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 Header Item Septic Tank Registration Scheme (Continued)
 Header Item Waste Management Inspections

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan] I made regulations in June setting out the procedures for householders to register details of their treatment systems with their water services authorities. The Local Government Management Agency has developed an on-line registration facility on a shared service basis for the 34 county and city councils. The agency is tasked with managing a central bureau to process written applications accompanied by registration fees. The registration facilities have been available since 26 June and as of today, more than 290,000 owners have registered their systems. By comparison, last year's census recorded that almost 500,000 houses were served by septic tanks or other on-site treatment systems. Householders who have not yet registered have until 1 February 2013 to register their systems. I encourage each of them to register on time to ensure they are in compliance with the law. Registration can be done on-line, by post or at local authority offices.

I remind the House that this legislation was introduced to ensure compliance with a European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland. It is important that the legislation is fully implemented, not just to comply with the court ruling but also to protect our valuable water resources, as the Deputy said. Regrettably, my predecessors in government exposed the State to potential EU fines. I am aware that some householders are concerned that they may incur significant expense in repairing or upgrading their systems if they fail an inspection. As I have said on a number of occasions, I am prepared to consider all possible options to provide financial support for householders whose wastewater treatment systems are deemed, following inspection under the new legislation, to require substantial remediation or upgrading. The matter is under review in my Department and I expect to be in a position to make a decision shortly. I emphasise that the provision of financial support must have regard to the overall budgetary situation and the financial position of the individual households concerned.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I welcome the Minister's comments. I hope the decision on the review by the Department will be made as soon as possible. The Minister has said 290,000 systems have been registered. While I understand that up to 66% of systems have been registered in some water service authority areas, it seems that the figures in others are low. If we could have clarity on the possibility of a scheme being introduced to help people on low incomes - I am thinking particularly of elderly people on low incomes - it would encourage more people to register their systems by the February 2013 deadline.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I accept what the Deputy is saying. There is concern, some of which has stemmed from the irresponsible dissemination of misinformation in certain parts of rural constituencies. I suggest some of the Deputies involved who were serving in government when this case came before the courts and did nothing about it for four years thereafter are responsible for the European Court of Justice ruling which has exposed the State to potential fines on a daily basis, as well as a lump sum fine. A decision in that regard is likely to be made soon. I am conscious that the misinformation I have mentioned is causing many elderly people and low-income families to worry that they will potentially have to make a major financial outlay to carry out remediation works. That will not be the case. If difficulties arise on foot of the inspections that will be carried out, it will be possible to deal with most of them by means of desludging, in the same way that applied when Cavan County Council introduced such a scheme. I am prepared to examine a scheme to assist people in exceptional circumstances, for example, if it costs €3,000 or €4,000 to resolve serious structural issues associated with remediation.

Waste Management Inspections

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for debate. As the Minister knows, there have been radical changes in the waste industry in the past decade. When Dublin City Council had to privatise its waste collection service last January, it was widely seen as a disaster. I remind the Minister who spoke about those who had spread misinformation in rural areas in response to the previous matter that there are irresponsible Deputies in urban areas also. The actions of the Socialist Workers Party in campaigning for the non-payment of waste charges meant that is was no longer economically viable for Dublin City Council to stay in the waste management business. That resulted in the privatisation of the service, which means we now have a poorer service.

The company that received the contract in Dublin, Greyhound, has engaged in many practices that need to be regulated. It started to distribute letters to customers last week informing them that it would have to charge €1.50 for each bag of recyclable material. That will bring an end to the practice of picking up many bags for free. The Minister will be aware that many houses in the city do not have green bins because they do not have enough space for them. Instead, they put their recyclable waste in green bags. Greyhound which makes massive profits in Ireland has refused to publish its accounts. Given that it charges €9 for a roll of six bags, this latest measure will push people back into putting recyclable waste in black bags. Black bags are not normally full in city areas. Greyhound brought the industry into further disrepute when it imposed dramatic price increases last summer. It piggy-backed on the landfill levy and tried to blame the Minister for the increases, even though they did not equate in any manner to the landfill levy. I tried to highlight this attempt to increase profits at the time.

In May this year some 4,000 tonnes of waste were found illegally stored in County Kildare. A further 2,000 tonnes of illegally stored waste were discovered in June. Last month some 1,000 bales, containing almost 1,000 tonnes of illegally stored waste, were found on a farm in north Dublin. I appreciate that the EPA is investigating these cases. For this to happen once can be considered an oversight. For it to happen twice can be considered a mistake. Now that illegally stored waste has been found three times in a single year, it must be seen as a pattern. It is clear that we need a waste regulator, just as we have regulators in areas such as the energy and communications sectors. The waste industry in the State has almost been entirely privatised. We have multiple operators in many areas across Ireland and need a regulator who could control how the industry operates. I suggest the national regulator should set overall guidelines, to be enforced by the local authorities. We will have the chance to do this when we reform local government radically. Councillors are well placed to monitor, report on and deal with these problems.

The free-for-all that we are seeing needs to be controlled. We need legislation and regulation and citizens need to have confidence in the waste industry. We need to ensure the waste stream is properly regulated and recycling is encouraged. Many of the waste companies will not collect bins unless a hefty sum of money is left on account as a deposit. If a customer wishes to change from one operator to another, he or she will lose the money that is on deposit. This is happening right across Ireland and another example of the citizen losing out in this unregulated and poorly legislated for area.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I am aware of his personal interest in waste policy and he has raised a number of important and serious issues, with which I will ask my officials to deal immediately.

Local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of environmental standards for the collection of waste. They consider applications for waste collection permits from service providers. They enforce the conditions of the permits granted on the basis of national policy and regional waste management plans. I accept the Deputy's point that we should examine the conditions attaching to these permits much more rigorously and ensure they are enforced. The treatment and management of waste material is subject to a registration and permit system by local authorities, or licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency, as appropriate. The primary purpose of the licensing, permit and registration system is to facilitate appropriate controls on waste facilities and activities in a way that ensures good and consistent waste management practice and the implementation of high standards of environmental protection. I regret to say this is not happening. The waste industry is further subject to additional regulation outside the remit of my Department. Under animal by-products legislation, for example, composting and anaerobic digestion plants which process food waste are subject to approval by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As the Deputy knows, my Department's role is to provide a comprehensive legislative and waste policy framework through which the enforcement authorities operate. I published the Government's new waste policy, A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland, in July. It sets out the actions Ireland will take to make the further progress needed to become a recycling society, with a clear focus on resource efficiency and the virtual elimination of landfilling municipal waste, thereby minimising our impact on the environment.

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