Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Recycling Policy

9:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

The Minister of State is very welcome, it is good to see him. As he knows, the return scheme was launched with much fanfare at the beginning of February. It is a scheme that was long overdue and was very much welcome. According to the return websites, the aims of the new recycling scheme are to achieve EU recycling targets protect our environment, reduce litter and waste and play a key role as a circular economy initiative. This is all very laudable. However, one additional result of this scheme, as currently configured, is to land those with disabilities with an unfair and regressive additional tax. I cannot for the life of me understand how this Government could have gone ahead with such a scheme without giving consideration to issues of disability.

If people are unable to travel to return these bottles to one of the big supermarkets that have installed these new vending machines, they are still liable to pay the tax on the bottle. The liability does not just apply to those with disabilities, but also to those without access to their own transport, especially those who are elderly and who no longer drive. I met a number of people when canvassing in Limerick last week who raised the unfairness of this new tax as it applies to them. I was particularly struck by the number of elderly people in rural areas who live miles away from these supermarkets and typically do their shopping in the local villages where they live.

I know the Government is going to say that the long-term plan is to install these machines in villages but, in the meantime, who is going to refund those on limited incomes who are currently funding the scheme because they are not able to return the bottles and cans? These people simply cannot access these return banks. When people are on a limited income consisting of a disability payment or a pension, they should not be taxed in this way, as they have no means of returning these bottles and cans.

We are fortunate to have inveterate campaigner for the rights of disabled, Leigh Gath, with us in the Chamber here today. Leigh lives in Pallaskenry. As the Minister of State will know, Pallaskenry has not had any supply of mainline water for well over a year now so everyone has to buy bottles. Leigh has been in contact with the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, and had been reassured that disability groups have been consulted on the drawing up of the scheme. She subsequently followed up with the Irish Wheelchair Association, which said it got one call saying it would have a follow-up, but that never happened. She also contacted the Disability Federation of Ireland, which had received no contact whatsoever.I find this extraordinary. We urgently need an explanation of this issue, especially because, if you are a wheelchair user, you are physically unable to reach up to the vending slots in these machines because they are placed too high up from the ground. That is an absolutely critical point.

In correspondence with the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, Ms Gath was told that larger supermarket groups had been consulted and had agreed to collect the empties. However, once notified of this, Tesco sent an email to all of its online customers informing them that this would not be happening. How could it happen? A monetary amount would have to be given by the driver to the homeowner as the homeowner would still not be able to get to the supermarket to get his or her refund. This would mean drivers having to carry cash, putting them at risk.

As Ireland is one of the last countries in the EU to have introduced these machines, you would have thought that we would have learnt from best practice. However, it is apparent that we have not. It is not difficult to find best practice. I have in my hand a document from Denmark published in March 2001, 23 years ago, setting out how best to cater for people with disabilities when setting up schemes such as this. The fact of the matter is that neither the research nor the consultation were done. No consideration was given to people with disabilities before this scheme was introduced. It is not just a matter of great embarrassment for the Minister of State's Government, but also a matter of shame.

I want to hear an urgent response from the Minister of State as to how this issue will be tackled. The current situation cannot be allowed to stand. There are possibilities through, for example, the creative use of Revenue and direct reimbursement. Local schemes to collect these bottles could be supported. However, there is nothing in place right now. There is best practice elsewhere. I can point to Germany or Sweden. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.