Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 [Dáil]: Second Stage
I am pleased to introduce the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 to the Seanad. I am introducing this Bill in order to provide for a number of legislative measures, many of which are technical amendments, to existing legislation. As indicated in its Title, the Bill makes a number of provisions, including legislation to enable Ireland to ratify the Aarhus Convention; amendments to the Air Pollution Act 1987; amendments to the Waste Management Acts; essential amendments to the Planning and Development Acts; and changes to the placenames provisions of the Local Government Act 2001.
The Bill, as I have indicated, deals with a broad variety of issues, some of a technical nature. There are 6 Parts in the Bill which contains 49 sections, and I would like to refer in some detail to the main provisions.
Part 1 of the Bill contains the standard preliminary and general sections. Part 2 will enable Ireland to ratify the Aarhus Convention, which lays down a set of basic rules to promote citizens involvement in environmental decision-making. Commitment is pledged in the programme for Government to complete ratification and Ireland is the only EU member state yet to do so. With the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development scheduled for 2012 and Ireland's Presidency of the European Union approaching in 2013, it is important that ratification takes place as soon as possible.
The Office of the Attorney General has advised that a number of legislative measures are required before ratification can take place. These relate in the main to the access to justice pillar of the convention. They involve a modification of the costs rules associated with environmental court cases and a change to the threshold that applies to judicial review proceedings involving planning matters.
Part 2 of the Bill, specifically section 3, sets out a new costs rule that will apply in certain environmental court cases. Under this new rule, each party to the proceedings will pay their own costs. However, if the applicant is granted the relief sought or if the defendant is found to have breached a provision of environmental law, the applicant may have all or some of his costs paid by the defendant. If the case involves notice parties, they may also be required to contribute to the applicant's costs if the court considers it appropriate.
Additional provisions to apply this costs rule to certain other sets of civil proceedings are also included in Part 2 of the Bill. Furthermore, Part 2 also provides for a new measure that will require the Judiciary to take judicial notice of the convention as a whole and to have regard to its provisions in relevant cases.
Part 3 of the Bill amends sections 12 and 14 of the Air Pollution Act 1987 to support enforcement activities. Section 9 of the Bill provides for an increase in the monetary penalties under the Air Pollution Act. The original fine amounts have not been increased since the Act was first signed into law. The increased fines will serve as a much more effective deterrent and promote prosecutions for serious offences.
The new monetary amounts for minor offences are aligned with the bands of fines provided for under the Fines Act 2010. This improved system of fines is more consistent and practical as the amounts can be periodically updated centrally by the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure that they retain their monetary value and consequent deterrent power.
Fines for conviction on indictment are being increased from £10,000 to €500,000, which is consistent with the maximum fine permitted for conviction on indictment in legislation providing for the transposition of EU directives, as provided for under Section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. This will bring the monetary penalties for breaches of the Air Pollution Act into line with monetary penalties for breaches of EU environmental legislation.
Section 10 of the Bill provides for the introduction of a system of graduated fixed payment notices, formerly known as on-the-spot fines, for certain offences under regulations made under the Air Pollution Act. Regulations under section 53 of the Act provide for a ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous or smoky coal in certain urban areas and also set a maximum limit of 0.7% for sulphur content in bituminous coal for residential use.
The success of the smoky coal ban is a good example of the positive effects environmental legislation can have on our health and quality of life. While the ban has largely been effective, I am aware from our partners in local government as well as from members of the industry representative organisation, the Solid Fuel Trade Group, of some difficulties in the enforcement of the ban. There is also some evidence of a drop in sales of smokeless fuel over the past four to five seasons, while sales of bituminous coal have held up or even increased.
My Department has consulted extensively with local authorities on how best to support the smoky coal ban and to safeguard and, where necessary, improve air quality in our urban areas. The amendments to the Air Pollution Act contained in this Bill are part of the outcome of this process. The introduction of fixed payment notices will help to protect air quality in our towns and cities by supporting the enforcement of the smoky coal ban by local authorities. I intend to consult on further supplementary measures to ensure the continued effectiveness of the ban in the near future.
Section 11 of the Bill further supports enforcement activities of local authority appointed authorised persons when carrying out their functions under the Air Pollution Act or any regulations made under it. In cases where an authorised person is obstructed, or reasonably expects to be met with obstruction, he or she may be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. This is consistent with existing measures in support of authorised persons under section 13 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992.
Part 4 of the Bill amends the Waste Management Act 1996 to allow for greater flexibility in setting the plastic bag levy rate and the landfill levy rate. While it is not my intention to increase the existing levy of 22 cent on plastic bags at this point, I will be keeping the matter of setting the levy at an appropriate rate under ongoing review. To ensure that the plastic bag levy can adapt to changes in the consumer usage of plastic bags, greater flexibility is required in the setting of the plastic bag levy.
At the current time, amendments to the rate of the levy are limited to changes in the consumer price index. The level of plastic bag usage can fluctuate and in order to provide an effective mechanism to respond to these changes, I am introducing section 12 of the Bill, which provides that the ceiling be set at an absolute limit of 70 cent. This limit is designed to allow for increases to the levy for a number of years.
Section 12 also provides the mechanism by which the levy rate may be increased. It will allow the application of the consumer price index and a discretionary application of not greater than 10% in any one year, provided that the absolute ceiling of 70 cent is not exceeded. Any amendment to the rate of the plastic bag levy will be for the purposes of the prevention of the generation of waste and the reduction of the use of plastic bags. The existing power to amend the rate of interest charged on unpaid levies is to be removed.
Ireland continues to be overly dependant on landfill. We are still sending over 60% of our municipal waste to landfill. I am determined to ensure that the landfill levy acts as an effective deterrent against recyclable waste being sent to landfill and contributes to meeting our landfill directive obligations. Subject to the enactment of this Bill, I intend that the landfill levy will rise to €50 per tonne from 1 September 2011, €65 per tonne from July 2012 and €75 per tonne from July 2013.
Section 13 will amend section 73 of the Waste Management Act 1996 by providing that the levy may be increased once in any given financial year, subject to a maximum increase of €50 per tonne. It also provides for an absolute limit on the levy of €120 per tonne. In addition, section 13 also inserts similar provisions in relation to interest charged on unpaid levies as is already provided for under the plastic bag levy, namely, that interest on late returns is liable on a daily basis.
Section 14 introduces legislation to support payments to international organisations from the environment fund. This will underpin in primary legislation such payments, which are currently made under regulation.
Part 5 deals with amendments to the planning Acts. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that the insertion of a new Part into the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is urgently required to provide essential technical amendments to the planning Acts. The amendments do not depart from the policy intent behind the amendments made by way of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010. The amendments will enable the commencement of certain provisions in the 2010 planning Act which further implement the environmental impact assessment directive and the birds and habitats directives. Certain amendments are required to settle EU complaints against Ireland and so must be urgently commenced to avoid incurring EC fines.
I wish to provide an overview of the planning amendments included in the new Part 5. Sections 15 and 16 are standard definition sections. Section 17 is a technical amendment which restates the amendment to section 4 of the 2000 planning Act made by way of section 5 of the 2010 planning Act with required transitional provisions now included.
Section 18 amends section 13 of the planning Acts on foot of the transfer of the heritage function to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and role of that Minister in varying developing plans. Section 19 is a consequential amendment to section 30 of the planning Acts on foot of technical revisions in this Bill to Part XAB of the planning Acts.
Section 20 amends section 50A of the planning Act to the effect that a court may now grant leave to apply for judicial review of planning applications, appeals, referrals and other matters where the applicant has a "sufficient interest" in the matter which is the subject of the application. Section 21 amends section 50B of the planning Acts which deals with legal costs in certain environmental matters. Sections 22, 23 and 24 are technical amendments to sections 57, 82 and 87 of the planning Acts to clarify that exemptions given in the planning regulations do not apply to works to a protected structure or proposed protected structure and, further, do not apply to works in architectural conservation areas or special planning control areas.
Sections 25, 26 and 27 provide technical amendments to sections 130, 135 and 153 of the planning Acts, respectively. Sections 28 and 29 provide technical amendments to sections 157 and 160 of the planning Acts. These new sections have the same policy intent as section 47 and 48 of the 2010 planning Act but provide clearer legal text.
Section 30 provides a technical amendment to section 170 of the planning Acts to correctly reference Part X of the planning Acts which relates to environmental impact assessment. Section 31 technically modifies the definition of 'candidate special protection area'.
Sections 32 to 36 are amendments to Part XAB of the planning Acts to reflect the transfer of responsibility for heritage functions to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Sections 37 to 40 technically amends sections 181A, 181B, 182A and 182C. Section 41 amends the Seventh Schedule to the planning Acts to clarify the type of health infrastructural development that should be sent directly to An Bord Pleanála under the strategic consent process. Section 42 provides for the repeal of certain sections of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 which required technical amendment through this Bill.
Part 6 deals with other miscellaneous provisions. The main elements are section 43 which provides for an amendment to the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act by the addition to the Schedule of section 16 of the Air Pollution Act 1987 which relates to the non-disclosure of information. This means that information obtained by a local authority in connection with its enforcement of the Air Pollution Act will be brought within the scope of the Freedom of Information Acts.
Section 44 amends the Local Government Act 1998 to allow payments from the local government fund to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to be expended on all public roads, national, regional and local, and in the provision of public transport infrastructure. Given the current difficulties in the national finances it is important that we make optimal use of the finite financial resources available to Government. In this context, the proposed amendment will allow the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport discretion in the allocation of local government fund moneys within his responsibilities for national and non-national roads and the provision of public transport infrastructure. This will permit the effective targeting of investment to those areas of transport infrastructure of highest national priority.
Section 45 is a technical amendment to section 70 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. In practice the EPA already produces a state of the environment report every four years and the amendment will place this practice on a statutory footing to ensure that the legislation is entirely consistent with Article 5 of the Aarhus Convention. Section 46 repeals section 62 of the Waste Management Act 1996, a section which has never been used. Section 47 is a technical savings and transitional section.
Section 48 of the Bill provides for the substitution of a revised and updated Part 18 of the Local Government Act 2001 for the existing Part 18 dealing with placename provisions. Other than section 197, the remaining provisions of the existing Part 18 have not been commenced due principally to the difficulty of local government law and the Official Languages Act 2003 working in harmony. In the absence of commencement, the Local Government Act 1946, as amended, provides the relevant statutory framework.
The new Part 18 will restate large elements of the existing code but with significant changes and some new provisions. In an effort to streamline the legislation, it will provide that the placename provisions are contained within one section, as opposed to four sections of the 2001 Act. Any proposal adopted by a local authority to change a placename must specify the proposed name in Irish only or in English and in Irish; there will be an explicit requirement that any plebiscite held must be by way of secret ballot; and all proposals will require a resolution adopted by half of the members of the council.
The incompatibility between local government law and the Official Languages Act has been brought into sharp focus through the long running controversy in respect of the name of An Daingean, or Dingle, and the amendment will also look to resolve that particular problem in section 191 of the new Part 18. As Senators might recall, the official name of Dingle was changed to An Daingean by the Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order of December 2004 made by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs under the Official Languages Act 2003.
As is well documented at this stage, the change in name has provoked a long running controversy with significant opposition locally based on a perceived lack of consultation prior to the making of the placenames order and the wish to preserve the name Dingle from a tourism perspective. A campaign was established to change the name of the town to Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis under the change of placename provisions of the Local Government Act 1946, as amended to which I referred earlier.
In September 2005, the Attorney General advised that the local government code may not be used to change the name of a place already subject to a placenames order, as in the case of An Daingean and this advice was notified to Kerry County Council which is the sponsoring authority for such a procedure under local government law. Notwithstanding the advice, the council proceeded to hold a plebiscite under the Local Government Act 1946, as amended, to ascertain whether the majority of qualified electors in the town consented to an application being made to the Government for an order to change the name of An Daingean to Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis. The proposal put to the electorate was carried overwhelmingly and Kerry County Council then resolved to apply to the Government to make an order under section 77 of the Local Government Act 1946 to change the name to Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis. However, in view of the earlier advice of the Attorney General, it was not possible to accede to the council's request.
Subsequent efforts by the previous Government to introduce legislation to deal with this issue were unsuccessful and I am, therefore, availing of the earliest possible legislative opportunity to undo the impact of the 2004 placenames order as it applies to An Daingean and to provide, in law, that the name of the town in the English language will be Dingle and in the Irish language will be Daingean Uí Chúis.
Of more general application, as I have already mentioned, the proposals before the House today provide a more coherent, modern and streamlined set of procedures for the changing of placenames. They allow for greater recognition to be given to the Irish language generally when placename changes are proposed and they set responsibility for this function at local level, where it should properly reside.
This Bill reflects the Government's intention to address at the earliest opportunity, a range of pressing issues within the remit of my Department. I want to make progress in a number of areas where uncertainty has too long prevailed. I am providing certainty in terms of the landfill and plastic bag levies, I am dealing with the ratification of the Aarhus Convention, and I am addressing the long-running issue of placenames.
I look forward to the co-operation of Senators in facilitating the passage of this Bill, to the contributions of Senators to the debate and I commend the Bill to the House.
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, who is present to take this important legislation which ties up many anomalies that may be contained within various pieces of legislation which come under his remit. While we on this side of the House always welcome any legislation that aims to serve the protection of our environment, there are a number of areas within the proposed Bill that are a cause of concern to us, and we will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. However, in the general context, we will not be opposing the Bill on Second Stage.
While I welcome the clarification provided by this Bill on certain aspects of environmental protection and on the direction being taken by the Department, there are some items I would question. The provisions to do with smoky coal in Part 3, as mentioned by the Minister, of the Bill are a cause of concern to us. It is not clear whether this would extend at some stage in the future to solid fuel such as turf, logs or peat or any other fuel that may be generated from within farmlands or agricultural lands and used for domestic purposes only. That must be clarified. In rural parts, including the west, due to the increase in oil prices, the vast majority of people are going back to the bog to cut turf to use for their own domestic supply. There must be absolute clarity in the legislation with regard to this issue so that there is no fear, now or in the future, that people will be penalised for burning or indeed selling logs, turf or peat within their own communities. Perhaps the Minister could clarify the position on that.
I would like to mention the proposed increase in landfill charges. I listened to the Minister describe where he is going with this Bill. We all support efforts to divert waste from landfill to more environmentally friendly methods of dealing with waste. Last year, 61% of municipal waste went to landfill, which is quite a high proportion. We also know that in many parts of the country efforts are not being made to divert some of that waste from landfill - particularly organic and biodegradable waste, which comprises about 30% overall - through the three-bin system. While the system has been established in certain parts of the country, it is the considered opinion that if it was in place in all parts of the country it could cut the amount of waste going to landfill by about 40%. Perhaps that is something the Minister could consider implementing in a more aggressive manner rather than imposing additional charges to try to bring in money for local authorities and the Department by the back door.
It is my understanding that about 24% or 25% of households have access to the three-bin system for treatment of biodegradable and organic waste. I am sure the Minister will agree that on a national level, every effort must be made to try to increase this to at least 50% or 60% over the next couple of years. If the service was available, people would avail of it. At the moment, however, the service is not available in many areas of the country, particularly in rural areas. The challenge for the Department is to try to make sure the service is available to all households, whether urban or rural.
The Minister said in his speech that the landfill charge would increase to €50 per tonne from September of this year, to €65 per tonne in July 2012 and to €75 in July 2013. In my own local authority area, the current landfill levy is €30 per tonne. I have spoken to waste collectors in my own county about this. It will be open to the Minister, if this legislation is passed, to impose the maximum levy of €120 per tonne at any time in the future. What that would mean, according to private waste collectors and officials within local authorities, is that the cost of bin collection could double from approximately €300 or €400 in certain parts of the country this year to €600 or €800. That is a burden that householders cannot afford. The path the Department should follow is to try to find alternative methods of treating waste, rather than penalising householders. It is not their fault we are trying to divert waste from landfill and that the facilities are not already in place, and they should not be penalised for that.
In many local authority areas, the capacity of landfill is reaching breaking point. Alternative methods of treating waste must be found. For example, in the north west, much of the waste is now leaving counties Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim and going further south. It is economically beneficial for waste collectors to do things that way because there is now competition among all county councils to provide the cheapest facilities to dispose of waste. We will be opposing the increase in the landfill charge because it will potentially push up the cost of waste collection for ordinary households which are currently finding it difficult to meet their increasing bills.
Something that is not addressed in this Bill, which was a surprise to us, is illegal dumping. This is a huge issue all over the country. Fly-tipping takes place in many different areas and it is no different in Donegal, with very many people, some of them coming from the North of Ireland for weekends, dumping their waste into the hedgerows. It is disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour and I am surprised the opportunity has not been taken to increase the fines for illegal dumping in this Bill.
The plastic bag levy - which was introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government back in 2001 or 2002, much to the discontent of a plastic bag manufacturer in my own constituency - is referred to in the Bill. In general terms, it has been hugely successful. I understand the revenue spin-off to the Exchequer was about €22.5 million back in 2007. The levy is working. We no longer see plastic bags in every hedgerow up and down the country. When the levy was introduced first it was 15 cent. It is now at 22 cent. However, to increase the tax to 70 cent per plastic bag in one fell swoop would be totally unacceptable.
The Department should be considering alternatives in conjunction with the retail sector. As in the United States, paper bags should be available at all retail stores so that we can move away from plastic bags. This measure is probably being used as a convenient way to collect money for the Exchequer but we cannot support it because of the effect on the ordinary households. Mothers who go out to buy the weekly shopping will perhaps have to buy a plastic bag or two because there is no alternative in the supermarket, yet the cost is being increased to 70 cent per bag.
The last issue to which I wish to refer is that of the transfer of responsibility for special protection areas, SPAs, to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I have no difficulty with that, but I do have a major difficulty with the manner in which the notifications for SPAs are being handled by the Department. Farmers have received letters advising them that their lands have been categorised as special protection areas, while other farmers, who are adjoining landowners and whose lands have been categorised as special protection areas, have not received such letters. While farmers are notified of such reclassification, individual farmers must be met, and we will press for this in an amendment to the Bill. A meeting must be held between Department officials and the farmers whose lands are being reclassified. The consequences of the reclassification of land as a special protection area are extreme for people with young families who may wish to build houses or even for a farmer in terms of crop rotation. If a farmer is rotating from a crop of turnips to grassland, he has to notify the Department and get permission to do that or to put in a road or put up fencing. It is an issue which is affecting many farmers in my parish and adjoining parishes.
I hope the Minister will see fit to arrange for a consultation meeting to be available to a farmer before such a letter is issued, as the detail tends to bamboozle the farmer who does not know the consequences of such reclassification. It is important that would happen. It may involve a minor cost to the State, but such a change involves a massive cost to landowners in terms of the land rights they lose under these draconian European Commission guidelines which are imposed on the country.
This is an important, wide-ranging environmental Bill. The waste management issue is a massive one facing the country. I welcome the many positive changes proposed in the Bill. They include the changes in waste management regulations; the provision of flexibility and a mechanism for a gradated approach to the plastic bag levy; a mechanism for changes in the landfill levy, amendments to penalties under air pollution legislation; changes in section 7 on thermal treatment enabling ratification of the Aarhus Convention; changes to the Freedom of information Act, to placenames and to the Planning and Development Acts, many of which are of a technical nature; and amendments to the Local Government Act to allow local authorities more freedom on the provision of money for public roads and public transport. The Bill is wide-ranging. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward all these changes and amendments in the environmental area in the short time he has been in office.
I wish to follow on up on what the previous speaker said about the plastic bag levy. It was introduced in 2002. The levy, which was 15 cent at that time, was a positive initiative and it had the effect of greatly reducing plastic bag litter throughout the country. Nobody could argue but that levies definitely work, especially the plastic bag levy. The levy was raised to 22 cent in 2007 and in line with the consumer price index and changes in monetary value over time, the proposed increase in the levy is correct. When the levy was introduced people took heed of it, but there has been some sliding back and people have started to use plastic bags again, which must be discouraged.
According to a study carried out by An Taisce and Irish Business Against Litter in 2009, there was a 21% increase in the number of areas that had no evidence of plastic bag litter in the year after the levy was introduced. However, there has been a gradual increase in the volume of plastic bag litter in the past few years. The Minister recognises that in the measure proposed in the legislation. It is important that we do not forget that the original rationale behind the introduction of the levy was to dissuade the public from the use of plastic bags. The revenue that accrues from the levy is a serious consideration. In 2008, €26 million was generated in revenue from the levy but revenue is not and should not be the primary aim of the levy. It is not a fund-raising but an educational measure. It is designed to hurt people where it hits them most, in their pockets, and to ensure that they do not throw plastic bags around willy nilly. The Minister has been proactive in the methodological way he is introducing the changes. It is not the case, as some speakers have said, that he is increasing the levy to 70 cent. He stated that the increase in the levy will be gradual, that it will be reviewed, that it will not be increased by more than 10% in any one year and that it will be linked to the consumer price index.
The proposed increase in the landfill levy was mentioned by previous speakers. Landfill is being overused as a means of waste management. The Minister said that the levy can be capped at €120 per tonne and can be increased by no more than €50 in any one year. That levy will generate revenue and obviously every penny counts but we must also ensure that we are compliant with waste regulations. We are overly dependent on the use of landfill. In the waste hierarchy complete prevention would be and should be the way to go. Previous Governments, and this Government in particular, have encouraged the use of the three r's, those of reduce, re-use and re-cycle, as the most desirable options. Advances have been made over the years in that respect and in educating the public, particularly school children. The extension of recycling facilities countrywide must be rolled out. I call on the Minister to ensure that will be done. He has promised to introduce a paper on waste energy in the near future.
In terms of the 3.2 million tonnes of municipal waste generated in Ireland, there has been only a 5% decrease of waste going to municipal landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 showed that 90% of municipal household waste went to landfill in 2000. This percentage was reduced to 61% in 2009. I acknowledge that while some inroads have been made in reducing the percentage of waste going to landfill, 61% of waste going to landfill in 2009 compares starkly to the position that obtains in the Netherlands and Sweden where only 1% of their municipal waste goes to landfill. That is the position towards which we are aiming but we have a long way to go. The Minister has to act to ensure that we are not fined to the hilt in terms of our waste going to landfill because we have targets to meet by 2013. How will we meet them? We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the waste will fly off into thin air, although some of it does. A speaker mentioned that litter is left on the side of our roads and that issue must be addressed.
There are arguments for and against thermal treatment of waste. The perception of thermal treatment here is not positive. The Minister has indicated the reason for omitting a levy for this in section 7. Incineration when it reaches the required threshold for energy recovery is deemed to be on the recovery tier of the waste hierarchy and can have favourable outcomes such as when it involves the recovery of heat generated by combustion for the provision of district heating facilities. That, hopefully, is eventually what will happen; we will have more district heating facilities such as those in Austria and other European countries. I am not advocating it but if it is a means to an end in reaching a target to ensuring waste does not go landfill, we cannot ignore it and there must be an education process around it. Similarly, it can be used to generate energy in the form of electricity. Therefore, it is not all negative.
I would like the Minister to indicate his plans to introduce a levy for thermal treatment of waste when such a system is up and running. He stated his reasoning for omitting a levy at this stage was to ensure that the measure dealt with by the previous Government would be based on an approach that the inclusion of levies would not give landfill an advantage over incineration or visa versa. The Minister has said that he will publish a discussion document for consultation to inform the finalisation of a new waste policy. The appropriate use of economic instruments such as levies may be considered as part of that process. I welcome that as I think it may be necessary fairly soon to reduce the possibility of abuse of over-reliance on incineration or thermal treatment; we must have a proper balance in the waste management matrix. The Minister has made the point previously that such a levy may be premature at present because the market has not established itself and I acknowledge that. It is probably the correct way to proceed at this time. I ask the Minister to keep it under review in terms of the waste hierarchy and waste regulations.
The Minister has stated that moving from the least desirable waste management option of landfill to options higher up the waste hierarchy is the way we should be proceeding at this point. I mentioned the plastic bag levy. We must also ensure there is a levy to deter manufactures from overpackaging of goods. I ask the Minister to comment on that.
I welcome the provision dealing with the primary legislation underpinning payments from the environment fund.
I welcome in particular the provision of changes to the Air Pollution Act 1987 by increasing the monetary penalties and for the introduction of a graduated fixed payment for breaches of the Act. This is much needed as currently penalties cannot be considered a sufficient deterrent to prevent air pollution. The maintenance of such low penalties would represent poor value for money as local authorities would be investing in court cases and ineffectual judicial proceedings and they would be reluctant to take enforcement action. Therefore I welcome this section.
Given the time constraints that apply I will not deal with the issue of non-smokeless coal. I will take up the issue on Committee Stage as there will be amendments on the packaging of non-smokeless coal. The changes to the freedom of information aspects are most welcome in the interests of transparency.
I welcome the Minister before the House, and to a large extent his proposals are also welcome. I was very much involved in the introduction of the plastic bag levy ten years ago and although I argued strongly against it, each argument was overcome. I am now an enthusiast for the measure. I am on the board of two international organisations in the supermarket business and spend my time arguing that every country should have a plastic bag levy. It has worked very well and I have no problem with the current cost of 22 cent. I had a problem when I believed there was a proposal to increase the levy to 70 cent but I understand the Minister's comments that this is a maximum cost so that the measure will not have to be put in legislation on a regular basis.
I remember when the levy was introduced there was talk of a switch to paper bags. The Minister of the time indicated if people switched there would be a tax on paper bags as well. I explained to people that the levy was part of an anti-litter campaign, the main motivation behind the legislation. I was interested in the fact that reusable paper bags could be considered for the levy. Washington DC has recently imposed a levy not just on plastic bags but on paper carrier bags also. I am not proposing such a measure but merely noting it. It follows successful legislation in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and more than 20 bag taxes have been proposed across American cities in the past year. A paper bag weighs approximately six times that of a plastic bag, is approximately four times as expensive and takes up to ten times the storage space.
Certain retailers, mainly clothes retailers, are now using more paper bags so could we incentivise the use of more sustainable means? I am not sure what that would entail and I could see a problem for a woman buying a new dress, as paying extra for the bag would not necessarily be the right action.
On the Poolbeg incinerator, I do not concur with the argument that we do not have a need for an incinerator, given that waste from Dublin is still sent to landfills around the country. We cannot have a scenario similar to the Dublin Port tunnel, which was too small when constructed and not future-proofed. It is my belief that hundreds of jobs will open up when work begins and there should be far more clarity from the Minister with regard to the market.
I will comment on the ever-growing electronic product waste problem. There is not adequate consideration in this Bill of electronic product waste, which will be a much greater issue in future years. An even greater boom in battery-powered devices is predicted in the coming years. We can consider electric cars as an example, which are anticipated to place an enormous strain on resources and, ultimately, recycling facilities. Competition for commodities and the need for better recycling infrastructure is only expected to grow in coming years.
Last month the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States announced a new grant of $2.5 million to help finance the creation of the first ever comprehensive inventory of electronic product waste output in that country. The project will co-operate directly with electronic manufacturers, who are happy to tally the units sold but are often less rigorous in reporting those returned for recycling. The announcement includes the first voluntary commitments made by major companies such as Dell and Sony to the American Environmental Protection Agency, and the aim is to promote the environmentally sound management of used electronics.
Mr. Michael Dell, the chairman and CEO of Dell, stated:
Last fiscal year, Dell diverted more than 150 million lbs of end-of-life electronics globally from landfills. We are now on our way to meeting our goal of recycling 1 billion lbs of electronic equipment by 2014.
Several such companies are assessing the viability of equipment lease and deposit schemes in an effort to encourage customers to return electronics directly to them at the end of their life cycles. It is a problem we have in this country. Should consumers return goods through the same channels in which they were bought? For example, should manufacturers be obliged to pick up used goods at Power City or Curry's? If they do not, is too much waste being put into landfill and are we playing a part in putting a burden on the planet? We must move on that issue.
What about the public sector and e-waste? It goes through millions of euro in electronic equipment each year and much is probably not recycled. By contrast, in the US the federal government aims to now be the US's most responsible user of electronics and lead by example. The billions of dollars in IT equipment the American Government cycles through annually will be either reused or recycled. Where is our own public sector's plan? What is our own Environmental Protection Agency doing in this rapidly expanding field? Would it not be wise to consider this issue more fully in the Bill?
Some experts believe that although collecting and recycling does not currently make economic sense for many materials, it is a shrewd long-term move to begin taking stock. Could Ireland see opportunity in this? Should we simply be dumping our old electronic waste on developing countries? For example, it is estimated that when e-waste is exported to the developing world, only around 25% of gold contained in mobile phones is reclaimed. I could not believe that gold would not be used. All the material could be reclaimed if the most advanced recycling technologies available were used. Are businesses fully exploiting the resources in waste, and how can we develop this sector to perhaps create jobs? I researched the use of gold in electronics and apparently it has been recycled in other countries. For example, recycled gold was partly used in the making of gold medals for the Olympics. How much money are we wasting by not properly recycling this gold and allowing it go to landfills? According to one source, Mr. Ruediger Kuehr, the PC sector has gold worth hundreds of millions of dollars being written off.
There are initiatives around the world and challenges remain. We have taken some steps today but we have not gone far enough. We must continue to work on the issue in the years ahead.
The Minister is very welcome to the Chamber. As somebody who came through the local authority route to the Houses, similar to the Minister, I know these issues are very relevant to councillors throughout the country and local authorities. I have a particular interest in landfill charges, in which I see a carrot and stick procedure. I spent 17 years with a local authority and in the beginning plastic bags were thrown everywhere and rubbish was dumped on the side of the road.
I was on a tour of Europe several years ago with Donegal County Council, and we visited many cities, particularly in Denmark and Germany, where the local heating systems run by waste were used as part of daily life. I do not know if we will ever get to the stage where the landfill can be bypassed and heat generators from waste provide energy and heating to homes. It is an ingenious system that has been in Europe for generations, so we can consider it for the future. Thermal waste disposal can be examined as we cannot continue to dump our waste in landfill. At some stage the amount of waste being generated, with the increasing global population, will be greater than can be managed. We are getting to that stage in Ireland now.
I welcome the provision for landfill charges in the legislation. Before the plastic bag levy was introduced I proposed it to Letterkenny town council. I had been on holidays in France, where it was normal for a levy to be charged on plastic bags.
At that stage, it might have been the equivalent of 2 cent or 3 cent. It has not increased by very much. The attitude in Europe seems to be different. Plastic bags are not generally handed out unless one asks for them. When I was on holidays in France recently, I noticed that people generally bring their own bags or boxes with them. They seem to have moved past the stage of plastic bags. It is only when people ask for them that they are produced.
Senator Ó Domhnaill said there seems to be an increase in the number of plastic bags in circulation. It had gone down. My theory is that the increase has been caused by supermarkets like Asda in Northern Ireland handing out plastic bags without any charge. Perhaps the Minister will discuss the matter with the authorities on the other side of the Border. I understand legislation has been, or is about to be, introduced to impose a levy on plastic bags in Northern Ireland. Having been there, I know that if one asks for 20 plastic bags, one will be handed 20 plastic bags. The plastic bags one sees in the hedges in counties like Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth probably come from Asda rather than Tesco. That could be the reason for the increase in the proliferation of plastic bags.
I welcome the change in local government funding that will allow the local government fund to be used for all roads and for public transport. From my experience with local authorities over the years, when they want to do work they are often told by the Department that they cannot do so. I am sure the Minister will appreciate the benefit that local authorities will derive from the extra latitude they are being given. If they have money to spend, they will be allowed to spend it. At least it will be there for that use.
On the question of placenames, I ask the Minister to consider a phenomenon I have encountered over the years. I refer to the names of local authority housing estates rather than the names of towns. The name given to an estate is generally changed six months after it is built. People who had an address like "1 New Houses, Letterkenny" or "1 The Cottages, Letterkenny" are asked by the local authority to adopt a different name six months later. The first name that was given to the estate is generally used for years afterwards. I know many estates in County Donegal - I am sure it happens in other areas of the country - where people say they live somewhere like "6 New Houses" even though their official address is something like "6 St. Colmcille's Avenue". Perhaps the Minister can consider making it mandatory for estates to be named before their local authority status commences. It is not the same as the "An Daingean" issue, which seems to be as confusing as trying to split the atom. I do not know how people got to this stage. It is not a matter for me, however. I am glad we do not have that issue in County Donegal. I welcome the changes being made by the Minister and fully support the legislation before the House.
It seems that every time a Minister comes to this House, he or she is announcing another U-turn in Fine Gael and Labour Party policy. Now that they feel they are safe in government, they are rearranging their objectives. It is ironic that in the last week of the Dáil before the summer break in July 2007, a Fine Gael Private Members' motion condemned incineration and called on the Government to intervene in the planning process in Dublin to stop an incinerator from being constructed there, and now it appears that the landfill levy will be increased. There may be objective arguments for that, but the reality is that the incinerator operators publicly lobbied for it in recent months, including during the general election campaign. In effect, this approach will mean the public has to pay more. Waste charges will increase fairly dramatically. The Cabinet will make its decision on local charges today. Everybody is paying this private charge separately. Everyone will probably have to pay more. In my view, the increase in the levy is another hammer blow to ordinary working people.
I wish to quote from an article about public lobbying by incinerator companies that was published in The Sunday Business Post in January 2011. In the article, a spokesman for a waste management firm, Indaver Ireland, said the company was not opposed to the introduction of an incineration levy and continued:
What the levies debate has not focused on sufficiently is landfills. The current levy on landfills is meaningless, and out of sync with Europe .... the levy is having zero effect. Even the landfill operators acknowledge the need for higher levies.
Those operators were not quoted in the article. The spokesman continued:
It's essential, too, if we are to incentivise proper waste infrastructure investment and avoid EU fines. We wait to see whether the government is serious about finally tackling landfills, but the vibes are not good .... The pending legislation offers the prospect of clarity on the policy front, and the general election may also help to clear the air.
It certainly has cleared the air on the issue because Fine Gael has come in and completely reversed all of its previous policies in this regard.
I am speaking about this issue because an incinerator is being built in my local area. I have publicly said the planning battle on that front is over, unfortunately, and we should learn to live with it. That is the right approach. We should make sure it is monitored properly by the EPA. It will provide local employment. I remind the House that it is proposed to develop another incineration facility in County Meath. That application is currently before An Bord Pleanála. I would like to refer to some of the statements Fine Gael made on incineration before the recent general election. The Minister will be interested to hear what Deputy McEntee, who is now a Minister of State, had to say. According to a Fine Gael press statement:
"The word 'incinerator' should not be in the vocabulary of the new Minister for the Environment, except when he's banning them", the Fine Gael TD for Meath East, Shane McEntee, has said. He called for a much greater emphasis on environmentally-friendly and people-friendly methods of waste disposal.
That summarises the type of campaign Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been running for almost 15 years, since Fianna Fáil went into government in 1997 after a Labour Party Minister had given the go-ahead for incineration.
The reality is that incinerators create much public disquiet in local areas. The jury is out on them, to some extent, in relation to health issues. Genuine fears are being expressed about health issues and incinerators. It has been proposed that an incinerator be developed at Nobber, County Meath, which is the home village of the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. The local GP is one of the foremost opponents of the proposal in Nobber. He has made a strong argument against it on health grounds. We should listen to the arguments of those who come from a medical background. The individual concerned is a reasonable person who does not try to scare people.
The Minister might argue that this is Fianna Fáil policy. The only Government I ever supported did its best to slow down and halt incineration. That is a fact. Fine Gael has come full circle since the start of 2007. Perhaps the Poolbeg incinerator was not as much of an issue as time went on. That could be why Fine Gael has done this U-turn. It is striking that it chose to make this issue the subject of one of its first Private Members' motions in the last Dáil. Like this Bill, that motion was considered in the last week before the summer break. Fine Gael made its policy absolutely clear at the time.
When Deputy Hannigan, who has done a great deal of good work in campaigning against incineration in County Meath, was a Member of the Seanad, he said it was not the case that people "secretly want" incineration. I think he had been accused of that. I firmly believe he is opposed to incineration. People have a genuine suspicion that when Opposition parties campaign on issues, they do not really believe what they are saying and they will not do anything about it when they are in government. We are not talking about Fine Gael having to implement policies that we originally put forward. We are talking about a party that campaigned to ban incineration - the Minister was involved in that campaign - facilitating incineration. It is not just a question of Fine Gael, which said the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would ban incineration, doing nothing - in fact, it is doing the reverse. There may be objective reasons for the approach being taken. I wish to make clear that I am not in any way suggesting the Minister is under the influence of Indaver Ireland or any incineration company. However, it is a fact that by adjusting the landfill levy, he is doing exactly what Indaver Ireland and other incineration companies publicly campaigned for. It will affect ordinary people. It is fair and reasonable for the Seanad to hold these promises to account. As I have said, hardly a week goes by without a complete U-turn on one of these promises. It is done without any shame.
I welcome this Bill, particularly section 48, which amends the Local Government Act 2001. The new section 191(1) of the 2001 Act will provide:
The townland, civil parish, electoral division and non-municipal town that, immediately before the commencement of this section, was known (pursuant to the Order of 2004) as An Daingean shall, from such commencement, be known, in the Irish language, as Daingean Uí Chúis and, in the English language, as Dingle.
I welcome the Minister to the House and, like the people of the great county of Kerry and everyone involved in tourism there, I thank him for this change. I would like to say it is timely, but it is long overdue. Regardless, he moved as quickly as he could. The name was to be amended some time ago under the previous Administration's Dublin mayoralty Bill, but that Bill lapsed and, thanks to the Minister, the Dingle provision has been included in this Bill, which the House will pass today. I express the gratitude of everyone in Dingle. When I visited it two weekends ago, this was the first question I was asked. I have received a number of telephone calls since from people who had heard about the Bill and were confused about whether the matter would need to be referred to the local authority, but such a referral is not envisaged. In the Minister's response, I am sure he will clarify that the matter will be in order.
As the House knows, this question was democratically decided by the people of that town in 2006 when a plebiscite was carried overwhelmingly. I also thank my colleague, Councillor Séamus Cosaí Fitzgerald of Dingle, who campaigned for a long time to have the people's wish for a plebiscite upheld. As the Members at the time will recall, former Senator O'Toole and I were often like a duet in the previous Seanad in seeking to have the confusion ended. Tourists could not recognise that the "An Daingean" on sign posts referred to Dingle. As we know, Dingle is an internationally renowned name, as is Killarney. While we are fond of Cill Airne and the Minister has made provision for the Irish language, we approve of his move to have both English and Irish placenames used in future changes.
As Dingle is an internationally known brand name, not having it on sign posts has led to considerable confusion. There are many stories of people travelling extra miles needlessly in trying to reach Dingle. It is good to know that maps, sign posts and so on will be put right and that both "Dingle" and "Daingean Uí Chúis" will be displayed. I recognise what the Minister has done. A victory for democracy, he has followed the plebiscite's decision and put matters right.
The Bill also addresses the issue of incineration, to which the previous speaker referred. We must face reality, in that we have no more space for landfills. Incineration is the way forward if we do not want to face increasing fines from Europe. I endorse the eminently sensible course being taken by the Minister.
Tá Sinn Féin go láidir ar son rud ar bith atá a chosnóidh comhshaol na tíre seo, agus teastaíonn breis cosanta chuige sin. Sin ráite, tá roinnt rudaí sa Bhille seo a chuireann beagáinín imní orainn agus ba mhaith liom iad sin a ardú. Measann muide go bhfuil an Bille seo ag cur brú ar ais arís ar an ghnáth duine agus gurb iadsan atá ag íoc as peacaí na daoine a rinne an scrios sa tír seo ó thaobh cúrsaí airgeadais de. Chomh maith le sin, measann muid nach bhfuil dóthain béime á chur ar na táirgeoirí, na hollmhargaí agus mar sin de agus go bhfuil sé mí-réasúnta go maith.
The Bill should be used as a mechanism to compel manufacturers and wholesalers to reduce the amount of waste they produce. I concur with Senator Keane on the amount of waste they produce. We should examine the matter in further detail and these businesses rather than the less well-off should have greater penalties applied to them in respect of the waste they create.
Sinn Féin is committed to the promotion of a zero waste strategy that rejects incineration. Contrary to Senator Byrne's remarks, we seem to be the only party in Leinster House taking this stance on incineration and ecological issues. Our policy is to keep landfill to a minimum, support waste reduction, reuse and recycling, close all unsafe landfill sites and carry out full remediation of contaminated sites that are not operating properly. We continue to oppose the environmentally destructive policy of incineration even if it is called thermal treatment.
Is cuma cén t-ainm a thugann duine air, cuir síoda ar ghabhar ach is gabhar i gcónaí é. We take a rights-based approach to the environment. Having a clean environment is a right that must be upheld to achieve a better quality of life.
The Bill represents a lost opportunity for the Minister to set progressive timeframed targets to minimise waste going to landfill. It introduces a provision to allow the Minister to set a plastic bag levy as high as 70 cent. This is not a good measure because it leaves too much leeway and will penalise people. We support a bag levy, something that our Sinn Féin colleagues in the Assembly have introduced, but 70 cent is high. The focus of the Bill is wrong, in that it hits the less well-off. This scandalous provision comes during a week in which we are investing a further €18 billion in the banks, much of which will be used to underpin unguaranteed bondholders.
This provision allows the Minister to claim he is doing something about waste reduction, but does it not matter that it will not do what it needs to do? The provision will have little impact on manufacturers and wholesalers who wrap their products in layer upon layer of plastic. The bag levy had a good effect on the behaviour of customers, but we need to see similar approaches to manufacturers and businesses to encourage them to change their behaviour and the way they do their business.
I was interested in the Minister's remark that much of the money to be collected through these measures will be used to improve roads. The Bill is a clever way of gathering revenue for local government to pay for necessary road works, but Sinn Féin believes certain moneys currently departing the Exchequer should instead be used for this purpose.
A major problem lies with the waste that is not in the system. Approximately 30% or 40% is not accounted for, yet it is visible on our roads and lanes. Senator Quinn referred to electronic waste. We do not seem to have the necessary infrastructure in place. In my area of Connemara, we have campaigned for ten to 15 years for a recycling centre. We are still waiting for those facilities, which means recycling is difficult. The Minister has a responsibility to legislate and regulate proactively to safeguard the air, rivers, lakes, wetlands, boglands, remaining forests, coastal zones and seas. This means actively tackling and combating illegal dumping as part of a range of environmental measures. I agree with other speakers in this respect.
Regarding the Dingle-An Daingean Uí Chúis issue, mar duine Ghaeltachta cuireann sé díomá orm ar bhealach go bhfuil an chéim seo glactha, go bhfuil muid ag lagú arís rud a bhaineann leis an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Senator Coghlan has welcomed the decision, but tourist numbers entering the Dingle Peninsula have not been affected in recent years by having "An Daingean" written on signs.
He is usually in good humour, even when we point out where is he wrong on particular issues. Generally, we welcome the Bill. There are 49 sections in it so I will be brief.
In Part 3 on air pollution, does that apply to people burning peat, turf and sticks in rural areas? That is what many of them depend on because of the price of fuel.
I understand the Minister's approach to providing for a 70 cent maximum for the plastic bag levy. I would not, however, agree that it should be increased from the present 22 cent. It has been a successful programme since it was introduced and has prevented plastic bag littering. In Cavan, the only plastic bags one sees now are from the North of Ireland. Legislation has been recently passed there to address the problem.
It is disappointing to see that 61% of municipal waste still goes to landfill. We should aim for 1% and anything that would help achieve this must be welcomed. I am concerned, however, that increases in charges will lead to more dumping in rural areas. More litter wardens should be employed to police illegal dumping from the money generated by the plastic bag levy.
The Minister said certain amendments were necessary to Part 5 to settle EU complaints against Ireland and that it must be urgently commenced to avoid incurring EU fines. What are those concerns? Sections 15 and 16 are standard definition sections. What are they? Section 46 repeals section 62 of the Waste Management Act 1996. What was that?
I welcome the fact that any proposed change to a placename must be put before the people by secret ballot and adopted by half of the total council membership.
Section 44 provides for an amendment to section 62(a) of the Local Government Act 1998, which allows the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to expend moneys from the local government fund on all public roads, national, regional or local, and on the provision of public transport infrastructure. I would like to see that money ring-fenced and regionalised because there is no rail infrastructure in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.
I also welcome the Minister. As a former distinguished Member of this House, he has a greater understanding and respect for the institution that the Seanad is despite proposals to get rid of us.
I assume the EU directives include the T90 test. Has there been any advance in the discussions the Minister had with members of Leitrim County Council and Oireachtas Members from the area?
Unlike Senator Wilson, I welcome the provision for future Ministers to be able to raise the plastic bag levy to 70 cent if they wish. I am not suggesting it be raised now but I remember when it first started. I call into the Liffey Valley shopping centre quite often and it was a microcosm of the real difficulties that arise with plastic bags. I remember talking to a staff member in Marks and Spencer who told me that prior to the introduction of the levy, the place was like a tip, with plastic bags everywhere, and in the immediate aftermath of the levy's introduction, the environment was pristine. Recently, however, old habits have started to creep back in. Has the Department monitored the effectiveness of the legislation and its impact? Are people getting used to it? Do stores charge for the bags or are they absorbing the cost? Is the levy still fit for purpose? Plastic bags are still being dumped illegally in rural areas.
Will the Minister look at the recyclable waste situation? Not all plastics can be recycled, although I cannot understand why not. As a result, there is a tendency in rural areas for people to burn non-recyclable plastics, which then causes air pollution.
A new technology will enter the lexicon, fracking. It relates to the extraction of gas from the Lough Allen basin in six counties. The information from Europe is that legislation is insufficient to address this new technology in terms of the adverse impact it could have on the environment. Does the Department have a role to play in legislating for this, even though it will fall under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for licensing? There is an absence of legislation in the European context.
I will bring the matter Senator Mooney has raised to the attention of my Department but I do not have a response at this stage.
Senators raised the increase in the landfill levy. The indication for the next three years will bring certainty to the market and eliminate the confusion that has existed for some time. It is appropriate to do so given the low level of gate fees at present. Landfill is the cheapest form of waste management but the least desirable. When Senators tell me they do not want one form of waste management, they are not giving me any other options so I must look at the transposition of the EU directive and the waste hierarchy in the context of future policy and whether we will have fines being imposed on us by the European Commission.
I have said we will divert as much waste as possible away from landfill but we must divert it somewhere else. We have not made as much progress as we would like in other forms of waste management but between now and the end of the year, I will bring forward a consultation process on waste policy where we will outline other policy propositions that will help us to reduce and recycle more material before it must go anywhere else.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the plastic bag levy. This measure contributes enormously to the reduction of litter and, notwithstanding the remarks of Senators from the Border areas, I have been in contact with the Minister for the Environment in the North, Alex Attwood, and he is anxious to progress the issue in Assembly so the playing pitch is level in Border counties. We will be glad to give any assistance we can in the matter.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also mentioned the special protection areas. The current Bill amends the definition of a candidate special protection area that was in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010. It referred to the habitats directive when it should have been the birds directive. It is a tidying up measure.
Senators also mentioned the provisions in section 10 relating to solid fuel. People were concerned that we were going to include turf, peat and wood, but they are exempt under this regulation. Therefore regulation 31 of Statutory Instrument 118 of 1998 is the reference for the exemption of turf. The regulations are primarily aimed at prohibiting the sale of bituminous coal, not other materials. Bags now have to be sealed in a particular prescribed way.
Senator Wilson asked about definitions concerning a new Part 4. That has been inserted in the Bill to provide essential technical amendments. Section 15 inserts a technical amendment which defines the Act of 2000 as meaning the Planning and Development Act 2000. The Act of 2006 means the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act of 2006. The Act of 2010 means the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act of 2010. They are the references to that.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. I am glad to take the earliest legislative opportunity to deal with that matter.
It was dealt with by the people in the past in Dingle.
Senator Harte mentioned the naming of estates. Local authorities can attach conditions to planning conditions regarding the appropriate naming of estates. They do not do so often, but they can do it. Many local authorities have naming committees comprising local people, officials and elected members. It is a matter that I would like to see dealt with at local level, rather than bringing in anything prescriptive. It can be done under the planning conditions, however, if people want to do that before the estate has been commenced or completed.
Senator Wilson also mentioned section 46, which deletes section 62 of the Waste Management Act. This section has not been used. Section 62 provides powers to the Minister to give effect to community acts on waste regulations. There is a risk that any such regulations might be open to legal challenge. As a clear-cut alternative for making regulations exists under the European Communities Act 1972, as amended, it is considered that the prudent approach would be to delete section 62 of the Waste Management Act and rely on the provisions of the 1972 European Communities Act. I know that is very clear to the Senator, as it is to me.
I will now turn to the EU complaint, reference C/21606. As a result of this case, retention permission for projects which require environmental impact assessment had to be removed. There was a court judgment in this matter and we had no option but to pursue what we had to do to comply with the Commission which is not friendly to Ireland at the moment. I inherited 31 infringement cases against Ireland by the European Court of Justice.
No, that is not the one. The T90 case is a separate issue about which I have met recently with officials of Leitrim County Council. To the best of our ability, we are pursuing a resolution to that matter, which is not confined to Leitrim but affects other areas of the country as well.
Senator Quinn mentioned electronic waste and its reuse. That matter will be addressed as part of the consultation on waste policy in the coming weeks. I look forward to Senator Quinn's contribution to that process at that time.
On Senator Byrne's contribution, the Government's primary aim in the development of a new waste policy is to ensure that we meet our obligations under EU law. I am sure the Senator would not want the Government to break the law. The most pressing challenge in this area is compliance with the limits set in the landfill directive for the volume of waste which can be sent to landfill. The targets are 2013 and 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency put Ireland at risk of missing these targets in the 2009 national waste report. We have to address alternatives to landfilling our waste. With the opening of Ireland's first municipal waste incinerator later this year in the Senator's constituency, it is clear that incineration will play some part in diverting waste from landfill. A range of other measures are also being taken into account in developing a sustainable waste policy. For example, the national waste prevention programme will continue to support businesses and the public in reducing the amount of waste produced, thus saving them money in the process. The roll-out of segregated collections will also help to ensure the diversion of waste from landfill to more productive uses, such as composting and anaerobic digestion. It is therefore not a question of being pro-incineration but of meeting our obligations under the law. There is nothing further I can say about that, but we cannot put our heads in the sand. It was the Senator's government that signed up to incineration.
Even before Mr. John Gormley became Minister for the Environment, the former Minister, Mr. Dick Roche, made sure that the Poolbeg project would go ahead and that Mr. Gormley could not do anything about it. I have an option. I can put my head in the sand, which I am not prepared to do, and expose the taxpayer to a €357 million breach of contract or fines imposed by the European Commission. I am not prepared to put more charges on ordinary people.
I will pursue whatever policies are required, at the cheapest possible option, to ensure that we have an effective waste policy. In addition, we must not expose the taxpayer, unwillingly or unnecessarily, to fines which have to be imposed in general taxation ultimately on the citizen.