DÁIL SPEECH ON BIN CHARGES

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Like other Deputies, my office has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls of protest at the introduction of these new pay-by-weight, rip-off charges being imposed from 1 July next. As leader of the Labour Party on Dublin City Council in the 1990s, I fiercely opposed the introduction of charges in the first instance because I feared it would lead to the kind of privatised, chaotic, non-competitive market that now exists.

Of course, it was the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, who inaugurated the crazy new pricing regime and Statutory Instrument No. 24 earlier this year. As broadcaster Pat Kenny noted this morning, it is beyond belief there are no maximum lift charges and flat charges in article 20 of the eighth schedule of that document. Deputy Kelly referred to an independent study that he used in order to come up with the figures of 11 cent and 6 cent. Will the Minister, Deputy Coveney, publish that study so we can see what kind of costing was involved? As the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, in his wisdom, also brought in a charge for the green bin, which I am glad the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has reversed.

The Greyhound company, which operates in much of the Dublin Bay North constituency, has informed households of astonishing so-called service charges of €3.25 a week and grossly inflated black bin charges of 35 cent per kilo and brown bin charges of 23 cent per kilo. As Deputy Bríd Smith said, constituents quickly worked out their new annual standing charges and were shocked to estimate that those charges would rise by 102% or, if paid weekly, by 141%, and black and brown bin lift charges would rise by 400%. The minimum charges set out in Statutory Instrument No. 24 leave many thousands of households paying from 100% to 200% more for their waste collection. There is little comfort in switching to other service providers given the profound lack of competition, as my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, said yesterday when she spoke about a cartel operating in the market.

It was the famous former Minister, Deputy Kelly, who spoke only a few months ago about the last chance saloon for waste operators and that he was going to go in and sort them out but, of course, as usual he did nothing remotely to sort them out. Across the waste market, standing and lift charges have skyrocketed. I have had complaints from householders who use Thorntons, which is introducing price hikes of 200%. One family with four children estimates its bill with Thorntons will rise from €324 to €611. Another family which includes someone with disabilities will see its bill increase from €360 to more than €600. An exasperated customer of City Bin estimates his bill will rise by 242%. On the Fingal side of my constituency, Panda has abolished the very convenient tag system and will also introduce increased charges.

In a statement he made yesterday, the Minister spoke about collaboration on the development of waste policy, but this remains to be seen. How will he collaborate? The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is supposed to be the regulator but there has been no regulation. There have been no studies. Even the Commission for Energy Regulation, which was referred to in questions earlier and which has a brutal record in invigilating energy prices, at least does some type of computation. I ask the Minister to suspend the statutory instrument immediately and leave the charges as they are and let the House and the Minister study what we will do next.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Simon Coveney): I thank the Deputies for raising the issue. This is clearly a very big issue which is evident by the number of people on the Government and Opposition sides who have what I regard as genuine concerns about what is being proposed in terms of charging from individual companies. When I became Minister this was an issue which had clearly received some attention by the previous Government and previous Minister.

In defence of the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, what he was doing in relation to requiring a pay by weight element to bills for refuse collection was the right approach. It was an approach based on the polluter pays principle, whereby people who manage their waste in a responsible manner should be rewarded and save money by doing so. The only difference of opinion I had with the previous approach was with regard to the so-called green bin element, whereby I did not think it was appropriate to have a pay by weight charge at all, even though the proposal was a very low charge for the green bin, because I did not want any disincentive in terms of recycling material, which is how it would have been perceived if there was any charge.

What has happened since the regulation was signed is that in recent days we have seen the new proposed charges from individual companies, and as householders are adding up what it will cost them on the back of those proposed charges many people are alarmed at the potential increases they may face. As far as I am concerned, this is not what was intended with this statutory instrument and it is my job to ensure what was intended by the statutory instrument is followed through. I will meet the companies tomorrow. I would meet them even earlier but I am in Belfast this evening and in Derry tomorrow. Early tomorrow evening I will meet the companies concerned.

I agree with those Deputies who have said we should not rely on some type of voluntary adoption of the spirit of the statutory instrument. We need to assure people that the Government is acting in their interests and at the same time allow companies to operate in a commercial and sensible manner in the spirit of a new statutory instrument which is to change the way in which people are charged for waste. This will reward them for responsible management of waste and take compostable material out of a black or grey bin and put it into a brown bin and therefore pay less by weight, and to take plastics and paper out of a general waste bin and put it into a recycle bin and be rewarded for this in terms of the overall bill. This is the thinking behind this and this is what we need to ensure happens.

If this means looking at new regulations which we will introduce next week then so be it. If it means looking at interventions in terms of regulations on, or management of, charges for a period of time to ensure we adopt a new charging regime that households accept makes sense for the environment and for themselves in terms of bills, then that is what we will do. I am not saying this is straightforward and I do not want to prescribe today how it will be done. I want to talk to the industry about it and have a respectful conversation, but I can tell the Deputies the Government and I will insist we do not have 200%, 100% or 70% increases in bin charges for households producing similar amounts next year to what they have been producing for the past 12 months. This is not acceptable.

A number of complaints have been made to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Department is interacting with it to follow through on these complaints and ensure they are responded to appropriately. The core issue is that undoubtedly next week there will be a debate on this issue in the House. A number of parties will propose this and this is good. I understand there will also be a debate in the Seanad as Sinn Féin will use its Private Members’ time to discuss the topic next week. I hope by that point in time we will have clarity in terms of the Government’s thinking as to the most appropriate way to respond in the interests of the environment and households, including the vulnerable households of the type Deputy O’Dowd raised concerns about, which may have many young children or may have a member of the family with a disability who may be incontinent or an elderly person. We do not want to punish any family which for genuine reasons must deposit waste in black or grey bins.

We will therefore have that conversation tomorrow with the industry and I hope we will be able to find a way forward to which this House can agree next week.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I hope the Minister’s response means that there will be a suspension of Statutory Instrument No. 24 and that these pay-by-weight price increases, as they have been presented to us, will not proceed. Is it possible to make the study that the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, apparently did regarding this matter available to Dáil Éireann and to examine the issue of maximum charges in this regard? Could I ask the Minister again about the role of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission? Will this commission be the regulator? There is no regulation, as the previous Minister said. It is the last chance saloon, a chaotic market situation. Will the Minister also consider legislation to restore tendering by district licences and therefore allow local authorities, if they wish, to come forward and compete for the licence and, in other words, get rid of privatisation and allow local authorities to get back into this critical utility?

Deputy Simon Coveney: I hope I will get the time to answer all those questions if I can. Deputy Curran’s question, whether I will amend the scheme, is a fair one. It is too early to give him a straight answer to that today but early next week we need to have an answer to it. I want to be fair. Some companies have not even published their new charging systems yet so I want to have an opportunity to meet the companies involved and the representative body before I decide what needs to be done.

Regarding statements like “the whole scheme needs to be changed and be reviewed”, that is exactly what has just happened. We have just reviewed the whole charging system for waste—–

Deputy Dessie Ellis: And made a mess of it.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  —–to introduce a pay-by-weight scheme, which every environmentalist in the country would accept is a good thing as long as it is managed properly and introduced in a way that balances a bill properly and as long as it is not abused and used as an opportunity to increase income or margins for companies.

Setting the maximum and minimum as the same number, setting the pay by weight charge, does not make much sense. Some households will want a very significant proportion of their bills as pay by weight with a small standing charge, while others will want a much higher standing charge and the bare minimum in pay by weight, depending on the type of household. We must maximise the incentive, where possible, to compost, recycle, reduce and reuse waste as much as possible. This is the purpose of it. We are not doing it for any reasons other than a genuine, progressive environmental reason.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We do not know the economics of it.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Pay by weight charges have been introduced all over Europe in different countries and regions and in Ireland.