Seanad debates

Friday, 5 March 2021

Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank all the Senators who contributed. I acknowledge the heroic efforts made on a daily basis by the outdoor staff in our local authorities, by our litter wardens and by the Tidy Towns groups who work so hard in our communities to keep things looking so well under very difficult circumstances, as outlined by many contributors to this debate. We are very grateful to them for their efforts. They do great work and go above and beyond the call of duty every day.I thank Senator Wall and his Labour Party colleagues for initiating the Bill, which is an important piece of work. I think all in this Chamber would agree that the problem of illegal dumping is a scourge on the landscape, a serious threat to environment and it results in significant clear-up costs for the State. Those points have been very well articulated today. I also think we would agree that local authorities should be supported in their ongoing efforts to tackle the problem of illegal dumping, including by enabling them with the appropriate legal base to use available and emerging technology to identify and prosecute offenders. As Senator Wall set out, the Commissioner for Data Protection wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in September 2020 concerning data protection issues with the use of CCTV cameras for litter and waste enforcement purposes. The commissioner's view was that, while the Litter Pollution Act and the Waste Management Act provide local authorities with powers to prevent, investigate, detect and prosecute littering and dumping offences, the Acts do not provide for the processing of images of members of the public using CCTV footage. I believe that it is primarily this gap in the legislation that Senator Wall and his colleagues are working to address with their Bill. As this seems to be its main intention, the Government has agreed in principle not to oppose the Bill. However, I take this opportunity to point out that the Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is already well positioned to address the complex issues raised by the Commissioner for Data Protection, including by introducing appropriate legislation.

In the first instance, Ireland's Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, published in September 2020, commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. One of the commitments in the action plan states that "all waste enforcement legislation will be 'data proofed' to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant." The specific advice received from the Data Protection Commissioner is currently under consideration by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. For its part, the DPC is currently engaging with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, on the practical issues raised by the DPC and on the practical use of audiovisual recording equipment.

In line with the action plan, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is working on the draft heads of a circular economy Bill, with a view to underpinning measures promoting the development of a circular economy. Relevant output from the discussions between the CCMA and the DPC, as well as the commitment in the waste action plan, could be introduced in the Bill. This would help to ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus protecting the environment from the blight of illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.

In addition, funding of €3 million was allocated by the Government last year to an anti-dumping initiative. The initiative supports local authorities to work in partnership with community organisations in delivering some 300 projects across the country, addressing problem areas, developing enforcement responses and carrying out clean-up operations. Further funding of €1 million was provided to support the activities of the waste enforcement regional lead authorities and €7.4 million was provided to the network of 150 local authority waste enforcement officers. While allocations for 2021 are not yet finalised, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications has undertaken to continue to invest significantly in the local authority network to ensure there is a robust, sustainable waste enforcement system in place to combat all illegal waste activity. In order to provide for a more co-ordinated and strategic approach to dealing with waste crime, multi-agency forums have been established in all Garda regions. These are facilitating more Garda-led multi-agency operations and have resulted in the cessation of very significant illegal waste activities with corresponding environmental benefits on identified sites across the country. Penalties for illegal dumping are significant. Persons who are found to be responsible for the unauthorised disposal of waste are liable to a maximum fine of €5,000 on summary conviction or imprisonment for up to 12 months. The upcoming circular economy Bill will consider even further changes to fixed-penalty notices.

Turning to the Bill initiated by Senator Wall, I wish to flag a number of concerns identified, which will require careful and detailed analysis if this Bill is to proceed through the legislative process. First, the Bill implies an amendment to the Local Government Acts and would therefore have applicability to the full range of offences under the remit of local authorities.This would involve the use by the local authorities of CCTV in the enforcement of more than litter and waste management legislation, the issue specifically examined by the DPC. As the Bill is broadly drafted without clear parameters of applicability, a review of all areas to which the law could apply would be appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Given the wide-ranging nature of the Bill, it also raises an issue relating to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018 that the processing of personal data is necessary for the performance of a function of a data controller. It may not, in all cases, be necessary for a local authority to use CCTV in the enforcement of offences and this would need to be carefully examined in each instance.

The Bill also raises concerns relating to potential infringements of a person's right to private property, as it does not appear to limit the location of the installation of a CCTV camera. A final technical point is that the Bill takes a narrow focus on the use of CCTV only. It is not predicated on a wider future-proofing that would facilitate the use of audiovisual recording equipment. It is also believed that legislative changes would apply to audiovisual recording in a broader sense, rather than to CCTV only.

I thank Senator Wall and his colleagues in the Labour Party for initiating the Bill. I thank all of the Senators for their contributions. As advised previously, the Government will not oppose the Bill.


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