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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 990 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan] Is it possible, even at this late stage, to look again at a Supplementary Estimate and to ascertain if we need more funding for these bodies? It is €338 million at present. Can we add to that to enable them to balance their books this year? One of the key issues to emerge at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, of which I am a member, is that we must have realistic-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Tánaiste to respond. Deputy Broughan knows the rules.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan -----and fully costed health budgets. That is critical.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We are moving in the direction of making sure that the health services Estimate is accurate and that we do not have a substantial Supplementary Estimate at the end of each year for healthcare provision. This is where we are moving to. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has made huge progress on that this year. It is, however, difficult because every time I answer questions in this House Deputies are looking for more money for healthcare outside the Estimates-----

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary It is because the Government is not spending the money it has.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney -----and we need to respond to that and do-----

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary It is due to incompetence.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney -----and therefore have to introduce Supplementary Estimates. We must try to shrink that number by being more accurate in predictions 12 months out, while at the same time recognising that healthcare will need more and more money every year. This year the HSE has allocated €1.9 billion to the disability service programme. In context, this is an increase of almost €350 million since 2016. We continue to raise expenditure in the area of disability, and this will continue as demand continues.

The issue of section 38 organisations versus section 39 organisations, and the request for recategorisation from section 39 to section 38 status, is a complex issue for the Government. It is a very expensive problem to solve and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is involved in this conversation, as is the Minister, Deputy Harris. I will ask the Minister if he will meet the disability action coalition. I would be very surprised if that would not happen before the end of the year.

Deputy Michael Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry Zoom on Michael Lowry The Tánaiste will be aware that the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, is a not-for-profit body approved by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to run the national farm plastic recycling scheme. Farmers understand and appreciate the necessity to properly dispose of farm plastic because of its potential to inflict huge damage on the environment. Farmers fully co-operate with and are willing participants in the scheme. All producers of farm plastic participate in IFFPG by paying a levy per tonne of plastic sold on the Irish market. The scheme then collects the waste plastic from farmers by way of farm collections or, more typically, the farmers can bring their plastic to bring collection centres where they are charged by weight.

A third source of income for the IFFPG in previous years has been the resale price of plastic to third-party recycling facilities outside the jurisdiction. The farm waste plastic market underwent a dramatic shift in January 2017 when the Chinese recycling market closed abruptly. There are other recycling facilities available in Europe, which our operators cannot afford to access. We have this ludicrous situation here because Ireland is the only country in Europe whose regulator has designated this type of plastic as amber waste material. The current Irish designation is amber, which attracts significant and stringent transport requirements and charges. These regulations are imposed by the National TransFrontier Shipments Office in Dublin City Council. In contrast, the status across Europe is that farm plastic is designated green and enjoys free movement with no additional costs.

A combination of closure of the exports to China and the non-viability of transfer to other European recycling centres has left alarming stockpiles of plastic in the hands of IFFPG and private businesses. It is now inevitable that such plastic will have to be exported from the jurisdiction to be recycled at a considerable loss. No Irish recycling facility is equipped to deal with such significant levels of farm plastic recycling. We now have, therefore, an enormous amount of plastic sitting in gigantic piles in several locations around the country. These mountains of plastics are growing daily and, ironically, have become a threat to the environment. They must be seen to be believed.

During its tenure, the IFFPG has collected quantities of waste farm plastic far in excess of its target. It is currently collecting approximately 70% of available plastic. The balance of the plastics on the market are collected by private Irish businesses. These independent operators are subject to the same regulation as the IFFPG but do not receive any portion of the financial levy paid by farmers. This is not a fair or equitable situation and leaves the independent operators at a financial disadvantage.

In light of the current market conditions, will the Government acknowledge that it is time for a policy review in respect of farm plastics, including: establishing a strategy for building a national farm plastic recycling facility; and reviewing the export status of farm plastics? Will the Government also ensure the equitable distribution of the producers' levy among all licensed assemblers and shippers of plastic, in circumstances where the IFFPG benefits from 100% of the levy on all farm plastic, even though it collects only 70% of the plastic?

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney This is quite a technical issue and I will ensure the Deputy gets a good response in writing also. I will address some of the issues now, as flagged by Deputy Lowry.

The legislative framework for the import and export of waste in the European Union is set down in very clear regulations in the European Parliament and the Council. Under the waste management and shipment of waste regulation 2017, Dublin City Council is designated as the national competent authority for the waste exports and imports. The National TransFrontier Shipments Office, NTFSO, was established under the auspices of Dublin City Council.

It is important to clarify that used farm plastics are not categorised as hazardous waste. The NTFSO has determined that used farm plastics can be shipped in accordance with green procedures, as opposed to amber procedures, provided that used farm plastics have undergone treatment at an authorised facility in Ireland. This treatment includes processes such as sorting and washing that result in the removal of contaminants like sand, soil, grit and stones from the plastics prior to export. Unprocessed used farm plastics are subject to the prior notification and consent procedures set down in EU regulations, which apply to the shipment of amber listed waste. There is an issue between amber and green listed waste and I accept that this has a real consequence for where one can export to. Differentiating the two is the cleaning mechanism to make sure that, effectively, pure farm waste plastics are being exported.

The Deputy referred to the IFFPG. It does a very good job for farmers in respect of collection and making available 235 bring centres annually for farmers to bring waste plastics. Yes, there is a challenge in that it is proving more difficult to export to some of the markets we previously exported to. Bord na Móna has opened a recycling facility in Littleton in the old briquette factory, which has reopened in a partnership between AES Bord na Móna and the Sabrina Manufacturing Group. This facility now recycles farm waste plastic, which had previously been exported, into plastic pellets that are used in the production of plastic films. Currently 24 people are employed at the facility but it is intended to increase this number to 40. A submission is being prepared to increase the intake of waste plastics to 50,000 tonnes. This will see a further 20 jobs on top of that next year. We are building capacity at home to recycle farm plastics in an environmentally sound way. There are also export options under a green category rather than the amber category, but it has to be cleaned first.

Deputy Michael Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry Zoom on Michael Lowry I accept that a good job is being done in collection for recycling, but the problem is that we are collecting this plastic and it is piling up. It has no place to go. Anybody who looks at this sensibly would say that the classification method is a nonsense. This plastic waste is usually covered with nothing other than muck or dry clay. It should be classified as green. Will the Tánaiste ask the authorities in the city council if this waste could be reclassified as green?

  Private sector operators should have pro rata access to the moneys collected through the levy. As it currently stands, IFFPG has a monopoly on all moneys collected, even though it only handles some 70% of the plastic.

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