Waste: Illegal Dumping

Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 13th September 2011.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP 2:15 pm, 13th September 2011

1. asked the Minister of the Environment to detail the total amount of illegal waste dumped in Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland in the last two years; and the fines and prosecutions that his Department has imposed as a result. (AQO 294/11-15)

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 13th September 2011

I welcome all Members back to the House after the summer recess, and I thank the Member for his question, the answer to which will surprise him as much as it surprised me. During the past two years, only one incident of waste from the Republic of Ireland has come to the attention of the Department. I say that that might be surprising because your intuition would tell you that it might be more than that, given the history of illegal waste disposal in the North. As of now, there has been only one report. I have asked that we check with the PSNI to determine whether it is aware of any other reports, but, ultimately, it is for the community to report to the Department or the police if they are concerned about potential illegal waste being dumped in the North of Ireland. As one of my officials said to me yesterday, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Yes, I am surprised, given the extensive amount of media coverage on the issue of illegal dumping. My perception was that there is a strong cross-border racket in that area. Is the Minister convinced that he is getting as much support as he requires from the statutory authorities on the other side of the border to help establish whether it is a minimal problem, as he has identified it, or whether there is a need for greater coverage?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. I cannot go into some detail because, although matters are brought to my attention as Minister, the Northern authorities, through the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), and the Southern authorities work on enforcement, especially on criminal activity. They work together and with the Garda Síochána and the PSNI in tracking and taking action against those who may be involved in cross-border illegal waste activities. However, I am certain that the co-operation is working effectively. That is why, of the 17 sites where illegal dumping has been identified in the North, two, in Trillick and Slattinagh, have been cleared. A site in Ballymartin in County Down is currently being cleared. Those may have been the critical sites, and, over the next five years, the other sites will be cleared at a disposal cost of 100% to the Republic of Ireland authorities. Eighty per cent of the cost of removing the offending items from the North to the Republic of Ireland will be met by the Republic of Ireland authorities and 20% will be met from our own coffers. That demonstrates that the Republic of Ireland authorities are fully engaged and fully committed to the issue and are very nearly fully funding it.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Given that an element of dumping is still taking place, does the Minister intend to reimburse the local authorities, which sometimes have to fork out for the bill? It is still an issue.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. The question framed by Mr Newton was about dumping from the Republic of Ireland. If Mr Boylan has information that that practice is continuing in a major or minor way, I ask him to bring it to the attention of my Department, the NIEA, the PSNI and, indeed, the authorities in the South. As I indicated, if we, as MLAs, members of the community and citizens, have evidence, that evidence needs to be acted on. I encourage the Member to fulfil that. I do not intend to establish a precedent that, where there is illegal dumping of municipal or domestic waste that is then cleared by councils, the responsibility to reimburse councils should fall to central government. That would create a principle that is not sustainable. However, if there are issues around cross-border dumping of waste, that is a responsibility that falls to the respective Governments, North and South.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

Has the Minister formed a view on whether the existence of three waste bodies is the best way forward?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

That issue occupies my mind disproportionately at the current time, not least because the process of procurement is advancing, and we may be entering a critical phase in moving to some further developments with the three procurement groups. It preoccupies my mind disproportionately because we are talking about expenditure measured in hundreds of millions of pounds and contracts that extend over 25 years, and the responsibility for paying for those contracts falls to the ratepayers of our local councils. Clearly, given the scale of the issue and costs, any Minister should be preoccupied with that issue. However, a decision has been taken, and the outworking of that decision continues. I have to be mindful of the contractual and legal situation that arises, but I acknowledge that, as we proceed with the procurements — if that is what emerges in terms of the affordability and deliverability of those three procurement groups — we must not lose sight of the fact that, in the waste hierarchy, recycling and reusing waste are the primary tools for dealing with municipal and domestic rubbish.