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 Header Item Waste Management Inspections (Continued)
 Header Item Rural Social Scheme Administration

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] Maximising the resources recovered from waste is a central principle of the policy, which contains measures to ensure that prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery are favoured to the disposal of waste, in accordance with the waste hierarchy as set out in the waste framework directive.

The performance of the household waste collection market, in particular, will be crucial to achieving our overall policy objectives and meeting our targets on landfill diversion. Under the new policy, household waste collection will be organised under an improved regulatory regime to address a number of problematic issues. Waste collection companies will have to adhere to improved standards of service, incentivise households to segregate waste and be much more transparent about their charging structures, and they will be held to account for failures under the new permitting regime. This is the key point - enforcement. At the same time, an onus will be placed on households to show how they manage their waste in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The Competition Authority is also being requested by the Government to maintain oversight of household waste collection markets and will report as part of a mid-term review of the implementation of the policy to be carried out in 2016. It is my intention that the implementation of the policy will deliver both enhanced environmental performance, a quality service for consumers and better enforcement in regard to the people collecting the waste.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank the Minister and I know he is very committed to reforming the whole waste industry. We need to move very quickly because, unfortunately, there are cowboys operating in the market and this is giving a very bad reputation to the waste industry. There are many responsible waste management companies which are customer friendly and abide by good practice. They charge only on what people actually put out instead of making people prepay, they encourage recycling and they work for a better industry. However, while I believe by far the majority want to develop a sustainable industry, this is being greatly undermined by what is happening, particularly in our capital city. People are being incentivised not to recycle because they are being overcharged for recycling.

I ask the Minister to move as quickly as possible to put regulations and legislation in place. I look forward to the issue coming before the committee. At present in our cities, the local authorities can put in place by-laws stating when the citizen can place a bin on the street but they cannot make a by-law to force companies to collect within those hours. What is happening currently in the capital is that while residents have to put their bins out by 7 a.m. and they are to be collected by 7 p.m., some of these cowboys do not collect them that day and instead collect them the following day, so there are bins on the streets for two days.

This is unacceptable in a capital city. We need to empower local authorities so they can take action, and we have to do it from this House. We have to give them the powers to bring in the by-laws and the legislation. I believe passionately that we need to move quickly on this issue. If we are reforming local government, we have to ensure the councillors on the ground have the power to regulate and to put in the specifications regarding how these cowboys operate. If we delay too long, the cowboys will have undermined the very good companies which operate to high standards and best practice, and they will go out of business.

I urge the Minister to take action as speedily as possible. I will certainly facilitate him as far as possible through the environment committee and I will give any other assistance I can. Most Members see this happening on a daily basis, from Cork to Dublin to Galway. It is a national issue. These cowboys have to be put out of business. We need strong, firm legislation supported by a regulator. I urge the Minister to move as quickly as he can.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Humphreys about the requirement for a level playing field and a standardised service across the country. The most important person in this is the customer. The people have gone to enormous lengths to do the right thing by our waste policy in terms of reuse, recycling and recovery. It is not good enough if waste operators are flouting the enforcement procedures that are in place at present under our permit and licensing system.

Under the new waste policy, a new and strengthened regulatory regime for household waste collection will be introduced in 2013. New mandatory service standards, including the introduction of customer charters, will ensure consumers experience improved customer service from their operator. The key point, as I said, is to ensure that local authorities have the legislative wherewithal, including recourse to by-laws, to ensure this is properly enforced and implemented.

We have a lot of law in this country but we do not always have the best enforcement, and the case highlighted by the Deputy is a good example. The work of developing the new regulatory structures to give effect to the measures has commenced and my Department is engaging with the stakeholders at present in regard to the detailed design of the new system. I welcome Deputy Humphreys' co-operation in this matter on the environment committee. I hope to be in a position to bring new proposals to the committee and to the House as quickly as possible in 2013.

Rural Social Scheme Administration

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I am very disappointed the relevant Minister has not bothered to come to the House to take the issue.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I am first sub.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The arrangement when Topical Issues were introduced was that Ministers were to come to the House. The Minister for Social Protection is obviously around the House today because she has a Bill in the House. However, as a rural Deputy, I am sure the Minister present will understand my concern in regard to the issue I raise.

The rural social scheme was introduced in 2004. The idea was that, rather than paying farm assist to farmers, we would give an opportunity to farmers to supplement their farming income by working on a scheme. To be eligible for the rural social scheme, one had to be qualified by being in receipt of a means tested qualifying payment, in most cases the farm assist payment. This was a mechanism by which we could bring the income of low income farmers up to an adequate level so they would be able to sustain a reasonable livelihood.

The idea of the scheme was to be flexible and to operate around the requirements of a farmer to farm while, on the other hand, using the talents of farmers, which are many, to make a contribution to community services. There was, therefore, a huge double win in the scheme, namely, the win for the farm family in terms of income and also in terms of income certainty in that they got a fixed amount of income which was €20 more than the basic farm assist rate and was the exact same as that paid under the community employment schemes.

Farmers who went on the scheme have time and again told me there are two major benefits for them. The first was the obvious one in regard to income and the second was in regard to social contact. One of the big changes in farming is that the meitheal has gone - the idea of people gathering to save the hay or doing all the jobs that would have been done 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago by a group of people but which are now often done by one person working on their own. Therefore, many farmers said to me that the socialisation of working was of equal importance to the income gained.

I know from evidence produced to me when I was in the Department of Social Protection that the negative effects of under-employment on people's health are clearly measurable. From the community's point of view, farmers were not unemployed. We were not talking about unemployed people but under-employed people who, because of mechanisation, did not need to put 40 hours a week into their farms. These people brought a huge wealth of can-do and experience to the job. Any community that had a rural social scheme in operation will testify to the huge amount of work that has been done.


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