Thursday, 7 July 2022
Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the House.
Before we commence, I should point out that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the Senator who proposed the amendment who may reply to the debate on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 5 to 10, inclusive, 32, 33, 36, 38 to 45, inclusive, 47, 48, 51, 52, 56, and 58 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Amendment No. 37 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 36.
These amendments are all related, and in many cases address technical drafting issues. They have the cumulative effect of providing the Minister with the power to impose a levy not only on single-use disposable cups but also on certain re-usable alternatives to those cups that are supplied to the consumer below a certain price point, which will be set by the Minister in secondary legislation. The amendments have the same policy objective as the amendment proposed by Senator Pauline O'Reilly on Committee Stage, namely, to address the potential for nominally reusable "flimsy" plastic cups to be supplied for free to consumers as a means of avoiding the disposable cup levy. I acknowledge that the form of the present amendments differs greatly from that proposed by the Senator. However, I am satisfied following discussions with the Office of the Attorney General that the amendments as they are set out here achieve that policy objective while also cohering with the wider architecture of the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 define two new classes of reusable item, "re-usable alternative items" and "relevant re-usable alternative items". Amendment No. 10 then expands the definition of "single-use item" to include relevant reusable alternative items. These amended definitions then facilitate amendment No. 33, which amends section 11(1)(a) to allow for environmental levies to be applied to such class or classes of reusable alternative items as may be prescribed in secondary legislation. When so prescribed, these class or classes are then treated as single-use items for the purpose of the Bill.
Amendment No. 36 then amends section 11(2) to make unambiguously clear that the price at which an item is supplied can be a factor in the level of material wastage associated with that item, including where it is supplied for free. These changes will cumulatively allow me to specify in regulations that, for example, the supply of plastic cups to customers below a minimum price point will incur the levy. This addresses the potential problem of flimsy plastic cups as raised by Senator Pauline O'Reilly and referred to as well by Senators Dooley and McGahon. The remainder of the Government amendments are consequential technical drafting amendments to ensure consistency between the new provisions and the language used in the rest of the Bill. There are other amendments in this grouping that are not Government amendments so I will allow the proposers to speak on those.
If non-Government amendments are included, perhaps the Leas-Chathaoirleach might indicate which ones are included. Again, we are only seeing this grouping now and it is a bit unclear. I do not believe I have any amendments in this grouping but I am double checking. I recognise that Senator Pauline O'Reilly and others raised important points regarding flimsy reusable items and that some of these are being addressed. We will come later to amendments addressing some of the other important factors that need to looked at, for example, the use of virgin plastic and others. It is regrettable that the Bill as a whole has not been more ambitious when we looked at the wider scope of the circular economy. There has been a lot of discussion about which cup versus which other cup or whether cups are half full or half empty. The point is that they are still just cups. The fact that the debate to date has largely focused on the issue of cups when we have massively important issues to address not simply at consumption point but in terms of production point in the circular economy is perhaps reflective of a lack of ambition. Solely addressing the issue of single-use items and not addressing those very substantial and constructive proposals that were put forward by all of us on the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action is a pity.
The issue of virgin plastic was specifically named. It should not be solely a matter of concern with regard to single-use items or cups. It is a general issue. Again, it is one that was specifically identified by the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action as an issue around manufacturing and production and the fact that there should not only be a levy in terms of single-use items but around the use of virgin plastic in manufacturing. I should make clear that amendment No. 37 is not in any way suggesting that using recycled plastic should give you any kind of exemption from levies. It is more about saying that there may need to be a higher levy point to the maximum of the scope that is within the Bill where virgin plastic is being used. Again, I am limited in that regard to attaching it to those single-use items such as cups but in fact, we really should not at this point be seeing virgin plastic being used for almost anything. It is something that needs to be discouraged.Again, if that is an item which can be used five, six, ten, 20 or 30 times, it is still a problem if we are using virgin plastic, especially in view of the vast amounts of plastic already in circulation in the world and the direct fossil fuel implications of the use of new plastics. It is an area in which we should have harder measures.
On amendment No. 43, I have again specified that there is perhaps a need for clarity with one particular category. The Minister of State and I discussed this previously. There are customers who are persons with a disability and we are balancing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, UNCRPD. A certain item may be designated as single-use plastic but I almost think it could perform two uses in that it is performing the designated use and it performs a use relating to the needs of a person with a disability. There are circumstances whereby in the case of a lack of appropriate alternatives being provided or developed, persons with disabilities rely on the use of plastic objects. Given the Indecon report on the cost of disability, which we know is substantial, we do not want the inadvertent effect of increasing that cost of disability for persons who may need such items on a regular basis. It is something to be considered in the nuance of the development of the levy.
There are a few ways to approach that matter and it has been discussed in a few different ways. This is just one example of how provision might be made. Again, in general, I really regret we are tweaking such a narrow area of operation rather than maybe introducing massively ambitious initiatives. We will come to amendments in that regard later. As we tweak the levies relating to single-use items, these are two factors that I ask be considered.
I thank the staff because there are a number of amendments replacing the one amendment I had in respect of this matter on Committee Stage. The matter was raised by some paper cup manufacturers, but we all saw it as a committee. All of us present attend the climate action committee and we know people can be encouraged to use cheap plastic alternatives that are effectively single-use items, although they may be used a couple of times. The amendment I tabled on Committee Stage sought to achieve some kind of regulation to prohibit such action.
Senators McGahon and Dooley raised this point because a particular paper cup manufacturer used the point as an example of a levy being put on its items but not on a cheap alternative to that item. All round, this is the fairest thing to do. I repeat what I said last week, which is that in the hierarchy of waste, not using something in the first place gets the highest priority. We should not be looking at recycling or composting as an alternative to reuse. It is not the same and such activities are much further down the hierarchy in tackling waste. That is why it is absolutely correct to put a levy on all single-use items, including paper. I am very supportive of the amendments and the Bill in general, which works in that way.
I thank the Minister of State and Senator O'Reilly for their work in bringing forward a sensible amendment. It does not solve the problem entirely but it goes part of the way. The concerns I had, raised with me by Cup Print and others, were that we were potentially eliminating the option for a paper cup and replacing it with an option for hard plastic. I did not take the concern on board just because it was coming from Cup Print but because I looked at the volume of plastic involved. I get fully the hierarchy mentioned by Senator O'Reilly but we must really consider the volumes. The volume of plastic involved in the manufacturing of a flimsy, cheap alternative that might be comparable with a paper cup with a levy attached would do much more damage to the environment than a paper cup with a small amount of film on the inside. It is from the perspective of volume use that I make the argument.
Littering is another matter. I spoke at length the last day about this and I do not intend to repeat myself. We must find an appropriate manner in this country for the collection of waste. As far as we can, we must limit the supply of material that can be cast aside after single use, and that is important. In parallel with that, we must have a collection system that is fit for purpose and will help to reduce the phenomenal ongoing level of littering. We have a mentality in this country of just discarding certain items. I see it in clothing, and although it may not be for this debate, there are plastics used in the production of clothing. I have a family and I see that although clothing is not quite a single-use item, some of the chain stores produce flimsy items of clothing at a very cheap rate. That generates consumer demand for changes of colour, style and you name it. It may cost €4, €5 or €6 for a t-shirt, for example, and those items will not be worn too often in this day and age. It creates demand.
A host of measures will be needed to address how we manage our business with overall footprint on the environment, whether it is consumable paper cups, throwaway t-shirts or cheap alternative materials that are a significant drain on a limited resource. We are moving in the right direction but we have much more to do and a short enough period in which to do it.
Senator Higgins spoke to amendment No. 43. I recognise and agree with this amendment but will not be accepting it as the power to provide exemptions in regulations is already provided in the Bill, and I consider those regulations to be the appropriate vehicle to consider and address all the detailed impact of any levy. In that regard, as I previously indicated, the draft regulations to implement the levy on disposable hot drink cups will be put to public consultation after enactment of the Bill. I will be requesting my officials to specifically invite organisations representing persons with disabilities to contribute to that consultation.
With regard to amendment No. 37, I understand the Senator's concerns regarding the use of virgin raw plastic. I cannot accept the amendment, however, because, as stated, achieving a circular transition is a much broader issue than just plastic. The purpose of the levy is to influence people's behaviour away from single use, not just of plastic items, but in all areas of our daily lives. As Senator Dooley states, we must consider volume. If we recycle a cup, we can get a second use from it, but if we have a strong and durable plastic cup, it could be used 1,000 times. We must consider the volume of materials being used. There is a difference between virgin and recycled plastic, but there is also a major and much larger difference between a single-use item and an item that could be used 1,000 times.
The objective of the policy in this Bill is to reduce the annual consumption of all types of disposable cups and subsequently other forms of single-use disposable packing by inducing people to change their behaviour and switch to using reusable cups. The objective of the levy, therefore, is to change behaviour, preventing the use of single-use items in the first place and thereby preventing the continuous unnecessary use of resources that are required to go into the production and the disposal of single-use items.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 9, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: “ “climate justice” reflects the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commitments on equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” and requires that the decisions and actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change should—(a) support the people who are most affected by climate change but who have done the least to cause it and are the least equipped to adapt to its effects, and
(b) safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable persons;”.
I will speak to the group of amendments as a whole. I am seeking to insert a definition of "climate justice" into the Bill by means of amendment No. 3. This is the definition that Senators from all Opposition groups sought to insert into the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 last summer. The reason I am seeking to insert the definition into the Bill relates to a core issue, namely, that the Bill is somewhat too narrowly focused on Ireland and the Irish economy. This is evident in the fact the Bill has such a strong focus on consumption and levies at point of consumption, and does not have measures that are sufficiently strong or robust in respect of manufacturing or the supply chain, which are very important issues that should be addressed, should be central to this and should fall in line with, for example, the due diligence debates taking place at EU level.
When we look at the circular economy in the round, we cannot solely focus on our Irish economy existing separately from the rest of the world. We need to look to the impacts on the rest of the world, in addition to the economic activity of wealthy countries and how it worsens the climate crisis for those in the global south. This has been spoken about in the context of issues such as the current famine in the Horn of Africa and the significantly worsening climate emergency, but it is also very important when we look to things such as scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, including supply chain emissions under scope 3. That is why we should have a stronger international focus and a stronger focus on the supply chain and manufacturing. It is to facilitate this that at later points in the Bill I seek to insert the definition of climate justice. It is the definition that reflects the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commitments to equity and common but differentiated responsibilities in respect of capacities and capabilities. We will have other amendments in areas such as fast fashion, which touch on some of those supply chain issues and scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
Amendment No. 4 outlines a definition of just transition we seek to insert into the legislation. This definition defines just transition as a transition that ensures the economic, environmental and social consequences of the necessary fast but fair transformation of economies and societies "are managed in ways that maximise opportunities of decent work for all, reduce inequalities, promote social justice, and support industries, workers and communities who are negatively affected". It would be good if we began to have stronger and clearer definitions of just transition in legislation. Sometimes, just transition gets invoked in an abstract way, as if it means, for example, we keep things the same whereas the key to just transition is fast and fair. We need to make these transitions but do so in a fair way. We need to start clarifying that and making it clearer and more evident in legislation. This is an amendment that would allow and make clear legislation should operate in a way that is equitable and affects those principles I have talked about in reducing poverty and supporting social justice.
As a principle of equity, there is a problem if the main measures we take are continually focused on the point of consumption. When the Minister of State spoke to the last suite of amendments, he talked about affecting behaviour. It is not sufficient or adequate that we focus constantly on persons as consumers because the State also has citizens who have elected us as decision makers, not to solely advise them what to do as consumers, but to also regulate industries and sectors and put hard and proper measures in place in areas such as manufacturing. There is something about moving things to the consumer choice space and seeking to influence that, while failing to bring in hard regulatory measures in areas such as manufacturing, public procurement and others, which, in itself, is inequitable. It does not deal with those who tend to profiteer at the highest levels from bad practices and those who have profited in the past from the production of, for example, fast fashion.
Amendment No. 20 outlines a provision relating to the circular economy fund for insertion into the Bill. I will not move it because I realise there is a problem with it in that it is limited to financial institutions in the State. It should have been amended to include financial institutions more widely in the EU. I want to avoid circumstances where we have inappropriate financial institutions involved in this operation. The amendment might need to be reworded so I will not proceed with it.
Amendment No. 21 seeks to add a provision that moneys may be paid out of the fund "to assist [in] the establishment of public-public partnerships for research and development in the area of the circular economy and waste management;”." Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 relate to a much wider issue that affects research in Ireland. It is the fact we see a major emphasis on research in commercial areas around the development of products to be marketed, but nowhere near the same emphasis on the frontiers of blue-sky research, research for the public good, research, for example, into social processes and other areas, and all the other mechanisms that, in the context of a circular economy, may in some cases lead to a shrinking of certain areas of the economy. That is what we might actually need in certain areas. It might lead to changes in social practices and to situations whereby we may have products and measures that are less profitable for everybody but lead to greater outcomes. For example, simple measures such as the provision of public water fountains. This comes from a wider concern I have, which is that again and again I have pressed for public-public research in order that we might look for public solutions in certain areas. These may be about removing areas from commercial activity and delivering them in a different way to make sure people's needs and wants are being addressed but not always through consumption of products. This is an area of important research. The circular economy fund should contribute to that.
Amendment No. 22 seeks to add that the circular economy fund would be used "to assist the establishment, equipping and, where appropriate, the operation of facilities which provide repair services". This might not be profitable. It may well be these are non-profit or community repair services but it would be an example of just transition in practice, in effect, if we were to use the fund not simply to develop new commercial products but ensure that people can get longer lifetimes from their goods. That would be a signal. This relates to just transition, but Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment, VOICE, Ireland has explicitly suggested that a right to repair should be regulated for. If we look to things such as repair cafés and men's sheds, these are the kinds of measures that are just transition in practice. This would send a signal that, when we talk about the circular economy, it is not just about extra levies on the things people buy. It is about supporting people to get greater value from the things they own. That would be a very practical measure. I hope the Minister of State takes amendment No. 22 on board. It is a very decent and constructive proposal around addressing the issue of planned obsolescence, especially in electronics, which is a significant area of concern. We simply cannot afford to have electronics that become obsolete. Recycling is not adequate. These are not captured in that single-use space, but they are a significant resource management problem.
Amendment No. 23 seeks to provide that the circular economy fund might be used "to develop public industrial washing facilities which support the use of reusable food and drink containers by local businesses and public services;”." The State is planning to have one industrial washing facility at present. We should have one in every region. This is one of the absolute game changers we could have. It is one of key obstacles that comes up again and again. I even know it from the place where I buy juice, where I have asked the same containers to be refilled but it cannot be done because of health and safety measures and other issues. We should have industrial washing facilities that allow businesses to, at scale, reach relevant hygiene and other standards in the sterilisation of containers in order that they can be reused.In many cases, people will go to the same places again and again. Public services that provide people with foods should be able to access these industrial washing facilities. This could be a significant measure. This is the kind of concrete support for businesses and services that is needed. This is not just for the individual. It is fine for me when I am carrying around a coffee cup, but most people will not carry around every food container and most businesses will not be able to fill an individual's food containers. However, businesses can and should be able to not use disposable materials, but to take materials back from their customers, have them industrially washed, and then reused. These would be significant. It is almost moving back to the tiffin boxes that are used in other parts of the world that are ahead of us on the issue of reuse of a materials. This is one of the biggest measures that we could take to make this possible, especially for smaller businesses that may not be able to have large-scale sterilisation facilities on-site.
Amendment No. 24 adds the provision that in dispensing money from the circular economy fund, the Minister may dispense funds to assist, support and promote initiatives to restore, conserve and renovate buildings to reduce embodied emissions that result from demolition. One of the biggest areas of emissions is from buildings and from the demolition of buildings. If a building is demolished, it does not matter if the building that is built to replace it afterwards is covered in solar panels and whatever else, it will still be 70 years before those embodied emissions are compensated for. These emissions are presenting themselves in the period where we are under most pressure, which is this next decade when e need to look at every measure we can take to reduce embodied emissions going forward.
My next point relates to the issue of repair and, in some cases, a more specialist form of repair. Sometimes we focus on innovation in new areas. There is much talk about technologies and about how they are going to help us. However, one of the most important aspects of the circular economy is old skills that are time intensive but that, in many cases, may have fallen out of favour. We need new apprenticeships in these areas. Let us consider all the shutters across Ireland that were painted shut and the difference they make in older buildings. We must consider how we can repair buildings. There are specific skills in those areas. While they may seem to be heritage skills, they are also key climate skills and key to the efficient management of resources in minimising emissions.
Amendment No. 25 seeks to add a new provision that the Minister may dispense funds from the circular economy fund to assist, support or promote actions or initiatives undertaken by international organisations and NGOs to further climate justice. I have said that climate justice needs to be reflected in this Bill. The amendment is a tangible measure that could be taken to further climate justice. I am thinking of international NGOs, as well as indigenous groups that have been at the forefront of ending wasteful practices down the line in the supply chain in, for example, the areas of mineral extraction and precious metals extraction. NGOs have been advocating strongly for climate justice. That advocacy is crucial to make the links with the supply chain and to highlight the practices in fast fashion and other areas. One of the important things that these NGOs often do is raise awareness in development education in Ireland among the public around which companies, not just in the shop, have ethical and environmentally sound practices. They address sustainability change, they challenge that and they empower and support citizens and customers to demand more information. That is why I mention international NGOs in that context. In some cases, it is a matter of having groups that are in Ireland but are making the links with others internationally. This is so that we do not only start looking at the issue once it hits the shop floor and we are able to have these conversations because climate change is a global threat. It needs global co-operation. Ireland has a record in this. It has spoken at the UN and it has claimed to have a strong commitment to the role of civil society internationally in climate change. This is an opportunity to put that into effect.
I apologise that this is such a large grouping of amendments. I will not move amendment No. 26 because it is not a material change. It is necessary because of the wording that is already there.
Amendment No. 27, again, seeks to improve transparency and accountability in the legislation. It seeks to add that when a committee is established under subsection (14) to advise the Minister with respect to the performance of her functions under subsections (9) or (12), that where a Minister has a material interest in a matter that is under consideration by the committee, he or she would have to declare that interest and would subsequently recuse himself or herself from such deliberations. This would be important in a situation whereby there is a committee that is to advise the Minister, and one of those members has an interest. It is making sure that there are provisions such as declarations of interest extend down the line. I tabled similar amendments to both the Land Development Agency Act and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, , both of which were accepted. It improves transparency and accountability and it makes it clear that we do not have any case of, or even a perception of a risk of, there being undue interests at play in the advice that a Minister may receive. I would urge the Minister of State to, therefore, accept this amendment.
I thank the Senator. Amendments Nos. 21 to 26, inclusive, provide for additional, more specific purposes for which the circular economy fund may be used. I do not think these amendments are necessary and I believe the section as drafted is appropriate for the purposes for which it is intended. I believe that all the items specified in the amendments are addressed in the legislation. I value the thought and time that has gone into considering them and they will all be open for discussion when the circular economy fund opens. Section 8(9) provides for how moneys from the fund may be used. It is a broadly drafted provision. It provides for a wide range of purposes relating to the protection of the environment and the transition to a circular economy. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 provide for definitions used in amendments Nos. 21 and 26. As a result, I will not accept these amendments.
The definition of "just transition" was considered during the climate Act last year. There was a long debate about that. No shared definition could be agreed on. As a result, it was proposed by the Opposition that we leave out the definition altogether. If we were to agree on the definitions of “climate justice” and “just transition”, then we would want to include those specifically in climate-related legislation before adding them into the circular economy legislation.
On the question of whether this Bill should extend to international considerations, this is national legislation. Its focus is on national issues which can be executed within our jurisdiction and on which we can have some credible impact through the legislation.
Senator Higgins has indicated that she will withdraw amendment No. 20, so I will move then to amendment No. 27. It is likely that such a committee, as could be constituted based on the legislation, would be comprised of members of my Department or other public service bodies, such as the EPA. Those bodies, the Department, the EPA and other public service bodies have public service codes of conduct that cover issues such as conflicts of interest. We are, therefore, covered in that regard. I appreciate the intention of the amendment, but I do not feel it is necessary. For those reasons, I am not accepting the amendments.
I hope that these matters will be reflected in the fund when it is opened and that they are mirrored. The question of international matters is important. The discussion of the circular economy is being had in the context of EU legislation and directives.This is an area we need to be progressing collectively. We have a particular responsibility as a wealthier country to give leadership in that regard and to recognise that we are an end point in many supply chains in relation to these issues.
If the Minister of State is not accepting these amendments, I would hope that when my colleague, Senator Ruane's legislation on corporate transparency in emissions, including scope 3 emissions in terms of supply chain, continues to progress that the Government will continue to support it because it is key that we move forward in ensuring that all emissions are properly being marked and measured as scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 and that we do not end up with gaps in the supply chain. We know how much financial accountability in terms of the supply chain often disappears but in terms of emissions, the margin for error is even less and the margin for reclaiming ground, such as the accountancy tricks in terms of emissions, is far more serious in that there is no coming back from runaway climate change. In that regard, stringency in that area, and clarity and transparency, is important.
I will press some of the amendments in areas that, I believe, are important because I would like to see them in the Bill. I would like to be guaranteed that they would be part of the work of the circular economy fund rather than merely hoping that they might become such.
In terms of amendment No. 27, I accept, as it is not Committee Stage, we cannot debate back and forth but I would like to clarify that only public servants who are bound by that public service code will be in those sub-committees because I suppose that provides the guarantee. If that is covered but there is a risk of there being any other persons who may be part of those committees, this measure becomes crucial. It is not clear. Is it the case that it will only be public services or members of Departments?
It is likely. In that context, I must press the amendment because we need to have these measures copperfastened. What we do not want is that somebody gets brought in as a bit of an expert onto a committee, gives advice and directs policy while, in fact, perhaps having a large shareholding in a company that would benefit from that. We do not want even the risk of that.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:" "just transition" means a transition that ensures the economic, environmental and social consequences of the ecological transformation of economies and societies are managed in ways that maximise opportunities of decent work for all, reduce inequalities, promote social justice, and support industries, workers and communities negatively affected, in accordance with nationally defined priorities, and based on effective social dialogue;".
Amendment No. 11 seeks to include transport, including aviation and shipping, in the sectors listed as sectors which should be factored into the circular economy strategy. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, transport is one of the largest sources of energy-related CO2 emissions in Ireland. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was responsible for over 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019.
It is a sector which has emission reduction targets but the carbon budgets excluded emissions resulting from aviation and shipping. I also note that the State has been quite a bad actor in respect of transport emissions, specifically, for example, in terms of subsidisation of fossil fuels in the sector. The Government provides an excise duty exemption on jet kerosene for domestic and international commercial aviation which came to €634 million in 2019. That €634 million in jet kerosene subsidies, that is, fossil fuel subsidies for jet kerosene, makes some of those funds on circular economy and on peatlands look fairly small. There is no point in giving with one hand and taking with the other. The reason that it is relevant in this context is because, as I have highlighted, matters such as supply chain and journey length are relevant in terms of the circular economy and in its emissions.
Amendment No. 12 seeks the deletion of section 7(6) to replace it with a stronger provision around green public procurement. As the Minister of State will be aware, I have a strong passion for public procurement. I brought forward legislation in this area. The climate committee's recommendation 13 was clear that explicit measures should be taken in the Bill in terms of sound principles in the design, procurement, package, logistics, retail, repairability, etc., around public procurement. Recommendation 58 was that green public procurement should be placed on a statutory basis, that it is not sufficient that we have general aspirations for green public procurement and that we need laws around green public procurement. This was an opportunity. If we talk about trying to change consumer behaviour, we have to remember that the State is the largest consumer in the State in terms of the largest customer and the largest purchaser of goods and services. If the State gets it right, it will set the tone for industry. That is why having those standards built into law is important. We spent €12 billion in public contracts for goods, services and works in 2019. There have been guidelines but we need to have those on a stronger basis. I will not discuss this area further as the Minister of State is aware already of my views on this matter. It is one that we are pursuing and that I will continue to debate at every opportunity.
Amendment No. 13 relates to the right to repair. This amendment would insert the words "and availability" into the provision that targets within the circular economy should result in increased levels of repair and reuse of products and materials. It is a relatively simple amendment but it helps with the issue of just transition. This is around decent community-based work. A target to increase the availability of repair would mean that the strategy had targets around job creation and regional access to repairs. Repair is an area of opportunity, in terms of employment and, indeed, in terms of persons addressing issues of cost of living.
Amendment No. 14 seeks to ensure that sectoral arrangements that may be made under this Act are not voluntary but, in fact, mandatory. That is probably one of the most important amendments of all. Having a long statement about all of the circular economy strategy and all of these matters, the idea of having "on a voluntary basis" attached to all of that for every sector - leaving aside the levies on consumption but in terms of the list of big sectors identified such as retail, manufacture and business - and that one would only have any action being taken on a voluntary basis begs the question, "What is the point of the Bill?" Is it just a Bill about cups and single-use items or is it a Bill about the circular economy? If it is a Bill about the circular economy, one does not talk at length about some strategy and then say that one hopes people will do it. If that is the case, we all may as well draw up codes and award prizes for good companies. Legislation is for legislating and putting regulations and measures in place. This is the opportunity to put hard, real measures in place.That participation by those crucial sectors, with their incredibly important implications, in the kinds of strategies we are setting out and for which we are going to all this trouble to resource and develop is voluntary is kind of a wasted opportunity. It guts the Bill, really. I am not simply talking about punitive regulatory measures. I have spoken about the fact that I believe we need to have positive measures, for example, public procurement policies that reward companies that engage in best practice. I am referring to positive measures that support and identify industrial practices of the kind in question. There are many stronger positive steps we could and should be taking. Also, we need to have some regulation. We need to be tackling these measures in a stronger way.
For me, amendments Nos. 14 to 17 all address the same areas: retail, packaging, textiles and, crucially, electronic equipment. Think of the fact that so much electronic equipment contains precious metals. We should look to some of the concrete measures introduced in other countries, for example, real rules concerning how a floor is divided, packaging and how much floor space in a supermarket is given to certain kinds of products. These are the hard tools, yet we are not using this opportunity to empower the Minister to set out, as in amendments Nos. 16 and 17, mandatory requirements and regulations for the sectors to ensure they meet their sectoral targets.
The fact is companies need us to regulate them. Good companies want regulation. They want to be rewarded in terms of procurement and see it recognised. Each individual company answers to its shareholders or owners and companies have fiduciary and financial duties. To ask companies to take on these measures voluntarily, with the potential cost that may come with that, creates tension. Most companies will meet their fiduciary duties while ensuring they comply with the laws. Therefore, when we put good laws in place, we empower companies, executives and staff to take good measures. Otherwise, we are simply relying on consumer pressure. Again, the Government is passing the buck down the line to the customer and saying the customer has to try to influence the companies, including companies associated with retail, packaging, textiles and electronic equipment that are of a scale where it is very difficult to achieve the kind of change desired. The State, at the stroke of a pen, could introduce changes in terms of manufacturing and business practices if it chose to put in place mandatory requirements and regulations.
These amendments are fundamental. Amendments Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive, all relate to these areas. I have lengthy examples of the kinds of regulations we should be introducing in terms of retail, packaging, textiles and electronic equipment but I am going to leave them aside because time is limited.
Amendment No. 18 provides that mandatory requirements may be set out for the retail sector’s targets and the display or promotion of goods.
Amendment No. 19 proposes to insert a requirement that the circular economy strategy would set out actions necessary to further just transition and climate justice in the context of the development of a circular economy. I will not reiterate all my points on those matters.
Amendment No. 28 seeks to insert the provision that the circular economy programme would reflect the principles of just transition and climate justice. I have discussed these matters extensively, so I will not expand on them further at this point.
Amendment No. 30 is a relatively simple one that changes the timeframe in which the agency may review the circular economy from at least once every six years after the publication of the first strategy to once every three years. Once every six years is too long a timeframe. We need to be identifying problems and issues with the operation of the programme as quickly as possible. In fact, if we look to our carbon budgets, which operate according to five-year cycles, we should ensure we are being informed of what is and is not working regarding a circular economy strategy and that this knowledge influences new measures that might be put in place or new decisions on the next budget. We are talking about five-year units in terms of our carbon budgets, and we should not be having six-year units regarding the circular economy strategies. It just does not make sense.
I have further information on the urgency and the fact that every single year matters, but maybe the simplest fact I would take from a lengthy section on urgency, which I am not going to read out, is that the past ten years have been the hottest ten on record in 100,000. The next ten years really matter. Everything we do in every year matters. Regarding six-year strategies, I do not even think about the 2050 targets anymore. Rather, I think about the 2030 targets, because if we do not turn things around by 2026, we will be in extraordinary trouble.
Amendment No. 31 is a simple amendment that seeks to insert a requirement that the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action be one of the bodies to which the agency must give a copy of the circular economy strategy, once published. Perhaps the Minister of State can do even better than that. Given the expertise across the House and all parties and the genuine passion of all members of the committee, which has been evident from their presence throughout these debates, it is important the committee be consulted on the circular economy strategy.
I will not be accepting these amendments. Amendment No. 11 relates to activities that are inherently international and require international solutions, and I do not believe it is appropriate to provide for mandatory targets in this section in the Bill.
In respect of amendment No. 12, the text in the Bill in regard to public procurement is sufficient. With regard to adding requirements for public procurement for reuse, it would be best managed through circulars, frameworks and public procurement strategies. We can consider the matter in the quality of public procurement Bill this autumn.
Regarding amendment No. 13, I believe the word “levels” refers to the numbers of repairs taking place, and in that context I believe it covers the “availability” of repair and reuse. As such, I am not accepting the amendment.
I am not accepting amendments Nos. 14 to 18, inclusive. The existing text to which these amendments relate is based on proposals originally proposed on Committee Stage in the Dáil. These discussions and proposals enjoyed broad cross-party support. That text was subject to extensive consultation with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure it would be legally sound. For that reason, the current text is appropriate and proportionate to achieve the policy objectives set out in regard to the strategy. I would be concerned as to whether the proposed amendments would be vulnerable to legal challenge if they were included in the Bill in, or near to, their current form.
I am not accepting amendment No. 19, which is consequential on amendments No. 3 and 4, which I have not accepted.
The circular economy programme is provided for in section 10. It is a long-term programme with long-term actions and objectives that will see real and meaningful change.
Amendment No. 30 seeks to shorten the term of the programme to three years. I do not believe this is appropriate. The nature of this programme requires that the actions be given sufficient time to be effective and achieve real results. Three years is not enough time in that context. It runs the risk that excessive resources would get caught up in an ongoing cycle of drafting new programmes at the expense of making progress on the objectives of the programme itself. Therefore, I do not accept amendment No. 30.
On amendment No. 28, the circular economy programme gives effect to the objectives of the circular economy strategy. The strategy includes a specific requirement on the Minister to take the national disability inclusion strategy and roadmap for social inclusion into account. As such, I do not believe amendment No. 28 is necessary and will not be accepting it.
On amendment No. 31, which I am not accepting, the Bill provides that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, may furnish a copy of the programme to any person, body, organisation or group the Minister may prescribe for the purpose of the section. I am happy to request that the EPA furnish a copy of the programme to the committee, but given the structures of committees and even their names tend to change over time, I do not think it is appropriate to accept amendment No. 31.
I will be brief in response. These are international issues. It is an international challenge; it is climate change. In that sense, I believe it is appropriate we look to the wider context.We are connected. This is not a local or national issue. It is not something around which we can draw a boundary. It is an international issue and we are a part of the international community. Through our legislation, we take decisions which have implications in that regard.
I am concerned by the fact that the Minister fears legal challenge over regulating sectors. We regulate things all the time. How on earth would concern around a legal challenge affect the State's setting out measures to regulate sectors? To be clear, we are not going to achieve the action on climate change we need or face up to the existential threat it poses by simply changing consumer procedures alone. There is an idea that the State can only work through consumer power. The State must become ready and willing to challenge some sector of the economy and some set of businesses about something. We must challenge areas such as textiles and electronics. If we are not willing to say "Boo" to somebody in manufacturing, we are not going to take the action we need. There seems to be an idea that we are afraid to regulate. It may be that the Government has chosen not to regulate in this legislation. The Minister of State said he is concerned about legal challenge. My measures here require mandatory requirements and regulations around the display or promotion of goods. The Government's position is inconsistent. The Public Health (Alcohol) Act included measures around the display and promotion of alcoholic goods. That is totally legal. It was fine and is now the law. As a result, actions have been changed. It is hard law and not a voluntary code, which means the way in which alcohol is displayed in supermarkets has changed. That is what the Government does. It brings forward actual laws and measures that require good practice.
Similarly, amendment No. 16 calls for mandatory requirements and regulations on sectoral targets in areas such as retail, packaging and textiles. To be clear, commercial activity and economic activity take place within the State when they take place within the State. Society is not sitting inside the economy; the economy is sitting inside society. We are elected by the citizens to regulate in that regard and to set those rules. I encourage the Minister of State to consider, question and challenge the kind of line that is coming through because, frankly, if we start hearing that line any time we try to regulate a sector, we are in trouble.
I have included other measures relating to public public partnerships and so on. I will formally move those.
I appreciate there have been indications in respect of amendment No. 31.
On the question of timeframes, in an ideal scenario it would be nice to check in after six years but anything that deals with climate change is not the same as any other example where we are looking to embed best practice and considering what might happen. Anything that is responding to climate change is effectively emergency legislation, in that it is taking place within a very narrow emergency time period. We did not have such long periods of review in respect of our Covid-19 legislation because it was dealing with an emergency situation and we should not have such long periods of review in respect of our climate legislation. We need to be getting it right. We need to think not only about the longer term. We require shorter timeframes and more urgent action. These actions need to be treated as urgent in response to a crisis. The other House has recognised that we are facing a climate and biodiversity emergency.
I would not usually come back in. The first thing to say is that the regulation of aviation and shipping is very important from the point of view of equity. People will not want to comply with climate action requirements if they think that shipping and aviation are getting a free ride. Traditionally and for a long time the fuels used for aviation and shipping have been virtually free of tax because if a tax is imposed in one country, those providers will refill in another. The way to sort out that problem is through international co-operation so it must be done at EU level rather than in a unilateral, national way. It is being done at EU level. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I are negotiating with the EU Council to ensure these sectors are included in the emissions trading system, that their fuels are replaced with sustainable fuels and that they are taxed according to the same types of taxes that apply if one is driving a vehicle within a member state.
The Senator mentioned the ability of the Bill to impose binding targets and my fear that I could open up legal challenge to the Bill. The Bill does not provide necessary principles and policies to impose legally binding targets by way of secondary legislation. The proposal for such targets if enacted would be likely to be struck down. The problem is that the Senator's proposals would give me, as Minister, almost unlimited power to impose restrictions on economic activity all the way across society. As the Senator knows, there are legal limits to the types of executive powers that can be allowed for a Minister through legislation unless the necessary principles can be demonstrated within the legislation, which is what we did in respect of climate action.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 12, to delete lines 35 and 36 and substitute the following: “(iii) shall ensure that criteria relating to the circular economy including, but not limited to, life-cycle costing and waste prevention criteria are utilised in public procurement.”.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 13, to delete lines 12 to 15 and substitute the following: “(d) The Minister shall, in relation to those sectors of the economy in respect of which targets have been set out in the strategy in accordance with this subsection, develop sectoral agreements in respect of those targets and to enable, support and, where necessary, require participants in those sectors to produce and promote more sustainable products and achieve the relevant sectoral targets.”.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 13, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “(e) The Minister may also set out mandatory requirements and regulations for each of the following sectors in relation to their sectoral targets, including regulations in respect of production process, materials and life cycle:(i) retail;
(iv) electronic equipment.”.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 13, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “(e) The Minister may also set out mandatory requirements and regulations for the retail sector in relation to its sectoral targets and the display or promotion of goods.”.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 13, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following: “(b) actions necessary to further just transition and climate justice in the context of the development of a circular economy, and”.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 15, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following: “(j) to assist the establishment of public-public partnerships for research and development in the area of the circular economy and waste management;”.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 15, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following: “(j) to assist the establishment, equipping and, where appropriate, the operation of facilities which provide repair services;”.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 15, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following: “(j) to develop public industrial washing facilities which support the use of reusable food and drink containers by local businesses and public services;”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 15, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “(m) to assist, support or promote initiatives to restore, conserve and renovate buildings in order to reduce embodied emissions resulting from demolition;”.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 15, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following: “(o) to assist, support or promote the work of civil society groups or indigenous peoples to support climate justice and protect the environment and human rights by limiting or regulating the extraction or exploitation of natural resources which may be exported into Ireland;”.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 16, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: “(15) Where a member of a committee established under subsection (14)has a material interest in a matter under consideration by the committee, they must declare that interest and subsequently recuse themselves from such deliberations.”.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 19, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following: “(4) The Minister may make regulations to exclude an environmental levy charge on customers for certain single-use items where those items are required by that person due to disability.”.
Amendments Nos. 53 to 55, inclusive, 57, 59 and 64 are related. Amendment No. 54 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 53. Amendments Nos. 53 to 55, inclusive, 57, 59 and 64 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendment No. 53 seeks to add a new item to the list of items the supply of which the Minister may, by regulation, prohibit within the State. It gives the Minister the power to ban the supply of electronic items that have absolute obsolescence built in. Amendment No. 54 seeks to give the Minister the power to ban the supply of electronic items that have relative obsolescence built in. By way of context, obsolescence is a question of how and when products meet the end of their useful lifetime and are replaced with new ones. Amendment No. 59 adds a definition that clarifies amendments Nos. 53 and 54.
The European Environmental Agency, EEA, states:
... absolute obsolescence happens when a product no longer functions for objective reasons, because of a mechanical failure (mechanical obsolescence) or incompatibility of software (incompatibility obsolescence). Relative obsolescence means that the product is still functional, but is considered obsolete because of a desire for a new item (psychological, style, cosmetic or aesthetic obsolescence); a new product has better quality, functionality or effectiveness (technological obsolescence); or the price of repair or upgrade is too high compared with a new product (economic obsolescence).
According to a paper by the European Parliamentary Research Service, the main driver for the purchase of some products, such as washing machines, is absolute obsolescence whereas relative obsolescence is more important in the purchase of mobile phones or televisions. The EEA states that "a product becomes prematurely obsolescent when it breaks down early compared with what is possible". This again involves a choice being made to design a product in such a way that some element of it will break down and stop the product from functioning compared with the desired lifetime, which is what is desirable for the individual who purchased it. This is often the case with mechanical and electronic items. When the two forms of obsolescence are combined, it is known as planned obsolescence.
Following pre-legislative scrutiny, the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action recommended that an examination be conducted into the potential measures to address the challenge of planned obsolescence, particularly for electronics which are such a significant area. This could include a broad examination of international examples and potential measures. These could include the concept of the right to repair, which we have spoken about to some extent, as well as measures to tackle this important issue at the manufacturing point. If the product can be repaired, it should not be designed in a way that it only addresses one of those issues, namely, where the price of repair or upgrade becomes too high - economic obsolescence. Other areas such as mechanical obsolescence and bad design also need to be addressed. The joint committee highlighted that both France and Italy have produced legislation taking different approaches to address the issue of planned obsolescence. Although that legislation has been challenged, it is working. We are beginning to see early case law with prosecutions being taken on planned obsolescence in France and Italy.
Amendments Nos. 55 and 57 relate to the fundamental issue of resource management. It is no longer about waste but about resource management and the best possible management of finite resources. We talk about our carbon emissions space as being finite and a planetary boundary. Another part of our planetary boundary is the finite minerals, especially given the emission price of accessing those minerals. These amendments seek to add to the list of items, the supply of which the Minister may, by regulation, prohibit in the State, products that require precious metals or rare earth minerals to be completed. I am dealing with a blunt tool because I am dealing with the space of prohibition.Of course, I would prefer it if we had guidelines and regulations on manufacture and usage. The committee was clear on this matter, recommending "that given the importance of management of minerals, including precious minerals, in the context of national and global circular economy strategies, regulation and, where necessary, limitations in respect of the extraction of such minerals should be considered". I would also suggest that prohibitions should be considered.
I have spoken about extraction in the context of climate justice, but in the context of this amendment it is worth noting that, every year, at least $10 billion worth of gold, platinum and other precious materials are dumped into a growing mountain of electronic waste, which pollutes our environment. According to the UN Global E-waste Monitor 2020, a record 54 million tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019. We are increasing wastage of these previous metals and minerals. This is equivalent to 7.3 kg for every person on the planet in 2019 alone but the majority of this is generated in the global north. We often boast about being early adopters but some of this early adoption and quickly moving fashions represent an irresponsible use of resources. The lack of regulation, the short lifespans of products and products being difficult or impossible to repair were issues identified by the UN as driving much of this wastage.
These amendments would allow us to begin seriously to reduce the damage being done by the extraction of precious metals and minerals, which is deeply linked to the issue of climate justice, and to try to curb what are very much neocolonial aspects of the production of electronic goods and the extraction and exploitation required in the making of these products. We need only look to the very serious human rights concerns in respect of the extraction of coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries to see an example of this. We need to minimise such extraction. We have used centuries' and millennia's worth of resources in the previous century alone. We need to pause extraction and look to the maximum effective use of all precious minerals currently in circulation globally before we consider extending or increasing further extraction.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. All those of us on the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action accept and are wedded to the idea of moving to a circular economy and away from a linear one. Part of the way to do that is to buy less stuff. It is one of the most obvious ways for people to reduce their own waste. My amendment No. 64 deals with a problem that has emerged whereby not buying stuff is generating waste. This is because many corporations have a business model involving overproduction. They also want to shift assets quickly so, the longer the stock remains unsold, the more it becomes a liability and a cost on the corporations' books. The storage of this stock incurs such a cost that it becomes cheaper to dispose of the goods than to continue to store them.
We also see the business models of luxury brands, which prefer to destroy unsold merchandise as they do not wish to sacrifice an image of scarcity and exclusivity. The designer brand company Burberry burnt €38 million worth of stock in a single year rather than redistributing it, just to preserve that image of exclusivity. It is not just Burberry; it is Amazon, H&M, Nike and so on. Producers and retailers are sending millions of tonnes of products that have never been opened directly to landfill or incinerators. These are completely brand new materials. This all occurs out of the sight of the public. We are always talking about the importance of systemic change and not putting everything on the individual. It is thanks to the investigative reports in Germany that the public got a window into this practice. It was first exposed in 2018 at a so-called fulfilment centre of Amazon's and then again in Britain in 2021. We all must agree that this is an immoral practice. Brand new products, because they are unsold, are going straight from the shelves to landfill.
One spreadsheet in the British example showed that 124,000 items were marked for destruction in a single week. Amazon likes to tell us that it makes best efforts to redistribute such products and to find homes for them with charities but the spreadsheet told a different story. It showed 124,000 brand new items marked for destruction while only 28,000 were marked for redistribution. These items included smart televisions, laptops, iPads, leisure equipment, electrical items, Dyson fans, hairdryers and Bluetooth earphones. What was particularly galling about the case in England was that these laptops and iPads were being sent straight to landfill during the pandemic, when children in low-income households were being denied access to education because they did not have the technological facilities required. Households were really struggling while these multinational corporations were just binning items they could have used. Most reasonable people would be horrified by that practice. It is not just that the carbon footprint of these items is large but also, as Senator Higgins has outlined, that many rely on finite resources for their production.
The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action carried out lengthy pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill. Everybody was very positive about it and tried to contribute to it. In pre-legislative scrutiny, we often ask the experts who is doing a given thing well and what jurisdictions we can learn from. We do not need to reinvent the wheel so we ask which jurisdictions have got it right. When it comes to the circular economy, there was no argument. Everybody pointed to France. Later amendments of mine will talk about what France has done in respect of food waste and refill stations in supermarkets. It has also banned the practice I have been talking about, so we cannot hide behind EU law and say it cannot be done. The French Government passed a law in January 2020 that basically says these multinational corporations cannot just dispose of unused items and items returned that are still in their boxes, and that they have to redistribute them. They have to identify organisations or charities to receive the items.
Because we all know the circular economy issue is very significant and because we are trying to move away from a philosophy of take, use and waste, it is disappointing that much of the focus has been on the latte levy. That is not the fault of the Minister of State or of the joint committee. The media have fed into it. The latte levy is tinkering around the edges, although that is not to say it should not be done. It again puts the onus back on the individual and says it is up to the individual to bring along his or her KeepCup. What I am trying to do with amendment No. 64 is to put the onus back on the corporations because the public is largely unaware of this practice. The French have shown great ambition in this legislation. It was only introduced in 2020. It will come into effect in 2023. I urge the Minister of State to give it serious consideration because it represents real and radical action on reducing waste as opposed to the measures on plastic cups and paper cups we have spent so much time talking about. This is about televisions, laptops and other electronic goods going straight to landfill or incineration. It is the same with clothes, shoes and many other things many people could really do with during a cost-of-living crisis. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister of State will accept this amendment.
As Senator Boylan has said, in the committee we discussed obsolescence and other issues around large items, electronic devices and white goods. The recommendation was for the Minister of State and the Department to investigate the matter. I will be keen to hear what investigation was done in that regard. I remember looking around IKEA, a large store, several years ago and there were standard lamps for sale in which the light bulb could not be changed. If it went, you had to get a whole new lamp. That is built-in obsolescence in action. It needs to be dealt with.
I completely agree that the so-called latte levy has overshadowed a lot of the very good work in the Bill. It is difficult because that is what people go for in the discussion in the media. However, we all agree on the need to reduce the use of stuff. That is part of it.Built-in obsolescence, however, means that people do not even know they will have to replace the goods maybe a year or two years down the line. They think they are purchasing the goods for life, as we used to do when we were younger and when a cooker lasted 30 years. That has to be addressed. I know the Minister of State said the last time we discussed this that one thing that can be done at a local level and that he is looking at is a labelling system that would inform the public as to whether something has built-in obsolescence. I will let the Minister of State come in on that. It is an issue I feel passionate about. The Minister of State has said that he and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are negotiating on behalf of Ireland at EU level when it comes to some of these matters.
I wish to speak in support of amendment No. 64 and in support of my colleague, Senator Boylan, who articulated so clearly why this amendment should be accepted. I am shocked that 130,000 electrical items can be brought straight to dumps in one week. It is absolutely shocking. I have to be direct with the Minister of State, though I will be respectful. I cannot for the life of me understand why he would not support an amendment like this, something that will make a fundamental difference in a really significant way, particularly when we have the French example and we know it can be done. I imagine everyone would say this should be done. I am sure the Minister of State will not argue we should not tackle this issue, but I am afraid he will suggest we not tackle it today. Will we have another circular economy Bill next year? This is the opportunity to do this. As Senator Boylan pointed out, this was brought up on Committee Stage. I understand the Minister of State said he would go away and investigate this. There is a fundamental point here as to how we change our economy. When goods go to landfill without ever being used, not only do we waste the product and all the energy and raw materials that went into making it, but we also facilitate large corporations' unsustainable business model of greedy overconsumption. How on earth can the Minister of State not endorse this amendment? It is so fundamental, so crucial, to the type of change I believe we all want to see. I hope the Minister of State will not turn down the amendment; I hope he will endorse it. We have an amendment, so there is no reason he cannot endorse it today and move on in a positive way. Will a Green Party Minister of State reject this amendment when something so absolutely egregious is going on weekly, with 130,000 electric goods being sent straight to landfill? Is the Bill really going to turn a blind eye to that and to the appalling practices of companies like Amazon? Seriously? I hope the Minister of State will come back with a positive endorsement of this amendment; otherwise, let us be clear, the Green Party will not just miss a huge opportunity to do the right thing but will also let down a great many of its own supporters who, I believe, would be fully supportive of the amendment. There will not be a second chance on this in the lifetime of this Government. This is the chance to endorse something that would make a fundamental difference in the right way to our economy and our society. I ask the Minister of State to support amendment No. 64.
I thank Senators for their contributions.
I agree with the objective of amendment No. 64 and, in general terms, the way in which it attempts to address the problem of new consumer goods being disposed of by either merchants or Internet vendors. Reference was made to the French law, which is given careful consideration. It is important when writing legislation to look at other jurisdictions to see what has worked and what works within the framework of European law. The French law is scheduled to come into effect in 2023. I expect that the European legislation on which we are working will be in effect before then, leaving the French law moot.
Coming back to this amendment, one of the central components of a circular economy is enhanced reparability and ease of maintenance of consumer goods. In order to achieve a successful transition to a circular economy, we must recognise that and commit to the development of a circular economy for consumer goods with an enhanced focus on the repair sector. That is a clear objective of the waste action plan for a circular economy and the circular economy strategy. I think the meaningful and significant changes required as regards issues such as product design, warrantees and consumer information and labelling can be most effectively implemented by way of comprehensive EU legislation rather than through piecemeal national measures. This is even more important for member states like Ireland which represent relatively small markets relative to those of the rest of the EU. We must always remember that our laws have national application and will not apply to a warehouse in Luxembourg, Scotland or wherever else this kind of dumping may be happening.
As we discussed last week, the process of introducing that EU legislation has already commenced. The European Commission has already announced a proposal for a regulation on eco-design for sustainable products as well as a proposal for a directive to empower consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information. The proposed eco-design regulation will address product design and set new requirements to make products more durable, reliable, reusable, upgradable, reparable, easier to maintain, refurbish and recycle, and energy- and resource-efficient. The regulation provides a framework to improve the environmental sustainability of products and refers specifically, in Article 1 and Article 20, to the creation of an EU framework to prevent unsold consumer products from being destroyed, so that very concept is being talked about throughout Europe. The proposed directive on consumer information will support improved participation of consumers in the circular economy through the provision of information on the durability and reparability of products and by enhancing consumer protection against unfair commercial practices that prevent sustainable purchases. It will therefore tackle issues such as greenwashing, that is, misleading environmental claims, and should tackle early obsolescence practices, that is, premature failure of goods, and the use of unreliable and non-transparent sustainability labels and information tools. The approach in these proposals reflects the approach we have already taken in the circular economy strategy, and Ireland will adopt an ambitious and supportive stance in the forthcoming EU negotiations with a view to making sure the final legislation maximises support for the transition to a circular economy. I understand that the first meeting in respect of these new proposals has taken place already and that a further meeting will be scheduled for later this week. I believe that seeking to achieve these objectives by means of EU legislation, rather than in national legislation, will ensure better and more consistent protection for consumers and will most effectively meet the ultimate aims of this amendment. I will therefore not accept the amendment.
Moving to amendments Nos. 53 to 59, inclusive, I said earlier that I believe that meaningful changes to requirements in respect of issues of obsolescence and repair can be most effectively implemented by way of comprehensive EU legislation rather than through piecemeal national measures. I will not accept these amendments.
As for amendment No. 57 specifically, I have not changed my position on this issue and will not accept the amendment as I consider it unnecessary. Transnational shipments of waste, including to non-EU countries, are already highly regulated under EU legislation and the Bill provides that material wastage associated with a product or class of products must be considered when making regulations. I am satisfied that the combination of those measures adequately addresses the issues referred to in the amendment.
I would never profess to have anywhere near the same level of expertise and knowledge as my colleague, Senator Boylan, or Senator Higgins on this, but I do understand the politics of it and the climate, biodiversity and environmental emergency we face. I found the Minister of State's response to amendment No. 64 more than lacklustre. With the greatest respect, what is the point of Deputy Ossian Smyth being Minister of State if he is going to come in here and say we will wait while Europe talks about this? Europe is talking about it, but there is no confirmation here. I just cannot get my head around that in the context of what we are dealing with here and what we are advocating. The Minister of State says Ireland is a small economy. What if we were to take that approach to all environmental issues?Is that the formal policy of this Government and, indeed, the Green Party now? Is the policy that Ireland is a small economy, that it would not make all that much difference, and that we will just wait and see when the EU is finished talking about it? We have the opportunity to do something practical here. That is the point of view. The point of these institutions is actually to deliver something that would make a substantial difference given the rationale and context that has been outlined by colleagues today. I do not think the disappointment, frustration and disbelief in that approach and response would be confined to this House. I cannot quite get my head around that. I am immensely disappointed and I am sure I will not be alone in that regard.
I agree it is not adequate or sufficient to say let us talk about the EU legislation and EU levels. If we are passionate about these things, then we want to do everything we can do. There is nothing to stop us being a very active agent in EU negotiations if we also have national legislation. In fact, it makes us a more credible actor within those EU negotiations.
Amendment No. 64 mirrors provisions that have already been put in place by France. That gives France credibility with regard to the EU discussions. If we really want to act, we must use every moment, space, power and opportunity we have to do a good thing and take real action. We should take that opportunity. We should not say we will roll the dice on the EU.
I hope the EU comes through with great decisions but sometimes it does not. Look at the taxonomy decision. That is a godawful decision in which gas and nuclear energy have been labelled as green. That is what may happen in the EU negotiations but we do not require EU permission to put measures in place in terms of the disposal of non-food products. Therefore, we must put in place the policies that are within our power.
My provisions earlier were too wide. I was told these were too general. I accept they were very general because I was trying to give power to the Minister and not to have prescriptive powers. These are very specific, however. They address all those issues of legal concerns in that it is specific policies. It mirrors legislation that is legal and that is already in place in France. It sets out clear fines. Unless we address those issues and create regulations and, indeed, financial disincentives to the shameful disposal of goods before any consumer gets to make any decision about them, then unfortunately the capitalist market to which we give such space will, in fact, incentivise the creation of false scarcity and disposal of goods in an irresponsible way.
This comes up repeatedly. We need to be very clear that unfettered capitalism will kill us all unless we exercise our power as citizens and democracies to constrain it. The economy sits within political jurisdictions, some of which are, luckily, democracies. Northern countries and wealthier countries like Ireland have a particular responsibility to lead on this.
Amendment No. 64 should be supported. I am not going to elaborate further on my own amendments in terms of in-built obsolescence. These are also areas in which Italy and France have taken the lead and where measures have been put in place. What I would expect in a circular economy Bill is that we would be having detailed proposals on how the Government has decided to follow the French or Italian models. We looked at these models when this was at pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I have not prescriptively said how the Government should approach it but the Government should say it is going to do what France and Italy have done. It should say we have invented a new approach and we are part of the discussion on addressing obsolescence, and not simply at an EU level but at those discussions taking place at national level.
We talk about people taking responsibility for the individual consumer decisions and choices they make whereby a person should do what he or she can and make small gestures. Here is something the State can do. If we are asking everybody to make these choices in their individual personal lives, let us ask the State and the Government actively to make the choices that are within their power and not pass this down the line. That kind of thing would send a genuine signal. I regret that the Minister of State is not accepting any of these amendments.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 23, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following: “(3) In making regulations under this section, the Minister shall have regard to the methods of disposal of single-use items outside the State and the effects upon local communities where waste arising from the disposal of such items is processed or delivered to.”.
Amendment No. 60 seeks to insert "climate justice" as one of the issues to which the Minister may have regard when preparing the national food waste prevention strategy. This is particularly important in the context of famine in the Horn of Africa and the incredibly devastating impacts of climate change we have seen in respect of global drought and hunger.I will not move amendment No. 61 because it contains an error, but it also seeks to address the targets and indicators for zero hunger. In the Horn of Africa, large parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, the situation is now worse than the 2011 famine that killed more than 250,000 people. Some 23 million people are in need of humanitarian support and food across the region.
Amendment No. 65 touches on the issue of fast fashion. For many people clothing that is not produced using sustainable methods is their only option because it is inexpensive. However, we also know that the industry itself is a big polluter and in terms of climate justice it has an extremely negative impact on indigenous fashion industries in the global south countries.
Award winning journalist Sally Hayden has highlighted that in Ghana second-hand garments that arrive from Europe and North Africa are known as obroni wawu, dead white men's clothes. Some 50 million of them find their way to Accra, the west African country's capital. Much of what arrives is clearly waste meaning that the African continent is often left to deal with the devastating impact of overconsumption and the rise in fast fashion. I regret that my previous amendments seeking to ensure that clothes that have a lifespan of less than two years should not be sold was ruled out of order because I do not believe that clothes with a lifespan of less than two years should be sold.
Amendment No. 66 seeks a report, within 12 months of the passing of this legislation, outlining the mechanisms employed to ensure that both the circular economy strategy and the circular economy programme protect human rights and the environment along the supply chain of goods. EU legislation in the area of due diligence needs to be strengthened as it currently only covers about 1% of companies. This is consistent with that general principle. The Irish Coalition for Business and Human Rights report Make It Your Business! has clearly outlined the need for far higher accountability mechanisms in the supply chains of Irish companies.
I will speak to amendments Nos. 62 and 63. I will be very brief because I understand we have many amendments to get through. Amendment No. 62 deals with the definition of food waste as meaning food loss and food waste. We discussed this on Committee Stage. We are very concerned that food loss is not being captured by the circular economy Bill because it is not defined. Most people are aware that 30% of food that is purchased is disposed of. Food loss is the food that never makes it to the shop shelf. That includes food which is left in the ground because the farmer deems it more financially viable to leave it there than to harvest it. It also deals with food that gets disturbed or spoiled along the way. It is really important to capture food loss because if we are only capturing food waste, we are missing a large proportion of the actual food waste that is going on. I would like the Minister of State to outline why he would not accept the amendment on Committee Stage. I hope he has changed his mind now. We need to capture the whole picture.
Amendment No. 63 again deals with the French example of the supermarket refill stations putting the onus on the corporations and not on the individuals. We know that many goods lend themselves to refill packaging rather than the single-use packaging, including dry foods, detergents and cosmetics. The French law obliges any supermarket larger than 400 sq. m to dedicate 20% of its space to refill. This has been in action in France for years and is working really well. Anybody who travels to France can see it. People bring Tupperware containers to the supermarket and refill them with beans, rice, flour or whatever.
I disagree with the Minister of State's rationale for not accepting amendment No. 64. I spent five years in Europe. It drives me mad that when we want to do something positive, we are often told that EU law precludes us from doing it and it is used as an excuse for not taking action. Here we have an example that is proven. The French are doing it so it is not contrary to EU law. However, we are being told that we should just hang on and wait for the EU to do it. That is really disappointing and lacking in ambition. We need to lead. We need to look to what has been done successfully in France. The French banned the disposal of food items years ago.
I was in the European Parliament for the negotiations of the single-use plastics directive. Even though that was one of the fastest directives to get passed, it still took almost a year. The Minister of State said we are talking about addressing the issue of dumping unused non-food products. The Government introduced two non-consequential amendments to this Bill because Ireland was so slow in enacting a 2019 derogation. Even if the EU were to take this on board and move from talking about it to enacting it, it would still take a couple of years. That is the reality of how EU legislation works. When EU legislation is passed, Ireland has a particularly bad record of transposing that legislation and so it could take another three years, as happened with the non-consequential electricity amendment the Government made to this Bill on Committee Stage. The letter from the Commission came in 2019 informing us that we needed to act on it and we have now fast-tracked it through.
I urge the Minister of State to reconsider his approach to amendment No. 64 and seize the opportunity. He is the Minister of State. Everybody says that one day in government is better than years in opposition. The Minister of State has an opportunity to show the leadership and take a radical step.
I do not accept amendments Nos. 60 to 62, inclusive. On amendment No. 62, the development of a national food waste prevention roadmap is included as a commitment in Ireland’s waste action plan for a circular economy and the Government’s 2021 climate action plan. While the national food waste prevention roadmap will include information on food losses, the principal focus of the roadmap will be to set out a series of actions to deliver the reductions necessary to halve our food waste by 2030. This takes into account sustainable development goal 12.3 of the United Nations sustainable development goals and the plan by the European Commission to propose legally binding targets to reduce food waste across the EU by end 2023.
The definition of “food waste” in the Bill is consistent with the definition set out in EU legislation. National Food waste data, which is subject to EU reporting requirements, is also consistent with this definition. Food waste data reported from member states in mid-2022 for the reference year 2020 will also inform the process at EU level on setting targets to reduce food waste across the EU. This EU definition of food waste is more comprehensive than the equivalent term as used by the UN. The EU definition treats as food waste all food discarded as waste throughout the supply chain up to and including actions by consumers. In an EU context, the concept of food loss is used to describe loss of food in primary production, for example, pre-harvest losses, which is excluded from the scope of waste framework directive. The current definition of "food waste" in the Bill is appropriate and already addresses the activities covered by amendment A.
I will not be accepting amendment No. 60 because it is consequential on amendment No. 3, which I have not accepted.
Regarding amendment No. 61, United Nations sustainable development goals are defined in the Bill as meaning the United Nations sustainable development goals 1 to 17, inclusive The goals and their associated sub-targets are interlinked and mutually supporting and need to be considered in that context. As a result, I will not be accepting these amendments.
Amendments Nos. 63, 65 and 66 provide for a number of reports to be prepared by the Minister. I cannot accept amendment No. 65. Policy on textiles is currently being developed, with a multi-stakeholder working group having been formed by my Department to inform that process. Legislative amendments may be appropriate in the future but not at this time.
The report sought in amendment No. 66 duplicates measures included in the Bill on the preparation of the circular economy strategy and programme. In addition, the State is required to comply with EU law as a matter of course. Therefore, I am not accepting this amendment.
What is proposed in amendment No. 63 is overly prescriptive for inclusion in primary legislation. As a result, I will not be accepting the amendment. However, reducing food packaging in way which does not lead to increased food waste is an important issue and I will commit to the publication of such report before the end of 2023 on a non-statutory basis. I do not believe it is necessary for me to put into law that I will produce a report, but I give the House a commitment that I will produce such a report. Of course, it will look at the EU example.
One Senator said that this had been working in France for years.The climate and resilience law was passed in France last year but the section about designating that 20% of certain areas of supermarkets over a certain size would be used for refillable goods only comes into force in 2030. We are nearly a decade away from them legislating in France that it is a mandatory requirement. They brought some measures into force at the start of the year. For instance, they brought in some forms of plastic packaging bans in January. We will be watching to see what the effect of those packaging bans is on food waste and whether that plastic packaging is replaced with other forms of packaging, which may also be single use and not sustainable. I will produce a report as the Senator asked.
Because Senator Boylan will not be able to respond, I indicate that the Senator is glad the Minister of State will provide a report on that matter. I would add we certainly cannot afford to wait unduly to see how things work out. We need to be trying everything we can. In terms of amendment No. 63, that is welcome.
On amendment No. 66, I would add, because I do not think we will get to discuss it, that when we talk about ethical supply chain, one of the core issues is in relation to mining. I regret that this Bill is being guillotined and we will not get to discuss some of the issues which Communities Against the Injustice of Mining, an all-island cross-party group, and others have highlighted in relation to the extraction of pressure minerals. It is a concern internationally, as I have highlighted, but also on the island of Ireland and, indeed, in the waters off the island of Ireland. We have seen a large expansion in concessions for mining. It should be the case that we look to reuse, restore and recover all precious metals and minerals that are in circulation before we expand our extraction.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 25, to delete line 8 and substitute the following: " "food waste" means "food loss and food waste" where:(a) "food waste" refers to food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn't get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil or expire. Food waste typically (but not exclusively) takes place at retail and consumption stages in the food supply chain; and
(b) "food loss" refers to food that gets spilled, spoilt or otherwise lost, or incurs reduction of quality and value during its process in the food supply chain before it reaches its final product stage. Food loss typically takes place at production, post-harvest, processing, and distribution stages in the food supply chain.".
I move amendment No. 63:
In page 25, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: "Supermarket Refill Station Report
16.(1) The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and publish a report examining how retailers can reduce plastic packaging in Ireland by encouraging customers to use re-usable containers through requiring a minimum amount of floor space be dedicated to refill stations dedicated to the provision of re-usable products including staples like rice, pasta, cereals, beans, and detergent.
(2) This report shall examine the size of the supermarket retailer that should be obligated (e.g. greater than 400 metres squared).".
I move amendment No. 64:
In page 25, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: "Ban on dumping of new non-food products
16.(1) Producers, importers and distributors of new non-food products intended for sale are required to reuse them by donating such products to charities, NGOs, secondhand shops, or social enterprises, as may be defined in regulation by the Minister.
(2) In this section, "non-food products" may be defined in regulation by the Minister and shall include but not be limited to the following:(a) electronic products;(3) The obligations outlined in subsection (1)shall not apply to products whose reuse and recycling involves serious risk to health or safety, whose disposal is prescribed, or whose material recovery is prohibited.
(b) textiles, clothes and shoes;
(d) ink cartridges;
(e) hygiene products;
(f) food preservation and cooking equipment;
(g) leisure products;
(h) books and school equipment.
(4) Any person or entity who disposes of new non-food products contrary to subsection (1)shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000 in respect of each such offence by such person or entity.".
Garret Ahearn, Niall Blaney, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Shane Cassells, Martin Conway, John Cummins, Emer Currie, Paul Daly, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Pippa Hackett, Gerry Horkan, Seán Kyne, John McGahon, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
I move amendment No. 65:
In page 25, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “Report on circular economy in respect of clothing16.The Minister shall, within 18 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining measures which have been taken to reduce waste arising from the disposal of clothing and to ensure the protection of indigenous clothing industries in countries to which such clothing is exported to as waste or in the form of donations.” .
I move 66:
In page 25, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “Report on supply chain due diligence16.The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining the mechanisms employed to ensure that both the circular economy strategy and the circular economy programme protect human rights and the environment along the supply chain of goods and services entering the State and the mechanisms employed to ensure compliance with any European Union legislative change on the issue.”.
Amendments Nos. 68 to 89, inclusive, and 91 to 111, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 69 to 79, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 68. Amendments Nos. 83 to 89, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 82. Amendments Nos. 92 to 102, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 91. Amendments Nos.105 to 111, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 104. Amendments Nos. 68 to 89, inclusive, and 91 to 111, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is quite a big grouping, so I ask Members to bear with me. There is some potential repetition in terms of the two different Acts the amendments seek to amend.
Amendments Nos. 68 and 90 seek the outright deletion of sections 20 and 32 of the Bill. Sections 20 and 32 make provisions for operational CCTV for certain purposes. It is our assertion that these sections of the Bill are unnecessary and provide opportunity for problematic scope creep in the future.
Amendments Nos. 82 and 104 seek the outright deletion of sections 22, 23, 33 and 34 of the Bill. Sections 22 and 23 make provisions for the codes of practice around local authorities' CCTV schemes. Section 23 and 34 relate to the admissibility of data collected through the CCTV schemes as evidence in criminal trials. Again, it is our assertion that these sections of the Bill are unnecessary and provide opportunity for problematic scope creep in the future.
Amendments Nos. 69 and 92 adjust the purposes for which an authorised person may submit a proposal for the installation of the operation of a CCTV scheme in a functional area. Currently, the Bill provides that an authorised person may submit a proposal for a scheme for the purpose of deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences under the specified Act. This amendment seeks to delete the first three of these purposes and retain only the prosecution of an offence as a purpose for which a CCTV scheme can be proposed.
There is a significant difference, in my mind, in using surveillance in certain circumstances where one knows a crime has been committed in the hopes of identifying a person or persons who committed an offence, versus using surveillance to try to identify crimes being committed in a functional area. I believe it is wholly inappropriate that we should provide scoping legislation for local authorities to surveil people constantly in their functional areas. This, essentially, is what has been provided for by this part of the Bill.
The use of CCTV has serious implications for the right to privacy. In order to ensure that the interference with privacy is proportionate, the effectiveness of CCTV in fighting crime must be demonstrated. Given that this legislation is likely to result in the expansion of surveillance technology in our public spaces, it is important that we would hear more about the necessity and proportionality of schemes being provided for in this Bill. How effective is CCTV surveillance in preventing and detecting crime? Has research been undertaken in this respect in an Irish context or has any international research in this area been consulted in the drafting of this legislation? According to bodies such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of CCTV in preventing crime in Ireland and in other contexts, with research yielding mixed results. Very simply, there must be evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of CCTV schemes before we agree to expand them further. To date, this has not been provided. I would welcome any clarification that the Minister of State could provide in this regard.
Amendments Nos. 70, 71, 93 and 94 are related. Currently, the relevant subsection sets out that details of location, number and technical specification of the devices being used must be provided by the authorised officer when submitting a proposal for a scheme. The amendment breaks the relevant subsection down into two separate subsections. One subsection focuses on the details of the location and number of CCTV devices within the proposed scheme, and the other subsection focuses on the technical specifications of the devices within the proposed scheme. We propose two subsections because we feel that the provision regarding the technical specification of the devices requires elaboration. Amendments Nos. 70 and 93, therefore, set out the details that ought to be provided about the location and the number of devices to be used in a scheme. In addition to the wording as drafted, we have included the word "precisely" with regard to the location of the devices to ensure that specific details are provided as opposed to a general area or locality.
Amendments Nos. 71 and 94 separately set out the details that ought to be provided in a proposed CCTV scheme in relation to its technical specifications. Again, we have added to the Government's drafting with an amendment attempting to bring clarity as to what would be required in the technical specification. The amendment provides that detailed information regarding the hardware, software and AI used in the recording, processing and storage of data must be provided when proposing a scheme. Not all CCTV cameras work in the same way and not all software that is used to process or analyse recorded visual data does this in the same way.
Amendments Nos. 72 and 95 seek to add an additional requirement that must be met when an unauthorised person submits a proposal for a CCTV scheme. This is information regarding the deletion and destruction of data that is produced pursuant to the scheme. As drafted, an authorised officer must only set out details of the arrangements regarding the preservation of the data produced pursuant to the proposed scheme. While there is reference to codes of practice in a later section of the Bill to the deletion, disposal and destruction of data, we feel that it should be incumbent on the authorised officer to provide details of the proposals in this regard when setting out the details of the CCTV scheme. When a chief executive is deciding on whether or not to grant permission for a CCTV scheme it is critical that he or she has information available about the proposals for the deletion and destruction of the data. This is especially pertinent if earlier amendments restricting the purpose of the scheme are not accepted. If a CCTV scheme is constantly surveilling a local area a large swathe of personal data will be collected every single day. In our view, it is not acceptable that a proposal for a scheme would not include the details for the deletion or destruction of the data, when this is what will be required in the majority of cases.
Amendments Nos. 73 and 96 introduce new provisions which specify an assessment of the ethical, environmental and class considerations that must be carried out as part of any CCTV scheme proposal.The aim of the amendment is to ensure any scheme that is proposed is fair and ethical and not harmful to the local environment insofar as possible. Particular areas and communities are surveilled more frequently and intensely than others and the amendment aims to prevent this. In addition, it seeks that any proposed scheme includes an ethical and environmental consideration. I want to elaborate on the amendment, which is quite important to me. I listen to conversations on CCTV in certain locations and sometimes there is an increase in antisocial behaviour in a particular community or scaremongering about the sale of drugs in a particular area. My biggest concern is that we might end up with communities that are already overpoliced getting CCTV installed and picking up a huge amount of people's everyday lives on the suspicion that they are engaged in some sort of behaviour. That can lead to a class analysis of CCTV, where it is placed, why it is placed and what type of data is being created. That is my real fear and what I am trying to address in this amendment. People will say that is not the intention of the CCTV but I will give a separate example. During Covid when there was the 5 km travel rule, the Garda placed its checkpoints and gave out fines predominantly in working-class areas. At some level people make decisions based on class analysis and that happens with policing. The fear is we will have that creep in with CCTV.
Amendments Nos. 74 and 97 seek to ensure that the chief executive of a relevant local authority consults with relevant persons when deciding whether to grant permission for a CCTV scheme. As the Bill is drafted, a chief executive has unilateral power to grant or refuse permission for a scheme. Given the far-reaching impacts of a prospective CCTV scheme on individuals and communities within a functional area, it does not seem right that a chief executive should wield so much unilateral power. The amendments, as drafted, specify the persons the chief executive should consult with but it could include: other members of the local authority executive, local councillors, people living and working in the local authority area or persons with expertise in human rights, equality or data protection. If there are conversations about using any sort of technology or software, it is not wise to have a chief executive who probably does not have any understanding of how any sort of artificial intelligence is built or of facial recognition making a decision on whether to put CCTV in a particular place without understanding the technology. The chief executive should have to be informed by people who understand the software we are using and the human rights and data impacts of such a CCTV scheme.
Amendments Nos. 75 and 98 aim to establish a publicly accessible database within each local authority which sets out the precise location of recording devices in the local authority area. This is a hugely important amendment for ensuring the transparency and ethics of any proposed scheme. All recording devices should be prominently marked so that their presence and purpose are unmistakable in any event. The amendment also suggests that a database "which is accessible to the public" should exist. Sections 57, 89 and 90 of the Data Protection Act 2018 require that data subjects be informed of: the controllers; how to contact the controllers; the purpose of the process; the legal basis of processing; the recipients of data; whether data will be transferred to a third party, and if so, what safeguards apply; duration of storage; what data rights apply to the data where automated decision-making is applied; and, if so, what the logic is. It is not immediately clear how this occurs in practice as it relates to the recording devices specified in the Bill. I would welcome clarification from the Minister of State in this regard. According to the Data Protection Commission:
The use of recording mechanisms to obtain data without an individual's knowledge is generally unlawful. Covert surveillance is normally only permitted on an exceptional case-by-case basis ... [and] must be focused and of short duration.
The commission goes on to state: "If the surveillance is intended to prevent crime, overt cameras may be considered to be a more appropriate measure, and less invasive of individual privacy."
From my reading of the Bill it is unclear whether the proposed surveillance is to be overt or covert. If covert surveillance is provided for, there is a dearth of information on the additional safeguards required to ensure compliance with UN rights and data protection concerns. Providing a publicly available database of all recording devices within the local authority would be one such safeguard.
When considering this amendment and the drafting of same, the following point was a bit of an afterthought and the deadline had passed for submitting amendments but I was also thinking that people need to be made aware of where cameras are, what the specification is and that they need to be clearly signposted. Down the line we should also look at the following idea: in local communities when planning permission is being sought or if building is happening, if we put up a sign to say it is intended to build on this site, people should have an opportunity to make objections to building. When it comes to technology and surveillance we should also consider that planning-type objection model where the community can submit objections to technology being installed in their local areas and facing onto their parks and playgrounds where people are living their everyday lives. I did not get to include that in these amendments but that point is worth thinking about.
Amendments Nos. 76 and 99 seek to ensure that the chief executive of a relevant local authority consults with "relevant persons" when deciding whether or not to renew or revoke a permission for a CCTV scheme at the conclusion of a review. As the Bill is drafted, the chief executive has unilateral power to grant a renewal or revoke permission. These amendments, like amendment No. 81, provides an important check and balance in respect of a chief executive's powers. It seems especially important that a chief executive would consult with relevant persons when reviewing an expired or soon to be expired permission, given that the review will determine the effectiveness, necessity, proportionality or otherwise of a particular scheme in practice, as opposed to in theory. Like No. 81, the amendment as drafted has not specified the persons the chief executive should consult with but it could include: other members of the local authority; the executive; local councillors; people living and working in the local authority area; or persons with expertise in human rights, equality and data protection. It is particularly important that we do not just keep granting CCTV permissions in an area where it is not required and where there has been no assessment on whether it was effective in any shape or form.
Amendments Nos. 77 and 100 are on proposed changes to an approved scheme. As drafted, the Bill permits repairs or modifications of an already approved scheme that do not alter the extent of the coverage of the scheme or the capability of the devices used in the scheme without a proposal being made. These amendments seek to amend the provisions that only repairs can be made without a proposal being submitted by an authorised officer. If accepted, any modifications would need to be prefaced with the submission of a new proposal by an authorised officer. The provision, as drafted, is ambiguous and, therefore, could be seen as being left open to exploitation by persons acting in bad faith. The word "capability" is used in respect of "devices" in this section but this term does not appear in any other section of the Bill. As a result, it is unclear what the capability of a device means.
Amendments Nos. 78 and 101 are minor amendments to clarify the specific time period after which local authorities can terminate a CCTV scheme after an approval has been revoked. The section, as drafted, specifies that the termination shall occur not later than one month after the date on which approval expired or was revoked. To avoid unnecessary confusion in this respect, these amendments specifies that "one month" should be interpreted as meaning four weeks or "28 days".
Amendments Nos. 79 and 102 are virtually identical in that they both require that any approved CCTV scheme must be accompanied by the publication of transparency notices about the scheme. Amendment No. 79 is in respect of the amendment to the 1996 Act while amendment No. 102 is in respect of the amendment to the 1997 Act.The aim of these amendments is for the public to be fully informed about what surveillance is being carried out in their local areas. The amendments would require every CCTV scheme in a local authority area to be accompanied by surveillance transparency notices, which would be published both online and in physical form in public places in the local authority area. These notices would outline to the public in detail what cameras are being used and where they are being used, as well as any other technology that may be in use. These notices would include impartial information about individuals' privacy and data rights so that people can understand how their rights are being violated by such schemes.
If the Minister of State does not see fit to accept our amendments about prohibiting the use of facial recognition technology and other artificial intelligence, the very least we can do is bake this transparency requirement into the legislation. As I said, I am concerned to see definitions of facial recognition technology and other surveillance technology being inserted into the legislation with no clear identification of their purpose. Are these definitions being inserted so that the use of facial recognition technology, in conjunction with these approved CCTV schemes, can later be greenlit by the Minister without Oireachtas oversight? I sincerely hope that is not the case. If it is, the least we can do is to have minimum standards of transparency for these CCTV schemes. If they use facial recognition, members of the public have a right to know that their privacy is being violated in this way and that their biometric data are being collected. Transparency is a baseline, minimum requirement. A better scenario would be one where no faceprints are collected by the State.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 103 are virtually identical. They are duplicates of each other since they both seek to make the same regulations for CCTV schemes. They refer to the 1996 Act and the 1997 Act. They ban the combination of CCTV footage from an approved scheme with any artificial intelligence or facial recognition technology. Specifically, the amendments ban the direct installation of facial recognition technology in approved CCTV cameras, as well as the passing of footage from approved CCTV cameras to a third party for processing with facial recognition software. In other words, any use of the footage from approved CCTV cameras with this technology would be prohibited. This is an essential amendment. As I said, I am concerned to see definitions of facial recognition and other surveillance technology being inserted into the legislation with no clear indication of their purpose. Are these definitions being inserted to use that facial recognition technology in conjunction with approved CCTV schemes?
The use of facial recognition technology has been disastrous in other territories. I am alarmed at the casual way in which it has been thrown into legislation. The Garda facial recognition Bill is coming in the autumn and now this technology is being referred to in a Bill relating to the circular economy. It appears that the Government does not have any grasp of the wider ramifications of building surveillance into our public lives in this way. The UK is a terrible example of this, where a cavalier attitude to surveillance technology has resulted in it being used recklessly by police on busy high streets without the public's awareness. Big Brother Watch calculated that, of the supposed matches from facial recognition use by the Metropolitan Police between 2016 and 2022, 89% were inaccurate. More than 3,000 people were wrongly identified through facial recognition in that period. That means that more than 3,000 people were wrongly accused of crimes, yet definitions are being inserted into this legislation without either House ever truly scrutinising what it means to use facial recognition technology in this way.
Very few politicians understand how those data are trained and used and where they go. By inserting these definitions, we are creating a future issue due to the disastrous, gendered, racist and classist approach to how technology is used in particular countries. I hope the Minister of State will reflect on my concerns, because this is an essential amendment. A ban on facial recognition technology is needed so that no CCTV scheme can ever become a biometric data harvesting scheme in the future. We cannot leave that up to the whims of future Ministers.
On amendment No. 81, section 21 provides for the operation of mobile recording devices by authorised persons for certain purposes, but it does not outline in the same detail the protections as set out for fixed CCTV scheme. Additionally, what constitutes a mobile recording device is not adequately set out in the legislation. The absence of a definition of mobile recording device is especially problematic. It may be inferred as including camcorders, mobile phones, tablets, other handheld devices, drones or other emerging technologies that we are not even aware of yet. It may be interpreted as including different types of intrusive surveillance technology such as facial recognition technology and other future systems with intrusive capabilities. Existing surveillance technologies which pose significant human rights concerns may be unknowingly provided for in the legislation because they are not specified.
On the matter of safeguards, there is no mention of unique data impact assessments being necessary prior to granting authorisation. There is also no reference to visibility or signage for mobile recording devices as required by the data protection law. It is imperative that these safeguards are included. It is our view that this section of the Bill should be removed entirely or amended significantly prior to the legislation progressing.
Amendments Nos. 83 and 85 relate to the development of codes of practice for CCTV schemes. Specifically, they would prevent CCTV schemes provided for by the legislation from operating prior to the preparation and submission to the Minister of those codes of practice. I welcome the provision of codes of practice in the legislation. There are some welcome safeguards set out in them. However, it is my view that approving and installing CCTV schemes prior to the development and publication of the codes of practice for how they should operate puts the cart before the horse. We need codes of practice to ensure that the schemes provided for are operated safely, fairly, equally and in a way that complies with human rights.
Amendments Nos. 84, 85, 106 and 107 are related and should be considered together. They are minor amendments to the wording of the subsection that sets out the need for local authorities to describe safeguards, security measures and mechanisms being used in their functional area to mitigate risk.
Amendment No. 89 is a minor amendment which seeks to replace the word "any" with "the" with regard to safeguards in security measures or mechanisms to be implemented by the local authority to mitigate risk. The use of the word "any" in this context gives scope for a local authority to implement none of the safeguards as set out in the section. These amendments simply strengthen the Bill's provision for the mitigation of risk and leave less scope for safeguards to be sidestepped by a local authority.
Amendments Nos. 86 and 108 specify that the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, should consult with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission prior to submitting draft codes of practice to the Minister. The Bill currently provides that the LGMA must consult with relevant Ministers and the Data Protection Commission, DPC. While consultation with the DPC is a welcome provision, given the wide range of human rights, equality and civil liberties implications, potentially including the freedom of speech and assembly, it is critical that IHREC is consulted in the development of the draft codes of practice. IHREC is a subject matter expert in this area and it is important to call on its knowledge and experience in the development of codes of practice, which will go a good way in developing safeguards.
Amendments Nos. 87 and 109 seek to ensure that the evidence obtained through CCTV schemes or personal recording devices under the scheme can only be introduced as evidence in criminal proceedings where it has been obtained on foot of a valid search warrant. The admissibility or otherwise of evidence should be a matter for the courts and not the Legislature. The provision is an overreach which unduly extends into the remit of the courts, which are the proper and correct forum to determine whether evidence is admissible following a submission from both the prosecution and the defence.
Amendments Nos. 88 and 110 delete the presumption in criminal proceedings under the Bill that a recording device is capable of producing accurate information or material, that the information produced by the device in respect of the proceedings was accurate, and that the device was operated in accordance with the codes of practice as set out in the Bill. It is my view that it should be incumbent on the prosecution in a criminal case to demonstrate that the evidence it has presented to the court is accurate and was obtained in accordance with the relevant codes of practice. This amendment seeks to achieve this through the deletion of the relevant subsection. Amendments Nos. 89 and 111 propose to delete the specific offence of damaging a CCTV device. The offence of criminal damage already exists in other legislation and it is unclear why it needs to be replicated here. Opposition Senators are frequently told their amendments are unnecessary or pointless because they would give rise to duplication, yet here the Government is providing for duplication of offences in legislation for no apparent reason. It seems out of keeping with best practice in legislative drafting.
I have set out a lot of information for the Minister of State. I thank our office staff for their assistance with these amendments, which we have been working on for some time. It is a shame the debate on Committee Stage was guillotined because it means I am only speaking on these proposals for the first time on Report Stage. We did not have time on Committee Stage to move our amendments or tease them out. As the Minister of State can see, they are extremely substantive. I am the only one seeking to have a conversation on this part of the Bill, which we will not get to do in the way we could have done on Committee Stage. That is unfortunate because the issues involved are very important, not only for this Bill but because the questions around the use of CCTV and the polices and procedures around data will be crucial to every legislative proposal we go on to create over the coming years as technology begins to expand and overreach into people's lives and we seek to deal with the human rights abuses that may stem from that. This is a very important aspect of the Bill. We should not be giving powers to chief executives of local authorities to use CCTV at a whim without having the full body of knowledge and understanding of the implications of that for people and communities. I hope the Minister of State will respond in the best possible way to my concerns.
Senator Ruane has made many good points. As she said at the end of her contribution, it is about having the full body of knowledge when it comes to the use of AI. These amendments have led to a good discussion. I hope, at some stage in the future, the House will have a wider debate on the use of technology, including AI.
I agree with the Senator's point that chief executives of local authorities are not properly trained to engage with CCTV. That training requirement is a really important aspect for the Government to roll out across every local authority to ensure they all have the same level of ability to react to this new type of technology. There has to be a certain level of privacy concerns and an awareness of the impact on civil liberties. We should make no mistake that technology is here to stay. I always make the point that technology, particularly AI, evolves at a fast pace that could nearly be said to be lightning speed. It can be very difficult for governments to keep up with it.
I do not agree with everything proposed in these amendments but I like the overall flow of what is being proposed. It can lead us to a good debate on the wider aspects of AI technology and some of the safeguards and privacy concerns that we, as a Government, need to consider.
I fully support this series of amendments and I thank Senator Ruane for setting them out. I have expressed some concerns before about the issues they raise. When we had a debate in this House on a Bill brought forward by Senator Malcolm Byrne dealing with similar issues, we were told the Government was looking at the matter and needed more detail. I am aware that a number of local authorities have had severe fines imposed on them relating to surveillance practices. In some cases, they related to focused and targeted surveillance of Travellers. The councils were found to be in serious breach of their responsibilities and duties in regard to data and so on.
We must be careful in how we approach these issues. I understand the motive and reasoning for what is proposed in the Bill but I also understand the issues around civil liberties and the impact on the freedoms of citizens. The provision for a surveillance transparency notice is really important. I spoke to a person who has a similar CCTV system in operation on a commercial premises. When I asked how a person who trespassed on the premises would know he or she was being surveilled, I was told about the obligations the business has in this regard. There are clearly visible notices displayed and when someone comes into a certain zone, a recording is played announcing that the person has entered a CCTV-monitored security area. There are warnings in place.
I have very serious concerns about the issues Senator Ruane is seeking to address in these amendments. She has articulated her proposals well and they are very reasonable. Knowing the Minister of State, I believe he will have some sympathy with them. He has a certain amount of expertise in this area. Senator Ruane has made a good case for the amendments and they are worthy of support. It certainly is an issue we will have to return to and review and it potentially is an area of concern.
As seconder of the amendments, I will not reiterate all of the points that have been made. This discussion began when we were debating the Data Protection Act 2018 in the previous Seanad and that discussion has followed through to this debate. This is an issue of very serious concern to all of us in our group and we have engaged very actively on it, including in respect of the debates on the transposition of the audiovisual media services directive, the digital services directive and the AI directive. All of these issues are fundamental to society and to civil liberties.
I support and commend my colleague's amendments. She has articulated proposals that would properly apply the brakes to our moving ahead in areas such as the use of facial recognition technology, including on personal devices. We need to think ahead and plan for the future. We must look to how facial recognition technology has been used in China and the UK, for example, and some of the laws in regard to public assembly that have been brought forward in the UK. The provision we put in place for surveillance architecture is extremely important generally, no matter its particular purpose in a specific instance.
I note amendment No. 64 seeks to create a penalty for incredibly large-scale dumping of certain goods. However, the dumping of comparatively smaller amounts of goods is being used to justify quite extreme measures in terms of potential surveillance. My colleague's amendments rightly look to apply the brakes in this regard but she has also offered compromise amendments that would at least seek to insert transparency safeguards. For instance, given there is a requirement for necessity and proportionality in any use of personal data, she is seeking to ensure we make decisions as to whether a measure is proportional or necessary based on how it has been used in the year or two previously, before it is renewed. These are immensely detailed and forensic amendments. I strongly urge the Minister of State to engage with them. I really regret that we do not have the opportunity to go back and forth on them properly and tease them out. They relate to very significant issues with very significant implications.
The big problem we are trying to address in this part of the Bill is the problem of illegal dumping and littering and the fact it has become nearly impossible in recent years for local authorities to prosecute people for carrying out those crimes. We all suffer as a result. As we move around the countryside or walk on the streets, we see litter, sofas dumped in fields and so on. It has become very hard to obtain a prosecution for such offences. Public awareness campaigns are all very well but they do not work on people who are making money out of intentionally breaking the law.
We need to prosecute such offences and in order to do that, we need to have evidence and that evidence must be obtained within the law. We asked the Data Protection Commission and the Attorney General what we need to do to make it lawful for a local authority to prosecute somebody and how we can, at the same time, maintain people's privacy rights. We have to balance the right of all of us to enjoy the countryside without being surrounded by pollution against the right to privacy and not to be subject to mass surveillance all the time. The answer is to introduce provision for a very restricted form of CCTV surveillance, with as many safeguards as we can devise. For example, facial recognition and automatic number plate recognition technologies are specifically excluded by the legislation. Surveillance can only be done on a particular site for a particular period of time. The cameras must be overt rather than covert and the evidence obtained can only be used to prosecute the crimes of littering and dumping. It is only possible to use alternative forms of gathering evidence such as drones or body cameras in the case of commercial dumping, which is a very serious offence.We were advised, when we talked to the Attorney General and so on, that we could not use that for littering because it is minor offence. All the way through, our approach has been characterised by taking a proportionate approach. We have very broad support for this from the public and across all political parties. In fact, a number of Senators introduced similar legislation that did not have the degree of safeguards we have brought in. People are sick of the fact that some can make money by dumping rubbish in the countryside and cannot be prosecuted for it. We need to fix that.
There is a balance of rights. The right to privacy is not absolute and the right to live in a clean society has a value. There is a balance to be struck and this is the balance. I am sorry there are so many substantial amendments here that I cannot consider in detail. I would love to work with Senator Ruane on that. As Senator Boyhan said, I have long had an interest in digital privacy and so on and the right not be surveilled in such a way. We need these limitations. We went a very long way in this legislation to do everything we possibly could to limit the use of CCTV and to balance the right to privacy against the right to live in a clean environment. If Senator Ruane withdraws her amendments, I will co-operate with her and work constructively and openly with her to try to achieve her objectives as far as possible. That goes for Senator Higgins as well. I will work with her on the issues she raised around procurement in the coming months if she withdraws her amendments. That way, we can go ahead and not have this Bill rammed through, which I do not want.
I hope we can work together to look at the substantive issues here. I do not think anyone is arguing in favour of covering up or turning a blind eye to illegal dumping or against the value of a clean space. To argue for these amendments is not to argue against that. This is about how to create a society that finds a way to reduce that while also not having a negative impact on other communities that may be inadvertently impacted by someone else's behaviour, which has nothing to do with them, even with the safeguards in place. The Minister of State is saying the safeguards are there with regard to facial recognition. There are things defined in the legislation but there is no reference to them in the rest of the Bill. Why would something be defined within the legislation at all if is not going to be used? I do not understand why that would be in the legislation in the first place. My fear is that, while there is limited scope in this Bill around the definitions and giving powers to chief executives to make decisions on applications for CCTV, it will set a precedent. When it comes to technology and setting precedent in any legislation, we need to make sure we are thinking of future legislation and how this legislation can be used or abused to create other avenues for local authorities to give licences and stuff for whatever they want. A local community could claim illegal dumping is happening somewhere but it might be relatively small. Some chief executive would then come under local pressure from councillors and decide to put CCTV there. There would be no checks or balances on that. There would also be no notices to the public that it is there in the first place.
I live at the foot of the Dublin Mountains. I drive and walk up around Kiltipper Hill and I see the dumping that happens there. It is also very close to a working-class community that struggles to pay for its waste and refuse. People there struggle to buy extra bins. Poverty sometimes creates some of those sites. I am not talking about those at the large scale the Minister of State is talking about in the countryside. Within communities there may be local councillors who want to be seen to be doing something about what is a relatively small issue and is actually a result of poverty. That is why we need to make sure a chief executive does not have the power to make those decisions. There must be an understanding about why an issue might be happening. In some cases people are not criminals making money from this; people are struggling. There are people in my community who burn their rubbish out the back, with black smoke coming up in the middle of housing estates. That is where these issues intersect. There have to be safeguards when it comes to technology to protect communities that are acting out of poverty and not to make a profit.
I move amendment No. 79:
In page 32, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “(17) Notices, which shall be known as Surveillance Transparency Notices, shall be published in respect of every CCTV scheme approved under this section, both online on a website maintained by the relevant local authority, and in all important public forums within the local authority area, and shall be in plain language.
(18) A Surveillance Transparency Notice published in accordance with subsection (17) shall include—(a) details of the precise location and number of the devices to be used in the CCTV scheme,
(b) a detailed technical specification of the devices to be used in the CCTV scheme, including the hardware, software and any artificial intelligence used to record, store or process the recorded visual data, and
(c) impartial information on the privacy rights and data rights of persons under Irish law, and an explanation of what steps have been taken to ensure the CCTV scheme does not violate those rights.”.
I move amendment No. 80:
In page 32, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following: “Prohibition on use of artificial intelligence under CCTV scheme
21.The Act of 1996 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 14A:“14AA.(1) The use of facial recognition technology, or any other cognate artificial intelligence technologies, in combination with information obtained as a result of the operation of an approved CCTV scheme shall be prohibited.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the use of facial recognition technology shall include both direct and indirect use, including—(a) the operation of such technology in an approved CCTV device, or the use of such technology to process information obtained from an approved CCTV device by a local authority employee, and(3) A person who violates subsections (1) and (2) shall be guilty of an offence.”.”.
(b) the passing of information obtained from an approved CCTV device to any third party for processing in combination with such technology.
I move amendment No. 94:
In page 48, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:“(b) a detailed technical specification of the devices to be used in the CCTV scheme, including the hardware, software and any artificial intelligence used to record, store or process the recorded visual data,”.
I move amendment No. 96:
In page 48, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:“(c) shall include an assessment of the ethical, environmental and social class considerations and implications of the CCTV scheme, and”.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 49, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:“(c) the precise location of any recording devices provided by the CCTV scheme shall be recorded in a local authority database of CCTV recording devices, which is accessible to the public on the website of the local authority concerned.”.
I move amendment No. 102:
In page 51, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:“(17) Notices, which shall be known as Surveillance Transparency Notices, shall be published in respect of every CCTV scheme approved under this section, both online on a website maintained by the relevant local authority, and in all important public forums within the local authority area, and shall be in plain language.
(18) A Surveillance Transparency Notice published in accordance with subsection (17) shall include—(a) details of the precise location and number of the devices to be used in the CCTV scheme,
(b) a detailed technical specification of the devices to be used in the CCTV scheme, including the hardware, software and any artificial intelligence used to record, store or process the recorded visual data, and
(c) impartial information on the privacy rights and data rights of persons under Irish law, and an explanation of what steps have been taken to ensure the CCTV scheme does not violate those rights.”.
I move amendment No. 103:
In page 51, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
“Prohibition on use of artificial intelligence under CCTV scheme
33.The Act of 1997 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 23A:“23AA.(1) The use of facial recognition technology, or any other cognate artificial intelligence technologies, in combination with information obtained as a result of the operation of an approved CCTV scheme shall be prohibited.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the use of facial recognition
technology shall include both direct and indirect use, including—(a) the operation of such technology in an approved CCTV device, or the use of such technology to process information obtained from an approved CCTV device by a local authority employee, and(3) A person who violates subsections (1) and (2) shall be guilty of an offence.”.”.
(b) the passing of information obtained from an approved CCTV device to any third party for processing in combination with such technology.
These amendments relate to the fact the provisions on mineral development and the changes to the Minerals Development Act 1940 in this Bill, while they specify measures in respect of the prospecting for coal, lignite or oil shale, do not include clear provisions in respect of limiting the prospecting for natural gas. This was an issue that was highlighted as a matter of concern during the course of pre-legislative scrutiny.
This is a really important matter given we cannot afford to continue our extraction of fossil fuels of any kind. The decision made about gas as part of the EU taxonomy was the wrong one. Gas is a fossil fuel. It is not in any way, shape or form sustainable, except for green hydrogen. Natural gas certainly is not a green fuel or a renewable resource. Natural gas is ultimately part of an extraction model. We have been told by the UN and others we simply cannot afford to extract any further fossil fuels. Accordingly, some of these amendments relate to natural gas and it being named in this regard. There may be other legislation that touches on it but given the spirit of these measures on coal and lignite, I wanted to have it named in this section of the Bill.
The other amendments relate more directly because the Minerals Development Act is at issue. They very explicitly relate to precious minerals and precious metals. My amendments in those respects look to insert "precious metals" into a number of provisions here. I propose to put in the phrase, "precious metals", because fundamentally we are at a point in resource management where we need to be looking to the absolute best use of the finite resources we have on this planet. One of the things that fuels the fact we have those kinds of waste and disposal we heard about in some of those earlier amendments, including a disposability of electronic goods, is the idea we can constantly access more. One of the most important measures we can take to ensure we move away from the dumping of electronic and other goods is if the source, and indeed the only source, for the accessing of new precious metals and the expansion and use of those is through the reuse and best possible resource management of precious metals. We should be looking at centuries of use for any precious metals that have been extracted, because they last that long. There are vast amounts of precious metals - in fact you can mine more gold from discarded tech than you can from a relative volume of mineral ore. Instead, we have continued with an infinite extraction model. That continued extraction of resources is the one part of the chain that fits with infinite consumption. One of the ways we address it is not just by trying to curtail or encourage different consumption but by cutting off the idea of infinite extraction. Again, it may well be the case that down the line there may be minerals that need to be extracted but right now, when we are not making the proper use of those precious metals we already have in circulation on this planet, we should not be extracting anything further from the ground. We need to get it right on what we are already using before we look elsewhere.
We should bear in mind we have treasure trove measures in Ireland that are really good. The measures recognise that when people dig up torcs and the like, there are certain things that cannot be commercially used but are in fact national property and that they are a national and a public good. Their significance is not one that exists in the commercial realm but one that exists culturally and for us as a society. We need to have a similar perspective about precious metals. The best service for precious metals, both internationally and in Ireland, is for them to be left in the ground and for us to look to strong, dynamic measures for ensuring the reuse and proper recovery of precious metals that have already been extracted.There will not be incentives for that while there is the opportunity instead to have a constant chain of extraction. I am deeply concerned as are the Communities Against the Injustice of Mining which I already mentioned, but there are many other individuals across Ireland who are concerned. I have spoken about the international piece in this regard because it relates to the territory of Ireland, including both our land territory and our waters, but I am going to speak to mining within Ireland.
There is an all-Ireland cross-Border network of groups and individuals who have been very active on issues such as mining, prospecting for minerals, fracking and other forms of extractive-ism. They called for the amendments to the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill because they recognise that primacy should be given to alternative economic activities that are based on the sustainable use and recovery of renewable resources such as recycling, recovery of precious metals and that the Minister should not be allowing for continued prospecting or extraction until we have every measure in place for precious metals. There are other amendments earlier in this Bill to try to give stronger effect to legislation in respect of precious metals. Until we have used our full legislative strength to address the issue of the use of these metals, we should not be looking to new mining. However, in opposition to that what we have actually seen is an expansion in the request for mining.
The Natura strategic environmental assessment statements for mineral exploration and mining which the Government has produced repeats claim that minerals have a critical role in respect of ambitions on the climate action plan and the transition to an effective circular economy. However, there have not been measures that look to recycling, reuse, recovery and repair as being the alternative activities to mining in that regard. Again, I am going to push this on to areas such as gold mining in the north west, where we have seen very little gold in industry or for products, yet we are seeing it mainly extracted as an area for the storage of wealth. It is an extreme area in that respect and is regarded by some as a way of storing and hoarding wealth. We know that there are large amounts of bank vaults which are brimming with gold and much of the use of gold is in respect of the trade in it as a speculative commodity.
The mining industries here in Ireland, and indeed internationally, are infamous in respect of their pollution of water courses. The biodiversity and extinction crisis which we face in parallel with our climate crisis do not allow for the despoliation of new areas and in the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and environmental reports Ireland has been found to have watercourses that are very degraded and in very poor condition.
The key argument around giving permission for new extractive line products in this discussion is where I want to touch on the idea of electric cars and the use of those minerals. We do not have caveats and legislation around restricting how precious minerals and metals are being used. Not only do we not have measures on their recovery, responsible management, their recycling, production, life cycles and the goods that contain them, but we also do not have measures which say that precious metals must only be used in measures that further us in either the circular economy or indeed the transition that we need in areas such as electricity. Having a continued extractive model in respect of mining, when we have taken none of the necessary legislative steps around how metals are used, is again not acceptable.
We know that there have been submissions, and in fact I have put in one or two of them, on the plethora of measures on exploration licences and the prospecting potential, which are of course a step for prospecting licences for mining in the country. There is a large number of concessions for mineral exploration in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
It should also be noted that the continued collection of data by Geological Survey Ireland on land for offshore mineral resources relates to what we are talking about in the paper potential of prospecting licences. These, in themselves, trade and change hands as commodities. They come each time with new measures and geological surveys and this surveying activity in itself has biodiversity implications. This is therefore a commodities market in precious mineral prospects which is having a direct impact again.
The creation of alternative energy has been mentioned again but as I mentioned, we do not have measures which limit the use of minerals in that regard. Again, we are looking largely at the licences for exploration or prospecting that are being granted. They are being given to commercial actors but that is no guarantee as to how or whatever they may mine or extract or how it may be used.
I mentioned the idea of the national good of the gold that we find from past millennia and that it be taken out of the commercial space. Similarly, I put it to the Minister of State that in fact our precious metals here in Ireland should be managed as a national resource, not through commercial companies or through the licensing or the partnership with commercial companies, but through full national ownership of the precious metals that are in our State, with the recognition that in the current climate, economy and situation with legislation and provisions for the use of precious metals, the best national use of that national resource is to keep it in the ground.
That is why I want the same limitation that is given to coal and lignite to be included for precious metals and their extraction prohibited by this Bill.
The Government’s overall policy on mineral exploration and mining is under review at the moment and is currently the subject of an ongoing process of engagement with stakeholders and this will all be examined in detail. The policy statement on mineral exploration and mining is being finalised. That follows a public consultation. This policy statement proposes that the legislative schedule of minerals for which exploration and mining is permitted should be reviewed. I can confirm that an advisory group will be convened to review my Department’s proposals in that regard.
This important review will reflect the principle that our use of Ireland’s mineral resources must first be balanced by conservation. Second, it must support our transition to the circular economy and carbon neutrality. Finally, it must promote equitable development, including international and intergenerational equity, as well as generating economic activity through commercial enterprise.
Amendments Nos. 112 and 115 specifically relate to natural gas. The exploration for and the development of petroleum, which includes natural gas, is regulated by the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960. Amendments to that Act last year gave legislative effect to the programme for Government commitment to end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of oil or gas.
The forthcoming policy statement on mineral exploration will propose that the legislative schedule of minerals for which exploration and mining is permitted be reviewed and, for clarity, the removal of natural gas from this schedule will be included in the review.
Finally, amendment No. 114 relates to the Akwé Kon Guidelines. These guidelines are intended to serve as guidance to governments, subject to their national legislation, in the development and implementation of their impact-assessment regimes. The Akwé Kon Guidelines were adopted by the seventh COP to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2004 and Ireland is a party to that convention. Ireland’s implementation of the convention is reflected in the National Biodiversity Action Plan, which is, in turn, to be reflected in the policy statement on mineral exploration and mining.
The issues of community consent, or “social legitimacy”, and biological diversity will be examined in detail and transparently in the context of the Government’s overall policy on mineral exploration and mining. As a result, I am not accepting these amendments.
I will respond, a Leas-Chathaoirligh on the question of natural gas. Unfortunately, there were limitations in the issuing of new licences.The Minister of State mentioned new licences but in situations where, for example, there have been explorations in situations where it was about a renewal of licences, an excessive number of exemptions were provided in respect of the continuation of natural gas extraction in the legislation mentioned by the Minister of State. I tried to address those many loopholes in that legislation at the relevant time. Again, that is why I am taking a second pass at it here because it was exceptionally generous. In almost any situation, people had a half expectation that once they had begun thinking about looking for natural gas, they could continue to be awarded licences. That is a real problem because we are in danger of a race towards the acceleration of gas extraction at the moment, which is something the world cannot afford. I deplore the decision that has been made in respect of the taxonomy in that regard. It gives a lack of credibility to the definition of green investment at an EU level and diminishes Europe's going into the COP negotiations and any other circumstances and our credibility regarding those matters.
Regarding the Akwé: Kon guidelines and the convention on biological diversity, I welcome the fact that the Minister is looking to these areas but I will note two or three matters that are really important as the Minister of State considers them. One is that it would be free, prior and informed consent of the local community so that we do not have a situation where An Bord Pleanála is able to overrule the concerns of a local community in respect of mining because it is explicit that it would be the local community's consent and agreement. It involves measures be they FEMPI measures in terms of factors of overriding public interest, An Bord Pleanála and other measures or indeed the policies relating to extraction at the national level. The Akwé: Kon guidelines are really clear that it is the local community's full, free, prior and informed consent that is the determining factor. Those guidelines do not allow for it to be balanced against some other considerations be they economic, social or other considerations. That is important. It concerns the normal planning process and even the measures, which I deplore in general, where we have seen a lot of overriding of local planning decisions in terms of a shift towards going directly in some cases. I mentioned quarries. There may be situations where you have substitute consent and then supplementary decisions that are going directly to An Bord Pleanála. They would not be in line with the Akwé: Kon guidelines.
I am glad that a policy is being looked at this in regard. However, it is my strong conviction that pending a proper policy or better prevention and being in line with the precautionary principle at EU level, we should have a moratorium on any extraction of precious metals pending a situation whereby we have a full suite of appropriate legislative hard policy measures that ensure it is done not just in a responsible and regulated way but only in a way that benefits our larger national good and environmental concerns. From my perspective, that period of time when we can responsibly consider extraction in such regard is some distance away.
I move amendment No. 114:
In page 55, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following: "Amendment of section 8 of Minerals Development Act 194038.Section 8A(4) of the Minerals Development Act 1940 is amended by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (a):
"(aa) where there is the free, prior and informed consent of the local community in full compliance with the Akwé: Kon Guidelines under the Convention on Biological Diversity,".".