beautiful unspoilt island with its 40 shades of green and a landscape to die for. We urgently need to intervene, however, as otherwise those same green fields, important city streets, beautiful hills and quaint country lanes will disappear under mountains of discarded fridges, sofas, tyres and household rubbish. The use of cameras at these locations will prevent dumping if this Bill goes through. It is as simple as that. We need to let people know that if they wind down a window and discard rubbish while driving or drive down a country lane and deposit tyres, they will be caught and, more important, prosecuted. We need to make it known that if people give rubbish to an illegal operator, they will end up with a fine. It is not okay to get rid of rubbish in that way.
I look forward to listening to the contributions of other Members. From speaking to public representatives throughout the country in the months leading up to this debate, I have found that illegal dumping is probably the second biggest issue, after representations about housing, that many public representatives are dealing with at this time. Such is the extent of this problem throughout the country. We are told the use of CCTV by local authorities in the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of an offence of illegal dumping must be placed on a legal footing. We, in the Labour Party, believe we can achieve that through this legislation. I ask all Senators to support the Bill and call on the Government to allow its swift passage.
I pay tribute to Senator Wall for bringing forward his Bill. Illegal dumping may not be the most glamorous side of politics but, as the Senator said, it is the issue on which we get most representations. Every time we knock on a door, the first issue people raise is the need to tackle dog poo and illegal dumping.
People talk about GDPR gone mad. The most illustrative case of that was the move by the Data Protection Commission to reprimand local authorities for the use of CCTV in tackling illegal dumping. Illegal dumping is the scourge of the country and we need to do all we can with the tools at our disposal to tackle the issue. That is why the Bill is so important. It is essential that local authorities are able to use CCTV to tackle illegal dumping, fine and prosecute people and make it unacceptable for them to dump illegally in their communities. The area in which I live has suffered badly as it has many hotspots for illegal dumping. For example, if the city council clears an area without CCTV at 2 p.m., it will be covered in rubbish again later that night. There are signs up but people ignore them. What is the problem and who is doing this? Are people coming from outside the area to dump illegally? No, it is often neighbours and people who dump rubbish know they can do so. The public domain officers who work in local authorities have told us how clever some people are when dumping their rubbish. To give an example, they know of an individual who illegally dumped rubbish on a particular road but was so good at covering his or her tracks that he or she removed labels from prescription bottles and removed the addresses from bills to prevent tracing.
How do we tackle illegal dumping and are local authorities doing enough? The Irish Times has reported that between 2012 and 2017, the majority of the 6,032 court cases taken by local authorities were unsuccessful. In just 30% of cases, the court found in favour of the local authority and the €700,000 in fines imposed by judges equated to €386 per fine.
This refers only to those cases that ended up in court. Prosecuting such cases, however, cost local authorities an average of €600. The Journal has reported that, in respect of 6,000 bags of rubbish dumped illegally in Senator Fitzpatrick's area in the north inner city, another big hotspot, only 246 fines were issued and there were only 93 prosecutions for the non-payment of fines. Local authority representatives who go to court tell us that judges will laugh them out of court in such cases. It is not seen as a serious issue. We need ways to tackle it in the courts and to have people pay fines but we also need to make it so shameful to dump illegally that people will not want to do it within their own communities, because it is their own communities and their own neighbours they are affecting. When one walks into an area and sees rubbish strewn all over the place, one feels that people do not care about it, but the majority of people do care and work hard to keep their communities safe and clean. A couple of people, however, consistently dump illegally.
Like Senator Wall, I pay tribute to the litter wardens within local authorities who tackle the issue of illegal dumping. The litter wardens in my area know who is responsible for such dumping down to the very roads. They also know the times at which they do it. It is very hard, however, to catch people in the act and to be able to issue a fine unless one is sitting at a window watching people. The public domain officers and litter wardens work very hard but they need better tools at their disposal if they are to tackle the issue of illegal dumping. That is why Senator Wall's Bill is so important and that is why I ask that the Government expedite it. It seems like a very simple Bill but it will do a great amount in our local authorities.
Finally, I will address the underlying reason so many people dump illegally. It is because our local authorities do not have control over our municipal waste services. Within Dublin city, on certain days, as many as six trucks will go up and down the road collecting waste. We need a centralised municipal waste authority to take waste management back into the control of local authorities. Unless we address this underlying cause, people will continue to dump illegally. This Bill is very welcome and I hope the Government progresses it. I also ask that the Government look at facilitating those local authorities, such as Dublin City Council, that want to get back to running their own municipal waste authorities.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I thank Senator Wall for tabling this legislation, which is important. It is appropriate that the Seanad should deal with it because it deals directly with our local authorities and, therefore, in talking about this issue today, we are not only serving the local communities represented by members of our local authorities, but serving those elected members themselves. I welcome the discussion. This is very constructive legislation.
Before I continue to talk about the legislation, I commend my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, who has himself undertaken significant work on this issue. He has consulted widely with both elected local authority members and local authority officials. He has brought forward, and continues to bring forward, very constructive suggestions and proposals in this area. It is an issue on which we should work collectively across parties. We share a common interest and a common purpose. We all recognise the problem and the challenge. With our collective efforts, we can make progress in tackling this issue.
I commend all the staff in local authorities around the country. Dublin City Council is my local authority. Central Dublin and the north inner city are, unfortunately, repeatedly featured as a hotspot for litter and illegal dumping in every report issued by Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL.
With depressing regularity, the north inner city is listed as the number one hotspot. That is not a reflection on the efforts of the local authority staff, others working in the public domain, people working in waste management, voluntary groups or the residents and businesses who give of their time voluntarily after they have done a day's work to pick up rubbish, including illegally dumped garbage. I thank them for the efforts and energy they give to that work, but the situation is not good enough and I hope that we can make progress with the legislation.
Living in the city, CCTV is a live issue. People think of it not just in the context of prosecuting illegal dumping, but also prosecuting other types of anti-social behaviour, be it vandalism, graffiti, theft or more serious crimes. The Garda operates a significant CCTV network in the north inner city and the local authority could benefit from the enhanced technologies.
We need to consider the use of CCTV more deeply. Are we talking about recordings or live monitoring? These discussions need to be held and there must be a proper assessment of the resource requirement, for example, staff, equipment and investment. There is no point in us erecting a camera and its footage not being monitored or recorded and then acted on and enforced. It is difficult enough to catch someone, so it is very frustrating for city officials when the case progresses to court only to have it result in no effective enforcement. Local authorities chair joint policing committees, which act in a strategic way to address safety issues and matters of public concern. Is there any scope for the Minister of State to engage with local authorities in that capacity and have them engage with the Judiciary at a strategic level around prosecutions and court fines in respect of these matters? From a Dublin City Council perspective, it is a major frustration to go to so much effort, detect the dumping and bring someone to court only to have the case amount to no improvement.
Senator Byrne will speak to the technicalities of the Bill and the data protection issues, so I will leave those to him.
In terms of education and awareness, signs on lamp posts tell people to pick up their dogs' poo. The dogs do not read and their owners clearly do not give a you know what about what is being left on the ground. I did not say the word but the Cathaoirleach knows what I am thinking. We need to accept that piling money into awareness, education and signs is not working. It is costing millions of euro, and that is only the amount of money we capture. There is much more. If Dublin City Council spends €1 million on illegal dumping, it does not include the costs of reinstatement, repairs or dealing with vandalism and destruction of property. Senator Wall asked how we would spend that money in our communities. Would it be invested in sports or recreational facilities or culture? Will the Minister of State consider this matter seriously and take up my suggestion?
On 18 January, the Irish Examiner ran a story with the headline "Waterford council reprimanded for using CCTV to monitor illegal dumping". The article read:
Waterford City and County Council has been officially reprimanded for its use of CCTV to monitor public activity by the Data Protection Commissioner.
The admonishment by the commissioner, which was handed down in October of last year and was carried out using its corrective powers under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), concerns the local authority’s use of such surveillance technology to monitor illegal littering and dumping, and for the prevention of crime.
It is my understanding that Waterford's local authority is one of at least seven that have faced the wrath of the commissioner. It is the commission's view, as was articulated by Senator Wall, that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 do not regulate the processing of personal data, as required by the EU's law enforcement directive, which is parallel legislation that came into force in May 2018 along with the GDPR legislation. This is the GDPR gone mad. It has left local authorities with one hand tied behind their back in the fight against illegal dumping, which everyone agrees is a scourge. It is an attack on society and on our rights to enjoy amenities throughout the country without having to encounter often large-scale dumping.
The Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is addressing issues raised by the DPC including by introducing appropriate legislation, and I am sure the Minister of State will refer to that in his reply. The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. It states: "All waste enforcement legislation will be “data proofed” to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant."
Notwithstanding the work being done by the Department, I compliment Senator Wall on his proactive action in bringing forward the Bill, which is a genuine effort to address the data protection issues raised by the commissioner regarding the use of CCTV by local authorities in the enforcement of litter and waste management functions. I am happy to have engaged with the Senator on the Bill, and with the Minister of State and his Government colleagues, to ensure that the Government would not oppose it and would let it proceed. In my 11 years on the council, I always worked cross-party on topics that were of benefit to Waterford, and I seek to do the same in this House. I have always said no individual or party has a monopoly on wisdom. I know that Senator Wall will agree it does not matter whether it is this legislation or the Government’s legislation. All of us in the House want to resolve the issue and to give local authorities the ability to tackle this problem with every tool in their armoury.
Local authorities have to be given the ability to use covert and overt technologies to catch the perpetrators of these offences. There is no doubt that CCTV, along with drone technology, phones and so on, have to be used by local authorities to catch people who engage in this illegal behaviour. As has been noted by other Senators, the problem has worsened in recent times, and the lengths to which people go to avoid detection are frightening. I do not think people realise it. Senator Moynihan mentioned that names have been removed from prescriptions in rubbish in order that no trace would be left behind, and there are also people who black out or change licence plates on vehicles to avoid detection. Moreover, people use face coverings, and did so even before we all had to use them, to avoid detection. While CCTV is an important tool in the armoury of local authorities, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems.
I join other Senators in complimenting litter wardens throughout the country who tackle this problem daily.
I thank the local authority outdoor staff who constantly have to clean up this mess. It must be absolutely devastating for them to have to go out day in, day out to clean up what has been left by the public, including people who dump rubbish in their own communities. It is a very sad state of affairs.
I thank the Tidy Towns groups and other community groups that supplement local authority staff in tackling this problem. I am happy to support the Bill, as are many of my Fine Gael colleagues who will not have an opportunity to speak on the Bill as a result of the Covid restrictions.
The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I think this issue falls between him and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill introduced by my friends in the Labour Party. Indeed, one could say that they beat me to it. I have personally targeted the issue addressed by the Bill as needing urgent legislative action. I was all too aware of the apparent lacuna in the law that was identified by the Data Protection Commission. The commission was of the opinion that the requirements of the law enforcement directive contained in Part 5 of the Data Protection Act 2018 and relating to the processing of CCTV images of individuals by local authorities for the purposes of preventing, detecting and prosecuting offences were not provided for adequately in the existing legislative framework.
In my previous role as county councillor on Meath County Council, I was involved in the installation and operation of state-of-the-art CCTV in Duleek and Ashbourne. CCTV systems are a necessary and proportionate tool to be deployed in order to protect the public and to detect and prosecute offences. They are necessary to uphold the law and to obtain vital evidence to ensure that individuals who flout the law are brought to justice.
I have been contacted by litter wardens who are utterly exasperated by the absence of this vital tool to deal with the illegal dumping epidemic that is facing communities, both urban and rural, across the country. The phenomenon of dumping and littering is a blight on communities and the environment. It is utterly ignorant and unacceptable in 21st century Ireland, or in any other civilised society, for that matter.
At the moment, the only legislative provision which allows for the operation of CCTV systems is section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Under this provision, any CCTV system installed and operated by a local authority must go through an approved process involving the relevant joint policing committee and the Garda Commissioner. Regrettably, not enough local authorities are willing to seek authorisation for systems. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. City and county managers and executives are unwilling to step up and take responsibility as data controllers. They have abandoned their communities and abdicated responsibility in this respect. The Minister for Justice allocated grants of 60% of the cost of community-based CCTV systems. Many communities nationwide have been frustrated by the lack of support that the chief executives of local authorities gave to these projects. Part of the condition for securing the grants was that the chief executive and-or a designated officer would be the data controller of these systems. I have always made the argument that breaches of any law, including environmental law, should be policed by An Garda Síochána in conjunction with any other body charged with that legal responsibility.
There are practical difficulties in making chief executives responsible for the data. Local authority offices are only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. In contrast, district Garda stations are open 24-7. If the chief executives are the data controllers, any breach that is detected outside office hours can only be accessed during working hours. I am simply pointing out the difficulties of which I am aware that have been experienced by communities and local authorities in recent years. It is important that the Bill has the support of the County and City Management Association, CCMA. If it does not, I note with regret that my Labour Party colleagues proposing the Bill may be engaged in a futile endeavour.
The legislation must be broadened in a number of important respects. For example, we must enhance the scope of CCTV recording devices that are covered. As it stands, the Bill only allows for fixed and permanent CCTV systems but I am firmly of the view that this is too restrictive and does not give local authorities the tools they need to enforce the law. The definition should be expanded to include mobile camera systems and drones.
I welcome the Bill in principle and I look forward to Committee Stage and the opportunity to work with my colleagues in Labour to amend it.
I too welcome this Bill. Everybody knows illegal dumping is the scourge of many communities. The Bill addresses a very specific problem identified by the DPC in investigating the use of surveillance technology in the area of illegal dumping. We know this Bill would place the use of CCTV by county councils on a secure legal footing and enable them to investigate and prosecute offences.
I welcome this Bill from the Labour Party and it is an example of the constructive role that the Opposition can play in drafting new laws to address real world problems. I hope the Government will engage with it and other genuinely beneficial Bills that come from the Opposition benches.
CCTV can be useful in tackling illegal dumping but it cannot be seen as a silver bullet. Even with CCTV, convictions are still hard to get and very rare because the quality of the footage must be exceptionally high, often requiring a licence plate or a very high certainty of identifying the person. Additionally, the accused person still needs to be brought to court, which requires significant resources. Community groups active on such issues simply do not have the time or money to do that.
The Bill is a welcome step and we know CCTV can be an effective deterrent to dumping, we need to do much more work to get to the root of illegal dumping. I will use my time to focus on some of these. We can link the rise in the rate of illegal dumping very directly to the privatisation of waste collection. Local authorities are being left to foot the bill for cleaning up illegal dumping while the waste collection providers and their shareholders enjoy massive profits. Sinn Féin campaigned against privatisation from the outset and we warned that placing profit over the public good would lead to detrimental environmental consequences as it always does. Waste collection should be a service provided to everyone, regardless of income, and that is not for a minute excusing anybody who goes out to dump illegally.
Sinn Féin's waste reduction Bill would achieve this through remunicipalisation and, in addition, it would increase rates of recycling. Over the past couple of days I have looked at the civic amenity centres available across the country and the level of service in local authorities is inconsistent in cost and access. In some counties, a civic amenity site can only be accessed three days per week. Some have barriers and some need a ticket bought in advance from a shop. There is a real level of inconsistency around the services offered to people who want to dispose of their waste responsibly.
Domestic waste is not the only problem as commercial and agricultural waste also present significant issues. The dumping of animal bodies is on the increase since the lockdown began and when the treatment of dead horses is in the headlines, it could not be more timely to highlight this matter. Ms Kathleen O'Sullivan of agriland.ie has reported that officials from Galway County Council are experiencing a surge in dumping of horses that were neglected throughout the winter, and this comes after the calving and lambing season. This matter is important not just from an animal welfare perspective but from that of public health. If an animal is dumped near a river, it could contaminate the water and expose the community to serious disease. One risk is cryptosporidium, a zoonotic parasite that leads to serious illness. We are now all very aware of zoonotic diseases, given we are living in a pandemic. The problem of animal dumping and the potential impact on watercourses has never been more serious.
Sometimes the narrative around dumping descends into a blame game, with illegal dumping being portrayed as an urban problem inflicted on rural communities. We know that is not the case in reality and the narrative of blame is certainly not helpful and does not do anything to find constructive solutions.
We need to prevent illegal dumping and to be able to prosecute those who do it.
The Government also plans to legislate for the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. If designed correctly, this scheme could play a significant role in reducing dumping and encouraging recycling. However, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced that the scheme will only include polyethylene terephthalate, PET, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. There is public appetite for a much wider scheme. Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment published a poll that showed that nine in ten people believe that all drinks containers should be included in Ireland's deposit return scheme and that in particular glass bottles should be included. Everybody is aware that broken glass is a particular scourge for parents, pet owners and people who participate in sport on public fields. All-in deposit return schemes are common across the world and Scotland is set to introduce its deposit return scheme for glass bottles in 2022, for example. There are questions over the design of the scheme and the role of private companies. We have seen the damaging impact that applying the logic of profit to environmental problems can have in the demunicipalisation of waste. I hope the Minister has learned his lesson and will put people and planet over profit when it comes to the deposit return scheme.
As I said, I welcome this Bill but we need to do much more when it comes to illegal dumping. We need to do more in prosecuting the offenders and in making it easier and more affordable for people to dispose of their waste responsibly.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing this Bill forward. Senator Boylan brings numerous proposals here which she would like to see happen. The alternative budget for 2021 which Sinn Féin produced did not even mention the word "climate" in it and only mentioned the word "biodiversity" in reference to the title of our Minister of State, Senator Hackett. I want to make that point first because things cost money.
At the heart of this Bill, of Senator Byrne's Bill and of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan's heads of Bill, is a significant will on behalf of everybody to address this issue. We know it is costing money and Senator Wall outlined how much it is costing in his constituency. That is happening around the country and it was pretty much the number one issue for us when we were on local authorities. When I was a councillor on Galway City Council, I was doing a litter pick in Knocknacarra and we found a river of waste in the middle of a developed area beside two schools. We were there with children, we walked up to the top of a verge, looked over and there was a field covered in waste. There was no CCTV there, it was dark at night and people were clearly driving up there to dump. I got it cleaned up very quickly but it should not have to be down to local people to do a litter pick and come across this waste. We have to have CCTV in order to address this.
I know there are some issues around the Bill but as we say all the time, that is what Committee Stage is for, and that is true. I would like to draw everybody's attention to the fact that it was a key commitment in the programme for Government that we would address waste. It is an environmental issue and for that reason, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is bringing forward a waste management (circular economy) Bill that will have this in it. That Bill will also do a number of other things because this is the end of the road when it comes to waste. However, going back up the track, we need to see bottle return schemes. A number of us have tried to get minuscule amounts of money from the budgets of our local authorities when we were trying to get these schemes up and running.
We should also try to put in place schemes for facilities such as water fountains so that people do not produce this waste in the first place. My particular passion is the fast fashion industry. Not only are there issues with the labour conditions of the workers in that industry but also enough clothing has been produced to last for decades.
We do not need to keep producing more and more. We need to start reusing. I have run a few repair cafés through a group I set up called Zero Waste Galway, where we bring in people with sewing machines who have the sewing skills that I do not. We are losing the skills our grandparents had to repair what we already have. Other people come in from the community and sign up to learn a new skill, while also bringing away a piece of clothing that they had not managed to fix themselves. I would like to see more money going into those kinds of projects, which would help local communities to become engaged in the issue.
Even though I have criticised Sinn Féin for its record on climate and biodiversity, the point is well made that the impact on nature is at the heart of this. It is very difficult for people to live in those environments, as Senator Wall has said. People are driving in and dumping fridges and all kinds of things or even throwing waste food outside people's houses, but it also impacts on the animals and wildlife in those areas. This situation does not allow us to achieve what we need to achieve to retain our natural environment and make sure the animals that are in our care, on either public or private land, are well cared for.
I thank Senator Wall for bringing this Bill forward and I thank Senator Byrne for the work he has done on this matter. They should look out for the circular economy Bill because there will be much in it that will address many of these issues from start to finish.
I thank the Senator. I might bring in my own sewing machine some day to help out. I call Senator Black.
I thank the Labour Party Senators Mark Wall, Maria Sherlock, Rebecca Moynihan, Annie Hoey and Ivana Bacik for putting forward this legislation, which is designed to create a safer environment for the common good of everyone. However, it is important to highlight the obvious concern that a balance between privacy and the common good must be struck. I am pleased that the Labour Party's press release on the introduction of this legislation refers to the need to tackle illegal dumping and other forms of antisocial behaviour. The reality of being able to identify culprits through the use of CCTV would naturally be a deterrent to this behaviour.
We have to consider the multiple issues the introduction of CCTV would create. While I of course welcome legislation that aims to make the work of councillors at a local level easier, considering the incredible amount of work they do every day in their constituencies, I fear that the introduction of legislation such as this will disproportionately affect the right to privacy of those in lower-income and working-class areas. It is essential that the right to privacy of every individual is not compromised when it comes to the introduction of CCTV in public spaces. I cannot express strongly enough that we cannot allow a disproportionate infringement on privacy rights in working-class areas with the introduction of a Bill such as this one.
While I believe the intentions of this Bill are positive, most of the issues it aims to tackle are covered by existing legislation. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 allows for CCTV to be erected and operated on authorisation from the Garda Commissioner for the purposes of "facilitating the deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences". This area also comes under the GDPR, the law enforcement directive, LED, and section 41(b) of the Data Protection Act 2018. Another point to note is that many of the purposes for which councils are using CCTV do not constitute offences and therefore fall outside the scope of the LED and Part 5 of the Data Protection Act. The breaches that are being investigated and the penalties levied are administrative, not criminal. The Data Protection Commission carried out an inquiry into Kerry County Council in March of last year.
It found the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Local Government Act 2001 do not provide a lawful basis Kerry County Council's use of CCTV to detect litter offences. The DPC comprehensively considered these Acts and found they do not regulate this processing of personal data, as is required by the law enforcement directive, as transposed by the Data Protection Act 2018.
The DPC found that the way in which CCTV is being used did not meet the standards of clarity, precision and foreseeability in respect of such processing as required by the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. While this Bill might be a response to those very real and pressing concerns, it does not really make its intersection with GDPR obligations clear enough. Potential concerns could arise as a result. The Bill does not include specific tests on the standards of clarity, precision and foreseeability which the DPC wants attached to processing.
Another important perspective when looking at this legislation is that several issues would also potentially fail to be covered by it. For example, the Bill explicitly applies to offences and actions such as littering, where there are administrative fines rather than legal prosecution, fall outside the normal definition of an offence.
At first glance, I commend the Bill because it is a very necessary attempt to help ease the burden felt by local authority members. The work they do every day is mammoth. However, beyond first glance and having taken at closer look at the legislation, bearing in mind the very real concerns that local authority members have, a better solution might be to amend existing legislation or perhaps even create new environmental offences.
In general, the main issues with local authority use of CCTV seem to relate more to problems with governance and proper implementation of existing law, including GDPR. GDPR affords protection and implements a legal mechanism of proportionality when it comes to the prosecution of a crime. However, the fear is that access to CCTV footage may result in normalising detection of crimes which is not proportionate and necessary. Under GDPR, any processing of data must be necessary and proportionate.
Section 2 of the Bill mentions four purposes as follows: prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution. It is easy to see how a test of necessity and proportionality could be applied and satisfied in respect of investigation and prosecution of a known offence. However, the use of CCTV in prevention or detection requires much more care. The processing of data to investigate an offence is one thing but gathering or scanning personal data of whole communities in search of possible offences is a very different proposition. In addition, film or photographs of people's faces are not just personal data, but are biometric data, which are defined as especially sensitive personal data under Article 9 of the GDPR and are subject to a higher level of safeguard.
Overall, I reiterate that I commend the Bill's attempt to create safer environments and to act as a deterrent to crime in local areas. Of course, I respect any attempt to do that but I believe that the Bill will require several amendments on Committee Stage to ensure more safeguards. As it stands, the Bill is porous. In truth, it is not good enough to leave the inclusion or non-inclusion of such safeguards entirely to the Minister of the day.
I commend Senator Wall. He and I have been chatting on this matter and we had a race to try to bring our own legislation forward. I know Senator Keogan was also trying to get this issue addressed. Ultimately, I am sure everyone in this House wants to see the scourge of illegal dumping addressed.
I take some issue with what Senator Black said about concern in working-class areas. I get several complaints from working-class areas about the dumping that is happening in their communities, as well as what is happening in rural communities. There is a real demand to have this issue addressed. Given the powers that local authorities have, it is not that the GDPR is preventing CCTV being used; it is simply that the underpinning legislation is not in place.
A number of colleagues have raised the fact that dumping appears to be getting worse. That is possibly because of the work of Tidy Towns crews and development groups, which have been keeping areas clear for so long that we have not noticed the extent of the scourge, but because of the pandemic the dumping has become much more visible. I notice it when I am out walking or running. The point was made very eloquently by Senator Pauline O'Reilly that it is not just aesthetically unpleasing, but it is really damaging to the environment and especially to livestock. I do not care about privatisation or any such arguments because this is about civic responsibility. It costs more to load a bag into the back of a van and drive out a country road to dump it into a field than it does to bring it into a civic amenity site and dispose of it properly. This is about personal responsibility. The ignorant people who are dumping, whether it is in urban or rural areas, need to be caught and to face the full rigours of the law.
I conducted a survey of all local authorities late last year on the cost of collecting waste and dealing with dumping and littering. Senator Wall is correct: I estimated it to be close to €120 million a year. One of the problems is that local authorities record expenditure on waste management in different ways. Wexford County Council receives an average of 2,500 complaints about dumping or littering every year and that is replicated throughout the country. In Wexford, we spend in the order of €2.3 to €2.6 million a year dealing with waste and litter. That, again, is replicated across local authorities.
I support the Bill. I was working on a similar Bill. I do not mind which Bill goes forward to Committee Stage to address the matter, but it is crucial that the solution is technology-neutral. This is about using whatever technology can be used to catch those who are responsible. Senator Cummins referred to drone technology, which I would like to see being used. Unusually, while there is not underpinning legislation to use CCTV, there is underpinning legislation as part of the Waste Management Act 1996 that allows local authorities to use drone technology. The difficulty in the case in Waterford is that Waterford City and County Council failed to implement the necessary measures to prevent the unlawful processing of the data. That was not the council's fault, as its intention was good, but the measures fell foul. We must examine and put in place measures that are technology-neutral, not just to deal with fixed and mobile CCTV or drone technology but whatever technology is going to develop in the future.
People talk about CCTV, but it is not good enough to capture somebody hopping out of a van. What we really need to look at is automated number plate recognition, ANPR, cameras. I appreciate some of the concerns outlined by Senator Black in that regard. There was a case taken by the DPC against Meath County Council where some of the data were not used properly. I have engaged quite a lot with the DPC on this. The DPC is very clear that it is not about GDPR trying to prevent us from catching any of these people, it is that we do not move to a surveillance society. The advice is very clearly that if we use the ANPR cameras, we must ensure there is an appropriate balance between the detection of litter offenders on one side and the risks to individuals who have committed no offence if we are following particular vehicles. Whatever we do to deal with it, we are tired of this scourge. People are fed up with it. Farmers are fed up of having to take bags of rubbish out of their fields. People in all communities, including working-class communities, are tired of finding stuff dumped in their area. People want to give local authorities whatever powers are necessary to address the issue.
This is something that requires a lot of urgency. I know there are data protection issues, but they can be resolved and the DPC is happy to work on them. Whether it is Senator Wall's Bill, Senator Keogan's Bill, my Bill or a Government Bill, or whatever way we do it, I would love us to have the measures in place by this summer to finally address this issue.
On a point of order, Senator Byrne mentioned breaches. In fact, Meath County Council was not in breach at all. A Garda system had been installed and, as such, it was the Garda Síochána that had not legislated for the automated number plate recognition, ANPR.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome him to the House. I salute his commitment to local government and to reforming this particular area. I also thank the Labour Party and Senator Wall for bringing this very important Bill before the House.
For a long time I have said that GDPR is extremely important. The GDPR legislation was brought in for very good reasons but there are times when it has unintended consequences and, in my view, illegal dumping is one of those situations. I do not think there is any right-minded person in this country who wants those who wantonly leave litter on our beautiful landscape to get away with doing so. I think most people would want whatever modern technologies are available to deal with the issue, to collect the evidence and to bring the people responsible to court. I agree with my colleague, Senator Cummins, that there are modern drones. I am glad that some local authorities are using drones now. I am glad that there is a legislative framework to facilitate the use of drones because they can be very effective, particularly when illegal dumping is done in areas that are difficult to reach and where it is difficult to install fixed CCTV equipment. It is in that sense that this legislation is important. I am glad that Second Stage is not being opposed and that the legislation will move to Committee Stage where there can be intense engagement to ensure that Senator Wall's Bill does not have unintended consequences as is often the case with legislation.
I come from an area that is blessed with beautiful beaches and a number of them have been awarded the blue flag. Unfortunately, particularly during fine weather, quite an amount of litter is left on these beaches and I call on people not to litter. When people litter it sends out a terrible message and shows they do not value a beach and their act has a negative impact on the experience of people who travel to our beaches. Last summer, during beautiful weather, thousands of people visited County Clare and enjoyed the local beaches but, sadly, a minority of people left their rubbish behind. I often visit the beaches early in the morning and it is terrible to see Clare County Council staff in the process of cleaning the beaches. They are so dedicated and quickly transform the beaches back to their pristine condition but they should not have to do such work.
We need to address legislation because we need to increase on-the-spot fines and deal with repeat offenders. Sadly, because we do not benefit from the type of CCTV coverage and other modern technologies it is very hard to catch repeat offenders because unless there is incontrovertible evidence one is not going to get a prosecution. Plus, the local authorities will not even pursue the matter because they know they will not get a prosecution.
I wish to pay tribute to the hundreds of Tidy Towns groups around the country for continuing to clean their communities during the pandemic. They have ensured that the entrances to towns, streets and estates around towns are kept clean. Incrementally, year-on-year, Ireland has become a prettier and cleaner place because of the work done by thousands of dedicated volunteers in Tidy Towns groups.
They are selfless in the work they do and they sometimes go unrecognised but the Tidy Towns programme, which is supported by the Government and SuperValu, is very worthwhile and has achieved a lot. In a similar vein, I pay tribute to Irish Business Against Litter, which was founded and is funded by Tom Cavanagh who has spent summer holidays in Lahinch over the years. Its surveys have certainly informed the commentary on our cities, large urban towns and small communities. The group has played a significant role in monitoring and keeping an eye on our communities and in ensuring that they have something to aspire to.
There is a tremendous amount of goodwill out there but, sadly, there are also many people who do not have respect for our environment, beaches and communities, their neighbours and the people who live in or visit their communities. This is a worthwhile debate and I invite the Minister of State to return for statements on littering at some stage in the near future. We also look forward to debate on Committee Stage of Senator Wall's Bill.
I am sharing time with Senator Mullen. We will take three minutes each, if that is okay. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. He is welcome to the House. I compliment my colleague, Senator Wall, and his colleagues on bringing this important Bill before the House.
We have heard about the Tidy Towns groups and various other groups that work really hard to keep our towns, cities, villages and rural areas clean and free from litter. I live right beside one of the busiest roads in Ireland, the M50. I walk every day now as I am trying to lose some of the old Christmas whatever and, within a quarter of a mile of my house, over three days, I found bags of clothes discarded on the side of the road. These bags were discarded on a road that is never free of traffic. There is always somebody on that road so whoever threw the clothes out had some neck.
Senator Wall's Bill should go further. When he spoke, Senator Cummins touched on the issue of the technology now available, including drone technology. When the Bill comes to Committee Stage, I will table some amendments. The former Senator, Feargal Quinn, brought a Bill on drone technology through First Stage and Second Stage and on to Committee Stage. He pointed out that drones are now being used by criminals. They go into housing estates and fly the drones over and down the backs of houses to see if there is anybody in. If there is not, they break into the house. Drone technology can, however, also be used to manage illegal dumping.
I live 2.5 km from a major recycling centre in Ballyogan. The fleet of traffic going in and out every Saturday and Sunday is something to behold. These are people who care about the place in which they live. They bring their rubbish and material for recycling to a centre.
I will touch on two issues before I sit down. One is that we need greater education on the whole area of dumping, recycling, civic responsibility and all of that. The second is that we really need to give powers to local authorities. If people are caught dumping, they need to be brought through the legal system and it needs to hurt them where it hurts people most, in their pockets. I greatly appreciate that the Minister of State is not opposing this Bill and I again compliment my colleague, Senator Wall, and his party on bringing forward this legislation. I agree with everything Senators Byrne and Black said on the legalities of the matter.
The data protection regime that has grown up over the past two decades is, generally speaking, a good thing. Like State regulation of any area, it has its downsides. The nature and scope of data protection obligations are complicated, to say the least. One downside is that GDPR is often invoked to deny citizens access to information to which they are entitled. We have all encountered such cases. Ordinary people and small voluntary organisations are also not certain of their obligations. I know of more than one local community organisation that has been reluctant to communicate with its own members by email or group text because it believes that doing so would be a breach of GDPR. Clearly, that is not the case, but we will see more GDPR issues arising in respect of WhatsApp groups, Zoom calls and so on.
The Office of the Data Protection Commission is overworked and understaffed, with people waiting ages for a reply to even a standard query. The issue under discussion arises from a Data Protection Commission investigation into the use of CCTV by a local authority, where the commission found that the Waste Management Act and the Litter Pollution Acts did not sufficiently define in law the policy objectives that made the use of the CCTV footage legitimate for the purposes of prosecuting littering offences. We must accept that conclusion and, therefore, I support the Bill.
CCTV is already used effectively, and to an increasing degree, in criminal trials. We saw in the trial of the killers of Patricia O'Connor how a next door neighbour's private camera was crucial in securing convictions. Strictly speaking, under the Ryneš decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, footage recorded by a private camera of events on another person's property should not be admissible because it does not come within the so-called domestic use exemption. If I make a CCTV recording on my own property, I am not a data controller for the purposes of GDPR and the control, storage and retention of that information by me is not regulated by law, but any recording of areas outside my property is essentially viewed as having been recorded without any legal basis. However, the Irish courts seem to accept such recordings as evidence in criminal cases despite the Ryneš decision, which is a good balance.
We face increasing issues with new technologies. There has been a proliferation of dashcams, owned by taxi drivers, capturing accidents, near misses and so on. I believe the DPC has indicated that, because these cameras face on to a public thoroughfare, they do not meet the domestic use exemption and, therefore, a taxi driver would have responsibilities in terms of retention and storage of data. That would seem a bit absurd.
We have increasing anecdotal evidence of drones being used to fly over private properties to gather information ahead of burglaries. In Oranmore, Tesco and others have been using drones to deliver products to people. I often wonder whether one would be entitled to shoot a drone down if it passed over one's property on the way to deliver a birthday cake.
These matters are well outside the scope of the GDPR, but the Minister of State may wish to comment on the fact that we will have to face up to issues that do not appear to be covered by the law. Regardless of EU law considerations, there are all sorts of connected issues arising to which the Oireachtas will have to turn its attention sooner or later for the sake of the common good.
I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome this Labour Party Bill, which was introduced by Senator Wall. Like him, I pay tribute to Senators Byrne and Cummins on their work. I welcome the thrust of the Bill and what is being proposed. The issue must be tackled across a range of areas. It is important that we be able to use technology to ensure successful convictions. We have discussed the right to privacy versus the public good. That matter was raised by Senator Black and others elsewhere, but if no one engaged in behaviour that was damaging to the public good, there would be no need for a Seanad debate on the use of CCTV to ensure convictions. That is the starting point in any discussion where the question of privacy laws is raised. Unfortunately, there are those who actively seek to destroy the civic and public good that we all enjoy.
Thanks to the Department of Justice, my town is lucky to have high-definition CCTV on every street. When I spoke to a local garda on a Saturday night about crime statistics, he told me a funny story. Gardaí were monitoring streets from their station when they saw four yahoos coming out of the local night club and proceeding to the chipper, where they decided to throw their food all over the square. They thought they were funny lads altogether. The gardaí monitored all of this and sent a squad car around, where gardaí told the yahoos to clean up the food or come with them. It was a light-hearted story that showed the effectiveness of on-the-spot monitoring.
There are concerns about the definitions potentially restricting us. All of those issues can be worked out.
One of my greatest frustrations when I was a councillor was seeing the amount of money we put every year into environmental and litter programmes - millions upon millions that we could have spent in many other areas. Since that time, Meath County Council has become much more proactive, with a recycling centre and civic amenity sites to ensure we encourage people to treat their waste in a more environmentally friendly manner.
The introduction of a tax on plastic bags by my former colleague, Noel Dempsey, led to the virtual eradication of plastic waste throughout the country. Growing up, I thought plastic bags were a type of flower or heather, such was the proliferation of them on the verges of the country. We, the people, caused that because, as my mother would say, there was obviously a want in some of these people that they had to throw their waste out of their car windows rather than put it in a bin. People were against the introduction of the tax to tackle that, but it needed something like that to shake people out of their mindset. One sheep did it, so the other did it too, and it led to this disgusting behaviour that blighted our countryside. We will ultimately overcome this through a process of eradication but if it takes a process needing CCTV footage, so be it.
I have given up on understanding the mentality of those who do this. It is a terrible reflection on the people themselves, who obviously have a want in them. It is disheartening to see how much illegal dumping and illegal littering there is. My town scored badly in the Irish Business Against Litter assessment. Following on from that, I engaged with the county council, which is redoubling its efforts, but nobody can legislate for pure ignorance. In many rural areas, not just towns, the level of illegal dumping on verges approaching scenic areas, such as the Hill of Tara in my area, would make one despair about one's fellow citizens. Equally, there are people who are not prepared to accept that and who will champion Tidy Towns initiatives. I am thinking of Jim Campion in Old Johnstown in my area tidying up around the Hill of Tara to ensure it would not become a litter blackspot.
There is a core issue in respect of the Bill that I want to tackle. The real issue is that of illegal commercial dumping, that is, people who make a living out of this and who have made an industry out of it. A year ago, a case in Trim Circuit Court resulted in the taxpayer facing a bill of €6 million to clean an illegal dump in Rathcore, outside Enfield, County Meath. In that case, 70,000 tonnes of illegal waste, including asbestos, had been dumped over a three-year period. Fifty-one companies had been bringing illegal waste to an illegal dump and left the taxpayer with a bill for €6 million and the environment, more damagingly, with a bill that cannot be quantified in terms of money, given that the asbestos and the contaminated liquid were flowing from this large site into the River Blackwater. Tackling the core issue of those who want to profit from illegal dumping should be our main focus as the Government and the Opposition united, to thwart these people who want to damage our country. In that respect, whether it be fixed CCTV, drone technology or whatever is required, we can work together to stamp this out. In the first instance, however, we need citizens not to accept it and we need to stand up, face one another and say we do not accept this as a practice in our country.
I commend the Labour Party on introducing the Bill and look forward to working with it to see its aims achieved.
Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh Gníomhaigh. Táim chun mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Seanadóir Curry, trí nóiméad an duine.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate Senator Wall and his colleagues on bringing it before the House. It is important that we set down a marker in respect of illegal dumping and this is one way, among others, in which we can do it. It is also important to recognise that there is capacity in local authorities to do this work. We cannot constantly rely on An Garda Síochána to be everywhere in the country. This is a role that local authorities can take on. At a time when it seems the Oireachtas more than ever is taking powers away from local authorities, it is welcome to see something being put into the hands of local authorities and responsibilities being assigned to them, instead of the other way round.
In light of the constitutional status of local government, we in these Houses have been remiss in recent times by constantly sidelining local authorities and the elected councillors who are their members.
I refer to the content of the Bill. I know other Senators have commented on this issue, but the provisions of section 2(1) should include a clause to the effect that the evidence and data gathered should be used or admissible in the course of any criminal prosecution arising from it. It is entirely appropriate.
As a general rule, I am a little bit uncomfortable with the proliferation of CCTV. That was the case when I was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. In Britain, our nearest geographical neighbour, and particularly in England, there is CCTV everywhere. It is very much an effective tool from a crime-solving point of view but it introduces an element of Big Brother. I am sure all Members have seen the picture of George Orwell's former residence in London which has a big CCTV camera outside it. I do not know whether that picture has been doctored. I have some misgivings about the proliferation of CCTV. However, in this instance, it is an entirely reasonable and proportionate use in order to solve a problem that exists throughout the country, particularly in rural areas, and I welcome the proposals in the Bill to deal with that.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on illegal dumping and this Bill which aims to ensure that CCTV can be used to prevent it. As I dropped my children to school today, I went down Tinkers Hill and along the Lower Road through Strawberry Beds and noticed the rubbish. I made a mental note that when I came in today I had to ring the council about the rubbish on Clonee Road, Clonsilla Road and Ongar Distributor Road and at Ongar Wood, Tír na nÓg park in Carpenterstown and the 12th lock in Castleknock, as well as the lack of bins in the Phoenix Park. Those are the locations about which people contacted me just this week regarding litter in Dublin 15.
It stuns me that we have never been more environmentally aware and have Tidy Towns groups in areas such as Castleknock, Blanchardstown and Ongar as well as clean-up organisations that are the essence of community action and committed to protecting biodiversity, yet illegal dumping is worse than ever. During Covid, there have been bags of dog waste hanging off trees, masks carelessly dumped on the road and bags of rubbish tipped out at quiet and hidden spots. People have noticed such litter more during lockdown as they were able to enjoy their 5 km zones when life slowed down but, unfortunately, the illegal dumpers did not slow down. We must acknowledge the biodiversity crisis we have and the effect that littering has on it. One sees the historical dumping in one's community when walking or cycling on roads during the lockdown that one would not normally get to see.
I acknowledge that for some people there is financial hardship and that there may be people who are struggling to pay bin charges. However, there are provisions in place to deal with that. What we are discussing today is not hardship; it is heartlessness.
We have to give councils the effective legal mechanisms to deal with this issue and it is to be hoped that the Bill would do so. I acknowledge the work of councillors and how frustrating it is for them to ring the council on a weekly basis about the same spots and the same people who are dumping. However, unless there is a person sitting there watching people littering and can catch them doing so, the dumpers cannot be prosecuted. It is really frustrating for councillors and local authorities and makes their job so much harder. They are using work-intensive methods to catch people, such as through using the waste by-laws or identifying areas where there is dumping and then checking who has or has not got a waste contract and following it up. That is far too much work. The Bill would be of assistance to them.
I acknowledge people's frustration on this issue. Many people have a tendency to blame the councils and councillors instead of the people who are actually doing this. I support the efforts behind this Bill and the usage of CCTV in law enforcement being placed on a statutory basis, but it is the tip of the rubbish pile in terms of the work that is planned with regard to the waste management (circular economy) Bill and the work that was done by the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the waste action plan.
We need big plans to deal with this and they must take into consideration people's behaviour. We need a strategy that accompanies and complements people's patterns and behaviours, making it easier for people to get rid of their rubbish responsibly. I very much look forward to being able to debate that Bill whenever we get to see it.
When it comes to our communities, whether they are urban, rural, inner city or remote, there is not a single issue that animates such a large number of people or drives them more crazy than that of illegal dumping. Many of us have previously served as councillors and the housing shortage and illegal dumping are probably two of the most frustrating and intractable issues that we have had to confront on a daily and weekly basis.
I am really delighted and very proud that my Labour Party colleague, Senator Wall, has brought forward this Bill today. I know many others have worked on such matters over the years but we are debating this Bill today as it has made it to Second Stage. The Local Government (use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 is really important as a potential additional tool for communities and authorities to fight back against illegal dumping.
It has been said today that this is not a magic bullet but we are not claiming it is. There are few magic bullets in life. However, this is an important additional tool in the arsenal of local authorities in trying to deter and detect those who are engaged in illegal dumping. It is usually people who are engaged in persistent illegal dumping, as all the information on the ground is that this is not typically a once-off activity, and time and again the same people are involved. It has been said already today that local authorities do not have the power to use data collected by CCTV to prosecute at this point.
I live among many communities in Dublin Central where areas are unfortunately and sadly singled out for some of the highest levels of littering and illegal dumping activity in the country. Walking through these communities, starting from Stoneybatter and going all the way to North Strand or East Wall and up to Phibsborough, Cabra, Drumcondra and Glasnevin, one finds very proud communities and residents who, month in and month out, engage in clean-ups, the Tidy Towns competition and other local initiatives in trying to do their bit for that community. The work is driven and complemented by the great work of Dublin City Council and I pay particular tribute to the public domain enforcement officer, Mr. John McPartland, with whom I have had many dealings over the years. There has been great innovation from some waste management officers, including Mr. Sean-Michael Larkin, in working with local communities and bringing initiatives to help detection and the cleaning up when illegal dumping occurs. In ways we are only tipping around the edges and tackling the symptoms with the speedy collection of illegally dumped waste and communicating with local communities. We are not dealing with the underlying reasons.
Illegal dumping is not a victimless crime and it imposes an enormous cost on local authorities that are under massive financial strain. Dublin City Council could spend millions of euro more on waste collection and management but it still would not tackle the issue. We must start that conversation and this Bill is as much about that as it is about CCTV. It is about starting the conversation about resolving these matters.
This is about culture. It is not okay that we have a personal disregard, lack of responsibility, ignorance or a feckless attitude towards local communities.
That is not okay. That is the number one issue and we need to look at that.
We also need to consider housing and overcrowding, particularly in my part of Dublin city, but also in other cities and towns throughout the country. Overcrowded houses are leading to a situation in which people are engaging in illegal dumping. There is never any excuse for illegal dumping but overcrowding is a cause of it. I could bring the Minister on a tour of many of the roads and streets I am familiar with in my constituency and there are examples there of ten or 15 people squeezed into two, three and four-bedroom houses. Where are they going to go with their waste? Waste is the least of their concerns. We, therefore, have to look at overcrowding.
We also have to examine the provision of waste management services across our counties and cities. There are multiple operators in Dublin, often operating on the same road or street. There is a patchy service and communities are effectively falling through the cracks. Nobody is taking overall responsibility for co-ordination or management of waste collection. We need to start that conversation about bringing those waste management services back into the local authorities, having them managed by the local authorities, and effectively getting to the root of illegal dumping on a permanent basis.
I thank the Labour Party and Senator Wall for bringing this important issue before the Oireachtas. Many of us have struggled with the issue of illegal dumping in our areas and the frustration of seeing repeat offenders not being prosecuted for destroying our lovely local environments.
The Curragh plains is an area I have often spoken about in this House as the problem of illegal dumping there has been a major scourge for many years. I acknowledge, however, that the same activities are happening all over my county and all over the country. We recently had an instance of illegal dumping in the Kildoon and Nurney area and we regularly have dumping in the Lullymore area. Kildare County Council reports 40 to 50 incidents of illegal dumping every week and it spends more than €3 million per annum in dealing with same. That figure means the local authorities across the country spend about €90 million per year on illegal dumping. In December and January alone, more than 2,000 illegal dumping incidents were reported to Kildare County Council.
It is incredible that people have such a lack of civic-mindedness that they perpetuate this awful behaviour of dumping domestic, personal and other rubbish. There are two types of perpetrators. First, there are people engaged in fly-tipping who will indiscriminately dump bags of rubbish anywhere they see an opportunity to do so and feel that they get away with it. Second, there are the illegal waste operators making money from illegal dumping. There is a big case of this in Killina in north-west Kildare. It is shocking. I accept that there has to be a legal process but it seems to take forever. The offenders do not seem to be penalised in an appropriate or proper way but I accept that this is my view.
As a member of the Kildare joint policing committee, I was on a subcommittee that tried to roll out State funding for CCTV but we kept coming up against particular barriers. Some areas such as Laragh, County Wicklow seem to have had success. There were problems there, which Senator Wall is addressing in this legislation but which we could not get over. We need to put legislation in place to permit the use of CCTV technology to secure convictions.
There are terrific initiatives that range from our spring clean groups, Tidy Towns volunteers to the green kilometre scheme or grants, as well as all the work our residents do. It is absolutely shocking then when we see what those who are just so un-civic minded are doing.
There are some flaws within the legislation, as I am sure Senator Wall is aware, but it is important to note that the Government and the Minister of State are working on this. We are all aware that there is a balance to be struck between our right to privacy and the need to protect our environment, but on balance, a slight loss of privacy is a price worth paying.
In the few minutes I have I will try to deal with a few quick points. Senator Wall is to be highly commended for getting this debate going. My colleague, Senator Byrne, has done a lot of work in this area and the Minister of State has a huge interest it. With the Government's plan going forward, this Bill and all of us working together, we can make this happen and make it work.
We should move away from saying this is a huge problem with individuals. Senator Cassells put his finger on it. There are a number of illegal operators who are doing this job cheaply by going into estates and loading up people's rubbish. If illegal dumping happens in an estate or a town, at least people will see it but out in a rural area it can be there for months. Then someone will say that he or she was down such a road today and when one goes over there are trailer loads of rubbish. It is because of illegal operators. The politicians, the Garda and the local authorities know that the people doing this are involved in other undesirable activities. They need to be targeted in any legislation, whether it comes from the Government, Senator Wall or anyone else here. Let us not be afraid to see that here today. There are people in local authorities, Tidy Towns people and young people in our schools who are so conscious of our environment and of litter. They are brilliant. In many circumstances councillors go out onto the scene and clean up the area with council staff. We have done it ourselves. It is about time we target the real villains here.
I had a situation in my own area where a small group of people from Longford town were illegally transferring rubbish across the Roscommon border and dumping it in a bog area. I was physically threatened by some of these people about ten years ago. My kids, who were very young at the time, begged me not to do anything because I would be hurt or something would happen to the house. These people were physically threatening people and I reluctantly moved away from the issue. Shamefully, I did not tell my local authority or report them because I was putting my family first. In this legislation, let us target these people and get them out of the way for what they are doing. We must deal with them very sharply because they need to be dealt with.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. We see a lot of him here and I thank him for coming in to discuss this very important Bill from Senator Wall. I compliment the Senator on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. It is very important and is coming forward at a very apt time. We can see now more than ever the illegal dumping of stuff because of the amount of walking everybody is doing on byways and roadways and so on. It is unbelievable the amount of rubbish that is not only in bogs and rivers but along main roads and byroads. People are just throwing it out the window. How does one catch those people? There cannot be CCTV cameras everywhere. I welcome the Bill. It is incredible to think that it is probably the same people who are doing it.
I see this issue in my own area, with places littered with Red Bull cans. Obviously, that is not a daytime exercise. It is more than likely at night that the Red Bull cans, plastic bags and so forth are being thrown out the window. I know from being in the catering business and the fast food business for a number of years that the area got a lot of criticism but it was not the only area that had a problem. At that time, the place was littered with plastic bags but I do not know any fast food outlet that is giving out plastic bags so they were coming from supermarkets and other places. There is a huge responsibility on everybody regarding this issue.
Many people are involved in dumping. Even if it is only a cigarette butt thrown out of the window of a car, it is illegal. It is not supposed to happen, and it should not happen. We need to use whatever resources are available to the State, local authorities and whomever else to try to clean up our countryside. Great credit is due to the many people who give their time voluntarily to Tidy Towns committees and various other committees to clean up towns and the countryside, including going through rubbish to identify the name of somebody who has dumped illegally. Of course, they are very cute nowadays and that is probably not happening. There is an onus on everybody. People on Tidy Towns committees tell me they are cleaning the same places every year and the rubbish is in the same place year after year.
I am delighted that the Minister of State is accepting Senator Wall's Private Members' Bill, which represents a step forward. It may be possible to improve it and if so, that is good. Even if it cannot be improved, the Bill should be passed into law because, as I said earlier, we need to use whatever tools are available to the State and local authorities. I am sure the Minister of State will stress the colossal amount that is spent by local authorities. One Senator suggested it is an average of €80 million or €90 million in each local authority. That level of money should not be spent on collecting rubbish and disposing of it appropriately. This money could be used to benefit towns and villages or to build houses or go towards other greater needs than having to collect rubbish.
I support the Bill and I am delighted that the Minister of State is taking it on board. I again thank the Tidy Towns committees for the great work they do. In my town of Castlebar, McGrath Waste has a recycling facility, which is a fabulous place. People can go in there with all their rubbish if they want and recycle what they can, with what is left going away for landfill. It is a great amenity. They exist in other towns as well. They are not that far away from most people who have transport. There may be some problems in cities where there is overcrowding and so forth. Those facilities are a great amenity.
Until relatively recently in certain towns, dustbins would be overflowing for several weeks, but new bins are in use now. A neighbour of mine, Tom Griffin, from Balla in County Mayo makes a bin with a solar panel system that compacts the rubbish in the bin. There is no great problem nowadays with dustbins overflowing with rubbish. In many cases those bins can also notify the local authority when it is time for them to be collected. Many advances have been made and there is no need to throw rubbish on the side of the road because a landfill or recycling centre is never that far away now. I urge people to have a look before they throw rubbish out the window. Even if it takes CCTV to deal with this issue, it is a step in the right direction.
I thank all the Senators who contributed. I acknowledge the heroic efforts made on a daily basis by the outdoor staff in our local authorities, by our litter wardens and by the Tidy Towns groups who work so hard in our communities to keep things looking so well under very difficult circumstances, as outlined by many contributors to this debate. We are very grateful to them for their efforts. They do great work and go above and beyond the call of duty every day.
I thank Senator Wall and his Labour Party colleagues for initiating the Bill, which is an important piece of work. I think all in this Chamber would agree that the problem of illegal dumping is a scourge on the landscape, a serious threat to environment and it results in significant clear-up costs for the State. Those points have been very well articulated today. I also think we would agree that local authorities should be supported in their ongoing efforts to tackle the problem of illegal dumping, including by enabling them with the appropriate legal base to use available and emerging technology to identify and prosecute offenders.
As Senator Wall set out, the Commissioner for Data Protection wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in September 2020 concerning data protection issues with the use of CCTV cameras for litter and waste enforcement purposes. The commissioner's view was that, while the Litter Pollution Act and the Waste Management Act provide local authorities with powers to prevent, investigate, detect and prosecute littering and dumping offences, the Acts do not provide for the processing of images of members of the public using CCTV footage. I believe that it is primarily this gap in the legislation that Senator Wall and his colleagues are working to address with their Bill. As this seems to be its main intention, the Government has agreed in principle not to oppose the Bill. However, I take this opportunity to point out that the Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is already well positioned to address the complex issues raised by the Commissioner for Data Protection, including by introducing appropriate legislation.
In the first instance, Ireland's Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, published in September 2020, commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. One of the commitments in the action plan states that "all waste enforcement legislation will be 'data proofed' to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant." The specific advice received from the Data Protection Commissioner is currently under consideration by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. For its part, the DPC is currently engaging with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, on the practical issues raised by the DPC and on the practical use of audiovisual recording equipment.
In line with the action plan, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is working on the draft heads of a circular economy Bill, with a view to underpinning measures promoting the development of a circular economy. Relevant output from the discussions between the CCMA and the DPC, as well as the commitment in the waste action plan, could be introduced in the Bill. This would help to ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus protecting the environment from the blight of illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.
In addition, funding of €3 million was allocated by the Government last year to an anti-dumping initiative. The initiative supports local authorities to work in partnership with community organisations in delivering some 300 projects across the country, addressing problem areas, developing enforcement responses and carrying out clean-up operations. Further funding of €1 million was provided to support the activities of the waste enforcement regional lead authorities and €7.4 million was provided to the network of 150 local authority waste enforcement officers. While allocations for 2021 are not yet finalised, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications has undertaken to continue to invest significantly in the local authority network to ensure there is a robust, sustainable waste enforcement system in place to combat all illegal waste activity. In order to provide for a more co-ordinated and strategic approach to dealing with waste crime, multi-agency forums have been established in all Garda regions. These are facilitating more Garda-led multi-agency operations and have resulted in the cessation of very significant illegal waste activities with corresponding environmental benefits on identified sites across the country. Penalties for illegal dumping are significant. Persons who are found to be responsible for the unauthorised disposal of waste are liable to a maximum fine of €5,000 on summary conviction or imprisonment for up to 12 months. The upcoming circular economy Bill will consider even further changes to fixed-penalty notices.
Turning to the Bill initiated by Senator Wall, I wish to flag a number of concerns identified, which will require careful and detailed analysis if this Bill is to proceed through the legislative process. First, the Bill implies an amendment to the Local Government Acts and would therefore have applicability to the full range of offences under the remit of local authorities.
This would involve the use by the local authorities of CCTV in the enforcement of more than litter and waste management legislation, the issue specifically examined by the DPC. As the Bill is broadly drafted without clear parameters of applicability, a review of all areas to which the law could apply would be appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Given the wide-ranging nature of the Bill, it also raises an issue relating to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018 that the processing of personal data is necessary for the performance of a function of a data controller. It may not, in all cases, be necessary for a local authority to use CCTV in the enforcement of offences and this would need to be carefully examined in each instance.
The Bill also raises concerns relating to potential infringements of a person's right to private property, as it does not appear to limit the location of the installation of a CCTV camera. A final technical point is that the Bill takes a narrow focus on the use of CCTV only. It is not predicated on a wider future-proofing that would facilitate the use of audiovisual recording equipment. It is also believed that legislative changes would apply to audiovisual recording in a broader sense, rather than to CCTV only.
I thank Senator Wall and his colleagues in the Labour Party for initiating the Bill. I thank all of the Senators for their contributions. As advised previously, the Government will not oppose the Bill.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. This Bill is an attempt by the Labour Party to address the issues that concern local authorities, and our councillors and local representatives in particular. As I said in my opening remarks, a large number of local representatives in the Labour Party and local representatives around the country have raised this issue with us. Indeed, other Senators have asked for the issue to be addressed. The Bill is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to ensure we can use CCTV for the prosecution, identification and determination of illegal waste.
I thank Senator Moynihan for seconding my Bill. She also spoke about the extent of dumping that has occurred in her own area.
As I had previously done, Senator Cummins mentioned that seven local authorities have been pulled up, in essence, by the DPC. The Senator is right that a problem exists and the Bill is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to address those concerns.
Senator Keogan raised a very important point, as did the Minister of State, about having data controllers. Senator Keogan has stated that it is a problem. It is a problem that we are getting through our joint policing committees. It is a problem and, again, it is something we can tease out further on Committee Stage, which I hope happens as quickly as possible.
The Labour Party agrees with Senator Boylan, who rightly said that more work needs to be done in this area. Illegal dumping is a huge problem. We have estimated that €90 million per year is wasted on cleaning up after illegal dumping. The Bill is a genuine attempt to start the conversation and discuss the use of CCTV cameras for the detection of illegal dumping and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Senator Boylan also mentioned civic amenity centres. Like myself, I am sure that the Minister of State is aware of how beneficial such centres are in many areas. My own area of Athy has a terrific civic amenity centre. Civic amenity centres play a vital role in protecting us from illegal dumping and I am sure we can tease out any issues concerning opening hours. More centres are needed and people in north Kildare have called for one to be established for many years.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly eloquently described the "river of waste" beside her home that she sees when she is out on a walk, etc. As the Minister of State has told us, the Minister is bringing forward a Bill that we, in the Labour Party, totally support. We are looking for this to be done in the quickest possible time, and that is what today's debate is about.
It is not often that I disagree with Senator Black. She is a good colleague but, unfortunately, I must disagree with her today. This week alone, I was contacted by ten people from a working-class community about a single incident. For too long, they have had to put up with people dumping rubbish on their doorsteps and walkways, and they simply cannot put up with it any more. I seldom classify people but the people who contacted me are from working-class communities and they are the people I represent. They have asked me why we cannot use CCTV to prosecute the people who dump rubbish on their doorsteps.
I thank Senator Byrne for the conversations we have had on this matter over a period and for his advice. He has done a lot of work in this area and is also bringing forward legislation, which we will support. As other Senators have said, it is very important that we work across parties and groups to support initiatives in this area.
Senator Conway spoke about the Tidy Towns groups. I could not agree more with him regarding the work they do. Senator Craughwell asked about going further with technology, an issue the Minister of State also touched on, but, as I have already said, this legislation is just aimed at addressing the issue being raised with us by local representatives in the Labour Party and by other local representatives throughout the country. I thank Senator Mullen for his support.
Senator Cassells raised an issue which I raised in the House earlier today, the issue of those whom I call "the professionals". These are the people who go around our housing estates in a car or van, flashing their lights to let people know to come out with their black bags. We need to tackle them. We also need to tackle the social media companies that facilitate their advertising. That needs to be tackled. Some of our local representatives have tried to do that.
I agree with Senator Ward. The Minister of State is on record as saying we need to give more powers to our local authorities. I know he is working on that. We in the Labour Party will support giving as much power as possible back to our local authorities.
I agree with Senator Currie, who outlined the dumping she has heard of this week. I myself have dealt with ten separate cases already this week. Senator Sherlock said that this is not a magic bullet. It is not, but it is a very important tool. Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the Curragh plains, an area very dear to me. Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about the frustrations as I have outlined. I agree with Senator Murphy that we should work together. With regard to Senator Burke's comments, in my case it is Captain Morgan's and cola cans rather than Red Bull cans that I have to pick up on my road when I go for a walk every evening.
I thank the Minister of State for accepting this Bill for what it is, which is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to address the concerns of our local representatives and, more importantly, the frustrations of those who find illegally dumped material on their doorsteps, particularly since they have begun taking walks in our beautiful countryside within the 5 km allowed under the restrictions. As others have said, this issue does not only affect our countryside, but our streets and cities as well.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.