Dáil Éireann - Volume 467 - 27 June, 1996

Adjournment Debate. - River Dodder Fish Kill.

[1960] Ms. F. Fitzgerald: I thank the Minister for coming in to respond to this Adjournment debate. I welcome the opportunity to raise the question of the major fish kill, apparently caused by industrial pollution, in the river Dodder in south Dublin last weekend. It is appalling that thousands of fish were killed in a one and a half mile stretch of the river from Rathfarnham to Milltown and Clonskeagh. It appears to have started in the Churchtown stream linked to the Dodder at the rear of Mount Carmel Hospital and has been described as the worst in many years.

I am extremely concerned that an official of the Eastern Fisheries Board said the recent discharge of industrial waste into the river was over a bank holiday weekend and that there appeared to be a pattern of this kind of incident at weekends. This raises the question of whether an illegal activity of some kind is being carried out in relation to the discharge of pollutants at weekends. There are real questions about whether that is due to carelessness, incompetence or other reasons. It is also disturbing that the same official was noted as saying he was not confident that a prosecution would follow.

Surely we are at a stage of technology where we can identify, in the first instance, where the pollution comes from and take appropriate action. It is critical that industry develops effective waste management practices which are fully observed. It is not good enough that an industry along the banks of the Dodder should cause this kind of pollution to a waterway which offers so many facilities and valued by so many people. It must be asked whether industries are taking enough precautions, whether their awareness levels about the appalling damage that can be done is high enough, and if the fines in place are a strong enough deterrent.

It is interesting to note how rarely [1961] one hears about the outcome of prosecutions in this area. The disruption to water and the damage to our rivers and lakes cannot be allowed to go on this manner.

I am aware that action is normally taken by local authorities and at fishery board level, but I would like to ask the Minister if he is satisfied that the overall sanctions and legislation covering this are effective? If not, what further action needs to be taken either at a legislative level or otherwise to ensure that the polluter pays?

The Dodder comes under the control of four local authorities, and there are ongoing and numerous complaints regarding its pollution. It has also been raised with me that a possible cause of some of the pollution, although not on this occasion, is due to the erosion of the disused tiphead at Friarstown. When the river is in flood a cascade of rubbish comes downstream, and South Dublin County Council applied unsuccessfully in 1995 for the funding under the small schemes programme to carry out works to alleviate this problem. This application has been refused and I ask the Minister to give further consideration to it. I accept that this fish kill is being investigated very thoroughly, and I hope that those responsible will be found and appropriate action taken.

When I was investigating this and getting the background information, I discovered it was extremely difficult to get a list of the industries that have access to the Dodder and whose practices might lead to this problem. I have not found it possible to get a comprehensive list of the industries. It is believed that a factory is causing the problem in this instance.

This is the second industrial discharge into the Dodder in June, and clearly serious attention must be given to this problem as we move into the summer months. I also call for increased public access to environmental information and increased information campaigns so that the public can be more actively and appropriately involved in protecting our environment in partnership with the [1962] local authorities. I look forward to the Minister's comments.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): I share the Deputy's concern over the recent fish kill on the river Dodder and other recent fish kills resulting from water pollution.

Because we are now entering the peak risk period for our waterways, when low water levels and flows are combined with high water temperatures, it is vital that there is increased vigilance in guarding against water pollution. For this reason and because of my concern at the damage caused in recent years, I issued a public statement on 11 June calling for extra vigilance.

It is important that extreme care is exercised, in particular by the industrial and agricultural communities in relation to all waste handling and disposal activities. Irresponsible actions by a small number of people can have serious consequences for the wider community through disruption of water supplies and damage to the ecology of our rivers and lakes. The recent incident on the Dodder illustrates just how vulnerable our rivers and fish life can be.

Local authorities and fishery boards have primary responsibility for pollution prevention and fishery protection in their areas. Extensive powers are available under the water pollution Acts and fisheries legislation to take effective action against those responsible for pollution and fish kills. In the very recent case of the Dodder incident, I understand that a full investigation is currently being conducted by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board. While the investigation is at an early stage, preliminary results indicate that an industrial source was responsible and the local authority is likely to instigate a prosecution in this case. The local authority, in line with the provisions of the water pollution Acts, will also seek to cover the cost of restitution from the identified source. Water quality in the effected stretch of the river has returned [1963] to normal and arrangements will be made to restock the river.

The practice of investigating fish kill incidents and considering legal proceedings is followed by the relevant local authority and fishery board in respect of all fish kills. Only in exceptional circumstances should the Minister for the Environment become directly involved, as happened in the case of the fish kill which occurred in the River Lung in 1994 when the then Minister asked the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out a special investigation. In general, action is taken at the local authority/fishery board level where well established co-operation between the agencies results in effective sanction against the polluter, which I sincerely hope will be the case in the incident under discussion.

In view of the functions assigned to local authorities and fishery boards in this area, it would be inappropriate and impractical that I should answer to the House in relation to the particular circumstances of each fish kill. I am satisfied that adequate powers are available to local authorities under the water pollution Acts to deal with incidents such as the one that happened on the River Dodder in Dublin and also the recent Cork incidents. I will, of course, keep the situation generally under review.

On the question of access to information on the environment, the Deputy will be aware that I have greatly broadened the scope of such access. On industries, I will shortly acquire information on all potential sources of pollution and I will have a toxics inventory release as part of the public information available.