95% reduction in plastic bag usage

Plastic bag usage has been practically wiped out as a direct result of the decade-old levy on the environmental hazard.

Department of Environment secretary general John McCarthy, responding to queries from Labour TD Ged Nash at the latest Public Accounts Committee meeting, said the levy has been a major economic and environmental success for the country.

He said when the measure was imposed 12 years ago, some 1.2bn plastic bags were being used in Ireland by shoppers every year, a situation that was causing untold damage to the environment.

However, more than a decade on, the levy has led to a 95% reduction in plastic bag use, with the exchequer benefiting from a €12.8m-a-year windfall from the extra charge placed on people who continue to use plastic bags.

In March 2002, then environment minister Noel Dempsey put forward plans for anybody using plastic bags instead of more eco-friendly brown paper bags to be hit with a 15c charge.

Overnight, the measure led to a reduction in plastic bag usage from 328 bags per capita to 21.

The levy has since been increased to 22c per bag, with the North, parts of Britain, and some US states, subsequently introducing similar policies.

Social housing 

The Government’s social housing budget has been cut by €90m in just two years, despite a surge in people facing homelessness because they cannot afford spiralling private rental fees.

The situation has been revealed by senior Department of Environment and Local Government officials, who said that due to the cuts — and the fact an average of just 14 social housing units are becoming available per local authority — the possibility of using Nama-held buildings to ease the crisis is now being examined.

Speaking at the latest Dáil public accounts committee meeting, civil servants from the body — which has responsibility for Ireland’s 31 local authorities — said the figure fell by €56m, to €117m, in 2012, before dropping to just €83m, last year.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell said the reduction was “unbelievable” considering the surge in people who are increasingly relying on social housing, adding he was tired of “seeing people, particularly single mothers, living in dives I wouldn’t put anyone in”.

Under questioning from his party colleague, John Deasy, the department’s secretary general John McCarthy said due to the cuts officials are now re-examining the possibility of using Nama controlled buildings for social housing projects.

He said 4,600 units which would potentially fall into this category are currently under the control of Nama, with 1,900 likely to be of significant use.for social housing.

Mahon costs

The Mahon Tribunal will “only” cost the taxpayer €159m — almost 20% less than the previous estimate for the report into corruption at the highest level of politics.

The new figure has been put forward by the Department of the Environment after it completed an updated bill for the longest- running tribunal in Irish history last month.

The department’s new secretary general, John McCarthy, said the initial price tag was €196m, and the new figure is based on the fact €106m has already been spent by the public on the tribunal, with a further €53m due to come from still-to-be-concluded third-party costs.

Mr McCarthy said 260 third-party costs applications have been received, with another 40 expected over the coming months, and the majority will be approved.

The tribunal, which ran for 14 years, sat for 900 days and interviewed 400 witnesses over serious financial and planning irregularities, found that former taoiseach Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fáil lied about the source of £215,000 in funds that were lodged to numerous bank accounts linked to him. Mr Ahern rejected the findings.

Further conclusions were also made against former Fianna Fáil ministers Pádraig Flynn and Liam Lawlor, Cork developer Owen O’Callaghan, and 11 councillors.

However, it provoked criticism as the tribunal does not have the power to seek prosecutions.

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