Thursday, 23 June 2022
Litter Pollution (Amendment) Bill 2022: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Bill entitled an Act to amend the Litter Pollution Act 1997 to provide for public health and cleaner streets.
Dog fouling may seem like a very small issue for our national Parliament but it is a huge issue in my local area and nationally. We have seen figures recently from Cork, Dublin and Tipperary showing that a paltry number of fines were issued, with only one or two being issued annually. Dog fouling is a public health issue. Dog faeces contains parasites that can lead to blindness in children and has been described as the single most potent contaminant of the bathing water in Dublin Bay, a protected biosphere.
I raised this issue numerous times when I was a councillor on Dublin City Council and every time I did so, the council claimed that it was an issue for the national Parliament and one that required national legislation so here I am, in our national Parliament, with legislation that seeks to address a very serious public health issue. My Bill is a simple one. It increases the fines for not picking up after one's dog. Currently the fine is €150 and this Bill proposes to increase that to €1,500. This is a significant increase but risk is judged on the likelihood of getting caught balanced against the consequences. We know that the likelihood of getting caught is almost zero. Dublin City Council, for example, issued one fine last year and the situation is similar in the rest of the country. By increasing the consequences, we change the way people think about the risk of not picking up after their dog. It also sends a very strong message about what we consider to be important. The fine was last increased in 2007 by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley. He spoke then about how a modest increase would send a strong message and I am trying to send an even stronger message about this important public health issue.
Of course, fines alone will not deal with this issue. We need to be creative but before talking about that I want to point out that when John Gormley increased the fine in 2007, he did so by way of statutory instrument. The Executive branch does not need to wait for this Bill, which will not move rapidly through these Houses, to pass. The power is in the Minister's wrist to make that change today. Equally, there is power in the Minister's wrist to issue policy directions under section 60 of the Waste Management Act. We have done this twice before in relation to enforcement systems related to the waste framework directive and around illegal waste activities and illegal dumping. The Minister has the power now to increase the fine and to issue policy directives and the latter is where the creativity comes in. When I was on Dublin City Council I pushed for DNA testing of dog poo in order to fine people and Leitrim County Council is pushing ahead with this. We need to address issues around dog bins and the provision of free dog bags. All of these are local authority issues but the Minister, through section 60, has the power to issue policy directives. This Bill will help but the Minister can do more relatively quickly.
I commend this Bill to the House, which seeks to address a very serious public health issue. I also call on the Minister to use his executive powers to increase the fine by statutory instrument today, or as soon as possible, and to issue policy directives available to him under legislation. Then, finally, children might be able to play in parks and not have to be sanitised and cleaned of dog waste that others have selfishly not picked up, when they get home. This is a serious public health issue that is not being addressed by the local authorities because they say they do not have the power to do so. It is up to us here to address it and that is the purpose of this Bill.