Thursday, 16 February 2012
As the Tánaiste knows, chaos is looming in our capital city due to the inability of the Fine Gael-Labour led city council to organise fair and effective refuse collection. Despite the mirth of some Government backbenchers, this problem could be a considerable health hazard and could do enormous environmental damage. I do not know whether the Government has been struck by the huge problem that will arise if up to one quarter of the refuse of the city is not collected. I understand there are some who have not had their waste collected for the past six weeks. In reality, the problems we are now confronted with should have been foreseen by the council before it took the decision on privatisation.
It is not good enough for the Government to wash its hands of this matter. Has the Minister met the majority parties and Dublin City Council to have this problem dealt with? Has he examined his powers under the legislation to deal with this issue, which is now becoming an emergency, in view of the fact that Dublin City Council seems incapable of resolving it? Could the Tánaiste give me clear answers to both of those questions?
This is a matter for the management of Dublin City Council. The Taoiseach replied to questions on this a couple of days ago and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government responded to a Topical Issue debate on the subject the day before yesterday. The position is that there is a problem affecting approximately 18,000 of a total of 140,000 households in Dublin with a refuse collection service. The Minister's view, which I support and echo, is that the company concerned should be flexible about the requirement of people to pay the up-front charge. It has made it clear that householders who were formerly Dublin City Council customers can pay in moieties. The company should be mindful that other options are open to householders in a competitive waste collection market. It should also be mindful of the position of the Government in the programme for Government, namely, that it is considering the introduction of a tendering process for waste collection services in local authorities. There was public consultation on that aspect of the issue. It concluded in September and the Minister published the submissions that were made and the commentaries thereon. The matter will be considered by the Government.
A sensible approach needs to be taken. There is a transition from Dublin City Council to a private company in regard to the collection of waste. Such transitions are always difficult and have associated problems. The company involved in this matter needs to exercise some flexibility regarding former Dublin City Council customers who are to become its new customers.
The Tánaiste knows very well that the company has made it absolutely clear that it will not be flexible or collect the 18,000 bins that would have to be collected every week. It is a little disingenuous of him to state he is just going to stand back while the city is overcome by a huge amount of uncollected rubbish. There is a serious health hazard and the Government has a responsibility for public health. Therefore, for it to wash its hands of this issue is disingenuous.
We are but a month from St. Patrick's Day, when thousands of people from home and abroad will visit the city. We want the city to be showcased to the world at such times. Due to the ineptitude of the Government and the Government parties, which control Dublin City Council, it is, unfortunately, quite likely that visitors leaving Ireland will refer to Dublin as "dear old dirty Dublin". We do not want that.
Other than stating pious platitudes, what action does the Minister with ultimate responsibility for local government intend to take to deal with this issue and to ensure the city will not be turned into a cesspool with waste? Will the Minister for Health deal with the health hazard issue?
I am not going to take any lecture from Deputy Ó Cuív on issues relating to pollution and waste. He spent the past few months going around the country encouraging people not to pay a modest charge for the registration of their septic tanks.
The position is quite clear, as I have said. There is a transfer of waste collection services in Dublin from Dublin City Council to a private company. An issue arises that affects 18,000 of the 140,000 householders concerned. It is a problem and must be dealt with. The position of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is absolutely and clearly known to Dublin City Council, the company and, not least, the public because he made it clear in the House.
The position is that, in this period of transition, there should be flexibility. The company concerned needs to exercise this flexibility. The Government's policy on waste services is set down in the programme for Government. The company concerned is aware of that. There are other options that can be pursued if the company concerned does not show the flexibility that is required to ensure there is a collection service for the householders of Dublin and that there is a reasonable arrangement made for the payment of the charges.
I want to raise with the Tánaiste the plight of the residents of Priory Hall. More than 250 residents are in temporary accommodation since they were evacuated by a court order on 14 October 2011, well over 100 days ago. Is the Tánaiste aware that, despite the fact the evacuated residents have been out of their homes for several months, his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, still refuses to meet with them?
Will the Tánaiste agree that the plight of the residents has been compounded by a decision of the management of Dublin City Council to appeal the High Court ruling requiring the council to assist them with their emergency housing needs? That appeal is before the Supreme Court for mention this morning. The Tánaiste's party, and Fine Gael, have repeatedly and correctly criticised the policies and the neglect that led to the property bubble-----
Does the Tánaiste recall that the reason the residents were evacuated was because Priory Hall did not comply with fire safety and was a danger to their lives? This week marks the 31st anniversary of the Stardust tragedy which should be a constant reminder to all of the terrible consequences of neglect of fire safety.
Will the Government take the Priority Hall matter in hand? Will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, meet with the residents? Will he help to co-ordinate the search for a solution involving all concerned - the Minister himself, the residents, Dublin City Council and the banks?
I will not withdraw. The Priory Hall residents were failed by a developer who, when Sinn Féin was going respectable put on an Armani suit, like so many others-----
There is not one Member who does not feel the deepest sympathy for the residents in Priory Hall. A terrible thing happened there. People bought their homes with hard-earned money and invested their hopes and futures in that building only to discover it is not fit for purpose.
Efforts are being made by different people to find the best outcome for the households concerned. I met with the representatives of the residents, as did as my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is working to find a solution to this problem.
Options on accommodation were discussed and assessed. Until there are final agreements, however, it is too early to say what the result will be without causing further confusion and anxiety. There are also Supreme Court proceedings, which as Deputy McDonald said, are up for mention today and the court will adjudicate on several issues. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on that until the court finishes its business.
Dublin City Council sought an early hearing on the matter of its appeal to the Supreme Court against the order of the High Court that the council meets the cost of the alternative accommodation required for the evacuated residents. The issue in the appeal is whether the High Court was entitled to make orders under section 23 of the Fire Safety Act 1981 requiring the council to pay the costs incurred by the residents. The order to pay such costs has serious implications for the taxpayer and the city council in its role as a fire authority.
The overriding priority at Priory Hall is to ensure the best outcome of the households concerned and to facilitate as early as possible a return to their own homes. In this respect, it will be necessary to ensure these homes are made fit for purpose and the costs for doing so should fall where they should. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has asked Dublin City Council to do all in its powers to achieve the objective and has asked his Department to continue to liaise with the council in this regard.
The Tánaiste claims there is a priority and an urgency around making these homes safe, with which I agree. However, there is no signal of urgency on the part of the Government. This contrasts sharply with the urgency with which it moved a statutory instrument to award over €17,000 extra to the Minister of State for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, for the glory of her attending Cabinet meetings which is actually part of her job description.
When will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, meet with the residents concerned? What proactive strategy has the Government to address the issues at hand? Much as with the previous question on waste management in Dublin city, it is not acceptable for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to take two steps back and wash his hands of these important matters. Can we have a straight answer to when he will meet with the Priory Hall residents?
The Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has met with the residents of Priory Hall and is actively involved in dealing with this with Dublin City Council. She will meet again with the residents if that is necessary. The Government has considered the significantly difficult set of circumstances the residents of Priory Hall have found themselves in as a result of the appalling actions of the developer. That is where this problem------
The residents in this estate have a significant problem that needs to be addressed. There is a court action which is related to it which must take its own course. In the meantime, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is dealing with this issue. She has met with the residents of Priory Hall and will do so again. She is in touch with Dublin City Council on the issue. The Government will do everything it possibly can to get this issue resolved, the residents of Priory Hall back into their homes as quickly as possible-----
The Government is interested in getting the residents of this estate back into their homes as quickly as possible. The Minister of State for housing and planning is dealing with that.
Can I return to the lead item on many news programmes this morning with the residents of our capital city being bullied and blackmailed by the private waste collection company, Greyhound? Greyhound, let us remember, was handed a contract for a crucial public service in our city just a couple of weeks ago. I ask the Tánaiste why, when questioned about the issue this morning, he adopted the demeanour of a previous Taoiseach who addressed questions about problems as if they existed on another planet.
The reason I ask him about his responsibility for this situation is because he is the leader of the Labour Party. A member of his party occupies the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin. His party has 19 out of 52 councillors, which is the biggest group by far.
-----and can arrogantly treat the hard-pressed citizens of our capital city in this manner? The Tánaiste is acquiescing in a cringing fashion to the troika's demand for massive privatisation in our bigger public services and State agencies but does this debacle give him pause for thought before creating further debacles? What is the Labour Party going to do today to resolve this problem for the people of Dublin and guarantee them the proper public service that previous local authorities provided as long ago as Victorian days?
The Deputy spent years encouraging people not to pay their bin charges to Dublin City Council and other local authorities and as a consequence undermined the viability of the service being provided by the local authorities.
I have always been amazed that when Deputy Higgins was going around the city with his mates to encourage people not to pay their charges to the city council and council charges I never heard him arguing they should not pay their charges to the private collectors who were competing with the local authorities.
He should not be surprised now if the consequence of his actions is that Dublin City Council and the other local authorities ended up privatising their services.
In respect of this privatisation and the transfer of services to a private company, there have been big problems in the transition. I have already stated that 18,000 householders are experiencing difficulties with their waste collection service. That is being dealt with. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has clearly stated his position on it and I set out the Government's position this morning. That company should exercise flexibility at this point in time in respect of the collection of the waste and arrangements for payment. I have also made it clear that, in the event of this not happening, the Government has indicated its alternative approach to the future of the waste collection service.
The Government is discharging its responsibilities for this matter and it is time that Deputy Higgins took some responsibility for his own actions and the consequences of his role in the privatisation of the bin collection service.
This is February 2012 and 18,000 householders in this city are having difficulty having their refuse collected. A problem has arisen following the arrangements made by the management of Dublin City Council. That is the problem that needs to be resolved. Deputy Higgins should take his head out of the archives and get real about-----
-----the problems people have in the here and now. There is a problem in Dublin city in the here and now, and that is the problem the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is dealing with.
That is the problem the Government is dealing with. We have stated the approach we are taking and that is what we will concentrate on getting resolved so that the people in this city can have their waste collected with a reasonable arrangement in place for the collection of the charges that apply to it.