Need to deal with the increase in illegal dumping - BREEN

May 6th, 2010 - Pat Breen

Waste Management – Adjournment Debate

Dail Eireann – Wednesday, 5th May 2010.

Deputy Pat Breen T.D.

 I wish to raise on the Adjournment Debate a matter of extreme importance namely the urgent need to deal with the ever increasing defacing of our property, towns and villages with litter and the need for the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government to amend Section 5 of the Waste Management Acts 1996-2008 to deal with this matter.

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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me in raising this matter on the Adjournment.  Our countryside is full of household rubbish.  We have all witnessed an increase in the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish along our roadsides.  As I speak tonight, there are people loading up their cars and vans with refuse sacks full of rubbish and intent on driving out to quiet country roads to throw them and other rubbish into the ditches.  I have witnessed this being done at the back of my own house.  Televisions, kitchen units, shelves, bottles, old waste paper, clothing, baskets, paper and so on are being dumped.  Not only is this dumping of rubbish ugly but it gathers rats and other vermin, which then become a problem.  Perishable items and food are also being dumped.

 

 The recession, the high costs of rubbish collection and the imposition of recycling charges are all cited as reasons for the increase in dumping.  Fáilte Ireland claims that the litter problem poses a serious threat to the credibility of our clean, green image as a tourist destination.  The Irish Business Against Litter Association last week published a new survey which identified several key routes, including main access routes to our airports and seaports, which are blighted with large amounts of litter.  The survey described the road into Dublin Airport as “an appalling sight” and claimed that the amount of casual litter on the M1 from Dublin Port is a complete eye sore.  This is also happening in my own constituency.  The N18, northbound and southbound, from Shannon Airport also came up for mention and was described as “heavily littered”.  It was pointed out to me in recent days that people are driving along the N18 and when they find a quiet spot, are pulling in and throwing bags of rubbish over the embankment. 

  

This is particularly prevalent on a number of roads parallel to the N18 in the Newmarket-on-Fergus area.

 

Many voluntary groups and tidy towns committees are doing Trojan work in our towns and villages battling against the scourge of litter.  Many people take great pride in keeping their communities clean and are to be complimented on this.  There has been a marked improvement in our urban areas.  It is the main roads in and out of our urban areas that are a big problem now.

 

 The indiscriminate dumping of litter at Ballyalla Lake, a scenic area outside the capital town of Ennis, has become a big problem in recent times.  This is an area where the people of Ennis go with their children to have a picnic or for a walk.  A very successful Facebook campaign has been set up to highlight the problem and a Clean up Day has been organised for next Sunday.  I wish the organisers well in that regard.

 

Voluntary effort alone is not enough to deal with this litter crisis.  There is a huge cost involved in waste enforcement.  For example, the N18 dual carriageway-motorway from Ennis to Limerick was highlighted as a black spot for litter.  There is huge cost involved in removing this litter owing to safety issues and the necessity to have traffic management arrangements in place before local authority staff can do their job.  Clare County Council say that this can cost up to €1,000 per day.  The allocation received this year by Clare County Council under the national roads maintenance programme has been significantly cut this year, down by €157,987 as compared to 2009.

 

  The big problem facing many local authorities in terms of waste enforcement is that when a person dumps plastic bags of rubbish on private property, it is the owner of that property who, under section 5 of the Waste Management Acts, 1996-2008, is defined as the “holder”.  For example, where rubbish is dumped on a farmer’s land, he or she is deemed to be “in possession” of this rubbish. Under current law, if the local authority is informed of illegal dumping of this nature, it will not remove the rubbish leaving the onus on the landowner to do so.  This section must be amended to take the responsibility away from the person whose land or property has been littered.  I appeal to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to act on this matter.  I am disappointed the Minister is not here tonight.  However, it is hoped the Minister of State, Deputy Brady, will have some good news in regard to the dumping of litter which I am sure is also happening in her homeland of Kildare.

 

  Educating people to take pride in a cleaner environment is key to stamping out this practice.  The Minister, Deputy Gormley, recently announced that €1.5 million will be provided over the next three years to support cleaning of key scenic, rural and visitor areas during the peak tourist season from May to September.  While this is very important, keeping our areas clear of rubbish should be an all-year activity.  I appeal tonight to the Minister to amend the necessary legislation to assist local authorities in their efforts to stamp out this increased level of illegal dumping in our counties.  It is destroying our countryside and is causing severe problems.

 

 It is unsightly and is putting tourists off.  I hope that the Government, in conjunction with the local authorities, will put in place an active campaign to stamp out this increasing problem.

 

 

   Deputy Áine Brady: I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.    I thank Deputy Breen for raising this important issue.  The Litter Pollution Acts 1997 to 2009, rather than the Waste Management Acts, provide the statutory framework for combating litter.  Under the Litter Pollution Acts, the primary management and enforcement response to littering must come from local authorities.  The role of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is to provide the legislative framework within which local authorities can perform this task.

 

 It is a matter for each local authority to decide on the most appropriate public awareness, enforcement and clean up actions in relation to litter, taking account of local circumstances and priorities.  Furthermore, while legislative responsibility for the clean up of litter on our streets lies with the local authorities; primary responsibility for keeping our country free of litter must ultimately lie with each citizen of the State.

  Maximum penalties attaching to littering offences are substantial.  In addition to an on-the-spot fine of €150, the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 introduced conviction on indictment for litter offences, with a maximum fine of €130,000 and a maximum fine for summary conviction of €3,000.  The 2003 Act also gives local authorities the power to make by-laws in respect of a range of specific litter issues.  However, it is recognised that legislative measures alone will not solve the problem and that a multifaceted approach is required, involving all elements of Irish society and incorporating enforcement, public awareness and education.  The Minister recently announced the provision of €1.5 million over a three year period specifically to assist local authorities in keeping key tourist areas free of litter during the peak summer season.  This is merely the start of a campaign in which the Department will engage with the Environmental Protection Agency, local authorities, the National Roads Authority and the public.

  The Minister is also continuing to provide local authorities with funding to assist in raising awareness of the environmental and economic consequences of littering and graffiti.  A total of €1 million has been allocated to local authorities under the anti-litter and anti-graffiti awareness grant scheme 2010.  The Department also provides significant funding to several anti-litter initiatives currently in operation, including, National Spring Clean, the Green Schools Programme, Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL Litter League, Tidy Towns and Protection of the Uplands and Rural Environments, PURE, project.

  Much progress has been made in dealing with litter pollution.  The 2009 National Litter Pollution Monitoring System Report, to be published by the Department shortly, will show a continuing improvement in litter levels across the country. 

 

 

The recent Irish Business Against Litter results also point to a steady improvement in litter levels in recent years, with 65% of towns surveyed in 2009 deemed to be “clean to European norms”, as compared to 14% of towns in 2002.  However, there is no room for complacency.  The Government will continue to ensure that targeted, energetic anti-litter responses are developed as required.