[Sinn Fein]

20th November 2002

Government waste management has been ``abject failure''

Speaking in the Dáil in support of a Green Party bill on Waste Management, Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said Government waste policy has been an ``abject failure''. Deputy Ó Caoláin expressed opposition to the plans for a network of incinerators throughout the State and said local democracy was being denied on this issue.

Deputy Ó Caoláin told the Dáil:

I support this Bill and I commend the Green Party for bringing it forward on their first opportunity to present a Bill at Second Stage in the Dáil. The formation of the Technical Group now allows each of the constituent parties and the Independent group to avail of Private Members business, a long overdue development in this House.

Waste Management has been one of the most abject failures of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition. The last five years have seen a mounting waste problem. We have overflowing landfills and ever-growing production of waste by manufacturers. Our agricultural lands and water courses are being polluted, our cities and towns and countryside are being defaced by waste and litter. This is one of the biggest challenges we face as a national community.

There is widespread agreement and acceptance in this country that we all must play our part in solving the problem. There is genuine goodwill and a willingness to participate in efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. But there is a primary and over-riding responsibility on Government to harness that good will and effort and to ensure there is an effective and equitable waste management system in operation and that it is steadily reducing the stream of waste. That is not happening.

During the term of the last government the Minister for the Environment and Local Government initiated a process whereby regional waste management plans were to be drawn up. This process was a sham. The public consultation was tokenistic in the extreme and had minimal public input. In my own region I made a comprehensive submission on behalf of the Sinn Fein elected representatives which we subsequently published. We were the only political party to do so.

Arising from our submission the Sinn Fein Councillors on Monaghan County Council succeeded in having adopted a series of amendments to the Waste Management Plan. These included a requirement that household waste collection would be carried out in both rural and urban areas, a definite target for waste reduction by industry to be met within the life of the plan and support for innovative schemes to recycle agricultural waste.

But we soon found that in the supposed regional model of planning adopted by the government there was no provision for such amendments to be made. Each local authority was simply expected to rubber stamp the regional plan. We voted against the Plan because it included incineration but it was passed with the support of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members, a pattern sadly repeated in most but not all counties.

In Louth, which is also in the North East region, the Draft Waste Management Plan was rejected by the County Council in October 2000 because of opposition to incineration. A motion was put to Louth County Council on 15th January 2001 which backtracked on its earlier rejection of the plan. My party colleague Louth County Councillor and now Deputy Arthur Morgan challenged the validity of that second vote because it did not get the required two thirds majority. It flew in the face of overwhelming public opposition to an incinerator. Deputy Morgan went to the High Court and succeeded in having the Council's second vote declared invalid. That was a victory for local democracy but it was a victory the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government Deputy Dempsey and his Department were not prepared to countenance. Neither Louth nor any other county or region were to be permitted to do anything other than approve the one-size-fits-all waste management plans approved in the Customs House in Dublin.

That was confirmed with the Waste Management (Amendment) Act of last year which effectively took powers on waste management away from the elected members of local authorities.

In my County there are particular needs with regard to agricultural waste. Monaghan is the centre of the mushroom industry and the poultry industry. Cavan is the centre of the pigmeat industry. These intensive agricultural sectors produce a massive amount of waste and we do not have the ability to cope with it. We need to implement imaginative, workable and eco-friendly solutions, such as those put forward in our submission, to cope with this problem. There is genuine and widespread concern that incineration will cause as many problems as it is meant to solve. That is the case in North Monaghan where such an incinerator is proposed and where people have made known their opposition to such a development. I share their concern and have recorded my support for their stance.

This government now has a total reliance on incineration as the principal means to address the waste problem. It has failed totally to adopt a strategy for real waste reduction and elimination at source. The manufacturing and packaging industry must be called to account. Government action has drastically cut the production of plastic bags and I welcome that. But the same can and must be done so much other wasteful and unnecessary packaging. The Government disgracefully allowed the only glass recycling plant in this State - Irish Glass Bottles in Ringsend - to close with the loss of nearly 400 jobs. This could have been maintained and developed as a major recycling facility.

I support the Bill and I pledge once again our opposition to the network of incinerators planned throughout this State.

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