Government reaches deal with Fianna Fáil on waste charges

Agreement paves the way for pay-by-weight regime to be extended to all householders

Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government reached agreement with Fianna Fáil last night on a new system of waste charges, paving the way for a pay-by-weight regime to be extended to all householders and for a new regulator to monitor pricing in the waste industry.

The agreement reinforced the confidence-and-supply agreement after recent divisions, and created a clear division between the centre parties and the left-wing opposition of Sinn Féin and the radical left parties and Independents, who criticised the agreement fiercely.

The Government agreed to establish a “watchdog” to monitor prices and compile evidence on the operation of the waste industry. The Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten agreed that this would lead towards the establishment of a statutory regulator for the industry, as Fianna Fáil demanded.

The concession by the Government that a regulator could eventually be established meant that Fianna Fáil agreed to abstain on the Government’s counter-motion in the Dáil.

A Fianna Fáil motion had called for the establishment of a regulator, but the party accepted the compromise of a watchdog working towards the establishment of a regulator’s office.

Fianna Fáil and the Government both agree on the principle of paying for waste collection by weight – rather than through a flat charge – to encourage waste reduction and recycling.

But Opposition parties warned that the new system would lead to people paying more for their waste collection.

Solidarity-People Before Profits TDs called for the end of private waste companies collecting household waste and said bin services should be paid out of general taxation.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach in the Dáil to abandon the current plan and put in place an extensive waiver system for vulnerable people.

Gradual introduction

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the new regime for bin charges will be introduced gradually over a 15-month period,

The pay-by-weight arrangements announced by Mr Naughten last week would end flat charges and introduce a pay-by-weight system.

Earlier, speaking at a press conference with the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Mr Varadkar said the Government would proceed with changes to the waste charges system over a phased period of 15 months.

Mr Varadkar said people needed to be incentivised to treat their waste in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Social Democrats said they would table amendments to the Fianna Fáil motion in the Dáil to ensure that bin companies will not be permitted to obtain waste licences or permits without publishing their financial accounts in Ireland.

The amendments also call for the introduction of a national waiver scheme for customers who meet specific criteria on income, family size, health needs; and/or age.

Coleader of the Social Democrats Catherine Murphy said: “The planned pay-by-weight scheme amounts to a free-for all for bin companies who will be able to set their own collection rates and ensure their own profitability.

“Yet many of these companies do not see fit to publish details of their financial accounts in Ireland.”

Street protests

The Labour Party warned that the Government proposals to change the way householders pay for waste disposal will “lead to thousands of people coming on to the streets” in protest at the new charging regime.

Labour Party spokesman on the environment Sean Sherlock warned that the new system would open the door for “price gouging” by waste companies and could lead to widespread protests against the plans – “because you can anticipate that there will be price increases,” Mr Sherlock said.

Consumers, he warned, “could go from a flat charge to having 20-30 per cent increases on a weekly basis”.

He said Mr Naughten should pull back from his plans and conduct a “proper examination of what the nature of the market is” before any new system of charging is introduced.