Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Waste Management: Motion
That Seanad Éireann resolves that Statutory Instrument No. 24 of 2016 – Waste Management (Collection Permit) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 – be annulled.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Seán Kyne. Silim gurb é seo an chéad uair dúinn labhairt le chéile sa Teach seo. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis tar éis dó bheith ceaptha mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta. Is dócha go bhfuil sé ag déileáil le cúrsaí dramhaíola chomh maith céanna sa díospóireacht áirithe seo. Tá mé cinnte ón aithne atá agam air go ndéanfaidh sé a mhíle dícheall ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta agus tá mé ag súil go mbeidh cuid mhaith díospóireachta againn anseo ar na hábhair sin.
Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, is dócha gur tháinig an cheist seo chun solais i gceantair an iarthair - i gceantar na Gaillimhe, ach go háirithe - i bhfianaise an obair taighde an-mhaith a rinne Raidió na Gaeltachta maidir le cúrsaí dramhaíola. Tá a fhios againn gur thug an t-iar Aire, an Teachta Alan Kelly, isteach an ionstraim reachtúil seo nuair a bhí sé i mbun Aireachta chun athrú a dhéanamh ar an gcóras a bhaineann leis na ceadanna a fhaigheann na comhlachtaí bailithe bruscair ó thaobh bruscar a bhailiú. Is dócha gur tháinig sé seo isteach faoin radar nuair a raibh an oiread sin cainte ann faoi cé mbeadh nó nach mbeadh i Rialtas. Bhí daoine ag iarraidh an mbeadh Micheál nó aon duine eile ann, nó pé rud é. Murach gur thosaigh dreamanna cosúil le "Inis Aniar" ar Raidió na Gaeltachta ag déanamh fiosruithe faoi seo, agus gur thosaigh daoine sa phobal ag ardú ceisteanna, ní bheadh sé tagtha chun solais chomh mór go raibh an rud seo le bheith chomh éagórach.
Tá riar mhaith comhlachtaí príobháideacha ar fud na tíre ag plé le cúrsaí dramhaíola i bhfianaise socruithe a rinneadh roimhe seo príobháidiú a dhéanamh ar an gcóras agus an fheidhm sin a bhaint de na húdaráis áitiúla, rud nach mbeimid ar a son go huile is go hiomlán. Bhí sé beartaithe sa scéal seo go dtosófaí ag athrú an chórais. Is dócha gurb é an rud is fearr le déanamh ná sampla Chonamara a thabhairt. Bhí sé i gceist táille seasta a thabhairt isteach ag an dream a bhí ag fáil réidh leis an dramhaíl i gConamara. Tuigtear go raibh sé sin le bheith suas le €224 in áiteanna áirithe sula raibh bosca bruscair ar bith pioctha suas. Bhí éagóir breise ansin ó thaobh cúrsaí dramhaíola chomh maith - sé sin go mbeidís siúd atá ina gcónaí níos faide ón baile mór ag íoc níos mó mar tháille seasta. Léiríonn an phointe sin go raibh na táillí a bhí an chomhlacht áirithe seo ag iarraidh a bhaint de mhuintir Chonamara éagórach amach is amach. Ar an taobh eile, fuaireamar amach go bhfuil an chomhlacht céanna atá ag feidhmiú ar an taobh sin tíre ag cur seirbhís ar fáil i gContae Liatroma. Bhí muintir Liatroma ag fáil margadh i bhfad níos fearr agus fair play dóibh. Bhí táille seasta de €80 á bhaint de mhuintir Liatroma ar an tseirbhís ceannann céanna sular ardaíodh aon araid bhruscair. Tá sé an-deacair oibriú amach cén chaoi a bhféadfadh comhlacht an méid sin a bhaint amach i gContae Liatroma agus i bhfad níos mó - beagnach trí oiread an méid céanna - a bhaint amach i gConamara.
I am sorry to interrupt the Senator, but there does not seem to be any translation service. My Irish is reasonable, but I am having a little difficulty following the Senator. We should have the facility of a translation.
Tuigim an phointe atá déanta ag na Seanadóirí ó thaobh leagan Béarla a fháil. Ní dóigh liom go mbeadh sé ceart ná cóir dá mbéinn ag iompú ar an mBéarla agus Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta os mo chomhair, go háirithe nuair atá aistriúcháin ar fáil sa Teach.
Bhí mé ag déanamh comparáide idir chás Chonamara agus cás Contae Liatroma. Is é sin rud amháin a bhí i gceist. Chomh maith leis sin, bhí na táillí a bhí á mbaint amach ó thaobh an bosca bruscar glas, an bosca bruscar gorm agus an bosca bruscar dubh thar a bheith doiléir. Bhí sé deacair ar dhaoine éagsúla dul i dteagmháil leis na comhlachtaí. Ní raibh an córas áirithe a bhí i gceist i gConamara soiléir ó thaobh daoine a bhí úsáid málaí bruscair. Is é sin an sampla is mó a bhfuil eolas agam faoi. Tá daoine ann nach bailíonn mórán dramhaíola. Bhíodar ag úsáid córas málaí bruscair. Cheannódh siad málaí sa siopa áitiúil ar luach an mhála de réir mar a bhí málaí ag teastáil uathu. Ní raibh a leithéid d'fhéidearthacht le bheith ann faoin leagan amach nua a bhí le teacht i bhfeidhm - bhí ar dhaoine málaí a cheannach díreach ón gcomhlacht agus riar mhaith málaí a cheannach le chéile ag an am céanna. Cinéal bulk buying ón gcomhlacht a bhí i gceist, rud a chosnódh i bhfad níos mó airgid oraibh. Bhí ceisteanna eile ag daoine chomh maith maidir leis an bunachar sonraí agus an t-eolas a bhí na comhlachtaí éagsúla ag iarraidh a bhaint de dhaoine. Cá raibh an t-eolas agus na sonraí pearsanta a bhí á lorg an an gcomhlacht príobháideach seo, nuair a bhí daoine ag clárú, ag dul? Cén cumhacht a bhí acu an t-eolas sin a roinnt agus mar sin de? Nílim ag rá go raibh tada as bealach á dhéanamh acu, ach ní raibh sé soiléir céard a bheadh ag tarlú sa chomhthéacs áirithe sin.
Ar ndóigh, tá sé ráite ag riar mhaith daoine trasna an Tí agus sna meáin go raibh an córas a bhí le cur i bhfeidhm éagórach go huile is go hiomlán ar theaghlaigh, go háirithe teaghlaigh ina bhfuil páistí óga, a bhíonn ag úsáid clúidíní agus mar sin de, iontu. Bheadh níos mó costais orthu ós rud é go mbeadh an t-ábhar a bheidís ag cur sna málaí bruscair níos troime. Tá sé an-deacair feiceáil cén buntáiste a bheadh i gceist faoin scéim seo le athchúrsáil nó athúsáid a dhéanamh, nó do chuid bhruscair a laghdú ar an gcéad dul síos. Dá bhrí sin, bhí sé deacair dúinn i Sinn Féin feiceáil cén buntáiste ar chor ar bith a bhí ag baint leis an gcóras nua seo agus cén chaoi a raibh an tAire sásta cead a thabhairt do na comhlachtaí príobháideacha an rud seo a chur i bhfeighil. Thugamar faoi deara go raibh an ionstraim reachtúil áirithe seo i gceist agus go raibh sé de cheart ag an Seanad í a tharraingt siar taobh istigh de mhéid áirithe laethanta ina mbeimid inár suí. Táimid ag iarraidh go dtarraingeofaí siar an ionstraim reachtúil seo. Nuair a bhí a leithéid á phlé againn ar an Déardaoin seo caite, ba léir go raibh daoine ó pháirtithe éagsúla ag tacú leis na moltaí a bhí á gcur chun cinn againn agus go raibh an imní céanna orthu faoin mhéid a bhí beartaithe. Dar leis na meáin, ní raibh sé i gceist ag an Aire bualadh leis na comhlachtaí dramhaíola go dtí am éigin an tseachtain seo, ach chomh luath agus a chuala sé go raibh an rún seo curtha chun cinn againn, bhí cruinniú aige leis na comhlachtaí. Tháinig siad ar mholtaí thar an deireadh seachtaine agus is cosúil go bhfuil na comhlachtaí dramhaíola ag brú na moltaí seo chun cinn.
Ní fheiceann muide i Sinn Féin cén fáth gurb iad na comhlachtaí dramhaíola atá ag casadh an phoirt agus gurb é an tAire atá ag damhsa de réir an phoirt sin. Tá an tAire i gceannas. Is léir go bhfuil an córas a bhí molta ina phraiseach agus nach bhfuil leath dóthain machnamh déanta faoi.Is léir go dtéann sé siar freisin go dtí aimsir an iar-Aire, Phil Hogan. De réir na tuairiscí a chuala mé ar chláracha raidió, bhí plé idir Phil Hogan agus na comhlachtaí dramhaíola tamaillín siar maidir leis an gcineál córais a bheadh i bhfeidhm - sé sin, an mbeadh iomaíocht taobh istigh den mhargadh i gceist nó an mbeadh iomaíocht le haghaidh tairiscintí, ina mbeadh comhlacht amháin buacach agus ina dhiaidh sin ag feidhmiú mar sórt soláthróir sna ceantracha éagsúla, i gceist. Is léir ní hamháin go raibh lámh Phil Hogan sa rud seo ar fad, ach freisin go raibh an Teachta Kelly sásta an rud a chur i bhfeidhm le linn a thréimhse mar Aire.
Ag an bpointe seo, táimid ag iarraidh go dtarraingeofaí siar an ionstraim reachtúil seo. Sílim gurb é sin an rud ceart le déanamh. Ní ghlacann muid le an méid atá á rá go poiblí ag an Aire, ná ag Fianna Fáil ach go háirithe, maidir leis na moltaí atá á gcur chun cinn ó thaobh na ceiste seo. Níl i gceist i bplean an Rialtais ach an scéal seo a bhrú ar aghaidh agus an chaora a chur thar abhainn. Tá siad ag iarraidh an fhadhb a fhágáil ag duine éigin eile. Tá an Rialtas ag tabhairt cineál "hospital pass" don Aire, an Teachta Naughten, ó thaobh cúrsaí dramhaíola. Tá siad ag loic ar an dualgas atá orthu déileáil leis an bhfadhb seo agus ag tabhairt mí-ádh dóibh siúd a gcaithfidh déileáil leis bliain síos an bóthar. Táimid ag rá nár chóir é a bhrú síos an bóthar ar an mbonn go bhfuil deis againn anois an ionstraim reachtúil seo a tharraingt siar taobh istigh de mhéid áirithe de laethanta. Má rachfaimid chun tosaigh leis an bplean atá curtha chun cinn, ní bheidh an chumhacht sin ag an Seanad. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go ndéanfaí é seo anois.
D'ardaigh mé an cheist seo Dé Céadaoin seo caite, agus bhí mé an-sásta an lá dár gcionn nuair a d'aontaigh ceannaire Fhianna Fáil sa Teach seo, an Seanadóir Ardagh, go bunúsach leis an méid a bhí le rá agam. Bhí mhaith liom an méid a dúirt sí ar an Déardaoin a mheabhrú do dhaoine:
The policy change agreed by the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, to pay by weight could result in charges increasing from €200 to €400 per year. This is unrealistic and completely unfair.
Dúirt sí níos déanaí:
People are being faced with a double whammy of standard fees being increased under the pay-by-weight system, which will add extra costs.
Dúirt sí beagáinín eile ina dhiaidh sin:
The Government must listen to the concerns and must not keep ignoring the problem in the hope it will go away, as it will not. I call on the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House to explain what actions he intends to take to address this problem and to address the exorbitant bin charges that are being sold to Members as climate change measures. Personally, I do not buy that.
Ba léir dom ar an maidin sin go raibh Fianna Fáil ar bord leis na moltaí a bhí á ndéanamh againn agus gur aontaigh siad le mórán de na rudaí a bhí á rá againn. Bhéinn ag súil inniu go mbeidh Fianna Fáil sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don mholadh atá againn an ionstraim reachtúil seo a tharraingt siar.
Tá sé seo fíorthábhachtach ar fad ó thaobh pobal na hÉireann. Nuair a théann an tAire Stáit siar go Chonamara, tuigfidh sé go maith go bhfuil daoine ar buile faoin gcostas atá ag baint leis na táillí seo agus na costais eile atá ag titim orthu. Is é sin bun agus barr an scéal seo. Tá daoine bánaithe le roinnt bliana anuas de bharr na beartais déine atá tugtha isteach ag na Rialtais roimhe seo. Tá an Rialtas seo ag leanacht leis sin. Tá daoine ag rá liom go bhfuil sé deacair orthu an muirear teaghlaigh a íoc. Tá costais brúite orthu ó thaobh cúrsaí uisce. Tá an méid airgid ina gcuid pócaí laghdaithe go mór. Tá cuid mhaith daoine a bhí ag obair dífhostaithe nó ar uaireanta laghdaithe anois, agus ag brath ar íocaíochtaí leasa shóisialaigh. Creideann siad nach bhfuil anseo ach cáin bhreise - cáin bhruscair - atá curtha anuas orthu ag an Rialtas. Is féidir a rá nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag baint amach an cáin seo go díreach, ach ní mór a rá go bhfuil an Rialtas ag tabhairt deiseanna d'áisíneachtaí príobháideacha a lámha a chur i bpócaí an phobail agus airgead a tharraingt amach astu. Nil sé sin ceart ná cóir. Tá ceist eile faoi seo. Cá bhfuil an t-airgead breise-----
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Tógfaidh sé nóiméad amháin an phointe seo a dhéanamh. Cá bhfuil an t-airgead ar fad ag dul? Má tá an chomhlacht atá i gConamara anois chun a chuid táillí a chur suas thart ar 200%, cá rachfaidh an t-airgead breise sin? An bhfuil aon chuid de ag teacht ar ais chuig an Státchóras? Cá bhfuil sé i gceist go rachfaidh an t-airgead sin?
Ba mhaith liom a rá mar fhocal scoir go bhfuil mé an-sásta go bhfuil an deis seo faighte againn díriú ar an gceist áirithe seo. Is í seo an chéad uair go bhfuil Gnó Comhaltaí Príobháideacha curtha chun cinn ag Sinn Féin sa Seanad. Is féidir linn beart a dhéanamh de réir briathar anocht. Is féidir linn deireadh a chur leis an gcostas seo anocht. Táimid ag impí ar Fhianna Fáil seasamh leis an bpobal agus le Sinn Féin agus an táille seo a stopadh. Tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh Fine Gael agus na Neamhspleáigh ar bord linn chomh maith céanna. Fágfaidh mé an t-urlár anois ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Mac Lochlainn, atá ag cuidiú liom.
I second the motion. In the past few weeks there has been public discourse after it emerged that many of the waste collection companies would double or treble the cost of waste disposal services. That did not come from nowhere; it did not come from left field. Let us remember that the legislation was deferred for an entire year. I would have thought, therefore, that the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, over the heads of his senior departmental officials, would have brought in representatives of the waste management companies and local authorities and said the following to them:
This is what we intend to do and these are the objectives. We are doing really well in the case of dry recyclables. We are doing well in recycling plastic, paper and cardboard. We are doing a really good job because years ago the necessary infrastructure was put in place, but we are not doing well in the case of organic waste. We are also not doing well in recycling food waste, garden cuttings and clippings and need to do a lot better. We need you to roll out a three bin system. In Dublin, for a certain type of recycling service, the bins are green, but in Donegal they are blue. The brown bins take organic waste; the black bins take whatever is left and their contents must go to landfill.
It has been a legal requirement for over one year, where one lives in a town with a population of over 1,500, to ensure one's waste is separated. One must ensure organic waste is put in a brown bin, that dry recyclables are put in a blue or a green bin and that the rest of the waste is put in a black bin. Tens of thousands of families have yet to see a brown bin. They cannot, therefore, comply with the law, even if they wanted to and most of them want to do so. In a week's time people who live in a town with a population of over 500 must comply with the legislation. Can one imagine the number of towns that will now join the list? Can one imagine the tens of thousands of households who are supposed to comply with the legislation but cannot do so?
Today the bin provider in my part of County Donegal received an inquiry. A member of staff said that not only could they not give a date when brown bins would be delivered but that they would not do so as the company did not have the capacity to do so. The infrastructure is not in place in the county to make such provision. In one week the new legislation will come into force, but not a single brown bin has been delivered in County Donegal. The council was then contacted and a member of its staff said: "We have people on leave, out sick, etc. and cannot oversee it." That shows that there is no oversight and regulation of waste companies in the State.
Many good citizens may be listening to this debate, or perhaps they have better things to do, but those listening may think to themselves: "I recycle plastic, paper and cardboard, so I am a good citizen." Despite this, significant amounts of recyclables are incinerated in waste energy plants instead of being recycled. There are big questions marks in that regard.
What is the level of oversight? If a local authority does not have oversight of waste management companies and they have no inclination to implement the law the Government is insisting on bringing forward, the entire initiative is a farce. That is why Sinn Féin has tabled the motion to have the statutory instrument annulled. We want the secondary legislation to give effect to the changes to be annulled and withdrawn and to go back to the drawing board. In so doing one would avoid the last minute panic in bringing in representatives of the waste management companies to ask them to freeze the charges for one year. I do not want the Minister to paper over the cracks.The Minister must negotiate properly, which will mean speaking to departmental officials, managers of county councils and directors of services in local authorities. He must also tell the waste companies what they must do. If this is done properly, it would have the potential to increase recycling rates, which currently stand at between 40% and 50%. We can do better than that by minimising the amount of waste going to landfill and being incinerated. Those who came before us set this process in motion. They pursued laudable objectives but were failed by a lethargic Department and lethargic Ministers.
One would have expected the Fianna Fáil Party to embrace the motion on the basis that it is common sense and to have called on the Government to go back to the drawing board. I read the Fianna Fáil amendment on the Order Paper and agree with most of it. However, the party has decided that the new politics in the Houses will be that its motions will be passed with the collusion of the Government and the Government's agenda will be passed with the collusion of Fianna Fáil. However, God forbid that a Bill or motion is tabled by any other part of the Opposition because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will vote it down. What we have is new politics for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the same old politics for Sinn Féin and everybody else.
Fianna Fáil councillors across the State are wringing their hands and telling people this is terrible but there is nothing they can do about this awful and unfair mess. However, when a motion is tabled and the Seanad is in a position to exercise one of the few powers that would make it relevant, capture the imagination of citizens and act in their interests, it transpires that we will not be able to get this motion over the line because Fianna Fáil has done another deal with Fine Gael. If, as expected, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael unite again to vote down a sensible Opposition proposal that would have us go back to the drawing board for the reasons I have outlined, the Minister will have to tell householders in County Donegal and elsewhere who live in urban conglomerations with a population exceeding 500 what they should do with their organic waste. How will he ensure they have the brown bins they need to separate their waste? Will he ensure they are not punished under the legislation introduced by his Department, which provides that inspectors may inspect bins to ensure waste has been separated and may issue fines to householders who do not comply with the law? Will he amend those elements of the relevant statutory instrument?
This issue is a complete mess. Why do households in some parts of the State pay between €5 and €7 to have a bin of recycled waste collected, while in others collection of the green bin is free of charge? Why are recyclable products being incinerated when people believe they are being recycled? The Minister knows he should have withdrawn the statutory instrument. We have another case of last minute panic as he seeks to sort out the issue. If the motion is voted down, the Minister better tell the tens of thousands of families who do not have a brown bin and do not have equality of access to recycling infrastructure how he proposes to resolve the problem. If this "Fianna Gael" Government is to do another deal as part of its new politics, the Minister must address this issue and reassure the people who are following this debate.
I welcome the Minister. I know he has been closely engaged with this issue since long before the recent events highlighted by the Opposition and others.
We need to examine how we behave and manage waste. The starting point was our unsustainable dependence on landfill. This has left many local authorities with major legacy issues, with which many Senators will be familiar. We are still paying the price for unsustainable practices in waste management. As a result of the various initiatives, including the green schools programme, we need only ask our children what the solution to our waste problem is. Reduce, reuse, recycle and compost is how we will divert waste from landfill. However, we must also have in place a formal system that will allow us to manage waste in a responsible manner. We cannot afford to continue our dependence on landfill because it is unsustainable, costly and bad for the environment.
Waste collection systems have been introduced nationwide. As a former member of a local authority for eight years, I recall when change was first proposed in the area of waste management. When we introduced recycling and charges, Sinn Féin engaged in populist opposition to the changes. We are elected to be responsible. We cannot be populist all the time and while people have legitimate concerns about waste charges, Sinn Féin is not offering any solutions. It engages in rhetoric that appeals to emotions and exploits distress without offering solutions. Over time, people will see through this.
I support the Minister in his endeavours, especially his efforts in recent days to engage with the stakeholders and the waste management industry. As we know, this is not about increasing charges but about changing the behaviour of householders in terms of how they manage their waste by encouraging and incentivising a reduction in waste going to landfill. Ultimately, this will be good for all of us, including future generations.
I remember trying to adopt waste management plans and introducing the first recycling bags in County Waterford, which I represented on the council. We introduced what I considered to be a fairly small charge. Even then, we faced major opposition from Sinn Féin because there was resistance to change. In the interim, it has been demonstrated that recycling, for which we charged initially, has been extremely successful.
I do not hear Sinn Féin acknowledging the significant progress made by local authorities in diverting waste from landfill. This success and progress should be acknowledged. Instead, the party acts opportunistically by jumping on people's fears and concerns and hyping up the issue to change it into something else. I am entitled to hold that opinion.
Statistics show that in 2011, when the most recent survey was carried out, 46% of households were paying a flat fee, 34% were paying for either a tag or on a per-lift basis and 20% were on the pay-by-weight charging system. Studies have shown that the introduction of a pay-by-weight system would mean the diversion of more than 450,000 tonnes of waste from landfill every year. That is the nub of the issue. The Minister's engagement with the waste companies and commitment to introduce a dual pricing policy will help communicate and raise awareness of how to change behaviour to divert waste from landfill. If we are all being honest, we must ask whether we compost waste at home and engage in all of the actions we advocate in the Oireachtas. The home is where waste management starts, which leads be back to schoolchildren and how they could teach us all a lesson or two on sustainability, waste management and caring for the environment.
Hysteria is being stoked about something that is not an issue. A regulation is being introduced in accordance with the polluter-pays principle, with which, as has been shown by the support for the waste collection systems introduced ten or 15 years ago in the face of significant opposition from Sinn Féin, most people agree. The diversion of waste from landfill works. I urge politicians to behave responsibly and lead the way, as children are doing in schools, on sustainability and waste management.
As I stated, the fundamental issue is the polluter-pays principle which incentivises and encourages people to reduce the waste being placed in bins and transported to landfill. The pay-by-weight system is a means of achieving this and gives people more control over their waste costs. Those who try to manage their waste in a positive and progressive manner will find their charges will fall because they will send less waste to landfill. This will, in turn, reduce the costs to the State arising from landfill management and remediation costs. We are building up a legacy for the future. Perhaps the Minister will clarify how many millions have been spent in the past ten or 20 years on remediating landfill sites. A number of such sites have been remediated in my local area at substantial cost. While some have been turned into beautiful amenities, all of this has come at a cost to the Exchequer and taxpayers. If we do not manage waste, we will ultimately pay the cost in any event.Ultimately, we are paying for it if we do not manage it and that is a fact. The taxpayer will pay the price, ultimately. There are also many private landfill sites around the country which must be managed and remediated. We have a long way to go in dealing with the legacy we were left with terms of bad practice and bad waste management over many years.
Another issue that must be reviewed is that of franchise bidding versus side-by-side kerb side collections. In the larger urban areas numerous competing bin-collection companies are operating in the same areas which is causing frustration for householders. A review took place under the regulatory impact analysis of 2012 which recommended that we continue with the existing system. However, the next 12 months will provide an opportunity to review that system again to see if there is a more efficient and better way of doing things through franchise bidding in the market.
I reiterate that it was never the Government's intention to increase charges to householders. We all have a responsibility to be honest and open with the public. We are supposed to show the way so rather than creating hysteria we should be communicating, as the Minister is proposing, what the proposed system can bring in terms of benefits for householders if they manage their waste and reduce the amount going to landfill, thus reducing the cost. The open market can function by competing for household waste business which should also drive down the cost.
It is very important that we acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made in the last ten to 15 years in recycling and the diversion of waste from landfill sites. We have advanced very significantly and that should be acknowledged by the Opposition.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Fianna Fáil supports the replacement of flat-rate bin charges with pay-by-weight bin charges for households. This will reduce residual waste going to landfills, give householders more control over their waste costs and reward those who recycle. However, we acknowledge that the implementation of the new charging regime has been highly problematic due to the opacity and lack of transparency of the new pricing models.
Fianna Fáil welcomes the price freeze for customers for the next 12 months, based on current pricing plans. During the second half of 2016, the waste industry will engage in an intensive public awareness, information and promotion campaign to promote the benefits of the pay-by-weight charging model, supporting customers in understanding how they can change their waste management behaviour and better manage their waste costs. No later than 1 January 2017, customers will receive a dual pricing plan detailing the costs under the current model and the pay-by-weight model of disposing of the waste they generate and be given the opportunity to switch to the pay-by-weight system. This is very productive and will give householders the chance to ensure that they pay less for household waste disposal. Following the 12 month transition period, a review will take place which will inform decisions regarding arrangements from 1 July 2017, including the requirement for comprehensive billing information on the pay-by-weight system, through amendments to the relevant statutory instrument. It is intended to keep the operation of the price freeze under review, with further legislative interventions to be considered if necessary. The waste industry has made a commitment to providing a weight allowance to 60,000 HSE patients supplied with incontinence wear in order to reduce their waste charges and the Government has agreed to a 50% reduction in the landfill levy on waste companies in respect of such waste.
Fianna Fáil calls on the Minister to introduce a waiver scheme for low-income households, those with special needs, larger households and those with babies which could be negatively affected by the new charging structure. This is a very important issue for Fianna Fáil and for those who have attended our clinics and argued that the new system will be unfair to them. Fianna Fáil also calls for a mechanism to be put in place to ensure that apartment dwellers and those who cannot store wheelie bins are provided with a fair pricing system. We also need to examine the issue of bags because we were told that from 1 July this year bin bags would no longer be collected. The Government must introduce measures to increase the diversion of food and compostable waste from landfill and to encourage the reuse and recycling of green waste. Such measures could include ministerial orders compelling waste collectors to provide separate compostable waste bins to areas that do not currently have them and to enable householders to recycle glass in their green waste bins.
Sinn Féin never comes up with answers. Its members are always saying that we should get rid of this or that. We must move forward and give the people ---
There has been a lack of information and a growing sense of fear and frustration among families with regard to these charges. I understand that. There has been a complete failure of communication on the part of the Department and the providers regarding the new charging structure. The issues of information and regulation must be addressed. Fianna Fáil is committed to promoting awareness of the value of recycling through education and information campaigns urging householders to reduce, reuse and recycle. That should be the motto for every household because such behaviour will enable consumers to save money and reduce their bills.
This motion is about value for money and making sure that the most vulnerable in our society are not paying more, but less for the disposal of their household waste. Fianna Fáil wants to ensure that by next year, every family is paying less for waste collection. We must encourage everyone to reduce, reuse and recycle.
On a point of information, some of what I will say in response to the debate might assuage some of the concerns that have been expressed so far and may impact on Senators' contributions afterwards. It is up to Members to decide but I can respond at the end of the debate or do so now.
I welcome the Minister to the House. This is an important debate and I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion before us today. That motion calls for the annulment of a statutory instrument, to be specific. There has been a lot of wandering off during this debate onto other issues on the Order Paper, previous debates and debates that we may have in the coming days. As I said a number of days ago, I am absolutely in favour of waste and water charges. We need to be clear about this. I was first elected to the council in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in 1999 and because of political posturing on all sides of the fence, by all parties and none, we have never seriously tackled the issue and been advocates for the polluter pays principle. That principle is critically important. There have been many arguments for and against it but the reality is that we must pay for both waste and water. Today's debate is about waste.
Again, I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion before us.I have been far too long in local government to know that every time a representative of Sinn Féin speaks, everyone else stands up and opposes him. That is simply not democracy. We keep talking about a new type of politics but there is no new politics. There is simply a new reality: people have to do business and be civil with everyone. That is the reality. We can dress it up as new politics and I hope there is an opportunity to be part of new politics but I am not convinced about the buzzword or phrase "new politics". It is simply the new reality.
I wish to put three points to the Minister. It is important to have a fair national pay-by-weight collection system. That is simple. It must be in line with the "polluter pays" principle. It must be based on fairness and the ability and capacity of people to pay. It must have regard for people who cannot pay and who may need a generous waiver scheme.
Today, I have tried to think how to encapsulate in one sentence what I believe people want, or what the people who have contacted my office say they want, and I am going to attempt to say it in one sentence. The Government's objective should be to secure a reasonable, free and fair allowance per person for waste and a fair unit price for any excess. I have not heard too many people talk about that. There should be a reasonable free element and then payment for any excess above that.
I thank Senator Boyhan for giving me part of his time. I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his new job. I wish to say in preface that, as I said on the Order of Business yesterday, the biggest mistake of all was privatisation. It is complete and utter nonsense. The waste business should be controlled by the city authorities. There is no reason for it to be hired out to these peculiar and rather squalid operations. I remember them operating like the Mafia, burning out competitor lorries and so on. It is absolutely disgraceful.
I do not understand the rationale behind it.
Let us look at the whole business of privatisation. Senator Boyhan says he does not mind paying. I do not mind paying for things either. We pay for water through the water tax. We pay for bins through the bin tax. We pay for roads through the car tax. Then we have the property tax. Hello. What is the property tax for? If we pay for everything else, why are we paying property tax? People's homes should be sacrosanct.
Anyway, the real reason I have stood up today relates to a letter I sent to the Minister. I am unsure whether he has even caught sight of it. I sent it approximately one month ago and I also sent a copy to Andrew Rae of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. I raised questions about a proposed merger between Panda and Greenstar. This raises serious questions and I welcome the opportunity to put them on the record of the House.
I have ten questions for the Minister. Is the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission satisfied that in this matter competition rules have been appropriately enforced? Is it true that Panda required and was given detailed operational information by Greenstar? Was the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission informed of this? Has the commission, as a result, audited company e-mails and records? That is an important point. I believe certain things would be revealed if there were such an audit and I call on the Minister to indicate to the House whether such an audit has taken place or will take place.
If this merger goes ahead, Panda will control the Dublin waste stream with the three biggest waste transfer stations in Dublin, namely: Greenstar, Millennium Park, north Dublin; Panda, Ballymount, west Dublin; and Greenstar, Bray, covering south Dublin and Bray, County Wicklow.
Waste is an asset, a point not fully understood outside the industry. Control of the disposal depots for sorting, recycling and bulking up for onward disposal after recycling means all small operations have to pay the waste in-take price. All kinds of waste, including domestic waste, will be set by Panda. Does this not constitute a monopoly?
In addition, I understand that Panda has an agreement to supply the Dublin incinerator with 400,000 tonnes of a 600,000 tonnes annual requirement, thereby allowing Panda to set the price to incinerator operators over time and, therefore, to set the price for the taxpayer. A Greenstar Panda merger will mean the firm will have a monopoly on this waste stream. Without a Greenstar Panda merger there is open competition for waste contracts and the waste stream to supply it. This would drive down the price to European waste disposal levels. Is this a matter of concern to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission? Panda will control over 90% of domestic waste customers in the Dún Laoghaire area after the proposed merger. It has been told that it will have to sell a portion of these customers. Should Greenstar not have been required to sell the customers under supervision? Were data protection regulations taken into consideration during the process?
The new charging mechanism for green bins has recently been signed into law allowing for charging by weight, etc. Does market research not show that with the new rules waste volumes will drop by 25% initially due to consumer over-reaction to a perceived higher charge? Then, as consumers get used to the charges, they will readjust and volumes will recover over a short period. Waste companies will price in the reduction in volume to recover their losses in volume and increase their margin but they will not readjust as volumes recover. In practice, the real cost of waste disposal to the consumer is set to increase significantly. Is it not true that in acquiring Greenstar, Panda will also gain 30% of the Cork market and 40% of the south-east market, making it the biggest waste operator in the country with an ability to crush its competition, as many of the waste collectors are small and unable to sustain a major competitor?
Finally, in assessing the size of the merged entity, I understand that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission took into consideration or included the Kildare and Wicklow regions as well as parts of Westmeath and Louth, i.e., all of the surrounding counties. Does this not dilute the real picture, as the analysis should have been done on the Dublin boroughs?
On a point of order, would you not agree, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that it would be fair for the leaders of the six groups to be allowed to speak before the Minister comes in? You have allowed four groups in, but there are two more speakers.
I wish to continue on the point Senator Norris was making. It is an important point given the industry we are talking about. It is a scandalous industry, because of the privatisation which happened throughout the country with the active support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In fairness, that is their ideology and it always has been. It has been a disaster.
I call on the Minister to recall the dispute with Greyhound only two years ago. There were 14 weeks of strikes. Workers were sacked unceremoniously. It was all because the company was trying to impose pay cuts. What we have seen in the waste industry in recent years - since privatisation - is a race to the bottom in terms and conditions in order to reduce costs. This has resulted in squeezing workers at the very margins. I have heard people from Fine Gael talk about the waste industry but I have yet to hear anyone from Fine Gael ever talk about workers' rights. Is that ever going to happen? It is probably not going to happen because, to be fair, it is not on the Fine Gael agenda.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for a joint labour committee to be set up in this sector. Of course, in reality it should be brought back into public ownership, as Senator Norris has pointed out. However, if we cannot achieve that because it is against Fine Gael ideology, then at least the Government should set up decent standards for the industry. Again, it is nothing we will ever hear about from Fine Gael. Having said that, I invite the Minister, if he so wishes, to make an announcement of support for a joint labour committee. All Members would welcome it, but somehow I think that is unlikely. It is a scandalous industry, an industry with terms and conditions that have been destroyed. There is no permanency of tenure, appalling rates of pay and poverty wages.
I will return to the key point. We had an opportunity to actually make a difference. Let us consider the phrase "new politics". There is new politics for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in that they are now joined at the hip, and I congratulate them on it. However, it is a case of old politics for the rest of us. We could have made a real difference today to struggling working families by annulling the statutory instrument.We could have legislative change that would have protected hard-pressed working families. Unfortunately, our colleagues in Fianna Fáil chose not to do that. Instead, they came up with a long-winded piece of waffle which kicks the can down the road and enables waste companies to have a fresh cut at upping charges in 12 months’ time. Fianna Fáil decided to duck legislative change and swap it instead for a wish list which has no legal enforcement. We know the proposed hikes in charges were wrong and this is what the bin companies planned to do. Does anyone seriously believe they will not make this move again at the first available opportunity?
Fianna Fáil in particular had a choice today. It could have stood with the people or with the Government. It chose the latter, however. We are all the poorer in this Chamber for that lack of courage in facing the Government down on this issue.
We had a chance to demonstrate the real relevance of this Chamber by standing together and annulling this statutory instrument. Fianna Fáil, however, would not do so. In fact, Fianna Fáil has some cheek sitting on the Opposition side of this Chamber. Two weeks into this term, we can see Fianna Fáil is joined at the hip with Fine Gael. It seems to have adopted the words of Madonna, “True blue, baby, I love you”.
Did the Senators not read it? At this point, our Fianna Fáil colleagues look bluer than Boris Johnson. While it is a huge disappointment that Fianna Fáil has stood with the bin companies, it is hardly a surprise. After all, that is what right-wing parties do.
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Fine Gael does not have the courage to stand against the private waste companies. Today, we can see neither does Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin wants to annul the statutory instrument and then have a wider debate on this issue with a public model of waste collection introduced which delivers an effective public service to all the citizens of the State. We have a chance to make a start on this today. Unfortunately, beyond the hot air and rhetoric of Fianna Fáil, beyond all the concern we heard about this issue last Thursday, it has decided to side with the Government, its new allies, Fianna Gael.
I think it might be helpful if I made a contribution in the middle of the debate. I am staying to the end and will listen to what Members have to say. It may influence what some Members say if they hear the Government’s perspective and build on some of the matters referred to by Senator Coffey. I also want to clarify some of the issues raised because they are not valid concerns. They might be held in an honest manner but I would like to address some of them.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue about the roll-out of brown bins. The requirement to roll out the provision of brown bins to households in urban areas is dealt with under a separate regulation, not the statutory instrument Sinn Féin is seeking to annul today.
The European Union (Household Food Waste and Bio-Waste) Regulations 2015 require waste collectors to provide brown bins on a phased basis in areas designated for brown bin collection. If waste collectors fail to provide such a bin service in a designated area, the regulation can and will be enforced by local authorities. Whether the statutory instrument is annulled today, it will make no difference to the issue of brown bins raised by Sinn Féin. We need to talk about the facts.
Senator David Norris raised the State’s role regarding waste collection companies. It is around assessing permit applications. Mergers between companies are not a matter for local authorities or for me. The consequence of a merger may well impact on waste collection but this is a competition and mergers issue. There has yet to be any decision or ruling from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission on the proposed merger raised by the Senator. Perhaps he raised a genuine issue but I have confidence that the commission will look at these issues and rule in time. I certainly cannot intervene in that process.
Senators should be aware that SI No. 24/2016, which Sinn Féin is proposing to annul, does not simply deal with the introduction of mandatory pay-by-weight charging but includes a range of other vital provisions and reforms for household waste collection, permitting and requirements. There are serious consequences to annulling this statutory instrument, for whatever reason. The provisions include the application of fixed-penalty notices or on-the-spot fines for specific breaches of waste collection permits for household waste collectors. Do Senators believe it is in the interest of waste collectors that we would annul this regulation? They would probably be happy if we did. The provisions also include the automatic review of waste collection permits for specific offences, such as not weighing waste or not making the weight available to householders. A review may conclude with amending or revoking the permit. Again, this is trying to ensure that, if people in the waste industry are stepping out of line, there is a response to it.
This regulation is about enforcing the rules and ensuring there is a level playing field for everybody. These are the facts around waste, rather than the emotion.
There is also a provision around the automatic review of waste collection permits for three contraventions of specific permit conditions within a five-year period, where the review may conclude with amending or revoking the permit. Again, this is about enforcement of the rules and ensuring there is no cowboy approach towards waste collection. That is what this statutory instrument does, as well as the introduction of pay-by-weight.
What I said was that the requirement to roll out the provision of brown bins to households in urban areas is dealt with under separate regulations, namely, the European Union (Household Food Waste and Bio-waste) Regulations 2015. It has nothing to do with the collection-----
What the Senator is talking about is the obligation to collect and the obligations surrounding the separation of waste. I am not talking about that. What the Senator has said concerns the obligation that households get brown bins in the first place-----
Of course the regulation that we are talking about today, and which the Senator proposes to annul, relates to the separation of waste. Nobody is disagreeing with that. What I am talking about is households getting a brown bin in the first place and rolling out that provision, so can the Senator please accept that is a separate regulation. The Senator does not want to do that-----
People are talking about new politics and they are being cynical about it. People have raised issues which I accept are raised genuinely. I am seeking to give accurate answers, but the Senator does not want to hear them. That is what is happening.
I am raising the points that if one chooses to annul this statutory instrument, there are consequences to that, and the consequences are that one essentially annuls a whole series of rules that actually hold waste operators to account and ensure that there is a level playing field to ensure that the kind of cowboy behaviour about which some of the Senators are concerned does not happen. If we make a choice to annul this statutory instrument, we will actually facilitate operators that want to break the rules and we will not be able to hold them to account. That is the point I am making, and it is a valid point. I am not misleading anybody.
Regarding the issue of pay by weight, about which people and all parties and Independents have raised genuine concerns, whether members of the Anti-Austerity Alliance, members of People Before Profit, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party, Labour, whoever-----
Yes, Fine Gael too, absolutely. Last week I answered questions in the Dáil regarding the concerns that were understandably building over the introduction on a mandatory basis of a switch-over to a new charging structure requiring pay by weight, which links back to a statutory instrument that was introduced last January for all the right reasons, in an effort to try to encourage the shift-over for about 80% of people who have bins collected and who are not yet on a pay-by-weight pricing model. Most of those would not have seen a change in their pricing structure at all under this switch. For what it is worth, most people, as far as I have heard from them, who have switched to a pay-by-weight model in the last number of years do not want to switch back. They see the benefits of it. They have been encouraged to adopt, and have willingly adopted, a different approach to waste management that involves separation at source in the home and the use of three different bins. I accept what Senator Mac Lochlainn has been saying. In some parts of the country brown bins are not available, and we need to ensure that we correct that before people are required to separate their waste. What I have done is change the approach, because many people have protested about genuine concerns over the fact that they may be forced-----
Let us not get too precious here. We have responded to the genuine concerns that we heard last week as a Government. People from all parties and none asked me to engage with the industry and ensure that no household would be ripped off as we try to move to a pay-by-weight charging structure. That is exactly what I did. Last Friday, the day after those questions were raised, we met the waste industry for at least three hours. I had a very direct discussion with them. I told them that under no circumstances would the Government allow a situation whereby households would be mandated to switch over to a new charging system that would result in dramatic increases for many households. It would not happen, and it has not happened, and people are talking in this debate as if it will happen. It will not. What is now happening is that there is an acceptance by Government that we are not prepared to make the transition on a mandatory basis to a charging structure based on pay by weight. Some companies are clearly seeking to hike up charges during the confusion and the change of structure and were pointing to the Government as requiring them to do that. I made it very clear that was not acceptable.
What we now have, therefore, is an agreement and a deal with the industry that there will be no increases in waste fees or charges for the next 12 months. During that time, for the first six months we will focus on raising awareness, education and promotion of why it is good to consider switching to pay by weight, and in the second six months of that charge freeze waste companies will be required to offer what is called a dual billing system, whereby people will be able to see what they are paying at the moment and what they would be paying if they chose to switch to a pay-by-weight model. On top of that, we have an agreement from the industry that anybody who wants to opt into pay by weight can do so, and the industry will be required to allow this. Therefore, instead of requiring households to change their behaviour and encouraging or punishing that through a mandated charging system, we are essentially encouraging them to do it of their own accord and encouraging the industry to facilitate that changeover.
The point I am making is that the approach that was being proposed that resulted in such a negative reaction from many households who had genuine concerns is now not happening. Instead we have a different approach that involves a 12-month freeze in charges so no one needs to worry about getting ripped off. While they are considering now in a serious way switching to pay by weight, they will be given all the information they need and then will be given the option to opt in, if they want to, to pay by weight for the first half of next year. We have committed to a full structural review of the waste industry at the end of that period, which will incorporate many of the things that Senators have been raising here today, namely, whether we should have a regulator, whether the current competitive market is functioning as it should, in the interests of households, waste and recycling, reducing and minimising, composting and so on-----
Workers' rights is a broader issue that is getting attention from Government. We actually increased the minimum wage twice during the term of the last Government and introduced a series of other labour support measures as well-----
-----but what we are talking about here is ensuring that the concern that was expressed last week by many households can be addressed by Government in a comprehensive way, and that is happening.
The other thing that we have got from the industry is an absolute commitment on incontinence wear and the waste that it incurs. 60,000 people in Ireland require incontinence wear from the HSE, which involves about 40,000 tonnes of waste a year. If, for example, households had to pay for that, at, say, €30 or €35 a tonne on a pay-by-weight charge, that would cost up to €12 million. The industry has made it quite clear that it will not charge for that waste now but will consider a credit system to support households and to ensure that they do not incur the cost of that waste. We are trying to respond. One can call it new politics or whatever one wants to call it. The support that we have got for these proposals from Fianna Fáil is not about some kind of political alliance.
-----because for him this is all about the politics of the issue and trying to manoeuvre to get political gain from it. What I am interested in is actually dealing with the concerns that households and homeowners have.Can I say very clearly that the issues-----
No I do not. What I am saying is if people choose to vote to annul this statutory instrument today it will do nothing to actually change the bills of households for their waste collection. What it will do is remove a statutory instrument that provides a series of enforcement regulations-----
I thank the Minister, that was very useful. I still find it shocking that our country lacks an effective responsible waste management policy in this, the 21st century. We need a waste management policy that operates in the best interests of our economy, citizens and environment, and a policy that treats waste as a potential valuable resource that can be turned around creating indigenous employment supporting local sustainable jobs. The goodwill on the part of our citizens has been ruined absolutely by events such as those of recent months. The trust that prices will not shoot up suddenly is undermined and eroded. There is so much outrage over this issue and I completely understand it. Many of our citizens are well aware of their responsibilities with regard to the disposal of their household waste and know the benefits of recycling, not only the economic benefits but also the feel good factor of doing the right thing. Citizens are prepared to pay a fair and reasonable charge to ensure their waste is disposed of properly.
A pay-by-weight system is, in principle, a good way to ensure those generating excessive amounts of waste pay for what they generate leaving the average householder to pay a fair price. This should not be undermined by an excessive hike in the service charges. Once again, the Government has landed us in a dilemma due to its failure to have recognised the importance of the issue. It is blatantly obvious the Government should have intervened earlier to properly regulate the waste services market. The Government failed to consult the industry, one of the key stakeholders. It should have negotiated capping service charges at a much earlier stage. I understand the Minister has had very fruitful talks in recent days, but it is very late and has caused much concern among citizens. The Government failed not only to consult in a timely manner with the industry but with all stakeholders involved. As a result, citizens find themselves once again having to take to the streets.
Earlier this week, I had the honour of raising the sixth green flag at Glór Na Mara primary school in Tramore, County Waterford. Pupils there received their global citizen award for litter and waste management. I cannot help think it is the green schoolchildren of Ireland who are showing us real leadership on how to handle our waste. The Government should not fail future generations and should lead by example.
I welcome the freeze on the annual service charges announced yesterday as a first step. It gives time to work out a proper response to fixing the challenges in our waste management policy. Some may see this as kicking the can down the road. I see it as recognising the concerns of citizens and taking the time to prepare an effective solution in consultation with all the key stakeholders and in the best interests of the public and the environment.
We need greater regulation of the waste market. The Government should consider establishing a waste market regulator to ensure fairer outcomes for citizens. We need to explore and examine ways to overcome the legal obstacles to introducing a franchise bidding model of waste collection. This would allow companies to compete for a single contract covering a set area for a set time. Like many EU countries, we need to examine ways to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging that enters the market in the first place. We need to use this time to build a public awareness campaign on the best ways to reduce the amount of waste generated in homes.
We need to find ways to encourage and incentivise enterprise and industry to create sustainable Irish jobs using this potentially valuable resource. I ask the Government to stop wasting our time. Let us use this time to find right solutions to waste management in Ireland. I understand very well why my colleagues in Sinn Féin have tabled this motion on the annulment of this statutory instrument. Even though I share their concerns about the impact of higher charges on ordinary householders, I cannot support the motion. However, I look forward to working with them in the Chamber to try to put forward real solutions that will result in an affordable, effective and environmentally sound waste management policy for Ireland.
Yesterday, I congratulated the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and I do so again today. I also congratulate Senator McFadden on becoming the Whip for the Seanad. I also congratulate the Minister, not only on his appointment but on brokering this deal which will give comfort to people while we have an opportunity to tease out the problems and fears people have about this issue.
I will not reiterate with the Minister said about the motivation behind the motion, but it is important to reiterate what is envisaged is not a new charge but a new way of charging and that we need, as my colleague has just said, more recycling to reduce landfill waste and to make householders more conscious of how they can help in this way.
The main purpose of the pay-by-weight system is to encourage householders to recycle and compost more. I know some households do not have the capacity to compost, but many households do and very often this is underutilised. I am very reassured there is no charge for the green bin because many households are only coming to terms with learning how to recycle and we need to keep this incentive for them. I commend the Minister on this. He has already mentioned the issue regarding people with specific medical problems and needs, particularly with regard to incontinence, which will be addressed and I welcome this also.
When the price freeze is over the Government will do all in its power to keep prices down. In my area of Fingal, Mr. Stephen Peppard is responsible for recycling plants, one of which is in the estuary. It takes all types of waste, including electrical, plastic and wood.
I wish to speak about transparency. I am very pleased the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the NSAI, has a role in ensuring the equipment used to weigh bins will be properly monitored, as fuel outlets are to ensure pumps are accurate rather than interfered with. However, I believe there is an issue which needs to be addressed and it may fall within the Minister's remit. I am referring to the fact that so many of the companies have offshore ownership, meaning we have no transparency over their profits. If we want trust, their profits should be open to us to inspect. If they are trying to make a case for increased charges I do not see why we should not know their current profit margins. They will argue, as they did to Shane Phelan in an excellent article he wrote on 13 July 2015, that they want to protect sensitive commercial information.Let us call a spade a spade. If every company were required to open its profits to inspection, it would create a level playing pitch. Given our history in respect of these issues, the Government must pay particular attention to ensuring profits are available for inspection, which would mean having these companies registered here rather than abroad and having them register as limited rather than unlimited companies.
I commend the amendment and oppose annulling the statutory instrument for the reasons the Minister outlined.
The motion is primarily based on opportunism and populism. From an organisation and political party whose leader commends as a good republican a person who had certain associations with diesel and other fuel laundering-----
The debate is so robust, I am afraid to speak. Thankfully, my hearing in one ear is poor so I will not hear any interruptions the Senators opposite may make.
I welcome the Minister and agree with his comment that if the statutory instrument were annulled, it would be open season for the operators. Those were not his words but that was the nub of his argument. A previous speaker suggested to the Minister that research is needed on this issue. The previous Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, carried out research before introducing the statutory instrument. Based on this research and three pilot projects in three different local authority areas, 83% of citizens would be better off if the statutory instrument were implemented as intended. However, the service providers viewed the interregnum after the election and before the appointment of a new Government as an opportunity to increase standing charges.
The pay-by-weight system is the fairest available. Providers do not have a right to increase standing charges and I commend the Minister on seeing them off on that issue. I have no doubt they will try it on again.
The previous Minister specifically informed the service providers that if they attempted to change standing charges, he would rescind the other elements of this statutory instrument. The industry made its move and attempted to introduce unacceptable charges in the vacuum created by the absence of a Government. That is the nub of the problem.
I propose to delve into history a little, as Senator Coffey did. In the mid-1990s, local authorities provided an efficient and effective nationwide waste service. Staff were gainfully employed, trade unions were recognised, proper rates of pay applied and, most important, a waiver scheme was in place in every local authority area. Across the country, however, the Trots and certain elements within Sinn Féin started a protest campaign against waste charges and successfully closed down every local authority waste collection system. Yesterday, one of the leading representatives of the waste companies stated that Cork County Council's waste management service was €12 million in the red. Before the waste management service in my small local authority of Carrick-on-Suir closed, its share of the market stood at approximately 30%, with the remainder held by the private sector, and some 60% of its users were on a waiver scheme at the time of its closure. The service was closed down as a result of protests by the Trots and Sinn Féin elements. What happened to the protesters when the private sector entered the market? They disappeared and were never heard from again. Local authority waste collection services were closed down and transferred to an unregulated private sector that is cherry-picking the best areas and that refuses to provide services in rural areas. We have to fight to get it to operate in rural areas.
As Senator Reilly noted, almost half of the 13 major waste collection companies operating here are offshore entities unregulated by Revenue. Despite this, these companies are securing contracts and licences through two regional authorities and local authorities. Regulation is needed not only in respect of the prices paid by customers, although this is extremely important, but also in respect of staff in the private waste collection companies who are required to work at low rates of pay and in atrocious conditions. The industry must be pulled together and registered employment agreements introduced, if necessary by the State or by a regulator under the collective bargaining system introduced by Senator Nash when he was a Minister of State in the previous Dáil.
In 1997, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. Martin Cullen, transferred responsibility for waste collection to county managers because he believed elected local authority members would not take decisions on this matter. County managers determined the waste management policy that would apply in the various regions and subsequently decided - correctly because the system was impossible to run - to allow the service to be privatised. That is a little history lesson for certain Senators on whom the history of the issue may have been lost and for some genuine Senators. In this regard, I commend Senator Gavan on his bona fides. He represented workers in a previous life in SIPTU, particularly Greyhound workers in Dublin who were forced to work under poor conditions.
A regulator is needed to regulate prices, ensure uniform standards apply nationwide and provide for proper terms and conditions for workers. These three issues are paramount. We must study this issue in the next 12 months in order that the Minister or his successor are ready to act when the suspension period concludes. We should not start to review the system at that point.
I propose to share time with Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill.
As a new Senator, I thought I had a good grasp of politics but it seems I will have to go back to the drawing board. I thought I had an understanding of the word "socialism" and a grasp of the left-wing, right-wing and centrist political model. Little did I know that one of my first contributions would be to oppose a motion tabled by Sinn Féin which, if carried, would benefit a large industry at the expense of ordinary working class people and cause great pain, grief and sacrifice to elderly people and young families. I find it hard to get my ahead around that.
While I do not have a problem with the statutory instrument the motion proposes to annul, I have a difficulty with the manner in which it was introduced. It is most unfortunate that the previous Minister, Deputy Kelly, signed the relevant ministerial order two days before the general election, with little interaction with the waste collection companies.
There was little interaction with the companies or members of the public whom this affects most since the signing of the ministerial order two days prior to the calling of the general election. That is where the problems arose that have us here today. I commend Sinn Féin for raising the issue, but, as ever, it is seen as an opportunity to grab headlines such as "We will ban bin charges". It can do this in the Seanad and it has done so. What would it put in place of bin charges?
I commend Senator Murnane O'Connor; our representative in the Dáil, Deputy Barry Cowen, and the Minister who, when the problem was flagged, sat down with industry representatives, came up with solutions and negotiated a model. It is not the ideal solution and there will be problems in the forthcoming year, but in that solution he has taken the opportunity to monitor developments and provided for a scenario where the statutory instrument or legislation can be amended if other problems arise. If the statutory instrument is annulled today, the industry operators will be the winners at the expense of the people. They have hiked charges, but thanks to the Minister, following negotiations with them, they have agreed to freeze them. If we annul the statutory instrument, they will resume their hikes. I cannot believe I have to oppose a Sinn Féin motion that favours the industry over ordinary people.
I concur with Senator Paul Daly. This has been an interesting debate. I acknowledge the work of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. I grew to know him when he was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the past five years in my role as agriculture spokesperson in the House and always found him to be hands on and that he dealt with issues efficiently and effectively in the public interest. He has done so in this regard also.
The statutory instrument was not ideal and the circumstances in which it was introduced were wrong. It was rushed through. There may have been consultation with the industry operators, but that is not what they are saying. Nonetheless, we found ourselves in a precarious position which had to be dealt with swiftly. The negotiations between our spokesperson, Deputy Barry Cowen, the Minister and his officials have resulted in the best solution to this dilemma. The alternative before us, if we were to vote in favour of it, is to annul SI 24. However, as previous speakers said, it covers much more than some Members would like people to believe. The Minister alluded to this. For example, it deals with permits for the collection of waste, a central pillar of our waste management strategy, the tax clearance certification of those who collect our waste, fines, local authority powers and the national hazardous waste management plan, the provisions relating to which would all be annulled if we were to vote in favour of the Sinn Féin amendment. That would do a disservice to the environment, the industry and, more importantly, consumers because every rogue dealer up and down the country would be able to collect waste and fleece them from tomorrow morning. We could not stand over this and support that position. We engage in realistic politics. I got into politics to engage with others of different political persuasions to try to ensure a better outcome for the citizens we all represent. That is the new politics the House is seeing tonight. It is about responsibility and trying to sit down with those of different political persuasions to hammer out a deal that will benefits the vast majority of the people.
A study was carried out in 2009 of waste management and how to move forward. The most efficient and effective way to collect waste for the consumer, the industry, the environment and the State is by using a pay-by-weight system. We cannot row back on this and even to annul that provision in the statutory instrument would be wrong. There is a road map for the next 12 months, but serious dialogue must be engaged in. The Fianna Fáil group in this House and the Dáil will not be found wanting in that regard. We must have the transparency the window of the next 12 months will open up. It is not about creating grey areas. This move will bring about the necessary transparency. When a Minister should be commended, there is an obligation on all of us to do so. I commend the Minister for his engagement in the past week on this issue.
I apologise I was not present earlier. I was in County Mayo to greet and welcome Joe Biden. He received a huge Mayo welcome when Air Force One landed at Knock airport.
I missed the Minister's contribution. Is he saying that if the proposed legislation had not been amended, a total of €12 million would have been imposed in charges on carers, people with disabilities and other vulnerable persons? I am concerned by this. I am sure, therefore, that we are doing the right thing in tabling the motion to have the legislation annulled.
They are entirely separate issues. The negotiations on incontinence waste have been ongoing for weeks and that issue would have been finalised one way or the other. The issue of increased charges which is separate is what we acted on last week.
I will have to take the Minister's word for it. I also take Senator Denis Landy's point about privatisation and what happened, but that is not what happened in County Mayo. Sinn Féin only had one member on the council at the time and he could not get another councillor to second his motion to stop the privatisation of waste collection services in the county because we knew that was the wrong thing to do. If county managers cannot deliver essential services such as this effectively and efficiently, they need to examine their own management skills and how they run some county councils, but that is probably an issue for another day.
The Government is stating all of these regulations and the legislation are needed to protect people because waste operators are running riot. I wonder whether any of them has been in place in the past 15 years. I would be greatly concerned if they have not been. What is the position on waste operators who did not even bother to show up for the meeting with the Minister? Were they abroad counting their money? It is ridiculous, but it is also indicative of the attitude of the industry we are dealing with that they have set up offshore companies in order that they can avoid paying tax in this country.
Why has legislation not been introduced to address the issue of packaging? Surely that should be the first action taken to help people to reduce waste. Are there so many vested interests that this cannot be done or that the Government does not have the will to do it? I know carers and people with disabilities and others who are crippled by bills. They are watching television and being told we are doing well and that we are on a roll, with money being put away for a rainy day. However, it has been a rainy day for them for a number of years and they have been crucified by the additional charges.In having the statutory instrument annulled, we are trying to protect those people. I would be failing in my duties and commitment to the ordinary people of this country were I not to use every mechanism possible to prevent the instrument from commencing.
We will take four minutes each. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to the House. He used his skills to bring about a solution.
Wanting to annul this statutory instrument makes for a popular soundbite and is attractive when seeking support from the electorate. Sinn Féin's spokesperson appeared on Vincent Browne's show and went on about this great achievement, but what was achieved? It would have been chaos. I examined this situation from a political and a Fianna Fáil point of view. I have a certain sympathy with Sinn Féin's position in that it is trying to garner more support and take out Fianna Fáil. By God, Sinn Féin would have to get up early in the morning to take out Fianna Fáil.
-----working-class people, to ensure that we introduce new regulations in consultation. So be it if some call this "new politics", but in the old politics of prior to the general election, this instrument would have been rammed through without any debate. Now, in consultation with Fianna Fáil and our spokesman, Deputy Cowen, who tabled progressive policy suggestions-----
-----a Minister who negotiated the programme for Government adopted a constructive approach. We have an opportunity. The statutory instrument process has been abused by all Governments. This one should have been primary legislation in the first instance, not an amendment to an Act. It is a long document. Many people who oppose it probably have not even read it. It requires a bit of study.
As the Minister stated, it would be a free-for-all on 1 July if this document were opposed. I want Sinn Féin to explain what it is offering as an alternative to this statutory instrument and what the Minister, in consultation with Deputy Cowen and others, is doing. What is Sinn Féin's proposal?
I know how many cars have been destroyed with very little being done about it. I want to clamp down on that as well as illegal dumping. If this statutory instrument does not pass tonight, there would be further illegal dumping.
That does not and never will suit Fianna Fail. We abide by and support the law. We want people to be tax compliant, as set out in these regulations, and we want the industry to be controlled. At home, we pay €320 per year for the collection of two bins every two weeks. If the Minister finds after the assessment that pay-by-weight costs are in excess of what obtained previously, he is entitled to introduce a further statutory instrument.
This is a time for study. It is a wake-up call to the industry, which seems unregulated. A good aspect of this debate is that the issue is being brought to the fore. We will have a regulator who will ensure the industry is properly organised.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him well in the new Ministry of housing, planning and local government.
It was Deputy Calleary of Fianna Fáil who raised this matter on Leaders' Questions last Thursday. I commend the Minister on his swift action in addressing it.
The Minister met the industry for negotiations and we now have this resolution. I come from a local authority background, having been a councillor from October 2003 until my recent election to the Seanad. Some other colleagues from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Senators Boyhan and Richmond, are also in the Chamber. That council introduced pay by weight in 2005. Prior to then, one paid €300 per year for as much as one could dump in any bin one liked. I do not think we even had green bins at the time. We must acknowledge the progress that has been made. Initially, green bins did not even take plastic. Much has changed for the better. When we are monitored, we behave in a certain way. People examined their bin weights and started buying compost bins. They discovered that there was a benefit, not just in reducing waste by composting, but in having compost for use in a garden.
The amount of scaremongering has been outrageous. Of course we must take into account people with medical issues or those who may have large amounts of waste. In the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, we have a flat standing charge of €64 per year with Panda and are charged per lift and per kilo. Will the Minister consider this system? Since it is a lift charge and a kilo charge, people only present a bin when it is full, making the system more efficient instead of everyone putting out bins that are 80% empty. The routes are longer and more efficient, with only one bin in every ten being collected. Most people have discovered that they hardly ever put out their black bins unless, for example, they have young children or medical issues. By and large, a significant quantity of what we dispose of is recyclable, for example, paper, Tetra Pak and plastic. Some operators take glass in green bins while others do not. Either way, there are numerous bottle banks around. We should also consider this issue. I was surprised to realise that many local authorities do not use pay by weight. Pay by weight is a positive step. I would not recommend standing charge hikes. The charge should be as low as possible and one should be charged based on what one puts into a bin and how often one presents it. This would make people change their approach.
It is important that civic recycling facilities be available, for example, for fluorescent tubes, light bulbs, aerosols, etc. We have a landfill levy to try to stop people putting material into landfill. The more that pay by weight is implemented, the better it will be for consumers. Assuming the standing charge is fair, few people should end up paying more than they do now. If people have not considered this system, they should talk to people who have used it, for example, those in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, who have been very happy with the outcome. When we finally privatised our bin collection, 80% of our customers had already left for Panda and Greenstar of their own will because they were offering a cheaper and better service, with bins being put back onto footpaths instead of being left in the middle of the road. We were left with hardly anyone. That was 2010 and Panda applied a price freeze for four years.
I am sure there are rogue operators, but not all bin collectors are rogue, cowboy, fly-by-night operators.
I have been listening to this conversation. Changing consumer behaviour has been mentioned. I am of the view it is positive reinforcement, not attaching charges to recycling, that will change behaviour, for example, a weight related monetary incentive at the end of the year. Something must be done to incentivise people. This situation is being handled the wrong way round. The Journal of Economic Surveyshas indicated that monetary incentives had a greater impact on household recycling than any other initiative.That indicates that the monetary incentives had a greater impact on household recycling than any other initiative. In terms of people's behaviour, when they are charged or taxed for something they view it as something negative, regardless of whether they save money as a result of it later. They just see it as a charge and then regard recycling as a negative process rather than a positive one that will be a gain for them.
In terms of having two and three bins, in Tallaght it is very difficult. If we bring in a pay by weight system I believe it will make the problem of illegal dumping worse because when one lives in a housing estate like Killinarden, we all live on top of each other, so to speak. Our sitting room is in our kitchen so we cannot have three bins to dispose of our waste. The structures are not in place for us to do it. If we have a brown bin, a green bin and a black bin outside our doors, and some of us live in very small apartments and flats, and they are robbed, we cannot afford to replace them. We cannot bring them into the house because they would be on top of us. We do not have back and front gardens. Regardless of what system is brought in, the structures are not in place for residents in many estates to recycle, and it is just counter-productive. We live at the foot of the mountains. I could bring the Minister on any trail on the Dublin Mountains Way and he will see the huge amount of illegal dumping, which will only get worse. Most of us have got rid of our green bins, if they have not been robbed or burned at Hallowe'en. I am saying to the Minister that there are other solutions which would be regarded as positive reinforcement.
When this debate arose years ago I knew a man who lived in extreme poverty in Cushlawn. At the time the aluminium factory in Tallaght village used to pay for returned cans and he would spend the entire day collecting cans, which he would deposit them and get back the money. In Germany, when one deposits empty bottles one gets money back. That type of positive reinforcement for waste management would be much more productive than charging for waste.
Is léir, ar aon nós, gur tharraing an díospóireacht seo neart cainte. It has been a robust debate, if nothing else. On a point of clarification, we understand the issue around the roll out of the brown bins. I thank the Library & Research Service for the great work they do for us but even in its explanatory note it has been made quite clear that its reading, which I would take as an independent reading and not a Sinn Féin reading or that of anybody else, is that the waste management regulations introduce new rules to come into effect from 1 July 2016, namely, an obligation on all householders, with some exceptions, to segregate food waste from other household waste and an obligation on waste collectors to provide separate receptacles such as wheelie bins for food waste and collect them at least once a fortnight on a pay by weight charging system for waste collection-----
-----which I believe backs up what Senator Mac Lochlainn has been saying.
I want to address some of the issues raised. A number of people have bandied around the idea that we believe people should pay. I do not know of anybody who is not paying for their waste collection other than somebody who is brilliant at recycling. I know one or two people who do all the composting. They separate their waste, etc., and, once or twice a month or every couple of months, go to a landfill site and bring in a very small bag of waste but from what I can see, everybody else is paying. The issue is not about people paying. It is about people being fleeced, which is what would have happened if the system was introduced on 1 July. We all agree on that point.
We cannot fool anybody. In Connemara, for example, the standing charge we were paying would have been much higher than the charge people are paying currently on an annual basis. People were going to be asked to pay double the cost.
In fairness to Fianna Fáil, nothing it is suggesting is affected by the proposal we are putting forward. Everything it is proposing could be done even if we rescind the statutory instrument. We have seen Ministers come in and out of here with statutory instruments. We must call on the Government to rescind the statutory instrument. If the Minister wants to come back here next week with the elements of the statutory instrument that we do not have an issue with we will agree to that, but the problem is to do with the issues that have been raised
We have concerns about transparency and the moneys involved. It is a bit rich for the former Minister, Deputy Reilly, to come in here and talk about the transparency of profits of companies when as Minister for Health he did very little to tackle many of the drugs companies which are making massive profits and costing the State a great deal of money.
There are issues around policing the dumping of rubbish. It is my understanding that the local authorities and the community wardens have been asked to police the dumping of rubbish. The question I asked in my contribution was where the extra money the companies wanted to charge would go. If they are increasing costs and bringing in income of 200% to 300% more than they were previously for a service they have been providing for a number of years - I did not see any of them go out of business locally in Galway - where was that money going to go? Was it going straight into their bank accounts offshore? Was any of it coming back to the community? Why were local authorities being charged to employ staff to go out and police in areas where we are short of community wardens?
We are told there has been great investment in recycling centres, etc., something to which Deputy Coffey alluded, but in Casla, in south Connemara, we have been campaigning for a recycling centre for well over ten years. The county council has asked the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government constantly for money to provide that and it has been turned down by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments in previous years. Communities are trying to do the right thing by reducing, reusing and recycling but the State has not supported them.
I understand the Green Party position but I call on it to reconsider the issue. We want to do what it has called for almost verbatim but we see that the private companies are ruling the roost. They are driving the agenda, not the State and not the Government. We need to turn that on its head, send them a strong message and rescind the statutory instrument. If the Minister wants to come back with an amended statutory instrument next week, he can do that. Fianna Fáil can then bring forward its motion. We should appoint, as we proposed previously, an independent commission to proof the measures, assess the impacts on carers and other groups such as those on low incomes, those in receipt of State benefits and those who suffer from ill health or disability, and make their findings known. Let us do it right. This is putting the cart before the horse. It is the private agenda ruling the roost again and we have to oppose that. We have a chance to do it in the Seanad tonight. We will not get this chance again. It only comes around once in a blue moon.
Another important point is that the recycled waste is not being recycled by many of these recycling companies; it is being burned. If individual citizens burned their bags at the back of the field they would be fined, and rightly so. We have to tackle this industry.
Why should we believe them when they told us that 80% of people would be paying less but the opposite was the case in that people would be paying up to 200% more? I implore the Minister to support the Sinn Féin motion.
- Victor Boyhan
- Rose Conway Walsh
- Maire Devine
- Paul Gavan
- Pádraig MacLochlainn
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Niall Ó Donnghaile
- Lynn Ruane
- Colm Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Maria Byrne
- Lorraine Clifford Lee
- Paudie Coffey
- Paul Coghlan
- Martin Conway
- Mark Daly
- Paul Daly
- Aidan Davitt
- Frank Feighan
- Robbie Gallagher
- Maura Hopkins
- Gerry Horkan
- Colette Kelleher
- Terry Leyden
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Jennifer Murnane O'Connor
- Catherine Noone
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Kieran O'Donnell
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Grace O'Sullivan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond