Dáil Éireann - Volume 285 - 28 October, 1975

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Environment Control.

52. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government if studies have been undertaken on the protection of the natural environment in view of the problems raised by the depletion of natural resources and the effect of this process on town and county planning; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Tully: In so far as my Department are concerned, I would refer the Deputy to the work of An Foras Forbartha. An Foras carries out an ongoing programme of studies related to the protection of the natural environment and also investigates specific problems that arise in relation to development and its effects. Most of these studies are carried out at the request of local authorities and Government Departments while others of a more general nature are published and available to the public.

53. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government the developments that have taken place with regard to the European Community [340] environment programme approved by the Council and adopted in its final form on 22nd November, 1973, with particular regard to directives relating to the content of lead in petrol and of sulphur in gas oil, the quality of surface drinking water and disposal of waste oil; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Tully: Progress is being maintained on the programme of action on the environment. The various recent developments are summarised in chapter 12 of the Fourth and Fifth Reports on Developments in the European Communities which were submitted to the Oireachtas in December, 1974 and August, 1975, respectively. As indicated there, the directives on the quality required of surface water intended for the abstraction of drinking water and on the disposal of waste oils were adopted on 16th June, 1975. Arrangements to give effect to these measures are under consideration.

The approval of directives relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels and to quality objectives for sea and fresh water for bathing were among the decisions taken at the Council meeting of Environment Ministers on 16th of this month. That meeting also included a general exchange of views on the question of a second action programme, which is now to be formulated.

The draft directive relating to lead in petrol which was submitted by the Commission to the Council on 7th December, 1973 is currently under examination there as regards its economic implications.

54. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government if he will make additional funds available to organisations engaged in countryside preservation.

Mr. Tully: There are no funds at my disposal from which such grant assistance could be made.

55. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government the action that has been taken regarding proposals to combat noise pollution from motor vehicles, construction equipment, pneumatic [341] concrete breakers, jack hammers, aircraft and lawn mowers.

Mr. Tully: There are a number of EEC proposals of this nature at various stages of consideration, some at a very early stage. The proposals come within the development of a series of EEC proposals based on manufacturing standards and aimed at the elimination of technical barriers to trade. General responsibility in relation to such matters rests with the Minister for Industry and Commerce. In so far as environmental considerations concerning them arise, my Department will be available to advise the Department of Industry and Commerce in that regard, and are keeping in touch with developments accordingly. As regards aircraft, the Deputy will appreciate that this is a matter for the Minister for Transport and Power.

Mr. Lemass: I take it the Minister is telling me that some preliminary preparations are being made in order to put these directives into effect when they are actually adopted by the Council of Europe. Did the Minister say that preliminary steps and interdepartmental talks have taken place in order to ensure that should these regulations become directives they can be put into effect speedily?

Mr. Tully: That is correct.

56. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government if any action has been taken on the European Community Environment Programme with particular regard to the proposals put forward on 22nd November, 1974, for the establishment of a common procedure for the reciprocal exchange of information between surveillance and monitoring networks of data relating to atmospheric pollution by sulphur compounds and suspended particulates; if these proposals have been adopted by the Council; and if the Government intend giving effect to them.

Mr. Tully: The Council of the European Communities adopted on 24th June, 1975, a decision establishing a common procedure for the exchange of information by surveillance [342] and monitoring networks based on data relating to atmospheric pollution caused by certain sulphur compounds and suspended particulates. My Department are arranging for transmission of the necessary information to the Commission.

57. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government the number of non-governmental organisations which are active in the environmental field in this country at present.

Mr. Tully: The activities of so many kinds of organisation have an environmental interest that it is not possible to give a comprehensive assessment of the total numbers involved.

Mr. Lemass: Does the Minister's Department give special recognition to any particular one, such as An Taisce?

Mr. Tully: Yes, there are a few of them. With regard to water pollution, there are quite a number of them which we have together under a particular board.

Mr. Lemass: Could the Minister send me the relevant information?

Mr. Tully: I will be glad to.

58. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government if he has any special plans to protect 342 miles of sandy beach in this country or 80 miles of popular bathing areas on the coastline.

Mr. Tully: In the context of controlling development and preserving access, the protection of beaches and coastline amenities in their area is the function of the local authority, and the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, provides them with considerable powers in this regard. These will be strengthened by the provisions, for example, those relating to the enforcement of planning control, contained in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1973, the Report Stage of which will come before the House shortly.

[343] Mr. Lemass: I take it there would be no danger of the continental type of development on any of our sandy beaches whereby they can be cut off and people charged an admission fee to sit on the sands?

Mr. Tully: No. That has been tried and, even under the previous Administration, it was dealt with very strictly.

59. Mr. Lemass asked the Minister for Local Government if he will state, in the light of a previous reply (details supplied), the action that has been taken to control and reduce pollution and to improve the environment; and if the Government have been involved in any joint action with the EEC.

Mr. Tully: The following is a brief resumé of the main measures relating to pollution control and environmental improvement, as regards the Department of Local Government:

Legislation: The Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill now before the House provides for strengthening and improvement in the physical planning system. It is expected that the Bill for better control of water pollution will be introduced this session. Other aspects of pollution control legislation are being kept under review.

Pollution Control Measures: Pending the enactment of new legislation local authorities continue to be encouraged to make full use of their existing control powers to limit water pollution and to deal with incidents. Local authorities have been asked to extend their air pollution monitoring particularly in the context of enforcement of planning conditions, as well as in the vicinity of industrial operations which may be a source of significant pollution. Inspections of industrial premises under the Alkali etc. Works regulation Act 1906, which is administered by the Department, have been increased. My Department continue to promote and assist in the preparation of contingency plans by maritime local authorities for dealing with oil spillages. A substantial State subsidy is now paid to these authorities.

[344] Waste Collection and Disposal: A general review of the arrangements relating to the collection and disposal of waste, in both private and public sectors, has been undertaken to see what legislative or other new provision may be needed. In this connection a number of initiatives have already been taken in relation to—

(a) review by local authorities of public waste collection and disposal facilities; (b) an examination locally of the operation of private dumps and assembly of information on current toxic waste volumes and disposal methods; (c) promotion of arrangements by which the recovery of abandoned cars and metal scrap is assisted by local authorities in the interests both of resources conservation and reduction of disorderly dumping; (d) consideration, in consultation with local authorities of arrangements for implementation of EEC directives dealing with waste.

Environmental Improvement: My Department's ongoing programmes, including housing and road development and, particularly, sanitary services, are all important components in the overall design for environmental improvement.

Co-ordination: The Interdepartmental Environment Committee, who have the task of improving liaison and co-ordination, in environmental matters are at present examining the arrangements relating to the various pollution control programmes to see what further improvement may be needed. The Water Pollution Advisory Council, a widely representative body with the task of advising on all matters relating to water pollution, is now fully operational. I also have plans for setting up a group of technical experts on the question of water and effluent standards.

International Aspects: My Department keep abreast of developments in the international organisations dealing with environmental matters. Their main concern is with the action programme of the EEC, in which they are substantially involved. Some directives, including those relating to waste which I have mentioned, which are of special [345] relevance to local government, have already been adopted. I attended a Council meeting of Environment Ministers on the 16th October at which a number of further decisions were made and views exchanged on the preparation of a second action programme on the environment on which proposals are to be put forward by the Commission.

An Ceann Comhairle: The remaining questions will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper.