Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Noise Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed)
Noise is a serious problem in modern, urban society. I have been involved with this issue for a number of years, particularly in my role as a city councillor and Lord Mayor. I commend the Green Party on the introduction of this sensible, imaginative legislation, which while not perfect, is badly needed.
I read with interest the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, in which he pointed out the legislative provisions on noise. That is all well and good, but for a number of years the main problem has been enforcement. Local authorities have not taken any interest in noise pollution and that is the reason this Bill is so welcome. It is a first stab at making local authorities responsible for enforcement, which is what it is all about.
Some parts of the Bill are too weak. Section 3 suggests a local authority "may" act if it receives a complaint. This should be a requirement and should read "shall".
The Bill should also make other actions mandatory. I strongly support a proactive role for local authorities on noise control enforcement day and night. When I was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2001-02, I visited London with an official from Dublin City Council to examine how Westminster City Council operates in this area. The Westminster council has noise patrols that operate 24 hours a day and citizens can call these patrols to deal with the issue of noise.
I compliment the Government on acknowledging this is a good Bill and on accepting it for its Second Stage Reading. This demonstrates the Government is open to good ideas, unlike other parties. Some of these have put forward bad ideas to the Government and expected them to be adopted. The Government has an open mind on good ideas, as has been proven by its support for further reading of this legislation.
I strongly believe in the Green agenda and I hope this is the beginning of a deeper relationship between Fianna FÃ¡il and the Green Party for the future.
Much of the Bill is welcome, but it needs amendment on Committee Stage. I am not satisfied that night-time noise pollution is fully covered or that the earlier legislation is properly incorporated in the Bill. On many occasions in the past I have raised the matter of legislation on noise pollution with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and perhaps he will confirm that later tonight.
I congratulate the Green Party on the introduction of the Bill and I congratulate the Government on being open-minded and sensible enough to welcome it and to try to make it a better Bill. This bodes well for Fianna FÃ¡il-Green Party co-operation in the future.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this Bill and to outline the Government's policy in this area. Environmental noise has many sources, from large scale activity such as industrial installations, traffic on urban roads and major construction sites to more local sources such as security alarms, social activity and general neighbourhood noise.
I received a complaint in my constituency last week from a person with a neighbour who raises hens and cocks. The cocks start crowing about 10 p.m. each night and continue until 6 a.m. The daughter of the person who complained is a nurse who must go to work at 7 o'clock each morning having been unable to sleep all night with the noise. This is just one example of noise pollution.
Let me give another example. In Dublin where I am based some people make their living from driving refrigerated articulated trucks. These people live on housing estates and have no place to park their trucks when they drive from Cork, or wherever, apart from outside their houses in their housing estate. They leave the refrigeration unit turned on all night because the containers contain perishable goods and the resulting noise keeps their elderly neighbours and others awake all night. Sometimes gardaÃ or local authorities are called to deal with the issue, but they have no powers to deal with it and do not want to know in most cases.
The other side of the coin is that the truck drivers in question need to make a living. Local authorities are provided with significant funding by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and therefore, there is an onus on them to make provision for truck drivers to park their trucks in special compounds. This is something that must be considered.
House alarms are also a cause of noise pollution and I am glad to see the Bill makes provisions in this regard. House alarms in housing estates might be ringing for 24 hours, but nobody, not even the next door neighbour takes any notice. All the alarm does is upset everybody in the area.
We all know environmental noise is a symptom of our active and busy lifestyle. We have something of a catch-22 situation. We all need some quiet time to rest and recharge our batteries, but the pace of family life and social activity makes this difficult to achieve. Often, social activities are likely to commence after midnight. For example, one may live next door to a house that is rented, which is common in Dublin. Someone in that house may come home from the pub, get a carry-out from the off-licence and decide to have a barbecue at that late hour. That will go on till 6 a.m. although the next door neighbour may have to get up and go to work in the morning despite not being able to sleep because of the disturbance. When that neighbour manages to get to work, he or she is flaked out.
I congratulate the Green Party on this Bill. We are green on this side of the House also and know what is involved with regard to noise pollution.
We support the Green Party on this Bill. It does not just say a particular road or railway should not be built because this will upset people. This Bill is positive and we support it.
The Bill will give local authorities significant powers to address the environmental issue of noise pollution. However, they will tell us they do not have the resources. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated there is no problem with funding. Local authorities have received more funding than ever before from the Minister and could not even fully spend their funds last year. The finger must point at them and we must ask what they are doing on the issue. Managers of local authorities should be called before the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government to establish what they are doing, what they intend to do and the procedures they have in place to deal with noise pollution, which is an issue of concern to many.
I apologise for going over my time and thank the Chair for the opportunity to contribute. Again, I congratulate the Green Party. We have no problem with this Bill.
We are pragmatic and will support the Green Party all the way in this regard. It is an important issue for the community. I thank the Green Party for bringing it to our attention. We will support the Green Party in this regard, as it will support the Government.
However, much will change before May. This is the second time I have commended the Green Party in the House on bringing forward particular Bills.
Everybody recognises that noise pollution affects an increasing proportion of the population in a society where the economy is expanding at such a rapid rate. We must change our laws to cope with the changes in our society. Industrial business transport activities are no longer confined to traditional business hours, leading to increased levels of noise during the day and night, and, therefore, the increased likelihood of incidents of noise nuisance.
Previous speakers referred to the nuisance of security alarms in housing estates and car alarms going off at all hours of the night. House alarms are a particular nuisance at weekends when householders are away. Often, this may happen on public holiday weekends when houses are unattended for up to four days at a time. I know of cases where families have gone on holidays for two weeks having left nobody to deal with alarms, which has caused serious problems. All of this causes stress, particularly for families with young children or babies trying to sleep.
It is difficult to structure legislation to cover all aspects of noise pollution. There is change in a number of areas with which we must deal. Existing legislation covers many aspects and the local authorities have the power to deal with noise nuisances, but problems remain. For example, cars with modified exhaust systems are increasingly used by young men who think this is a way of showing off. Anybody who travels in Dublin will see certain types of motorbikes on the roads which produce noise when starting off that is far in excess of what is socially acceptable. I have questioned gardaÃ in this regard but they claim it is difficult to monitor or to bring charges against individuals.
Existing Irish law deals with the challenge posed by the increasingly busy economy of the 24-hour society, and provides a series of safeguards which address noise pollution. However, I do not know how comprehensively, effectively or efficiently our laws deal with the problem. While all areas of noise pollution are legislated for, the provisions in place maintain a balance between the rights of the individual to the peaceful enjoyment of his or her property and the rights of others to carry out their normal activities.
Deputy Martin Brady referred to people carrying out their lawful business, in particular drivers of trucks with refrigeration units. Apart from the fact such drivers must sometimes park in residential areas where the refrigeration unit will remain in operation through the night, another problem I have heard of relates to truck drivers who must leave early in the mornings. When they start their trucks, they must let them run for four or five minutes at full tilt in order to build up the pressure so the brakes become effective. This causes difficulties in some housing estates.
The building regulations cover many aspects of the construction industry. However, problems arise where there is much construction and where housing estates are partially completed but builders are still coming to work at 7 a.m. and creating disturbance. While local authorities can and in the vast majority of cases do include regulations and conditions on planning permissions, many local authorities do not have the manpower or resources to police these aspects.
The building regulations published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government detail legal requirements to be met in regard to sound insulation between separating walls and floors in houses and apartments. This is not working in all cases. Anecdotal evidence suggests that householders can on an ongoing basis hear what is happening in their neighbours' homes in terms of noise from television, radio and stereos.
I commend the Green Party on bringing forward the Bill. Anything that improves quality of life in this country is to be recommended and is supported by my party.
I am delighted to contribute on the Bill. While I might not always agree with the Green Party, it is to be commended on opening up the debate. There is no doubt that noise is becoming an enormous problem. In the ordinary home â Members often call to houses on their rounds â there will be a television operating in one room, which is not turned off as one enters. There could be two televisions operating at the same time and a radio operating in another room also. Generally, noise levels are well above what we were used to when we grew up. When one considers the way houses are built now compared to the old way, there is no problem hearing from one end of the house what is happening at the other end. However, I accept these are minor complaints.
As a rural dweller, I often receive complaints from people who have come to live in the country for the first time and who are not used to rural noises, particularly modern machinery, which can be hard on those who are not used to it. I often wonder how people operated such machines in the past without ear protection, which is now a major requirement and one to be welcomed. That point brings me to a famous event of the recent past, the Army deafness claims, which resulted from soldiers being exposed to too much noise. We know of the massive damage done. There are also the cases of those who worked in factories without protection. Dust was a big issue but so was noise, which can be at high levels even in modern factories. Thankfully, this is now recognised and the various protections in place help to deal with the problem.
Much reference is made to vandalism in our streets but there is also the problem of noise levels after hours in our streets, towns and villages, which is simply out of order. While we tend to hone in on damage done, people are often awake for many hours after the pubs and chip shops close. This is of great concern where there are sick people or young children, and I hear of it regularly in my home area.
Car exhausts are another cause of great concern. When some cars pass, one would imagine they are doing 100 mph, but they are making more noise than their speed would suggest. I cannot understand why this is not being stopped. I know it is easy to say the gardaÃ have enough to do â maybe it is not that easy â but I remember a time when excessive noise was a very big crime for which one could easily be picked up and summonsed. Those who create excessive noise should certainly be stopped. It is absolutely ridiculous that young lads are making so much noise in our towns at night. The speed of cars is an issue, but the noise of cars is often a far greater issue.
The use of jet skis recently became an issue on the River Blackwater, in my part of the country. I assure the House that the noise made by jet skis can be unbelievable. The damage done by jet skis to nesting wildlife etc. can be substantial. Those who were involved have ceased to engage in such activity, thankfully. One could hear the high whine that their machines were making for miles around. I do not doubt that jet skis have done significant damage to nesting birds etc.
While I welcome the Green Party motion, the Government feels that this issue is fairly well addressed. This issue should be debated, however, as it is relevant to our modern country, with its booming economy and increased levels of mechanisation in the home and the workplace. I commend the Green Party on raising this matter. A great deal of noise is quite often produced in this House. That noise often generates much more heat than light. I do not doubt that the noise levels in the House would be much higher if it were not for the absolute impartiality of the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Chair for allowing me to say a few words.
I might have to sing for the last two minutes. The continued presence in the Chair of Deputy Penrose reminds me of Deputy Kenny's remarks earlier about Deputy Penrose being an author. I am aware that the Green Party is bringing out a book â I cannot wait to read it â and I wish Deputy Boyle well in that regard. I will read his book.
I was going to say that there is almost nothing to say because everything nice that can be said about the Green Party has been said this evening. I was not going to be nice because a copy of the Green Party newsletter, which is printed on recycled paper, was dropped into my letter box the other day and Deputies Gormley, Boyle and Cuffe were posing in the newsletter with their party's nice candidate in Dublin South-West. Can Deputies imagine that the candidate in question had a go at me in the newsletter?
I was not going to be nice, but I have decided to be calm because we are so close to Christmas. I am sure I will have plenty of further opportunities to cross swords with my Green Party colleagues over the next 200 days. I look forward to doing that. In fairness, the work of Deputy Cuffe, in particular, shines through in this Bill, about which other Deputies have spoken. The Green Party has struck a nerve on this occasion. We all understand the point being made by the Green Party. No Deputy will disagree with the sentiments being expressed in this legislation. Problems of this nature are encountered in every community.
As someone who was reared in Dublin in a bygone era, as I mentioned earlier, I know this problem did not start in recent years. I remember how troublesome neighbours who made noise were dealt with when I was a child in the inner city, in the Stephen Street and George's Street area, as well as in Crumlin, where I was reared. I cannot remember things from yesterday, but I can remember the problems caused by all kinds of noise on the street many years ago. When television was introduced in the area, my parents complained about the noise for the first couple of weeks, until we got a television in our house. Such problems have been experienced in all our communities.
Somebody said earlier that I did not mention Tallaght much during my speech on the Garda SÃochÃ¡na. I am always sensitive about the danger of talking too much about Tallaght during debates on negative matters. I represent the third largest population centre in the country. The Acting Chairman is familiar with some of the urban places in my constituency, such as Tallaght, Firhouse, Templeogue and Greenhills, as well as rural communities like Brittas and Bohernabreena. I attend eight advice clinics every week and not a week goes by when this issue does not arise. I checked that with my office today and I am not as famous for my meetings as some of my colleagues â I am looking at Deputy Gilmore, in particular â but I am as available as possible.
My full-time office receives many calls every week about this matter. I know from my work and from checking with my secretary that problems caused by people who act as bad neighbours arise quite often. That is the crux of the matter, in simple terms â people refuse to toe the line and to act as good neighbours. As Deputy Wilkinson said, noise can be caused by loud music, motorbikes and barking dogs. I am quite fond of dogs in my own way â I always had a dog when I was young â but I emphasise that people should be aware of the sensitivity of their neighbours to dogs.
This Bill lists all the sources of noise with which people have difficulties. Particular reference has been made to intruder alarms. I have received many calls recently from people in new communities in the Tallaght region in this regard. When people move into such areas, they are suddenly confronted with noise pollution. I do not want to make a political point, but it appears that the economy is doing well, which means that many people are working and therefore are not at home during the day. Those of us who try to meet people when we spend days on walkabouts â I know we do not talk about canvassing, but we can talk about walkabouts â are aware that it is difficult to do so when people are out working. It is really infuriating for people when one of their neighbours goes to work at 8 a.m. and leaves the alarm bellowing for the day. Such behaviour can cause many problems.
While I am talking about the need for people to act as good neighbours, I would like to refer to an initiative in Tallaght with which I was involved several years ago. I was the founding chairman of the Tallaght Mediation Bureau, which was established to mediate between neighbours, to encourage people not to feel obliged to have recourse to the legal system and to ensure that people do not have to call the Garda to deal with all sorts of neighbourhood problems. The bureau, in which I am no longer involved because, like all other Deputies, I cannot be everywhere, has dealt with many cases over the years. It has attempted to mediate between neighbours who were in disagreement about simple things like making too much noise. We should not have such confusion in respect of problems of this nature, which have been ongoing for generations. I repeat that the need to act as a good neighbour is the central aspect of this issue, about which we should be sensitive.
In fairness to this Bill, it attempts to address such issues. It hits a nerve on an issue with which none of us could disagree. When I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Roche, yesterday, he was clear about that point. When good political ideas are brought to the Chamber, it is good that they can be embraced by everybody in the interests of the common good. A great deal of good will come from that.
I will sing again if I am asked. I hope the Deputies will not tell Deputy Finian McGrath that I said that.
Deputies spoke about the response of local authorities to problems of this nature. South Dublin County Council acts in as responsible a manner as possible when this issue arises. When I contacted the council today, I was told that it receives many complaints about noise. The council processes such complaints on a regular basis. It is important that we understand an issue that is raised by the Bill, which is that we should have recourse to the law and local authorities only in cases of noise that is causing a real problem. That is why I mentioned the need for neighbours to interact ethically. We should try to put in place circumstances in which the problems which arise are solved in a straightforward manner. If such problems cannot be solved easily, they should be dealt with by the relevant local authority or by the law. I look forward to supporting this Bill. I thank the Acting Chairman for his courtesy.
The Labour Party supports the Bill. I compliment my constituency colleague, Deputy Cuffe, for bringing it before the House. It is not the first time this has been debated here. I recall a number of occasions during debates on planning and environmental protection Bills when amendments were proposed to provide for some form of regulation of noise pollution. My most recent efforts were on Committee Stage of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006, when I proposed an amendment which would have brought noise under planning control. In response to that amendment, I recall the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government promised he would bring forward regulations on noise pollution. I have not seen them yet and I would be interested to see what progress has been made on that commitment.
We need to parse the different forms of noise pollution that arise. I compliment the Green Party and Deputy Cuffe for the comprehensive range of noise addressed in the Bill. However, different solutions are required for different types of noise. For example, noise arising from a motorway requires a particular response, such as the provision of double glazing for households that are affected by its construction. The way in which noise is examined must also be considered. When motorway schemes are examined, the only issue is the decibel level above which noise may not go, which I believe is 98 decibels. The problem with that limited examination is that a household can suffer a monotonous hum of traffic which constitutes noise pollution, but in this case the decibel level does not rise. The occasional vehicle with a faulty exhaust passing by late at night can also create a noise problem that is not encompassed by the overall decibel level.
Refrigeration units at the rear of shopping centres, industrial plant and so on represent situations where noise can become a problem for local communities. These areas should be dealt with under planning legislation or environmental protection legislation. Noise in agricultural activity needs to be addressed, such as noise that comes from some forms of agricultural machinery, or from simulated shotgun blasts used to frighten away birds in tillage areas. Noise from construction activity must also be addressed. The constant hammering, drilling and even rock blasting should be dealt with by planning control. We regularly hear of places of entertainment that produce excessive noise which should also be dealt with in a different way. All these types of noise can be dealt with by regulation, by legislation and by the type of rule regime that we normally examine when we enact Bills.
However, I am not sure I warm to the solution proposed in the Bill by the Green Party to the problems created by noise from private sources, such as activated burglar alarms, excessive partying, loud music in apartment blocks and so on. There is something Orwellian about noise control officers being sent out by the local authority to check whether a party is too loud and too late. I am inclined to agree with the approach suggested by Deputy O'Connor. These are neighbourhood problems and they require a new legislative approach providing a framework whereby good neighbourliness, common sense and respect for others are encouraged, and if somebody decides to take advantage of his or her own community, he or she is appropriately penalised.
These problems are not confined to noise. One neighbour will not want the kids playing football on the lawn and wants a sign put up preventing it, while other neighbours want the opposite and world war three will break out if the sign goes up. A problem can arise between neighbours over a boundary wall, or the trees growing in the back garden that extend into someone else's vegetable plot. A problem can arise over rows between children on the street. Some neighbour might be inappropriately storing waste, which is occurring quite often given the charging regime currently in operation.
Good neighbourhood practices need to be developed and there is a role in this for local government. Local government can put in place the kind of mediation approach that Deputy O'Connor mentioned. It may have to put in place something analogous to the small claims courts, although not formally within the court system. If somebody was seriously aggrieved by another person who was constantly playing loud music or leaving on the burglar alarm, there should be a way in which that person can seek restitution. If someone loses a day's work because he or she has been kept awake all night by some inappropriate activity on the part of his or her neighbours, there should be a means by which that person can seek to have the day's pay restored by the offending party.
We do not need an approach whereby a noise control officer comes out from the local authority and brings people to court. We need an approach whereby the aggrieved party can have some form of restitution made. I came across a case in which somebody was doing exams on a Monday and because of noise in the area over the weekend, the person had to check into a hotel to study for the exams. In such a situation, there should be some means whereby the person can get the offending party to pay the hotel bill.
I thank my colleagues for the opportunity to raise an issue regarding this Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am glad the Government is accepting it in principle. I want to focus on the Road Traffic Act 2002. Deputy Gilmore and I contributed to the debate on Committee Stage on this legislation with the then Minister of State with responsibility for road safety, Bobby Molloy. We managed to have included during that debate, in section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, a provision specifically to deal with noise generated by souped up engines without proper silencers, which cause major problems in many communities throughout the country. The legislation dealt with the protection of the environment and persons and animals, where their health might be damaged or lead to distress or discomfort, specifically regarding emissions or excessive noise from vehicles. This provision has been on the Statute Book since 2002. I recently raised the issue with the Minister for Transport, asking him whether he would enact the powers under section 13 of the Road Traffic Act. He told me he hadno intention at this time of enacting those provisions.
While the Garda SÃochÃ¡na uses article 29 of the Road Traffic Regulations 1963, the scale of prosecutions in this regard is not what it should be. In many communities enormous distress is being caused by noise. I ask the Minister to discuss the matter with the Minister for Transport to ensure that the provisions under section 13 are enacted to address the blight that is being imposed on many communities.
However, by their fruits shall you know them. I hope that instead of just talking about how good this legislation is, the Government will act upon it. I hope it will not languish on Committee Stage. If it needs to be amended then the Government should amend it accordingly and push it through. It will certainly have the full support of the House on that one.
Other Deputies have said the Bill needs to be amended and it does, perhaps, need to be fleshed out. One area I have discussed with my colleague, Deputy Cuffe, who drafted the legislation, was helicopter noise.
This is becoming an increasing facet of life. It seems to be the mode of transport of choice for the wealthy. I was going to suggest that one would see them if one went to the Galway Races, but I do not want to be nasty to Fianna FÃ¡il on love Fianna FÃ¡il and love the Green Party night. However, there is a very big issue involved here. In my constituency, and colleagues will recognise this, there is a problem with helicopter noise. Ringsend, Sandymount and right along the coast seems to be a flight path for helicopters and this has been raised with me on quite a number of occasions. We must look at that.
In London one of my Green Party counterparts, Mr. Darren Johnson, produced a report in March 2006 and the Environment Committee of the London Assembly issued a document in October entitled London in a Spin â A Review of Helicopter Noise. We need to do something similar here. In this document a number of recommendations are set out on how to deal with and control helicopter noise. It includes the following suggestions: That the Department of Transport review the impact of helicopter noise and enact policies to mitigate it; establish a website to inform the public about helicopter routes, as well as outline procedures for filing complaints; make complaint procedures clear and deal with them efficiently; create a London helicopter consultative committee in order to address concerns about helicopter noise; make the Civil Aviation Authority responsible for the environmental impact of helicopter noise; charge for additional services required by helicopters; and restrict the use of helicopters for advertising and media purposes.
All of this makes sense. I can give another example from the United States where Van Nuys Airport has put forward the idea of a comprehensive helicopter noise control plan that identifies first flight airport, FFA, recommended flight routes. What is required is that we set the heights for helicopters. In Dublin, for example, they have been given carte blanche and are flying far too low, which actually increases the noise. This is an aspect that might be addressed in another section of the legislation. Certainly, if Fianna FÃ¡il is happy to accept the legislation, we will be happy to amend it on Committee Stage.
I spoke to someone recently who made the wise point that good motives can sometimes bring about unintended consequences. The example given was that the valid reaction at the turn of the 19th century to the housing problems in Dublin â the chronic illnesses that arose from the slums â was to spread the city out in order to get people enjoying space and fresh air. There were valid health reasons. Cholera and typhoid are not that distant in the folk memory of Dublin â neither, I am sure, are they distant memories in Cork, Galway and other cities.
One of the consequences is that we have sprawled so far out that it is no longer working in transport terms. We need to bring our cities back in, to start creating urban living spaces that work well. That is not to return to the 17th or 18th centuries and some of the chronic housing conditions that existed in those times. To a certain extent, however, some of the new developments are heading in that direction, such is the lack of quality. If we are to create healthy, compact, high density urban spaces which are positive places to live in, then we need to get two or three things right. We need to have proper light. We do not want flats or apartments with no south facing windows, such as are being built in this city at present. These are not high quality of life places in which to live. We need clean air. We cannot have the situation where when one opens a window there is a smell of toxic fumes. Perhaps one of the most important goals, however, is to create urban centres which are quiet.
This may be done in clever ways in terms of not facing buildings onto a road or exposing them to noise, which makes life intolerable and where the windows cannot be opened. That may seem to be a small thing, but actually it is crucial. Politicians more than anybody know that in walking around streets in urban neighbourhoods the biggest environmental threat is noise. As a politician one notices the difference between a quiet and a noisy street. We need good quality design to get people back into high quality sustainable urban communities. That means considering noise, having proper monitoring and all the type of enforcement measures that are set out in this Bill.
Everyone here has talked about the experience of noise as a problem. For those in the apartments being built in this city at the moment, the single biggest noise issue is that everything that is going on in the flat next door may be heard because there is no sound proofing. Changing that reality and improving that design quality would do more than anything else to improve the quality of life for a great many people in this city. It is that type of clever environmental thinking that should be brought into our buildings, transport and housing policies, which create cities that work and become leading world centres rather than places where the quality of life is poor.
I commend my colleague, Deputy Cuffe, on bringing forward this legislation and the parties opposite, on accepting it, in a broad sense. If we are serious about creating good urban spaces where local environments are looked after, we should pursue this Bill with great haste before another 1,000 apartments are built where noise from the next door neighbour and the road outside may be heard.
I am sharing time with Deputies McHugh, Catherine Murphy and Ã Snodaigh.
I want to support this Bill, which is long overdue. It is one we welcome, seeking as it does to put order on an already fragmented situation as regards noise control. Increased urbanisation, industrialisation and high density traffic have resulted in escalating noise levels leading to noise pollution. Noise pollution is the intrusion of unwanted uncontrollable and unpredictable sounds into the lives of individuals, affecting sensitivities. Unwanted sounds or noises can be traced back to Old Testament references to loud music and barking dogs. Indeed last night in the House, our colleague, Deputy Finian McGrath, brought in a device to control biting, whatever about barking, dogs.
Even in ancient Rome, residents complained about noisy delivery wagons on the cobbled streets. Hence, this is not a new problem. The industrial revolution, the growth of cities and rising demand for transport have all contributed to making the world even more noisy. As the modern world is so dependent on, and enchanted with, noise-producing and noise-related technology, such as cars, trains, aircraft, helicopters, motorcycles, jet skis and amplified music in car stereo systems, the increase in the ambient noise level continues to accelerate.
Unfortunately, noise pollution, unlike air, water, land or soil pollution has not been taken seriously. A display of bravado towards noise levels may be seen on building sites and other workplaces. As has been seen in the past regarding Army deafness claims, people do not wear protective gear and the issue is not treated with any degree of seriousness.
Many other issues arise in this regard. It has been stated that the average age for capacity reduction in hearing has fallen from 70 plus to 60 plus in the past 20 years. Many factors affect us subconsciously. Studies have shown that exposure to 75 decibels, a relatively low level of noise equivalent to the average washing machine, for more than eight hours can have an impact on hearing loss. Tinnitus, the permanent ringing sensation in one's ears can be caused by noise from an exploding firework. Hence, many noise levels exist and awareness must be raised in this regard. I compliment the Green Party on introducing this Bill.
I welcome the Noise Bill 2006 and thank the Green Party for introducing it. Excessive noise is the bane of many people's lives and is a secret pest for many people. I was amazed by recent statements by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the effect that he has no plans to introduce new measures in respect of noise control. The Minister's statement indicates clearly that he has no comprehension of the inadequacy of the present measures and that he has no knowledge of the nuisance excessive noise can be for many people.
One of the greatest nuisances in this respect is probably the transmission of noise from one residential unit to another. The invasion of one's privacy is a serious problem. However, the continual invasion of one's privacy can be an intolerable problem. How many instances have come before the courts regarding music blaring at completely unacceptable levels? The courts appear to be the only remedy. However, a control system should be put in place in which they are not the first port of call because the courts can be overwhelming for many people, particularly the elderly, who are often the victims of excessive noise in adjoining residences.
A case can be made for the appointment of noise control officers, who would be the first people to be consulted in the event of complaints of excessive noise. When the Minister expressed his confidence that the status quo regarding noise control was acceptable, he failed clearly to understand the trauma that excessive noise creates for many people. At times, it even leads to ill health on the victim's part. When considering the problem of noise transfer from one residence to another, one must also have regard to the building regulations. One must question whether the present regulations regarding noise reduction, or their policing, are adequate.
Perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should take some time out. Perhaps he decided to accept this Bill on this Stage on mature reflection. If the Minister opts to give local authority officials direct responsibility for noise control, he should ensure that adequate funding is made available to the local authority to carry out this additional duty. In the past, myriad tasks and duties have been transferred to local authorities without additional funding. Moreover, there are embargoes on staff recruitment and the hands of the local authority are tied in this respect. Consequently, the entire process in which different Ministers at different times have engaged regarding the transfer of functions to local authorities has been an absolute waste of time. It has been nothing but a public relations exercise in which a Minister can claim to have passed particular legislation or to have put regulations in place, which must be implemented by the local authorities. However, it is not possible for the latter to so do and it is still the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The sooner he accepts this, the better for everyone.
I support this Bill and, in the time available to me, wish to focus on a number of aspects of the Bill, as well as some matters that are not covered by it. As society becomes more highly organised, more standards must be set on issues such as noise pollution. While higher density housing has merit from the perspective of having a critical population mass to make public transport more economic, essentially higher densities signify a change in the housing mix. Although duplexes, triplexes and apartments are now a fact of life, they have resulted in noise being a more significant problem than heretofore. People live in closer proximity and the question of whether it is tolerable to live in an apartment often can depend on the kind of floor covering used in the apartment above. Sound-proofing, which is often inadequate, must be considered in the context of building regulations.
People with children frequently do not wish to live in apartments and people living in apartments may not wish to live beside children. This begins to dictate the social mix of people, which is not always in the interest of urban areas. This also concerns public spaces beside apartment blocks, in which one should be able to enjoy some tranquillity. One should not lose the community element of having a green space such as one would have were one to live in a housing estate.
In Germany, which has a strong urban profile, one is not allowed to use a washing machine or dishwasher later than the early evening. While I am unsure whether Members would wish to go so far, this is an issue for some people who live in apartments. This Bill is concerned with anticipating problems that will be created and recognising current needs, rather than waiting until they begin to build up a head of steam. Hence, this initiative is welcome.
One size does not fit all and there is a world of difference between how one should legislate for apartment block dwellers and those who live in cottages on mountain sides. Undoubtedly, there is a difference.
I wish to raise the issue of daytime noise. Although most people work by day and sleep by night, shift work means the environment is changing. For example, I live close to both Intel and Hewlett-Packard and not only do the plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they work for 365 days a year. That is true in many cases. The environment is changing and issues such as barking dogs or ringing alarms become real nuisances. The right to own a dog or have a house alarm must be balanced with the responsibility to ensure that neither becomes a serious nuisance either by day or by night. This issue can become a serious problem by day. While people may accept that a practice is unacceptable by night, often it is also unacceptable during the daytime.
I wish to raise an issue that is not covered by the Bill and which was a subject of recent legislation. I refer to an issue raised by Deputy Gormley, namely, aircraft noise. The recent legislation was confined to commercial aircraft and was an EU requirement. To those who live below aircraft noise, it makes little difference who owns the aircraft â whether it is commercial, a hobby or whatever, it still makes the same noise. Indeed, some light aircraft are even noisier as they are not fitted with noise abatement measures. It is akin to having a lawn mower pass over one's house on a constant basis.
I live under the flight path of a local airfield and the noise can become intolerable. Last summer, I met people who told me they were thinking of moving because they were unable to use their back gardens or hold a conversation with the window open. I receive complaints from a wide area in this regard and it requires legislation. The problem is not limited to one airfield as the flight paths for Casement Aerodrome and Dublin Airport also cross the area in question. Moreover, a â¬3,000 noise abatement system would resolve some of these problems.
The kind of complaints I get are also from people living beside building sites in an area where there is much building activity. For example, stone-crushing machines, which are environmentally friendly in getting rid of waste, are fairly difficult to live beside for six or eight weeks. Such work, together with 24-hour shopping, are matters which one cannot ignore in a modern environment and which need to be legislated for. I wanted to touch on them because they are the kind of complaints I receive on noise pollution.
TrÃ©aslaÃm leis An Comhaontas Glas as an Bille seo a chur os Ã¡r gcomhair, agus fÃ¡iltÃm roimhe, mar dÃ¡ ndÃ©arfainn go raibh muid ag plÃ© Bille um thorann, cheapfadh a lÃ¡n daoine go raibh mÃ© ag magadh. Thuigfeadh daoine ar gÃ¡ dÃ³ibh cur suas le torann de shÃor cÃ©n gÃ¡ atÃ¡ lena leithÃ©id de Bhille, agus tÃ¡ sÃ© tÃ¡bhachtach go bhfuil an Rialtas tar Ã©is glacadh leis. TÃ¡ sÃºil agam nach dtarlÃ³idh an rud a tharla le BillÃ eile. Nuair atÃ¡ an Dara CÃ©im crÃochnaithe acu, suÃonn siad ansin go deo. TÃ¡ sÃºil agam go bhfuil an Rialtas sÃ¡sta cur leis an Bhille seo agus Ã© a chur isteach sa choiste, agus go dtiocfaidh sÃ© ar ais ionas go mbeidh muid in ann dÃ©ileÃ¡il leis ina iomlÃ¡ine chun saol nÃos fearr a thabhairt dÃ³ibh siÃºd atÃ¡ ag fulaingt mar gheall ar thorann leanÃºnach lasmuigh dÃ¡ dtithe.
The types of noise pollution have been mentioned by others. Noise pollution affects people's quality of life. If their quality of life is affected, often their health is affected. This is especially true among those, such as shift workers mentioned earlier, who sleep during the day. We cannot change society and the level of noise during the daytime will probably be greater, but people living next to a building site are entitled to some notice when there is to be two or three weeks of pile-driving so those who must sleep during the day can make alternative arrangements. People accept that pile-driving or the breaking of builders' rubble must occur, but they should be entitled to know when it will happen and when their sleep will be disturbed. In my area there is a CIE running yard where they need to keep trains running at night to check they work properly. Some of this work occurs within 100 yd. of houses and the people living there often hear the trains outside the yard, which means there are no noise abatement measures being taken.
There needs to be a change in attitudes within society, involving a return to how it was previously, where people take due consideration of their neighbours and understand that noise affects people. The building standards need to be improved to increase house insulation, which reduces noise between apartments or houses. That can also be economically beneficial because then one need not heat the home as much. If one increases building standards on insulation between houses and between apartments, there is a cost factor and a benefit.
While common courtesy remains, for example one does not run a washing machine on a dividing wall all night and all day, there is a significant level of noise pollution which did not exist 20 years ago. In any pub in this city there is background music and late at night music blares so much that one is forced to go elsewhere. In shopping centres, with lifts and the like, noise levels are constant.
If one is lucky enough to retreat to a country hideaway, one hears the tranquility. We should be able to experience such tranquility in this city, in other cities and in rural towns. We should not have to put up with constant noise, whether from the street or from neighbours.
In particular, I was glad the issue of car and house alarms is addressed in the Bill. However, my one concern on the issue of house alarms in that there is a danger in providing for a centralised list in the local authority. Maybe the centralised list should be with the Garda. It would be more secure. That is only a small matter. If this Bill is referred to committee, we can ensure it is strengthened and can be applied properly, and that issues such as alarms, somebody who runs a small car business outside their house revving up cars morning, noon and night, or dogs barking can be addressed.
The Bill is a small step that can be taken by this House to ensure people's quality of life is enhanced rather than reduced, as at present, time and again because of constant noise. People are suffering sleep deprivation because of this constant noise and, as I stated, that can affect people's health. If it does so, it will cost the State more money. Therefore, there are benefits for the State and for householders in taking the practical steps I and others mentioned. I wish this Bill well and I hope we will see it complete all Stages in this House quite quickly.
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
From what I heard, the debate has been useful and has provided a good basis for further debate on Committee Stage. Last night and tonight, there seems to have been a fair level of consensus that while there are rules and regulations, there is need for further movement in this regard.
I accept we all get complaints about interference with quality of life and people's peace, quiet and enjoyment. It is difficult to come up with a suggestion that will solve all problems. There can be some remedy for persistent and constant noise but it is difficult to deal with occasional noise. There has been a good degree of consensus on what needs to be done.
It is important to state there is much legislation in place and the existing provisions have been effective to a certain extent over the years in resolving many, but not all, the noise issues for individuals and local authorities. The Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, outlined the existing provisions â the 1994 noise regulations, section 107 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the new regulations introduced earlier this year by the Minister, Deputy Roche. The latter regulations will also help to prevent and alleviate environmental noise which has been a natural result of our increasingly busy society and economy over the past number of years. The regulations have the potential to improve the situation for many people and should be recognised as a significant step forward in combatting the accumulation of noise from the day to day use of major infrastructure and other sources.
No doubt as the economy has advanced, there is a greater effort to get road works and the like done at night. That is fine in theory in that it helps to keep traffic moving, but it can be a nuisance to people who live nearby. We must always think of the particular problem caused to the individual.
The initiative taken earlier this year is a bold departure in environmental protection. It is, hopefully, probably only a first step in an EU environmental noise code which will develop over the coming period.
Last night Deputy Healy raised the issue of a local authority tenant in his constituency who is affected by noise being made by a neighbouring tenant. Certainly, nobody should have to put up with that. That person's local authority should be able to deal comprehensively with the matter, if not under noise legislation then certainly under legislation on housing and antisocial behaviour. Yesterday, on behalf of the Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, outlined that the proposed provisions in the Bill are a bit premature, pending further consideration of the underlying issues and taking into account the existing legislation. At the same time, however, we recognise that, as with all areas of environmental protection, we cannot stand still on noise pollution and must continually strive to keep pace with ever-changing pressures. What might have been acceptable to people ten or 20 years ago is no longer so. The pressures of modern life mean there is extra noise, which is an important quality of life issue for everybody, particularly in urban areas.
The Government is not opposing this reading of the Noise Bill, as tabled by the Green Party. I look forward to further debate on the issues on Committee Stage. I do not mean that people from rural areas do not understand the issue, but people from urban areas will be more familiar with it, whether it concerns a barking dog or a central heating boiler.
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
There is no doubt that some people have far better hearing than others.
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
The new Dublin Port tunnel runs through part of my constituency. One person, who I hope is not in the Gallery, frequently came to my clinic complaining he heard something going on at night.
Link to this: Individually | In context
I constantly told him I had not received that complaint from anyone else, nor had I heard of any such work going on. Two weeks later, however, it was confirmed that such a machine was being operated that night. While the person was not nearest to it by any means, there is no doubt that on at least two or three occasions he was right. Either he is a very poor sleeper or his sense of hearing is far greater than mine. Noise affects people to varying degrees. It is also conditional on what the background noise is, as one is relative to the other.
The Government is accepting this Bill, although we have a lot of similar legislation on the Statute Book already. We note there is a consensus on the need for further examination of the legislation. While the proposed Bill is not perfect, we are prepared to examine it and tease it out on Committee Stage. We are coming from the same perspective of wishing to take steps to improve the quality of life for people affected by noise. I look forward to working on the Bill on Committee Stage.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for allowing this Bill to proceed to Committee Stage. While every party has its own opinion on legislation and will endeavour to change it at every opportunity, the new spirit of multilateralism and co-operation is refreshing and welcome. I hope it is not just the Christmas spirit but will continue in the run up to the election and beyond. It is a positive approach when more Opposition Bills are examined on their merits, discussed on Committee Stage and amended if necessary. I will not get carried away, although this is a rare occasion, but an rud is annamh is iontach, ceapaim.
There are two aerodromes in my constituency of Dublin Mid-West â Baldonnel which is under the auspices of the Minister for Defence, and Weston Aerodrome which is now under the auspices of Mr. Jim Mansfield. Both are stalwarts within the Fianna FÃ¡il organisation who have contributed in their own way towards that party. I have raised the issues of aerodromes previously by way of parliamentary questions and the Adjournment Debate. The Irish Aviation Authority has the wherewithal to deal with noise emanating from aerodromes, but in practice local authorities are supposed to monitor such noise and pass details to the IAA. However, every time I have asked the local authority about Weston Aerodrome, it states that it is a matter for the IAA. I also asked the Minister to make a judgment on this matter and he said it was for the IAA to decide. The IAA, meanwhile, says it is a matter for the local authority. The buck is being passed through this interaction.
The Bill is important as it would establish a one-stop shop allowing noise issues to be dealt with through a single agency with real power. Noise officers will be linked to local authorities so people will be able to get assistance easily. I hope this point will be taken on board on Committee Stage.
From my own selfish constituency point of view I would like to see the issue of aerodromes being dealt with. My constituents do not like having to live with such noise when no one can ascertain what the levels are or deal with the problem.
A more universal problem arises when neighbours cause noise. Recently, a constituent complained to me about noisy neighbours. It was not blaring music but they were shouting and generally behaving loudly. At the moment there is no mechanism for dealing with such a difficulty. One would want to have money to burn to take a court case and obtain an order against such a nuisance. The fact that the particular individuals happen to be from outside Ireland does not help because there are communication problems. The embarrassment of having to deal directly with noisy neighbours would be overcome by having a one-stop-shop with a noise control officer who could take the necessary action. In such circumstances, people would have confidence that the complaints process would be followed through confidentially.
The Bill provides for a warning system in addition to fixed penalties and fines. Its enactment would mean that if noisy people did not quieten down â whether the nuisance was caused by household noise, car alarms or helicopters â they would be dealt with appropriately. At the moment, there is no such mechanism unless one wants to take a private case. Local authorities are suffering from a lack of resources to deal with such issues effectively. If a single statutory body was dealing with noise issues, people could sleep better, thus avoiding the harmful effects of stress caused by unwanted noise.
TÃ¡ Ã¡thas orm go bhfuil an Rialtas ag glacadh leis an mBille um Thorann 2006. Ceapaim go bhfuil sÃ© an-tÃ¡bhachtach go leanaimid ar aghaidh mar sin. Gabhaim mo bhuÃochas leis an Teachta Cuffe, an t-urlabhraÃ chomhshaoil sa Chomhaontas Glas, a chuir an Bille os comhair na DÃ¡la. The thrust of the Bill is important and has been recognised as such, which indicates that we are in touch with the fate of many of our constituents who are coming to us to express their concerns about noise. Fundamentally, we all agree on the idea of a one-stop-shop with a noise control officer â oifigeach smachtÃº torann, mÃ¡s maith leat. Hopefully, we will be able to act on that without further delay. Naturally, amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage where we will welcome further discussion of the issues involved.
The Government should reflect on the fact that noise is not an isolated issue. The increased fear of crime in rural and urban communities means that more people are installing burglar alarms. More people are also getting dogs even though they may not be in a position to look after them since they are not at home all day. There is a knock-on effect because society is suffering from other Government policies. Then there is the issue of flexible working hours which means some people try to sleep during the day, which was not as common in the past. In my constituency there are many cases of construction works infringing the permission that was given. In the Castlelands Pinewood area of Balbriggan people are being kept awake at night despite a requirement that building work stop at 6 p.m.
Reference is made in the Bill to private aircraft, helicopters and so on and others have raised this issue also. I represent a constituency that has seen the exponential expansion of Dublin Airport, at the expense of other airports that could do with some of that business. People living in the vicinity have found noise from engine testing, take off and landing has increased along with the noise associated with the airport's expansion whereby runways have been lengthened and another is planned.
It is interesting to read over the debate in this House surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. Deputy Mary Harney, who was the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment at the time, deemed there was no need for further control of airport and aircraft related noise because not many flights took place at night, bar the occasional charter flight. Times have changed; a European directive of 4 December 1989 requires control of airport noise yet 17 years later no action has been taken. Far from being far-sighted in accepting this Bill, the Government has been found wanting on the issue to date and must take action to catch up.
My constituency colleague, Deputy SeÃ¡n Ryan and former Green Party Deputy, Roger Garland, tried to have an amendment added to the Environmental Protection Agency Act on this issue and were told it was not necessary. It is necessary now and I suggest to the Minister of State that the legislation be re-examined so that people can have the quality of life they have come to expect.
We must take account of the damage done by aircraft noise currently. Some 11,710 pupils live in the vicinity of Dublin Airport, I can supply a list of the schools if necessary, and international studies show that exposure to aircraft noise impairs reading ability, long-term memory and speech perception. A study in New York from 1997 showed that aircraft noise creates poor listeners who do not read as well as children in quiet schools. A study of noise from aircraft in Munich showed it caused increased neuroendocrine and cardiovascular activity and reduced reading ability in children living near airports. Another New York study showed higher blood pressure in such children while a study from Los Angeles showed a reduced ability to solve cognitive problems. These are all real costs felt by society as a result of a lack of regulation on aircraft noise. I suggest to the Minister of State that this legislation is badly needed along with regulation.
I thank Deputies on all sides of the House for the constructive discussion of this Bill and the support they have shown for it. We have had a good debate and the Green Party is flattered and a little taken aback at the approach Fianna FÃ¡il has adopted to it. We are not used to such support and may be a little coy in our response as they say one should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. However, I am sure in this case the support is meant well and we accept and welcome it.
It is important to point out that Ireland is changing quite rapidly. When I was a child growing up in one of the few rural areas of south Dublin, the loudest noises were the milking parlour half a mile away, the local farmer's crow scarer and the cattle announcing themselves to the world on a summer's morning. However, the world has changed and Ireland is fast becoming an urban nation. The kind of issues mentioned this evening including jet skis, boy racers, intruder alarms and helicopters are the down-side of modern Ireland and we need a more rigorous system of control over unwanted noise.
More than ever before people are living in towns and cities and just as ancient Greece introduced laws and regulations to control the activities of people we need a system to update our legislation, much of which dates from 30 to 40 years ago and simply cannot be applied to life in today's dense urban settings.
I am the first to admit that this Bill is not perfect, but it is a first stab at addressing this problem in an integrated way. Deputy John Gormley spoke of helicopter noise and this should be included in the Bill. I had a debate during the week with a person who felt the levels of fines included are not high enough and I am open to discussion on that matter. More clarity is required on definitions as the sound of jingle bells over the next month, music to a retailer's ears, might be an appalling case of noise pollution to those living next door. One man's noise is another man's pleasant tune and such matters can be teased out on Committee Stage.
I accept that most issues surrounding noise can be dealt with simply by being a good neighbour but this is not what we are targeting in the Bill. We are trying to deal with what happens when things go wrong and a noise control officer should only be called upon to address a situation as a last resort. We welcome the fact that nine times out of ten, people can settle such issues simply by talking to one another. As Deputy O'Connor pointed out, conciliation and mediation are always welcome and respect is integral to making such solutions work. The point is, Ireland has changed and this Bill is a timely response. Many people are engaged in shift work and neighbours from hell exist so we must be prepared to deal with them.
Other changes are also necessary. Legislation on the Irish Aviation Authority must be reformed to include noise issues and building regulations must be improved and enforced so that noise in one apartment is not transmitted down three floors to make someone else's life a misery. Proper enforcement is needed as, despite containing detailed conditions on hours of work, planning permissions are not enforced. I know of cases in Stillorgan where people's lives are becoming a living hell due to noise from a disco in a pub nearby; licensing legislation must be used to control what goes on in such venues late at night. The Road Traffic Act can be used in certain instances but that legislation dates from the early 1960s and surely revision is required.
The point of this Bill is to establish a one stop shop â we want a person in charge on whose desk the buck stops. We seek simple measures such as having a car towed when its alarm goes off at 3 a.m. without stopping. When the alarm on a building goes off for an entire bank holiday weekend something must be done about it. This is what we are seeking in this Bill.
I thank Jane Fitzgerald for the work she did in researching this Bill and wish to point out that the increase in noise, from construction and other sources, is a down side to a booming economy. New roads are bringing their own problems in this regard and even the new DART carriages are causing issues relating to squeaking brakes. These difficulties can be tackled but a legislative framework is required to do so.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. I hope the Bill will be referred to committee.