Seanad Éireann - Volume 162 - 04 April, 2000

Litter Pollution and Water Quality: Statements.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on the environmental policies being pursued in my Department, particularly those policies in relation to litter pollution, water quality and the management of waste.

[1415] Our litter pollution problem is a national scandal and is totally unacceptable. I have made litter eradication a priority and I am committed to taking every possible step to ensure that we eliminate the litter problem. To this end, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I have been pursuing a programme of anti-litter initiatives, including the following. First, we increased the on-the-spot fine for alleged offences under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, from £25 to £50, with effect from 3 January last. Second, almost £1 million has been allocated to local authorities for anti-litter initiatives in the past three years – a similar grant scheme will operate this year. Third, we have co-funded the An Taisce led National Spring Clean 2000 campaign, which was formally launched yesterday and will run for the entire month of April. Fourth, a national litter pollution monitoring system has been developed to monitor and assess local authority litter management and enforcement action and to advise on litter management planning at national level. The system will become fully operational over the coming months. Fifth, a national anti-litter forum has been established to promote greater sectoral involvement, in particular on the part of the business and commercial sectors, in anti-litter action. The forum is reviewing the current actions targeting litter pollution and developing a programme of measures to enhance and extend those responses.

In addition to the programme of specific anti-litter measures that I have outlined, last December the Minister and I also announced details of a new, integrated national awareness campaign which encourages individual action and shared responsibility towards the environment. The campaign, entitled The Environment, It's Easy to Make a Difference, is a major public information initiative which will continue during the course of this year. It will address key environmental themes, including litter and waste, as well as water quality, water conservation, air quality and climate change.

Primary responsibility for tackling litter pollution rests with local authorities. If we are to achieve the vision of a litter free Ireland we aspire to it is vital that local authorities take the strongest possible action to curb litter. I am especially keen that local authorities take the lead role at local level by exercising to the full their powers and duties under the Litter Pollution Act. I am satisfied that many authorities are using the extended powers now available to them to take a more proactive approach.

Figures for the first half of 1999, the latest available, show that almost 300 litter wardens were employed, nearly 8,300 on-the-spot fines were issued, over 850 prosecutions were taken and over 350 convictions secured. These figures represent a significant improvement over earlier periods. Full details are in the Oireachtas Library.

I am concerned, however, that the general improvement in local authority performance [1416] should be continued and extended to cover all authorities. I have written recently to all local authorities, both elected members and managers, expressing our concern to see more urgent anti-litter action at local level and enlisting support for the programme of anti-litter measures which I have outlined. The House can be assured that we will continue to work actively with local authorities and the various sectors to realise our vision of a litter free Ireland.

We have all been aware for some time of the acute water quality problems affecting privately sourced group water schemes which provide drinking water supplies to 50,000 rural households. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has never believed in playing down the extent of these problems. Neither does he underestimate the level of resources needed to resolve them.

The national development plan provides for a record £420 million for rural water, an average of £60 million per annum over the seven years. Most of this is earmarked for group water schemes. This compares very favourably with the £8 million spent on such schemes in 1996.

On 27 March the Minister announced a radical revamp of the grant and subsidy schemes which support the group sector. This, the most significant news for group schemes in 40 years, will, for the first time, provide 100% funding for water disinfection and filtration equipment on privately sourced schemes. This will enable groups to provide state-of-the-art equipment to treat water to the standards set out in the drinking water regulations, prior to distribution to consumers. Until now group schemes did not have the financial resources to provide such facilities They now have no excuse for not confronting and solving the quality problem once and for all.

In addition to the provision of water treatment facilities, many group water schemes will also require upgrading works on the distribution network and reservoirs. The current 75% grant, which has an upper limit of £1,600 per house, is being greatly increased. Grant aid, at up to 85% of cost, subject to a maximum cost of £6,000 per house, will now be provided for such work. This generous level of capital grant will also apply to new schemes and extensions to existing schemes. This will enable schemes which are not financially viable at present to progress to construction.

In addition to the new grants for treatment equipment, groups which provide and operate such facilities will be rewarded through a special extra subsidy of £75 per house per annum. This extra subsidy payment is conditional on participation in a quality assurance scheme to be introduced by the national federation of group water schemes, with the Minister's backing. The standard rate of subsidy towards operational cost will also be increased by £5 per house.

For those households which cannot avail of a group water scheme or local authority water supply, the conditions attaching to further grant assistance are being eased. The waiting period from the completion of the house or the date of [1417] a previous grant has been reduced from ten to seven years.

Last November I changed the drinking water regulations to make group scheme operators responsible for upgrading quality deficient supplies. I will very shortly make further regulations to apply more specific and stringent requirements to suppliers, public and private, of drinking water to secure compliance with prescribed quality standards.

The water quality of our rivers and lakes is generally good, although slight to moderate pollution has been increasing in rivers. Since 1997 my Department has been pursuing a national strategy to promote water quality management in rivers and lakes, using river catchments as the basic unit. The primary focus of this strategy is to combat eutrophication arising from excess inputs of phosphorous from all sources. Our catchment based strategy is underpinned by the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, (Water Quality Standards for Phosphorous) Regulations, 1998, which were made in July 1998. The regulations set clear targets for reducing phosphorous levels in rivers and lakes by the end of 2007.

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I announced the signing of a voluntary agreement with the Irish Detergents and Allied Products Association in December 1999. This agreement will result in the elimination of some 90% of the phosphorus load from domestic laundry detergents within two years. The IDAPA is to be commended on the significant contribution this will make to national and local efforts to combat eutrophication.

Major catchment-based initiatives in respect of Loughs Derg, Ree and Leane and the rivers Suir, Boyne and Liffey are under way. Important initiatives are also under way in respect of Loughs Conn, Mask and Corrib. The objective for the short to medium term is to have catchment-based projects established in relation to all inland and coastal waters. The main emphasis in the past has been on rivers and lakes. Projects are now being extended to include groundwaters and coastal waters within catchments.

The catchment-based strategy is being supported by a major programme of investment in sewerage infrastructure facilities throughout the country which will be implemented in the context of the provision in the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, of £3,000 million for water and waste water infrastructure and rural water. This programme places particular emphasis on the provision of phosphorus reduction facilities where a need for these facilities is identified.

The implementation of the proposed water framework directive will require the identification of river basin districts which are to form the basis for integrated water management. The development of a water management plan for each river basin district will require the participation and co-operation of the various agencies which have relevant statutory functions, such as local authorities, regional fisheries boards, the [1418] Environmental Protection Agency, and by sectoral interest groups, including farmers, anglers and environmental groups.

The proposed directive requires that river basins which cross national frontiers must be assigned to an international river basin district. This will require joint action with relevant authorities in Northern Ireland in relation to cross-Border catchments. Much valuable work has already been done in relation to the Erne and the Foyle catchments.

To date, the primary focus in relation to the modernisation of waste management has been the development and improvement of our waste management planning system as a basis for radical improvements in waste management practice and infrastructure, and the implementation of an effective and comprehensive waste licensing and permitting system which ensures that waste recovery and disposal activities comply with high standards of environmental protection. This work has been underpinned by clear policy direction, in particular the 1998 policy statement on waste management, Changing Our Ways.

The 1996 Waste Management Act recognises that meaningful and comprehensive waste management planning is a key prerequisite to improved waste management performance and much effort has been devoted at national, regional and local level to delivering effective results in this regard. Under Part II of the Act, local authorities are required to make waste management plans in respect of their functional areas and the Environmental Protection Agency is required to make a national hazardous waste management plan. Reflecting the waste hierarchy, the statutory objective of these plans is to prevent or minimise the production and harmful nature of waste; encourage and support the recovery of waste; ensure that such waste as cannot be prevented or recovered is safely disposed of; and address the need to give effect to the “polluter pays” principle in relation to waste disposal.

Detailed requirements in relation to the preparation and content of local authority waste management plans were set out in the Waste Management (Planning) Regulations, 1997. From the outset local authorities were encouraged by my Department to adopt a regional approach to this planning process with a view to the more efficient provision of services and infrastructure, and to carry out preliminary waste management strategy studies to provide a context for evaluating available options and for identifying the measures, or combination of measures, most likely to optimise waste management.

The response of local authorities has been very positive. Some 32 authorities were involved in detailed regional waste management strategy studies, or are otherwise committed to making regional waste management plans. Grant assistance of over £1.5 million has been allocated under the EU-funded Operational Programme [1419] for Environmental Services, 1994-99, in respect of a number of these strategy studies.

A total of 11 local authorities have formally adopted waste management plans, seven are expected to have adopted plans before the end of this month and the remaining 16 local authorities are expected to have adopted plans before the end of May this year. These plans provide for practical measures to minimise municipal and industrial waste generation, as well as the development of improved waste services and an integrated waste management infrastructure to meet our waste recovery targets. Among other things, they provide for the segregation at source and separate collection of recyclable and organic materials in urban areas, extended networks of “bring” facilities for recyclable materials in rural areas, more civic amenity sites, waste transfer stations and materials recovery facilities. They also provide for the development of centralised biological and thermal treatment facilities, capacity for recycling of construction and demolition waste, involving fixed and mobile plant, and residual landfill.

The Government will directly support the delivery of improved waste management services and infrastructure. Some £650 million is earmarked for capital investment in the development of waste management infrastructure under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Of this, £100 million in Exchequer and EU funding will be provided to support the development of requisite waste recovery infrastructure over the life of the plan.

The October 1998 policy statement on waste management, Changing Our Ways, is addressed chiefly to local authorities and is intended to provide a national policy framework for the adoption and implementation by local authorities of strategic waste management plans under which national objectives and targets will be attained. It outlines the Government's policy objectives on waste management and suggests some key issues and considerations which must be addressed in order to achieve these objectives. In particular, it focuses on the need to give clear and practical expression to the requirements of the waste hierarchy by developing and pursuing integrated solutions which combine progressive policies with a sustainable and cost effective waste infrastructure.

The policy statement strongly endorsed meaningful strategic planning on a regionalised basis and a dramatic reduction in reliance on landfill in favour of an integrated waste management approach which utilises a range of waste treatment options to deliver effective and efficient waste services and ambitious recycling and recovery targets. It also endorsed greater participation by the private sector in the provision of waste management services, a more effective and equitable system of waste charging which incentivises waste minimisation and recovery, greater utilisation of legislative instruments extending the [1420] scope of producer responsibility initiatives and the mobilisation of public support and participation.

It is our intention further to expand upon the policy issues and guidance outlined in Changing Our Ways with the publication this year of another policy statement focusing on recycling and waste recovery generally. This policy document will address the factors and practical considerations relevant to the achievement of Government policy objectives and targets in this area. A number of relevant initiatives are already in place or in development and we are determined that the systematic approach being taken successfully regarding strategic waste planning will also be pursued in the whole area of waste recovery and recycling. The new policy statement will provide firm leadership in this area and will outline the scope of measures which will be undertaken in the interests of a sustained expansion in recycling performance.

New waste management facilities are generally unwelcome to the public and invariably generate vigorous local opposition. In part, this is a legacy of past poor performance, particularly relating to municipal waste landfills, which were perceived by the public to be a source of nuisance and environmental pollution and were not subject to external regulation. It is essential that the public has confidence that waste activities, which can have significant potential for environmental impact, are subject to rigorous and independent environmental control. Accordingly, Part IV of the Waste Management Act, 1996, provides for a stringent system of integrated waste licensing by the EPA in respect of all significant waste recovery and disposal activities. This is intended to ensure that high environmental standards apply to the establishment, management, operation, closure and after-care of licensable waste facilities. Licensing obligations were imposed on a phased basis from May 1997 and applied universally from 1 October 1999.

Regulations have also been introduced, providing for the granting of waste permits by local authorities in respect of specified waste recovery and disposable activities that do not warrant integrated licensing by the EPA.

As can be seen, my Department is actively pursuing a vigorous strategy of environmental improvement and is providing an excellent framework within which improvements can be achieved. The Government is making the resources available which are necessary to achieve our objectives.

Mr. Coogan: I propose to share my time with Senator Costello.

An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Coogan: This debate was requested by all groups, the Independent group, Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats – Senator Quill was very vociferous on this matter – and my group. [1421] Senator Quill and I requested the debate, but I asked that the debate be extended to take in other environmental matters such as landfill sites, gasification and incineration, issues which are vitally important to the public and to local authorities. We can see the resistance to some of these matters and that is why we sought an open debate to discuss the dangers involved, but the Minister of State has taken the opportunity to pat himself on the back for a second time because of an announcement about water quality controls. This is a misuse of the House and I will return to it later if I can.

There have been a number of changes in environmental protection measures. I welcome the increase in fines last January from £25 to £50 and I look forward to an increase in the number of people charged by litter wardens. A substantial number of people has been charged, but it is not proportionate to the amount of litter, which is increasing every year. It should increase with the amount of litter and that is not happening. There is no point in having a law unless it is effective and there is no point in having fines unless they are imposed. I recognise that one must catch a person first, and most litter is dropped unseen and sometimes deliberately. However, there is a difference between littering deliberately and littering unconsciously.

In order to stop litter, we must internalise the rules and get people to believe that there should not be litter. We should not have to depend on fines or other regulations; people should believe themselves that they should not litter. To do this the rules must be internalised and we must get people to accept that early. It is almost like Breaking the Cycle in education. Children learn from their parents and though one can introduce them to anti-litter campaigns in school, if they see their parents throw away litter they feel it is fine and the internalisation is lost.

Deliberate spreading of litter is a different matter. I am not talking about papers or scrapped cars, although there is a tendency among people, if their cars are too old and they cannot get the £1,000 transfer fee, to hump their cars into a hedge somewhere to rust. I have raised this with the local authority in my area because these cars are eyesores for us and for tourists. There is a phenomenon in larger cities called corporate cars where a number of young people buy a car that is about to be scrapped, run it into every wall they can hit and then turn it up a cul-de-sac and set fire to it. That happened in the little village in which I live. We have great pride in our village, but a car was burnt out by the pier there. I reported this to the local authority and two days later it was gone, but unfortunately it had gone into the lake. That is a deliberate form of littering.

Another deliberate form of littering takes place where landfill prices are increased. There are those who are so mean they refuse to pay those fees and prefer to drive a mile or two outside the city limits and dump their rubbish over or into a [1422] hedge. Such dumping is speckled throughout parts of this country. I pass through places frequently which almost seem to be collection points. If one person dumps a bag of rubbish, someone else thinks it is a dump site and follows suit. In the past it was possible to catch the offenders by opening the rubbish bags and finding a letter or an unpaid refuse charge bill – which I once found – which would allow them to be traced. However, people are becoming too cute – they burn their letters at home and dump the rest of their rubbish. This is the type of deliberate littering which I find abhorrent. While it is difficult to control such littering, it is possible to control the person who merely drops a piece of paper on the street.

One of the things which sticks in my craw and also to the sole of my shoe is chewing gum. I abhor the black stains it leaves on footpaths and carpets. Chewing gum is dragged into shops on people's shoes and shopkeepers are extremely annoyed at having to replace their carpets because of gum stains. I do not know whether chewing gum has any beneficial dental or digestive effects but, as far as I can see, it is merely a nervous habit. Some countries, of which Singapore is one, ban the sale of chewing gum. I would support any move in that direction which the Minister might take here. From an economic point of view, a great deal of money is made from the production and sale of chewing gum.

We are all familiar with fast food debris. How does one make the producers or outlet owners responsible? One could ask them to place litter bins outside their premises. Many of them do this, using the bins as an opportunity to advertise their services. However, people eat fast food as they walk along the street. If they get a taxi, they may leave their rubbish in the taxi or throw it on the ground when they reach their destination. Should an extra charge be levied on the shop owners to make them clean up the rubbish or should we ensure that the material used in the containers will degrade rapidly?

Supermarket shopping bags also pose problems. I recently saw a leaflet from Centra which advocated that people should re-use their bags and I compliment the company on that. Unfortunately, I found the leaflet on the ground.

If people are working outdoors in strong winds, it is possible that plastic bags or coverings for bales of hay blow away and get caught on hedges. Following periods of high winds, one sees white and black plastic caught on hedges throughout the country, which is often very difficult to remove. Work is ongoing in the US and, I understand, in Ireland on the production of biodegradable plastic bags. I understand that when such bags are buried in a landfill site, they disintegrate when the temperature reaches a certain level. If it were to prove possible to produce biodegradable bags for shopping and other purposes, we should encourage and grant aid the research. People should be made aware of the possibilities which exist. I understand that the Minister of State at [1423] the Department of Education and Science with responsibility for science and technology is aware of this product.

Local authorities hold debates on litter three or four times a year. The Minister of State was involved in the launch of a very worthwhile spring campaign. Unfortunately, these campaigns occur only once or twice a year and the impetus is often lost. We must constantly highlight the need for cleanliness on our streets. It is a reflection of our national identity in the same way as is how we dress and speak.

I also requested a debate on incineration and recycling. The Minister mentioned waste management policies, including Changing Our Ways, which deals with some of these issues. As a member of the local authority in my area, I have attended numerous meetings addressed by waste experts, one of whom said that the best definition of waste he had ever heard was a busload of waste consultants going over a cliff with two empty seats. Following the meeting, I agreed with him because I did not know how to feel about incineration, particularly the measurement of dioxins. So many contradictory statements have been made by professionals that we wonder whether we should support or oppose incineration.

Miss Quill: There is no leadership.

Mr. Coogan: That is why I initially requested that incineration be debated with litter. It would be worthwhile for the House to debate the dangers of gasification and incineration, what amount of mercury is involved, whether it can be contained, do we need it and are there other alternatives such as smaller landfills? These issues are of vital importance. However, it is appropriate that we discuss litter today in tandem with the launch of the National Spring Clean 2000 campaign.

I compliment the Minister on the initiatives which have been taken, including the £1 million given to local authorities for anti-litter initiatives in the past three years, which I am glad will be continued this year, the funding given to An Taisce and the development of a national litter and pollution monitoring scheme. However, we must start with education and realise that it should be regarded as natural not to throw litter. Some years ago I was in Vienna and the person with me dropped a cigarette butt and stood on it, which we would almost consider as not being litter. Someone came over and asked my companion if they would mind picking it up. If I said that to someone in Ireland, I would be afraid I would be found as litter on the streets as well. This illustrates the difference in the nature of people who believe cleanliness on their streets is a reflection of their national identity.

The reference to water pollution gave the Government an opportunity to clap itself on the back for the additional funding it has given. About a year and a half ago I brought the atten[1424] tion of the Minister of State to a report by Environment Watch Ireland regarding a complaint to the EU about the EPA and the monitoring of water quality in Ireland. It pointed out a number of loopholes in the amount of measurements which were taken, the way in which this was done, what was being measured and the time lapse between taking samples and their measurement. It also stated that many local authorities were not fully and continuously monitoring water and were not getting the right results because of poor sampling and bad laboratory practice. I asked at the time if the Minister would tell me whether this would change. However, it appears that the EU regulations will ensure it changes.

I have a list of group schemes, from Clones to Galway to Wicklow, which demonstrates the degree of contamination in our rivers and water supply. I hope these new regulations and the money being pumped in will ensure a reduction in eutrophication in our rivers. It is obvious that pollution is increasing in rivers all the time no matter what is done to arrest it. Much eutrophication is caused by waste from farms, and the decision to grasp the nettle and put the blame squarely where it belongs is in the hands of the Government. It should say straight out what the cause is and request that farmers carry out the necessary works.

Not being a technical person, I do not know about concrete, but I have been told that one reason for pollution relates to the nature of sewage pits, that over time concrete deteriorates and waste starts to leak into the water supply. Perhaps systems which have been in place for over 20 years should be renewed. We should start looking at those to see whether there is leakage and whether it is going into rivers. We talk about the polluter paying. That means we have to go back to the source, grasp the nettle and not be afraid to tell people that if they cause pollution they have to rectify it or we will rectify it and they will have to pay for it.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I thank the Leader of the House for allowing the debate. I ask that the Minister return so that we can have the other half of the debate which the House requested.

Mr. Costello: I thank Senator Coogan for his generosity in sharing his time so that I can take part in the debate at this stage. I too welcome the Minister of State to the House. However, I am disappointed with his contribution. It is terrible that a Minister should begin his contribution to a debate by saying that our litter pollution problem is a national scandal. It is totally unacceptable that any Minister should have to admit that his area of responsibility is a national scandal. It is an admission of failure, an admission that measures proposed to date have not been implemented. How can we accept that the recommendations mentioned here will be effective when what has gone before has not been effective?

I note also the total absence in the Minister's [1425] contribution of any meaningful timescale for the eradication of litter. Any policy that does not include a timescale or effective monitoring of its implementation is doomed to failure. If there is no leadership or direction, the Minister might as well be talking to the air, because nothing will happen.

My immediate reaction to the Minister's contribution is one of disappointment, particularly when one considers just how serious is the situation. Senator Coogan has been raising this issue on the Order of Business regularly and Senator Quill has been raising from the Government benches almost weekly the need to deal with the matter, the urgency of it, the fact that it is a national scandal and the apparent lack of any meaningful initiative to deal with it. Instead of getting better, the situation appears to be getting worse.

Dublin, as the capital city, is disgraceful in terms of litter. Things have gone from bad to worse. There are posters all over Dublin with the message “Welcome to Dublin, excuse the litter”, put up by an anti-litter campaigning organisation, because litter in Dublin is so bad.

The countryside is bad enough too. Only recently we debated the Shannon River Council Bill, the degree to which the Shannon has become polluted over the years and the sense of urgency that is felt by so many people in the west and people who use the river that pollution entering our main river should be dealt with.

Available figures suggest that this year almost 10,000 cars, some of which were involved in joyriding, have appeared as scrap throughout the country. That is an incredible number of damaged and useless scrap vehicles littering the countryside and the capital city. Under the new national car test, every car registered in 1992 or earlier must be tested and many owners are simply disposing of their cars without consideration for where they will be put and the effect they will have. None of the local authorities has made provision for accepting scrapped cars. They collect them after they have been abandoned, burned or used for joyriding, but there is no initiative to deal with them initially.

Local authorities have no mechanism for collecting fridges and batteries. Indeed, the one major recycling measure in Dublin, Kerbside, which was undertaken in conjunction with Dublin Corporation, has been discontinued because, believe it or not, it was inefficient. Nothing has been put in its place. People, who are genuinely interested in sorting their waste and putting it aside for collection find that there is no mechanism to collect or dispose of it. My fear is that the situation is going from bad to worse.

There are plastics and beer tins all over the place. Chewing gum, to which Senator Coogan referred, is a particular problem. The pavement on Henry Street, which had been repaved this year as part of the integrated area plan for O'Connell Street and adjacent streets, is particularly susceptible to chewing gum and looks very ugly.

[1426] The situation is dire, as is the national attitude. I am afraid the Government is showing no initiative, nor are the local authorities providing sufficient initiative. For example, Dublin Corporation increased the commercial rate by 0.5% in this year's estimates because the funding was not coming through from the Department of the Environment and Local Government to increase the number of litter wardens from two to 22. The shortfall was made up simply by increasing the burden on the commercial sector. This should not have to happen. It is not good enough to state that £1 million is being made available to the local authorities, of which there are 40 or 50, for litter initiatives over a period of three years. That will not solve the problem. That does not amount to what one could call sufficient resources. This is throwing peanuts at the problem.

There is a great deal to be done. I am inclined to agree with the proposal of Senator Quill that there should be a Minister for environmental protection. No doubt she will elaborate on that in her contribution, but that sounds like an excellent proposal in terms of providing leadership and focusing on the problem and of delegating responsibility to somebody who is accountable.

Time is of the essence. The Government must draw up a package of plans to be implemented over a period of time and there must be a mechanism to monitor them. There can be immediate action if the Government provides the resources. Indeed, one must look at what is in existence already. There is the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, but that is not being implemented to the degree which is required. The Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, gave what looked like impressive figures but in reality they do not impinge on the problem. As far as I can see, nobody is charged, fined or prosecuted for the vast amount of litter pollution. Why can there not be a tougher regime on litter pollution? The fine has been increased from £25 to £50, but who will do the policing and processing? The wardens are imposing approximately 30 on-the-spot fines each over a 12 month period. That is not many if people are working all day at keeping an eye on what is going on, particularly in crowded urban areas like Dublin. That will not make much impact.

I agree with what one of my colleagues on Dublin City Council suggested last night, that there should be a “name and shame” process. When somebody is prosecuted, the local authority should list the person's name in the public media in much the same way as tax defaulters are listed by the Revenue Commissioners. The fact that their names could appear in the local newspaper or could be heard on the local radio station would be one way of bringing home to litter louts the consequences of their actions. In that sense the persons concerned could be identified as anti-social and not good citizens. That might have some impact. We must be tough on the issue. If the Government is not enforcing the law, it might as well not be in place.

[1427] In the long term there is a need to do something special in the area of education, and I do not think there was one word about education in the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace. There is a new programme on civil and political education for the junior certificate which will replace the old civics programme. A major component of that programme should address how we treat the environment. The Minister should speak to the Minister for Education and Science and put forward proposals for the curriculum. It should not be left to the Minister for Education and Science, who may not place the same importance on this issue as the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. The issue must be continually brought home to teachers and pupils in schools. The broad area of litter, recycling and waste management should be a focal and coherent aspect of education. That would make an interesting part of any curriculum.

On the Continent one must purchase plastic bags to carry goods but in Ireland one is offered a plastic bag or the goods one purchases are put into a plastic bag. Often two plastic bags are put together or thrown at you as if there was a limitless supply of them. A charge must be imposed on the use of plastic because, as the House will be aware, it is not biodegradable and will last for centuries in its present form. One should not be able to get a plastic bag for goods unless one purchases it.

I will not go into the other matter, the need to eradicate problems in rural water supplies. On the issue of waste management, it is four years since the enactment of the Waste Management Act and all the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, can tell us is that 11 local authorities have adopted a waste management plan, he expects another seven to do so by the end of the month and 16 more will do so by this time next year. By then, all local authorities will still not have adopted waste management plans. Dublin Corporation, the biggest local authority and the one of which I am a member has still not adopted a waste management plan. There are draft proposals but nothing has been decided yet in that regard. In other local authorities a waste management plan has been linked with service charges. Therefore, the local authorities will have to make decisions regarding incineration and waste disposal in the context of the imposition of a fee. That is not the way to go about it. If there is to be local taxation as an automatic link to the waste management plan, there will be a further delay and there will be different waste management plans and different levels of local taxation. Indeed, in some areas there will be no local taxation. Something similar happened in the 1980s when all hell broke loose over service charges, including water charges.

We need dynamic leadership from the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The Department must show that it views litter as a national scandal and the one area in which we [1428] disgrace ourselves in the eyes of the world. We are projecting ourselves as the leaders in Europe in so many areas, as a young, dynamic country which has broken the barriers and is going forward in a very positive way. Litter is our black mark and it is the responsibility of the Minister and the Department to ensure we stop paying lip service and putting forward short-term proposals, as have been outlined, and that we have a dynamic set of recommendations with dynamic leadership.

Miss Quill: I welcome the Minister. I am disappointed that the broader debate sought by me and Senators Coogan and Costello on environmental protection was narrowed to the debate which has been offered. I know that was not the decision of the Minister of State, but I am disappointed that the focus has been narrowed and I will certainly convey that to the Leader. It means the issue of environmental protection will have to be debated by the House very soon and we will expect the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to attend.

As a staunch supporter of the Government and its manifold achievements it gives me no pleasure to say that it has failed utterly in terms of litter control. Far too little is happening on the wider question of environmental protection, and what is happening is much too late. Litter is the most visible form of pollution. More than any other form of pollution it defines our environmental standards and our national identity for ourselves and our visitors, be they tourists or overseas investors on job generating missions. Litter is like a cancer on our clean and green reputation, relentlessly eating away at it week after week, year after year.

People can see the evidence with their eyes. Expectations were high when the litter pollution legislation was enacted in 1997, but those expectations have not been met. Despite the efforts and initiatives as outlined by the Minister, the reality is that the position has worsened. Statistics are meaningless when people have the evidence before their eyes. I drove from Cork this morning and the level of litter on the trees, the hedgerows and the lovely young budding spring bushes was disgraceful. The reality is that with certain significant exceptions, such as Clonakilty and Kenmare and a number of other towns which enter the tidy towns competition, the country has become filthy and litter strewn.

This has inevitable consequences. The tourism industry, on which we have pinned so many of our hopes for the future, is already being hit. The Germans, who are fastidious in these matters and who are very good, high spending tourists, are not coming in great numbers in recent years. The UK market, despite a very favourable currency arrangement in their favour, is not expanding as was expected. Bord Fáilte will confirm that of all the complaints made to them by tourists, the highest ranking concerns litter. One might think it would be high charges in hotels or restaurants [1429] or the high cost of car hire or petrol, but 14% of tourists surveyed last year complained about the level of litter and found it unacceptable, strongly indicating they would not be returning. We will ignore this at our peril.

The reality is that tourists come to Ireland because they believe it to be a green and clean country, a relaxed place where they can eat food which is grown in a clean and healthy soil, where they can visually see a clean and unspoilt countryside, a landscape which has retained something of its pristine qualities. This is the image of Ireland which has been sold abroad. We really have questions to ask when tourists come and find the opposite is true. If the perception goes abroad that somehow this is not a clean country and does not have high standards of hygiene we will see a detrimental effect on the tourism industry. It is natural to conclude that if we are careless about what we throw in the street we are careless about our kitchens, abattoirs and the way we prepare food. It will also inevitably effect our food industry.

The country's infrastructure is brittle enough. The industries currently thriving may not be here in 25 years. The jobs which are now so well paid may not exist then. Modern industry is very mobile and industries come and go, with jobs gained and lost. Our most enduring asset is the tourism industry, if we look after it properly, and our food industry, if we grow our food in a clean and green environment. The consequences of our failure to do that are very real in the long term, not to mention the implications for our public health if we do not do something to control water pollution.

I do not want to be seen as entirely negative – I hope I am seen as realistic. I wish the national spring clean campaign which began this morning well, but we should remind ourselves that we have had similar campaigns through the years and while they worked reasonably well for the duration of the campaign, in no time people revert to the bad old habits.

Litter is only one element of our environmental degradation. The position in relation to waste management is now at crisis level. We are producing 80 million tonnes of waste per year, most of which is going directly into landfill. Our efforts at minimisation are minuscule; our recycling efforts are miserable and derisory. As Senator Costello stated, the Kerbside initiative was good in principle but has been discontinued in the city because of a lack of monitoring, management and investment. Our level of recycling is miserably small compared to other developed countries, with which we compete successfully in other fields. In terms of recycling Ireland is at the bottom of the pile.

Senator Coogan has raised on a number of occasions the issue of what we will do with all this waste. One half of the people do not want dumps. “No dump” signs line the roads in almost every county where proposals are mooted to locate a dump. This is official litter as opposed to pro[1430] visional litter. Such signs are sprouting everywhere like new potatoes in the spring. On the other hand, the other half of the people do not want any form of thermal treatment or incineration. The debate is ongoing at local level. Strong national leadership is needed in this area but it has not emerged.

It is the task of Government to govern and I am calling for strong leadership at national level in regard to waste management so that all the information which results from new technologies is made available. In order to decide whether to opt for landfill, incineration or thermal treatment the most up to date information should be made available to the Government, produced by independent sources which do not have sectoral or vested interests. It is the duty of Government to make such information available to local authorities, which must make key decisions individually or in groups if waste is to be dealt with in a systematic manner over the next five to six years. That is not happening.

We have failed at every level of waste management. We are not recycling, minimising or adopting best practice in regard to how we deal with waste which cannot be recycled or minimised. The citizens of New York city segregate waste on a daily basis. If they do not segregate waste properly it is not collected and if it remains uncollected a hefty fine is imposed. There is a strong sanction. The infrastructure is put in place to enable householders to segregate their waste and the service is provided to collect it but if people do not comply they pay a significant fine. A proper level of service has been developed and if it is not properly availed of hefty sanctions are imposed. That is the way to do business.

No effort is made in Ireland in regard to composting, even though all of us are only a wink of an eye from being off the soil, as Deputy O'Malley remarked on the television programme, “Seven Ages”, last night. Every Sunday people go to garden centres to buy fertilisers and seed to put on their lawns when they could be composting and producing all their own fertiliser and weedkiller, etc.. They are quite content to go to such a centre to buy these products even though they could produce them at home. It takes leadership.

Mr. D. Wallace: It takes local leadership.

Mr. Costello: It also takes resources.

Miss Quill: Leadership, resources and education are required to make that happen. Mindsets cannot be changed without putting an emphasis on education, as Senator Costello rightly stated. We live in an age of ongoing education. Such education does not have to be undertaken when one is in nursery school because all the media are at one's disposal and I will refer to that later. However, that is the current scenario in regard to waste disposal and it is appalling in a country which has developed as well as ours. [1431] We are sophisticated enough to adopt modern waste disposal methods.

The Minister of State correctly remarked that confidence was lost in the old system of landfilling but lost confidence must be regained through good leadership, which is why I place such strong emphasis on leadership. Government must also demonstrate that it is serious about these matters. The Minister of State and I have engaged in ongoing correspondence regarding phosphates in water. I have told him more than once that I would have imposed a total ban on the domestic use of phosphates. He has responded to me in national daily newspapers that his method of dealing with the issue has been to put in place a voluntary code.

Mr. D. Wallace: It was conveyed to me that this was the best way.

Miss Quill: I compliment him on doing that but one of the reasons I would have implemented a total ban would have been to demonstrate to the public that I was taking environmental protection seriously. If people think that the Government is taking it seriously, they may then be tempted to do likewise in larger numbers. That is the benefit of imposing a ban, such as that which was imposed in Dublin a number of years ago regarding to the use of bituminous coal.

I am one of a number of people who wish to recycle more material but the infrastructure is not in place.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

Miss Quill: We are told that is so because the market fluctuates and sometimes fails and that is the nature of this business. If the market fails, a Government which is serious about this issue should introduce a system of subsidy. Our record shows that we are obviously not serious. We do not need more of the same because it has not got us anywhere.

Urgent, dramatic and long-term action is needed and that is why I have called more than once on the Taoiseach to appoint a Minister with sole responsibility for environmental protection. I wrote a letter to him on 28 March, in which I stated:

Dear Taoiseach,

I am very concerned about the current state of play re: litter pollution, waste management, water, air and soil pollution. I think it will be a major issue in the next election, especially the landfill site v incinerator agenda.

I accept that trojan efforts are being made to confront the situation. Unfortunately however events are constantly outpacing the efforts.

I am now convinced that the matter warrants the appointment of a full cabinet minister with all the status and resources that such a person can command.

[1432] The Environmental Protection Agenda is of critical importance for the future economic and social development of this country i.e. our tourist industry, our food/agricultural industry and public health.

I went on to state:

The current environmental portfolio with its many faceted demands is too wide. A sharper focus must be put on Environmental Protection.

I hope the next line of the letter will be taken seriously. It states:

The partnership approach has served this country well. We must seek to develop a partnership approach to Environmental Protection. Charismatic leadership is needed to enlist public engagement in finding solutions.

Many thanks for your attention to this matter.

I have not yet heard from the Taoiseach but I made my point as forcefully as I could.

I want to highlight two issues referred to in the letter. The first is the partnership approach. The Government cannot deal effectively with this issue on its own. Unless mindsets are changed and the citizens are convinced that they must take a sense of ownership of their own litter and some responsibility for its proper disposal, we will not succeed. All the laws in the world, no matter how stringently they are enforced, will not succeed on their own unless there is a willingness among the general public to play its part, in partnership with either central or local government, and with local initiatives. That is fundamentally important.

Everyone in this House remembers a time when there was a “them” and “us” approach in trade union matters – the workers versus the bosses – which led to a barren approach to issues. We then began to put in place the partnership approach to work practices and issues of that nature. If we applied that model to environmental protection, we would make progress. No matter how strong the Government and regardless of the resources spent, unless the general public is convinced that they have a role to play and a responsibility to protect our environment, we will not achieve our objectives. I have advocated the partnership approach but it takes time, effort, skill and leadership to put that approach in place, however, it can be done.

It is possible to sway an innocent general public. I would point to the campaign Telecom Éireann ran when it went public and began to sell its shares. I had never bought a share in my life and I did not even know how to set about buying a share, but having watched the advertisements night after night on television I was seduced, as were other members of my family who could ill-afford to squander money, into buying shares. My point is that a skilfully designed and delivered campaign can change mindsets and bring about the intended results. That is what I mean by char[1433] ismatic leadership. That is what is needed. The Government is spending an astronomical figure that only Bill Gates would understand – something like £2 billion – on the national plan. It would be a good investment if we put £1 million of that sum into a well designed campaign to change the mindsets of the people and put in place the partnership of which I speak.

There is a great deal of talk about the role schools can play in dealing with this problem. In my experience, most schools have a good environmental practice in place within their perimeter walls. The school in which I taught has the green flag for best waste management practice.

Mr. Norris: God bless Cork. That is not the case in Dublin, I regret to say.

Ms Quill: Not alone is this school litter free but it has a waste management scheme in place which involves doing an audit on every item that comes into the school and examining, segregating and directing waste to the compost heap or elsewhere. I am talking about St. Vincent's school in Cork city. That practice has nothing to do with my being there; I have not been in the school for the past 14 years. The point I am trying to make is that most schools are good about litter management in the school but when the youngsters go home in the evening, it is a scéal eile. It is not enough to reach out to young people, important and all as that is, but the example they get from their elders and their betters, as Brendan Behan would say, is what sets the agenda for them.

This issue has to be tackled at a number of different levels. I am not blaming anybody but the environment portfolio is far too wide. It encompasses roads, with all the road building that is currently taking place, planning and housing, which are two major issues; and a range of other responsibilities. If we are truly serious about environmental protection, the Government should appoint a Minister with specific responsibility for that area. When one considers where we are on this issue and where we should be, the gap would be enough to tax any Minister. If that is not done we will continue to nibble at the problem, and it will be grand for a while, and little villages and towns in Clare and Galway will be clean every day of the year but in general terms the country will not be clean and we will pay the price.

Our environment is our most precious asset. It is the womb in which we live out our days. I made the case for keeping the country clean for our tourists but I too want to live out my days in a clean environment. It gives me no pleasure to leave the house in the morning and pick my way through the remains of the man who ate his chicken supper on the street on the way home. I want to live out my days in a clean, litter free environment. That is my entitlement. Our environment is the birthright of the generations not yet born. Those of us in this generation are custodians of our environment. We got it in pretty good shape due to the fact that this country [1434] escaped the industrial revolution and the worst excesses of industries based on coal and steel. Any Government that fails to take appropriate action to protect our environment has a case to answer. Since I am a member of a Government party, I will conclude with that statement.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Coogan): I think the Senator's contribution will make them wonder about that.

Mr. Norris: May I ask the permission of the House to share my time with my colleague and friend, Senator Cosgrave?

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Norris: We should be grateful to the city of Cork for the lead it has given in this area because the Minister of State, who is one of the most decent people in this or any other Government, has taken responsibility for this particularly awkward and distressing problem. He is part of a dynasty of decent Cork people. I have had the pleasure of being in the company of himself and his son, who I believe is still Lord Mayor of Cork. I understand this debate was vigorously sought and achieved by Senator Quill, who is a member of a partnership Government and who is also from Cork. It seems to me that in this instance Cork is clearly leading the way and I am happy to grant them that privilege. The schools in Cork should certainly teach the schools in Dublin something. I was interested in what Senator Quill said about the school where she used to be a teacher. She obviously taught her students a good deal or, alternatively, if we look at her comments in another way, it took 14 years to clean up after her.

I know of a very prominent school in Dublin which was visited by a friend of mine recently who is a teacher. She saw the kids change class and throw all the rubbish along the corridor. When she went into the classrooms she found they were filthy. There was a poor woman cleaning up who said she had to clean up after every class. I know a little about this matter because I see some of those kids throwing their rubbish all over the pavement. These are well brought up, well educated middle-class kids. We have a real psychological problem. It is a problem of ownership of responsibility for the environment in which we live.

It is quite extraordinary that patriotic Irish people, that citizens of Dublin who would defend their city to the death, are prepared so regularly to treat the city with utter and absolute contempt. It is not just an aesthetic issue. There is an economic core as well. Nobody could have ignored over the past couple of years the number of letters to the national papers from tourists, many of them of Irish origin, expressing their shock, concern and shame at the way we treat our environment in terms of litter. They link that to their feeling of safety because they say, “If people are [1435] prepared to treat their environment in this fashion, in what way will they treat us as visitors to it?”

It is important to have this debate and I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, launched the National Spring Clean 2000 campaign yesterday in Dublin Castle as part of an anti-litter initiative. In this he has had the very able assistance of An Taisce and other groups.

I am glad we are having this debate because I have ranted on about this subject on numerous occasions. I have got myself into trouble sometimes for acting as an unofficial litter warden. On numerous occasions I have seen well dressed people outside sweet shops carefully take a wrapper off an ice lollipop, hand the lolly to a child and then throw the wrapper on the ground. Of course you cannot humiliate a parent in front of a child because it is not fair to either party. Instead I pick up the wrapper and present it to the adult saying, “Excuse me. I think you dropped this.” Unfortunately, the usual answer is, “It's all right love, I was just throwing it away”, which rather misses the point.

Trying to correct people's behaviour means that things can get rather difficult. It is for that reason that I sympathise with litter wardens. There are not enough of them and the fines are not severe enough. Increasing a fine from £25 to £50 in the era of the Celtic tiger has so little effect that you might as well not bother. The Minister ought to make a fine really sting. The sum of £50 would get lost in the hole in your tooth in this weather.

Shortly after Christmas I had occasion to be in Moore Street and I will give an edited version of what happened. There was a young girl of about ten years of age who was wearing a very nice, well pressed, clean and neat school uniform. She was holding a tray which had quite a lot of chips, chicken nuggets and a hamburger on it. She took one look at the fast food, wrinkled her upper lip disdainfully and spread the whole damn lot all over the pavement. This was too much for me and I said, “Come here, you horrid little girl. Pick that up at once and don't ever let me see you do the like again.” The mother turned on me and said “It's none of your f. . . . ing business.” I replied, “It certainly is my f. . . . ing business because I have to walk in the f. . . . ing dirt your f. . . . ing little daughter sees fit to spread all over the public footpath.” At that a man, who was not involved in this exchange, said to me, “You fat, baldy headed, woman hating old ****.”

Acting Chairman: He knew the Senator.

Mr. Norris: Touché – a palpable wound.

Acting Chairman: Please forgive me.

Mr. Norris: The man continued and said, “On your way.” He threatened to hit me if I did not move on. I was quite intimidated by him but I refused to move. If I, as a fairly burly individual, [1436] get that type of treatment, what about litter wardens? They must be subjected to this type of abuse all of the time. Litter wardens should operate in pairs. They must get a lot of abuse because people take it very personally when they are reprimanded and they feel humiliated.

It is part of our culture to be filthy. We almost glory in it. To be Irish is to be drunk and filthy. We need to correct these impressions but before we do that we need to correct the reality. Unfortunately, far too often the reality is that on national days like St. Patrick's Day we are perceived accurately as being in large measure both drunken and dirty. That is a great shame and a reproach to all of us. If anyone took the trouble to look at our principal streets or at St. Stephen's Green after the national feast day they would have had something on which to feast their eyes.

I would like to compliment Dublin Corporation. It has an intensely difficult job cleaning up after the filthy citizens of Dublin. It does a remarkable job. I often walk home from Leinster House or from the theatre and I have seen workmen with machines or brushes and carts cleaning up the streets. I stop to pay them a little compliment because it is just like the classical legend of Sisyphus who was condemned always to roll a stone to the top of a hill. The minute he got the stone to the top of the hill it rolled all the way back down again. He had the backbreaking, disappointing, disillusioning and disheartening job of endlessly performing the same task. So it is with the people who are charged with the responsibility of cleaning up litter after extremely dirty and obnoxious people. We must change the psychology. We must get it into people's heads that it is their own property and public space that they are defiling. Legislation is important in this.

I am intrigued by the figures that the Minister of State put on record. He said that there are 300 litter wardens employed, nearly 8,300 on-the-spot fines were issued, over 850 prosecutions were taken and over 350 convictions secured for the first half of 1999. That is quite a small amount but it is significantly larger than was quoted on the radio by a Government spokesman. He said there were only 20 litter wardens in Dublin. Perhaps the Minister of State would be able to break down the figures and indicate how many litter wardens are in Dublin. I understood that there were only 20 litter wardens. It was stated on the radio that there are 20 litter wardens in the Dublin Corporation area, perhaps just operating in central Dublin, and that 100 fines were secured every week. Perhaps that information may have been incorrect or I may have misunderstood it. I am not a great mathematician but if you divide 100 by 20 you will get five. That means that there was one conviction per working day per litter warden. That is not a high productivity yield. Perhaps the reason for the low conviction rate is that litter wardens are intimidated. I suggest we invest in litter wardens, increase the fine so that it hurts and combine both these strategies with an educational programme.

[1437] When I was at school there were no civics classes, but I would have been horrified at the idea of throwing litter around the streets. Perhaps I am not fully Irish. Perhaps I inherited this trait from my father who was English. I do not know. I do know that we are now being invited to look at the film “Nora” about the young life of James and Nora Joyce. An incident mentioned in Richard Ellmann's great biography of Joyce occurred when they went to Switzerland, which was the first time they went abroad together. Nora Joyce, who had thrown some paper on the ground, was required by a policeman to pick it up or be fined. She was astonished to hear that this was the attitude to litter in Switzerland. At the end of Joyce's life, he said to a remarkable woman, Carola Giedion-Welcher, who became a friend of mine towards the end of her life, that although Switzerland was very clean, the Swiss did not understand how wonderful dirt was. That was Joyce's attitude, he appreciated dirt. I think we should learn how to appreciate cleanliness and the beauty of a clean city.

The problem is getting worse and one of the reasons is our prosperity, because we now have more wrapped goods and rubbish to throw away. We can be more flaithiúlach with the detritus of 21st century civilisation.

We are not entirely helpless. Some areas have wheelie bins, which were a wonderful invention. They keep domestic rubbish and litter secure and do not allow it to be spread along the street. In my area of the city we are very lucky if people bother to put out their rubbish in plastic bags, particularly those living in apartments. Yesterday I telephoned the very courteous, decent people in the refuse section of Dublin Corporation to remark on the fact that several of my neighbours, one of whom recently wrote to the newspapers on the subject of litter, had put out their rubbish in open, plastic supermarket bags. That is 100% disastrous.

Miss Quill: Disgraceful.

Mr. Norris: Even the black plastic bags get torn by every passing dog and cat who can smell a bone inside. National attitudes are very important and this issue has an impact on tourism. I hope the Government's initiative works.

It has been mentioned that some of the infrastructure necessary to encourage good management and good housekeeping by individuals is absent. This is, effectively, the point made by Senator Quill. That is nowhere more true than in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Miss Quill: Yes.

Mr. Norris: We are a reproach to the whole legislative process. We are talking here in very high-minded terms about this. However, our two wonderful secretaries in Kildare House helped initiate a scheme to recycle our enormous volume of paper, which was cancelled within the Houses [1438] of the Oireachtas. The suggestion was that there was not sufficient volume, but there would certainly be sufficient volume if every Member of the Houses got involved in filling the containers. We can recycle.

There is too much packaging everywhere. We should do as they do in Germany and return all this rubbish – the plastic bottles, expanded polystyrene and foam baskets – to the shops we get it in and let them return it to the manufacturers. Unless we make it difficult for the manufacturers, they will continue to make it difficult for decent citizens by compounding the problem with excess and unnecessary packaging.

Mr. Cosgrave: I thank Senator Norris for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been spearheading the difficult task of dealing with what I am sure he knows is a partly poisoned chalice. That task is made more difficult by the absence, at times, of a clear waste management plan.

We need new thinking because some of the old ways will not work in the future. We must get through to people the necessity to clean up their act. Senator Norris gave a few good examples and Senators Coogan and Quill made some good suggestions. If we do not educate the young, and often not so young, people about some basic matters, this problem will get out of control.

I was talking recently to someone in the tourism industry who agreed that while we cannot control the weather, if we do not control litter, tourists will not return or word will spread about dirty Ireland and they will not come here. This problem is spreading to our beaches, roads, footpaths outside shops and so on. If we do not address this minefield, it will not matter what type of weather we have because tourists will not come here anyhow.

I sometimes go to a beach in Senator Walsh's county of Wexford, where there are big bins. However, there is not enough of them and they are not emptied often enough, particularly at weekends. People pile rubbish into them and they overflow. Practical steps must be taken. The provision of extra bins should almost pay for itself. Many shopkeepers and so on would be quite happy to sponsor bins, for which they would get some publicity.

Some areas take this quite seriously in terms of the tidy towns competition and those areas are a pleasure to drive through. One would almost eat one's food off the roads and paths in such areas. However, unfortunately, such areas are increasingly becoming the exception.

I was interested in what Senator Norris said about litter wardens. I do not know how many are employed by the city or the other two Dublin authorities, but Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council employs three or four litter wardens but I have never seen a litter warden in that area in my 20 years in public life. I wonder how many Members have seen a litter warden on their travels. I do not know if they can be recognised [1439] by their attire. It has been suggested that they should work in pairs, in the way traffic wardens and the famous clampers do. It would probably be unfair to expect them to work alone, given the stories one hears about people who were challenged about litter and replied with a string of verbal abuse.

From the figures supplied by the Minister of State on the number of on-the-spot-fines and prosecutions last year, it appears that only between 25% and 30% of offenders are convicted. Is there a need for improvements in how these prosecutions are brought? Is there a problem in terms of identification and the necessary evidence? Some time ago a judge ordered a person who was fined for littering to wear a sandwich board indicating that he was an offender. Given all the problems, it might be no harm to increase on-the-spot fines from £25 to £50, a sum which is not high in modern terms.

I support what has been said about educating children at school about litter, but shopping centres, cinemas and fast food outlets must play an even greater role in controlling litter. I hope people such as Senator Quinn and others in the supermarket business will contribute also, perhaps by way of competition. They create a certain amount of waste, although Superquinn runs a very clean operation. People come out of supermarkets with umpteen plastic bags under their arms and there seems to be no limit to them. When people put out their rubbish in such small plastic bags rather than the large black sacks, it is a recipe for trouble because cats and dogs can rip them open.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is in the process of introducing wheelie bins, although there are problems with charges. People who make the effort to take their cans and bottles to recycling bays should be charged less for their rubbish collection service. At least they are making some effort, but other people throw sharp cans and bottles everywhere, even on the beach. Their children or their neighbours' children could get into difficulties as a result of such behaviour.

I wish the Minister well in launching the national spring clean campaign but funding for the campaign must be realistic. We must examine the modernisation of waste management. The Minister referred to this matter in his speech when he said:

To date, the primary focus in relation to the modernisation of waste management has been the development and improvement of our waste management planning system as a basis for radical improvements in waste management practice and infrastructure, and the implementation of an effective and comprehensive waste licensing and permitting system which ensures that waste recovery and disposal activities comply with high standards of environmental protection.

[1440] Those of us who are members of local authorities will support the Minister in his efforts. He should take into account the points that have been made, particularly concerning how litter control is policed. More litter wardens are needed and they must be given slightly more resources. There have been insufficient convictions for causing litter in recent times so there is room for improvement. We will support the Minister and it is only by working together that such matters can be sorted out. Given our so-called Celtic tiger economy and the tourist industry, we cannot afford to contemplate failure in controlling litter. If we do not brush up our act regarding litter, tourists will not continue to come here and even Irish people will want to leave.

This has been a useful debate and the contributions have been both realistic and positive. No one is saying that litter is the Minister's fault. It is a problem that confronts everyone, so we must all respond positively. The debate will have provided a few more ideas for the Minister to take into consideration.

Mr. Walsh: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo. Molaim an iarracht atá sé a dhéanamh le dhul chun cinn san ábhar seo. A number of Senators have taken issue with the Minister's comment that litter is a national scandal. The Minister is quite right in saying so, however, because litter is an endemic problem throughout Irish society. When one visits other countries one can see that they have a better culture of maintaining clean streets and footpaths. The comparison is striking, although not all countries are like that. In recent weeks I visited Rome where the litter problem is unbelievable. It would put us in the ha'penny place. We are not unique as regards indiscriminate littering. Efforts have been made in the past to remedy the situation. The Minister deserves to be complimented on the various initiatives he has taken in this regard.

Although some Senators implied as much, litter is not the Minister's sole responsibility. The main responsibility must rest with local authorities. Undoubtedly, the Litter Act, 1997, provided the machinery for local government to deal with the problem. Local authorities are not, however, uniformly applying the powers they have under that Act.

If the litter problem is to be resolved in future it must be tackled in various ways. The Minister has laid heavy emphasis on education and awareness which are important planks in the fight against litter. In general our schoolteachers and local tidy town groups play an important part in creating awareness at that level. Senator Norris mentioned the case of a child who took the wrapper off a chocolate bar and handed it to the mother who threw it on the ground. In many instances, perhaps because of the climate in which we all grew up, parents are lagging considerably behind their children in terms of awareness of litter.

[1441] Apart from education, deterrents need to be rigorously applied but, unfortunately, that is not happening to the degree that it should. Senator Norris cited statistics for on-the-spot litter fines and said it came down to one fine per warden per day, which is obviously a very low productivity ratio. The Minister has provided the machinery for tackling the problem by increasing on-the-spot fines from £25 to £50. I do not concur with other speakers who said the fine should be doubled to £100. Fifty pounds is the on-the-spot fine for speeding and it would be difficult to claim that littering is a greater offence, therefore, £50 is an adequate deterrent, always presuming that an enforcement system is in operation. We are perhaps falling down in that area. Local authorities should be encouraged to engage more litter wardens than at present. They should ensure that litter wardens are vigorous in the manner in which they undertake their duties. I have had experience of a litter warden being engaged by a local authority, with which I am familiar, and his instructions from the administrative officer in charge were to take it easy and not cause too many problems. How can a litter warden do his job under such instructions? I am also aware of a situation where the on-the-spot fines were not pursued by the administrative section of the local authority at a fairly senior level, which flabbergasted me.

I question seriously the will of local authorities. I have found in general that elected members endorse anti-litter policies but for some reason, many staff and managers do not give them the priority necessary to eradicate or at least significantly reduce the problem. One often hears complaints from administrative staff that when they pursue people in the courts for fines, the Judiciary does not always regard these as serious offences, which seriousness would create the deterrent necessary if we are to achieve the compliance levels we seek.

When one examines the cost of waste management and street cleaning one wonders whether it is all necessary. Some years ago, the urban council in my area took an initiative to create awareness through shock tactics and it was decided that the streets would not be swept for several days, in order that people would see the amount of litter being scattered. Certainly the litter was visible but the message conveyed, if it was brought home at all, was very temporary.

On the other hand, where one encourages people to take pride in their local areas and in the country, one gets a response. There was a street sweeping programme in our urban district area and as new housing estates were built we did not increase the staff in order to extend the service to those housing estates. After some years we ended up providing a service to certain estates and not to others. It raised the question that if some estates were not being swept and the people were looking after their own problem by not allowing litter to be spread around their estates, or by collecting it and organising themselves, why [1442] did we have to provide the service to those estates who were littering? Ultimately, we withdrew the service from all housing estates and in the main it worked very well. It showed that people will take responsibility where they identify with the area as part of their own locality and they are prepared to take some pride in it. If we can extend that culture, we will see a general improvement.

In the context of local initiatives, the tidy towns committees provide, on a voluntary basis, a very valuable input to tackling this problem and significantly increase people's awareness of taking pride in and improving the appearance of their localities. I compliment An Taisce for the spring clean-up initiative undertaken last year and the Minister and his Department as well for co-funding and recognising the value of that initiative. In 1999, 150,000 people are estimated to have participated in 1,700 events countrywide. It is estimated that 7,300 tonnes of rubbish was collected and disposed of in the process. This year those statistics are being set at more ambitious levels and it is hoped that 200,000 people will participate in approximately 2,000 events and that in excess of 10,000 tonnes of rubbish will be collected. By combining the voluntary and the statutory efforts and creating awareness will bring about a significant improvement.

As the Minister of State outlined, £1 million has been provided to local authorities for anti-litter initiatives over the past three years. The national tidy towns competition could perhaps be used to greater effect in the anti-litter campaign. There is a section dealing with litter in the marking system for the assessment of each town in the national competition. We should expand that section, have a separate section or carry it out a grading basis, whereby local authority jurisdictional areas would be graded on a one to five or a one to ten category rather than giving marks. The monitoring outlined by the Minister State which will now take place, will be part of the overall monitoring of local government.

It often struck me as an anomaly that the implementation of the policy is an executive function, yet I seriously doubt that when an official applies for promotion to another grade, to assistant county manager or county manager, he or she will ever be assessed on the action taken in this area. It is all based on an interview system. The system of promotion in local government should be put on a far more enlightened basis than currently applies, where a good performer at interview can achieve the higher grade over somebody who might not interview as well but who might be far more effective at doing their job and delivering on policy implementation. That system could be examined so that in future, assessment would have a built-in performance related element.

To emphasise the point about local government, its responsibilities and its failure sometimes to deal adequately with the problem, how many times does one see litter bins in urban areas for [1443] which a local authority is responsible, which are overflowing or which have no cover and the papers are blowing out of them? If one does not have awareness and absolute commitment at local government level, which is the agency responsible for implementing and ensuring compliance with the legislation, it is difficult to expect awareness or a culture of compliance among the public.

The problem of plastic bags has been referred to and there has been discussion about putting a tax on plastic bags. Some action needs to be taken in that regard. Most of the major retail outlets will dispense plastic bags like confetti at a wedding – they give them out with gay abandon. Unfortunately, they present a huge pollution problem and a very difficult disposal problem in waste management terms.

If the problem of litter is to be tackled and resolved to everybody's satisfaction there will have to be far greater commitment at local government level. The Minister of State has outlined that the monitoring of local government is a matter which he will initiate at departmental level. That should be done rigorously and publicly in order that local authorities which are falling behind will be highlighted. Members of local authorities can then use their influence to ensure compliance and commitment at official level. Maybe then we will see some much needed improvement. Litter wardens must be used. Those causing the problem must be pursued and, as Senator Costello said, publicity must be used to shame the culprits. If the fact that they are fined is publicised that will act as a deterrent.

The Minister of State was criticised by Senator Coogan for outlining his response on the quality of rural water supplies. I remind the Senator that statements were invited on the unacceptable level of litter and the need to eradicate quality problems in rural water supplies and the Minister of State was invited to make a statement in that regard. He rightly took the opportunity to outline the significant initiatives that have been implemented under his stewardship. The national development plan has allocated £420 million to this area, which means £60 million will be spent for each year of the plan's life. That £60 million can be compared to the £8 million spent in 1996 and is a significant increase by any standards. It will go a significant way towards improving water quality, particularly for the 50,000 households dependent on group water supplies. There will also be 100% funding available for water disinfection and filtration equipment for private schemes. We debated EU drinking water quality analyses in the past year and found that standards were acceptable within the EU levels, apart from those of rural water schemes. Resources have now been provided to ensure that we comply with drinking water regulations. Grants have been increased from 75% to 85% and the maximum grant has been increased from £1,600 to £6,000, which is also very significant.

[1444] The Minister of State has dealt with water quality management in our rivers and it is good to see that extended to various lakes throughout the country. The national development plan is providing £3 million for the treatment of waste water and rural water. It is essential that we move as quickly as we can to abolish the present system which allows raw sewage into our rivers and lakes. We should not display this lack of environmental awareness as we turn into a new century, though it is intended to eliminate this problem by 2005 or 2006 and the funding provided in the national development plan will facilitate that.

The Minister of State has outlined his initiatives to combat eutrophication arising from excess phosphorous in our rivers. I compliment him on getting a voluntary agreement from the Irish Detergents and Allied Products Association. This type of voluntary agreement will often bear greater fruit than introducing regulations which have to be implemented. Compliance with such regulations often depends on the degree of enforcement. This is a particularly good agreement as it is estimated that approximately 90% of the phosphorous in laundry detergents can be eliminated within two years. That is a significant step in meeting the targets set in this area.

I am glad the Minister of State dealt with waste management. This area will exercise the minds and resources of local government for the next decade and longer. I do not agree with Senators who called on the Minister of State to show strong national leadership in determining the type of waste management that should be pursued. Many Senators are probably seeking a national policy on thermal treatment and incineration. I have always been a strong advocate of the principle of subsidiarity. We have a great propensity for national policies rather than allowing local communities and councils to come forward with their own policies, which could fit into an overall national policy. At the local level some Members might like to hide under the umbrella of a national policy on incineration, which is a controversial issue. Every regional authority has undertaken a waste management strategy for its area, to the best of my knowledge. We debated ours in the south-east and many local authorities have adopted it. I am glad that Wexford has not, though some might be critical of us for that. However, we are a little more environmentally aware in Wexford than in some other south-eastern counties which favour incineration. We have opposed it and had a good debate on the matter for over 12 months, considering all aspects of the issue. We concluded that the risks of dioxin emissions and other dust particulates were not risks we in Wexford wanted to expose ourselves to. That was our right. There are 21 council members and 19 voted in favour of a landfill and against the plan, with one member abstaining and one voting against the proposal. That is as near as one can get to unanimity without having it. I see is no better example of the democratic process than people, accountable to the public at local level, [1445] coming to a decision which will be controversial in some part of the county and which will have some effect, be it positive or negative. The decision was democratically taken and is a good example of local democracy in action.

When examining the issue we had information on various areas, such as Lille in France, where incinerators have been closed. People might say that such incinerators were old and therefore would not be of the requisite standard, but recently many Belgian agricultural products, particularly milk, have been contaminated by dioxins and taken out of the food chain. We are generally regarded in Europe as a green, environmentally aware country and we need not expose ourselves to change of this kind.

Incineration runs contrary to the principles enunciated by the Department, Ministers and others in this area. Those principles include having a tiered approach to waste management, minimisation, recycling, composting and disposal. Incineration is a commercial activity. Its commerciality will be governed to a large extent on the volumes it will attract. Minimisation, re-use, recycling and composting could become secondary to the need for an incinerator which would require huge capital investment and which would also incur high operating costs. It is up to each local authority to make its own decision on this issue. We should not develop the idea of a “nanny state” where someone in Dublin makes decisions for the entire country. That idea is anathema to me and I am surprised that some Senators advocated it.

The Minister stated that he wishes to give effect to the “polluter pays” principle. That is an issue on which we should place greater emphasis to ensure that incentives and penalties alike will apply to households in regard to the manner in which they dispose of waste. That is where segregation comes in. People in Canada know in advance that if they fail to segregate their waste, it will cost them money. Therefore, segregation becomes second nature to them. We, too, should separate our plastics, recyclables and so on. That should occur at household level because it would prove very costly to do it at a subsequent stage.

The almost universal practice throughout the country of levying an annual charge for waste disposal should be examined. Wexford was one of the first counties to introduce wheelie bins which are a marked improvement on plastic bags, both from a hygiene point of view for those who collect the rubbish and from the point of view of the efficiency of the collection system. I hope this system will eventually be extended throughout the country. An annual charge applies for this service and that does not provide an incentive for people to minimise their levels of waste. Landfill is so costly that we must avail of every opportunity to cut back on the volume of waste to be disposed. The levying of an annual fee does not take account of the fact that people living alone or old age pensioners may have their bins emptied only once a month. If we really want to apply the “pol[1446] luter pays” principle, we must devise a system of charging by volume or weight. I am aware that some local authorities are considering this issue. Perhaps the Department could ascertain whether the best available practice in this area could be sourced abroad and introduced here. That would certainly be a step in the right direction.

A sum of £650 million has been set aside in the national development plan for waste management infrastructure over the seven years of the plan. I welcome the fact that £100 million of this figure is to be dedicated to support for waste recovery measures. That is the direction we must take in the future.

In some counties local authorities have involved themselves in the collection process whereas in others they have not. Where that is done, it is important that private operators are not placed at a disadvantage through the application of higher than necessary dump charges. That would be an anti-competitive measure which could be used against the private sector. The same argument applies to the Dublin transportation system; if one successfully injects competition into a service, it will be efficient and cost effective.

Senator Quill referred to a letter she wrote to the Taoiseach in which she sought the appointment of a full Cabinet Minister with exclusive responsibility for these matters. Should the Taoiseach accede to her request, he could not find a better person to fill the position than the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace.

Dr. Henry: I congratulate Senator Quill on having promoted this debate. The debate is described as statements on the unacceptable level of litter etc. There is no acceptable level of litter. I was interested in the debate which raged on Joe Duffy's “Liveline” about a senior counsel who threw away a cigarette when being filmed by a television camera. Litter starts with something as small as a cigarette butt. I am extraordinarily sad to see that in spite of the amount of cleaning which occurs outside Leinster House, one frequently sees a considerable number of cigarette butts strewn on the ground. I suppose we are spared seeing lumps of chewing gum such as I see at the Rotunda Hospital. I seem to recall that some years ago there was a promotion of two attractive sand-filled urns on either side of the doors of Leinster House in which people could extinguish their cigarette butts.

I understand the Minister's point that litter is a problem for local authorities. However, until members of the public take ownership of the problem, we will not get very far. The problem belongs to all of us. Like other Senators, I have found the lack of rubbish bins in Dublin to be problematic. I live on Burlington Road on which there are no bins in spite of the fact that fast food outlets are located on Baggot Street and Leeson Street. Some Senators stated that they had received information that Dublin Corporation intends to provide more litter bins. However, [1447] when I contacted the corporation, I was informed that there was no plan to provide more litter bins and that people should take their rubbish home with them. It would be useful if the corporation had a consistent policy on this matter in order that we would all receive the same information.

The decision made by Dublin Corporation last night, which was initiated by Councillor Kevin Humphries, to name litter louts is an extremely good one. Nobody would like to be fined £50 for dropping paper bags or polystyrene boxes on the street. Naming and shaming is a very good idea and I hope it will be taken up widely.

I am glad street cleaners have been praised because theirs is an unenviable task. They clean the streets beautifully only to find them littered again a short time later. The litter problem is equally bad throughout the country. I received a letter from a 77 year old constituent, who had a heart by-pass, in which she informed me that she regularly cleans the sides of the road near her home in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, because she is so ashamed of the litter and the effect it has on tourists. If one travels by ferry from France or Wales to Rosslare and through County Wexford, the levels of litter one sees on the roadsides are appalling. I do not blame the business people who have erected signs stating “Welcome to Dublin, please excuse our litter”.

My 77 year old constituent suggested that television campaigns involving important media personalities might prove useful. Until we develop the sense that litter is a problem for all of us, not just for local authorities, we will not succeed in tackling it. I am exhausted asking small shopkeepers not to provide plastic bags to people who only purchase one item in their shops but they tell me that people demand plastic bags for a packet of crisps. If we could get rid of the plastic bag at least we would only have to deal with the packet of crisps. We will not get far until the public realises it is its problem and no one likes standing around in litter.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his promotion of waste management plans. They are good but one wonders when some of them will come to fruition, for example, the incinerator in Ringsend. I understand that the wind will blow its emissions towards the east, although dioxins can be virtually eliminated, but how will rubbish lorries get to Ringsend? There must be a practical approach to these matters. The landfill situation is totally beyond control and we can no longer get the space required. Incinerators are a stopgap but they will have to be introduced in certain areas because there will be no other way of dealing with waste.

We must make a greater effort to recycle. The Minister spoke about educating people about recycling, which is important. Waste from the construction industry accounts for 50% of landfill rubbish. If it does not recycle more of its product it will have to pay vast sums to dump it. It is extraordinary that houses are being built with [1448] new brick tumbled to make it look old when there may be a considerable amount of old brick which could be recycled. Cost cannot be the only consideration in recycling waste, we must go further.

Waste tyres also constitute a huge amount of waste. The Minister of State may remember that someone from Cork contacted him recently asking that the retreading of tyres be encouraged. I confess to a family interest in this matter. This person pointed out that we have the lowest level of retreaded tyres in Europe – it is amazing how low it is. Truck tyres are huge and in Finland over 70% are retreaded. The figure here is 26%, in Norway the figure is 70%, in Portugal it is about 50%, in Sweden, about 60% and in Switzerland, 40%. No country is below 30% except Ireland. This is odd because as well as being very big, truck tyres are dangerous to dump. In some landfill dumps abroad, uncontrollable fires have raged underground for years because of the large number of tyres. Perhaps this should be looked at as every type of recycling should be considered to ensure that waste is reduced. Industry must look at its level of waste because of the amount of heavy goods that are dumped. Many car manufacturers are examining which parts can be made in a way that allows them to be recycled.

The need to eradicate quality problems in rural water supplies is a vital part of this debate. The agreement obtained by the Minister of State to reduce the sale of detergents containing phosphates to 10% in the next two years is an incredible achievement. It is difficult to find out which detergents are low in phosphates. I eventually found out by looking at the underside of packets, the part which sits on the shelf. The Minister of State's time in office will be worthwhile for this achievement. Phosphates in detergents have contributed greatly to the eutrophication of our lakes and rivers and I have repeatedly raised this matter.

Now that this problem has been dealt with we can move on to other areas, such as excess phosphate spreading on land. We have discussed this matter a great deal, yet it does not seem to have made a big difference to the sale of fertilisers. The rural and environmental protection scheme has encouraged farmers to farm in an environmentally friendly way. However, sometimes I think we are preaching to the converted. I know Teagasc is meant to carry out phosphate and nitrate testing on farms. Some farms have enough phosphates and nitrates to suffice for the next five years without adding any more. Is Teagasc actually doing this and, if it does, is any notice taken of it?

Agriculture is important and the preliminary report on the three rivers project is praiseworthy in this regard. The report recommends that qualified personnel visit individual farms accompanied by farm advisers. It also refers to the need for extensive farm surveys, including a field by field risk assessment relating to nutrient application and potential diffuse pollution. It stresses the [1449] need for farmyard surveys, advice on minimising waste and slurries, soil and slurry tests, development of nutrient management plans on a field by field basis, advice on organic and chemical fertiliser management and assessment of the impact of direct animal aspect to watercourses. The latter is not taken into account enough, especially given the amount of surface water we use as drinking water. The report also recommends strategies for minimising erosion and follow-up visits by project personnel and farm advisers to assist in the implementation of the plan. All these recommendations sound expensive but they are necessary. The report on the Boyne, the Liffey and the Suir is worrying and I have no reason to believe the other rivers are any better – we know that the Shannon is a good deal worse. The environmental indicators also need to be looked at regularly to ensure we have the most up-to-date information possible.

Some 39% of sewage going into our rivers and lakes is untreated, which is terrible. It is planned that urban areas with 2,000 or more inhabitants will have proper treatment schemes by 2005. This should be done more quickly and the number of inhabitants necessary for qualification must be reduced. This is essential, not just because of the quality of the water supply, as we rely on surface water for a considerable amount of drinking water, but also because of the dreadful effect it has on tourism. I have heard appalling reports from people who have visited Lough Derg and expressed their disappointment at not being able to swim there. They said the water was filthy, and I have heard nothing to suggest it will be any better this year.

About 20% to 25% of our water comes from ground water. While gross pollution of ground water in rural schemes has improved, the mild to moderate reports of pollution have increased. No one wants to drink water containing e.coli, which means there is faecal contamination, either human or animal. A large number of houses in rural areas rely on septic tanks or various types of old soil treatments. Grants are being given to people to upgrade their facilities, but it is most important that good advice is taken on the siting of septic tanks. This is also an important aspect in the granting of planning permission because if there are too many septic tanks in an area virtually nothing can be done to prevent groundwater becoming contaminated. A tough line has to be taken on this and absolute health standards enforced. As far as I can remember, 20% to 25% of our water supplies come from groundwater. It is essential, therefore, that we get things right in regard to septic tanks.

In regard to access by animals to water, we have to ask how important overgrazing has been in polluting water schemes, particularly in relation to sheep in the west. There have been some horrific reports of contamination of rural water schemes in places like Connemara. It appears that a considerable amount of it is faeces from animals which, because of headage schemes, [1450] have been grazed on parts of mountains and hillsides which were not fit for grazing. Headage schemes were thought up in Brussels with the best of intentions, but they did not do a great kindness to many of our mountains when they came to fruition here. We have to be very careful to look at the knock-on effects of some schemes and how they affect our environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency should be given every support. Its job is extraordinarily important. Public awareness needs to be raised so that we will take ownership of the problem and not see it as someone else's problem which can be left to local authorities to deal with. It is important in dealing with the problem that we try to get some sort of esprit de corps within the population to raise awareness that our future environment depends on how we deal with the present situation.

I again congratulate the Minister of State on his detergent victory. It should have been put up in neon lights outside Leinster House because it is one of the most cheering bits of news I have had for quite a while.

Mr. O'Brien: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I congratulate him on his statement on litter and pollution and on his honesty in outlining in his first paragraph that our litter pollution problem is a national scandal which is totally unacceptable and that he has made it a top priority in his Department to deal with this very serious problem.

The growth and development of both urban and rural areas over the past ten to 20 years has been so massive that the volume of litter and waste has become a major problem. It is necessary, therefore, for county councils and local authorities to give leadership in this area and to take strong measures to implement the Litter Act. Fast food and take-away outlets in urban areas can create major problems, especially at weekends. Even in small towns and villages, we see litter on the streets, papers, little cardboard boxes, plastic etc. Local authorities and county councils take measures to clean up after Saturday nights and have their areas tidy by Sunday morning, but it is a shame that in 2000 this is still such a big problem. The Minister of State has made it a top priority to take measures to deal with it and make sure that both urban authorities and county councils give leadership in this area.

There are problems at farm level also. The REP scheme has played its part in improving farms that are part of the scheme. Because there are controls and inspections, these farms have to reach a certain standard. However, many farms are still outside the scheme. Plastic bags and the plastic wrap around silage bales are a major problem. In County Monaghan mushroom compost is still being dumped where it should not be, causing environmental problems in our area and for Ireland's green, clean image.

Heavy rainfall can wash much phosphate off the soil into lakes and rivers causing problems. I [1451] compliment the Minister on the amount of money he has put into group water schemes in the past few years, particularly in the past year. The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, today announced increased grants of up to 80% for group water schemes which is very welcome. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has undertaken over the past year to implement a policy of upgrading all group water schemes, and additional massive sums of money are available for new filtration systems for group water schemes to ensure that the water we drink is of a very high quality. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, on their efforts in securing this money for group water schemes. The Government is to be congratulated also on the number of regional schemes provided in the past ten to 20 years.

We should look to teachers and parents to educate young people about pollution and litter control. They have to be educated from a very young age not to throw litter away. An example was given earlier in this Chamber of a child taking the paper off a bar of chocolate and handing it to the mother who threw it away. This problem has to be addressed. It all starts in the home and in school at a very early age. Education by parents and teachers in schools is very important if we are to deal with this problem and reach the standards we would like to see here. It will not be easy. Local authorities can make the rules and do their best to enforce them, but it is down to the communities at local level to see that the streets in the towns, villages and cities are clean and litter is not all over the place.

Mrs. Jackman: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the House. I am glad the House has an opportunity to address the litter problem, particularly as these statements have been requested by Senators over the past weeks. On a note of criticism, I would have expected that the response of the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the issue of litter pollution, which was the main reason for the debate, would have run to more than four pages. While I understand that there is a need to look at other areas also, that is, the areas of waste management and the quality of rural water supplies, I had hoped there would have been greater concentration on the litter problem.

As I drove to Dublin today I was struck by the proliferation of plastic bags. I know there was a north-east wind, but they were on both sides of the dual carriageway, particularly on the outskirts of Dublin, hanging from the trees which were without foliage. It was distinctly noticeable today.

Listening to “Today with Pat Kenny” I was also struck by the fact that week in, week out the litter problem has dominated the airwaves. I was particularly concerned by an attack on the offices of Limerick County Council. It was stated by an e-mailer that there was litter on the steps leading up to the council offices and in both cellars, which [1452] would be visible from the main street because it is a Georgian house and the ground floor is surrounded by a railing. Yesterday evening I left the offices after a meeting about roads and I did not see any evidence of litter in the cellars or on the steps. Perhaps that e-mailer visited during the evening when the offices were locked and the staff were gone and the following morning the staff would have come and cleaned. It may be that the litter which the e-mailer noticed was dropped during the night hours. I was extremely concerned at the discussion on the show, during which it was stated that the Limerick Corporation would have to fine Limerick County Council because the council offices are under the jurisdiction of the city fathers. I was amazed and the council's environmental officer was shocked because every morning the council offices are impeccably clean. I wonder when the individual saw the litter. Perhaps, as I said, it was late at night.

Limerick is no better or worse than anywhere else. There is no doubt that there is litter everywhere. I have received a enormous number of e-mails stating categorically that Ireland is the dirtiest country in the world, and I would have to agree.

I represented Ireland at the St. Patrick's Day parade in Emmetsburg, Iowa and I was there for ten days. The temperature on St. Patrick's Day was 20º Fahrenheit, which is well below freezing point, and there was two inches of snow. I noticed the morning after St. Patrick's Day that, without there having been a need for the local town authority to become involved, there was no litter to be seen in Emmetsburg, a town of 4,000 people which had seen an influx of 15,000 people who had to keep warm by having hot drinks and whose numbers included toddlers and the elderly. This was because the people obviously have regard for their environment, they have a sense of responsibility and they take ownership of their streets. There would have been a considerable amount of material to take away because Americans like their food and they would have come equipped since they had to stand in freezing conditions for three and a half hours during the parade. They brought their babies and their elderly with them, but they accepted their responsibilities. Even though they came from different areas, they took their refuse home with them. That is an example of how the people of the US respond to such a situation. If it had been an Irish town, one may be sure that there would have been people employed at enormous expense to the local authority, which do not get adequate funding to deal with the problem of litter, picking up other people's discarded fast-food cartons, drinking cups, nappies, etc.

Having travelled the length and breadth of the Continent at different times, I am aware that there are dirty parts there too. I would not say that Brussels was the cleanest city in the world and I noticed that in many parts of Belgium people do not use wheelie bins and still use black [1453] plastic bags. Considering that Ireland has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, we should not have the problem encountered by the people of the Netherlands, where there is the highest population density in Europe, and Belgium, where the population density per square kilometre is huge also. Likewise it is difficult to clean the streets of London, which has such a huge population.

Ireland should not have that problem, despite the fact that there is a major movement from rural areas to urban areas. That is creating the problem for us because people in country areas still take ownership of their refuse. However, I agree with those who point out that in bogs and areas where there is little human involvement one will find black sacks which have been thrown away, various types of littering including discarded fridges, for example, despite the fact that one can leave the latter with the local authorities who will deal with them. One will still find abandoned cookers and cars where people do not seem to have any sense of the fact that it is their environment, and their environment does not consist only of the house where they live or the school in which they are educated.

People have been very critical of the education system. As a teacher for many years, I have never seen anything like the environmental education to which first, second and third level students are subjected. There are environmental studies in primary schools and in secondary school there is civic, social and political education, which places the onus on children to take responsibility and not just to always fight, shout and talk about their rights. In the school in which I taught we hounded the students aged between 12 and 18 as regards litter. I would refuse point blank to teach in a class unless I found it pristine. The reality was that when the students left the boundaries of the schools they dumped their litter outside because they did not feel that they had any responsibility for their streets.

I do not know what is the Irish mindset regarding litter because our generation may never have been exposed to environmental education. We did not appear to need it. Maybe some would argue that we did not have the stuff to throw away because there would not have been the same range of products such as sweets, crisps, etc., but that was not the point – we just did not do it. Now that there is such a huge emphasis on environmental education, I find it extraordinary that students have a tendency to litter. Certainly there is a psychological problem.

It is obvious that media coverage of the problem is not making an impact on the people. We must look at more proactive and innovative ways and I would ask the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to look beyond the shores of Ireland to other countries with a litter problem in the same way the Government looks at health campaigns in Canada, for example. Maybe we should look at the US. I would not be particularly interested in looking at Europe. The Germans [1454] talk incessantly about how clean Germany is but I have travelled to a part of rural Germany with which my area is partnered and I have seen litter there too, although maybe not to the same degree. I would give full marks to the Americans. They have a scheme whereby businesses adopt a highway, which I noticed when I was in Iowa, and they make sure there is no litter. I compliment Corkonians on their sign which says “Welcome to Cork: Excuse the Litter” which I saw when travelling to a conference. Maybe that gives a jolt to the mind – it is certainly lateral thinking. We should have more innovative ways of shocking the general public into reacting and making them think.

I remember about ten years ago asking a class before Easter to write to Cadburys regarding boxes for Easter eggs. I had been in Portugal around that time and not one Easter egg had a box. Everything was wrapped in cellophane, as they are very stringent about the presentation of food, but there were no boxes. The class, which was environmentally aware, asked Cadburys not to package Easter eggs in boxes. They said they did not want the packaging, knowing that when the exciting packaging was removed there was only a mini-Easter egg left. They got a curt letter in response saying that the company was not going to stop packaging Easter eggs in boxes as competing companies would produce larger and nicer packaging. It was a very negative response to youngsters who said they would be happy to buy the eggs with less packaging. There were 650 students in the school who, according to a survey, said they were prepared to buy the products without the packaging. I was very disappointed by the reaction of the company and that the students' views were not taken into account.

I implore the Minister of State to ask the Minister to provide more environment wardens for county councils. I live in Castletroy and I have had e-mails regarding littering in the area, much of which is due to the development associated with up to 2,000 planning applications. Obviously developers are not doing their best to keep their sites clean. When I responded to the e-mails people were shocked that there were only two litter wardens for the entire county. The people presumed there were two wardens for Castletroy and I had to tell them this was not the case despite the fact that the greater Castletroy area has up to 20,000 people. People could not believe there were only two litter wardens for the county. Whatever the Minister says in his speech, he can write off any response from the public unless he facilitates the employment of more litter wardens by local authorities.

The Minister said that 300 litter wardens are employed, which is not enough, and that nearly 8,300 on-the-spot fines have been issued with 850 prosecutions. There is a big problem concerning prosecutions. If I find a black plastic bag of rubbish in the countryside and bring it to Limerick County Council, which I would, who will end up in court? If it contains an envelope belonging to [1455] another person, they will say they did not throw the bag of rubbish away. Expecting citizens to take cases to court is out. They will not go to court and state a name found in a bag of rubbish. There will have to be changes to the law in this regard. Local authorities are very pressurised due to staff shortages and rather than expecting staff to spend days in court there should be on-the-spot fines, similar to speeding fines. We only respond to deterrents. Many times I have told people that they dropped litter and the response has been in four letter words. This is the general response when a person is stopped. In the same way one is not met with a civic response when one tells a person on a train who is smoking in a non-smoking carriage that they are in the wrong carriage. Porters and ticket collectors say they are subject to the same attitude. Therefore, there is a negative response to requests not to do things and I do not know how we will change that mentality – it will be extremely difficult.

I wish to refer to an article in The Sunday Tribune, the best I have read in a long time. The author, Shane Coleman, refers to a survey by Emmet O'Briain, a sociologist in Trinity College who has examined the psychology or sociology of litter. He speaks about the analogy of a group of people sharing a flat. Everybody looks after their own bedrooms, but the communal areas suffer because people shirk their responsibility. Even the tidy members of the household do so because they resent the lack of effort of their messier flatmates. This is most interesting. Tom Kavanagh of Irish Business Against Litter is more practical, saying the law is not enforced, that people get away with littering and that education and PR campaigns are a waste of time unless they are introduced in tandem with effective enforcement of the law.

I wish to briefly refer to the fact that 92% of waste goes into landfills. Nobody wants landfill sites and I ask the Minister to look at state-of-the-art thermal treatment – not incineration – in other countries. The jury appears to be out on new ways of heating rather than burning. We have discussed this at length in Limerick County Council in terms of the waste management plan which we have adopted. These new technologies will be state of the art by the time the Minister's document is put into practice.

We must educate the public in other ways of disposing of waste. We can talk about composting, compacting and anything else under the sun, but individuals must get it into their heads that they are responsible for creating waste and, therefore, must take responsibility for it. Wheelie bins were the worst invention. They take everything, including the husband or wife if one wanted to dispose of them – I am being facetious. Anything can be put in a wheelie bin and that is why the amount of waste is not reducing.

People who reduce waste through composting should certainly receive a reduction from local [1456] authorities in the cost of wheelie bins. Why should they pay the same amount? A woman wrote to Limerick County Council and informed it that she had reduced the amount of waste she produced by two thirds. She asked for a small wheelie bin. The council told her that she could have one for the same price as a large one. That is not proactive. However, the council does that because it finds it so expensive to implement waste management policies. I hope the Minister provides more than the few million pounds he has allocated for litter and waste management.

A great deal needs to be done in regard to water quality. More funding is needed if development in high pressure zones, such as Limerick, is to be avoided. Everybody is being pushed out of the city into the surrounding villages. People cannot build around them because sewerage and water facilities are not available. Development is very difficult unless all these issues are addressed in an integrated manner. I hope this is the first of many debates because the litter problem will not go away after this debate. It must be pursued and we would be very supportive of any measures the Minister proposes to introduce.

Mr. Moylan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this important debate. All of us can talk at length about waste disposal problems but it is also crucial that the problems relating to rural water quality are highlighted. Small towns and villages depend to a large extent on underground water sources, such as aquifers, and it must be ensured that every effort is made to produce high quality water. People boast about high quality water in many parts of the country but the standard must be maintained and it must be ensured that future planning and development legislation will maintain the high quality of our water sources.

Ribbon development has taken place around many towns and villages and many houses have old style septic tanks with poor percolation systems. I compliment the Minister and the Minister of State on providing for the expansion of sewerage systems in these towns and villages in order to facilitate development. Local authorities must plan ahead for the development of sewerage systems because they are crucial to providing high quality water which is not polluted in any way.

I welcome the Minister of State's announcement regarding grant aid for group water schemes. Many of these schemes are good but some are controlled by small committees which do not allow new connections. This is understandable if there is a problem with the water source or there is an inadequate water supply. However, the schemes to which I refer have spare capacity and the Department must investigate these groups which draw down money annually to ensure that water connections are available in rural towns and villages to enable them to develop and expand. Many people have been refused planning permission simply because they were unable to obtain a water supply.

[1457] I am annoyed with some schemes which receive substantial funding annually but still refuse quite a number of connections. Many of those who are refused are sons and daughters of people living in the area and not people coming into the area from larger towns. They are forced to bore wells at a high cost. They do not qualify for a grant because there is a group scheme in the area but at the same time they are not provided with a water supply. It does not happen everywhere but there is a limited number of cases. I hope the Department pursues this issue.

Our principal rivers provide the water source for many of our towns and the River Shannon is the water source where I come from. However, these rivers are polluted and this must be addressed. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the disposal of dead animals in rivers. I went on a boat trip on the River Shannon last week and what I saw was disgusting. It was not healthy. It must be ensured that all the pleasure boats which travel along the river have proper pump-off facilities and that the disposal of dead animals is monitored. It is penny wise and pound foolish to dispose of animals in this fashion because the charge for the collection of carcases is only a few pounds. It would be better if the collection of dead animals was subsidised in order to ensure that our waterways were not polluted.

With regard to waste management, dumping and litter pollution, companies which manufacture paper products should be forced to recycle and provide collection points so that their products can be taken back into the system. While paper products are easily compacted and disposed of, they are prevalent along roadsides in rural areas and this leaves a great deal to be desired. Local authorities are beginning to provide skips in rural towns and villages for the collection of household goods, such as televisions, refrigerators and others which are difficult to dispose of. I compliment the Minister of State on moving in that direction. This is preferable to what was happening until now whereby people disposed of such goods on the side of roads or in bogs. That was deplorable and it is still happening. In many counties there are small tipheads which have rightly been closed because of new regulations. People can no longer hitch a trailer to their car at the weekend and dispose of that type of litter. These are real problems and we must do more to address them.

In relation to litter collection, wheelie bins are essential for disposing of refuse. In too many towns bags are put out at night only to be torn asunder by dogs and birds, and rather than have our litter collected we are polluting the streets of our towns. We should move towards using wheelie bins for rubbish collection.

The amount of plastic used in this country leaves a lot to be desired. Plastic is the greatest cause of pollution. We talk about the farming scene and baled silage etc., but everywhere one looks there is plastic of some kind on our hedges, [1458] particularly at this time of the year. Our countryside is being polluted.

In regard to the roads leading to our towns and villages, we must recognise the contribution of local authorities, particularly in terms of social employment schemes, in that regard. Those people have done excellent work in removing plastic bags from the approach roads. Were it not for these schemes, those roads would be far worse in terms of litter pollution.

On the question of litter wardens, the Minister of State is right to insist that those schemes be self-financing. Litter wardens have no problem in issuing fines to people but, unfortunately, many of those fines are not highlighted in the media. Recently, a very prominent public figure was caught on camera disposing of a cigarette on the street, and rightly so. Once a person disposes of litter in that way, they should be prosecuted, regardless of who they are. Unfortunately, the local papers tend not to highlight people who are prosecuted for disposing of litter in such a manner. If those people were required to do community work, such as cleaning up the litter in their areas, instead of being fined, other people would realise that they should be more careful in disposing of litter.

We should examine what is being taught in terms of civics in our schools. Some schools do excellent work in this regard but I recently visited a college which was in a deplorable state. The ladies who clean it in the evening have to sweep up all the sweet papers that are thrown around the main hall. That is unbelievable. If that is the attitude of the children inside the school building, is it any wonder many of them throw litter on the streets outside? They are but a small number of people but they are giving the rest a bad name.

We must recognise that a problem exists in terms of tourists who visit this country and the amount of litter on our streets. Local authorities are doing what they can to address the problem. They have staff working over weekends to ensure that litter disposed of by people leaving discos, chip shops etc. is removed so that the streets of our towns are clean on Monday morning.

Half of the litter bins collected by local authorities are open at the top and the rubbish contained in them is torn asunder by crows, jackdaws or whatever. That rubbish is eventually scattered along the streets. That is not good enough. We have to consider providing a better quality litter bin. The people involved in the tidy towns organisations who got sponsorship for better quality litter bins in our towns and cities must be complimented. They should be recognised for the job they have done in that regard.

In regard to the disposal of waste, major problems are caused by the construction industry. If construction material is disposed of in an area, it can appear as if it were hit by a bomb. When companies get planning permission they must inform the local authority of the location in which they intend to dispose of construction material. If they dispose of it in disused quarries or whatever, [1459] they have to be made level and resealed. That can be done quite easily. There is a cost involved but we must ensure that companies in the construction industry do that.

We have to change our ways in regard to waste management. We depend largely on tourism but one often sees people travelling in cars throwing litter out the window. Every car should have a small litter bin fitted into it. Cars have telephones, CD players, faxes etc., but there is no talk of putting a small litter bin in cars which people can empty at the weekend. I realise cars have small ashtrays for the disposal of cigarettes but the days of cigarette smoking are nearly gone and manufacturers should look at something better.

One often sees “No Dumps” or “No Incinerators” signs along roads in certain areas, but where will we dispose of our refuse? At least 80% of the waste sent to landfill sites should be dumped elsewhere. Leader companies and enterprise boards should grant aid people who would be willing to get involved in recycling much of the waste that is dumped in landfill sites. Recycling is the answer in terms of what is being dumped in these sites.

I compliment the Minister of State and the Department on the major improvements that have taken place in terms of waste management and regulations. The future development of waste management should be examined on both a county and a regional basis so that we will have state-of-the-art landfill sites in every region. I realise no area wants these but the Government must bite the bullet and move in that direction.

I want to refer to the developments and improvements that have taken place on farms as result of the REP scheme. The countryside has been tidied up. We must compliment the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and everyone concerned with grant aid. We must also compliment the farming community on the way it has carried out this very worthwhile scheme which has brought about major improvements in our countryside. We must commend the Department and local authorities for the great amount of work they have done. We must also compliment people who have been involved in social employment schemes and everyone who has taken the initiative to develop and clean up Ireland. I hope this debate will highlight some of the problems and that the Government will take on board some of the views expressed by Members.

Mr. Gibbons: I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity to address this important subject. I want to address three issues, litter, landfill and water quality. I will not go into great detail about litter because several Senators have already gone into extraordinary detail. It is, however, worth noting that one of the big changes that has taken place in society over the past 25 years has been the huge increase in the generation of litter, particularly the move towards [1460] disposable packaging. By the time a product has been delivered to a shop and reaches the customer there will have been as many as five layers of packaging on it. There may be some opportunities to examine how packaging can be reduced because it is adding to our problems on an ongoing basis.

There is a lack of leadership in the battle against litter. However, I cite my local authority in Carlow as a positive example. About 12 months ago a new county manager was appointed who put a high priority on general tidiness and litter prevention in Carlow town. Since then there has been an extraordinary drop in the amount of litter. The local authority fully supports him and the fruits of his efforts benefit everyone. It is that type of leadership that is required.

Ongoing educational programmes in schools have been very successful. Schoolchildren, particularly primary schoolchildren, have a healthy attitude to litter prevention. Unfortunately, it is later on that the problem starts. Several Senators called for an increase in the number of litter wardens and for the litter warden scheme to be self-financing. They also suggested that the penalties imposed on people who litter should be so stern that people would not want to be caught a second time. Our litter problem would be vastly improved if we had the type of leadership I mentioned, coupled with the measures mentioned by Senators.

The attitude to landfill has always been ‘Not in my back yard' but I was taken aback by an article that appeared in The Irish Times yesterday about a proposed landfill site at Hardbog, Grangemockler, County Tipperary. A public inquiry into this proposal is currently taking place. What concerns me most about the proposal is that the site is adjacent to organic farms and a Camphill community. When I read about the proposal I wondered whether the county council had adopted the approach that people living in the area were easy pickings. There are about 50 people in the Camphill community. The Minister will be aware of the community's work here. They work extremely quietly. Who will represent the 50 people whose lives are centred in that community? Only one or two people. I sincerely hope Tipperary South Riding County Council does not think this is the ideal location because it assumes the local inhabitants are less likely to lodge objections than people living beside alternative sites.

Interestingly, the council wants a site capable of taking 40,000 tonnes of refuse a year. It is ironic that a council would select a site adjacent to organic farms. If a landfill site is located there those organic farms, no matter how well the site is managed, will be in great danger of disintegration. I am not sure that this fact is appreciated to the extent it should be.

The Camphill community has a holistic approach to life and frowns on the creation of litter. It breaks down its waste into organic material which is then composted. Any dry and solid material is used to generate heat in boilers [1461] which heat their houses. Newspapers and wood shavings from their workshops are used as mulch. Any aluminium is recycled in the normal way. That is the approach we should all have to waste. Yet the people who recycle in their own quiet way will be victimised if the proposed landfill site goes ahead. I am concerned that the county council will wage an attack on people with intellectual disabilities, autistism or some emotional challenges in their lives who belong to that community. If that is the case then it is an appalling way for the county council to go about its business.

The main issue I want to discuss is water quality, particularly fluoridated water. The Minister of State will be well aware that water fluoridation is a hot topic at present. Fluoride has been added to water here since the mid-1960s and can be found in 73% of all the water consumed. There were arguments in the early days about the necessity to add fluoride to water. Back then people believed fluoride would improve the level of dental health, particularly among children. That same argument took place in many countries around the world. Since then there has been much scientific evidence to suggest that fluoride is extremely dangerous. I am concerned at the lack of information here and at our lack of openness to new scientific information.

There has been an improvement in the state of dental hygiene and a decrease in the number of cavities found in children's teeth since fluoridated water was introduced, but questions are being asked about whether that improvement is more associated with a change in diet, a general improvement in hygiene standards, the introduction of refrigeration, the consumption of more fruit and vegetables and the introduction of milk schemes in schools.

It is interesting that very few European countries are still using fluoride in their water sources. It is time we took a very serious look at this. The Irish Dental Association is very strongly in favour of fluoridation. However, there is a wealth of scientific information published in reputable journals which queries its use. It is time we started querying its use, so that we can decide for ourselves, based on the best scientific information we can get, whether we should continue using it.

One of the big problems that seems to arise is fluorosis, which is associated with fluoride's overuse and is a form of poisoning. International studies show that where the concentration of fluoride in the water increases, the level of fluorosis also increases. This raises serious concerns. The standard laid down in this country for concentration of fluoride is one part per million.

There is also great concern with regard to bone structure. The source of fluoride we use to treat water is non-biodegradable and builds up in people's bone structure. I question whether there is a link between hip problems, osteoporosis and other bone problems, even some bone cancers, and fluoride. We need to know about these matters and to investigate this with a very open mind, [1462] rather than the closed attitude one seems to encounter when one looks for information from various bodies.

There is great need to monitor this area. When the legislation was originally enacted, power was given to the Minister to monitor its effect by means of surveys. As far as I can find out, its use has never been monitored since 1964. That should be done immediately. We need to find out if there is a serious public health issue here and tackle it if necessary.

At local authority level, where fluoride is introduced into the water, the health boards test the water at a particular time once every month. Those results indicate the position at that stage. However, the efficacy of this monitoring is open to question. Interestingly, there is very detailed monitoring of the chlorine and pH levels in water on a continuous basis, which is correct. However, why are we not investigating fluoride levels? This should immediately be taken up very seriously because we need that information.

Senator Quill made the point that the brief of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is so vast it is very difficult to concentrate on all the areas. Most people will accept it is a very broad brief which includes many extremely important areas. It is time to consider the establishment of a ministry for environmental protection, which is becoming much more important with the advances in science and the need to understand what we are doing. I am glad to see the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, is in the Chamber. There is a very strong argument at this stage for a full ministry for environmental protection. Perhaps the Minister of State will take that on board.

Mr. D. Kiely: I welcome the Minister of State and this timely debate. I compliment him on his remark at the beginning of his speech that our litter pollution problem is a national scandal and is totally unacceptable. That is quite true and I am delighted something is being done about it. However, I feel very strongly that the employment of litter wardens might not be the complete answer.

Local authorities are not providing enough facilities for waste disposal in our towns, such as litter bins. Some Senators mentioned that primary school pupils seem to accept they must dispose of their litter in an orderly way. However, second and third level students seem to discard their litter in any way they want. Papers are scattered all over classrooms at the end of the day. Educational programmes will have to be introduced for such people.

However, I am delighted to see the litter wardens in place, that on-the-spot fines are being imposed and that so many people have been prosecuted for littering. When one drives around the countryside it is sometimes like a confetti parade, with people throwing papers out their car windows. They want to keep their cars clean but they are not too worried about the countryside. Last [1463] year, we picked up 40 tons of rubbish in our clean up week in Kerry, which was packed along the roadside in plastic bags and so on. That is a disgrace. As a Senator mentioned, at this time of the year, before the hedges grow, the countryside is destroyed with rubbish. This will have to be tackled and I am delighted the Minister of State has said he will make it one of his priorities. Litter wardens are self-financing and local authorities should employ more of them.

One does not see as much litter in cities abroad as one does in Ireland. I cannot understand what the problem is in that regard. There was not as much litter, plastic or rubbish a generation ago. Perhaps there were fewer sweet papers and Tayto bags then because the young people could not afford to buy them.

Something will have to be done about late night takeaways. The proprietors of these premises are not doing enough. One of my colleagues on Kerry County Council said last year that somebody should invent edible takeaway cartons, which I thought was a very good idea. Recently, I was in a takeaway in another country where I saw edible takeaway cartons. Those should be introduced here immediately. It might solve the problems caused by the disposal of empty cartons.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister and his Department in regard to water supply. I sincerely welcome the extension of the grant from £1,600 to £6,000. I am sure this will improve the standard of rural water supplies throughout the country. Many water scheme companies and groups got into big financial trouble some years ago because they felt the grants they were getting from the Department were not sufficient. I compliment the Minister on increasing the grant from £1,600 to £6,000, which is welcome. In rural areas people received grants of up to £1,600 for sinking wells. They often had to wait up to ten years for group area schemes to be introduced and were forced into paying to sink wells and provide their own pumps. Such people should be able to tap into the new group schemes because many of the old wells have problems caused by iron and lime deposits. The Department should provide the difference between the old and new grants to enable such people to join the new group water schemes.

I am glad the waiting period to apply for such grants has been reduced from ten to seven years. The Department should loosen the purse strings somewhat to begin providing grants to people who have applied for group water schemes. Now that priority lists for group water schemes have been drawn up by each local authority, the Department should examine those applications that have been on the list for a long time. One such group in my area of north Kerry has been waiting for a supply for 600 houses through the Astee group water scheme. We applied to the Department in 1991. There were problems with the application but they have now been ironed out. I hope the Minister will make an announce[1464] ment in the near future for those people who have been waiting eight years for that group water scheme. The increased grants will be welcome.

The biggest single problem facing any local authority is waste disposal. In the recent past many local representatives have visited other countries to examine their sophisticated waste management systems. Members of Kerry County Council recently visited Denmark where they saw many impressive landfill sites, incinerators and recycling plants. However, when one mentions a landfill site in any part of this country the signs go up saying, “No dump here” or “No incinerator here”. Something will have to be done somewhere. If all the new super dumps are to be regionalised, harsh decisions will have to be taken and people will have to live with what they are using.

County Kerry has only one landfill site. There are good collection operations in all parts of the county and waste is brought to the central landfill site. However, at the rate waste is being brought to the state-of-the-art landfill site outside Tralee, at Muingnaminnane, it will be full in three or four years and, therefore, a new waste disposal system will have to be introduced.

It is amazing that approximately 65% of household waste can be recycled. The statistic is staggering. Compost is being made in the landfill site outside Tralee, which is purchased by householders for gardening applications. Much of the credit for that must go to Kerry County Council which is the first council in the country to have developed such an initiative. We are very proud to have done so.

Other problems have arisen, however, including the disposal of old fridges, televisions and cookers. At one Danish landfill site I saw people bringing old fridges, cookers, cardboard and bottles on their trailers. All the material was deposited in separate areas. Some 65% of the waste is recycled with the remainder being placed in an incinerator whose heat generated enough hot water to supply an entire town of approximately 40,000 people. All the citizens received free heating and hot water from that incinerator. Only 2% of the waste was left for the landfill. If that system was employed in Kerry, the county's sole landfill site would last for up to 100 years. We will have to examine systems such as those used in Denmark.

It will be difficult for many people to accept the use of incinerators which may appear unsavoury to them. Nonetheless, the one I saw in Denmark was of high quality and its emissions were quite normal. I was impressed with it. The placement of such incinerators will be important. Senator Jackman mentioned the situation in Limerick but one of our other colleagues suggested sending Limerick's waste to the power station in Tarbert in north Kerry. That would not be acceptable, however, and people in that area would not welcome it, given that the power station is an oil-fired one. If any change is to be [1465] made to Tarbert, it should be converted to gas to ensure that jobs there are safeguarded.

We will have to look elsewhere for an incinerator in the region. The best place to locate one is where large quantities of refuse are produced. That would cut the cost of transporting waste all over the region. I welcome the Minister's initiative.

Ms Leonard: This is one of the most crucial debates we have had in the House. There is no doubt that every highway, by-way and laneway in the country is a scandal, with blue, white and yellow paper bags, discarded cartons from fast food take-aways and plastic bottles as permanent fixtures on the landscape. It is a disgrace and it is no wonder Dublin Chamber of Commerce was forced to apologise for the litter problem when welcoming visitors to the country.

I welcome the initiatives taken by the Government and the plans it has to increase the number of litter wardens. The Minister has also announced an increase in on-the-spot fines. I would increase the fines even further because the only way to get the message through to people is to hit their pockets. The proof is that on-the-spot speeding fines are having an effect on drivers.

I welcome the appointment of litter wardens in every council area. The Litter Act is not worth the paper it is written on because of the lack of people to enforce it. In counties like mine, which have only part-time litter wardens, one is fighting a losing battle. Like gardaí on the beat, litter wardens may be subject to abuse, but they are a deterrent to those who cause litter. Litter wardens are based in the urban areas but this is not solely an urban problem, rather it is found in urban and rural areas alike. I live two miles from the nearest village and on a walk one morning I picked up 27 plastic bottles within 100 yards from my home. This was in an area where few enough people live. It is happening countrywide and we must change public attitudes so that people know that litter is not longer acceptable and everybody has a responsibility in that regard.

We have been successful in a number of public campaigns aimed at anti-social behaviour, particularly on the drink driving problem. Young people have led the way in making drink driving anti-social and it is almost non-existent among them. Perhaps it has not changed to the same extent for some older people but the campaign has had a great influence on younger people. The stay safe campaigns running in schools, the greater awareness of children of their rights and the education of children has meant that children are very quick to tell an adult if something inappropriate is being done. I do not like to use the term “physical abuse” where a child just receives a slap if a parent feels it is necessary, but one hears of cases where children will tell an adult that they will report them to Childline. Education and awareness bring results.

I fully support the campaign against litter, which must be run in the media using television [1466] advertisements. The campaigns against drinking and driving were extremely effective. In the 1980s, a television campaign was aimed at preventing the contraction of HIV and AIDS by encouraging people to use condoms. Some people were disgusted and could not understand why such advertisements were aired on prime time television, but those campaigns were very effective. They encouraged people to start talking and made them aware of how damaging these illnesses could be. For those reasons we have to initiate a campaign on the television.

Responsibility rests with us all, children and adults alike. I welcome the Minister of State's comments on increasing the fines and public awareness. The need to provide more bins is accepted but greater education of our young people is also needed. Senators have adverted to the fact that nobody wants dumps or incinerators and nobody will admit to being a litter lout. I have lived beside a landfill site for 20 years and it has not done me any harm, as far as I know. A certain amount of ignorance means that there may be one or two objectors to any proposal and suddenly some hysteria is generated. This has happened with dumps and is happening with incinerators. It is all very well to say that one can reuse and recycle so much material, but there comes a point where we must find a way of dealing with material that cannot be recycled or reused. We are running out of sites for landfill and in certain cases, there is no other option open but incinerators.

I was fortunate to visit some of these plants, which are extremely impressive, in Denmark and Holland recently. The regulations and laws which are enforced on the companies running such incinerators are extremely strict. We visited a site based in the middle of a residential area and another based on an industrial site, and there was no opposition when the public were informed in a balanced manner about the purpose of the incinerator and the emissions coming from it. There is a fear of dioxin emissions from such incinerators. One of the points made to us, which really stuck in my mind, was that more emissions come from a plastic bag burned on an open fire than from some of these properly regulated plants over a year. Responsibility rests with the public and the media, which is in a position to raise awareness, to give a balanced view on incinerators and the benefit they can provide to any area.

The Minister of State said that the quality of water in our rivers and lakes is generally good, with only moderate pollution. I have made the point in the House on many occasions that in County Monaghan 80% of the rivers are polluted, moderately to severely polluted in some cases. In addition to the usual reasons for such pollution, about which other Members have spoken, County Monaghan is an exceptional case with such intensive farming, which is responsible for some of the poor quality of water.

[1467] In 1994, a private concern, in conjunction with our local authority, competed for the alternative energy project through the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, which we were granted, but it was removed and given to a County Dublin company. To this day it has never been up and running as a waste-to-energy plant. Six years later in County Monaghan, we face a crisis in the farming industry and the environment because of the lack of facilities to deal with agricultural waste. I compliment the local authority and the processors and producers in County Monaghan who had to take on board the problems by setting up a task force to find ways to deal with the agricultural waste, which is not only damaging the environment but also the economic fabric of County Monaghan.

I welcome the initiatives, about which the Minister of State has spoken. It is a difficult job. He is not in a position to do anything about the agricultural waste in County Monaghan, but public awareness is most important in dealing with municipal waste generally. In recent years I have been conducting my own campaign – every time I drive behind anybody who throws anything out the window, I flash my lights at them for 100 yards. Unfortunately, I have never received any reaction from anybody to whom I have done that. I asked a mother whose child has dropped papers from her buggy if she would mind picking them up, but Standing Orders would not allow me to repeat the answer I received. We must encourage the public to think in an anti-litter manner and we must educate our children because very often their attitudes can influence their parents. It is a difficult job and I wish the Minister of State well with it.

Mr. Burke: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moffatt, to the House. I will not repeat what has been said by other Senators, but we can all agree that the problem of the collection and disposal of litter is alarming. We probably have one of the dirtiest countries in Europe and it is all down to education, which has been mentioned by every speaker. It should be part of the curriculum of secondary and perhaps even national schools. That is where we must start.

I take issue with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who has begun many projects but has completed none. He promised the local government Bill almost six months ago, but there is no sign of it. There are SPCs and National Prices Commissions but the staff and members of local authorities do not know what they will be doing. Some posts in local authorities, such as that of county engineer, will be abolished, but the situation is in abeyance and these people do not know if they are coming or going. The local authority system will break down and we will have to provide the resources to clean up the country. It is about time the Minister acted, as he has spoken about everything but has done little [1468] about anything. There is no policy on recycling, waste management or other issues he has raised, such as directly elected chairmen or mayors, SPCs and county strategy boards. The Minister should address some of the issues raised today by Senators.

As Senator Leonard rightly said, education is one of the most important factors in litter control. I thank the tidy towns organisations and other groups which take an active part in cleaning up our towns. There are quite a number of such bodies in my constituency which are putting a lot of effort into keeping their areas clean, but they are not being given resources by local authorities, while the Government is only sponsoring some advertisements about the matter. This should be on the curriculum of our national and secondary schools.

People are saying that the creator of litter must pay. I have been involved in the fast food business for several years and I see people leave fast food outlets and dump bags on the street outside. Many people blame the proprietors of the premises for this litter, but what can a proprietor do with someone who dumps a plastic bag next to a litter bin? There is nothing that proprietor can do. When we say that the creator of the litter should pay we are saying that it is above board for the person to dump bags in that manner and that the proprietor will have to clean it up or pay for it to be cleaned up. If that is our attitude people will throw these bags in the street. We must penalise the person dumping litter. The only way to solve this problem is through education from an early age and we will have to include this in the curriculum.

I like the idea of introducing a 10p charge for a plastic bag, as some parts of the country are littered with plastic bags hanging from gates and bushes. A paper bag is bad enough, at least it will rot away, but plastic bags are there for life. If this charge was introduced people would go back to the days of having a shopping bag or companies would supply paper bags. In America people use paper bags for their shopping, which are much easier to dispose of.

Many Senators have mentioned recycling and the Government must look into this. When one goes to America or Europe one sees the various recycling bins, but there is no proper recycling system in Ireland. Anyone seeking to enter the recycling field in Ireland would have to have rocks in his head, as he would lose a fortune. Nationalising waste recycling may be a better option, but something will have to be done as it costs a fortune to dump waste in landfills. Why not recycle it? It would be as well to spend the money recycling the waste as disposing of it in a landfill.

We will have to look at including environmental awareness as part of the curriculum. There is an onus on the Government to take action in this regard. The organisations concerned have done their utmost, but they have failed due to lack of support from local authorities and the Govern[1469] ment. We must help them and take whatever other actions are necessary to clean up the country.

Ms Ormonde: I congratulate the Minister on the initiatives that have been introduced, though whether they are working is another matter. We have on-the-spot fines, but they cannot be enforced because we do not have enough litter wardens. There is also monitoring of enforcement of the Act and I wonder how well that is working. A forum is being set up to connect the business and educational sectors. There is a co-ordinated effort to try to raise awareness of how we can clean up our environment, but is it working the way it should?

There is an integrated national awareness campaign which seeks to make people responsible for their behaviour towards the environment. Local authorities also have policies regarding a proactive approach for a litter-free Ireland in the future. I commend the initiatives being put in place to tackle the litter problem, but why are they not working? These are great initiatives, but are we getting value for money? How are we raising awareness among people?

In my local authority, South Dublin County Council, a huge amount of money has been put into making additional resources available to tackle this problem. The number of litter wardens has been increased from two to four, but is that enough for a huge area such as south Dublin? There are on-the-spot fines for people who throw litter on the ground, but how can four litter wardens be everywhere to impose those fines? This idea will not work unless we have more litter wardens. There is street cleaning, clean up squads, summertime junk collection and anti-litter campaigns when the litter wardens concentrate on particular areas from time to time. I agree with Senator Quill in regard to emphasis being put on giving power to one Minister to do this job.

Everyone has enough money and people can afford to have discussions over dinner on how we can clean up our environment. This issue is on people's minds when they see their parks strewn with litter. The level of litter outside fast food outlets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in small towns and villages is appalling. We need dawn patrols and litter squads in all areas. On-the-spot fines should be increased to £200.

I spoke to a teacher recently who gave a half hour lesson on the litter campaign during a civics class. The class immediately preceded the lunch break and she told the students that she would monitor the levels of litter over lunch time. The students took out their lunch boxes and immediately threw litter on the ground. What are we doing wrong? We are pumping money into addressing this problem but we do not seem to be getting value for money. Educationists are doing the best they can. The tidy town competition is run annually and huge prizes are on offer for the winners. [1470] There are also essay writing competitions, but none of these initiatives seems to be working.

Resources are being provided to address the problem but the Minister should examine whether we are getting value for money. We need more litter wardens to apply on-the-spot fines and we should increase the prize money available in the tidy towns competition. A Minister should be appointed with specific responsibility for this issue.

Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moffatt, to the House and I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, for staying in the House for much of the debate. I understand why he had to leave at this juncture. I also commend Senator Coogan for his vigilance in attending for so much of the debate.

The Minister stated at the outset that litter is a national scandal and I agree with him. I am aware of the Minister's attempts to address this issue. He circulated a letter to councillors on 2 March in which he itemised several of the initiatives being taken to address the problem. The Minister is doing more than many of his predecessors did in regard to the litter problem.

When we look back on our society over the past 20 or 30 years, we see things we regarded as being acceptable or normal at the time and wonder how we ever allowed them to happen. We can all think of high profile cases in regard to the care of young people. When we look back at Irish society in 20 years' time, I believe we will find the manner in which we abused our environment to have been unacceptable. There are fundamental faults in the manner in which we deal with our environment. It is curious that other societies in which industries are far more developed and there is a higher level of environmental problems seem to have coped more effectively with the protection of their environments than we have. Admittedly, some of those societies experienced considerable difficulties and the fact that we have never experienced real pressure may be one of the reasons for our casual approach.

One of the undesirable side-effects of the Celtic tiger is people's disregard for the environment. We seem to regard our country as a place to dump our rubbish and get our water. We treat it as an exploitable rather than a sustainable resource. Various committees on sustainability were set up in the past but I do not know whether we learned a great deal from them.

Selfishness is another by-product of our economic success. While our economic success is a cause for celebration, we must be conscious of our responsibility to succeeding generations, a responsibility to leave behind an environment of which we can be proud. Even in regard to economic self-interest, in terms of tourism and inward investment, it is imperative that we ensure that our environment is properly protected. Apart from the economic advantages conferred on hi-tech companies which located in Ireland, one of [1471] the reasons they located here was that they felt our environment was in proper order. Last year, I met a senior executive of a large US multinational IT company and asked him what criticisms he had of Ireland. He replied that litter was the issue of which he was critical. The Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, comes from an area of the country of tremendous natural beauty. It is appalling to visit places beyond Newport in County Mayo and find litter strewn in the middle of the forest. One can only wonder about the mentality of the people who put it there.

Anyone who had a stand seat at the rugby match at Lansdowne Road on Saturday for the Ireland versus Wales match will have seen a large mat-like piece of paper, sponsored by the Irish Permanent, on the backs of all the seats. The word “try” was printed on the paper. Presumably, we were all supposed to display the paper when Ireland scored a try although I did not notice many people doing so. I wondered about the mentality which considered this to be a desirable promotional exercise. There were thousands of pieces of paper and they all had to be disposed of the following day. If there is such disregard at corporate level for the consequences of littering, how can we expect to educate our children to take these issues on board?

I want to outline the “first law of take-away”, an original law which I devised for the Minister's delectation. The law states that the average family travelling in the average motor car at average speed consumes the average take-away in a mile and a half. I know this because my gate is a mile and a half away from the nearest take-away so my hypothesis has been proven. We have spoken about people's responsibilities in regard to take-aways and I concur with the view that the penalties imposed should be severe.

There are two very hard working litter wardens in Kildare who, although effective to some extent, are really only scratching the surface. We saw the recent high profile case where a senior counsel was prosecuted for dropping a cigarette butt on the ground. That case sent out a powerful message as it received far more publicity than such an offence would normally receive.

In his opening remarks, the Minister stated that the primary responsibility for tackling litter pollution rests with local authorities. That statement is probably correct in legal and technical terms but it is one with which I largely disagree. Litter pollution is a matter for the individual. It is a matter of practical patriotism. Do we have sufficient regard for our country to make the small effort required to ensure that we do not litter and pollute it?

The people who have done most to stem this tide of litter pollution are the members of tidy towns committees throughout the country. The committees receive minuscule levels of finance from local authorities to assist them in their work. If they were provided with additional resources, they would be able to do more in terms of [1472] preventing litter pollution and, where litter is created, they could remove it. Voluntary effort has a contribution to make.

I want to outline another practical proposition in regard to our county roads. In North Carolina, some roads are sponsored by local Lions or Rotary clubs, industry or their equivalent of the IFA, who are then responsible for cleaning them. That is a good and practical way of addressing this problem.

Unquestionably, plastics are the biggest offenders. Paper and organic materials decay over time but plastics do not. Perhaps all plastic bags should be biodegradable by law and if not, shops should not be allowed distribute them. I agree with several Senators that plastic bags should be taxed or people should be charged for them. Every morning I go to my newsagent to collect my newspaper and the sales assistants, in their desire to be helpful, offer me a plastic bag for my newspaper and a carton of milk. Every morning I say I do not want the plastic bag and every morning I am offered it. That is something practical that I, as an individual citizen, can do. If enough citizens did it we might not solve the problem but at least it would be reduced.

Senator Henry referred to the provision of litter bins on streets. People wonder why there are not more litter bins. In some towns in Kildare, litter bins are used for waste disposal by local residents. Everyone complains about the bins being full and the county council not emptying them. They are full because as soon as they are emptied local residents fill them. That is prima facie anti-social behaviour and I hope the litter wardens impose huge penalties. I remember when it was suggested that smog in Dublin could not be eliminated and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Harney, did it. Something similar can be done in this regard.

It was mentioned that if there is any hint of a thermal waste management plant in a 50 mile radius of an area, there will be a large protest. This is understandable and some high profile experts have been wheeled in to tell us about the noxious gases which can emerge from some of these plants. However, there is an onus to rebut some of these arguments and expertise should be available in the Department to contradict some of the claims made at public meetings. This fascinates me because I am sure there is more pollution from landfill sites than there will ever be from thermal waste disposal. Ground water is being affected. In one case in County Kildare, methane gas escaped underneath a landfill into porous rock and spread laterally. People had to be evacuated from their houses. Landfills are more hazardous than thermal waste plants but because people see a stack they automatically assume there are noxious emissions. Senator Burke correctly said that if everyone in the locality got free heat from it, many of the protests would disappear because we are all economic animals.

[1473] I had an interesting experience of waste collection last year. The local angling club took it upon themselves to clean a small island on the River Liffey at a bridge between Newbridge and Kilcullen. We were kindly given a skip by the local authority. We went out one Sunday morning, thinking we would get a few bags of rubbish, and we more than filled a skip. What was interesting was the material found, including videotapes and things one would never expect to find dumped. It was obvious from the nature of the rubbish that it was not, as was suggested, the Traveller community who had dumped it but allegedly responsible citizens. We even found a card from a waste disposal company. Perhaps they were using the island as part of their waste disposal system.

Local authorities have a responsibility in this regard. For example, in Newbridge, there is a council yard and the fencing around it is not of an acceptable standard. One cannot expect people to act in a certain way if local authorities are not prepared to act the same and better. The educational aspect has been discussed and I agree with the points made. Kildare recently adopted its waste management plan, although it had to be put back on display for legal reasons. It contains interesting statistics regarding the composition of household waste. Glass and metal account for 4.5% and 4.6 % respectively but paper accounts for 22.9% and that is by weight, not volume. When plastic, which is another 13%, is added, one can see the potential for the reduction of waste. I also noted that we had 88,286 used tyres and 492 “end of life” cars – I am sure it has increased since – which is a nice euphemism for clapped-out cars. New Zealand reduced its waste by 240,000 tonnes a year by recycling. Some 34% of Dutch waste is recycled, while the figure in Ireland is 4%. The EU directive on packaging recommends that by 2001, 50% of packaging should be recycled. We must ask ourselves if we are anywhere near achieving this.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, are to be commended on their initiative regarding group water schemes. However, if 100% grants are being provided for disinfection and filtration, that is an acknowledgement, without doing any testing or any independent verification, that there is a huge problem. We are accepting that the damage has been done. The preliminary report of the three rivers project has been published. One of its most depressing findings is that 30% of our rivers are slightly or moderately polluted. There has been a slight reduction in severe pollution but a huge increase at the other end of the scale. Something obviously needs to be done about this.

I am concerned about the environmental status of the River Liffey. About 25% of the River Liffey is abstracted to meet Dublin's needs. Everybody knows we need water but is it correct that the Liffey must pay, in environmental terms, for the fact that 40% of the water that comes into Dublin goes down the sink or is lost in the sys[1474] tem? The reason for this is simple. If it is a frosty night someone leaves the tap on because they do not want it to freeze and the water costs them nothing. This is the same as littering and it must be addressed.

The EU draft directive on water quality is also relevant in this regard. Like most local authorities, Kildare County Council adopted a water quality management plan, in our case for the River Liffey. I tried to get a cap put on the amount of water which could be abstracted from the Liffey. I did not succeed and at the time people said it could not be done because jobs would be put at risk. When unemployment was high, it was understandable that people would say a resource was expendable because jobs had to be provided. However, if a resource is expended, the penalty will be so great that we will regard it as something which should have been done in the first place.

I welcome the agreement that 90% of detergents will be phosphate free in two years. However, one way of ensuring that water quality in a river is correct is to achieve salmonid status. I had a motion accepted at Kildare County Council to the effect that the Liffey would be designated as a salmonid river. If it is designated as such, certain requirements regarding water quality must be observed. That is the best guarantee of all that quality will be preserved.

Unfortunately, the engineering fraternity seems to regard rivers as a source of water and as a place to dispose of waste. Looking at the figures relating to rivers generally, not just the Boyne, the Liffey and the Suir, 46% of cases of serious pollution are due to sewage. We are back again to the local authority being the polluter. How can we tell farmers and industrialists to get their act together, as they should, when the local authority is the main source of river pollution? That does not make sense. Local authorities have a responsibility. Thank God for the angling associations because they have been the main guarantors of water quality in rivers.

On the question of where the water for Dublin can come from, it can come from the Shannon. There is a way-leave all the way along the canal.

Mr. Coogan: There is plenty of it, too.

Mr. Dardis: I proposed it as my solution to the drainage—

Mr. Coogan: I heard about that.

Mr. Dardis: Even if we were getting so many million gallons a day into Dublin, it would not have a major impact. Nevertheless it would be of some help.

Mr. Coogan: Given the way population is growing in Dublin, it might be.

Mr. Dardis: Those are some of the issues. The question of fluoride has been raised by Senator Gibbons and I will not repeat the points made.

[1475] Everything has a price. We must decide as a society whether we are prepared to pay the price for protecting the environment. We cannot afford not to. We must ask whether it is a good idea that the Department responsible for planning and development and the things we need to do under the national development plan should be responsible also for protecting the environment, because those two are not compatible. I am not saying it is wrong to develop the economy – of course it is not. However, the protector of the environment has to be a separate entity from that which is driving development.

Mr. Glynn: Most of what I have to say has already been said. However, I will endeavour to address the problem confronting us. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this very important topic.

The poorest citizen can leave one very important thing to posterity – anybody who contributes to a clean environment will leave a legacy worthy of appreciation and note. It does not have to cost much. All that is required is a little care and thought, an evaluation of our natural amenities and the protection of them by obeying the established code in the context of litter control.

Much has been said and done and will continue to be said and done on the control of litter. In County Westmeath, where I am a member of the local authority, we had the honour of having the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to launch the video “Litter, Why on Earth Do We Do It?” Is it lack of thought? Is it lack of care? Is it done wilfully? Whatever the motivation, the fact that it is done at all is a very serious and grave matter. The video was screened in one of the new shopping centres in Mullingar, the Harbour Shopping Centre, and in the local railway station waiting room. It stirred a thought or two among the many people who took time to view it.

It is very important to be aware of the problem of littering on all major occasions. I take particular note of what Senator Dardis said about Lansdowne Road and the piece of paper on the back of the seat. I commend Westmeath County Council and the St. Patrick's Day Committee who availed of the St. Patrick's Day parade to raise awareness in the minds of the general public of the anti-social practice of littering. It is interesting to note that the entry of Westmeath County Council, “The Millennium Bug”, won first price for floats, it bore some fruit for the council.

Having been involved in voluntary organisations over the years I want to re-iterate the comments made about tidy towns committees. Residents' associations play a pivotal role in the control of litter. Westmeath County Council requested the assistance of the tidy towns committee in identifying litter black spots, and 21 submissions were received highlighting areas as particular black spots. Since then a number of these areas have been cleaned up. I am pleased that one day our staff, while going through the litter, [1476] found an item belonging to a particular individual who volunteered to clean up the entire area. That is how we should proceed. People who litter should be made to pay in a practical way.

Westmeath County Council and the Mullingar Chamber of Commerce introduced a voluntary code of conduct for the business community in Mullingar, culminating in the introduction of a litter-free zone in the town. The voluntary code of conduct was agreed and adopted by the council to form part of the litter management plan. They selected a street, the street where I have my constituency office. It is working reasonably well and I have done my bit in ensuring it is kept as litter-free as possible. It is amazing what a little effort will do if people will only focus their minds on it.

The tidy towns committees do fantastic work and they get a minuscule amount of money from the local authority for it. It is also worthy of note that in Mullingar we have what is known as a tidy estates competition. The tidy towns and tidy estates competitions work well and result in the enhancement of the areas concerned.

The council, as part of the litter management plan, has endeavoured to implement a policy whereby there will be no advertising of any kind other than exempted election posters. It is important to note that we have all been before the electorate at one time or another. Posters are put up with great enthusiasm before the election. However, once the election is over the influence of posters not alone wanes but they are not taken down. In that regard we must have co-operation.

There were also discussions with local auctioneers. They agreed a code of conduct in relation to the future signing of properties for sale. The agreement came into force on 4 November last and, while there have been some transgressions since its introduction, the uncontrolled advertising which was previously apparent has improved significantly. A little dialogue between the local authority and auctioneers has resulted in positive results in controlling litter to a certain extent.

In 1999 two circuses contacted the council for permission to erect advertisement posters. They were advised that permission would not be given. They respected the decision and did not make any attempt to put up advertisements on poles. Previously a circus came to Mullingar and put posters all over the place on poles and left without taking them down. As a result, the local authority allowed the circuses to be held in the town, but there were conditions regarding advertising.

It is important to note that primary schools have played a pivotal role in litter control. In County Westmeath we have a tidy schools competition which is very successful. I congratulate the environmental officer and the county secretary of Westmeath County Council in this matter. We also have a schools environmental quiz with 50 participating school teams. That is a significant number. It helps to impart the concept to young people that littering is anti-social and is not in the interests of the environment. By and large [1477] the campaign pertaining to the control of litter has been successful among young people.

Irrespective of what one does or what laws are brought into force, one word looms large in the overall control of litter, that is, enforcement. Ireland is a marvellous country for introducing laws and regulations but it cannot claim too many bouquets for implementation or enforcement. In my town there are three wardens under the auspices of Westmeath County Council and in 1999 a total of 386 litter fines were issued by them, representing an increase of 315 over the 1998 figure. Some 229 of those fines were paid. There were also ten court convictions in respect of unpaid litter fines and the maximum fine of £1,500 plus £300 costs was imposed in one case. Fines in respect of other convictions ranged from £50 to £250 plus costs. There were 70 section 9 notices issued to property owners in respect of littering at their premises.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government stated that the litter problem is a people problem which ultimately and realistically can only be solved by people. We can talk here until the cows come home about what to do about litter, but unless we set about eliminating the curse of litter in a practical way we will be back here again talking about the same thing, making the same statements and offering the same solutions. Unless we are deadly serious about it and pursue the litter bugs, nothing will be achieved.

How often do we see a tractor and trailer going to the local landfill site with no net on top of the load, leaving a stream of litter along the road? Mention was made of fast food outlets and I will not comment on them other than to state that there is provision for a £50 on-the-spot fine for litter. A regulation should be introduced to the effect that if a person is found littering in a serious way, for example, leaving a bag of rubbish at a beauty spot, he or she should not be put in jail, because that is too easy and the standard of accommodation in the jails is far too good for that person, but should be made spend time on a public environmental campaign. If the law needs to be amended, that should be done. This would bring home to people the importance of conserving the environment and preventing litter.

What can I say about water quality that has not been said already? There are far too many unthinking people in many walks of life. Indeed, as was stated here already, local authorities are not exempt from criticism in the case of polluting water supplies. It is important that we ensure that the water supply is potable and is protected at all times from the possibility of being polluted. My county is one of the few with a spring lake. Water is supplied in the main by Lough Owel, which is about four miles west of Mullingar. It is a fine water supply and a fine trout fishery. In the past there have been occasions when the lake has been enriched by algae which was caused by pollution. The same is true here as in the case of litter, people can cause serious damage to public health by not thinking about what they are doing, [1478] especially in the areas of local authority works, industry and agriculture. Those areas have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the water supply is safe.

Mr. Mooney: This is an important debate. As has been said throughout the afternoon, the Ministers responsible are to be commended on their initiative. However, to take up a point which my colleague, Senator Glynn, made earlier, we could find ourselves back here again in six months or two years and I shudder to think what life will be like then. Will we have made any marked progress in ensuring that we no longer have the tag of Europe's dirtiest country? One must only look at the letters pages of the national newspapers, especially those newspapers which are on the worldwide web, to see that a perspective of Ireland can be found on-line throughout the world. The correspondence which comes in here from people who have visited Ireland makes shameful reading.

As somebody who lived abroad for a long time, I always had a certain pride in Ireland. Maybe one must leave Ireland to have a pride in it. One would jealously defend Ireland against any criticism implied or real, yet we seem to have the tag of being a dirty people. I know this is a controversial statement to make and that it has been made by others, but the evidence is there for all to see. However, in spite of all the initiatives which have been taken by the Government, especially in recent years because the pressure has come from the business community and those who are making a real contribution to the growth in the economy, there still seems to be a mountain of litter facing us.

I re-echo what Senator Glynn stated because I had intended to make this the main thrust of my contribution, that Ireland is a wonderful country for passing laws. We are so inventive and creative in the legislation we pass, yet we are sadly lacking when it comes to not only enforcement but providing the necessary resources to implement that law. When it comes to litter control and the elimination of litter, to date no Administration, this one included, can state that it can look with pride on what it has achieved. Perhaps we are at the start of the end of a sorry chapter, but the reality is that I, as a member of a local authority, can remember in the early 1990s listening to the then county manager, who has since retired, state that the concept in Europe that the polluter pays was to be the norm for Irish society. That was eight years ago.

I am not sure there have been many prosecutions in my part of the country. I was pleased to hear Senator Glynn outlining the prosecutions which have taken place in his part of the country. I also found it interesting that there are three litter wardens employed in the Mullingar area alone. The most recent information available to me about County Leitrim is that there is one litter warden for the entire county. How can one person enforce the law? That is the question which [1479] must be addressed by the Government. Will it enforce the law without fear or favour and stop hiding behind the smokescreen that Ireland is a wonderful country, we are blessed with a beautiful scenic environment, there is crystal clear water, there are tourists queuing up to come here and things are not really that bad?

At last, in the past couple of days the Minister for the Environment and Local Government finally spelled out the reality when he said that the level of litter is a disgrace and a national scandal. It is time such things were said, and they should be repeated by every member of this Administration and everybody in both Houses of the Oireachtas because we, too, have a responsibility.

Notwithstanding all the laws and the exhortations from the various Ministers, as one drives down the road in any part of Ireland one will still see somebody flicking a cigarette out the window and throwing a take-away food bag out the other window. Senator Glynn, Senator Dardis and others referred to people throwing bags of litter in scenic places and said that the people do not realise what they are doing. They know well what they are doing. In most cases they are too mean to pay the modest fee to have their rubbish collected.

It also raises the question as to whether the people doing this have a loyalty to the country and a patriotism. Are we in such a headlong rush to earn the fast buck that we have decided it is no longer of any consequence, that we will leave all matters relating to environmental enhancement, water quality and elimination of litter to Government or whoever is in charge? It is not so in other countries and is certainly not so in the US, with which this country has very strong emotional and physical ties.

Last night I saw a fascinating programme about what makes Americans what they are. Most Members will understand their unrivalled passion for being American and for their country. It was suggested that it sprang from the first words of the American Constitution, namely, “We, the people. . . ” It does not refer to politicians, the administration or the architecture of Government, but to the people. Until we, the people, in this country decide it is our responsibility, obligation and patriotic duty to care for the environment God has given us, all the exhortations, legislation and debates will not change the mindset of those who believe the easy way out is to flick the cigarette butt out the car window, throw rubbish into the nearest litter bin rather than pay for its disposal, or go to some scenic spot because it is somewhat inaccessible or obscure and dump rubbish, hoping nobody will hear about it.

It is past time we took a hardline view. I am not by nature a member of the right or left and certainly would not like to think I am part of the “hang them and flog them” brigade, but I would have no compunction about a bit of flogging in terms of some of the people and their actions [1480] regarding the disposal of litter. It might concentrate their minds.

There is a precedent in terms of changing mindsets. For decades, getting drunk and driving a car was, bizarrely, socially acceptable among large sections of the community. The hard man attitude – it was mainly men – was somehow seen as a joy to behold. It was not enough to have one or two pints, but there was a cachet attached to getting absolutely ossified, getting into a car and perhaps mowing somebody down on the way home. Where did the sympathy lie? Of course there was much sympathy for the victim, but there was the most amazing scenario following a subsequent court case where the perpetrator was found to be guilty as hell and had the book thrown at him, with people saying of the guilty party, “God help him, he has a wife and a few children and the job will be in trouble.” All of a sudden the victims' and their families' grief was left to one side.

This changed, primarily because of the enforcement legislation introduced in the mid 1990s. Much of it was deeply unpopular with certain sections of the community. Deputy Michael Smith, the current Minister for Defence, was pilloried for attempting to regularise things and bring it home to people that drinking and driving was morally, socially and in every other way unacceptable. It worked and six years on there are very few people who will say that getting drunk and driving is socially, morally or otherwise acceptable. There is now a greater acceptance and realisation of the huge damage which can be done by drunk driving. It took much hard work on the part of Government, its agencies and many people before there was a realisation that it was no longer socially acceptable. Having changed in the mindset in this instance, I have no doubt a necessary change can be brought about in terms of litter.

The prosperity we are enjoying and hope to continue enjoying in years to come will be undermined, especially in terms of the image of the country abroad, unless we aggressively tackle the illegal dumping of litter. I fully support what Senator Glynn and others said about enforcement being the key. The message must go out from the Houses through the legislative process to local authorities and citizens that it is no longer acceptable for anybody to discard litter in a wanton manner, disregarding the environment in which they live and work.

When I have seen adults with children sitting in cars nonchalantly tossing litter out the window I have often rhetorically asked how they would feel if a stranger went into their houses and did the same thing. They certainly would not litter their houses in the same way. I have no doubt that practically every house in the country is spic and span and clean as a new pin. What turns us into these monsters when we go out to the public highways? What is it about our mindset that makes us refuse to pay the amount of money necessary to retain the services provided by local [1481] authorities to dispose of litter? What mindset results in the “not in my back yard” response to suggestions by local authorities to expand landfills, as a result of the country being crippled by the amount of litter which the statistics cited by various speakers indicate? We must wake up to the realities of what we are facing. It is all very well for us to trumpet the wonderful economic growth we are experiencing and the quality of life which we undoubtedly enjoy in comparison to other countries. However, litter is a scourge which must be eliminated.

I endorse the views expressed about the tidy towns competition. Those who have been involved in the competition in a voluntary capacity over the past three decades are to be commended. In fact, they should be given medals and Government should not be penny pinching when it comes to providing financial resources for this overwhelmingly voluntary effort. People are involved because they have a pride in the area in which they live and a very deep passion to ensure their area is litter free and enhanced in so far as is possible in terms of buildings and facilities.

I can give one small example of the passion of which I speak. I live six miles from the village of Keadue, which is in the constituency of the Cathaoirleach. Keadue became one of Ireland's tidiest villages some years ago. To this day, despite the fact that it has not been again awarded the title of national champion – it continues to come close on a yearly basis – the mere thought of a citizen of that village dropping even a lollipop stick on the streets is beyond their ken. It would not and does not happen. It is not a forced thing, or the result of signs being erected in the village asking people not to litter, but because they know that coming together in such a communal manner results not only in a local pride in their achievement but in national recognition.

The village was in the depths of economic despair following the closure of Arigna coal mines and had no motivation whatever to get involved in a tidy towns competition. Yet the villagers clung on to community pride, the one concept that they believed would ensure the future of the village. Having survived, the mindset of the villagers and people who visit there has resulted in it being so clean that one could fry an egg on the road, as my father used to say. This came about through a great deal of hard work, but I could not help but reflect on the achievements of places such as Keadue when Senator Glynn called for more funding for tidy towns' organisations because it relates to the American concept of the people making the decisions.

There must be prosecutions and I am not sure that the high profile cases which have been mentioned, such as the unfortunate senior counsel who was caught on camera, will change people's minds. Their minds would be concentrated if the ordinary citizen who is found spoiling the environment in which he or she moves is prosecuted. The names of offenders should be published in the local newspaper and that would soon put a [1482] stop to their gallop, but when people read about the gentleman who was mentioned earlier, the attitude is that he was stupid enough to get caught. People will laugh at that and it does not necessarily change their minds. If the law is seen to work there might be an overnight change because the ordinary citizens will know that in the same way they cannot drive when drunk, they cannot litter our streets.

Why does the Government seem to be reluctant to launch national radio and television campaigns on civic issues such as this? I grew up in a Border county and we were able to get UTV and BBC television. The Northern Ireland authorities constantly ran public awareness campaigns. Such campaigns are run here prior to general elections, referenda and in relation to certain health matters. Has the Department considered running a nationwide television and press campaign to send out the message loud and clear in an imaginative and creative manner? National celebrities and personalities could be used because that has been successful in other countries in other fields. People relate to soap opera stars or their favourite televisions and film actors who endorse public awareness campaigns.

The most recent campaign which I have come across involves the Environmental Watch leaflet in which Leonardo di Caprio endorses the move against global warming as a result of climatic changes. Has anybody in the Department considered this in order to follow up on the Minister's initiatives in regard to the control and elimination of litter? It might be a useful and timely initiative at this stage in our development.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to this worthwhile debate. The fact that many Members spent a great deal of time researching these issues bodes well for the future. I hope that we will not have to return to this subject in such strident fashion and that the next time litter control is discussed we will be complimenting the initiatives of the Government and the people who have responded to them.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 April 2000.