Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Environmental Impact of Quarries and Incinerators: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
— the severe and worsening impact on wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystems of some commercial activities which are known to be harmful or potentially harmful to the environment;
— that in September 2019, despite receiving over 4,000 objections, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) upheld a decision by An Bord Pleanála to allow Irish Cement burn used tyres, animal waste, sludge and other waste at its plant in Castlemungret and have claimed that the temperature at which tyres are burned will mean that there is no significant impact on the environment;
— that since 2017, the EPA has received a significant number of complaints about dust deposition from residents of the Mungret and Raheen areas of Limerick City;
— that in 2018 Irish Cement was convicted of two counts of breaching its industrial emissions licence;
— that the maximum fine Irish Cement faced for these breaches was €4,000;
— that electricity-only incinerators may emit more than 33 per cent more fossil carbon dioxide than gas power stations;
— that this situation has caused considerable concern over Irish Cement’s ability to deliver on its claims that there will be no impact on the environment or public health as a result of its burning of tyres; and
— that Irish Cement has consistently refuted any suggestion of a public health threat from its plans;
further recognises that:
— a recent survey of local authorities has found that out of 1,100 active quarries around the country, 150 are deemed to be unauthorised;
— quarry operators are able to continue blasting and excavating without planning permission;
— some local authorities are customers of these unauthorised quarries, having previously issued enforcement notices against them;
— special areas of conservation have been placed under threat and damaged by these operations; and
— it is clear that some quarry operators continue to operate with impunity despite the actions of both the courts and local authorities;
— communities have campaigned to raise awareness of both unauthorised quarries and the issuing of licences to companies who have previously broken with regulations;
— local authorities and the courts have pursued some quarry operators; and
— An Taisce has worked to pursue unauthorised quarry operators;
and calls on the Government to:
— ensure that the right to public participation, including early and open consultation in decision-making, is respected in the context of incineration and quarrying developments;
— ensure that planning applications in respect of incinerators and quarries take into account planning history, site suitability, visual and amenity impacts, health risks, climate targets and obligations to protect biodiversity;
— revoke licences subject to the completion of investigations in cases where individuals or companies are found to have previously acted outside environmental regulations on multiple occasions;
— bring forward legislation to remove the EPA’s absolute right to immunity;
— allow appeals to the EPA to be considered on substantive grounds outside of the courts;
— empower the EPA to use a more robust system of enforcement action against polluters whereby the scale of fines is based on a percentage of licensee turnover;
— expedite the upcoming €5 per tonne Waste Recovery Levy for incineration in order to recover potential costs to society, public health and the economy of pollutants;
— direct revenues generated from the levy and collected in the Environment Fund towards improved recycling infrastructure;
— conduct a review of enforcement orders issued by local authorities which have not been effective to date;
— ensure that any quarries operating without planning approval cease operation and undertake an analysis of any adverse environmental impacts;
— assess the environmental impact of quarries operating without planning permission and ensure an immediate cessation of operations where they are not in compliance with environmental regulations;
— implement a review of the planning process for quarries;
— prioritise the prevention and recycling of waste over incineration;
— implement a community-led zero-waste policy to reduce the consumption of plastic and to encourage alternative forms of recycling, waste disposal and measures to further encourage the development of the circular economy; and
— ensure that plans for residual waste, left over after recycling or re-use, are prepared on the basis that the levels of such will be progressively reduced.
There was a time when incineration was seen as the perfect antidote or alternative to landfill when it came to the disposal of toxic waste. However, those days are long since passed. Public opinion has moved on and science has moved on. The arguments put forward in favour of incineration have been shown by numerous studies and reports to be both self-serving and simplistic. I could give examples but time does not permit me to do so. Incineration is not a very efficient way to produce energy. Three to four times more energy can be saved by a combination of reusing, recycling and composting. Trash cannot be regarded as a renewable resource and incineration cannot be seen as sustainable technology, because when something is burned, we have to go all the way back to square one and extract more virgin resources to replace it.
Another effect of incineration, as evidenced from studies of what has happened in various countries that have built large numbers of incinerators, is that the focus of policymakers shifts from how to dispose of waste to how to keep the incinerator operating. The net result of this, as we anticipate in Limerick, is that we would have to import other people's waste. In other words, we will be moving from landfill to incineration but we will be burning not only our own waste but other people's waste. As stated by Dr. Ludwig Krämer, former waste director for the European Union:
An incinerator needs to be fed for twenty to thirty years, and in order to be economic it needs an enormous input. So, for twenty to thirty years you stifle innovation, you stifle alternatives, just in order to feed that monster which you have built.
Even if incineration could be made safe, it could never be made sensible. It does not make ethical or economic sense to spend so much time, money and effort destroying materials that we should be sharing with the future. Professor Paul Connett gave evidence on behalf of an organisation in Limerick called Limerick Against Pollution during the recent An Bord Pleanála oral hearing.
He is a retired professor of environmental chemistry in St. Lawrence University in New York. He wrote a book on how we should proceed titled The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time. I recommend it to every single member of the Cabinet and certainly to every member of the next Cabinet. It shows how in places such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy and individual provinces in Canada such as Ontario and Nova Scotia, not only the state but cities, communities and individual corporations have tackled the problem of waste through composting and recycling.
There is increasing public resistance to incineration. A vote in the European Parliament supports the notion that no material can be burned in incineration if it can be recycled or composted. This amounts to more than 90% of waste, which would virtually rule out the building of new incinerators in Europe and force the closure of several existing ones. In the United States, not one new trash incinerator has been allowed for the past 25 years, since 1995. In that period, 300 proposals have been put forward for such incinerators and all have been rejected.
Incineration has a devastating impact on public health. Incinerators generate a toxic ash which is poorly handled, toxic air emissions which are poorly monitored and nanoparticles which are not effectively captured by air pollution control devices, travel incredibly long distances and penetrate deep into the lungs. As a direct result of the State's policy on incineration, we have a very serious issue in my constituency. A licence for incinerating waste was granted to Cement Roadstone Holdings Limited for its plant at Templemungret in Limerick, right in the middle of a population of approximately 25,000 people in the southern suburbs of Limerick city. The company sought and secured planning permission from Limerick City and County Council. The decision went to An Bord Pleanála, which held an oral hearing lasting about ten days that many of us attended. An Bord Pleanála approved the planning permission. The company then applied to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for a licence and despite receiving 4,500 objections, the EPA granted it nevertheless. Is the Minister aware of a single instance where planning permission was granted for a plant such as this and the EPA subsequently decided not to grant the licence? In my view, the EPA slavishly follows the planning authority and automatically grants the licence. That approach is completely bonkers. The planning authority deals with planning issues such as traffic, whereas the EPA is supposed to protect the environment.
The irony of the EPA's decision was well summed up in a letter to the Limerick Leaderlast September by Dr. Angus Mitchell, a leading member of Limerick Against Pollution, who wrote that it was a devastating moment filled with cruel irony. Last week, he continued, as the Government declared a climate and biodiversity emergency, some 4,500 citizens of Limerick who had lodged complaints against the proposed plan by Irish Cement to incinerate vast amounts of toxic waste in their midst were notified by a cold formal email that their pleas had fallen on deaf ears. This is a natural consequence of the Government's waste management policy. In a further irony, this licence is being granted to a company that has been polluting the environment in my region for decades. I recently turned up a case from 1940, almost 80 years ago, where a number of local people took a case against Irish Cement Limited for polluting the environment. Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy remarked that there was no excuse for the indifference to people's rights demonstrated by Irish Cement Limited. He found there was a public nuisance in this case and granted damages. Unfortunately, things have not improved much since 1940; in fact, they have disimproved.
Time and again, Irish Cement Limited has been convicted before the courts of this country for violating its limited licence requirements. It has been convicted for polluting the environment but the fines are risible. According to Davy Stockbrokers, Cement Roadstone Holdings is projected to make a profit of €4.23 billion, an increase from €3.37 billion last year, yet the largest fine imposed on the company as a result of its pollution of the environment in Limerick has been €4,000. What is the significance of a fine of €4,000 to a company of that magnitude? It is now proposed to give Cement Roadstone permission to burn 90,000 tonnes of toxic waste annually. That is the initial permit but the figure will rise dramatically, as was the case in Drogheda. Incredibly, there is no system for collecting data on the implications of this incinerator for public health. In 1998, a report on the alleged consequences of pollution from the Aughinish Alumina plant in Askeaton recommended that such a system be put in place. However, 21 years later no such system has been put in place.
As I said, the Environmental Protection Agency tends to slavishly follow the decision of the local authority. Its attitude in this regard, to cite Dr. Mitchell again, belongs to another era of business, an era that itself should be extinct rather than propelling the planet towards extinction. When the EPA makes a decision it is possible to appeal but that appeal will be to the EPA. That it is akin to someone convicted of a crime by the district judge in Limerick being told he or she can appeal the conviction to the same district justice. What happened to the constitutional principle, one that has been repeatedly accepted by the Supreme Court, nemo judex in sua causa, or nobody should be a judge in their own cause?
It is amazing that in 2019, the EPA cannot, by law, be held accountable for any of its decisions. The legislation establishing the EPA made it immune from suit, in other words, it prevented it by statute from being sued. I tried to move a Bill in the House recently to end that immunity. I was ruled out of order by yet another Government misuse of the money message mechanism. In 2010, a report on the EPA was commissioned by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley. One of the report's strongest recommendations was that this immunity should be ceased forthwith. It pointed out that the statutory immunity enjoyed by the EPA was problematic from the point of view of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the Government ruled my legislation out on the basis of a money message, it could have easily brought forward its own legislation, as I had done extensive research on the matter, but it chose not to do so.
The Minister of State is not a member of the Fine Gael Party but he should note that all parties and none in the Limerick area have vehemently opposed this proposal. They have done so publicly and privately and have spoken against it at public meetings. I have tabled this motion in an effort to halt this process and, at a minimum, delay, but hopefully avert, the calamity which faces the people of my city. It will be very interesting to see the Government's attitude. If the Fine Gael Party takes a different view in here from its representatives on the ground in Limerick, who are promising to go to the stake on behalf of the people, what would that say about them? I look forward to the Minister of State's response with eager anticipation.
Today's debate centres around two instances where private companies are seen to damage or potentially damage the environment and it appears that nothing can be done about it. These are only two cases in a wider trend whereby the Government is not willing to tackle the activities of some companies. These are not isolated cases. For example, almost 1,200 people a year are dying as a result of air pollution, yet the Government will still not introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal. The EPA wants such a ban, the Government claims it wants it, and even some Irish coal producers want it but it is not happening because the Government is afraid of legal threats from outside the State. That is not good enough.
Unpublished research by the HSE and EPA has warned that where poor air quality is recorded, it has an affect on cardiac arrhythmia and asthma and causes a deterioration in COPD and related illnesses. Despite these findings, this trend continues. The issue of unregulated quarries which the motion seeks to address is much the same. Despite enforcement actions by local authorities and An Taisce, legal actions and convictions, some unauthorised quarry operators have continued blasting and extraction. They appear to be able to act as a law unto themselves, even in special areas of conservation.
We need to understand, before even more of our habitat is destroyed, why the mechanisms in place to block these operations are not working.
As a party we have put forward several constructive proposals to deal with the small number of commercial operators working in an environmentally damaging manner. These measures include strengthening the Environmental Protection Agency and reviewing the mechanism by which so many illegal quarries have been able to continue to operate with impunity, as well as encouraging the reduction of waste. The Government has shown itself on a number of occasions to be afraid of tackling companies engaged in environmentally harmful activities. As I said, along with these matters, a nationwide ban on smoky coal has been stalled because of an apparent legal threat. Instead of real action, the Government has put forward unworkable proposals around many issues and it is not seeking to address the core problem with smoky coal.
One in eight quarries across Ireland operates without planning approval according to a recent survey by RTÉ. It found the quarries are able to challenge the system of regulation through constant appeals and judicial review applications to the High Court while continuing to profit from illegal activities. Despite the actions of others, including environmental groups, the enforcement regime is not working and there is a hands-off approach from the Government. Due to the length of time it takes to go through the process, these operations will continue to extract material, expand their work and blast the countryside without permission. It has also emerged that some councils are also customers of these quarries, which is a total contradiction and a worrying development when it comes to enforcement. There is an example in the Minister of State's county. An urgent review is required, particularly with quarrying operations in special areas of conservation.
This simply would not be allowed in other industries. A restaurant could not continue to operate in these circumstances but we allow people to carry out blasting nonetheless. It is absolute madness and there seem to be different rules for some businesses over individuals. We are entering a period of significant change as we seek to meet climate change and biodiversity commitments. It is undeniable that many people will have to change their behaviour. Some will face job losses and retraining, as we have seen in the midlands, and businesses will have to change to focus their activities on something more sustainable. Others will refit and improve homes. We know this process must work, because if it does not, there is no alternative. We cannot allow some of these businesses to continue their operations with total impunity and disregard for the State. The fact that local authorities and enforcement procedures are being ignored is simply unacceptable. The message is loud and clear that tackling this challenge is for some and not for all. If that message is allowed to fester, it will lead to more division and delay, and it could ultimately lead to a failure to deliver on our 2030 and 2050 climate targets.
I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, on bringing forward this motion with other colleagues. Some points have already been made but I will make a general point. Along with the Minister of State, we are all familiar with the fact that in recent years there has been much talk about the need for the Government and individual citizens to make changes to assist Ireland in delivering its climate action obligations. We see efforts made at an individual and household level as well as at a community, national and international level. Both individuals and large corporations are adopting new policies and strategies so they can make their contribution in reducing their carbon footprint while diversifying and innovating into other materials. This enables people to carry on doing what they have done but in an environmentally sensitive way.
Concrete and cement form a very interesting topic to some. There was a very interesting article recently in one of the United Kingdom newspapers about cement, which is the second most used substance in the world after water. It is highly carbon intensive. Every three years since 2003 China has used more cement than the United States did in the entire 20th century. This is an incredibly carbon-rich compound.
There have been a few examples in the media recently of companies that have traditionally been in a heavily carbonised industry. Tyre manufacturers are an example. We know that locally and nationally there are issues, specifically on bonfire night, with the burning or illegal dumping of tyres. One of the market leaders in the manufacturing of tyres has established a leasing system whereby a person does not buy tyres. A person leases them from a company, and when they reach end of life, they can be returned to the company. There is a contract and this ensures the tyres can either be remoulded or recycled but they are certainly not dumped and they do not end up in the ocean. If that company, Michelin, is capable of doing such things in a toxic industry, other companies should be able to do it too. I heard on the radio this morning that Kingspan, one of our great companies, is hoping to recycle a billion plastic bottles and turn the particles from them into insulation material so that our homes, in the not too distant future could be insulated by completely recycled material that would otherwise go into the ground.
What is the connection between those companies and cement? If companies are able to make a shift in what they do and can still carry on the business they are in, innovations in earthworks, cement and quarrying must be considered as well. As Deputies O'Dea and Jack Chambers have said, some companies can carry on their business in a legitimate way and we hope to make progress with them and help them innovate with some of their products. If others are sticking up their fingers to the Government, wider officialdom and the legal system in carrying out their works without any regard to the law and, more important, the country's climate action obligations, this must be dealt with through the full force of the law, as Deputy O'Dea noted.
It is very hard for people to figure out how this happens. Most of us know of quarries at some location in our constituencies and there are one or two in the rural part of mine. How these can be missed from an enforcement or legal perspective is beyond me. This motion is setting its face against the illegal quarrying work that is going on and it is stressing the environmental impact of these quarries and incinerators. It is putting it up to the Government to formulate a policy once and for all to ensure that national regulatory agencies get whatever powers they need. There must be enforcement. The idea that a company can have a soft route through judicial review or appeal and escape the hands of the law with impunity must end once and for all.
I wish to address the environmental aspects of the Private Members' motion. My colleague, the Minister of State in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, will deal with the planning and quarrying related aspects of the motion later.
The Environmental Protection Agency undertakes a range of regulatory tasks relating to the licensing, permitting, consenting or certification of activities that could have an impact on the environment or on human health. The agency is the competent authority for granting and enforcing industrial and waste licences, and it undertakes an annual programme of audits and inspections of agency-licensed facilities. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is constrained by the provisions of sections 79(3) and 86(5) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, as amended, from becoming involved in any way with the licensing of installations under the Act. On the matters raised relating to the licensing of Irish Cement, therefore, it is not appropriate for the Minister to comment or interfere in any way.
There are no plans to amend section 15 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 with respect to the immunity of the agency. My Department is not satisfied that a basis exists to support a proposal for amendment having regard, in particular, to the potential implications for the effective discharge by the agency of its statutory functions and the potential impact of such a precedent on the effective operation of other State bodies that have a similar form of immunity.
Public participation is central to the work undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency in determining licence applications. The agency has a clear process in place to ensure the public is aware of a licence application and can participate in the decision-making process at the various stages.
On the agency's website, each installation has a homepage from where key information can be viewed, such as the licence application, licence details, correspondence regarding the licence application and inspection and other enforcement reports. The European Environmental Bureau, the largest network of environmental citizens' organisations in Europe, examined how effectively European countries are making available to the public information about industrial pollution and identified the agency's website as best practice.
The agency will grant a licence only when it is satisfied the emissions from the installation when operated in accordance with the conditions of the proposed licence will meet all required environmental protection standards, will not endanger human health or harm the environment in the vicinity of the installation or over a wider area. In arriving at a determination on a licence, the EPA ensures there is planning permission in place before it can grant a licence to the activity where an environmental impact assessment is required. Section 97 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act provides the agency with the power to revoke, or suspend the operation of, a licence or revised licence if it appears to the agency that the licensee no longer satisfies certain requirements set out in the Act as regards being a fit and proper person. In arriving at a decision to revoke, the agency will also have regard to the seriousness of the matter. The agency licensing process allows for submissions and objections to be made outside of the courts, including requests for oral hearings.
Regarding enforcement, the agency adopts a risk based approach towards enforcement and considers and uses a range of enforcement tools, including issuing non-compliances to formal enforcement processes such as prosecutions. The agency recently published its enforcement policy which sets out the wide range of enforcement powers, including statutory enforcement powers available to the EPA. This document sets out the policy the EPA applies when enforcing environmental and radiological protection legislation. It aims to promote a shared understanding of the principles and criteria underpinning enforcement decisions.
Since 2017, the EPA launched a new enforcement initiative to drive further environmental compliance at industrial and waste facilities. Licensed facilities with the poorest compliance status are identified on a national priority list for enforcement using a new system developed by the agency. Points are allocated to each site based on compliance data such as complaints, incidents and non-compliances over the previous six months. Sites which exceed a certain threshold become a national priority site and are targeted by the agency for further enforcement action.
A review of the environment fund has been completed by my Department. Following this review, a three-phased series of environmental levies over the period 2020-25 is proposed, including a waste recovery levy. The primary aim of the levies is to encourage positive environmental behavioural change and climate action. It is intended that any resources generated will be ring-fenced to support additional environmental initiatives, infrastructure and actions that drive further positive change.
I will now address the issues raised in the Private Members' motion relating to waste prevention, plastics and the circular economy. Section 21A of the Waste Management Act gives legal effect to the waste hierarchy in this country. This means that waste legislation and policy must prioritise the treatment of waste in the following order: prevention; prepare for reuse; recycle; recovery, including energy recovery; and, finally, disposal, which in practice means landfilling. These priorities are reflected in our key strategic documents, namely, our national waste policy, A Resource Opportunity, the national waste prevention programme and the regional waste management plans. However, the Government also recognises the urgent need to transform our approach to waste in line with modern, circular economy principles. This will involve a mindset change from accepting waste as a fact of life to rejecting wastefulness in every shape and form. The climate action plan has committed Government to delivering a new national policy that will lead the transformation from waste management to circular economy practice. Building on the European Commission's circular economy action plan and the associated legislation, my Department has initiated this process.
Following a targeted stakeholder conference that took place in September, my Department will launch a public consultation on a new waste policy before the end of this year. The general public and all stakeholders will have an opportunity to shape and influence our future policy direction in this area. Given the new higher legal targets we need to meet for recycling, it will be important to have comprehensive buy-in for the measures we need to take.
We should also note that the incoming European Commission intends to introduce a more ambitious circular economy action plan in the coming weeks. At a minimum, this is likely to further extend circular economy principles into the areas of construction waste and textiles. By weight, construction waste accounts for half of the 15 million tonnes of waste generated in this country every year. I have been already working with my officials and other partners to tackle this problem. Our construction waste resource group provides a valuable platform to discuss and monitor construction waste, including the capacity of the sector to manage its waste.
On plastics, the Government has committed to leading the way in reducing single use plastics. To date, we have agreed that Departments and bodies will no longer purchase single use plastic cups, cutlery and straws; strongly supported new EU legislation which includes a ban on plastic straws and other discretionary single use plastic items; committed to a 90% plastic bottle collection target and a 55% plastic packaging recycling target; commenced a clean oceans initiative to combat marine litter; and introduced a new law to ban microbeads.
A member raised the issue of tyres. I want to put on the record that 97% of car tyres were recycled here in 2018. That is as a result of innovation and rules brought in by the Government.
I welcome the opportunity to set out the work which is being done to deal with the environmental issues raised in this motion.
I wish to share the timeslot with my three colleagues, Deputies Quinliven, Ellis and Mitchell. I will take five minutes and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might let me know when my five minutes are up.
I move amendment No. 1:
To insert the following after “basis that the levels of such will be progressively reduced”:
“— end ‘side-by-side’ waste collection systems;
— increase the number of recycling centres and the range of items accepted;
— legislate to establish an independent regulator to oversee the waste collection industry; and
— introduce a franchise model of waste collection as a first step towards remunicipalisation of domestic waste collection, so that councils can insist on standards of delivery including affordable prices for households and waiver schemes as well as greater employment and contract protections for waste disposal workers.”
It is important we face up to the challenge waste management presents to us in the context of climate action and the need for us to face up to our environmental responsibilities in a way this State has not been doing for some time.We can no longer simply brush under the carpet the problem of waste management by burning or burying the problem, which we have done for far too long. That approach has been fundamentally flawed. We need to view waste as not something we need to get rid of in the cheapest far-off places. We need to change our relationship with waste and see it as something that is of value and something that is a resource. Only then, will we as a society have a desire to stop burning and burying it and to start reducing, reusing and recycling in more ways.
Sinn Féin is totally opposed to incineration. It causes air pollution and the emission of toxic fumes. There is also an increase in the volume of traffic generated by the transportation of waste to and from incinerators. One other aspect of incineration is that after burning, the remaining ash, which is usually 20% to 30% of the mass of waste, still needs to be disposed of in landfill. A further approximately 7%, known as fly ash, is classified as toxic waste which cannot be disposed of even in landfill and requires further treatment. In addition, building an incinerator involves a large capital cost. Once built, it must be used on a continuous basis, which will lock-in incineration as the primary method of disposal for generations to come.
We warned against this when there were plans to build incinerators in Dublin ten years ago. One got the go-ahead from a former Green Party Leader and the then Minister with responsibility for the environment, John Gormley. Prior to leading his party into government with Fianna Fáil, he campaigned against the proposed incinerator. In fact, the Green Party Leader was one of the most vocal and prominent voices against the Government's incineration policy. Yet, once in government with Fianna Fáil, he oversaw the very same policy he once fought against.Today we are dealing with an issue of legislation about which the Green Party, despite having held the ministerial office with responsibility for the environment for four years, declined to do anything.
The Environmental Protection Agency has too much power and there is not enough accountability. Its ability to override the wishes of the ordinary people and the mandate of local politicians and local councillors cannot be allowed to stand. At the same time, we need to change the model of waste that Fine Gael as well as Fianna Fáil in government with the Green Party, so eagerly pursued. We need to treat waste as a resource. To do that, we need to take private profit out of it and that means taking it back into public ownership and control.
Sinn Féin is committed to putting waste collection back under the control of local authorities. The current privatised system is expensive, bad for the environment, and severely lacking in controls and regulations. We cannot have profit supersede the environment. We are the only state in Europe with a completely privatised waste collection system and the only EU state persisting with side-by-side competition for waste collection.
I was first elected as a councillor in 2004. I am not sure when the Minister of State first entered politics. There was a massive public campaign against privatising waste collection at the time. When the Government first brought in bin charges, they were brought in at what was called a nominal value. In Waterford it was initially £40 a year. We made the argument that, once a charge was brought in and the service became about profit, the charges would go up and up and that eventually the service would be privatised. Fianna Fáil said that was not the case and that this was not its intention. Martin Cullen was the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who championed this measure. Throughout the process we were told that privatisation was not on the agenda and that costs would not increase. That is what happened. There is now no local authority in the country providing this service.
We have ended up with multiple operators, in some places six or seven, passing each other out on different days. They are going into housing estates to collect bins from different doors, creating more traffic congestion. All the while, the cost for consumers and householders has increased. The average cost for waste collection is now between €300 and €400 a year, depending on where in the country a person lives. We are not rewarding people for recycling more, although people are doing so. People are treating waste more as a resource, as I have said. They use the green bin and the brown bin but, despite the fact that households are recycling more than ever before, they are paying more than ever.
We also have multiple operators making profit, going in and out of housing estates, and doing what they do. We are committed, in the first instance, to ending the practice of side-by-side competition. We support the analysis carried out by Dublin City Council which suggests moving towards a franchise system. This would be a stepping stone towards full public ownership of waste management services. We need to do all of this to ensure that we do right by the environment and set the very highest standards in waste management policy.
I wanted to speak on this motion as it is directly relevant to a very important issue in my constituency of Limerick city. I was appalled when the Environmental Protection Agency awarded Irish Cement a licence to burn tyres and other rubbish at its factory in Mungret, Limerick. This area is surrounded by homes, sports fields and other community facilities. It is a rapidly growing area in which a great number of houses are under construction. Local people, businesses, and public representatives do not want this. People in Limerick are pretty unanimous in opposing it. A massive rally was held which was attended by sportspeople, business people, politicians and community groups. Everybody was involved in it. It is not fair that one company can run roughshod over all of this legitimate opposition and proceed with a project that will have a massive impact on our community. The air quality and local environment belong to everybody in Mungret and Limerick, not just to Irish Cement. This was a toxic decision by the Environmental Protection Agency, whose purpose should be to protect people and our environment. This incinerator will be accompanied by buildings in which to store rubbish waiting to be burned. In addition to the emissions that will pollute our city and countryside, Mungret will become a dumping ground for waste from across the entire State and, possibly, from abroad.
As I have said, there has been a massive campaign by people in Limerick and surrounding areas in opposition to this plan. Thousands of people have been out protesting. I would like the Minister of State to address this issue in his response. He cannot simply wash his hands of this issue. It is a very serious issue in Limerick and the disregard the Government has thus far shown to the local community in this regard will be remembered in the upcoming general election, whenever that takes place. People are really frustrated, angry, and disappointed with this decision. Nobody stood up for them and nobody stood by them. Sinn Féin will continue to stand with the community and to call for this wrong and unjustified decision to be overturned.
I will speak in favour of the Sinn Féin motion. Illegal dumping is a scourge in many communities. In my own constituency, illegal dumping has spiralled out of control. Local residents are at their wits' end as they see rubbish appearing daily on their greens, in alleyways and beside public bins. No one is held accountable. Illegal operators act with near impunity and it is the local residents who suffer the sight of their green spaces being covered in domestic waste while their children have nowhere to play.
The local Sinn Féin councillors and Dublin City Council staff are doing all they can in my area but they are fighting a losing battle. There is an illegal dump in my constituency. This dump, in Moatview, is a matter of concern. I wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, last year to request its assistance urgently in cleaning up this site as the council was struggling to contain this dump, where domestic and industrial waste had been disposed of. The local gardaí were unable to divert resources to assist in the stamping out of dumping because they were already too stretched in the area. We need the Government to treat this issue seriously.
Local authorities across the State successfully managed waste collection for decades before it was privatised. This has resulted in a race to the bottom. We have seen an upsurge in illegal dumping and illegal landfill sites run by rogue operators. Costs are increasing and dumping is getting worse. Bringing waste collection back under council control is a straightforward and progressive solution that would have a significant impact on people and communities.
I am glad of the opportunity to speak on a number of environmental issues that have had a significant impact on my constituency of Dublin North-West. In Finglas, we had the famous Dunsink tip head, which was in operation for more than 30 years. This was nearly ten years more than it had initially been licensed for. After much campaigning and lobbying by me and the great Finglas environmentalist, Mr. Brendan O'Connell, the dump was eventually shut down. This only happened after a long and arduous campaign that ultimately ended in us taking the case to Europe, having had little or no success through the EPA. This was not necessarily the end of our problems, however. The Dunsink tip head was capped, but the subsequent management of the closed site left a lot to be desired. The leachate pool, which was designed to remove contaminants from the waste products in the dump, failed to operate properly on a number of occasions. On one example, the leachate pool pump failed. There was no backup pump in place and the pool overflowed, the contaminated water subsequently polluting the Tolka river leading to the deaths of thousands of fish and other aquatic life. This is an example of the failure to manage correctly those facilities designed to protect the environment. The destruction of this beautiful and popular amenity was an act of environmental vandalism.
Another issue that greatly affects the people of my constituency is the privatisation of bin services. Our amendments to this motion seek for bin services to be returned to the local authorities and to be taken out of private hands. As a consequence of the privatisation of bin services, illegal dumping has become an increasing scourge in our local areas as well as a threat to health. Dublin City Council has to spend millions of euros every year to clean up our communities and to remove dumped waste of every description. This money could have been spent more productively elsewhere. Not only do private individuals pay for this service, but Dublin City Council also spends money on the issue, which is absolutely mad.
A number of houses and apartments built during the regeneration of Ballymun were affected by pyrite, which caused major structural damage requiring significant and costly repairs.
This was repeated throughout the country, particularly in Louth, Ashbourne, Balbriggan, Finglas and Ballymun. It was the result of poor monitoring and management of quarries. People moving into new homes later found to have pyrite were left for years in despair and misery as a result of this major failure. Proper measures to manage and protect our environment and its resources are vital if we are serious about addressing these concerns.
Another issue I find very infuriating is that relating to bottle banks. Bottles are placed in separate containers depending on whether they are clear, brown or any other colour. Lo and behold, when the truck arrives, the glass is all emptied into the same container irrespective of how it has been segregated. This is infuriating. The Minister should find out the reasons for this practice. What is the point in telling people to separate their bottles and then dumping them all into the same container? It does not make any sense. The Minister should look into the matter and tackle the local authorities in respect of it.
I want to speak very briefly about complaints from residents in the Mungret and Raheen areas of Limerick regarding dust deposition and Irish Cement's proposals to burn tyres and various other materials at the cement factory in Mungret. As previous speakers from the Limerick area stated, this is a cause of real concern. There have been public meetings, marches, etc., and several serious objections to the proposals have been raised. I welcome this motion and I would like to support the other Limerick Deputies who have spoken on it. Across party lines, we all wish to express our concerns, particularly about the lack of confidence that the terms of this licence will be properly monitored if it is granted. The effects of such a development on health and on air quality are unknowable. This is a cause of serious concern to people in the immediate area and, because of the prevailing winds and effects on the atmosphere, the wider region. The motion speaks for itself. Obviously, it deals with other issues relating to quarries and so on. I wish to place on record the fact that have very serious concerns about this issue. We have not been given proper assurances that if this goes ahead it will be properly monitored through an independent monitoring system that will satisfy people that the air is not being polluted. In the past, people in the area have found dust on their cars and around their homes. Several new schools, housing developments and a playground where young children spend a great deal of time have been built in the area, which is quite heavily populated. This adds to the concern about the possible serious detrimental effects of this development.
As already stated, I will not address the other issues but I know that there is concern regarding unlicensed quarries operating in various parts of the country. We all share the concern about illegal dumping, which can be seen throughout the countryside. In some cases, people go to extraordinary lengths to dump household rubbish in really beautiful places that are quite out of the way. It can be very difficult for the authorities to actually bring prosecutions in respect of this type of behaviour. I reported one case myself. I was climbing a hill in a neighbouring county and encountered rubbish dumped in this manner. We were able to get evidence and send it to the local authority, which did prosecute those responsible. That is very welcome. However it can be very difficult for local authorities to actually pursue culprits. Some people make extraordinary efforts to dump their rubbish in beautiful and out-of-the-way places. One would hope this mindset had been eliminated from this country but unfortunately it has not.
We have to be vigilant and ensure that we have appropriate strong safeguards and penalties for people found guilty of this type of activity. We must also make sure that the planning process is appropriate and properly implemented where quarries are concerned.
This motion relates to two particular issues, namely, Irish Cement being allowed to burn tyres by both An Bord Pleanála and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and unauthorised quarries, 150 of which were discovered by a recent programme. However it reflects wider concerns. These concerns involve two questions. Firstly, do we value the environment? Secondly, if we do, how do we go about protecting it? There are doubts about how much we value the environment. The issues at the core of this motion are just two aspects of a much wider debate. No one is blameless. Every Government in recent history has made disastrous decisions about the environment and ignored the right course of action. That also applies to many communities in Ireland. However, it is easy to pass the buck and say that the fault lies elsewhere.
I find it ironic that permission is being given for tyres to be burned by an Irish Cement plant in Castlemungret when every Hallowe'en there is a major problem in certain areas of Dublin with young people acquiring tyres for bonfires. Gardaí, community and youth leaders and teachers are all on the same wavelength in trying to dissuade young people from burning tyres. At the same time many young people are highlighting climate change. The Private Members' motion takes notice of the claim that the temperature at which tyres are burned means there will not be a significant impact on the environment. However, impact is impact, regardless of whether it is significant or not.
The motion also refers to complaints lodged by nearby residents about dust deposition. I know the effects of the burning of tyres at bonfires on communities in Dublin, not to mention the very costly clean-up required afterwards. I note that Irish Cement has faced fines for breaches, but a maximum fine of €4,000 is not going to make a difference to a company like Irish Cement. We have implementation with a small "i". The same can be said about the unauthorised quarries. According to the motion, it seems that enforcement notices issued by the local authorities were not effective. I wish to place those two issues, the burning of tyres and quarries, into the bigger picture of how we value our environment.
We know that global emissions are rising. There is more and more evidence of climate breakdown. The climate emergency is not in the distant future; it is affecting us now. There is a need for balance between going green and achieving a just transition for the affected communities. We must not exacerbate the poverty faced by certain groups. I want to acknowledge the work of Dr. Lorna Gold, who has produced very balanced, thoughtful and insightful speeches and articles on this, particularly addressing the need for balance. Green policies and social policies need to be complementary. Too often they are pushed into battle with each other. In one of her articles she writes, "Good eco-social policies are about a win-win of addressing inequality and emissions". She goes on to note that a just transition requires progressive welfare systems, social insurance and good social services. Practical measures include retrofitting of public housing for those on low incomes and good public infrastructure. We have examples of that already. Dr. Gold also calls for supports for those communities displaced by the transition to low-carbon sectors. There is a real need for forward planning, which is very difficult in political life. Nobody knows how long they are going to be here. That is why there is a need for consensus among all Members, regardless of which party or grouping is in power. This is not just a decision for whichever group or party is in power; it is a decision for all of us.
That leads me on to another aspect of the motion, namely, the need for greater public awareness, engagement and participation. Dr. Gold has noted that we need to identify the bigger polluters and support the principle that the polluter pays.
One of the proposals from the Youth Assembly is for a staggered corporation tax linked to emissions.
Recommendation No. 7 from the Youth Assembly is that Ireland would outlaw acts of ecocide, which is the widespread and systematic loss of ecosystems, including climate and cultural damage. This covers a multitude but we know how long it takes to bring in legislation, so we need to start the process now. The overall question is, of course, what will happen to the recommendations from the Youth Assembly.
There is an interesting recommendation on labelling on packaging with regard to distance travelled, which could be difficult to implement. What the assembly is trying to do is invaluable in this regard. It brings up the issue of online shopping because it involves a lot of packaging, which could be avoided if the customer was to go to into a real shop and bring his or her own bag. With online shopping there is a lot of travelling on the purchases.
Youth Assembly recommendation No. 9 is a targeted nationwide information campaign to educate the population about the climate crisis, its causes, effects and solutions. The two issues we are discussing today are included in that with aspects of the Fianna Fáil's Private Members' motion and the Sinn Féin amendment. The motion calls on the Government to prioritise prevention and recycling of waste over incineration, and to implement a community-led zero waste policy. The Sinn Féin amendment calls for an increase in the number of recycling centres and the range of items accepted, which comes back to the students' recommendation for a nationwide information and education campaign. This is vital because how can we recycle or work towards zero waste when there is a lot of ignorance and misinformation, and a lack of information, on recycling such as what exactly can be recycled and what we have to do with many items to make them recyclable.
I attended an event recently where a restaurateur spoke about the difficulty she faces in the restaurant when it comes to recycling. This is a person who is totally committed to recycling and climate issues. She said that to recycle a specific item, there were a number of steps she had to go through, some of which negated the effect of recycling the item. We need detailed and accurate information in a way that is readable, accessible and manageable. How many recycle bins are contaminated because of the lack of real information? Similarly, we need to know exactly what is supposed to go into compost bins.
I find more knowledge and awareness among schoolchildren, especially in the schools with a green flag. Those schools cover issues such as litter, waste, global citizenship, energy, water and biodiversity. We see children telling the adults what they are supposed to be doing in this regard.
Turning to the Houses of the Oireachtas and our efforts on waste, I have a particular gripe about the bins, which I have raised previously. I guarantee that we would find the same items in all of the bins in the Oireachtas. I may exaggerate slightly but I believe it is true because I do look at them. We need an awareness campaign in Leinster House and in LH2000. I cannot speak about Agriculture House or the Engineering Block because I am not there. We need bins for cans and for paper, and we need to know exactly what is recyclable. What happens to food waste here? There is also a question to be asked around energy and we could take the Bundestag in Berlin as an example. The idea of an independent regulator is also worth studying because I have questions around what happens to waste. Deputy Ellis referred to bottles and I would also query what exactly happens to the waste when the various bins are collected.
It is all very well using the bins, but we need guarantees that the next steps are also environmentally friendly and do not undermine the green agenda. The students also recommended that the subject of sustainability be made compulsory to junior certificate. Many of us were delighted to see history put back in its rightful place. We could make the same points about geography. Sustainability and climate could be included in that subject.
Regardless of Ireland not meeting its emissions targets the biggest polluters are the United States of America and China. While we can do our best, they need to be much more proactive than they currently are.
Dr. Lorna Gold's paper is called Is Ireland ready for a Green New Deal? We have to be ready and we need to move on to that page also. Dr. Gold referred to issues of power, privilege and prestige at play. This is the reality of the Private Members' motion. While this debate is very welcome, it must be part of the wider debate on waste and climate in the context of a green deal. We cannot go at this piecemeal or issue by issue. There must be an overall plan to tackle the issues.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. Ireland's reliance on exporting waste cannot continue. I ask the Government not to rush too heartily into pushing waste electricity facilities without diligently researching the impact the sites would have on the local communities and the environment, and so we do not see a scenario where the alternative is worse for people's health and the environment is polluted even further.
The Government's record on environment is dismal. I would like to see stricter guidelines on the construction of wind farms and better dialogue with local communities where such facilities are built. Planning guidelines are needed for solar farms. Currently there are none. The Government's policy creates a vacuum and developers take advantage of the situation by pushing through poorly thought out applications without consideration for the environment or rural communities. This has happened recently near Bandon and Kinsale. We must listen to the concerns of the people we represent. This is not being done by the Government.
In my constituency I have seen how the Government does not take local concerns into account with regard to protecting the environment. In the past 12 months in Skibbereen the people had to go all the way to the High Court to stop the building of a plastics factory. In the Bantry area, after kelp farming was given the go-ahead without local consultation and proper investigation into the environmental impact, the people had to go to the High Court to put a stop to it. Both cases were successful, but at great expense and time to local volunteers who are trying their best to save the environment.
I proposed to the Taoiseach a park-and-ride scheme in west Cork from Clonakilty. He seemed to be encouraged by this and we thought he was thinking along the same lines on it, but there was inaction from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. When I went to the office of the Minister, Deputy Ross, I got the usual thing, and we all know what happens in there. We have constant congestion in areas like Bandon, Innishannon, Clonakilty, Dunmanway and right through west Cork because of the Minister's blatant disregard for west Cork. A private company is now taking the initiative in providing an affordable private transport alternative that will take thousands of cars off our roads annually and improve people's quality of life and the air we breathe.
I, too, support the motion by Deputy O'Dea. It is a very important motion and especially for the Deputy's area. I am astounded that the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, has been shoved in here on his own with just one Fine Gael backbencher. They have a good few representatives in that area, including a Deputy who was a very senior Minister until he retired, and I wish him well in that. None of them is here this evening to listen to the people's complaints and concerns.
Some 5,000 objections were lodged with the EPA on this issue. Not five, not 50, not 500. It was 5,000. A fine of €4,000 is not enough. The objections were all ignored blatantly. It is like rubbing a fat sow's behind as they thicken their egos. This was debated in this House and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government at the time, Deputy Kelly, my erstwhile colleague from Tipperary, did nothing about it. There are also question marks about the ownership of this company and the connections that some Members of the House may have to it. This stinks to high heaven and not only because of the smell of the tyres. The whole reason for it stinks. I support the small and struggling businesses who are trying every day. I support the young people in the schools and all their initiatives. I support Tipperary County Council in its recent initiative to track down people who litter and leave waste. Big is not necessarily wonderful. How many times are we going to have to learn this in this country?
We struggle, and we squeeze the small people. The Government wants to get rid of the bingo cards too when some people just want to play bingo. This is not like the big gamblers who go to the Galway tent. I do not know if the Minister of State was ever in that tent, but I was not and I do not want to be in it either. It appears that the ordinary people do not matter. It is a case of to hell or to Connacht with them. Take every piece of decency they have and take every social outlet they have and make them pay up or shut up. It is like Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake". It is pure banana politics. This issue is too dangerous and too serious.
Irish Cement and Roadstone plc have not had a good record around issues of dumping, blackguarding communities, forcing out small, decent, family-run businesses such as Readymix and so on, and wiping them off the face of the earth.
I have attended the AGM of Irish Cement and Roadstone plc a number of times. It has left a trail of devastation all over the world - in America, for a family in Wexford, everywhere. It is too big to be taught. This Government loves big business, but it will stand on small people and put them under heel like a case of "Croppies lie down". That is what is wrong with this Government.
I support Deputy O'Dea's motion. I wonder what the Fine Gael Deputies will do when it comes to the vote. What will they do in the vote on bingo? It is obvious that, when it comes to big people, the Government loves them. When it comes to small people, though, it is a case of to hell or to Connacht like dirt on the soles of their shoes. That is not acceptable.
There are too many issues, for example, the 5,000 complaints. That is unbelievable. This is dangerous. We have changed legislation to allow the EPA and An Bord Pleanála to issue planning permission that moves away from the objectives, which is dangerous, and this is an example of that. The former Minister, Deputy Kelly, did nothing about it even though he was asked to several times. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and I know what tyres are. We have seen bonfires. Galway has won the All-Ireland a few times. Galway people like an old bonfire. We cannot light bonfires any more, but we know the smelch of dirt and filth involved.
I am unhappy with and concerned about this situation. I will hand over to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.
I thank Deputy O'Dea for tabling this motion, as it is important that we have this debate. I have concerns over the continued exportation of waste, but when it comes to providing alternative policies, we must be careful and prudent in terms of their impact on local communities. I thank the people of my local authority of Kerry County Council who provided a waste collection service for years. I also thank them for their management of transfer stations once our local authority got out of the service. I compliment the private operators. In County Kerry, we have companies like KWD Recycling, Higgins Waste & Recycling Services, Dillon Waste & Recycling and so on. In making the collection of waste and recycling of recyclables their business, they are creating employment and dealing with our waste in the best way they can, a way that is proper and diligent and meets all EPA guidelines. I thank them for their work.
The Minister of State's legs are on the ground where this matter is concerned. I thank and acknowledge the people who go out at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. I often meet them when they are starting their day's work driving a lorry and collecting our waste around the country. I thank those in County Kerry and throughout the rest of the country. They are the people who collect the waste and go into housing estates. They do it at that hour of the morning in the interests of safety. They want to drive their lorries into areas and have the waste collected when there are no children around, no youngsters on bicycles, no one stepping out from behind a car and before anyone else is up. For that, we must give them our humble thanks. Only for them, the collection of waste would be much more hazardous.
I compliment my colleague, Deputy Michael Collins, on his remarks about the warmer homes scheme and cutting carbon emissions. I have people in County Kerry who want to avail of the warmer homes scheme, but they cannot do so because it is oversubscribed. Will the Government be serious about providing funding to allow people to make their homes warmer and cut back on the amount of fuel they need? All of the compliance suggestions being made cost money. People need assistance in the form of grant aid. If the Government has a greener homes scheme, it should make sure to fund it properly and give money to those who need it to make their homes more efficient.
I welcome the opportunity to address this important debate. I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, for tabling this motion. He and I operate in side by side constituencies and we are equally disturbed by the proposals to put an incinerator in place that will impact negatively on the livelihoods of people in the region. We do not believe it is acceptable to our communities. Nor is it right from an environmental perspective.
As Deputy O'Dea and others have identified, the management of waste and the thinking around same have changed significantly in recent years. We are in a circular economy where we need to reduce the amount of waste that is coming into the overall waste management system. When new infrastructure is built, vast amounts of money are invested and that company and society are effectively locked into the processing of waste in what is now recognised as an outmoded system of waste management. What is really needed is more forward thinking waste management, for example, better use of the recycling process or better composting procedures. That requires education, Government policy and Government thinking. Unless we put all of that in place, we are not going to have a better approach to the management of our waste or environment. It is essential that the process under discussion be stopped. Government policy must give that direction.
Many in the House objected to the continuation of drilling for oil off the western seaboard. It took the Taoiseach in a panic at a UN meeting in the US to capitulate when the pressure came on from international concerns and NGOs. He did not listen to what was happening in the House. It might take the Taoiseach being out of the country and in the company of others for the light to dawn on him in respect of this issue. The sooner the Government comes to the realisation that locking ourselves into an investment in infrastructure that is past its sell-by date and no longer fit for purpose for residential communities across the State, the better. It would ensure that we did not have a continued diminution of people's quality of life in the area. Indeed, this is not just about them. As Deputy O'Dea and others have identified, the particles go high into the atmosphere. With the passage of time and rainfall in other regions, others must sustain the negative impacts on their health as well. We need to address this matter.
I wish to speak to the part of the motion that deals with quarrying. An interesting "Prime Time" programme the other night focused on unregulated quarries and local authorities' inability to deal with them. In some cases, local authorities were even contracting with them and purchasing aggregate from them. That is wrong and should not happen. What is happening not only damages the environment, but also the genuine, hard-working quarry owners who work and live by the standards, which are rightly difficult to meet. McGrath Quarries in my area meets all of the standards and works with local communities because it recognises that quarrying by its nature is not necessarily an easy business to conduct alongside where people live. McGrath Quarries does a hell of a good job. It works with the communities, tries to minimise the impact and lives by the standards. Why should it be disenfranchised because other quarries are effectively operating lawlessly? In Donegal, a quarry owner was dredging the riverbed and had the audacity to say in an interview that he was benefiting the environment. His quarry operates with impunity. That is wrong and needs to be tackled.
Unless we succeed in bringing these rogue operators to heel, what kind of message are we sending to the good operators in my area and elsewhere who spend money to meet all of the standards and who respect the environment and the communities in which they are based? We are sending out the wrong signal. It is incumbent on the Government to put in place appropriate standards, put a body of law behind them and put funding in place to enforce them. That must happen. Otherwise, we will be equivocating.
Today, I saw a leaflet of a Fine Gael councillor that could be mistaken for a Green Party leaflet with all of the green imagery it used. There is an element of greenwashing by the Government as it attempts to give the impression it is green friendly. It recognises the impact and negativity that are adding to the destruction of the environment. It should stop the greenwashing and attempting to take credit for something it is not committed to. It should show it is active by enforcing and enhancing the existing body of law to ensure standards are maintained and the environment is respected.
We all acknowledge that we need quarries but, like so many other things that we need, they come at a price. Quarries certainly serve us in terms of the materials they deliver but they can cost local communities in terms of dust, noise pollution, water contamination and, in particular, extra traffic. The Minister of State, Deputy English, lives in a rural setting. People living in an area with more than 20 or 30 trucks laden with stone passing their house every day certainly do not have much peace. There is also air, water and noise pollution and the impact of trucks thundering through small villages disturbing the peace of residents. There is also the effect that quarries can have on water tables. This is before we consider the potential destruction they cause to natural habitats and historic monuments. No one can be in any doubt as to how much of an impact these industrial operations have on what are often very rural places and environments.
Some quarry groups, organisations and companies fully adhere to the regulations and are good operators in every sense of the word. However, I must mention the lack of planning and regulation for quarries, which is a national scandal and a serious problem. One in eight quarries is unauthorised. I cannot think of any other business that would be allowed to operate in such a regulatory vacuum. Consider the situation I spoke about on Leaders' Questions regarding crèche regulations, which could result in 50% of crèches being unable to open in January 2020 because they will not have the documentation required. Under the regulations, that documentation must be issued by 12 December.
I ask the Minister of State not to tell us that these issues are beyond his control. We do not want to see wholesale closures of quarries but it is essential that they are properly regulated and controlled. I suggest they be monitored by local authorities because this does not happen at present. I cannot think of any other business that would be allowed to operate day after day while planning permission was being sought. Some quarry operators circumnavigate, twist and bend the law with impunity, challenging the implementation of regulations with appeals and taking judicial reviews, all the while continuing their operations. They are not only flouting the law but laughing at it as they continue to extract and blast without permission. This is certainly not always the case but it occurs far too often.
It is time for an urgent review of this situation to bring these rogue operators into the net of efficiency and transparency. I will give a few examples from my constituency of Kildare. A 22 ha quarry close to the Curragh has been operating since 2014. In 2015, the quarry was served with an enforcement notice stating that it did not have planning permission for what was being developed. The owner was told that, if convicted, he could be fined up to €12,000 and-or be jailed for up two years. Unbelievably, the unauthorised quarrying continued for years. An Bord Pleanála published a highly critical report about the quarry, stating it had significant effects on the environment but we did not need a report to tell us that. We also had a case in Ballymany, where a developer said he was using the land for plant waste only. In effect, it was a quarry and the residents in a nearby housing estate suffered for many years. Many of our communities are simply not able for this level of disruption. We must think about the cost to our citizens.
The Hill of Allen is a very historic site that is full of heritage. It has been blasted away to surface our motorways and primary roads. There are only two volcanic basalt hills in Ireland. One is the Hill of Allen and the other is the Giant's Causeway. No one is suggesting that we start quarrying the Giant's Causeway so why are we not concerned about the destruction of a prime heritage site in the centre of Kildare? The Hill of Allen was the seat of Fionn Mac CumhailI and the Fianna. Instead of celebrating this incredible historical resource, to which we could bring visitors from all over Ireland and the world to share one of our most important myths, we have stood by and allowed this hill become a victim of quarrying. It is important to mention this because we have no idea of the true value of our land if we allow the destruction of a key historical site with recorded national monuments, a burial chamber and a cairn, not to mention the iconic tower on top of the hill, which is under threat from sustained blasting.
Despite enforcement actions by local authorities and An Taisce, it is appalling that some unauthorised quarry operators have continued blasting. This matter has to be addressed. Fianna Fáil is very concerned about it and we need the Minister of State to ensure it does not continue to happen.
The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Canney, addressed the environmental aspects of the Private Members' motion under discussion. I will speak on the planning and quarrying related aspects of the motion, which fall within my area of responsibility at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The "RTÉ Investigates" programme, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", which aired last week, highlighted that one in eight quarries, or 151 out of 1,100 active quarries throughout the country operate without planning permission and are effectively unauthorised. It is a serious situation that I do not think any Deputy in the House can condone under any circumstance. I am glad Deputy O'Dea has tabled a motion so we can have this discussion.
While the aggregate sector is a cornerstone of the construction industry, employing thousands of people and making an important contribution to economic development through providing building material for all forms of development, including housing, roads and water infrastructure as well as commercial and industrial development, it goes without saying that all operators in the aggregate sector, as with all other economic sectors, are expected to fully comply with their statutory obligations and adhere to the necessary laws of the State, as passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, in the interests of balance, and Deputy Dooley made a comment on this, it should also be acknowledged in this regard that a large majority of quarry operators operate in compliance with the law and adhere to their statutory obligations. Unfortunately, it is a minority of quarries that operate outside the law and bring the sector into disrepute.
We all know there are significant environmental impacts associated with quarrying operations in terms of noise, dust, blasting, vibration, impacts on water quality, groundwater, traffic, as mentioned by Deputy O'Loughlin, waste, ecosystems and landscapes, to name just some. Quarries also have significant impacts on local communities and residents in whose vicinity they operate. Accordingly, it is imperative that quarrying operations are appropriately regulated and comply with all relevant environmental requirements.
The planning system is the system through which quarries are regulated in terms of being required to obtain planning permission before commencing operations and to comply with any conditions attached to planning permission where it is granted. When assessing individual planning applications for quarries, planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate, must take into account the principle of proper planning and sustainable development, including a range of environmental health, transport, site suitability, visual, amenity and other relevant impacts of the proposed development. Furthermore, where the development of a quarry may affect a special area of conservation, planning authorities are required to screen the development and undertake full appropriate assessment of the proposed development under the habitats directive, where necessary.
It is fair to say the regulation of the sector has been a legacy issue since the Celtic tiger years and probably even before that. Notwithstanding this, it should be noted that strenuous efforts have been made by my Department to improve the regulation and compliance of the sector through new legislation which came into effect in 2012 and which gives unauthorised quarries the opportunity to regularise their affairs by registering their activity with the local authority, obtaining substitute consent or retention permission for past unauthorised activity and obtaining planning permission for ongoing activity. Unfortunately, while many regularised their activities, not all quarry operators availed of the opportunity provided at that time. In addition, in May 2013 a ministerial policy directive was issued to planning authorities reminding them of their statutory obligations in planning, monitoring and enforcement, requiring them to ensure that sufficient resources were put in place for this purpose and, in particular, to prioritise action on large-scale unauthorised developments, including quarries. Detailed guidelines were also issued to planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, offering guidance to planning authorities on planning for the quarrying industry in local development plans and on determining planning applications for quarrying and ancillary activities in their functional areas. These guidelines were also intended to be of assistance to the owners and operators of quarries in complying with their statutory obligations and meeting relevant environmental requirements.
While the situation relating to unauthorised quarries subsequently improved somewhat further following the enactment of the 2012 legislation - it was also helped by the downturn in economic activity at that time - the indications are, as outlined by the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, that the number of unauthorised and unregulated quarries has been increasing again as construction activity has ramped up, which, in turn, has increased the demand for aggregatematerial. As has been referred to by Deputies, problems are also increasing. In effect, the necessary planning legislation and guidance is already in place to facilitate the proper regulation of the sector. However, under planning regulations and legislation, the enforcement of planning control is a matter for the relevant planning authority, which can take action if a development does not have the required permission where it is unauthorised or where the terms and conditions of planning permission have not been met. In this connection, there are extensive enforcement powers provided for in Part VIII of the Planning and Development Act 2000, with a view to ensuring that works pertaining to permitted developments are carried out in accordance with planning permission and that no unauthorised development takes place. Furthermore, if a person is of the view that any development works being undertaken are unauthorised, they may make a written complaint to the development planning authority, which is required to investigate the matter within established time frames and take any appropriate enforcement action, including, where necessary, seeking a court order requiring the cessation of operations. It is also worth mentioning in this connection that serious breaches of the planning code that come before the courts can, on indictment, incur significant fines of potentially up to €12 million in cases where significant environmental damage or pollution are caused and imprisonment of up to two years or both imprisonment and a fine, with further fines of up to €10,000 for each day the offence is continued.
While the necessary legislation, enforcement powers and penalties are already in place, there is clearly a need for more proactive and effective enforcement of the legislation by planning authorities. Married to this, there is also the need for the courts and the Judiciary to impose more serious penalties for breaches of the legislation by quarry operators that come before them, especially in cases involving consistent and persistent breaches of previous court orders that have continued to be ignored. This will send out an appropriate signal and warning that non-compliance with statutory obligations will no longer be tolerated in this area. In light of the information and evidence that has recently come to light in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on unauthorised activity in this area, my Department will soon engage further with planning authorities on the need for more decisive actions against illegal quarries, advising them to use more full use of the enforcement powers available to them so this problem can be better addressed and eradicated once and for all.
What is currently happening in this area is not acceptable in a modern democratic society where citizens and sectors have a civic responsibility to operate in compliance with the law of the State. One particular point in the motion to which I would like to refer specifically mentions the alleged sourcing by local authorities of aggregate material from unauthorised quarrying operations. It should not be the case that, for example, the roads and housing divisions of local authorities are sourcing material from unauthorised quarry operations that are in breach of the requirements of the planning code while another division of the local authority is taking enforcement action against those same operations, including taking action to cease operations. This is something that should not be happening and my Department will soon write to local authorities to remind them of the need to adhere to the public procurement guidelines for goods and services, as published by the Office of Government Procurement, which requires that any materials, products or services being procured are sourced from authorised sources that are operating in compliance with relevant statutory requirements.
It is important to put on the record the Government's concerns on unauthorised activity in this area, as outlined in the motion. I mention the concerted range of actions that have already been taken and the Government's commitment to continue to tackle the problem and to take whatever further actions necessary against concerned illegal operators in this field. I take Deputy Dooley's point - Deputy O'Dea may have made the same point - that local authorities are often under pressure, when it comes to resources, in making these enforcement decisions and might often shy away from doing so because of the legal costs and consequences involved. That is something the Department will engage with local authorities on more because it is important they feel they have the funding and backing to do this. Often, a local authority can have the choice between spending the money on another positive development or taking a legal case and the choice is often made to spend the money elsewhere. We will engage with them on that because it is important we look at that issue. We have to strengthen local authorities so they are in a position to take these legal cases when they have to.
I support the motion. We need to tackle this issue. If the assertion that was made by RTÉ was correct, that one in eight across Ireland is operating without planning permission, that is a serious issue. Furthermore, if local authorities are buying from authorised quarries where they themselves are the planning authority, that also raises serious issues. I have always believed that when the law is being widely ignored, the law is brought into total disrepute. Sometimes it has to be considered whether the way the law operates is proportionate and reasonable. We have a serious issue at which we need to look. We must ensure that everyone complies with the law. My understanding up until I saw the "RTÉ Investigates" programme was always that if one was not in compliance, the first thing one was told to do by the local authority was to desist from whatever business one was in and then one could seek retention, or in this case, substitute consent. I always had an understanding about what would happen in a case where one did not desist from whatever activity, irrespective of what enforcement was involved. For example, if one was using a private premises for commercial purposes and one did not have permission to do so, one would have to desist. My understanding was that a local authority would seek a court injunction and restrain one by the order of the court from doing what one was doing. To see that people can go on carrying out major works consistently seems to me to be a serious issue. We need to develop a much more comprehensive policy on the extractive industry. We want an extractive industry, we want it to be compliant and we want it to be environmentally sensitive. We also have to look at making it possible for small quarries to operate in isolated areas. Otherwise, we will ruin the roads and cause a huge carbon footprint by bringing vast amounts of material over long distances. We need to move forward, regularise all of this, make it workable and then enforce the law fully.
Another issue at which we must look is the substitute consent mechanism, particularly when somebody wants to use a disused quarry for some other purpose. We need to make it easier to apply for permission to use quarries for legitimate purposes, such as using them for recreational purposes as quarries are good for rock climbing and so on. We need to make that process easier so we can rehabilitate and reuse quarries, which in many cases are eyesores, for productive and legal purposes.
I have heard many references to the "RTÉ Investigates" programme during the debate. While I have not watched it, I have extensive experience of dealing with quarries, landfills and so on in my constituency, both as a Deputy and previously as a member of the local authority. It is only fair at this point to go a little against the tide and say they are not all bad and they are not all the same. In fact, quarry owners and operators are employers and provide local employment, and they tend to be small, often family, businesses. In light of the jobs they provide, they have a secondary economic impact. It is tough, rough work that can be dangerous at times. Some of them take their obligations seriously, both as employers and in respect of safety, run a tight ship, and try to derive a profit margin for their employees and stakeholders, which should be recognised.
As always, the few ruin it for the many. The "RTÉ Investigates" programme suggested that one in eight quarries is unauthorised while more than one in eight may be authorised and follow the letter of the law but not the spirit. There are many cowboys in the sector. I am reminded of one in particular in my constituency, namely, the A1 waste facility in Kerdiffstown, near Sallins, which has practised every violation under the sun for more than 20 years. The EPA was initially slow to engage until it was forced to the table by local residents' associations. The landfill and former quarry came to a halt when a blaze broke out at Christmas a number of years ago that was visible from the M7, such was its extent. It drew national attention, and the EPA and Kildare County Council finally acted to address the issue, although it took far too long. The happy ending is that a public park will be developed on the site to become a public amenity with a path and connection to the greenway. I recognise the work of Kildare County Council and of the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, who was supportive of the project, as were his predecessors.
One of the secondary impacts of such operations, aside from the overspill on the immediate vicinity, is the impact on local roads. Local rural byroads tend to be traversed by heavy goods vehicles such as lorries and trucks entering and exiting, and it is often debatable whether the empty or laden trucks rattle more. Either way, they are not suitable for local rural roads. Sometimes, the State itself or State agencies can be complicit. I have previously raised in the House the issue of the Drehid landfill in north-west Kildare, a Bord na Móna site that has irritated many landowners and residents, not only in the immediate vicinity but along all the approach roads, from Prosperous and Clane to Sallins, Allenwood, Killeen and beyond, as truckers find the route of least resistance and plough through at high speeds in articulated lorries travelling in both directions many times a day. Broadford in north-west Kildare also suffers, and a recent example is the Millpond site, where water quality issues continue to be raised and fingers have been pointed at a number of local pits and operations. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly does not do anything to build the trust of the residents when it takes so long for their water to become drinkable. The media descended when there was a boil water notice for much of the greater Dublin area, but the residents of Broadford have been unable to drink the water for two or three years.
Some positives have emerged, not least in respect of the circular economy. Earlier in this Dáil term, I introduced an amendment to legislation on the potential for old mines to be rehabilitated to allow rare earth minerals, which are important components for electronics such as iPhones, to be extracted. For quarries, in the same way, we can tidy up legislation already in place. It is a good opportunity for the circular economy.
I thank my colleagues and everybody else who spoke on the motion. I read Deputy Cullinane's amendment and, given that I do not disagree with any of it, I am disposed to accept it. I take the opportunity to refer to a small group in Limerick, Limerick Against Pollution, that has stood in the ditch to resist the proposal. It is a small, dedicated group that has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of its area, and every man, woman and child who is potentially affected by the proposal in Mungret owes it a great deal of gratitude. Even though the group is small in number and badly financed - it sells tickets and holds events such as raffles to raise funding - it is supported by thousands of people, including all the political parties in the area and none. I have attended most of the public meetings and rallies, where Fine Gael representatives were among the most vehement in their opposition to the proposal. They were fully on the side of the community and some were almost ready to lay down their lives to protect the community. It will be interesting, therefore, to see how their party colleagues in the House will respond to the motion and whether they will accept it. I am not playing politics but rather making a last-ditch effort to prevent a calamity in my community. I heard nothing in the responses of the Ministers of State, especially in that of Deputy Canney, that will afford any comfort or consolation to the people on whose behalf I am speaking.
The people of Limerick are watching the debate closely. The matter is in the heart of 25,000 residents, and 4,500 objections to it have been submitted. If the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, wishes to reflect on the matter overnight, he can, but the people are watching the debate carefully. If there is a marked difference between the approaches of Fine Gael in the House and Fine Gael on the ground in Limerick, people will naturally ask why. I ask the Minister and the Government to give careful consideration to the proposal. The Ministers of State outlined nothing in respect of incineration except for a vague promise that the Government is committed to a circular economy at some indeterminate time in the future, like St. Augustine, who wrote, "O God, make me good, but not yet." We heard nothing about the proposal in Mungret. If, as the Ministers of State asserted, we recognise that change must come and the whole system has to be recast, why will we not pause the proposal for yet another incinerator that will have a lifetime of 20 or 30 years? Such proposals are now resisted by communities in other countries that realise they were mistaken, while we are aware of the problems yet seem determined to make the same mistake.
I ask the Government to accept the motion, as amended, to show good faith and to demonstrate that it and its representatives on the ground in Limerick are on the same wavelength.