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 Header Item Bord na Móna (Continued)
 Header Item Waste Management

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 918 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] The charge was reduced by the previous Government and it is imperative that the Minister uses part of that for reinvestment in the localities that can be affected by Bord na Móna.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The emissions trading scheme, ETS.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen As I stated, we can talk about that another day. It is important that the Minister reflects on the two points I have made and ensures that any such report that emanates from the board takes note of and responds to those, and then we could have a solution.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank Deputy Cowen. I have no direct role in this. It is an operational matter for the company. Having said that, Deputy Cowen, like me, has received representations from transport staff, both on the rail side and on the road transport side, as has Deputy Eugene Murphy. All of us across the midlands have received them. There is a bigger issue here in relation to the overall industrial relations environment within the company. It is important, where a successful agreement has been reached and adopted by the staff and the company, that it can be kept intact.

I listened to what Deputy Cowen said. I will relay those issues directly to the board and ask it to consider them. If staff can come up with savings, that needs to be assessed thoroughly. If there are mechanisms, through councils or whatever, to resolve these issues, they need to be used. I listened to what Deputy Cowen said and I will reflect that back to the board, but these are operational matters. As Deputies in the area, we are all concerned about any industrial relations issues. It is in the interests of everyone, within the board and within the wider community, that these agreements are implemented in full.

Waste Management

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Last Friday night, a cohort of 11,000 customers of a waste collection company based in Cork by the name of Country Clean, which provides waste services in both Cork city and Cork county, received a text from it. The text indicated that, as of Monday last, there would be an increase in the pay-per-lift charge. The pay-per-lift for general waste was to increase from €8 per lift to €12 per lift, and for recyclable waste from €4 per lift to €7 per lift. Customers were also asked to increase the amount that they had in their accounts on standby for payment from €20 to €22.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, came in to the House only a matter of weeks ago stating he had an agreement - it was dubbed in the House "a gentleman's agreement" - with the Irish Waste Management Association, the representative organisation for the waste collection companies. The Minister gave a guarantee to the House and to customers that there would be no price hikes for 12 months. I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy English, that this is a clear breach. Not only is it a price hike, it is a price of hike in the region of 50%.

I am asking for action. Country Clean has gone to ground. The company is not taking phone calls from radio stations or anything of the like, and I am asking for action from the Government. The Minister stated in June that legislation would be brought in to enforce a price cap in the event of breaches of this kind. What action does the Minister intend to take to stop this from happening to these 11,000 customers?

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins As Deputy Barry stated, the Irish Waste Management Association agreed with the Minister recently to implement the price freeze that has been spoken about. As I stated on Thursday last on Leaders' Questions to the Tánaiste, there was a collective sigh of relief across the country such was the anger and anxiety of waste customers.

Greyhound has done the exact same. The company has said to its customers they can opt out of pay-by-weight, and if they do, they can enter into another deal where one must pay €140 up front. I made the case of a woman in my area who had paid €59.95 for a year's contract with Greyhound in January of this year and now she has been told she must pay €140 to go back into that contract from 1 August to July next year. That is a massive increase.

These companies are holding the Government and their customers, and, in Greyhound's case, its workers, in contempt in relation to this so-called gentleman's agreement. The Tánaiste stated on Thursday last that the Minister was monitoring the matter and, if necessary, he would bring in the legislation to force the companies to implement this price freeze.

Country Clean is continuing to act in this way. Another company is now following suit where it is increasing its black bin charge from €8 to €12 and its green bin from €4 to €7. Despite the polluter pays principle, they are hiking their prices up by that amount. These companies are ignoring the agreement. The Minister must not be ruthless but forthright in coming forward and doing something about this. What will he do?

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I apologise that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is not here himself to take the debate. He was hoping to be back in time to take it.

It is true that earlier this month the Minister, Deputy Coveney, secured an agreement with all major waste collection companies to freeze charges in order that customers would pay no more than they currently pay for waste collection over the next 12 months for the same level of service.

While the majority of those in the sector have clearly honoured the agreement, there appear to be some instances of divergence from the terms, or if not the terms then certainly the spirit, of what was agreed. We are disappointed and unhappy, therefore, if it is true that a waste collector, cited by the Deputies, is requiring existing customers to pay an increased charge for the same level of service contrary to the sector-wide agreement that was negotiated in good faith.

Our Department has been in touch with the company in question, Country Clean, which has explained that the pricing change only relates to some of its customers and is due to the discontinuing of waivers for a small percentage of pay-by-lift customers, which the company purchased from Cork city and county local authorities in 2011. Country Clean has continued the waiver up to this point but is now intending to remove it. The company also stated that it is open to those customers to move to the flat-fee pricing plan offered by the company.

While regular presenters of waste, that is, those who present both a residual black bin and green bin every fortnight, would see no increase in charges under this change, it could result in increased fees for lighter producers of waste.

We consider that unacceptable. Customers should not be punished for displaying good management practices by producing less waste. Furthermore, I also do not believe that this approach is consistent with the spirit of the agreement reached with the sector last month. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has asked our officials to follow up directly with the company and to ensure it understands his expectations in this regard, and also the implications of what the company plans to do.

The approach being taken by different waste companies is being closely monitored. In this regard, the Minister mandated officials from our Department to meet representatives of the waste sector earlier this month where issues concerning the consistent implementation of the agreement were raised. It was made clear to the representatives from the waste sector that if a fair and reasonable approach was not being delivered, we would be forced to take further steps to ensure the agreement was honoured. The Minister has also been clear that if there is evidence of the agreement being breached, he will look at further legislative measures, where necessary, to enforce it.

The compliance of the sector and its effectiveness in co-operating and implementing these new arrangements are likely to feature within the overall review of the functioning of this waste collection sector and to influence consideration of the need for a regulator to ensure we have absolute clarity in terms of predicted behaviour, charging systems and the parameters within which the providers operate.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. We have publicly expressed our dissatisfaction before with how certain companies are operating in a manner that is not in keeping with the spirit of the agreement reached with sector in June. Under the agreement, customers should not pay more than they currently pay for their waste collection and for the same level of service until July next year.


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