Joe Higgins Column: Government Waste; Electronic Voting

When I got out of jail last November, having served a month for the anti-bin tax protests, I spoke widely about the huge hypocrisy that lay at the heart of the Government's waste management strategy.

The National Waste Database Report published a little earlier showed how still in 2001, huge quantities of recyclable materials including paper, glass and plastic were going to landfill.

It was very clear that, while paying a lot of lip service to the idea of recycling, the Government had not at all provided to the local authorities sufficient investment to put in place an infrastructure which would make it possible to divert a very significant quantity of recyclables from landfill.

A few nights after being released I was in a head to head debate with the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell on RTE Questions and Answers. McDowell was flummoxed when I pointed out that there was no separation of waste in Mountjoy, that everything, recyclable or not, went to landfill in a big skip. It was very clear that Government policy hadn't got through to a Department led by a senior Minister, or indeed to the Minister himself.

It seemed even more incredible last week when it was revealed that confidential documents from the Department of Justice were found in an illegal dump in County Tyrone by Anton McCabe, a freelance journalist who is a member of the Socialist Party.

Now this is the Government, which is spending 1.5 million euro on an advertising campaign called Race Against Waste. It falsely portrays the ordinary householder as being responsible for a waste crisis, when in fact only 15% of what goes to landfill each year comes from households. However, we now know that some Departments are apparently employing cowboys to take away their waste.

A somewhat similar story has emerged in relation to County Councils. A ship carrying waste from a number of Councils was stopped in Rotterdam on its way to the Far East. Supposed to have been carrying recyclables, it was found to contain indiscriminate waste. One of the Councils involved was Fingal County Council which was busy parading its environmental credentials while sending protesters against the Bin Tax to jail last autumn.

It is quite clear that there is both incompetence and hypocrisy in large measures both in Government and in many local authorities as far as waste management is concerned. Much of their propaganda is with a view to squeezing a new tax, dressed up as an environmental charge, from the householder. In fact the best allies the environment has are the majority of householders who wish to have waste reduced at source and who are very conscious about diverting from landfill if they were provided with the means to do so.

There has been much controversy about electronic voting with the Government persisting in its bullheaded approach regardless of the many reservations raised about it, including by people who are experts, or work, in the area of information technology.

The fact is, there are very serious questions about the reliability and integrity of the proposed new system but Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen, has been displaying his usual arrogance on the matter.

It's also business as usual for Fianna Fail. A public relations company with a former Fianna Fail General Secretary in a prominent position has been given the advertising contract for the electronic voting. This contract amounts to several million euro. The machinery involved is costing around 40 million. This is quite a reckless use of funds, which could be invested instead in some of the services, which the Government is leaving in dire straits.

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This article is from the March 2004 edition of Socialist Voice.

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