My Speech on the Litter Pollution (Amendment) Bill 2017

The 2015 National Littering Monitoring System revealed that 62.8% of Ireland was slightly polluted. The reality that over 60% of our country is polluted to some level is not a positive one. Cigarettes made up 59.8% of litter, while chewing gum was the largest litter component in the food related litter category, making up 11.24% of overall litter.

Furthermore, a survey from Coastwatch carried out in 2016, which surveyed 3.5% of Ireland’s coastline, published that drinks containers were found on more than 90% of the surveyed sites. Drink containers were founded to constitute the most widespread litter type on the surveyed coastline.

It is clear that these figures need improving and although improvements have taken place in recent years, which I will discuss in due course, the Litter Pollution (Amendment) Bill 2017, seeks to address these issues by means of amending current legislation. The Bill seeks to do so by:

  • Increasing the summary Court fine for summary litter offences under the Litter Pollution Act 1997 (as amended)  from €4,000 to €5,000;
  • Increasing the maximum Court fine for an indictable Court litter offences the Litter Pollution Act 1997 (as amended)  from €130,000 to €150,000;
  • should the contravention for which a person has been convicted continue after a summary Court conviction,  it would reduce the daily fine from the current figure of €1000 per day down to €750;
  • should the contravention for which a person has been convicted continue after an indictable Court conviction, it would increase the daily fine from the current figure of up to €10,000 per day to €15,000 per day; and
  • It would explicitly allow for a civil action to be taken under the Litter Pollution Act(s) against any person who is guilty of an offence under section 22 of the Act, which relates to dog fouling offences.

I have two main concerns in regards to the Litter Pollution (Amendment) Bill.

Firstly, there is a concern that the wording of the proposed legislation is incompatible with the principles of the Fines Act 2010.

The Fine Act 2010 outlines that any changes to such penalties under legislation should reference one of the “Classes” of fines introduced in the Fines Act 2010, instead of stating the fines in monetary terms. The proposed legislation fails to reference of the ‘classes’ and instead uses monetary terms.

Secondly, there is a concern in relation to the proposal to provide explicitly under the Litter Pollution Acts that a civil action may be taken by a person affected by dog fouling under section 22 of the 1997 Act. There are two aspects of concern in this context.

Further legal advice would be required on:

  • The appropriateness of allowing a civil action to be taken in relation to only one offence under the Act (i.e. dog fouling) and on
  • Whether alternative remedies already exist in Irish common law (e.g. Nuisance / Trespassing), so this proposal may be superfluous.

It is clear from the percentages of pollution and litter components from the 2015 report that more needs to be done in Ireland regarding litter pollution. Aside from the main concerns I have outlined concerning the Bill – it is arguable that the proposed legislation will not tackle the issue of littering in the most effective and efficient way.

Current penalties for littering offences are already substantial and the proportionally small increases in the maximum fine which have been proposed may make little difference to the current situation.

Rather, it can be contended that the most effective way of decreasing litter pollution is through increased awareness and education programmes aimed at societal behavioural change, in addition to working towards ensuring that current laws are enforced and that respective penalties are handed down to offenders.

The role of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment with regards to litter is to provide the necessary statutory framework to combat litter pollution. The primary management and enforcement response to littering is a matter for local authorities. Each local authority must decide on the most appropriate public awareness, enforcement and clean up actions in relation to litter, within their perimeter.

Although the primary management and enforcement lies with local authorities, the Government is fully committed to tackling the issue of littering and has demonstrated this commitment in its actions.

The Programme for Government contains a specific commitment to work with local authorities to tackle the problem of illegal dumping and to develop effective deterrents to discourage people from littering.

Additionally, an anti-dumping initiative has been developed by the Minister to work in corporation with local authorities and community organisations in identifying high risk or problem areas, developing appropriate enforcement responses and carrying out clean-up operations.

Furthermore, the Minister will increase, by 28%, 2017 funding provided to local authorities for the anti-litter and anti-graffiti awareness grant scheme.

The Minister has also increased, to €115,000 per annum, the funding available to the Protection of the Uplands and Rural Environments (PURE) Project and has extended the project for a further 3 years (2017-2019). This decision came as a result of the project’s great success in addressing littering and illegal dumping.

Aside from these clear efforts by government, reports have demonstrated that there have been significant improvements in relation to the levels of litter arising in local authority areas.

  • In 2004 the percentage of least polluted areas, was only 50.4%. In 2015, the percentage of least polluted areas had increased to a high of 79.2%. This is the highest level ever recorded.
  • Furthermore, the most heavily polluted areas made up 12.3% of overall pollution in 2004. This figure this fell to 4% in 2015, falling again to 3.6% in 2016.

Despite these improvements more must be done and the Government is deeply aware of this. This awareness is made clear by means of providing financial support, in addition to various partnerships and initiatives in place with local authorities.

Although the Littering Pollution (Amendment) Bill is a well-intended piece of legislation, there are a number of concerns which I have outlined with regards to the wording of the Bill, but also with regards to the proposed solutions for tackling litter pollution in the Bill.

The primary responsibility for reducing Ireland’s litter pollution lies with the citizen. Each individual is responsible for protecting the environment.

Encouraging individuals to take responsibility can be achieved by means of rigorous law enforcement, in addition to improved awareness and education programmes to inspire behavioural change within society. We may need to tackle the issue of social responsibility – before increased penalties, as proposed by the Litter Pollution (Amendment) Bill 2017, can have a significant impact on the current situation.

 

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