Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

11:00 am

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have this opportunity of setting out for the House the Government's approach to waste management, one of the most wilfully misunderstood of policy areas. I also look forward to hearing the views of Senators on the many complex aspects of the waste management agenda. There are no simple solutions in this area despite several disingenuous comments to the contrary, which suggest that we can magically spirit away a problem that is not limited to this country.

Our waste management policy is grounded in the internationally accepted waste management hierarchy which has informed the waste policy of our counterparts across Europe. In other words, we are practising integrated waste management. We are not just making strides towards full achievement of this approach but are moving towards the top of the class in European terms. For example, in the area of recycling, we have made remarkable progress. Contrast this with our historical approach to waste management and I am sure the House will agree that we are moving in the right direction.

The very idea that waste management services could continue to be treated as the Cinderella of environmental services has long since passed. Traditionally, waste management was a local authority function with no direct involvement by central Government and no Exchequer funding of any significance was provided to the local authorities. This approach, coupled with an underdeveloped regulatory framework, effectively resulted in the application of low-cost technology solutions by local authorities in developing landfill facilities. In fact, "low-cost technology solutions" is a euphemism for simply finding a large hole and dumping as much waste as possible in the ground without paying any attention to the consequences. The net result was that we were heavily reliant on a landfill network that did not reflect, or even come close to, modern environmental standards. Clearly from both an environmental and an economic development perspective, such a situation could not continue. I would, therefore, like to turn to the challenging targets we have set ourselves to address this situation and to reflect on our achievements to date.

Our comprehensive policy framework for modernising our approach to waste management was set in place in the 1998 policy statement, Waste Management: Changing Our Ways. The policy approach is centred as I have said on the integrated waste management approach, based on the internationally adopted hierarchy of waste options which places greatest emphasis on waste prevention, followed by minimisation, re-use, recycling, energy recovery and, finally, the environmentally suitable disposal of residual waste.

This is being achieved through a regional waste management planning process. These regional plans, which have been drafted, are being reviewed now by the relevant authorities. Much has been achieved since the first round of plans were adopted but much more needs to be achieved; "a lot done, more to do", to coin a phrase. In particular, we must deliver the high quality heavy waste infrastructure — heavy waste infrastructure is jargon that refers to things like landfill or heat treatment — which we will continue to need even if we achieve the highest ambitious waste diversion targets. I know there are concerns on the part of people in regard to the location of thermal treatment plants and landfills. We must develop public confidence by stressing that such projects must pass through physical planning and environmental licensing processes which are among the most rigorous and open in Europe.

The overall policy context was strengthened in 2002 with the publication of Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change. These policy statements will remain the bedrock of waste management policy in Ireland in the coming years. They are designed to achieve, by 2013, the ambitious targets set out in Changing Our Ways. These include a target of recycling of 35% of municipal waste and recycling of at least 50% of construction and demolition waste by 2001, with a progressive increase to at least 85% by 2013.

Changing Our Ways also set out a number of complementary targets, which are aimed at increasing recycling rates, to be achieved over the same timescale. These include a diversion of 50% of household waste away from landfill, a minimum 65% reduction in biodegradable waste consigned to landfill and the development of composting and other biological treatment facilities capable of treating up to 300,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste per annum.

Putting this in context, until recently, our recycling rate was one of the lowest in Europe but now we have a much better story to tell. We are now steadily advancing towards the ambitious targets we have set. In its national waste database report for 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that only 9% of household and commercial waste was recovered for recycling in that year. The 2003 figure was 28%. The recovery rate for packaging waste is estimated to have increased from 15% in 1998 to 42% in 2003. These statistics show a very positive direction.

All the indications are that the recycling position has improved even further. First, we have had the progressive roll-out of two bin collections. Dual bin collection is now available to 560,00 households — approximately 42% of all households nationally. There is the continued expansion of the bring bank network with over 1,800 bring banks currently in place compared to around 850 bring banks in 1998. An increased network of civic amenity recycling centres and waste transfer stations are being progressively put in place. There are now 61 civic amenity sites around the country, with more planned, accepting a very wide range of materials for recycling. Some local authorities have been particularly adventurous in this regard and they are to be complimented. The roll-out of the pay-by-use charging system is a potentially significant stimulus to more emphasis by individual households on recycling.

The expansion in the waste recycling infrastructure I have described has been substantially assisted by funding provided to local authorities from the environment fund. The fund itself was a very significant change in the approach to State funding of waste infrastructure both in terms of its objectives and that its income is derived from environmental levies. This in itself is in line with best international practice in applying the polluter pays principle.

Using the fund, a capital grants scheme established in 2002 has provided €50 million to over 90 projects, from bring banks to composting facilities, materials recovery facilities and civic amenity sites. The House will appreciate that it would be remiss of me in discussing our waste management challenge not to deal with the issue of waste enforcement. While enforcement of waste regulations is a matter for the local authorities and the Office of Environmental Enforcement, I am determined to ensure that whatever resources are required to tackle the problem of illegal dumping are made available and that current initiatives we are taking will succeed.

The Office of Environmental Enforcement established by the Government just over one year ago has consolidated environmental enforcement activity through the establishment of a national enforcement network. This network is harnessing the collective resources, expertise and investigative capacity of all the agencies engaged in stamping out illegal activity in Ireland. The network pools and co-ordinates the resources of the local authorities, the Garda Síochána, the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland and my Department.

This all-island approach to what is environmental crime is resulting in a step-up in actions against unauthorised waste movement, including roadblocks and inspections of premises. The initial focus of the network is in dealing with unauthorised waste activity in Ireland and, in particular, the issue of illegal cross-Border movement of waste from the Republic to Northern Ireland. The network is bringing a level of consistency and focus to waste enforcement in Ireland that did not exist prior to its establishment.

The office has commissioned a study, to be completed in mid-2005, on unauthorised waste activities. This will include establishing the extent of unauthorised activities, reviewing current procedures and developing improved guidance for investigation of unauthorised activities. I am satisfied that these comprehensive new structures are delivering a significantly enhanced waste enforcement system. The allocation of over €7 million funding this year for dedicated waste enforcement staff to local authorities, coupled with the efforts of the enforcement network in co-ordinating activities and providing training, means that we are now in a better position to identify and suppress irregular waste movements and illegal cross-Border waste trafficking. Each and every citizen, corporate and private, has a responsibility in this regard. Whether it is a householder or a big corporation that is approached with an offer to dump waste in an unauthorised way, they have a responsibility to which I hope they will live up.

I am determined that all of the legal and administrative resources of the relevant State agencies will be brought to bear in dealing with this problem. In support of this "get tough" approach I shall shortly be using my power under the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 to issue a policy direction designed to bring a clearer focus on how to deal with waste disposed of illegally and those responsible for it. I am urging all of the enforcement authorities to see this activity as environmental crime and to act accordingly.

While making these points I am happy to acknowledge that the vast majority of those engaged in waste management activates do so in an entirely lawful manner. We have seen the emergence of a strong waste management industry to complement the services, whether infrastructure or collection services, provided by local authorities. This, however, has created new issues that must be addressed. These centre on price setting and the potential for anti-competitive and monopolistic practices to emerge whether in the public or private segment of the market. For this reason I am currently giving careful consideration to what we must do to develop a vibrant but properly regulated waste market.

I trust that I have made it clear that the Government has a real and serious intent to tackle the waste challenge. The results we want will not be achieved overnight but will be if we all pull in the same direction. The performance indicators being used show that we are making progress. The Irish public has demonstrated its willingness to join the war against waste, the race against waste, and is to be congratulated on its efforts. Individual householders in particular warrant our congratulations. People are making real efforts everywhere with a bring bank or a recycling centre.

I thank Members of the House for providing me with the opportunity to address them on this important matter and I await with interest their individual comments during the course of the debate.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for coming here today so soon after I called for a debate on waste management during the Order of Business on Wednesday, 23 February 2005. I stated then that the Progressive Democrats unanimously agreed to scrap the regional waste management plan at their last parliamentary party meeting and to bring forward a national plan for a super-incinerator. It is proposed to locate this incinerator in the midlands.

Michael Brennan (Progressive Democrats)
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Would the Senator clarify the basis on which he makes that statement?

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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I will in due course. I went on to say that it is time to have a debate on waste management because it is evident that there are differences in the Government on this issue. Waste management in Ireland has become a deeply contentious and divisive issue, particularly in regard to incineration with "nimbyism", now the buzzword for some political parties, who are saying yes to incineration but no to incinerators in their own back yards.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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A typical example would be Fine Gael in Meath.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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In particular I refer to the Progressive Democrats' incinerator policy and call on Deputy Sexton, who is a Progressive Democrats Deputy from Longford, to come clean on that document in the light of her recent comments on radio, which do not tally with her party's stated aims. This followed the publication of the facts concerning a certain Galway-based Progressive Democrats Deputy. With the backing of his party he has proposed the building of a super incinerator sited in the midlands, which he unbelievably and shockingly described as underdeveloped and deserted. This is laughable coming from the man who said in 2003 "I oppose incineration and I have not changed on that". It seems he has changed his mind, as long as an incinerator is not positioned in his own back yard. That it would be acceptable anywhere but in his home county is obviously a big part of the PD policy in Galway.

Deputy Sexton in the meantime has stated on radio that the PDs are against mass burn incinerators but recent developments have given the lie to that. As a member of the Progressive Democrats and a public representative for Longford-Westmeath in the heart of the midlands, she must clarify her position on this outrageous plan, which has the backing of the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who both plan to bring it before the Cabinet. Deputy Sexton had the nerve to call me a liar on Shannonside Radio when I produced the facts on this sad charade. She accused me for pointing out the facts but she should be ashamed of her behaviour.

The Galway Deputy who first mooted this plan has effectively ruled out a proposed incinerator for Galway. Senator Brady referred to Fine Gael's policy in Meath. The PD candidate for the by-election in Meath has stated on national television that she is not against incinerators in all circumstances, only when they may be located in Meath. Deputy Sexton is trying to muddy the waters. She and her party need to produce straight answers to questions that are of the utmost importance to the midlands and avoid accusing others of lying.

If we were to look at Deputy Sexton's record of telling it like it is, we would have to ask who it was that promised the setting up of Cardinal Health was a done deal prior to the last general election. It was the self-same Progressive Democrats Deputy for Longford. Was that pledge kept? The answer is no, as all the disappointed people of Longford know too well. This was allied to other pre-election promises made by Deputy Sexton, including those concerning child care facilities. There are currently nine communities waiting for assistance under the child care programme. That no such assistance has materialised leaves her record on delivery very much in question. I have worked extremely hard with people in Longford and have submitted many Adjournment motions on this issue. I hope the assistance can be delivered shortly.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order, we are discussing waste management and not the local politics of Longford.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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That is not a point of order but the Senator will have an opportunity to respond.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Deputy Sexton urgently needs to come clean and let the people of the midlands know her intention and that of her party on the proposed super-incinerator and avoid making accusations which, as she knows only too well from her experience this week, can end up in the High Court. Deputy Sexton and her party must answer some questions. Are the Progressive Democrats now in favour of mass burn incinerators? If so, why does Deputy Grealish want to situate those incinerators in the midlands? What does Ms Sexton really know about this plan and why is she trying to avoid the issue? This has happened again and again, demonstrating a split between Fianna Fáil and the PDs on waste management policy. The Minister should ensure that the PD whip whips Deputy Sexton into line on this.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is obsessed.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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He is obsessed with Deputy Sexton.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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It sounds like unrequited love.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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It is shameful that a member of the Government parties should act in this manner.

Under the proposed PD national plan, a mass incinerator would be built to cover the total needs of the country and, according to the party, it would almost certainly be sited in the midlands, despite the commitment in the Progressive Democrats' local election manifesto that the party remains opposed to mass burn incinerators, where every possible type of waste is dumped into a great furnace and burned.

I also remain opposed to these incinerators and, unlike the Progressive Democrats, I will stick to that view. Fine Gael does not believe that incinerators are the solution. Along with my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, I support an alternative policy based on recycling. Currently the State recycles less than 8% of our waste, well below European levels. Fine Gael has a target of 50% recycling of household waste.

Among the key issues that Fine Gael wishes to highlight in current Government policy is the lack of universal waiver system for waste charges. The hardship caused by the refusal of the Government to deal with this issue is a disgrace. We have been subjected to harrowing calls from elderly people on "Liveline" and other programmes on local and national media articulating the difficulty that these charges will cause. It is sickening to see the Government parties, who profess to a Pauline conversion in terms of compassion, who say they have changed and are about inclusion and caring administration after Inchydoney, sit in stony silence as this national debate lingers on.

As far back as July 2003, Fine Gael was in complete opposition to the Government stance on this issue. The right to a waiver is a statutory one for those who qualify and is granted strictly on hardship grounds. At present, in areas where local authorities sub-contract private companies to arrange collection of household waste, the householder pays the private collector. In cases where the poor and the elderly enjoyed the waiver on hardship grounds, they are now being forced to pay the private collector or their waste will not be collected. Many people have been left in limbo as a result and they are annoyed with the Government's attitude to a waiver scheme. At the moment, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, through the local authorities, compensates hardship cases for the effect of the withdrawal of this waiver system. The Minister refuses to continue to do this and the most marginalised people in Ireland are now being hit again. With refuse collection charges of up to €700 per year, this is a massive burden on the elderly, the sick and the long-term unemployed.

In 2003, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's response to Fine Gael when questioned on this subject at the Oireachtas committee on the environment was to tell these people to apply for supplementary allowance from their health boards. This is totally and utterly unacceptable and the new Minister must immediately take steps to ensure that the thousands of people affected by the loss of this waiver will be helped out by his Department through the local authorities. It is another example of the Government imposing a stealth tax except this time it is hitting the old, the elderly, the sick and the long-term unemployed.

This Government's record on waste management is embarrassing. According to the EPA, household and commercial waste in Ireland has increased by over 60% in the five years to 2002. That means that every man, woman and child generates 600 kg of waste every year. In Ireland, 2.1 million tonnes of household and commercial waste were generated in 2001 — an increase of 46% since 1995.

What is the Government's reaction when illegally dumped material is found at the Drogheda bypass? It covered it up and it only came to light following extensive probing by Fine Gael. There are questions to be answered and the Government must reveal where exactly the material was discovered, where it was disposed of, the quantity of the material and what it consisted of, whether gardaí were notified of the discovery and why the general public and the media were not informed. This shows once again how the Government continually pulls the wool over our eyes for its own ends.

Ireland's record on recycling is deplorable by European standards. We recycle less than 8% of our household waste compared with 46% in Austria, 44% in Holland, 40% in Belgium and 30% in Denmark. Already our landfill sites are at 86% capacity. In recent weeks we have been treated to reports that the State's only tyre recycling centre has shut down, the only paper mill recycling plant has closed its doors and the shocking fact that almost 70% of Ireland's recyclable waste is exported. There is a total lack of any political will in Government to drive forward the environment agenda. We have a Government that cares about roads, money and votes — all important, but only part of a bigger picture this Government cannot comprehend. It is left to the Opposition to make it accountable on these issues.

If I had time, I could speak until 6 p.m. pointing out the shortfalls in Government policy on waste management. I plead with the Minister not to poison this nation. Less than 1 g of the dioxin waste from an incinerator could kill 10,000 people. We do not want any lives to be taken by the Minister or the Government. I hope he takes note of our remarks on this matter.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. This is a complex debate but it is a relevant issue, there was even a discussion this morning on "Morning Ireland" about the difficulties in Cork with illegal dumping. The city manager in Cork assured us that his staff were dealing with the issue and collecting waste on a regular basis. There have been many scares recently and we have heard a lot about illegal dumping. I condemn what is happening, as I have done on previous occasions.

We have moved on from the time where every town in County Galway had a small, unlicensed landfill site. Many people wanted those landfills closed down. Their only advantage was the free service but people are now prepared to accept the principle of the polluter pays. There are now fewer landfills licensed and regulated by the EPA. I would be much more positive than Senator Bannon in regard to the recycling issue. The position has improved but we may not have reached a point where we are as good as other countries in Europe. We have come a long way since 1998 when we talked about 9% recycling whereas we have now reached a level of 28%. This matter is being discussed in schools. Some good booklets on the environment and the importance of preserving it have been produced in the European Union office in Molesworth Street, some of which I have taken to schools.

The last report of the EPA, the third EPA state of the environment report, had some positive things to say about the environment and the way in which we deal with waste management. A welcome development is that we are investing money in waste management. We have gone from being over-reliant on landfill to looking at issues of recycling. This has been welcomed by local authorities, although, as the Minister said, some local authorities are better than others. We are now considering recovering energy from landfills. In 2004, one of the issues I welcomed was the provision of funding of €36,000 to Limerick County Council and Ballinasloe Town Council to prepare model contracts for landfill gas to energy projects. We have had a landfill at Poolboy in Ballinasloe for many years. It was a welcome announcement that funding was to be provided with a view to getting gas from that landfill. In 2004, Galway County Council received €125,000 for bring banks, €128,000 for civic amenities and Galway City Council received €80,000 for bring banks.

There are now more bins in Galway city because of the availability of contractors and the great work done by Rehab in providing more bins. In rural Galway, there are two bins. In many parts of the country there are plans to provide a second bin for household waste.

I wish to refer briefly to a comment made by the Minister at the end of his speech in regard to the monopoly on waste collection. It appears that some counties have only one or two contractors. The Minister referred to the potential for anti-competitive practices and a monopoly situation, whether public or private. This leads to the issue of waste collection costs. Those on low incomes and social welfare payments have showed me the figures and the huge increases in charges over five years for bin collections. The Minister must examine this in any review carried out. I am pleased to note that in the past two or three years bin collection charges have remained at the same rate. When we seek a waiver we are told it is a private collection and that nothing can be done. This is disappointing for many people. The Minister will recall parliamentary party debates on a standard rate charge, which some local authorities can provide. Sometimes within one county there are different rates, for example, in the city of Galway, in rural Galway or Ballinasloe. People are concerned about this and particularly the absence of a waiver scheme, to which we had become accustomed in regard to water charges. I hope the review, to which the Minister referred, will take place.

The Minister referred also to the illegal cross-Border movement of waste from the Republic into Northern Ireland. Down through the years we had been familiar with various types of cross-Border activity — smuggling and so on. This is another issue that has led to concern. I hope the Minister will take whatever action he can to ensure illegal dumping does not happen. He mentioned, in particular, the Office of Environmental Enforcement, which is important to progress.

As others have said this issue could be the Cinderella of local authority services and environmental legislation. In most towns and villages there are bring banks and various facilities for recycling clear and coloured glass. A concern I have raised with our county manager is that if a person is providing a bottle bank he or she should empty it on a regular basis. There is nothing so disgusting as bottles left outside a bottle bank. Some people are too lazy to place their bottles or other recyclable goods into the banks. This has led to some towns and villages losing the facility. I hope that where a facility such a bottle bank is provided it is maintained, cleaned and emptied on a regular basis.

There is also the question of public awareness which is well provided for in schools but not so well provided for those who left school many years ago. I hope an improvement can be made in this area. The policy framework for modernising our approach to waste management, Waste Management: Changing Our Ways, was a positive document. It recognised there were many different options in regard to waste. There is no one-off solution in this complex area. Senator Bannon gave us a great insight into incineration. I would not start with incineration if I was talking about waste management, given that we have regional plans for 40% recycling——

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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The Progressive Democrats have scrapped it as part of their policy.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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——40% thermal treatment and 20% disposed into landfill. Therefore, there are various options for a sustainable waste management infrastructure. We should look at all the options and not simply incineration. In fairness to the Progressive Democrats Deputy, to whom the Senator referred, his party at least had the option for Galway City Council to have an incinerator. In most European countries if incinerators are not located in the cities they are near the cities because there is a question of recovery of energy from those developments. I am glad we have had this debate. I would be much more positive than Senator Bannon in regard to developments. I hope discussion of the issues of minimising and reducing waste will also positively deal with the question of recycling. The points I made about bottle banks are very relevant. We do not want bottle banks to become another litter nightmare in towns or cities where citizens are trying to develop recycling facilities and keep their environment as clean as possible.

12:00 pm

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. He will be aware of my interest in the subject of waste management and I welcome what he had to say in his contribution.

I am a great believer in the policies that have been put forward for reducing and recycling waste but the House should make an effort to implement the policies it is suggesting to individuals outside the House. It is the effort of so many individuals that has caused the significant reduction in household waste and packaging.

I have raised this issue before in the House. I ask the Minister to insist that all ministerial speeches are printed on both sides of the paper. This would halve the amount of paper used by Departments. Unfortunately, documents of this House are printed on one side of the paper only. It would be a significant start if the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government printed its documents on both sides.

As the Progressive Democrats have been mentioned already, I refer to the frequent request of former Senator Máirín Quill that Senators only receive copies of reports they request rather than every report which is published. I ask the Acting Chairman to forgive me for raising this issue but now that reports are also published in the Irish language, they are thicker than ever. Senators now receive a large number of reports and due to lack of time rather than interest, many cannot take the opportunity to read them completely either in English or in Irish. I ask the House to consider this point.

At one stage the reuse of large brown envelopes was encouraged. I used to bring my envelopes to the General Office for recycling but this scheme seems to have fallen into abeyance. It was a suggestion of mine that the Houses of the Oireachtas should buy recycled paper for use in the photocopiers and this is used everywhere now.

The efforts made by the public regarding the reduction of waste have been extraordinary. We must be a most adaptable and versatile nation because we took to life without the plastic bag like ducks to water. The amount of litter this measure has done away with is astonishing. It is now very rare to see barbed wire entangled with plastic bags. At one stage the plastic bags on the barbed wire were so thick it provided good shelter. These bags were a curse on the nation and they frequently harmed animals.

One of the most depressing aspects of our dependency on landfill was that very often some of the best land in the country was used as landfill where it was adjacent to large conurbations. I listen with terror to some of the suggestions for the opening-up of landfill in north County Dublin when one considers the extent and importance of horticulture in that region.

I understand the concerns expressed about incineration. The real problem with incinerators is not the health hazards but rather that they do not encourage people to minimise waste. It is too easy to keep creating waste if one believes it will all be burned. The dioxins from a well-maintained incinerator are far less than those from bonfires which, although illegal, are still very enthusiastically used by some people.

I am indebted to a lady from the Wicklow waste management facility who was speaking on the "Today with Pat Kenny" programme recently. She listed how the various forms of plastics can be reused. Some plastics have additives and others have nylon linings. These plastics are then almost impossible to recycle. Is the Minister in a position to encourage manufacturers to use recyclable plastic wherever possible? She pointed out that if yogurts were sold in glass rather than in plastic containers, they could be reused if returned to the shop. This might be a possibility because people have become very good at using the bring centres.

The Minister referred to the bring centres and they are a success. I cannot speak too highly of the two centres in Bath Avenue and Ringsend. This is the place where the chattering classes go on Saturday afternoons in Dublin 4, bringing along their bits and pieces. The centres are beautifully kept. I have never seen them in the state of other centres referred to by Senator Kitt where bottle banks are overflowing. My local centres have always been kept in perfect order and I compliment them.

It was a little depressing to read in the newspapers that all the tetra pack and plastic cartons which one had so carefully segregated were in fact re-mixed in some sites. If the public is being encouraged to segregate waste, then a great effort should be made to promote this new industry of recycling. It was interesting to hear how much of our plastic waste is exported to China where it can be made into other sorts of plastic materials, such as various types of cloth.

Polystyrene is a curse of a product. It does not appear to be possible to do anything with it. Is the Minister aware of any means to minimise its use? I acknowledge it is a very useful packaging material and it protects items from breakage. I suggest that bubble pack which is recyclable could be used instead. I ask the Minister to consider punitive taxes on the use of polystyrene. If one piece of polystyrene breaks, it goes everywhere and it is very difficult to clean up.

The Minister referred to the significant improvement in the reuse of construction and demolition materials. I recently had a small amount of work carried out at my home by a company who then informed me it was my responsibility to dispose of the bits of electrical wiring and plaster which were left over from their work. I had the impression that the customer is always in the wrong by the time I had finished discussing this with them. Is it the customer's responsibility to deal with leftover demolition products?

The Minister will be aware of my interest in the subject of the disposal of tyres, as I raised this matter on the Adjournment. I was depressed to hear Senator Bannon state that the only facility for dealing with these tyres has closed down due to lack of supply, which was previously discussed in this House. During that debate, I made the point that farmers in Northern Ireland must pay a fee to retain a certain number of tyres on their land for use over silage pits and so forth. Will the Minister consider this method? The fee is not excessive, approximately £250, but its use might mean that tyres are not dumped on farms.

The scandal of the dumping of electrical appliances in vast numbers in west Dublin should be examined. We must ensure that the national enforcement network has all the powers and manpower as well as money required to stop this practice.

I noted with interest the publication by a newspaper the other day of the names of those fined under the Litter Act. It is clear, given that several names cropped up several times, that more than a fine is required to get certain people to desist from their wilful ways.

It is vital that we deal with toxic waste because we cannot continue to move it around Europe or elsewhere. Hospital waste is another serious problem. It is disgraceful that it has ended up on illegal dumps. Anyone who produces toxic waste, including hospital waste, must ensure it is properly disposed of as it could seriously damage water courses. While disposing of waste in quarries appears to be an easy solution, it may affect water courses, as was the case in County Tipperary.

The Minister may have heard a doctor from the Irish Medical Organisation point out on radio this morning the serious problems which could arise due to uncollected rubbish being left on streets. They are primarily caused by rats attacking the rubbish which could lead to the development of problems such as Weil's disease. Infection can spread through rat bites or rat urine on products such as rubbish bags and bins and so forth. Rubbish collection should be paid for in view of the fact that we no longer pay rates but what does the Minister propose to do as regards those who refuse to pay?

Michael Brennan (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in seeking to fulfil his responsibility to find solutions to waste management issues. The Government has achieved a great deal since the 1998 policy statement, Waste Management: Changing Our Ways, all of it with all-party support and co-operation. Elected members reached consensus on every aspect of the waste management plans adopted by local authorities and the eight regional authorities. It is now the responsibility of the Minister to implement the wishes of the people.

Many of the objectives of the regional plans have been achieved and they are being reviewed by the relevant bodies. However, we do not have all the solutions. Thermal treatment, for example, has been mentioned in every regional plan, although the viability of having a thermal treatment plant in each region is open to question. Public authorities have commissioned consultants to produce reports at considerable cost. Having cost an arm and a leg the final reports have been the same. The Minister, in his wisdom, will have to review the current plans to determine the best national plan which will be acceptable to the public. I wish him well in his efforts, for which he has the full support of the Government parties.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss this important issue. I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on the progress he has made during his short period in office.

When considering waste management we must look back to the position from which we started. In the mid-1990s, less than a decade ago, waste became the final environmental issue to be subject to modern legislation and policy development. Until then, it had not been considered important. At that time, we relied on low cost, poorly managed landfills, had no recycling facilities or biological treatment of waste and public awareness of the consequences of our actions in the area of waste was low. One of the main changes during the short intervening period has been a large increase in public awareness.

We are moving rapidly towards having a small number of regulated landfills licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Some biological treatment and energy recovery also takes place and this is important. Contrary to comments made by previous speakers, recycling rates have increased from 9% in 1998, shortly after the Opposition parties left office, to 30% currently.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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That is wishful thinking.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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In the past two years the recycling rate has definitely exceeded 30%.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Has the Government developed markets for recycled products, 70% of which are exported?

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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Kerbside collection of recyclable materials is available to 40% of households, whereas no such collections were available in 1998. The Opposition calls on people to recycle but they must also be incentivised. The introduction of pay-by-use systems provide an incentive to recycle.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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There are no markets for recycled products.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps the most dramatic and noticeable development has been the high level of public awareness about the necessity of change. People understand the reason we are introducing waste management measures. Successive advertising and public information campaigns and initiatives such as the Green Flag for schools have generated environmental concerns, particularly among young people, whose future depends on our awareness of the environment.

Despite all the information provided and money spent in recent decades, 72% of our municipal waste continues to be sent to landfill. While the figure is falling — it declined by 4% in the past year — we must seek alternatives. As the Minister pointed out, we have invested in 1,800 bring banks and 60 civic amenity sites. I have experienced a major change in my constituency where the North Strand Road recycling centre was forced to restrict its opening hours because the queues of people trying to get to the centre were interfering with the lives of local residents and causing traffic jams on the road.

All these developments, the results of policies pursued in the past ten years, are paying significant dividends. We must plan ahead, however. The current policy objective is to achieve 40% recycling, 40% thermal treatment and 20% landfill. Even with thermal treatment, landfill will continue to be required because we cannot burn everything. I understand, for example, that 10% of waste must be disposed of in landfill facilities. One cannot argue that there is only one solution. All options must be used and we must have a comprehensive framework for waste management.

The regional waste management plans are proving to be highly successful and provide an integrated approach with set, monitored targets. They will provide for sustainable waste management infrastructure which is crucial because we must sustain changes in future.

I recall the previous Minister, Deputy Cullen, citing the fact that more dioxins are released into the atmosphere on Hallowe'en night than would be released in one year by the number of incinerators proposed.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is used to celebrating.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, an independent expert body, estimates that 60,000 tonnes of waste are burned each year in what it describes as "back yards", producing 18 g of dioxins. This was compared to a modern incinerator treating 1 million tonnes per annum, which would release 0.54 g. Despite the misinformation and the scaremongering, these are the facts. With a properly managed, highly controlled——

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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The Environmental Protection Agency has not one qualified health professional on its staff.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Brady without interruption.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Bannon is being ridiculous.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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Incineration is one part of an overall framework of measures. While studies can be quoted, I have first hand experience in this area. Senator Bannon will be aware that last year members of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government visited several thermal treatment facilities in Switzerland, including facilities for chemical waste. Many were sited in the middle of towns, providing alternate energy sources including heating and electricity. They were totally safe and accepted as such in the communities. As part of an overall framework, these facilities contribute to that country's image as a clean, modern and progressive state. We have no alternative to this policy. Any commentators——

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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What about the incinerator at Karlsrühe in Germany which closed shortly after councillors visited it?

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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The old incinerators are being closed to be modernised. The World Health Organisation, the Environmental Protection Agency——

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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That agency has no health professional on its board.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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——and the Food Safety Authority have all stated incineration is safe. UK authorities have gone further in stating no human health issues arise from modern incinerators.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Why are they being closed all over America?

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said, people have a personal responsibility in this area. The policies being followed are correct.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to the House and look forward to his summing up.

Over the years, this has been the most divisive issue discussed in the House. When debating waste management, we must acknowledge that we, as a people, are dirty and do not have a culture of looking after our waste properly. Three years ago, while on holiday, I wondered if, as an experiment, the community on the peninsula on which I was staying could look after its energy needs and dispose of its waste. Such an arrangement could be a model for communities in the future. To encourage such models, residents would be entitled to an appropriate tax break.

The biggest problem in dealing with waste is that people do not want to take responsibility for it. The biggest argument is always about in whose back yard the waste will be disposed. An honest debate on incinerators is needed. I agree with Senator Brady's comments. While I am no expert in the area, all I have read leads me to believe we must acknowledge the part incinerators have in waste management. Unless it is proved otherwise, incineration is cleaner than other methods of disposal. We were all raised with the back yard burning approach to getting rid of waste, which still happens. However, the most basic scientific studies show that this throws more dioxins into the atmosphere than an incinerator. I have argued this point with my Green colleagues.

Exporting thousands of tonnes of waste every year to China cannot continue. If people get excited and energised by the costs and waste of energy involved in importing kiwi fruits from New Zealand, they should be equally energised about Ireland sending its dirt to China to be dealt with there. That is not good practice for the future. Landfill is finished and we cannot continue to employ this method.

I agree with Senator Bannon that recycling is simply not happening. Every week in my house, the car is loaded up with materials to go from north County Dublin into a city bring centre, as there are not enough in my area. After Christmas, all the bottle banks were spilling their contents on to the road, as they were not emptied. This problem must be examined.

Waste management needs to be examined on an individual basis. Too much of the debate has taken place on a national and local level. I want the debate to take place on a household level. Every house needs a green bin but this is not happening. For example, there are no green bins in the Fingal County Council area, a council which I consider progressive. Every house must have a composter in the back garden, with large houses required to have heat driven turbo composters. Any user of a composter knows how impossible it is to fill them. I congratulate Fingal County Council on being the first to introduce the pay-by-volume bin collection system. One only pays when one puts one's bin out, a huge incentive for people to delay putting their bins out.

There is also a national public and governmental responsibility to keep our country clean. Some waste collections must be done. Will the Minister recognise that some people, such as the elderly, cannot afford to pay for waste collection, even on a volume basis? To resolve this, a national waiver scheme must be introduced to bring uniformity to the matter. I am sick and tired of hearing debates on the difference in collection charges between Fingal, South County Dublin, Kildare and Kerry County Councils. An element of conformity must be introduced.

We can learn much from young people on recycling. Every house should be required to have a green bin and a composter. The introduction of turbo composters should be examined. A real and unbiased debate, without spin, is needed on incinerators. I know of no country that has implemented an acceptable national waste disposal programme without including incineration. Can communities be incentivised through tax breaks to take responsibility for their waste? As long as a community looks after the waste from its nearest town, it will be understandably resentful. The bottle banks must be in clean, easily accessible locations with safe parking and must be emptied regularly. I have studied some newer models in other countries and much progress has been made in new approaches. Is it necessary for the bottles to be colour sorted between green, brown and clear? Colour sorting only slows the process. We should be proud that we were the first country in Europe to get rid of the plastic bag. It was an extraordinary move. People complied with the regulation, showing themselves to be flexible. That other countries have followed suit is a good sign.

Approximately ten years ago, one of the Minister's predecessors, who went on to become a famous, if not infamous, EU Commissioner, had the idea of ridding this country of drink cans, which is the next issue at which we must look. Over the past 20 years, I have seen how we have dealt with this issue. Friends of mine were involved in a huge campaign 15 years ago to get rid of CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons, emanating from pieces of plastic which were being used by all the fast food joints at that time. They are no longer used. We have moved on in many ways. Let us acknowledge that movement and keep moving forward. I wish this was a non-party political debate. We must all shoulder and share this responsibility and there are measures which could be taken.

Will the Minister take on board the idea of a community in a set geographical area, such as a peninsula, taking responsibility for its own waste disposal and energy requirements? The new 1.6 MW generators in west Kerry could look after all that area's electricity needs and, by my calculations, could even sell some. It would also be possible to have some type of waste disposal scheme. One could offer the residents of a community tax breaks if it looked after its energy requirements and its waste. That is worth thinking about. It is creative and is worth doing to see how it works.

Margaret Cox (Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted the Minister has been able to join us for this debate. I thank the Leader for arranging this discussion, for which we have been calling for the past couple of weeks. I am opposed to the concept of incineration as a method of reducing or getting rid of waste. That is a strongly held personal view. I was a member of the local authority in a city that introduced one of the first waste recycling schemes in the country, which has been hugely successful. The environmental progress report presented to Galway City Council last Monday evening stated that in 2004, Galway City County diverted, through recycling, 57.5% of waste. Some 10,431 tonnes of rubbish were diverted from landfill. In the past four years, the city has gone from one which sent everything to landfill to one which now recycles over 57% of its rubbish. There is composting, kerbside recycling and so on.

Cities, towns and county councils throughout the country are learning from, and investing in, various recycling projects. Not only are county and city councils introducing such initiatives but people are beginning to learn and to think about recycling, reduction and, increasingly, about reuse. That is what is needed. I know the Minister is open and I plead with him to give us a chance in respect of waste management and to consider a moratorium on introducing incineration as a method of getting rid of waste. I strongly suggest incineration is something we do not need. I will not engage in scaremongering that incineration kills everybody, dioxins will be emitted and we will all die from cancer. However, incineration emits more dioxins into the atmosphere.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That is completely untrue.

Margaret Cox (Fianna Fail)
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A municipal waste incinerator will emit dioxins. If we do not have a municipal waste incinerator, these dioxins will not be emitted. I am not saying dioxins will not be emitted by other methods of waste disposal but why introduce a technology into a country which is clean and green and which has not had this type of technology heretofore? Why introduce this technology when we can simply wait a number of years to ascertain whether we actually need it? The people in Galway have taken recycling to their hearts and have, against all the odds, been able to show the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government a success story that over 57% of waste in Galway is recycled.

We talk about the waste pyramid, reuse, recycling and reduction. In regard to reduction, there is the wonderful example of the plastic bag levy introduced by the Minister's Department and the former Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. People thought it was mad and would not work but Ireland is held up throughout Europe as an example of how one can actually do something successfully. It has been a most successful initiative. If we use our imagination, determination and the goodwill of the people, we can introduce other initiatives to reduce waste.

The Minister might consider the following example. When people go shopping in supermarkets, they buy many different products which are wrapped in cardboard boxes and plastic bags. One of my pet hates is that when one buys dishwasher tablets or tablets for the washing machine, they come individually wrapped in non-recyclable material and in a box which is generally wrapped in plastic. We should put a tax on such products because there is no need for those tablets to be individually wrapped. One manufacturer, from whom I try to buy, does not wrap these tablets, so it has reduced the amount of wrapping.

Toothpaste comes with wrapping around the top of it, so is there a need for it to come in a box with a plastic cover? Is there a need for all the extra wrapping on cereals? Should we say to manufacturers who want to sell their products in Ireland that they have a responsibility? We say to the manufacturers of fridges and computers that they must in-build recycling into their products as it is part of the EU directive. Why do we not say to the producers of everyday products to cut out the excess packaging? Why do we not put a tax on such products to act as a disincentive? Why do we not give manufacturers a year to look at their packaging to see what they can reduce and say that if they can do so satisfactorily, we will not have to introduce a tax?

The people have welcomed the concept of waste recycling, reuse and composting with open arms — we only have to see the green flags around towns, cities and in schools. Schools educate children who now understand the concept of recycling. Children take rubbish home from school and place it in recycling bags, or they certainly do in my house. We wash out yoghurt cartons, Coke bottles and plastic and recycle them; they do not go to landfill.

Without getting into the emotive arguments on incineration as a method of waste disposal, I plead with the Minister to look at the bigger picture, to see how successful we have been in trying to reduce the amount of waste and to say perhaps we do not need incinerators in Connacht, Ulster, Munster, Leinster or one large municipal incinerator in the centre of the country, to which waste will be transported. It is not fair to inflict that on any community.

Perhaps we can find other ways to achieve the targets set out in the EU directive while at the same time ensuring that we do not introduce a technology most people would prefer not to see. We have a chance to prove ourselves as we have done with the plastic bag levy and with recycling. As a nation, we will be delighted to take the opportunity to prove that those who think we cannot do it are wrong.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Roche, to the House to discuss this important issue. I am sure previous speakers have made some of the points I am about to make, but this is an opportune time for me to raise some matters.

The issue of illegal dumping is of particular interest to me. I attended a public meeting in Tullow, County Carlow, last weekend. A number of residents of that area asked me about the polluter pays principle. We all agree with the lofty and noble principle that those who are responsible for producing waste should foot the bill for its removal. Illegal dumping is getting out of control in many parts of the country, however. There is a considerable amount of State forestry in my local area and there has been a substantial increase in the level of illegal dumping in such wooded areas since Christmas. A great deal of the rise in such activity can be attributed to the dramatic increases in refuse collection charges in many local authority areas. This aspect of the matter has not been considered as part of the argument on the polluter pays principle. Something needs to be done as a matter of urgency to ensure that such activity, which is a blight on our landscape, is eradicated.

I am sure all Senators can name several places in their local areas where illegal dumping is a considerable problem. I do not suggest that it is an easy problem to solve, but certain actions can be taken. A national newspaper this week published a list of the names of organisations which have been fined for illegal dumping or littering. All local authorities need to take such action, sadly, to ensure that those who are convicted of illegal dumping are named and shamed, a phrase that has been used by Senator Leyden. That is the only way to ensure that the practice, which is having terrible effects on all parts of the country, including many scenic areas, can be stamped out as soon as possible.

During this debate on waste management, it is opportune to discuss the existing proposals for incinerators in various parts of the country. The projects have moved past the proposal stage in some places. The South-East Regional Authority has published a couple of reports on waste management. There are indications that incineration will be pursued, but I am not convinced it is the final solution to our waste problem. If we adopt that approach in every part of the country, we will remove a significant part of the incentive for people to reuse, recycle and reduce the waste they produce.

If incinerators are built in the various regions, I expect they will be managed by private companies in most cases. Such companies have a perfectly legitimate right to expect to earn a profit for what they do, but it is obvious they will be keen to burn as much waste as possible as part of the profit-making process. That is in direct contradiction of the policies of the Government and my party, which are keen to reduce the amount of waste being disposed of. It is difficult to square the two arguments. I urge the Government to show caution and restraint and to ensure all other options are exhausted before the option of incineration is pursued.

There has been a significant increase in recent years in the proportion of the waste produced in County Kilkenny that is recycled. Senators are aware there have been dramatic improvements throughout the country. In some cases, the percentage of waste that is recycled has increased from a base of 3% or 4%. The percentage of County Kilkenny's waste that is recycled has increased to 23% or 24% and continues to increase.

Many of the bring centres found throughout the country are unable to cope with the increase in recycling. While the Rehab Group and some other organisations are doing tremendous work, it seems that recycling is almost becoming a victim of its success in some parts of the country. The recycling bins used at bring centres are constantly full or overflowing. People often arrive at bring centres with cars full of segregated rubbish only to find that the recycling bins are full. They often leave bags of bottles and tin cans beside the bins, which is an open invitation to other unscrupulous people to dump bags of mixed household refuse in such locations. I encourage the operators of such centres to keep them in as good a condition as possible and to ensure that recycling bins are emptied often, so that people are not given an opportunity to engage in illegal dumping at such places.

I urge the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to bear in mind that any decision to pursue a policy of incineration would remove a significant part of the incentive, which has been developed successfully in recent years, to reduce the amount of waste produced by each household. I urge the Minister and the Department to think seriously about the matter before taking such a retrograde step.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Roche, and his officials. I welcome the significant progress that has been made in the relatively recent past. There was a time when bottle banks were the only recycling facilities available. We have started to adopt a policy of waste separation, which has been pursued in continental Europe for many years. I have experience of household waste management in a rural area — south Tipperary, where the waste collection service is operated by a private contractor — and in an urban area — Dún Laoghaire, where it is operated by the local authority.

I would like to the draw the Minister's attention to the unintended operation of financial incentives, an issue that was raised by Senator John Paul Phelan and others. The countryside cleaned up greatly when the plastic bag tax was introduced. My colleague, Senator White, has reminded me that the idea for that successful initiative emerged from a Fianna Fáil policy group. I regret that dumped bags full of rubbish are appearing on our roadsides to a greater extent in recent months than was previously the case.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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That is true.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that people who are not willing to pay refuse collection charges are putting their rubbish into their cars and dumping it at the side of the road. The Minister should review the matter with the local authorities. I endorse the "name and shame" notion mentioned by Senator Phelan. People who engage in the activity I have mentioned do not belong in jail, unless they are doing it on an industrial scale, but they should be prosecuted and fined because they are causing significant harm to the community. Lists of the names of people found guilty of this anti-social practice should be published from time to time, for example, in local newspapers.

I referred earlier to bottle banks. I have always wondered what one should do with blue bottles — I put them in the space reserved for green bottles.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator will be chased for that.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I am never quite sure whether that is the right thing to do. Similar facilities need to be put in place for food cans and plastics other than milk bottles. More work needs to be done in this regard.

I was in the Oireachtas Library before I came to the Chamber. I glanced through various publications which one would not normally buy, including An Phoblacht, which has devoted two pages to anti-bin protests.

Regardless of who promotes the campaign, be it the Socialist Workers Party, Sinn Féin or another party, it is entirely without merit. People can apply for waivers from their local authority if they cannot afford the cost of refuse collection.

There is nothing left-wing about this campaign. I understand that left-wing policies are supposed to be about community solidarity, for example. The idea that refuse collection costs should only be paid for out of general taxation is flawed because people would have no incentive whatsoever to reduce the amount of waste they produce. The campaign is without intellectual or ideological merit. It is an appeal to people's selfishness rather than to their sense of solidarity. The Minister showed great skill in dealing with some of the false ideological arguments in campaigns on European treaties and other matters and he should address this argument in a similar fashion. I am sure he is doing so to some extent.

The campaign represents the most tired form of politics I have ever seen.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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Twenty years ago, when tax rates, including those pertaining to VAT and income tax, were paid at a rate of approximately 35%, there might have been some merit in the argument against double taxation. However, given the reductions in tax rates in the interim, there is absolutely no merit in that argument.

On landfill and incineration, we sometimes talk as if landfill is an environmentally clean and desirable method of waste disposal. It is anything but that. In many respects, it is a filthy way of dealing with waste. I was once involved in an issue concerning an incinerator in Tipperary. The issue, which is no longer pertinent, involved a proposal to site a bonemeal incinerator in Rosegreen. I do not have an ideological stance on incineration but I took the view that Rosegreen was not the right location.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Not in the Senator's back yard.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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The incinerator would not have affected me one way or the other, that was not the issue. The proposed location was 30 miles away. Extreme care must be taken in determining the right location.

If one goes to the suburbs of Vienna in Austria, one will see an incinerator that has been there for years. It looks like an art deco object. I have lived in Austria from time to time and have not read or heard any complaints about it. Austria has an extremely environmentally clean image and attracts more tourists than practically any other country in Europe. Denmark has an agricultural industry and its butter competes with ours. There is no suggestion that its very modern incinerators pose a problem. Of course there were serious problems with some incinerators 20 or 30 years ago, but the technology has improved a good deal.

There is some merit in the argument that one needs to ensure there is not so much capacity that one creates a disincentive to better waste management practices. When planning, one needs to determine the overall capacity needed in the country as a whole and not go above that.

I used to be involved in energy policy when I was in the Department of Foreign Affairs. There was much talk about combined heat and power, which is very relevant in that the energy created in the disposal of waste can be used for heating purposes.

I was asked recently to raise a green flag at a school in Tipperary. The green flag scheme is excellent. This is an area in which the younger generation really is ahead of us.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I call on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. He has five minutes in which to conclude the debate.

1:00 pm

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I would need more than five minutes to deal with some of the myths that have been trotted out in the House today. I will deal only with the major ones.

No issue has been handled more dishonestly in political debate than incineration. It is simply dishonest for any politician, irrespective of where he or she comes from or the identity of his or her party, to suggest that we can somehow magically deal with the waste issue without talking about combined heat and power. It is simply dishonest because no country in Europe with a good environmental record has done so. It is also dishonest because the very councillors, Senators and Deputies who make the argument against combined heat and power would be the very first people to argue against landfill.

Senator Mansergh is absolutely correct in stating that landfill is a filthy way of dealing with our waste. Even if Senator Cox is correct that Galway City County diverted, through recycling, 57% of waste — that is a tremendous achievement by the people of Galway — 43% of waste still goes to landfill. I look forward to Senator Cox, or any other Senator, being the first to support me or somebody else if we say a landfill facility is to be created at a certain location. The same faces one will find to the fore in the dishonest debate on combined heat and power would also be to the fore in the debate against landfill.

I come from a county which has been defaced disgracefully by landfills, many of which have been established illegally. Landfill is the worst option, the last option. We should only contemplate putting inert material into landfill. The tragedy is that, because of political dishonesty, we are stuck with time bombs all over the countryside. We do not know the long-term consequences of dumping a large tonnage of waste into holes in the ground, but we do know that the lives of people who live near those dumps have been made a misery. I am acutely aware of this because of what is happening in my county. We also know that aquifers will be destroyed. If an aquifer is destroyed, it will take generations to cleanse it.

It is not just the Government parties that have made a positive contribution to this debate. In this regard, I must give credit to Fine Gael on its Plan for the Nation of January 2000. It reads, "We must open our minds to a future which involves incineration as an integral part of a waste management strategy". It also states that "properly located, operated and monitored high-temperature incineration can be consistently operated over very long periods with no significant pollution". That is a truthful statement. The 2001 Labour Party policy document on waste states the strategy would not rule out thermal treatment, that is, incineration, or residual waste after segregation. That is also a truthful statement. Any politician who suggests we can continue to operate blithely, as we are now doing, is not being straightforward.

Another issue that has arisen for debate in recent times, that of the national waiver, has not been dealt with particularly truthfully. It was almost dealt with disingenuously. In the history of local government in Ireland, there has never been a policy under which central Government took charge of waste from all over the country. It would be wrong for it to do so. Over the years, central Government has been accused, rightly and consistently, of far too much interference in local government. If there ever was a quintessentially local policy, it is that of dealing with waste. It is up to local authorities to determine how they should deal with the need for a mitigation of the cost of introducing a waste charge.

I agree with Senator Mansergh that there is an incredible amount of political dishonesty on the extreme left, such that it is suggested that waste can be magicked away. I expect more from politicians from more sensible political parties. Local authorities can, if they so wish, run their own bin services. Most of them have pulled out of doing so for all sorts of obvious reasons. Where they do run bin services, they can operate waiver systems.

I do not wish to focus on Senator Bannon's remarks in particular, but I must state that the Fine Gael and Labour Party group in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council recently introduced a new and very ingenious system of charging. It is one of the most complex systems but, ultimately, it will probably be adopted by many other local authorities. The council actually made a reduction in respect of the waiver system. A national politician in the Lower House, not from Senator Bannon's party, called for me to intervene when his colleagues in his council had actually made a reduction in respect of a waiver system. A little political honesty would go a long way in these debates. Even where local authorities are not the providers of services, for example, in Bray and Limerick, it is possible with a little ingenuity to introduce some form of local service or waiver that mitigates the consequences of our position.

Several contributions were based on common sense. Senator Brady made the point that backyard burning, which is a feature of life and has been for many years, produces large quantities of dioxins. By contrast, all the incinerators proposed or in place would probably contribute an infinitesimal amount to pollution.

Senator Henry made a very thoughtful contribution which deserves longer consideration than I can give it now. Along with Senators Brady and O'Toole, she said political honesty in the debate is necessary. People must stop exaggerating the reality and say if we do not go in one direction what is the alternative? The tragic reality we must face is that there is no zero waste option.

We have a responsibility to those who elect us and look to us for political leadership, which we demonstrated in the case of plastic bags. When we showed political leadership the people responded magnificently, as they are doing in regard to recycling. The people are more than capable of taking sane decisions on such issues. I wish to have a calmer, more structured and focused debate on these issues. Above all, I want more political honesty in our debates on this matter.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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On a point of order, the Minister did not deal with the health risks relating to incineration.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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That is not a point of order.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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He did not deal with it.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Minister would give the matter time if he could.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at2 p.m.