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ENVIRONMENT (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) BILL 2011: COMMITTEE & FINAL STAGES

21st July 2011 Debate on the Instruction to Committee & Report and Final Stages

 

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Catherine Murphy TD Can I put it on record how unsatisfactory it is to be debating this motion today? We received the motion this morning and were looking for it all day yesterday. We are being asked to take at face value some of the proposals contained therein. There was certainly not enough time to examine the issues in detail. I would like to have had the opportunity today to discuss the conflict that might arise between the Official Languages Act and the new section 19, for example, but I do not feel I have time. Although our job is to hold the Government to account, we are not allowed to do so by virtue of the way business such as this is being handled. It is most unsatisfactory. I do not doubt the exact same points would have been made by the Minister if he were on this side of the House. It is not acceptable.

I have a question on the changes proposed to the Official Languages Act. We can all point to conflicts in our constituencies. The local authority in Naas uses An Nás whereas Nás an Rí­ogh is widely used. There are differences in name signs. I hope the Minister will respond to this and that a petition system will be properly provided for to rationalise this. I also hope there will not be a conflict between this and the Official Languages Act.

Deputy Luke Ming Flanagan made the point that he cannot participate in this debate because he is attending a meeting of the committee with responsibility for health. He had a conflict between Roscommon County Hospital and bogs. He wanted to attend this debate and make that point.


Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

We will sort out both issues for him.


Catherine Murphy I am not sure what is being provided for with regard to the Local Government Act 1998 and the local government fund. As the Minister stated, the local government fund comprises motor tax and a contribution from the central Exchequer to local authorities. I have never felt it has been fairly apportioned because some counties, including mine, are net contributors. We know the local government fund is likely to be impacted by the EU IMF proposal to introduce several new charges. When the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act 1983 introduced water charges, the battle was fought at local authority level. There was war over it at the time and I predict the same will happen in this case.

It is not at all clear whether motor tax will continue to be ring fenced as a fund for local authorities albeit administered through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Will the Department directly administer it or will it be handed over to the National Roads Authority? Will the National Roads Authority allocate national, regional and local road funding? It is a very difficult organisation from which to receive an answer. If we are to hold the Government to account and ensure the correct balance between funding of national and local roads we must be certain we can do so. If the administration of this is outsourced to the National Roads Authority it will be very unsatisfactory.

I tabled a number of amendments which were ruled out of order. In a 2002 decision, the European Court of Justice argued against the €20 charge to make a planning objection. My amendment was ruled out of order because it would lead to a charge on the State. However, what was really a charge on the State was the out-of-control rezoning of land that produced the property bubble and the building frenzy in places where building should not have taken place. Those of us who constantly monitored and sought a strategic approach to development in the country were penalised and considered the “anti-brigade”. We were constantly criticised and treated as though the last person to leave should switch off the lights. However, the record of what some of us stated at that time show that if we had been listened to the country may not have ended up in the position in which it now is. I do not believe citizens who monitor what happens in our planning system should be penalised. When one considers the administration involved, the charge brings in very little.

I also sought a notice to be published after five years of a ten year planning permission to invite comments from people and to deal with significant new information. It would allow people keep track of the planning system. I am disappointed it could not be accommodated. Such oversight may save the State money by ensuring bonds are fully in place and by keeping local authorities on their toes.

I also sought an amendment to allow the levy system to introduce a national waiver scheme. I accept there is little we can do about competition in the waste market. However recognition should be given to the fact that the only customers local authorities now have are waiver customers. Local authorities are being run out of the business but then being asked to pick up rubbish from ditches. We must find mechanisms to deal with this. Again, my amendment was ruled out of order because it would incur a charge on the State. However, there already is a charge on the State as it picks up rubbish out of ditches and off boreens. Private operators are not asked to do this. This might be considered at some point in the future and the levy might be an appropriate means of doing it.

On Committee Stage, I spoke about the incinerator with the Minister. The numbers on this do not add up. I do not care whether Dublin City Council, Kildare County Council or Cork City Council is involved but the public purse will be affected by building an incinerator with a capacity of 580,000 tonnes where local authorities are required to produce 320,000 tonnes or incur a charge but have control of less than 80%, and this percentage will reduce. I have a major problem with the public purse being affected in this way and with the lack of oversight in the contract. It is not good enough to state that it is a private contract between Dublin City Council and Covanta. The local authority is a public authority and a failure at this level may lead to a call on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to produce funds to cover it. The levy system will come into play.

I have major concerns about how we are dealing with some of these issues as it is very late in the day. I am also concerned about the lack of oversight and I find it very unsatisfactory.

 

…  Catherine Murphy I have no difficulty with people being accompanied by a garda; it might be necessary on occasion. My concern is that more and more responsibilities are being passed over to the local authorities while there is a staff embargo in place. I am concerned the resources are inadequate to meet those additional obligations. The idea is good but I am not sure it will be enforced…

 

Catherine Murphy I made some points earlier in the debate and made the same ones on Committee Stage, so I will not go over them again. I endorse Deputy Humphreys’ point on the rebalancing and transfer of powers between reserve functions and the local government executive. Officials are not elected and will not be held to account, which is a major deficit in our democracy.

Kildare is not short of landfill sites, as the Minister is well aware. The Kill landfill site has taken most of Dublins waste over the years. We now have Droighead, which is the biggest landfill site in the country, and is owned and controlled by Bord na Móna. We have a great deal of experience with landfill, but it is not something that people tend to want on their doorsteps. The way in which we deal with residual waste is incredibly important. We have seen what has happened in the private sector, as the Minister said, concerning Kerdiffstown. That was a failure of the private sector and of the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA. There is a deficiency concerning the EPA in that it did not have the legal power to close that site down. It will cost the State millions to remedy that. The EPA is doing a good remedial job there at the moment and let us hope that continues. It will require Exchequer resources to continue to do so, but we must also find the point where that failure occurred.

On Committee Stage, the Minister said that what was proposed by Covanta was in the recovery tier. We have all seen that people will go to the trouble of using the bottle bank as well as segregating their waste into various bins. We will take the advantage away from segregation, however, by having such a large facility. We will therefore kill off the recovery tier where we should segregate waste for reuse and recycling. I have a serious problem in this regard and I would oppose the Bill for this aspect alone. Section 7 would at least have provided some sort of counterbalance to a levying system. I have a serious problem with the fact that there is an economic mismatch there also.

 


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Posted by on July 21, 2011. Filed under Dáil Debates,Environment,Naas. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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