3 July 2003 Edition

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No Incineration - No Service Charges

An Phoblacht caught up with Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan this week as the 'Protection of the Environment Bill' reached its final stage in the Dáil and hopes of preventing this loathsome bill coming into law faded fast. The bill was guillotined on Tuesday night as Sinn Féin members and supporters protested loudly outside the gates of Leinster House.

The Louth TD had spent long hours in the Dáil Committee on the Environment and Local Government the previous week attempting to prevent the passage of this fundamentally anti-democratic bill. It imposes service charges on ordinary households and will give the power to impose those charges to unelected and unaccountable city and county managers. The Committee discussed the Bill for a marathon 22 hours over four days.

During the Committee Stage, Arthur argued against, amongst other elements, the imposition of incineration as a waste disposal option; Section 19 of the Bill, which provides that the review, variation and replacement of waste management plan shall be an executive function the city or county manager; and Section 35, which provides a new explicit power to local authorities to levy charges for waste services. This power, and the exercise of the power of a waiver of such charges, will be a function for city and county managers.

An Phoblacht got a sample of the debate in the Committee when we discreetly took a seat in the visitors' gallery and watched Junior Minister Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher attempt to deflect the criticisms of the Sinn Féin TD.

A Fine Gael deputy was at that moment asking if they could break for lunch. "No, you will have to snack on the spot," replied the chair, giving members an indication of the hard times ahead.

The Junior Minister proceeded to explain to all present the provisions regarding non-collection of waste. Arthur reminded the Minster that "streets of uncollected refuse pose a threat to public health".

Fianna Fáil backbench stalwart and the Junior Minister's guard dog on the Committee, John Cregan TD, jumped in to defend his party policy against criticism from Arthur Morgan, saying: "It is an exaggeration of a hypothetical situation that probably will not arise." The Minister of State looked on. Was that a smile on his face? Had the assault from the Louth TD been repelled?

But no, Arthur Morgan pressed his point.

"This will happen if bins are not collected because people cannot afford to pay for their collection," he said. "For example, what option has an 89-year-old lady struggling on her pension and living in a local authority house but to leave her bin uncollected given that, until now she would have qualified for a waiver and, with it gone, she is not in a position to pay and perhaps has significant accumulated arrears of §50 to §80 which results in her bin being left uncollected? What option do her neighbours have where their health and public health generally is concerned? What are the public health implications if that is multiplied by the number of unemployed parents of four or five young children living in local authority estates who again, until now, would have qualified for a waiver?"

Arthur Morgan was particularly critical of the Minister for attempting to persuade Committee members that the imposition of service charges provided for in this Bill in based on the 'polluter pays' principle.

"I draw attention to one aspect of the Bill, which has been repeatedly alluded to in this debate, namely, the polluter pays principle. The term is a misnomer and should be rephrased the "producer pays principle". The producer is the cause of the problem. If we do not hone the concept, who is the polluter? In these circumstances, the person who buys the product has the tag of "polluter" hung around his or her neck when, as we know, the user frequently does not have an option."

Arthur Morgan also questioned the Minister on the language of the Bill.

"Another issue which arises throughout the Bill is gender references to 'he', said Arthur. "I wonder if there is a dinosaur buried in the bowels of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government somewhere who refuses to recognise that a woman might seek to take out a license or seek a copy of the report in the 21st century. There are copious references to 'he'. I do not know if it is an individual in the Department, but perhaps the Minister of State would ask the Department to recognise where we are with the gender balance issue." Pat the Cope assured all present that "I do not have anything against ladies".

Speaking to An Phoblacht, the Louth TD said: "The committee system in Leinster House isn't very satisfactory. There is no real opportunity to impact on legislation so as to improve it. Sinn Féin will be including recommendations on the Committee system in our proposals for Dáil reform.

"At report stage we put forward amendments for the development and implementation of an All-Ireland waste management plan. Regrettably, this and an amendment which called for the establishment of an All-Ireland Environmental Agency was ruled out of order on the basis that they involve a potential charge on the Revenue. I am, however, hopeful that the Minister will take on board the intention of my amendments and bring forward legislation for the implementation of these All-Ireland initiatives in the near future.

"We also put forward an amendment prohibiting regional and central waste management plans and strategies from including the option of incineration or thermal treatment. This too was rejected by Minister Cullen, who is an enthusiastic supporter of incineration.

"The other substantial amendments put forward by Sinn Féin at the Report stage were to transfer authority over waste management plans back to elected members of local authorities and to delete the sections which provide for the imposition of the service charges."

An Phoblacht
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