Dáil Éireann - Volume 413 - 19 November, 1991

Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Kenny: I express my best wishes to the new Minister for the Environment.

[165] I am quite sure that having been a patient man in the Department of Health he will see this role as challenging.

The Environmental Protection Agency Bill has attracted a great deal of attention around the country and internationally. The problem is that the Government propose putting in place legislation which will take into account the mass of environmental legislation which has grown up in a fragmented fashion over the past number of years. They also propose providing a framework which will ensure that that legislation is effective in the years ahead. Given the complexity of the environmental problems now facing us, obviously this is a daunting task which will involve the expenditure of huge amounts of moneys to put in place measures which will keep our environment in pristine condition and restore our environment to what it was heretofore.

The agenda for the nineties is very different from the agenda for the previous two decades. Whether people had any great interest in environmental matters heretofore I suppose it is fair to say that the headlines in recent years about the hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic, the mysterious deaths of seals and porpoises, or the extreme weather conditions prevailing in various parts of the globe and their consequences on agriculture and other activities, have brought environmental matters to peoples' attention. It is probably also fair to say that schoolchildren and those involved in education have been aware for some time of the complexities of acid rain, deforestation, global warming and the greenhouse effect. Countries do not have individual systems — we share the same air and we suffer the consequences of transboundary pollution. For this and many other reasons I hope the implementation of this Bill will ensure that effect is given to the legislation in hand in a coherent manner.

Approximately 55,000 chemical substances are used in the western world, about 98 per cent of these are absolutely harmless. However, people have a great fear of the unknown and of the [166] consequences arising from the use or misuse of various chemicals, and the deluge of chemical substances on the market can lead to panic. A balance needs to be struck between the use of chemical substances and modern technology and peoples' legitimate fears. While big businesses are often perceived to be the great polluter in terms of the quick buck, it should be noted that many Governments can cause pollution through inefficiency, bureaucracy and the introduction of a mass of legislation which cannot be implemented. To date, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Harney, has done a good job in this area. However, many questions will arise from the implementation of this Bill. I hope she will deal with these issues in her reply on Second Stage so that Members can deal with them in greater detail on Committee Stage.

On the last occasion I referred to the difference between areas of scientific interest and environmentally sensitive areas. I questioned the relationship between these areas and the necessity for compensation to be paid to people who cannot dispose of their property for farming, forestry, etc. As the Minister is probably aware, while the designation of areas of scientific interest without reference to the local authority or personnel on the ground does not have any legal status at present, it is a cause of great concern. If the Progressive Democrats/Fianna Fáil Programme for Government is to be implemented under the terms of the agreement, something of the order of £400 million will have to be cut from the Estimates. This calls into question the seriousness of the Government to make funds available to this agency so that they can do their job.

I also referred to the statement in 1941 by Archbishop Walsh of the Diocese of Tuam that there should never be any reason for able bodied people to have to emigrate in view of the level of mineral wealth under the soil; 50 years later his successor, Archbishop Cassidy, said in relation to the proposed development at Croagh Patrick that the roots of the [167] mountain were deeper than the vein of gold which is supposed to be there. I also said that at their recent meeting members of Mayo County Council introduced a specific ban on the county development plan under the 1940 Minerals Development Act.

I questioned the Minister about who would be the dominant Minister in this area. The Minister for Energy is charged with responsibility for mineral development but if the elected members of a local authority decide after due consideration to ban all mineral development, where will the power lie? Will it lie with the Minister for Energy whose constitutional responsibility it is, or what legal effect will a county development plan have in such circumstances? Mining companies which apply to the Minister for Energy for prospecting licences will have to carry out an environmental impact analysis in the local authority area in which they propose to carry out the mining and have to get planning permission from the local authority in respect of the physical development of the site in question. If the overall decision of the elected members of the local authority in question is to ban all mining, how can such companies proceed in this regard?

Objections to developments can be taken to the extreme. Environmentalists and people interested in the environment can, on occasion, take their fears too far. It has been brought to my attention that the value of gold in the seam which runs from Croagh Patrick to the Delphi-Doo Lough area could be — I want to stress the words “could be” — of the order of £800 million. Given that new technology may be introduced in the future, the need for a balance to be struck between the creation of jobs in an area devastated by emigration and starved for industry, and the preservation and maintenance of a good and decent environment, what effect will a ban introduced by a local authority have?

Like many other speakers, I said that even if the Minister of State leaves nothing else behind her in the Custom [168] House, she should leave a legacy which the children of this nation will associate with her — a genuine attempt to clear up the social scandal of litter. As I said, television programmes which influence children should occasionally contain educational references to this problem. Young people who can influence their peers should also take an interest in this issue. If the young generation, particularly those in primary school and those at pre-primary school stage, are not given instructions in this area they will grow up with no sense of civic responsibility. This must come through an educational process as other countries have learned from bitter experience. I would urge the Minister of State to promote actively the cleaning up of our country.

I would ask the Minister of State to refer to the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency so far as the generation of electricity is concerned. I note that in the ESB magazine, Connecting with the Future, they state that in their stretegic plan for the nineties protection of the environment is and will be the biggest single influence on the Electricity Supply Board in the years ahead. The reason they give is that generating electricity without either coal or oil is regarded as being a major cause of many environmental problems, which it obviously is. Assuming that in future years the ESB have to increase generating capacity what influence will the Environmental Protection Agency have over the ESB given the fact that under the powers available to the ESB at present they can provide and plant pylons practically in any part of the country. We have seen them up hill and down valley with total disregard in many cases for the environment and the quality of the environment they pass through. Will the Environmental Protection Agency have an influence either in an advisory or in a directing capacity to the Electricity Supply Board in terms of their future generation of electricity and the physical fittings that go with it?

[169] An important aspect of the Environmental Protection Agency being introduced is the fact that it will have the effect of removing local monitoring and control from local areas. For instance, the Japanese plant, Asahi, built over 20 years ago outside Killala was a major chemical plant and people will be aware of the major action plan that had to be introduced on several occasions when acrylonitrile was being transported from Dublin to Killala by train. Mayo County Council have been carrying out monitoring of the bay for the past 20 years to a very intense degree. On each of the readings, taken several times a month over two decades, everything has been in order. However, if Asahi were to apply for planning permission today to build that plant, with all the complications arising from EIA surveys — fear of chemicals and so on — it is doubtful that planning permission would issue. When the Environmental Protection Agency are set up the monitoring of an industry, such as the Asahi plant, will be removed from the local area and may well become anonymous. If there is no alternative to employment in any particular area and if the Environmental Protection Agency decide to take to the limit their authority under the provisions of the Bill they could effectively close down industries that might not be strictly in accordance with the conditions that should apply but which might be capable of being adapted to meet those conditions within a certain time. In other words, what I am saying is that if the Environmental Protection Agency take their independent powers to the limit, where no alternative industry exists there could be serious consequences for the economy of an area.

I would ask the Minister to refer to the regional laboratories which were operated by An Foras Forbartha and which will now either be subject to the local authority or to the Environmental Protection Agency. For instance, the laboratory in the west which caters for Mayo, Galway and Roscommon is contributed to in a ratio of 40, 40, 20 per [170] cent. The laboratory do magnificent work in monitoring streams, outlets and so on.

In terms of existing agencies I would like to know what the effect will be once the Bill in introduced. The linkage between the Environmental Protection Agency and the local authorities will require some further clarification. If local authority powers are to be reduced under the Environmental Protection Agency Bill will this not cause delays, inefficiency and confusion? There are some monitoring activities which local authorities carry out at present and if these are to be removed from them and given to the Environmental Protection Agency there will be a loss of revenue to the county councils involved, many of whom are severely pressured for funds at present.

In regard to the functions of the agency if a county council or a local authority are not in a position to implement a direction given to them by the Environmental Protection Agency, because of lack of funding, how then are the agency to ensure that their direction and advice are implemented? Does section 60 (3) (b) really mean that the Environmental Protection Agency will have sufficient funds to enable them to implement their own advice and then take the local authority in question to court and recover the funding? There will be a transfer of activities from county councils to the Environmental Protection Agency; these can range up to 1,000 out of the 1,600 or 1,800 which are presently involved with local authorities.

When an industrialist, an individual or an organisation apply for planning permission at present to a local authority there is a strict time limit on the issuing of that permission. That period is two months and extensions of time can be requested and are normally granted. In respect of pollution, water or waste disposal licences there is no time limit involved but when these licences are integrated and given to the Environmental Protection Agency will there be a time limit parallel to the local authorities' time limit for issue of the individual licence? I ask the question because one could find an organisation or an industry applying [171] for an extension permission, obtaining the planning permission and not having the required licence issued for some time. That area needs to be cleared up.

Under the provisions of the Water Pollution Act it would appear that section 81 would allow for provision of buildings without planning permission if the Environmental Protection Agency decide that this should be so. This is a section of the Water Pollution Act which is not normally used to a great extent but in the case of an industry if the advice offered from the Environmental Protection Agency stated that provision of a further building was necessary, such development, without planning permission, could cause difficulties in built up areas. That aspect of the Bill should be looked at and referred to by the Minister. Section 51 refers to the protection and the quality of our environment. I assume that means the existing quality of the physical environment as well as other aspects of it. For example, under the Department of the Marine, the amount of money allocated in 1990 for coastal protection was £1.049 million. The corresponding amount in 1989 was £90,000 and there was no allocation in this respect in 1988. Yet in a report furnished to the members of Mayo County Council, a county with a coastline totalling 866 kilometres and with islands which have a combined coastline of 302 kilometres, that is 16.7 per cent of the national total, the cost of repairs to public property arising from the storms of this year, and general erosion, is more than £2.092 million. The cost of repairs to private property is £4.613 million, making a total of £6,706,000 in one county alone, to protect the quality of the environment. Local authority engineers involved in that survey were competent in determining what needs to be done. If a function of the Environmental Protection Agency is to give advice in that area, is not that a duplication of effort without any funding to back it up? There is little point in establishing an agency and allocating £1 million to get it up and running this year if it will not have the resources necessary [172] to implement the powers given to it under this Bill. I know the agency will be entitled to seek the views of local and regional experts on various matters and will produce reports occasionally, including five yearly reports, on the state of the nation's environmental health. Obviously, there will be a great deal of overlapping between reports produced by local authorities, other organisations and the Environmental Protection Agency. I would like to think that, as this is an all-encompassing Bill, the Government are really serious about giving sufficient funding to get on with the work.

The Taoiseach recently visited Clare Island where after 70 or 80 years a detailed survey is being carried out on flora, fauna, soil, the atmosphere, the quality of water and so on. It is important to consider what changes have occurred in one of the most westerly islands in Europe, over 70 years, given all the technology that has been developed since the last survey and the consequences of pesticides, chemicals and so on. Will the Minister in her reply refer to the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in that area? This survey is being conducted by the Royal Irish Academy and will obviously update information in relation to that island. If the Environmental Protection Agency are to enhance the quality of our environment or give advice on it, what role will they play in that sort of survey?

Much has been said about pollution of the Irish Sea. I note that sufficient sewage is discharged from both sides of the Irish Sea on a yearly basis to cover the Isle of Man to a depth of six feet. Most speakers referred to the Sellafield reprocessing plant and called for its closure. I visited Sellafield a number of years ago. It is obvious that BNFL have no intention of closing it, nor have the British Government when up to 14,000 people are working there. The British Government's intentions are clear in that regard, despite calls from the European Parliament and from this side of the water. It is also interesting to note that evidence has been produced that at Seascale down the road [173] from Windscale, the incidence of leukaemia in that area was higher than normal in 1928 which was some 14 years before the atom was split. Experts can produce this sort of evidence.

When Fianna Fáil were in Opposition on 12 March 1986, Deputy Ray Burke, now Minister for Justice, in support of Deputy Vincent Brady, now Minister for Defence, called for the closure of Sellafield. Fianna Fáil continuously raised the issue and said it was a matter of regret that the Government of the day could not go with Fianna Fáil on the issue of the closure of Sellafield. Deputy Burke on 12 March 1986 said that the honourable thing for the Irish Government to do was to unite the House on the Fianna Fáil motion and call on the British Government to close Sellafield. We now have a new Government and a new programme. The programme does not say what action will be taken about this but the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, and her senior Minister should ensure that whatever action can be taken is taken.

A problem which has been brought to light in the west of Ireland in recent years relates to the level of radon gas there. The Western Health Board carried out surveys on some of the primary schools located in areas where the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre was exceeded. It is estimated the 180 deaths from cancer directly linked to evidence of radon gas occur every year. What surveys can the Environmental Protection Agency carry out to assist local authorities and health boards in monitoring this? As 437 schools were surveyed in counties Galway, Mayo and Clare there should be a longer term survey of the pupils attending those schools. The Environmental Protection Agency should be in a position to advise local authorities to issue, with all planning permissions, information about the level of radon gas in any area and where the 200 becquerel limit is exceeded, advice should be given to householders as to how to eliminate the problem. At the moment that is a function for the local [174] authority in conjunction with the Nuclear Energy Board.

Speakers referred to afforestation and the resultant acidification in areas densely planted with pine trees. The 35th report of the Salmon Research Institute of Ireland Incorporated for the year ended 31 December 1990 states that in the west the water chemistry data has shown that streams in the upper Burrishoole catchment area are severely affected by acidification. The centre carried out an intensive count of fish numbers in the area in November/December 1990 and found that the spawning escapement of 151 was the lowest on record, down by 67 per cent on the 1989 figure of 224. They found that in terms of the downstream movement of fish the total of 2,063 was the lowest smolt run recorded since total accounts commenced in 1970. The main run was during April and May and water levels were consistently low from mid-April to mid-June and water temperatures were high during the same period. If Connacht is not to turn into a national forest we need clear advice on where we are going. If Government policy is to double tourist numbers over a set period, this is obviously an element of the economy that must be looked at carefully.

I note the farming community responded well to the promptings of Government in the last six years in particular, with regard to agricultural pollution and the disposal of effluent. The Minister of State is aware of the increase in baled silage. She may not be aware that the ordinary round bale is triple wrapped and that that cover is extensive enough to cover a tennis court. There could be up to ten million sheets of plastic used in the western counties alone this year because of the advantage of having baled silage in the generally bad weather. Obviously, there will be a serious problem over the next number of years if the countryside is covered in plastic.

We should encourage the farming community to do as they have done over the last number of years. I raised the matter with the Minister for Agriculture and Food recently and suggested that even a [175] small subsidy should be made to those who want to involve themselves in providing baled silage because of its less polluting effect than that of badly sited silage pits that have run offs into streams. If even a small subsidy were made available to groups or co-ops it would be a very beneficial effect indeed.

The number of fish kills is down as a result of more care being taken by the farming community. For instance, in the northern region as of 7 October 1991 there were nine fish kills of which five were agricultural, one unknown and three due to eutrophication; in the Shannon region there were 13 fish kills. Two were chemical and six agricultural; in the north-western region there were no fish kills reported in 1991; in the south-west-ern region there were seven fish kills of which two were domestic, two unknown, one agricultural and two due to eutrophication. Right around the country the total number of kills was 62, of which 24 were agricultural, 11 due to eutrophication, 12 unknown, two domestic, five chemical and eight industrial. That number is down on the figures for previous years and that trend should be continued. The principle enshrined in the Minister's Environmental Protection Agency Bill that the polluter pays the cost needs to be followed through quite clearly.

I welcome the introduction of this very broad Bill. I genuinely hope that the Government see to it that it is not merely an exercise in setting up a legislative body to oversee, implement, advise on and monitor the various aspects of the environment. The Government should also see to it that the resources are available to implement the measures in the Bill.

I want to commend the Minister on the methods of selection and appointment of personnel to the board. That appears to be clear and is obviously important in terms of the public perception. I hope also that up to date and fully relevant information will be available to the public and that matters relevant to our environment will not be hidden from them.

I wish the Minister every success in [176] having the Bill passed through Committee Stage. For the good of our country over the next 50 years, I genuinely hope that this will prove to be fundamental legislation. I hope the agency will be able to cope with the undoubted increasing pressures in terms of the quality of our environment both now and in the times ahead.

Mr. Hyland: I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. Its introduction is timely. I welcome too the manner of its introduction in the Seanad. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harney, on her commitment to making some positive progress in this very important area.

It may well be that the absence of any significant industrial development in Ireland over the past decade is to some extent a blessing in disguise, at least as far as the environment is concerned. There was not the same public awareness of the importance of environmental protection during that period that there is today. As a result much more damage could have been done. It will, I hope, be to our long term advantage that the neglect of environmental issues and environmental protection on mainland Europe during this period will now provide us with the opportunity to project our relatively clean and healthy image. I hope the Bill before the House will assist in consolidating and improving that position.

Our united efforts in this area will not only safeguard the health of our people but the quality of life and the conditions under which we live. I hope that in tackling these fundamental issues for our own people we will also reap the rewards of increasing the attractiveness of our country for tourism with its associated benefits to our economy. As a member of the Council of Europe I have had the opportunity to see at first hand the destruction of the environment in countries like Poland and the highly successful policies of environmental protection in countries like Austria. If we were to look to Europe for examples of success and failure in [177] this vital area of development I would strongly recommend Austria as a good example of what can be achieved through carefully thought out and implemented environmental policy.

It would be my wish, however, that in time and with the opportunities available to us, our own programme in this area will surpass anything achieved on the European mainland. In this regard I believe that the local authorities have a vital and paramount role to play in this entire area. The application of uniform standards as between the various local authorities is fundamental to the success of the scheme. The Minister has certainly acknowledged that in the various provisions in the Bill.

We, as a small nation, cannot afford a fragmented approach to environmental protection. The fact that we have the advantage of being an island nation makes this approach even more important. It also makes our task much easier.

If we are successful with environmental protection in the individual local authority areas and if there is a co-ordinated approach between the various local authorities then our valuable and extensive coastline will also be protected, although the question of sea pollution from sources outside our control does arise. We must address this question in a very positive manner. I have in mind our concern in relation to Sellafield and other possible threats to the environment and to the sea from the dumping of various chemical wastes.

I agree with the Minister that the new agency should be independent of Government and that they should have the necessary resources to do their work. The Minister of State was also correct to conduct a wide range of consultations and discussions with various groupings, including the statutory authorities. The expected initial net cost — somewhere in the region of £4 million — will be more than offset, even in the short term, by the additional revenue likely to be generated from tourism growth and other ancillary developments.

In supporting the concept of independence for the agency, it is vital that [178] they do not divorce themselves from national policy on industrial and agricultural development. There is a need to adopt a positive and balanced approach and to ensure that we do not go to ridiculous extremes in our environmental policies to the detriment of ordered development and the need for job creation. I do not think this is likely to happen under the terms of the Bill, but I would like to put down a marker in this respect.

Environmental issues tend to attract extremists and the composition of the board and advisory committees should be balanced and representative of both sides in this debate. If this is done, then the difficulty of extremism on both sides will be eliminated with, I hope, consensus and balance prevailing. We need to get away from the extremism which has, on occasion, cost our people opportunities for employment and frightened away potential entrepreneurs both within the country and from abroad.

Waste disposal within local authority areas is a source of growing concern. This is an area of environmental protection which has not received the attention it deserves, and it must be addressed. The preservation of the countryside and the quality of life in rural towns and villages is dependent on the success and effectiveness of each local authority in carrying out their plans for waste disposal. We must provide an effective refuse collection service for all who need it but we must not resolve this wider community problem by transferring it to the doors of others, particularly those residing in the vicinity of centralised landfill sites. The agency must require local authorities to exercise the highest level of control and management of such sites and sufficient funds must be made available to enable them to do so.

Laois County Council of which I am a member, recently applied themselves to the task of resolving such a problem and in so doing received considerable help and support from the community residing in the vicinity of our landfill site. We now have in place an effective monitoring committee representative of council [179] members and the local community. Perhaps progress has been slow but it has been steady and I hope it will result in Laois County Council being able to develop a waste disposal area to the highest standards, which could be achieved anywhere in the country.

I would like to pay tribute to all concerned but in particular to the voluntary community representatives. We do not always utilise and avail of the vast potential for goodwill and progress which lies dormant in many local communities and which could be harnessed, as we have done in County Laois, in the national interest. Perhaps the Minister of State will take note of our success in this area. She took an interest in our developing problems and met with representatives from the area. It is important that we establish a climate of co-operation rather than confrontation, which far too often has been the case.

That brings me to another point I would like to make. I want to pay a special tribute to a group who have made a more significant contribution than any other to environmental protection the various tidy towns committees. They more than anyone else have transformed the face of rural Ireland. The extent to which they have improved the quality of life for all our citizens is impossible to quantify but the economic value of their voluntary participation in improving our national image is immense and the return for the small contributions they receive from, for example, national lottery funds — some of them are not in receipt of any funding — is substantial.

This is one of the few countries in Europe which is experiencing such a high level of voluntary community participation. We should appreciate the efforts of these dedicated people and encourage the seed of neighbourliness and community participation which was sown many years ago by a fellow countyman of yours, a Cheann Comhairle, the late Canon John Hayes, the founder of Muintir na Tíre. I say this at a time when [180] we have such a high level of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. They need leadership and a sense of direction. Some of the statutory schemes which have been introduced for the purpose of dealing with problems of this nature are very often too bureaucratic and inflexible in their approach.

I should like to make a passing reference to housing development and its effect on the environment. The trend at present is that those who can afford to do so are leaving the more densely built up urban areas and moving to more environmentally friendly rural and semirural locations. In terms of our great national investment in housing, particularly public authority housing, there is an urgent need to review our policies on housing density from the point of view, as I have said, of protecting our investment and the quality of life being planned for the people who will live in these schemes in the future.

Again, I would like to quote the Austrian experience as an example. The local authorities in Austria have put considerable thought and planning into achieving a balance between urban and rural development. We could take a useful leaf out of their book in terms of their approach to housing and the environment.

Let me make one small point which may sound rather insignificant but it is important, and that is, we must examine the question of providing a small plot of land for those living in local authority houses to enable them, if they want to, to produce fresh vegetables, for example. I say that particularly in the context of the very high level of food imports at present and the opportunity which is there to produce high quality food which also, of course, has some bearing on the debate in terms of the environment. That project has been very successfully undertaken by people who have dedicated themselves to such planning in countries such as Austria.

I wish to make passing reference to two areas over which we should have some positive control. They are slightly irrelevant but I will only take a short time [181] to make the point. As I said already, the level of food imports is totally unacceptable and we should be able to do something about it. The other question is our lack of commitment to purchasing Irish produce and goods. We have direct control over these two matters and if we fail to implement it it is difficult to understand how we can succeed in areas over which we do not have direct control.

I also want to refer to the changing pattern in relation to agricultural production. I believe that farmers, of their nature, are conservationists and certainly have an interest in the environment. They have responded very positively to the Government incentives to deal with environmental problems on their various holdings. With the declining level of farm incomes it is not possible for all farmers to fully comply with the requirements of their individual local authorities and I urge that, in such cases, there should be a certain degree of flexibility in relation to administering the laws and regulations governing pollution. If necessary, the smaller farmers and landholders should be given additional financial aid.

The agricultural industry generally have a very important role to play in terms of the environment and the attractiveness of our country's potential for tourism. Our farm holdings have an attractive and worthwhile role to play because of the uniqueness of the farming scene and the large number of small family holdings. From that point of view, I very much welcome the Bill which the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, brought before the House because it will, I hope, enable us — as a small island nation — to capitalise on our great potential, attractiveness and opportunities for tourism. I have no doubt that the Bill will receive the backing, good will and support of the whole community, including the various farming organisations and many other environmental groups who are naturally and correctly concerned about our future. I compliment the Minister and thank her for her dedication and commitment.

Mr. Hogan: I commend the Minister [182] of State on her initiative in introducing the Bill in the Seanad. As a former Member of that House I know that many legislative matters are scrutinised more carefully in the Seanad and many more Bills should be initiated there because there is often a much more limited debate in this House.

I regret that the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, did not accept a Private Members' Motion on the issue of environmental protection which was introduced in 1989 by Deputy Shatter. If it had been accepted we could now be discussing the agency's first annual report. However, we have not matured sufficiently, politically, to accept that another political party can introduce matters of importance to the House. The growing concern with the environment has placed this issue high on the political agenda in Ireland and the rest of the European Community.

Over the last couple of years many public representatives have noted the dramatic developments at local and national levels in respect of issues, legislation and regulations dealing with environmental concerns. The Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, 1987 and 1990, and the Air Pollution Act, 1987, contain very wide ranging controls for the protection of the environment. They marked the beginning of meaningful modern legislation to protect the environment at local level. Our 33 major local authorities are charged with the implementation of this legislation and, by and large, they have performed their duties very well.

We all have a vested interest in protecting the environment. How often do we notice the beauty and tranquility of the countryside, the cleanliness of a street in an urban area or generally appreciate a nice landscaped district? Deputy Hyland referred to the Tidy Towns competition organised by Bord Fáilte which has contributed in a significant way to encouraging small communities, by way of self-help, to appreciate their environment, tourist potential and a pleasant rural village or town. It is economically beneficial for businesses and residents to carry out [183] amenity work; in short, the environment and its protection are an integral part of the development of our economy. The same applies to the major investment and development proposals submitted from time to time to the planners.

My initial thoughts on the promotion of a new agency to protect the environment were mixed because existing agencies are in place in the form of our local authorities if we decided to give them the necessary powers, resources and personnel to implement the various regulations and legislative proposals enacted by the Oireachtas. Indeed, I am disappointed at the failure of the Government to recognise the important contribution local authorities have made — and can make — in implementing the measures in this Bill. I want to put on record my appreciation of the enormous contribution by local authorities in defending and preserving our environment. In particular, I want to compliment the role of my own local authority, Kilkenny County Council, of which I am a member, in enhancing and enriching the environment in which I live.

Planning officials and the executive of Kilkenny County Council, led by the county manager, Mr. Donnelly, have been to the forefront in planning and developing the city and county of Kilkenny, making it one of the most pleasant and enhanced tourist locations in the country. I recall that when Mr. Donnelly became county manager in 1976 he immediately set about drawing up a development plan for the city and county. The issue of infrastructural facilities, such as water and sewerage, were key elements of that plan and were heavily emphasised. He recognised that the protection of the environment and the development of industry and tourism potential of the area hinged on having water and sewerage installations to the highest possible standards. Kilkenny County Council spent millions of pounds on new treatment works and on water and sewerage installations, the most modern and efficient in Europe. This was [184] done by proper planning and development by the county development team in Kilkenny under the supervision and grant aid of the Department of the Environment. It is my belief that this work would be further enhanced if more decision-making responsibilities were given to local authorities, with a co-ordinating unit in the Department of the Environment to supervise local authority work throughout the country, thus eliminating the need for a new agency.

At the end of the day this is all about money and the provision of the necessary finance to carry out the major infrastructural works essential to protect the environment. Many local authorities have been found to be in breach of standards relating to protection of the environment because they have failed to get the necessary finance from the Department of the Environment to carry out essential remedial works. I hope that the new agency, in spite of my initial reservations about them, will ensure that the necessary finance is made available by the Department of the Environment for urgent projects in the interests of environmental protection.

I understand that the proposed office for the protection and improvement of the environment will be structured similarly to the existing offices for trade and marketing. The office will be responsible for all pollution legislation, the establishment of a new nationwide inspectorate and the drawing up of environmental programmes on a county basis. I hope that the officials of local authorities will have a major implementation role in these programmes.

Great progress has been made by local authorities in the area of pollution control. Surveys have been carried out by local authorities in the area of pollution activity, seeking to monitor particularly farmyard work and the responsibility taken by the agricultural community for protecting species in our rivers and the flora and fauna which are there for the benefit of everybody. I assure the House that by and large the agricultural community are very responsible in terms of [185] the environment. They have spent millions of pounds in the last ten years in upgrading their facilities to ensure that the highest standards are attainable. Nobody has a more vested interest than the agricultural community in ensuring that the highest environmental standards apply, as their agricultural produce in the future will depend on a pure, clean and natural-based system of production which will meet the requirements in the market-place of the European Community. In this regard I hope the Minister will shortly establish an eco labelling scheme that will assist the country in promoting environmentally friendly products, particularly those relating to the agricultural industry. In this way we will signal to the European Community that we have pure, clean pollution-free products that meet the requirements of consumers throughout Europe.

On occasion, I regret the headbanger approach of sections of the media in identifying an isolated incident and articulating it as a measure of wholesale destruction of the environment or giving the impression that is a widespread occurrence. Various surveys will show and local authorities will prove that this is not the case and that great progress has been made, with the help of grant-aid from the European Community, in upgrading agricultural facilities. This is a measure of the responsible approach that everybody is prepared to take. The incentive is there, and if there is co-operation between the local authority and the farmer rapid results will be achieved. I emphasise that co-operation is the only way in the long run to achieve the desired result.

I must pay tribute to the work of Teagasc in relation to this development, particularly as they have appointed an environmental officer in each area to advise the agricultural community on measures that can be taken, the grant aid that is available and the urgency of carrying out the work within the financial limits. The Environmental Protection Agency and the independent environmental monitoring agency will be charged with formulating and [186] implementing environmental policies. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how these agencies will operate in practice and how their role will impinge on the work being carried out at present by local authorities. Various speakers have referred to this matter and clarification is required as to the role of both authorities.

I welcome the developments in Europe which will guarantee freedom of access to information on the environment. I hope that the freedom of information Bill which has been promised for so long will soon be introduced by the Government. The existing EC action programmes on the environment recognise the role of public information in the campaign to safeguard the environment. The Commission published a proposal some time ago which stated: “completely free access to information held by the authorities on the environment would make citizens feel more directly responsible for protecting their environment and tighten controls and activities which would cause pollution”. This proposal would ensure widespread dissemination of all information held by State bodies, public bodies or State supervised bodies which operate at national, regional or local level. Many groups and individuals today find themselves alienated, in that they find it difficult to get information. This does not help when seeking the co-operation of these same groups and individuals in protecting our environment.

It is expected that information will be freely available on issues such as the existing state of water, air, soil, fauna, flora and natural sites, and that any public or private projects or any activities that are likely to damage the environment or endanger human health, plant or animal life will be available for inspection. A summary of the significant number of daily activities of local authorities will be subject to scrutiny. I welcome the fact that all data on matters ranging from planning to public health to environmental matters will be available to those who request it. It is essential that there be access to public information. Planning and development is not inhibited by the [187] responsible approach of individuals. However, a particular vested interest of an individual or group should be noted in all planning matters. I am glad that there will be a restriction on access to information on grounds of national security and industrial or trade secrecy.

No individual or group should be hypocritical about the Environmental Protection Agency or about protecting our environment. As Deputy Hyland said, we should guard against extremism or eccentricity in this regard. People should not be anti-development just for the sake of it. We must adopt a balanced and orderly approach and be positive in relation to the proposed development and protection of the environment.

I welcome the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency will be obliged to publish a report on the state of the environment every three years, indicating the progress or otherwise in this area. The relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency and the local authorities remains to be clarified. As local authorities act as the primary monitoring agency in the State some major adjustments will arise, possibly in the next two years. The entitlement to access to information may create difficulties for some public authorities, particularly given the range of documents that will become available to the public. There is a danger that this will mark a further diminution of local authority representation and powers and that their impact on environmental decision-making at local level will be lessened. I hope there can be some cohesion whereby the views of local authorities and local representatives can be channelled to the Environmental Protection Agency and that local authorities will not be alienated from the new agency and in terms of formulating policy. Their involvement would ensure that matters of local interest and local policy are taken into account in framing regulations.

One of the major developments in Europe in respect of the environment was the introduction of the EC Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment. I [188] welcome this regulation particularly as it applies to major projects. The community and public at large are entitled to baseline information on the environment before development takes place. This will give a clear indication in the future of the impact of any development and the harmful effects, if any, that it will have in due course.

Expertise is limited in respect of the operation of the environmental impact assessment procedures, particularly as regards the effects on water, air and soil. It is crucial that all information sought on these matters is given by a developer before planning permission is granted. Indeed, I would urge the agency to insist that no local authority will grant permission unless full baseline data is given in respect of any development that is likely to have a major impact on the environment. I am thinking particularly of activities such as mining, which has a chequered history in this country. An application in respect of a mining development at Galmoy, County Kilkenny, is at present awaiting decision by Kilkenny County Council. I assure Members that the level of expertise brought in by the local authority to assist in relation to the planning application is significant. It is essential that this scrutiny, to the highest possible standard, takes place to ensure that existing environmental conditions prevail particularly in relation to water, air and soil conditions.

The people of the area are genuinely concerned about these matters and also about the impact transport will have on the local road network in view of the fact that the local authority have not sufficient money to improve the road network to the standard necessary to allow for the number of trucks that will be traversing these routes. I should like to avail of this opportunity to ask the Minister for the Environment to examine this planning proposal and to take an interest in the development to ensure that there will be the least possible impact on the road network and on the environment generally. Consideration should be given to [189] opening discussions between the companies engaged in mining activities in the Kilkenny-Tipperary border area on developing a single processing mill for the raw material, and to developing links between the two companies, Ivernia and Conroy Petroleum in order to provide a light rail system for the purpose of transporting the raw material rather than using road transport. This would be positive discrimination in favour of the environment and in the interests of the community in general.

I wish to emphasise that everybody wishes to see development take place but we must maintain the highest possible environmental standards. I have no doubt that the mining companies to which I have referred in the Kilkenny-Tipperary area wish to comply with the highest environmental standards and to allay public concern about what will happen once development takes place. This is a perfect example of the need to achieve a balance between proper planning and development, the need to provide employment and an insistence that its impact on the environment is lessened.

My colleague, Deputy Flanagan, brought to my attention the existence of a group in the midlands called the Midland Environmental Action Group, who have drawn up a report on the production of “green pork”. I assure Members that there is widespread concern about this development in pig production in many communities. I am sure that the Minister, Deputy Harney, is well aware of these projects where animals traverse agricultural land in a free range manner in Leinster and are subsequently processed into “environmentally friendly pork” in Edenderry, County Offaly. We had the experience in Jenkinstown, County Kilkenny, of people paying dearly for the sites on which they built houses and enjoying a clean water supply, now finding that farm practices in the area impinge on them and could cause substantial difficulties for the community at large. The impact of this development on the community has to be questioned. We must ask whether this should be deemed to be agricultural or [190] commercial activity. I hope the agency will be able to address these matters and advise local authorities on whether they should be subject to a particular planning process to ensure fair play not only for the developer but for the individual and the community.

In Kilkenny, the Keep Kilkenny Beautiful Committee have provided the model for many other urban areas in establishing public awareness on the need to have a clean urban area and a litter free environment. In my opinion, there have been major advances in public attitudes to litter and this happened largely through the education system. We all agree that good habits need to be developed at an early age. The lack of importance given to Civics in our schools is hampering the protection of the environment. It should be part of our education that we develop proper attitudes to the environment and do so with State support through our education system. Through information and awareness, and a reward for the achievement of local success it is important to make the general public aware of the common objective of having a clean, litter free and waste free environment.

The location of dumps is a contentious issue for local authorities. The necessary land space is often very difficult to obtain without considerable community agitation and there have been several examples of this. Despite assurances that the highest European environmental standards will be observed in providing these facilities, the general public do not believe that the local authorities will abide by those standards. Some Members referred to waste disposal but I am glad to say that the highest possible European standards are being adhered to in the dumps throughout the country. It is now realised that local authorities have a problem in disposing of refuse, but it must be disposed of somewhere. It costs a significant amount of money to dispose of waste and local authorities have to charge for this service. In fact, in 1992 Kilkenny County Council will spend £753,000 in disposing of refuse and in the operation of dumps, and will receive [191] £100,000 from the service charge for refuse collection. That is a measure of the local authority's commitment to the environment.

Smog was considered to be largely an urban issue and confined to the city of Dublin. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Minister for the Environment should ensure that smog levels are monitored in every urban area this winter. I do not think it is acceptable that people with chest complaints or asthma, and old people do not have the opportunity to insist that the local authority or the Environmental Protection Agency monitor the levels of smog in each housing district of urban areas and that the information is passed on to the community to allay any public fears. I urge the Minister to take this suggestion on board.

Ireland should become an international pioneer of protection of the public and the environment from nuclear hazards. A national radiological protection institute should be established and given a status independent of Government in advising on the health and environmental hazards of radiation and to report to the Minister for the Environment. It was brought to my attention recently that MMDS masts are a source of great concern to the community. The lack of information on MMDS is causing public disquiet.

I urge the Minister to make available any information that she or her colleagues in Government may have on radiation from this source in order to allay public concern.

As a nation we must face up to our responsibilities in order to pass on to the next generation a landscape and an environment which is fit to live in and which people can enjoy. I am convinced that many of the measures proposed in Parts III, IV and V of the Bill are part and parcel of existing local government practice and if given the resources local authorities could make an even greater contribution to the protection of our environment. I trust that the legislation which is “green” in its content will not [192] find a ministerial “yellowness” in its implementation.

Mr. Martin: I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment on her successful piloting of this Bill through the Seanad. It represents the most comprehensive legislation on the environment to come before the House for a long time.

The Bill represents an important milestone in the ongoing debate on the relationship between the environment and economic development. Despite what other speakers said about the conflict between the role of the local authorities and the new agency, I wish to nail my colours to the mast and to say that for me the need for a national, uniform protection agency was clearly obvious from the debate on industrial development of Cork harbour in the past few years. That debate had as much to do with a lack of public confidence as with anything else. At the time, rightly or wrongly, the public in general did not have confidence in the capacity, resources or expertise of the local authority to effectively police the environment, particularly in relation to the major industrial plants and developments. That point came across very strongly. In the light of the growing environmental debate, the complexity of economic development, particularly in relation to chemical and pharmaceutical plants, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the electronics industry and so on, it is clear it makes sense to have a national body exclusively responsible for the protection of the environment that has no conflicting interests or other pressures put upon it that would deflect it from protecting the environment.

That was a fundamental problem in relation to local authorities. Whereas the environmental departments of many local authorities had been doing their utmost to protect their environment it is clear there was a genuine conflict of interest in relation to the environment [193] between different sections of local authorities. There is no question that compromises were made, that certain lobbies in local authorities were anxious for certain developments to take place and perhaps took shortcuts or overruled the environmental argument in their local authority. That is a fundamental reason for needing a national agency with the exclusive objective of protecting the environment.

An ongoing debate has concentrated on the relationship between the local authority planning system and the licensing role of the new agency. That relationship should be allowed to evolve. The establishment of the agency would, in itself, create its own dynamism. Over a period of time a relationship would gradually be evolved, and I think it would be a complementary one as opposed to being one of conflict. We should not be unduly concerned about that issue but should allow such evolution to take its course.

The Bill is comprehensive. I am particularly delighted with the promotion and co-ordination of environmental research. What I would say to the Minister and, indeed, to the agency is that it is particularly important that such research is made available to public representatives in general and to members of local authorities and health boards in particular. It has often struck me that those on the official or management side of local authorities have a distinct advantage over a local authority member in debates concerning environmental issues in so far as a local authority member rarely has access to all of the documentation the officials have or the expertise to take on officialdom in those debates. It is vitally important that when the agency offers guidelines or advice to local authorities they take care to distinguish between members and officials, and ensure the research is made available to members of a local authority rather than just the officials, who might provide it in the form of reports to local authority members. In other words, if the agency have strong advice on a development in a local authority area or on the way in which a local [194] authority is performing they should communicate that directly to the elected members of the authority as well as to the officials.

In the research on environmental matters it is also important to utilise the existing and growing infrastructure in the third level sector. There is little point in setting up new environmental research units when many third level institutions already have considerable research facilities in the form of laboratories, environmental research expertise and so on. One of the great failings of our educational system is that we have not applied the expertise and resources in it to the wider community and society in general. This Bill offers an opportunity to do that. We have all witnessed in recent years the growth of environmental research programmes both at adult education level and at third level in universities and Regional Technical Colleges. The operation of the agency in the area of research should dovetail with third level institutions and there should be constructive interaction and utilisation of existing resources rather than duplication of resources.

It is absolutely imperative to have full public disclosure on environmental issues. One of the great reasons for a breakdown of public confidence in local authorities and in the State's capacity to monitor the environment is a lack of public disclosure. I am a relatively new member of a local authority and the Dáil and it seems to me that breakdown stems from a traditional view of letting the public know just what they need to know and holding on to more sensitive material. In an issue of major environmental concern involving the operation of the sanitary landfill site in Cork the reluctance of Cork Corporation to publish consultants reports on that operation created tremendous public unease and exacerbated the situation. That issue illustrated the need for full public disclosure and the right of people to have access. When people are given access to information they become more responsive but when they are deprived of information they suspect there is much more [195] to an issue than there probably is and they become suspicious and more conspiratorial in their attitude to their local authority.

That issue also illustrated to me the fact that the local authority of which I was a member did not have the in-house expertise to deal with that issue. The issue had grown beyond the expertise of the local authority and the authority had to hire consultants from abroad, which was a very wise decision. On study of the landfill site, the consultants discovered enormous environmental hazards and problems, the chief of which was the presence of methane gas, which was explosive, in the landfill site. The consultants recommended the installation of a ventilation system to vent out the methane gas to prevent explosions. They also discovered very serious contamination of ground water and surface water as a result of leached pollution. It was thought the possibly unacceptably high concentration of metals resulting from leached pollution could have a detrimental impact on the Douglas estuary. There was also considerable peat movement of bogs.

That was a major environmental issue in Cork and I use it to illustrate the general point that the local authority itself did not have the necessary expertise and that it was only by calling in outside expertise that it suddenly began to realise the gravity and the scale of the problem with which it was confronted. A national Environmental Protection Agency would have to be particularly strong in its role of overseeing local authorities. The agency have to be seen by the public not so much to take on the local authority but to offer strong advice and guidance, to actually meet officials and members of that local authority and to tell them that they should go about their operation in a particular way. At the moment most local authorities are going through their estimates and considering the demands on their expenditure. Unless strong pressure is put on local authorities to spend on the environment then they will not do so; they will spend in other areas.

[196] One welcome section of the Bill enables the Minister to make regulations to deal with the prevention and control of noise. Noise pollution is a matter of growing concern in residential areas throughout the country. Probably that is the weakest area in our existing planning laws. I have become annoyed and frustrated at the advice I have received from planning officials that there is no point in pursuing this problem of noise pollution through the planning laws; that one would be better to take a civil case against the polluter. That is not good enough in that it is unnecessarily inhibiting and costly for the person concerned.

I welcome the measures to be included to counteract noise pollution which will also be welcomed by the general public. I am thinking particularly of the provision of a District Courts complaints procedure in respect of neighbourhood noise. There appears to be a number of concerns nationwide exempted from the provisions of the planning laws because they had been in existence prior to 1963 while, in the interim, major urban residential developments have grown up around them, its attendant noise pollution being an unacceptable intrusion in the residential amenities of the area. The planning authorities appear to have very little power to deal with that problem. It is vital that the proposed agency grapple with that problem.

The central concept of this Bill, the introduction of an integrated licensing system, is particularly welcome and should eliminate much duplication from the system thereby aiding applicants for licences and so on. On the financial implications of the Bill, it is envisaged that revenue will be generated through licence fees and charges for services. Although we are operating within restricted budgetary considerations, I would urge the Government to fund this agency generously, giving them a good start.

In regard to the question of location of the agency I support the pleas of many of my colleagues from Cork who have argued cogently and logically for its location in Cork, not merely for the economic benefits it would bestow to the city [197] but because much of the debate which led to the emergence of the concept of an agency arose from many disputes in Cork in relation to industrial development, the protection of the environment and so on. We have a large pharmaceutical and electronics base in Cork, with a rich agricultural hinterland in addition to the city having all the requisite services and so on, rendering it a most desirable location for the proposed agency.

To revert to the public disclosure and publication of regular reports on the state of our environment, it is important that that would not be merely a nominal role of the agency but rather that they would pursue this matter vigorously through our education system, at primary and second levels, through community groups, public representatives and others. Indeed, that might well be described as one of their more important roles.

We have made considerable advances in environmental protection since 1987. With the enactment of the Water Pollution Act, 1990, and the Air Pollution Act, 1987, local authorities' controlling powers and enforcement regulations in relation to the environment have been greatly enhanced. The independence of the proposed agency has been guaranteed also under the provisions of this Bill. I welcome the provision rendering it an offence for anybody to endeavour to improperly influence the agency in relation to any issue or development. On the other hand, it should be legitimate for any public representative or member of the public to make a representation based on the merits or demerits of any particular development to the agency.

The Minister of State proved very flexible in the Seanad with regard to amendments tabled by many Members there. I have no doubt but that the same will apply in this House. In her introductory remarks she welcomed amendments being tabled on Committee Stage, particularly in regard to the role of the agency vis-á-vis their planning and monitoring powers.

We should not be afraid of the provisions of this Bill, as some local authority [198] officials appear to be. Whenever there is change or development proposed people who had control in certain areas up to now, always will be somewhat reluctant to let go of that control or allow somebody else take on additional roles. I contend that this agency will assist, augment and strengthen the role of local authorities in the overall areas of environmental protection. Within that context I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Farrelly: I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few comments on this Bill. First, I regret to say that one of our finest State assets to tourism was destroyed by fire. I refer to Slane Castle. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the important role its owner played in allowing the general public view that building over the past ten years, in that it comprised an important part of the development of tourism in our county accommodating many more visitors. In the interests of the nation it would be my hope that some aid would be available from some source within the State to help refurbish that building.

It has been my experience as a member of a local authority for the past 17 years that an enormous amount of work has been undertaken recently with regard to protection of our environment. Local authorities have become increasingly conscious of the seriousness of the environmental problems they encounter and have been forthright in confronting them. I know many local authorities nationwide have submitted many requests to the Department for funds to tackle the problems they have encountered in the environment, for the provision of more updated, pollution-free facilities for sewerage systems and so on.

The population in County Meath has exploded — for example, within the short period I have been a member of our local authority, the population has risen from approximately 70,000 to 105,000 — as has been the case in Kildare and Wick-low. We are in dire need of extra funds from the Department to help us meet the ever increasing demands on our existing services. In 1975, Meath County Council [199] spent approximately £1,000 annually on environmental protection whereas today we need in the region of £300,000 to £350,000 which must be provided out of our limited allocation.

In replying to a question I tabled today the Minister said that that extra money is provided by way of grant, whereas that grant has been continuously reduced.

The new proposal will certainly fall flat if sufficient funds are not made available to the agency and to the local authorities who will be required to carry out certain works. Tourism is fast becoming our single biggest industry and it is vital that we protect our environment. The Minister should discuss at Government level the provision of the necessary funds to enable the effective implementation of this legislation. New regulations which have come into effect in the last few years have become a burden on local authorities due to the difficulty in raising the necessary funds. There has been a population explosion in the counties around this city. We have to raise charges, while one third of the population do not. That is causing serious problems.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Miss Harney): This has been by any standard an extraordinary debate because of the quality of the contributions. The fact that 47 Deputies contributed confirms that concern for the environment is a top priority for all Deputies and all parties. I am pleased that the Bill has been broadly welcomed by all sides of the House and will not be opposed on Second Stage. That is not to say that Deputies did not have many suggestions to make to refine the Bill but this would be more appropriate to Committee Stage. A number of clarifications were sought which I can deal with now in order to avoid repeating part of this debate on Committee and Report Stages.

A considerable number of Deputies referred to problems related to waste, including in particular toxic and dangerous waste. This matter is currently being examined in my Department and I intend [200] to have a new waste Bill brought forward as soon as possible so that all the issues can be fully debated in this House.

Many Deputies referred to the resources which will be available to the agency to carry out their functions. I can assure the House that the Government are committed to ensuring that adequate resources will be made available. I am also conscious of the fact that there will be many practical and logistical difficulties in bringing the agency fully into operation. To enable the agency to concentrate initially on the priority issues, including the integrated licensing system, there will be a need for the phasing in of functions over a two to three year period.

There is adequate provision for staffing of the agency, which will comprise staff transferred from other bodies whose functions are being taken over by the agency. Staff can be seconded to the agency, for example, for a period or to perform a specific task; the agency can employ consultants or have tasks carried out by other bodies on an agency basis. Of course, the agency will also be recruiting staff, especially where particular expertise is required for the performance of their functions. In addition, as an interim measure, the Minister is empowered under section 43 to supply services, including staff, to the agency so that they can operate successfully once established. It is envisaged that the agency will have a staff in the region of 150 to 200 when they are fully operational.

The agency will also be given the necessary funding and it is envisaged that the eventual cost will be about £8 million per annum. About half of this amount will come from transfers of funds in conjunction with the assignment to the agency of staff for whom budgetary provisions already exist, with the balance coming from the collection of licence fees and charges for services provided by the agency. It will, of course, be necessary to provide additional resources from the Exchequer and these will be forthcoming.

Deputy Mitchell sought the inclusion in the Bill of a statutory role for the President in relation to the agency. The [201] President's role is derived primarily from the Constitution. With some exceptions, the powers and functions of the President are exercisable only on the advice of the Government and there is no provision for a role in the formulation and execution of policy. Deputy Mitchell's proposal would involve the President in matters which are the preserve of Government. The Constitution never envisaged such a development.

The President can and does play an important role in giving recognition and encouragement to the valuable work of many environmentally aware individuals and groups by her attendance at meetings, ceremonies and local and national community initiatives. Such recognition can only enhance and increase public involvement in environmental matters. I pay tribute to President Robinson for the vigorous way she has become involved in environmental causes. However, no legislation is required to enable the President to continue her involvement in this area, which is both desirable and encouraging.

Deputies have referred to the absence of a proper precautionary approach in the Bill and in particular to an inadequate emphasis on prevention other than end of pipe solutions. This is far from the case. This Bill is the first Irish legislation, and perhaps the first international legislation, that specifically embodies the precautionary principle. Section 52 (2) (c) of the Bill specifies that the agency when performing their functions must have regard to the need for precaution in relation to the potentially harmful effect of emissions, where there are reasonable grounds for believing such emissions would cause significant environmental pollution. This is one of a number of general principles set out in section 52 under which the agency will carry out their functions.

In addition there are specific requirements in other sections of the Bill. Section 81 prohibits the agency from granting a licence unless they are satisfied that any emissions from the activity will comply with or not contravene environmental standards and specifically that [202] they will not cause significant environmental pollution. The agency are also required to ensure that the best available technology not entailing excessive costs will be used to prevent, limit, eliminate, abate or reduce an emission from an activity. These provisions place a strong emphasis on the preventative approach.

The general emphasis of Part III of the Bill, which relates to the agency's functions, is on prevention with, for example, provisions relating to an eco labelling scheme for products and services, environmental audits, setting environmental quality objectives, issuing codes of practice and so on. No country can afford to ignore end of pipe solutions as part of its environmental strategy until clean technology options are much further developed. Ireland as an importer of technology is largely, but not wholly, dependent on development in other countries. Nevertheless I believe the principles behind this Bill are going a long way in recognising the importance of prevention of emissions and new waste legislation which is being developed in my Department at present will further reinforce this principle.

Concern was expressed by Deputies Mitchell, Howlin, Allen and others about the range of functions to be assigned to the agency and that the built environment has been excluded from the Bill. I was somewhat surprised at this issue being raised, given the very wide range of functions proposed for the agency under Part III in addition to their licensing and enforcement role. The latter functions take account of the need for institutional reform in the area of environmental controls, particularly of large scale developments which pose a high risk of pollution. It is not intended that the agency should act as a land use or planning authority although there will clearly be interaction between the planning system and the proposed licensing system operated by the agency.

It was never the intention that the agency would be accorded a planning role. The planning code has been painstakingly and carefully built up over the last three decades and the institutional [203] arrangements which have been put in place to implement it will not be tampered with lightly. However, as I mentioned in my speech the minimisation of conflict between the planning and licensing system is the subject of an ongoing review within my Department and certain amendments will be tabled in this regard on Committee Stage.

The general range of functions to be assigned to the agency have been carefully chosen having regard to the need to concentrate on our most serious environmental problems. The extension of those functions to some of the areas which have been suggested would divert the agency's resources from their core tasks and would quickly lead to a loss of the agency's control and credibility.

There are adequate powers under sections 53 and 54 of the Bill for giving additional functions to the agency at any time should the circumstances warrant. We will be in a better position to judge the feasibility of extending the range of functions once the agency have been in operation for an appropriate period.

I want to refer specifically to a point made by Deputy Cotter. He questioned the comments I made in the Seanad in relation to the impartiality of local authorities. He said that I seemed to think certain functions were being given to the agency because local authorities were not impartial in the way they carried out their activities. I said nothing of the sort. I said, and I quote: “This Bill is being formulated in an atmosphere of public disquiet about the impartiality of public authorities in their decision-making on often controversial development”.

Whether or not one agrees with it, I think we will all be aware of the considerable public disquiet and reaction by a minority against certain types of development. This public disquiet is fuelled by the dual functions of local authorities who have a developmental role as well as a regulatory one. The establishment of the agency will make it transparent that the regulation of those developments with potential for serious [204] pollution will be the responsibility of a separate, independent and expert body.

A number of Deputies, including Deputies Howlin, Gilmore, Garland and Carey, expressed concern about the degree of public access to information on the environment and the means for such access. Deputy Gilmore went further to suggest that the freedom of access provisions were a mere gesture and somehow would be compromised by the provisions of section 39.

Section 108 on “Access to Information on the Environment” is an enabling section and provides a framework for implementing the European Community Directive on this matter. Much of the Bill is drafted on a framework basis with provisions for the detailed procedures and other matters to be set out in regulations. This is done for practical reasons. If all the details were included in the Prinicipal Bill, it would render consideration of the Bill impractical because of its size and complexity. The singling out of a particular issue, such as the freedom of information provisions, for detailed treatment in the Bill could not be justified, particularly as there is a requirement to give effect to the European Community Directive by 31 December 1992.

The European Community Directive recognises that there are situations which require that information should be exempted from the right of general access. Some Deputies expressed concern about the agency's power under section 39 to restrict the disclosure of confidential information. I do not see this as a problem. In recognition of the fact that certain information must be treated as confidential — and as I have said this is recognised in the European Community Directive — the agency must be given the power provided for in section 39. However, the use of this power is always subject to the overriding provisions of the European Community Directive and I already introduced an amendment, which was passed in the Seanad, to make it clear that the requirements of section [205] 108 would not and could not be compromised in any way by the provisions of section 39.

I think Deputies will be aware of my commitment to greater freedom of information and I am satisfied that the provisions in the Bill will provide for a wide level of public access to environmental information in future. The duty on the agency to make information available to the public is clear and extensive. There are at least 18 sections in the Bill — other than section 108 — where there is specific provision for publication of information, and indeed the duty in many cases is mandatory on the agency. The greater availability of such information will inform public debate in the future and ensure that facts rather than fancy are the basis for public discussion of particular developments.

A number of Deputies, including Deputies Ellis, Gilmore, Deenihan and Carey, sought clarification on the regional environmental units to be established by the agency. The agency are obliged by section 43 of the Bill to arrange, as far as is practicable, for the performance of their functions through regional environment units. This obligation is placed on the agency so as to ensure that they do not become an over-centralised body. The activities which will be licensed by the agency are located throughout the country so it is essential that the agency be in a position to operate effectively in all regions.

The exact number of units and the areas of the various regions will be a matter in the first instance for the agency, subject of course to resource constraints. However, it would be expected that the agency would have regard to the areas and structure of the regional authorities under the new local government reform proposals.

Great care will be taken however, to avoid wasteful duplication of resources and it is anticipated that the regional units will be based initially on existing facilities such as the three local authority regional laboratories in Kilkenny, Castlebar and Monaghan. In addition, further regional units will make use, in so far as it is [206] practicable, of existing facilities such as, for example, laboratories in third level institutions and other State bodies.

Deputies Dukes and Garland asked the question: who will define what is the best available technology not entailing excessive costs? The responsibility for determining a BATNEEC is given to the agency under the provisions of section 5. It is expected that the agency will discharge the responsibility by specifying emission limit values achieveable through BATNEEC either generally for the class of activity or specifically for a particular activity in the conditions attached to a licence. The purpose of establishing BATNEEC is to serve as a reference as to what is possible to achieve in relation to minimising the impact of an activity on the environment. It does not imply that there is only one set of technologies which will meet the requirements. An operator may use whatever technology and other measures he considers most appropriate provided he satisfies the criteria specified by the agency.

Best available technology does not of itself require that the very latest tested technical concepts must be employed. Availability and whether the technology has been “proven in the field” are important criteria. The “not entailing excessive costs” part of the term refers to the economic viability of the technology or techniques in the context of the sector as a whole for which the BATNEEC is being applied. It is important to point out that in addition to BATNEEC considerations, all activities, both new and established, will be obliged to comply with relevant statutory requirements regardless of the costs involved. Under section 81 BATNEEC is only one of six sets of conditions about which the agency must be satisfied before they grant a licence.

Deputies Ellis and Cullimore referred to the importance of the farming community to protecting the environment. It is not envisaged that the agency would have a licensing role in relation to pollution incidents from small farms but [207] intensive pig and poultry rearing installations will be licensable by the agency. As regards pollution from ordinary farms, it is worth noting that the reduction in fish kills caused by agricultural sources since 1987 has been maintained. This is due in no small part to the programme of measures to prevent water pollution which has been implemented by the Government.

The Operational Programme for the Control of Farmyard Pollution (1989-1993) was approved by the European Commission in August 1990. Substantial grant assistance is being made available to farmers for the provision of slurry and silage effluent storage tanks, animal housing and fodder storage under the Operational Programme and the Farm Improvement Programme which are administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food. By end 1990 over 18,000 grant applications had been approved under the Control of Farmyard Pollution Programme. A total investment of some £190 million is envisaged under the programme.

A number of Deputies have pointed out that the Bill does not specifically provide for the control of private landfill sites by the agency. Under the 1979 Waste Regulations private landfill sites must obtain a permit from the relevant local authority and the permit can contain conditions as to the operation of the site. It is envisaged that the local authority will apply the same criteria and procedures to the operation of private landfill sites as the agency specify for local authority sites. The agency will have powers under section 61 to ensure that local authorities are adequately supervising the operation of the private landfill sites. Therefore, there is no necessity for the inclusion of private sites under section 60 of the Bill.

The Deputies from the Kildare constituency made a number of comments in relation to a letter I was supposed to have issued about proposals to upgrade the Kilcullen sewage treatment facility. I want to refer in particular to the comments made by Deputy Stagg in his speech on 24 October last. He said:

[208] The Minister of State knows Kilcullen particularly well... She issued a letter to her party colleague in that town stating that a sewage treatment works would be put in place forthwith. That letter was issued to every house in the town. The senior Minister knew nothing about it.

Miss Harney: It is not true.

Mr. Stagg: The letter was issued in the Minister's name with a covering letter from her colleague. The effect of that deceiving of the people of Kilcullen resulted in a decent Fianna Fáil councillor...losing his seat...

Miss Harney: Show me the letter.

Mr. Stagg: Every house in Kilcullen has the letter. I have it in my house but it is not with me.

Subsequent to that debate I approached Deputy Stagg for a copy of the letter but I still have not received it. The reason I have not received it is that no such letter exists. Because of the widespread publicity given to Deputy Stagg's remarks I want to put on the record of this House, for the purpose of correcting the record, my involvement as far as the Kilcullen sewage treatment works were concerned.

On 6 April 1990 I wrote to Senator John Dardis as follows:

I refer to your recent letter about Kilcullen Sewage Works.

The position is that my Department has requested Kildare County Council to submit a revised Preliminary Report for the Kilcullen Sewage Treatment Scheme and which forms part of the Upper Liffey Valley Scheme.

On 24 July I wrote again saying that the preliminary report had not been received. On 13 May 1991, which was before the local elections, I again wrote to Senator Dardis saying:

I refer to your letter of 10th inst. about the above matter.

The position is that the submission of a preliminary report by Kildare County [209] Council is still awaited by my Department. The scheme cannot be progressed until this report is received.

That report was received on 28 May. My most recent letter was on 8 November 1991 indicating that the report was received.

I take a very dim view of Deputy Stagg seeking to mislead this House in order to score cheap political points. It is a fact that I have met with a community development association in Kilcullen but at no stage did I indicate to them — and they will confirm as they have only recently written to me about this matter again — or to anybody else in that area that approval was imminent for the upgrading of the Kilcullen sewage treatment works. I share the concern of the local Deputies about this matter as I do about other treatment works which are inadequate around the country. The Government have said on many occasions that we are committed to upgrading sewage treatment facilities in this country as a matter of priority. A sum of £1 billion for that purpose and the upgrading of water treatment facilities for this decade was planned to be spent on these facilities. I hope those funds will be provided. Given that we have a difficult budgetary situation that may not always be possible, but I hope they will be forthcoming so that our water resources will not be contaminated or polluted due to the lack of appropriate sewage treatment facilities.

Deputy Stagg also asked about my involvement in what he called Athgarvan dump and he said again I could not do anything about it. I am sorry to tell Deputy Stagg I cannot overrule the courts. The illegal dump at Hillsborough, Athgarvan, County Kildare, was the matter of a High Court action brought by Kildare County Council. They sought to enforce the closure of this dump. They were unsuccessful on the basis that it had existed as a tip site prior to the enactment of the Planning Acts of 1963. The site operator, however, is required to obtain a permit from Kildare County Council, [210] under the terms of the European Communities Waste Regulations, 1979, in respect of its waste disposal activities. This will allow the council to impose conditions and duties on the permit holder to ensure the satisfactory operation of the facility. The permit application is at present, I understand, being processed.

Deputy Barry of the Fine Gael Party gave me and Deputy Taylor great credit for — as he said — ensuring that the national waste incinerator was not located at Baldonnel.

Mr. Quinn: I agree.

Miss Harney: I think I am too modest to claim sole credit for that but he repeated it on two occasions.

Mr. J. Mitchell: A mirror.

Miss Harney: May I say in relation to that matter it was not a question of “not in my back yard”. I am one of the Deputies — I think I could include Deputy Taylor in this — who has voted, perhaps, for every single itinerant halting site in our constituencies. I do not think we have lacked courage to vote for unpopular measures.

Mr. Gilmore: That is all very well.

Miss Harney: The location of a national waste incinerator within a mile and a half of Peamount Hospital adjacent to Baldonnel aerodrome where local people cannot even get planning permission to build a house because it would endanger aircraft was not, in my view——

Mr. Quinn: It was not an incinerator.

Miss Harney: It was a transfer station or a storage facility. It was the same thing; it was to store dangerous waste.

Mr. Howlin: An incinerator is not a store.

Miss Harney: It was going to be the first step.

[211] Mr. Quinn: We are in trouble if the Minister thinks it is the same thing.

Miss Harney: I am surprised Deputy Quinn is supporting the proposal because he was widely quoted as being opposed to it at the time.

Mr. Quinn: I located it.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Did the very effective body have——

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us hear the Minister of State out. She has less than five minutes to conclude her remarks.

Miss Harney: It is not a question of “not in my back yard”. Wherever this facility is to be located, surely within a mile and a half of a hospital like Peamount and beside Baldonnel aerodrome — where one cannot even get permission to build a house for a local resident — was not an appropriate location. I make no apology for opposing that proposal.

I thank all Deputies for their contributions. It was a very comprehensive debate and, as I said earlier, it indicates that protection of the environment is a concern for Deputies and for all parties in this House. Many Deputies laid great emphasis on the fact that we need to place a greater emphasis on educating people in relation to their environmental responsibilities. I share that concern about the need to educate the public in this regard. The ENFO office attached to my Department which was opened in September 1990 is providing invaluable information to members of the public, to schoolchildren and to many interested persons in relation to environmental issues. The interest shown in the activities of that office makes it clear to me that there are many people of all age groups who are now deeply concerned about our environment and who want to ensure that everything is done to protect and enhance it. The Environmental Protection Agency will play their part in that process. It will not be a panacea for all our environmental problems. One of the worries I have is that perhaps too much [212] is expected of this agency. When it is in place, I believe the agency will be independent and will be perceived as such. The agency will be fully resourced and will act as a public watchdog to ensure that the highest possible environmental standards are maintained.

Deputy Rabbitte — and I think Deputy Gilmore — referred to the smog problem in Dublin. Although they paid tribute to the fact that there has been a huge improvement in air quality they were concerned about the implications on low income families. I share that concern. Unfortunately, it is not always easy or possible to do the right thing and to ensure that it does not impinge in some way on some sections of the community.

I pay tribute to the householders of Dublin for the manner in which they have worked with the Government to ensure that that ban on the sale and marketing of bituminous coal is a success. We still have a long way to go; the problem is by no means over. Any coal burning in the city contributes to increasing smog levels and to disimproving air quality. I think the decision taken by the Government was the right one in the circumstances and one which has brought great benefit not just to the wealthy of this city and county but to all groups and particularly to those suffering from respiratory and chest related problems.

I look forward to the speedy passage of this Bill. Second Stage was longer than one anticipated. It was a good debate; it was comprehensive and 47 contributions indicate the kind of interest there is in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. I hope we will be able to have Committee and Report Stages through this House as quickly as possible so that this agency can be established as soon as possible and can perform the very important functions, particularly in the priority areas for the agency, towards the middle of next year.

Mr. J. Mitchell: I thank the Minister for her very comprehensive reply and, indeed, her patience in sitting through a lengthy and interesting debate. The key question is funding. The Minister of State [213] has said that the agency will be fully resourced. Can we have that categoric assurance that this agency will be resourced because if it does not have the resources it will simply not be able to do its job?

Miss Harney: I think I already gave that assurance.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Miss Harney: On Tuesday, 3 December 1991, subject to agreement with the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3 December 1991.

Mr. J. Mitchell: I do not suppose you will allow a debate on Century Radio at this hour?

An Ceann Comhairle: Not just now.