Friday, 5 March 2021
Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I too welcome this Bill. Everybody knows illegal dumping is the scourge of many communities. The Bill addresses a very specific problem identified by the DPC in investigating the use of surveillance technology in the area of illegal dumping. We know this Bill would place the use of CCTV by county councils on a secure legal footing and enable them to investigate and prosecute offences.
I welcome this Bill from the Labour Party and it is an example of the constructive role that the Opposition can play in drafting new laws to address real world problems. I hope the Government will engage with it and other genuinely beneficial Bills that come from the Opposition benches.
CCTV can be useful in tackling illegal dumping but it cannot be seen as a silver bullet. Even with CCTV, convictions are still hard to get and very rare because the quality of the footage must be exceptionally high, often requiring a licence plate or a very high certainty of identifying the person. Additionally, the accused person still needs to be brought to court, which requires significant resources. Community groups active on such issues simply do not have the time or money to do that.
The Bill is a welcome step and we know CCTV can be an effective deterrent to dumping, we need to do much more work to get to the root of illegal dumping. I will use my time to focus on some of these. We can link the rise in the rate of illegal dumping very directly to the privatisation of waste collection. Local authorities are being left to foot the bill for cleaning up illegal dumping while the waste collection providers and their shareholders enjoy massive profits. Sinn Féin campaigned against privatisation from the outset and we warned that placing profit over the public good would lead to detrimental environmental consequences as it always does. Waste collection should be a service provided to everyone, regardless of income, and that is not for a minute excusing anybody who goes out to dump illegally.
Sinn Féin's waste reduction Bill would achieve this through remunicipalisation and, in addition, it would increase rates of recycling. Over the past couple of days I have looked at the civic amenity centres available across the country and the level of service in local authorities is inconsistent in cost and access. In some counties, a civic amenity site can only be accessed three days per week. Some have barriers and some need a ticket bought in advance from a shop. There is a real level of inconsistency around the services offered to people who want to dispose of their waste responsibly.
Domestic waste is not the only problem as commercial and agricultural waste also present significant issues. The dumping of animal bodies is on the increase since the lockdown began and when the treatment of dead horses is in the headlines, it could not be more timely to highlight this matter. Ms Kathleen O'Sullivan of agriland.iehas reported that officials from Galway County Council are experiencing a surge in dumping of horses that were neglected throughout the winter, and this comes after the calving and lambing season. This matter is important not just from an animal welfare perspective but from that of public health. If an animal is dumped near a river, it could contaminate the water and expose the community to serious disease. One risk is cryptosporidium, a zoonotic parasite that leads to serious illness. We are now all very aware of zoonotic diseases, given we are living in a pandemic. The problem of animal dumping and the potential impact on watercourses has never been more serious.
Sometimes the narrative around dumping descends into a blame game, with illegal dumping being portrayed as an urban problem inflicted on rural communities. We know that is not the case in reality and the narrative of blame is certainly not helpful and does not do anything to find constructive solutions.We need to prevent illegal dumping and to be able to prosecute those who do it.
The Government also plans to legislate for the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. If designed correctly, this scheme could play a significant role in reducing dumping and encouraging recycling. However, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced that the scheme will only include polyethylene terephthalate, PET, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. There is public appetite for a much wider scheme. Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment published a poll that showed that nine in ten people believe that all drinks containers should be included in Ireland's deposit return scheme and that in particular glass bottles should be included. Everybody is aware that broken glass is a particular scourge for parents, pet owners and people who participate in sport on public fields. All-in deposit return schemes are common across the world and Scotland is set to introduce its deposit return scheme for glass bottles in 2022, for example. There are questions over the design of the scheme and the role of private companies. We have seen the damaging impact that applying the logic of profit to environmental problems can have in the demunicipalisation of waste. I hope the Minister has learned his lesson and will put people and planet over profit when it comes to the deposit return scheme.
As I said, I welcome this Bill but we need to do much more when it comes to illegal dumping. We need to do more in prosecuting the offenders and in making it easier and more affordable for people to dispose of their waste responsibly.