Deputy Broughan wishes to address and bring to an end the very serious illegal dumping in densely populated residential areas in the north of Dublin city.
Last week, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, increased the national funding for measures to prevent and respond to illegal dumping from €2 million in 2018 to €3 million this year. Applications are open for this fund, which is supposed to focus on prevention, education, awareness, abatement and enforcement. However, €3 million is a tiny sum in the context of this massive problem. Most of it could be used just to address the very serious problem in the constituency of Dublin Bay North, which the Minster and I share.
In the past few years, I have received an increasing number of complaints from constituents who are very upset by the sheer volume of illegal dumping and littering across the north fringe of Dublin Bay North, which includes the south fringe of Fingal. These include bitter complaints from civic-minded constituents and environmental enhancement groups at repeated dumping and serious littering on the R139 or N32, which is a gateway to Dublin for visitors arriving at Dublin Airport. Further east, residents of the new north fringe estates are also aghast at the amount of littering and dumping, especially on open spaces that are undergoing or awaiting development.
As the Minister will be aware, the most distressed of our constituents are those who have watched with horror as a tsunami of rubbish and clay in a huge illegal dumping operation has moved steadily across an amenity open space towards their homes in the past 18 months or two years. An adjacent city park much loved by local residents, sports teams and Saturday runners is also steadily being littered and engulfed by this huge illegal dump. At regular local meetings and meetings of Dublin City Council and the north central joint policing committee, the growing presence of this illegal dump has been described as a blatant commercial operation which the authorities seem powerless to stop and remove from our area. As the Minister knows, civic enhancement groups are, thankfully, highly active across our constituency. In telephone calls and emails to my office and on visits to my information clinics, they express exasperation that these anti-social and criminal behaviours are not being brought to an immediate end. They feel they are being badly let down by the Minister, who is a Deputy for the area, the management of Dublin City Council and he Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.
It is clear that the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Waste Management (Licensing) Regulations 1997 would never permit the creation of a commercial dump adjacent to family homes, precious amenity open spaces and an important Dublin city park. Despite this, it seems that no fundamental measures have been taken to tackle this outrage and restore the lands in question. The problem is greatly exacerbated by the fact that a number of small housing estates near the location do not have a weekly waste collection service. I note moves recently by Laois County Council and other county councils to ensure that all households are accountable for their residual waste after recycling. We would all welcome similar measures in our localities. It is astonishing that the Dublin City Council manager, Mr. Owen Keegan, and the council’s housing manager, Mr. Brendan Kenny, do not ensure there is a bin collection service from the city in the small areas to which I refer. Surely all households have the right to a waste management collection to encourage the avoidance of litter and illegal disposal of waste. The absence of such a regular waste collection service cannot be used as an excuse and should not be exploited by illegal businesses to wreak havoc on local residents, destroying their environment and endangering their health.
The Minister recently told me that under section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, he was precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of the performance by a local authority or a statutory function vested in it. This appalling situation, which affects several parishes in the north fringe, is an environmental and public health disaster. On behalf of our constituents, I appeal to the Minister to set in motion a system to direct Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochána to bring this dumping to an end and restore these amenity lands and boundaries that have been vandalised and disgracefully abused.
I assure Deputy Broughan that I am acutely aware of the concerns he has raised. I thank him for his acknowledgement that we are increasing our funding in this area. The €3 million fund I announced is only a small part of the funding we provide to support enforcement activities. I am very conscious of the concerns Deputy Broughan has expressed. I recently visited the amenity open space and park and I am aware that constituents are very angry and frustrated at what has transpired there, with systematic illegal and criminal dumping.
As the Deputy acknowledged, I am precluded under law from exercising power in these matters in respect of a local authority because these are statutory functions of local authorities, which are enshrined in the Waste Management Act 1996. Nonetheless, in light of the concerns the Deputy and I share, I have used the powers available to my Department to help to address the issue. I hope he will recognise that far from seeking to let people down, I am seeking to find collaborative responses with the responsible agencies. My Department chairs the national waste enforcement steering committee through the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, another agency of my Department. The EPA plays an effective role on the committee and in other enforcement activities. I also provide funding for enforcement supports. Through these structures, the particular problems of the site on the R139 are being examined. Part of a wider drive enshrined in the 2019 strategy of the national waste enforcement steering committee is to target these consistent and persistent illegal dumping sites.
Officials from my Department recently visited the site and are working with the local authority and the EPA to examine the scope for a multi-agency response to this matter under the national waste enforcement steering committee. At the same time, Dublin City Council has established a task force from across its service departments with the aim of preparing short, medium and long-term plans for the site. This will include the use of relevant enforcement actions. Between these two initiatives, I hope a coherent response can be developed to address the very persistent and long-standing issues on the site.
As Deputy Broughan acknowledged, I launched a fund of €3 million and visited the area—–
Does the Minister know that we did not get an invitation?
—–because I felt it was appropriate to do so. Applications for the fund are open and we expect to support more than 300 individual projects, some of which offer innovative ways of addressing enforcement, while others support public community projects. We will consider how we can use the fund to support initiatives directed specifically at this site.
We are acutely aware that this is not an isolated issue. Unfortunately, there are similar operations in many other constituencies and parts of the country. We have made it a priority this year to address this type of activity and bend our resources to have a more coherent and multi-agency response to it.
With all of the stakeholders working together, I hope we will see real action because this problem has been going on for too long. This type of activity is very disheartening for residents who have organised and submitted their streets to the tidy districts competition. It completely destroys their confidence.
The Minister must direct Dublin City Council management to immediately remove all of the illegally dumped rubbish and the huge mounds of earth moving like a tsunami towards our constituents’ homes. An Garda Síochána needs to immediately enforce the 1996 Act and the 1997 regulations. The Minister indicated he visited the site and I know his constituency did not include the area in question until three years ago. The amenity open space and estate boundary concerned need to be restored. This area was an amenity open space and park. We all worked very hard to create the park and some of the nearby community bodies and facilities. It is outrageous that these are being threatened by this particular outbreak of dumping in the past year.
I have visited the site several times in recent months and the dumping seems to be spreading, rather than decreasing. One of our constituents told me that Dublin City Council appears to be allowing the area to turn into a favela. We do not want any favelas in our city. I have also had complaints from other parishes across Dublin Bay North about the growing menace of littering and illegal dumping. Our constituents are very upset that bags of rubbish are dropped at amenity areas such as the city and county parks and the wilderness areas along the bay area and on the Howth Peninsula.
Many people are complaining about littering caused by posters being put up for emergency meetings outside of election times. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will echo that view. There is so much social media now it is hard to know why we need posters for every event, week in and week out throughout non-election periods.
The Minister’s predecessor established a price monitoring group, PMG, in order to monitor the cost of residential waste collection when the flat rate structure was phased out. The PMG monitors 26 service providers and produces monthly reports, which I know the Minister studies. The February report showed continued increases in monthly costs for household waste collection. Six monthly comparisons showed that just two operators decreased costs while six companies increased them. The Minister supported the privatisation of waste collection services at the beginning of the household waste collection era. We have ended up with a system run by companies which are based, in many cases, off shore, and with pricing systems which are completely opaque and prices are steadily rising. It is time to end the talk: we need a bit of action.
I met staff from Dublin City Council as well as staff from the national committee which is driving these initiatives. We should not be directing all of our anger at Dublin City Council staff. Many of them are trying really hard to contain this dumping and to maintain high standards in the park that the Deputy has rightly said is a major amenity for the public. The staff of Dublin City Council are not causing this persistent problem.
Perhaps management should act more vigorously.
This is a serious problem for many communities—–
Many chief executives would not put up with this.
—–and we have to work with the very dedicated people in Dublin City Council to fix it. That is what I hope to do. A coherent plan from the city council must be in place, and a taskforce is working across its different departments, which is really helpful. At a national level we want to take a multi-agency approach in addressing this. That is the right way forward. I understand the frustration of the Deputy and our constituents, but it is unfair to turn our guns on people who are doing their best to—–
I am not doing that. I am asking—–
—–help the situation.
I am talking about leaders who do not lead.
We do see some leadership being—–
It would not be tolerated in the private sector. We need leadership.
—–taken in that the council is establishing a group—–
The country needs leadership as well.
—–to work across its key service providers, and the national authority is seeking to work across the key agencies, from the criminal enforcement agencies, the EPA and the council itself. There will be a combined approach on this and I am there to support the work rather than just to criticise it.
Our constituents feel abandoned. We have a responsibility to them.