Seanad Éireann - Volume 127 - 21 February, 1991

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

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

Mr. Norris: I aim to assist the House by compressing what I have to say as much as possible and by attempting to restrain my natural verbosity. I understand there is a general desire that the Second Stage of the Bill should draw to a conclusion today. In all the briefings I have received from various environmental organisations they have stressed that they hope this Bill will have a speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I indicated on the last day on which this Bill was before the House that I had some concern about the implementation of sections of the Bill by ministerial regulation. This is not confined to this area. There is another Bill that will probably come before the House today, that is, the Child Care Bill. I have similar reservations about this Bill, because the broad outline of the legislation is contained in the Bill but, once more, important powers are reserved to the Minister by regulation. It is important that Bills of this nature should be given teeth but that those teeth should be examined here in this House. I note the Minister, in her speech, said that the agency would have wide ranging powers. One welcomes this. I hope these teeth will be very clearly retained by the time the Bill has passed and that there will be no dilution of these powers — the power to prosecute summary offences, the power to hold inquiries to publish reports on pollution incidents and the necessary powers and functions of the Air and Water Pollution Act.

I am glad that these matters of air and water pollution were so extensively dealt with. I notice that a very considerable emphasis in the Bill is on industrial pollution. I would like to shift the emphasis a little towards a broader environmental concern. I am not going to go on at great [1519] length about this because I am sure the Minister has access to a considerably greater variety of documentation than I have. I would refer the Minister to the Green Paper on the urban environment, a communications from the Commission of European Communities to the Council and Parliament. They deal with the urban environment in ways that are outside the principally industrial application of pollution legislation. They point out with regard to traffic management — this may appear to be broad but I hope to be able to link it in — that the urban environment has always had problems in this regard, including noise and traffic. This can be traced back to ancient Rome. Paris in the 18th century had traffic jams.

One of the problems we have is that every time there is an improvement in life there is a compensating disimprovement. For example, when we improve the roads system we bring more vehicles into the city and we increase the pollution as a result of exhaust fumes. Up to the 18th century there was no central organised sewerage system. There were receptacles placed in special little cavities behind shutters. The contents were fired out on the streets, which was not very pleasant for the inhabitants. Mainline sewerage systems were produced principally in the 19th century. That certainly affected hygiene in the home and in the immediate environs of the city. It also created a very considerable problem in terms of pollution of the sea. When you solve one problem in a small arena, you very often create a downstream effect on further concealed pollution. I hope that this will be taken into account by the Environmental Protection Agency.

With regard to the pollution by motor cars, and so on, the effects of these pollutants are very often long term. Very often they are more easily observed in their secondary effects than in their primary effects. They can be detected in long term health damage and also in the deterioration of buildings. One has only to look at the outside of this building to see the effect of chemical corrosion. The same applies to Trinity College. Many of [1520] the great 18th century buildings in this city are affected by the secondary results of not just industrial pollution but of the pollution from auto-motive exhausts. Hydrocarbons resulting from incomplete combustion react with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight. This results in reaction products causing eye irritation and respiratory system damage. It is also the fact that the exhaust fumes of cars in dense urban traffic lead to a situation where carbon monoxide builds up in tunnels and in underground garages. This can cause respiratory system damage. It can inhibit oxygen absorption by haemoglobin and it can actually cause brain damage in the elderly. Again, some years ago there was very considerable public concern about lead pollution from automobile exhausts and its impact. For example, it could have a bad effect on children in inner city playgrounds and this was a cause of very considerable concern. Again, this is an area in which I hope the Environmental Protection Agency will take particular interest.

Before I leave this report, I would like to turn to another area that is of very particular concern to me, that is, the question of revitalising the existing inner city areas. This may appear to be a little bit wide of the Bill, but when I place on the record just a few paragraphs from this important report I think it will be seen how this ties in to the operations of the Environmental Protection Agency. I quote from page 41:

Revitalising existing housing areas within the city is also important. The quality of life in such areas can be dramatically improved by carrying out environmental improvements and, specifically, by reducing the noise and pollution from traffic. This requires local strategies that give priority to the needs of pedestrians and inhabitants rather than to drivers passing through an area. Such environmental improvements may well provide the impetus for private investment in improvement of housing stock.

The need for revitalisation is not restricted to areas within the city. [1521] Many urban peripheral housing estates, particularly those constructed as social housing, are showing symptoms of urban decline more traditionally associated with rundown inner-city areas. In London and Marseilles, the Commission is already involved in pilot projects, aimed at improving economic and social development in such areas. The problems experienced by their inhabitants are often aggravated by their physical isolation from the economic, social, commercial and cultural life of the city.

Expanding the uses and activities of these areas, and thus the opportunities available to their residents, is part of a strategy aimed at integrating these housing estates into the city, and improving their environment and the quality of life of their inhabitants.

Traffic management is an important aspect of environmental control and, indeed, pollution control. Here we have a clear answer to what the city of Dublin is doing in terms of running motorways through the centre of the city. This makes it perfectly clear that it is at the heart of a pollution debate in terms of the environment. It also indicates that the Environmental Protection Agency could, and ought to, be involved in this because of the environmental impact assessments, for example, and also because of what the Minister said on the record of this House. It is clear that she sees the Environmental Protection Agency as fulfilling some role in the shaping of policy.

It is important that here in the Seanad we should indicate that we see the formation of policy through the Environmental Protection Agency in this area as being an important element of its work. This, of course, will mean that one relies on the Minister's statements with regard to the independence of the Environmental Protection Agency. I hope it will be fully independent but I have some slight concern in this area. Despite that, I am sure, is a valiant fight by the Minister to retain as much independence and as much environmental glasnost as possible, I am sure that there will be other tensions [1522] intended to retain the environmental agency within the general ambit of governmental influence, and particularly the influence of the Department of the Environment.

I would have to underline to the Minister that I and many other people believe that the strength of the Environmental Protection Agency will, in fact, largely rely upon its independence and upon its perceived independence. I have to say that a number of people to whom I have spoken have suggested to me that there is still too great control by Government of the structures of the Environmental Protection Agency. For example, look at the structure of the appointment committee. The Government approve the appointment committee's choices. There are two direct Government appointees, senior civil servants in the Department of the Environment, Government secretaries, and so on. There is a chief executive from the IDA whom one could also classify in a sense as being in the Government camp. There are also the general secretary of the ITGWU, a chief executive from the Council for the Status of Women, and the chairperson of An Taisce. It seems also that the advisory committee could be fairly tightly controlled by the Minister. I may have adverted to this and signalled that I hope to put an amendment down on Committee Stage on this matter. The Minister can remove from office a member if his or her removal appears to the Minister necessary or desirable for the effective performance by the agency of its functions. It is a very strong power for the Minister to have. It raises the question of what chance we have of getting a really strong environmental protection policy, driven by a technically sound director general and only four other directors. I wonder why there is no representation from regional areas. County managers are increasingly isolated and estranged from central Government.

I would like also to make the point that I think it is very necessary that the lines of communication between the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities are very clearly defined and the [1523] responsibilities of each should be clearly defined. There is a fear that as it begins to operate, whether the aspirations of the Minister and her goodwill — which I think we all take for granted — there may well be a tendency for the Environmental Protection Agency to become almost a kind of additional Government Department because of the direct impact of the Department of the Environment.

I have to point out that the proposed European Environmental Protection Agency will be semi-autonomous and answering directly to the Parliament. I would like again to recommend to the Minister that she follows her own instincts, which I have no doubt are in the direction of perestroika and glasnost, and take back to the Government the strong support for this approach from environmental bodies of various kinds, as expressed through public representatives in this House.

I would like to mention briefly the question of appeals procedures, oral hearings and so on because, once again, this is a constant element in all the briefing submissions I have received. There is concern at the lack of a proper appeals procedure and mechanism which really is seen as a serious defect. It is recognised that there are two classes of appellants. In my earlier speech I indicated the different elements in the equation that need to be taken into account — the central State authority, industry, the individual and so on. One recognises that there are two different classes of appellant, one who wishes simply to protect the environment and the other that may be frustrated by a decision limiting commercial enterprise. I would have particular feelings and I would be inclined to be more suspicious and more hesitant in terms of commercial development which I thought was threatening to the environment but both of these could, in fact, be quite genuine.

I am concerned that there is, for example, no automatic provision for an oral hearing into objections against licences issued by the agencies. I would remind the Minister that oral hearings [1524] held by An Bord Pleanála have played a crucial role in ensuring that controversial issues are properly aired and sometimes result in significant improvement in planning conditions. There is a fairly general consensus that there should be provision for oral hearings.

I would like to mention one other matter which concerns me, that is the question of environmental impact statements. I recognise that these are regulated by certain statutory instruments — there is Statutory Instrument No. 349 of 1989; European Communities Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 1989 — and that such documents, which form part of the planning application, are filed with this, held at local planning authorities and publicly available for purchase. However, since one of the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency, as I understand it, is policy-making and educative, it would be a good idea, if possible, that copies of environmental impact assessment statements could be made available to the copyright libraries. If we want to have some kind of feed into the third level educational system it is very important that these kind of materials are deposited strategically in the place where they will make the most impression and impact. I have a couple of them here. They are very detailed. I have here a thick, copiously detailed and illustrated book of several hundred pages, An Environmental Impact Statement Concerning Redevelopment Strategy for Bord Gáis Éireann land in Grand Canal Quay, Dublin, and a non-technical summary, which is a small document. This is the kind of material that I believe should be deposited as a matter of course with university libraries. They are not covered by the Copyright Act, I wonder if the Minister would have a look at the possibility of including some provision in the Environmental Protection Agency Bill to ensure that all the third level institutions receive copies of this kind of highly significant material so that they can be more relevant to the life of the country.

I would like to express some concern in relation to the analogies that are so [1525] frequently drawn including, by people who briefed me, with An Bord Pleanála. As an aside, in parenthesis so to speak, in the light of recent and current developments and of the historic performance of An Bord Pleanála, I am not at all satisfied that this is a particularly happy model to choose. I am sure the Minister will be as aware, as I am, of the defects of that body and take into account our unhappy experience with An Bord Pleanála in drawing any analogies or in setting it up as a model.

With regard to the pollution control licence, at present the planning permission and environmental impact assessment will be done by the local authorities and not by the Environmental Protection Association. Again, I feel the Environmental Protection Agency should be the authority looking after this area, particularly in the light of the direct interest local authorities would have. They are not disinterested parties in many of these areas. It is impossible for them to take a fully objective view. It is important that this be brought directly and clearly under the operation of the Environmental Protection Agency. There is not any satisfactory delineation of the areas of responsibility that are to be divided between An Bord Pleanála, on the one hand, about which I have just expressed reservations, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

I have already suggested when I was talking about the urban environment, traffic management, noise and air pollution control in the urban developed areas that I thought there was a concentration on industrial pollution. I believe it would be correct to say there is a perceivable limitation in the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency Bill; for example, it does not deal with land use in the areas of forestry, mari-culture and agriculture as comprehensively as I believe it should. These are all areas that have an impact upon the environment.

The system of ministerial control itself is a complicated one and the very fact that it is complicated is likely to slow down the whole process. If I can give an [1526] example to the Minister — and perhaps she will be able to consider this and respond to my difficulties in this area — mariculture licences, as I understand it, can be supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency but this is only done if the Minister for the Environment asks the Minister for the Marine for permission. There is a rather convoluted mechanism by which the Environmental Protection Agency is brought into play. This is a problem and perhaps it is one that can be resolved. Again, we want a direct clear intervention by the Environmental Protection Agency, not clogged up by masses of red tape which would inhibit the effective operation of the agency.

As I understand it, it is proposed — or at least it was certainly initially proposed — that funding should be on an annual basis. The Minister has very kindly corrected my misunderstanding of the Bill on an earlier occasion. Perhaps this has been changed, I wonder if it is still the case that it is on an annual basis? If it is, I am not sure it would not be better if the Minister could give us a much longer-term commitment to the continuation of the agency. We have seen a number of agencies operating generally within this area that were wound down rapidly and arbitrarily. I would like some indication from the Minister that it will not be funded on this annual basis, that there will be a long term commitment, and that we can really put a very practical degree of support behind this Bill.

In summary, I have tried to keep my remarks condensed, although there has been a very wide range of information to be digested and placed before the House because of the very remarkable interest there has been in this Bill both from individual members of the public and from a considerable number of statutory and voluntary bodies operating in the area of the environment. I have placed on the record of the House some reservations, but I would not wish the Minister to think that I did not give a strong welcome to this Bill which I think is very important and forward looking. I hope that at least some of the reservations and [1527] doubts I have expressed may be met by the Minister in her speech. I congratulate her and the civil servants in her Department for producing what is potentially very fine legislation, from which I have no doubt whatsoever the country will benefit.

Mr. Mullooly: I, too, welcome this Bill. I also welcome the fact that the Minister decided to initiate this legislation in the Seanad. The Bill provides for the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency. This, we are told in the explantory memorandum, is the Bill's primary purpose. The agency will have a wide range of functions, all relating to the protection of the environment. These will include the control and regulation of all the activities which are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill. It will also be the responsibility of the agency to provide support, back-up and advisory services to public authorities as well as promoting and co-ordinating environmental research and implementing an environmental monitoring programme.

To put it in a nutshell, the agency is intended to be an independent, powerful and effective environmental watchdog. It is small wonder then that this Bill has been welcomed by everyone with an interest in environmental matters. Indeed, I believe most people would accept the point made by the Minister in her speech introducing the Bill, that this is the most important and comprehensive piece of environmental legislation since the planning legislation of the early sixties.

I was pleased to hear the Minister state that there had been extensive and wide ranging consultations in relation to the role and functions of the agency before the Bill was drafted. The Minister implied that she considered that these consultations were worthwhile. I suggest that the Minister should continue this consultation process in relation to the orders and regulations which she will be making under the legislation when it is enacted.

[1528] I accepted that the environmental committee, which will be established under the advisory committee under, this Bill, will have a role advising the Minister. However, I feel there should be an opportunity for representative bodies and groups to have their views taken into account regarding the orders and regulations which will be made under the legislation.

The need for this legislation and for the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency is widely acknowledged. Although this country has not suffered anything like the degree of environmental damage which some other countries have suffered, nevertheless the situation has not been improving in recent years. The environment in Ireland is coming under increasing pressure from development. There have been some very serious incidents of pollution of rivers and lakes and some significant fish kills have occurred. There is a growing litter problem mainly due to the increasing use of non-biodegradable containers and packaging. Indiscriminate dumping appears to be on the increase in many parts of the country. Indeed, it is not unusual to drive along a main road in a scenic area and see two, three or more plastic bags of refuse dumped at the roadside.

Thankfully, the serious smog problem, in Dublin has been largely resolved mainly due to the efforts of the Minister of State but there still remains the problem of traffic fumes. In this regard some of the public transport and heavy vehicles on the streets of this city leave a lot to be desired. In recent years there have been reports from various parts of the country of air pollution problems which have been caused or associated with industrial projects.

The marine environment has suffered as a result of dumping industrial waste and sewage sludge at sea and also allegedly, as a result of the number of fish farming projects which have been established around the coast. One of the country's finest and most important tourism resources is the River Shannon and it, too, is at serious risk from a number [1529] of quarters. While we seem to be making some effort to come to grips with the problems posed by sewage inflows from towns and villages adjacent to the river, there is the growing problem of the direct discharge of waste from the increasing number of cruisers and other craft which are using or are moored on the Shannon waterway system. In addition, there is the threat to the river from the build-up of peat silt which is being carried down into the river from the various Bord na Móna operations.

In spite of these problems, however, I agree with the Minister that we have a relatively unspoiled environment. The priority must be to keep it that way and, where possible, to address those areas in which there are problems at the moment and try to improve the situation.

The existing environmental legislation, namely the Planning Acts, the Water Pollution Act, the Litter Act and the Derelict Sites Act, must be strictly enforced and the necessary resources must be made available to local authorities to do this. The fact that adequate resources have not been available to local authorities in the past has created considerable difficulty. There is little point in handing down environmental legislation to local authorities unless we provide them with the resources to implement that legislation. In addition to implementing the legislation to which I have referred, local authorities are also made responsible in recent years for the implementation of various European Community Directives which were designed to protect the environment. Again, additional resources were not provided to enable them to do so with the maximum degree of efficiency. It is small wonder then that to quote the Minister, difficulties began to arise.

As the Minister said environmental protection in the area of licensing has become increasingly complex and specialised. A high level of expertise and very sophisticated equipment are required to do the job properly. A perceived lack of uniformity in the application and enforcement of environmental [1530] protection standards has led to growing public unease and disquiet.

Controversies which arose in various parts of the country in relation to proposed and existing developments received wide publicity in the media. All these factors have contributed to a growing lack of confidence in the existing procedures and have brought about the demand for a single expert independent body which would have the competence and the expertise to deal with the complex environmental and pollution issues associated with modern industry and major economic development.

The Bill before the House provides for the establishment of such a body which will be known as the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a substantial Bill by any standards. It contains 109 sections and two Schedules and it is divided into six parts. The sections in Part I deal with such matters as interpretation, regulations and orders, offences and penalties and other standard provisions of a general nature.

A couple of questions occurred to me when I read through Part I. Section 6 confers on the Minister the right to make regulations and section 7 provides that the Minister may make orders under the Bill. However, the procedure for the making of regulations differs from that for the making of orders. In the case of orders the Bill provides that each proposed order shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and that the order shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by both Houses.

Regulations, however, come into effect by default. The Bill requires that regulations made under the Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas but each regulation is effective from the day on which it is made unless a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either House within the next 21 sitting days. If such a resolution is not passed the regulation continues in existence. Perhaps when the Minister is replying she might outline the reason for the differing procedures in the case of orders and regulations.

[1531] Section 10 in Part I deals with fines imposed under the Bill. The section provides for the payment of such fines to the agency but in each case there must be a prior application by the agency to the court that the amount of the fine imposed be paid to the agency. I wonder why this provision is necessary or why it was not considered possible or perhaps desirable that all fines imposed under the Environmental Protection Agency legislation would automatically be paid to the agency.

Section 11 deals with the prosecution of offences under the Bill and it provides that the period of exposure to prosecution can be anything up to five years. There are two references in the section to the date on which the offence was committed. The phrase “the date on which the offence was committed” is used twice in the section. I believe some cases will arise under this legislation in which it will be very difficult to establish the exact date on which the offence was committed. Is it possible the use of the phrase “the date on which the offence was committed” may make it exceedingly difficult to prosecute successfully in such cases?

Part II deals with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, its organisational structure, staffing and financial arrangements. The agency will be managed by a director general and four other full-time directors. The proceedings which must be followed in the appointment of the director general and the four other directors are provided for in this part of the Bill. I understand that these procedures are similar to the procedures which obtain for the appointment of the Chairman of An Bord Pleanála or the Director of Public Prosecutions. I would like to welcome this proposed system of appointment because it will make a major contribution to ensuring the independence of the agency. In relation to the remuneration of the director general and the directors, the only point I would like to make is that I hope the salary scales will be at a level which will make the positions attractive [1532] to the best and most highly qualified candidates available.

The only other proposal in Part II, on which I wish to comment, is the provision made for the establishment of an advisory committee to advise the Minister and the agency in relation to a range of matters which are outlined in section 28. This will be a 12-person advisory committee and the majority of the members will be appointed from representatives nominated by community, environmental, professional and other organisations. I support the recommendation which has already been made to the Minister during the course of this debate, that the General Council of County Councils should have at least one nominee appointed to the advisory committee.

In her introductory speech the Minister acknowledged the contribution which local authorities have made to environmental protection because of their role in implementing existing environmental legislation. Even after this Bill is passed they will still continue to have a central role to play alongside and hand-in-hand with the Environmental Protection Agency. In view of this, it would be most desirable and essential that local authorities through the General Council of County Councils should have direct representation as of right on the proposed advisory committee. Indeed, it would be my view that the county managers through their association would also have representation on the advisory committee. The county managers have a vast amount of experience and expertise in relation to environmental matters which would undoubtedly be of considerable benefit to the advisory committee.

Part III of the Bill sets out the functions of the agency. The general functions are listed in section 51 and there is provision that the Minister may make regulations giving it additional functions in the future. In carrying out its functions the agency is obliged to ensure that there is a proper balance between the need to protect the environment and the need for infrastructural, economic and social progress and development. The licensing mechanism, which is provided for in Part [1533] IV of the Bill, will be the key instrument available to the agency to enable it to ensure that this balance is achieved.

The integrated licensing system which will replace the existing system of separate air, water and waste disposal licences will have a number of advantages. All the environmental impacts of a proposed development will be assessed at the same time. This approach, which is referred to in the Bill as integrated pollution control, will result in a simpler and, at the same time, more efficient procedure which should be of benefit to the developer, the agency and to the environment.

Section 82 sets out the procedures to be followed in processing applications for licences or in reviews of licences. However, there should be a recognition in this part of the Bill that not all objections will be motivated by a genuine concern for the environment. Some will be vexatious or frivolous. There should be a mechanism in the Bill to discourage objections of this nature. If, for example, each objection had to be accompanied by a modest fee which would be refundable except in the case of objections found to be vexatious, this would have the effect of reducing the number of such objections. This, in turn, would speed up the operation of the agency and reduce the time involved in processing applications and genuine objections.

It will be very important to have applications under the Bill processed as expeditiously as possible. In this connection I give a particular welcome to section 82 (7). This subsection states:

It shall be a duty of the Agency to ensure that a decision by it to hold an oral hearing, and a decision by it on the application for a licence or on the review of a licence or revised licence, whether or not an oral hearing has been held, shall be given as expeditiously as may be and for that purpose the Agency shall take all such steps as are open to it to ensure that in so far as is practicable there are no avoidable delays at any stage in the consideration of objections.

[1534] This is a very reassuring provision in the Bill. The only major reservation which I have in relation to this part of the Bill is the fact there will be no appeal from a decision of the agency other than to the courts and there is no time limit on such an appeal.

I also welcome the fact that the Bill provides for public access to environmental information held by public authorities and, in particular, to the results of monitoring carried out by the agency. These provisions will have a very positive impact on public confidence in the operation of the agency and on the role which it will play during the years ahead in the protection of the environment.

I would like to refer briefly to the provisions in the Bill relating to the prevention and control of noise. These provisions will be generally welcomed. Regulations controlling sources of noise and specifying maximum limits for noise may be made by the Minister and there is also provision for improved powers for local authorities to deal with local noise problems as well as for a District Court to become involved in situations where there are problems of neighbourhood noise. These provisions relate to what, in my view, is a very important environmental matter. I compliment the Minister on having incorporated them in this Bill.

There are many other points which occurred to me as I read through the various sections of the Bill, but I feel that these may be more appropriate to Committee Stage debate. I will conclude by complimenting the Minister on having brought forward this very excellent and most important Bill.

Mr. McMahon: I am sure the Minister, when she referred in her speech introducing this Bill to this House, to the protracted discussions she has had with many agencies and representatives, did not anticipate as lengthy a debate and such lengthy contributions as we have had so far. However, I do not propose to add to that to any great extent.

Most of the contributors, if not all of them, welcomed the Minister to the House. I go further and welcome the [1535] Minister to the Department and, if she will excuse the pun, as one coming from the Dublin area, she brought a breath of fresh air to that Department and to the Dublin area. This has been referred to by the previous speaker. Her efforts to eliminate smog from the city were not totally successful, but it has been much easier to live in Dublin this winter than it has been for many winters past. Much remains to be done in that regard and, indeed, Senator Mullooly referred to the traffic to which I also wish to refer, and particularly bus traffic.

It would be no harm if the Minister had a word with the bus companies to see what contribution they could make to reducing air pollution in the city. I do not often travel by bus, but when I do, and if I have to stand at a bus stop particularly in the peak hours between 5 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. — I stood at St. Stephen's Green for a brief while not so very long ago — I am appalled at the amount of pollution from traffic that falls on the footpath. I urge the Minister to have another look at the position in the city of Dublin, not only regarding the amount of pollution from traffic but also the measures she has already taken. She has successfully gone a long way towards eliminating smog from the city. I think there were only two or three days of smog this winter and they were bearable.

Indications in recent times are that the burning of bituminous coal is on the increase in the city. I received information in recent days that coal is being bought in County Dublin and burned in the city. Traders or consumers are finding a way round the measures that are in force because, of course, they are not breaking the law. It is not illegal to burn the coal in the city; it is simply illegal to buy it or for a trader to sell it. Since bituminous coal is getting into the city in increasing amounts, this is a matter that will have to be looked at again. I am quite sure the Minister is aware of this and I have no doubt we will see some new measures for next winter.

I welcome the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. It is a good Bill [1536] and will work well. I believe it is years overdue and we owe a great deal to the Minister, Deputy Harney, for having tackled this problem and for bringing in such a comprehensive Bill. Having said that, I think it has some shortcomings which, perhaps, can be corrected on Committee Stage. I will deal with that later.

If we are to protect tourism, which I believe will be our greatest industry in the future, then we have to clean up our environment. Many speakers, including the Minister herself, referred to the cleanliness of our environment compared to that of other European countries. It is well to make that comparison, but I do not think it is enough. Our environment is not as clean as it should be or as it might be, and it is certainly not as clean as it was ten years ago. I regret this; I believe this is what the tourist of the future will be looking for — a clean country, a pleasant climate and a good environment. I believe we are on the threshold of a great future in tourism if we can clean up our environment.

This Bill will deal with future developments and with large scale developments in particular, and that is the impression I get from the Bill. I believe it should liaise with the IDA to assess firms before a commitment is made to them by the IDA regarding location in this country. In recent years we have been inclined to look too exclusively at the relief of unemployment that firms locating here will bring, although that is extremely important.

The Minister said she did not see the agency as an anti-industry agency. To protect our tourism industry we have to protect our clean air and environment. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of protecting the tourism industry. We leaned on agriculture for many years as our greatest industry; the tide has now turned and I believe we may lean, in the future, on tourism. However, we all have to make a contribution to that. We have seen in recent times how certain industries which had been given permission by the IDA to locate here, had to withstand a tussle with An Bord Pleanála and with [1537] the courts. I hope that this agency will put an end to that and that we will never again see the spectacle seen in the south of Ireland in recent years. I hope we will never again hear an official of the IDA being critical of the citizens of that part of the country for doing what I hope this agency will do in the future.

I would hope that there would be cooperation between all those concerned — the IDA, local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, when it is set up — to ensure that we do not have a battle as to whether an industry should settle here or be told to take their trade elsewhere. I believe the agency will do that. I believe it will improve matters in that regard, but I have great misgivings regarding smaller developments. I can see very little, if anything, in the Bill to direct the agency to smaller local developments which would affect the environment. That is still being left in the hands of the local authorities — and, indeed, I would have to say some local authorities have fallen short of their responsibilities with regard to keeping the environment clean.

I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy this House that when set up the agency will ensure that all developments, large and small, proposed or existing, which are injurious to the environment, whether through water pollution, air pollution, land pollution or visual pollution, will be monitored. I am not sure that the Bill should not have an extended title. Rather than Environmental Protection Agency Bill perhaps it should be something like the Environmental Protection and Restoration Agency Bill, because our land is being polluted and has been polluted. Our air and our waters have been polluted. But this has not happened to any great extent, as stated by the Minister, compared to other countries in Europe.

We have the European blue flag awards for beaches. Many beaches in Ireland applied for this award over the last few years. In 1989, 49 Irish beaches applied for the award and 35 received it. That is a fairly high proportion of awards for our beaches. But when one considers [1538] our position on the extreme west of Europe, well out into the Atlantic, we ourselves can keep our beaches clean and we cannot blame others for polluting them. I think the percentage of blue flag awards should therefore have been higher. I do not have the national figures for 1990. I hope there was an improvement. Of the seven beaches that applied for the blue flag award in Dublin county, five received it in 1989. I am sorry to say that while an increased number of beaches in County Dublin applied for this award in 1990 — nine in all — only four received it. That is to be regretted, but I am sure there must be some explanation for it.

I would not be happy, and I do not think the Minister should be happy, until we see all of these beaches proudly boast of a blue flag award. Other beaches should be entered for the award. What a grand tourism heading that would provide for the European market.

I referred earlier to smaller developments. Now I will be parochial, because I have seen some developments take place in the immediate neighbourhood of Dublin about which nothing has been done. In the Dublin mountains over the last number of years we have had the burning of city waste material to extract copper and lead. This caused great pollution and annoyance to the people of the area. I was involved, as I am sure other public representatives were, in drawing the attention of Dublin County Council to this activity. The location of the activity and the people concerned, are well known. The council did what they could, but all they succeeded in doing was running them out of County Dublin and now this activity is taking place just across the border at Glencree in County Wickow. Acres and acres of the mountain have been spoilt. Grouse or other birds will not nest there for years to come and if one drives through the by-ways at that particular spot in the mountain one cannot get out of the car. Indeed, one would have to wash the wheels of the car before one could bring it back to one's own property because this black silt [1539] comes with it and if one walks the mountain it sticks to one's shoes. This form of pollution has been taking place for a number of years and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

I have been in touch with Dublin County Council about this and they have succeeded in running it across the border into County Wicklow. I have been in touch with Wicklow County Council and I have been in touch with Powerscourt Demesne who are the owners of the mountain, and they have done all in their power to stop this from happening, but it has proved impossible. What will this agency do with regard to this local problem? This is local to Glencree and Dublin but I am sure it is happening in other parts of the country as well.

A development took place on the banks of the Poulaphouca Lakes six or seven years ago. I am not sure whether permission was given by An Bord Pleánála or by Wicklow County Council but it is a development which is situated right on the banks of the lakes as you cross the bridge from Blessington. This is one of the most scenic areas in this part of the world. There is a most beautiful view from the bridge which is admired by hundreds of thousands of tourists, both national and foreign, in summertime and also, at this time of the year. I was up there on Sunday last and there were traffic jams at many of the junctions because of the number of Dublin people going to the mountains. Later on in the year they make for the sea, but at this time of the year they make for the mountains when the hardness of winter is over and the evenings begin to get longer. Here we have this development by a body, I am ashamed to say, that should have been more concerned about the environment. The Dublin Metropolitan Regatta Committee have built a hideous building on the banks of the lake causing not only visual pollution but possible pollution of the waters. Local regattas are held there during the year and international regattas take place on the lake drawing hundreds of people. Washing and showering facilities are adjacent to [1540] the Clargester sewerage storage area which has to be emptied and cannot be allowed to over-flow. If one was to leave a tap running it is likely that that tank would over-flow. I was appalled to see from a notice on the side of the building that they were boasting that the building was sponsored by Bord Fáilte, the ESB and the Department of Education and that it was grant-aided by Cospóir. Last year the notice disappeared. Perhaps they anticipated the Bill. Perhaps people are getting more conscious of what we should be doing for the environment. This is a development which must be tackled if we are to improve our environment. That is where I find fault with the Bill. While it will deal with future developments and prevent pollution, I find nothing in it to deal with pollution already taking place. I would like the Bill to be strengthened there.

I would also like to add my voice to those who have already suggested that a member or two of the General Council of County Councils should be appointed to the agency. I know the Minister will give this matter serious consideration and if at all possible I am sure she will accede to the request of many Senators here. It is important that there should be a tie-in with local public representatives. This body meets regularly and has very important discussions.

I doubt if the proposed funding is adequate. The Minister mentions £8 million, £4 million of which will be accounted for by the transfer of staff. I do not know if that includes property, or if it will have to purchase property, or if there is property already there which can be transferred. I would like the Minister to go into the funding in more detail and explain how the agency is going to operate when it is set up. It will have to have many premises throughout the country and it will have to have headquarters. I would like to know where the headquarters will be, or if arrangements have already been made.

The nation is waiting for this Bill. I would compliment the Minister on bringing the Bill forward in such a way that it was not rushed. The Minister has been [1541] conscious of the state of the environment for some considerable time; but despite that she took her time and consulted with many people, which was the correct way to go about it. I cannot see the agency doing what it is expected to do by those watching its passage through this House without more funding. I would rather see a figure of £20 million available because it has an enormous job to do and the sooner we get it up and running the better. It is an enormous task not only to prevent future pollution but to rid the country of pollution.

I hope when the Minister is replying that she will address the problem of existing developments which are polluting our environment. I cannot stress sufficiently the importance of getting the environment back to what it was ten or 20 years ago. We have a bright future in tourism if we can do that, and not only in the American market but in the European market. I have no doubt that Europeans will flock here if we can give them a clean environment together with good services and hotels. We are here today to ensure that this Bill passes from this House to the other House as fast as possible, and we hope that it will restore our environment to what it was ten or 20 years ago.

Mrs. Bennett: I welcome the Bill. I compliment the Minister of State for having introduced this important and complex Bill in the Seanad thus giving this House the opportunity to fulfil its role as a formulator of legislation. It is not necessary for me to remind the House that the environment has become a much more important issue over the last number of years. Some commentators dismiss concern about the environment as a new fashion which will pass in time. I disagree with this. I believe that people are becoming more aware of the fragile nature of our environment and are becoming more willing to make sacrifices to protect it.

It is important to recognise that any legislation relates only to minimum standard objectives but the main purpose [1542] must be to achieve much higher standards. There can be very few people who are unaware of the dreadful damage which can be caused to our environment by pollution. We have many examples both at home and abroad of how easy it is to pollute and how dreadfully difficult it is, as regards expense to the Government and local authorities, to clean up pollution at a later date. We are lucky that heavy industry has largely passed us by. The giant steelworks and petrochemical industries which have ruined many areas of continental Europe are unknown in this island. The main purpose of the Bill is to create a much higher environmental standard. We cannot, however, rest on our laurels. It is vitally important that we implement the necessary legislation to protect our environment. Many people feel that little can be done. However, I would like to draw your attention to the present quality of air in Dublin, as mentioned by previous speakers, compared to the quality of air in Dublin last year. We were told by many people that vested interests would prevent anything from being done about this but we can now see the dramatic effect of proper legislation in this area.

I would like to congratulate the Minister on the courageous stand she took in banning bituminous coal in Dublin last year. Last week we had freezing fog but there was no smog with it. On checking the reading for that day the micrograms per cubic metre were 65. The same weather conditions last year would have given a reading of well over 1,000. The EC standard is 250, so we were well below it. In my local authority area prior to the banning of bituminous coal the reading was over 1,000. At no point this year has the EC regulation been breached. Next year we will have even better and lower figures because some people stockpiled on bituminous coal which they have been using this year.

Senator McMahon was talking about blue flags. We are very disappointed that we did not get a blue flag for Dublin, in Dollymount of all places. We queried it and the reason given was that if they gave [1543] us a blue flag we would upset the wildlife. Basically what they were saying was that they did not want too many people going on the beach because they did not want the birds to be disturbed. We were rather disappointed. We feel that we should have got it but maybe the Senator would look into it.

Mr. McMahon: Birds before people.

Mrs. Bennett: It was rather strange but that was the reason. The water pollution and air pollution Acts have ensured that the public are protected. I welcome the independence of the Environmental Protection Agency which ensures that no longer can a finger be pointed at Government Departments or local authorities. Although we had no vested interest, we were accused of that in the past. The independence of this agency is of paramount importance.

In the past some local authorities have been offenders with regard to pollution but now they must lead by example. Monitoring is an essential ingredient and feature of environmental protection but legislation in the past has failed through lack of follow-up and enforcement. No longer should information be withheld by Government agencies or local authorities from the public. The public must be made fully aware and kept reliably informed at all times.

Laying down conditions under planning is the norm but complying with them has not been strictly enforced. There is always a need to balance the needs of the environment with the needs of industry. We cannot turn back the clock to a time when there was no need for industrial development. This country needs industrial development but it must fit in with the surrounding environment. There is no long-term profit in ruining our beautiful environment for short-term gain.

I welcome this Bill as it has achieved a reasonable balance between the requirements of the environment and the requirements of industry. The Minister said she was determined that this agency should not be seen as anti-industry. It will be pro-environment and that means it [1544] will be anti dirty industry, anti dirty agriculture and anti dirty pollution. I trust that the agency will be as vigilant in following up possible breaches by local authority agencies as they will be in following up breaches by multinational firms. It is very important in the area of environmental protection that legislation be seen to be implemented on an even handed basis.

Many different bodies and agencies involved in protecting a cleaner environment recommend setting up an advisory committee involving all those bodies with the agency. There are many voluntary groups who have an input to make to the environment action programme and they should be catered for within the agency. It would also be appropriate if environmental research were instituted in third level colleges. I welcome the new research body, recently formed between the universities and third level institutions, which is prepared to offer constructive advice to the new agency. This is a voluntary group that can make a positive contribution on environmental issues. This body is partially funded by Europe. Industry should be invited to foster further research in the area of the environment by way of grants and research programmes.

I also welcome the obligation laid down under section 75 of the Bill by which an equal labelling scheme will be introduced. This will allow the use of a special symbol on products which meet specified environmental criteria. Ever since the awareness of the green lobby, there has been a worrying trend for many products to appear carrying a green tinge in either their advertising or their packaging. One sometimes wonders as to the validity of these claims. In the absence of a recognised environmental quality mark, it is open to unscrupulous manufacturers to abuse the consumers' desire to be environmentally aware. Many shoppers take packaging at its face value. If the packaging is green, if it has the word “environment” or “environment friendly” somewhere on the front of the box, then regrettably many people assume it is somehow environmentally [1545] superior to its competitors. In many cases the opposite may be true. I look forward to an early introduction of this labelling system and trust it will be of benefit both to the environment and to the environmentally aware consumer.

Agricultural productivity has greatly increased due mainly to mechanisation and to the use of artificial fertilizers. In recent decades further development has come through the intensive rearing of lifestock. Associated with this change in animal husbandry has been the growing use of grass silage as fodder for cattle and all farm produce for pig and poultry feed. To a large extent these recent developments have changed the nature of farming and upset the harmonious relationship with the natural environment. In many cases the farming enterprise has taken on the attributes of industry and, in common with other industries, has developed a considerable potential to cause environmental damage. Much of this potential arises from the need to dispose of wastes which in smaller amounts under traditional farming systems were formerly recycled as fertilizer or fodder for other crops. The amount of waste generated from farming activities exceeds that arising in sewerage systems and industry due to the highly concentrated nature of the waste, such as silage effluent and manure slurry. They have the potential to cause serious pollution particularly if discharged directly into our waters. The chief effect of such waste in our waters leads, as we all know, to fish kills, the number of which has increased over the last few years. The Environmental Protection Agency must create a greater awareness. Efforts to protect the environment should be rewarded and substantial fines imposed where proven lack of concern has been shown. The aforementioned recommended reward for effort could take the form of an environment assurance award.

Part VI of the Bill deals with noise. Will the agency deal with the monitoring of noise from aircraft? Part VI section 105 startes that it does not apply to aircraft noise. I have had many letters from residents in the airport area who are rather [1546] disturbed about the noise from aircraft that fly during the night. Apparently they have been in touch with the Department of the Environment, the tourist office and Aer Lingus. They just got acknowledgements to their letters. They are concerned about this. There are restrictions in Heathrow Airport and in De Gaulle Airport which have cut down on the numbers of aircraft flying from 23.00 hours to 0.700 hours. This is something Dublin could look at.

We should link quality assurance with environmental awareness and an environmental promotion programme should be instituted. Environmental education is now a must from primary school up. Environmental impact statements are very good on their own, but the agency must lay down guidelines and codes of practice to achieve standards and to keep the public informed. It must not be afraid to release information. It must realise that the adult population of Ireland are most discerning when it comes to assessing information released with the interest of public health and safety in mind. There is a desire on behalf of most people to be more environmentally aware. One only has to look at the increase in the sale of unleaded petrol, the relative ease with which smokeless fuel was introduced into Dublin and the many other examples which were highlighted in this House during a recent debate on waste recycling. I look forward to the agency aiding this trend.

I welcome this Bill as it represents one of the most important developments in environmental protection that we have seen.

Mr. Ross: I do not want to be the first person not to congratulate the Minister on this Bill. I am sure at this stage she is embarrassed by, and I am suspicious of, the fact that all parties have congratulated her and welcomed this Bill. That sort of unanimity always draws the suspicion of the Independents.

Mr. McKenna: The Senator has a suspicious mind.

Mr. Ross: Like other Members I give [1547] the Bill a general and wholehearted welcome but there are certain areas where it could be amended. The general thrust of the Bill is welcome. It is doubly welcome because the general environment is a good one. We are not too late in introducing this measure. Our European neighbours in particular eastern Europe, France, Germany and the heavily industrialised nations, have allowed their environments to deteriorate so fast that in many cases measures to stem the decay have been taken too late. Although there were some atrocious incidents here which polluted the environment, this Bill recognises the fact that we have a tremendous asset in our environment and that we are not going to allow it to be polluted and wasted as some of our neighbours have done. For that, the Government and the Minister are to be highly commended.

To some extent we have been fairly casual because we know that Ireland is a relatively pollution-free country. We have enjoyed this and accepted the luxury of such an environment but we should not become careless about it. It is time we faced up to the problems. As one of the Members of this House who is not a councillor, I have an innate suspicion of giving county councillors powers which affect the environment too directly. In many cases there are real difficulties and dilemmas facing county councillors with conflicts of interest between the environment, employment and industrialisation in their particular area. I do not wish to be in any way sensational in mentioning the recent planning scandals or the substantial number of material contraventions of the Dublin development plan by introducing section 4 motions. There have been serious problems for the environment as a result of councillors introducing those motions. If this Bill tackles that problem it will have done a great service.

One of the purposes of this Bill is to remove from the direct political arena those areas where councillors find themselves with an obvious conflict of interest. I hope we will have no more section 4 motions but rather an agency which [1548] directs that the environment takes priority over commercial interests. I hope also that the Environmental Protection Agency will have a direct input into the development plans especially as they affect Dublin but also as they affect other counties. If the EPA counters the trend of commercialism taking priority over care for the environment it will indeed be doing a great service.

The Minister outlined the three principal ingredients of this Bill. The first one she mentioned was to be independent of Government. I welcome that because it is — although she would not acknowledge it — a direct criticism of many of the bodies which are set up by Government and semi-State bodies. Although there are major imperfections in the model the Minister hopes to set up, I hope it will serve as an example to other semi-State bodies. I am tired, and many of the people in this House are tired, of seeing Government appointments to semi-State bodies which make them purely instruments for Government policy. There are too many quangos in this country. There are too many rewards for political service. Party people who have been loyal at election time are rewarded by appointments to various semi-State bodies controlled by the Government. That is unacceptable. It should have ended a long time ago but it is practised by all political parties. It is very refreshing to see that this model tackles that problem. I do not think it tackles it as effectively as it might but it is a start in acknowledging that the Government should not be able to appoint their friends to positions of this sort as a reward for political service. There is no suggestion in this Bill that that will happen in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bill sets up a committee which selects three candidates for the post of the very important and delicate post of director general. That committee consists of the Secretary to the Government, the Secretary of the Department of the Environment, the Chairperson of An Taisce. The Managing Director of the IDA, the General Secretary of the ICTU [1549] and the Chief Executive of the Council for the Status of Women. This is a start. I was not aware that was the model on which the DPP had been set up but I am very glad to hear it. However, it is inadequate because in the end the setting up of this committee still leaves the appointments within Government control. Whereas all these people are undoubtedly very honourable and people of great expertise in their own field, I am not quite sure how or why they have been selected. It is quite apparent that although this committee is at arm's length in regard to the Minister and the Government, the Secretary to the Government, the Secretary of the Department of the Environment — perhaps not the Chairperson of An Taisce — the Managing Director of the IDA and the Chief Executive of the Council for the Status of Women are all subject to some sort of Government pressure and influence. Many are themselves Government appointees and, as a result, they are subject and vulnerable to Government influence.

It would have been more courageous, but politically, very difficult for the Minister, if the committee she set up to make the appointments consisted of people who had no relationship, directly or indirectly, with the Government. In other words, perhaps it would have been more appropriate if other environmental groups had direct nomineees to that committee, for example the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, or Coast Watch and numerous other groups whose whole purpose of existence is the preservation of the environment. The appointment of the Chairperson of An Taisce should stand.

It is a pity the Minister felt unable to go the whole way and set up an advisory committee which is environmental, pure and simple, through and through, and where the appointments, although at arms' length, are not Government appointments. In the end, the Minister retains enormous power in the area of appointments because the Minister can define the terms of reference and the [1550] quality of the candidates in giving instructions to that committee and the Government can refuse to appoint the committee's choice.

I hope — I do not think it is the intention of the Bill — that this is not a cosmetic exercise which will result in it turning out once again to be an appointment within the Government's gift and that this committee is only a thin layer which disguises political patronage. I have no doubt that is not the intention of the Bill but the Government can refuse to appoint any of the candidates suggested by the committee and can also remove the director general. Section 21 (15) states that he “may be removed from office by the Government if, in their opinion, he has become incapable through ill health of effectively performing his duties, or for stated mis-behaviour” which is a very vague term or if his removal appears to the Government to be necessary or desirable. That gives the Government a free hand to remove the director general. If a Government were determined that a director was to be removed from his post they could remove this person not, for reasons of ill-health, but simply because they did not like them or because they were in conflict with the Government or disagreed with the Government. I question the independence of this appointment and the independence of the board. Whereas this is a great improvement on the selection of directors in many semi-State bodies, which is a scandal, it could have gone the whole hog and made sure that the Government were completely removed from the appointment of the directors and the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The second main ingredient of the Bill is effective powers for the agency. Like Senator McMahon I think that while the powers may be adequate in the way they are stated in the Bill, the budget which the agency has been given will be totally inadequate to do the job many Members of this House envisage for it. It is limited to £8 million. It has power to prosecute, to hold inquiries and to publish reports on pollution but it will not be able to hold [1551] many inquiries, pay many staff or publish many reports on pollution out of £8 million. That unfortunately is a very small amount with which to run a Government-controlled agency. I do not know the scale of the agency's programme but if the budget is only £8 million and if £4 million of that is for the transfer of staff I do not envisage the scale as being great. It will be extremely limited in its scope and in its geographical influence if its budget is restricted to this small amount. Maybe it is intended by the Government that it shall expand year by year and that when it has earned its spurs after the first or second year it will increase its budget. It is obvious that it will be necessary for the EPA to expand and increase its influence.

Its greatest power is obviously the issuing of licences and I welcome that. Like Senator Norris, I have reservations about the fact that many of these powers are covered by ministerial regulation as are the parameters within which it works. It is worrying to many legislators that so much law is at the discretion of the Minister of the day. It is bad law. The effect of allowing ministerial regulations to creep into legislation is that Ministers are making and repealing laws day by day and at will. That is an anti-democratic facet of this and many other Bills because basically the Dáil and the Seanad are being by-passed. The Minister enacts regulations in response to certain situations. The problem with that is one Minister may make very different decisions from another Minister and the regulations do not come before the Dáil or Seanad. This is a trend which is creeping into a great deal of legislation and it should be examined because it gives carte blanche to a Minister to make policy decisions for which he or she is not answerable.

Senators McMahon and Bennett spoke at some length about the environmental situation in Dublin and also in Dublin Bay. There is urgent need for protection. The first thing that should be done is that two appalling chimneys at the Poolbeg generating station in Ringsend should be [1552] removed. Dublin Bay is one of our greatest assets and it is atrocious to see those two ugly chimneys belching out fumes day in day out and spoiling the view of Dublin Bay for miles around. It is an eyesore on one of our greatest assets. The EPA should first of all look at ways and means of removing these or changing the generating station because they are an absolutely ghastly welcome to Dublin for anybody coming in by sea. They spoil the view of Howth from the Wicklow Mountains and vice versa. Apart from the generating station we may regard the bay as a wasting asset. It is a wonderful asset which is being polluted by dirt, smells and sewage. It is generally a disgrace. I do not know enough about protecting the environment to say if the pollution of Dublin Bay, both on the seashore and in the sea is beyond redemption. However, I know enough about it to know that the damage is quite unforgiveable. We have done things for which future generations will not thank us. The pressures on Dublin Bay are huge.

We have an extraordinary concentration of population in Dublin which has doubled in the last century and the industrial and commercial pressures on the port are obviously disproportionate to industrial and commercial pressures which are imposed on other ports of this size. It is not as though we have not had warning of the difficulties and of the pollution of Dublin Bay. It was in the last century that it was safe for shellfish to be in Dublin Bay. I do not think it has been safe since then. One of the greatest assets of the bay has actually not been available to us for nearly 100 years. They were dangerous to health because the bay was polluted even in those days, but since then, people are conscious of the increasing pollution of the bay. It is a terrible reflection on our disregard for this asset that bathing is only available in some areas of the bay now. It is distinctly dangerous to bathe in areas such as Blackrock and on the south side of Bull Island. That has happened only in the last 20 or 30 years. Within my memory people were bathing happily in Blackrock and on Merrion Strand. That was not all [1553] that long ago. It is a great asset. Bull Island and other areas are lucky in that they receive up to 10,000 visitors a day from all over the country. All those areas are also being polluted by sewage and industrialisation.

We are privileged that in the flora and fauna of Dublin Bay we have wild fowl and wading birds on Bull Island. It was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. An interpretative centre has been set up there. Dublin is quite obviously unique as a wetland centre in a European capital city. I do not think any other European capital city has quite such natural resources in terms of wetland. The Howth cliffs have wonderful seabird colonies. From Dalkey to Sandycove there is massive fauna, many of them extremely rare. Booterstown Marsh holds uncommon plant species and wildfowl. Booterstown Marsh, as everybody knows, is — in what is very close to a criminal act — in danger of being destroyed. It is vital that Dublin Bay should be preserved for the purposes of conservation, education and health. All three of these particular qualities are in danger.

I hope that the Environmental Protection Agency as one of its initial objectives will decide to examine not just the water quality of Dublin Bay, which has been examined at some length recently, but the shore quality of Dublin Bay and as a result come out with a report not only that pollution cannot be allowed to deteriorate there but how the situation can be improved and how those areas that have already been polluted can actually be restored.

I know it is a very tall order. The principal problem in Dublin Bay is the sewage problem. The answer to the difficulties which we have with the sewage problem is that it is extremely expensive to introduce what they call tertiary sewage treatment, particularly in Dublin Bay. There are different methods of treating sewage. Some of the sewage in Dublin Bay is simply untreated. Some of it has been treated by what they call primary treatment. Some has been treated by secondary treatment. Basically the [1554] differences are in terms of degree and in how much organic matter they remove. The real solution is the use of what they call tertiary treatment, which is the most sophisticated treatment of sewage which can possibly be introduced.

Dublin Bay is crying out for tertiary treatment of sewage. That, I gather from the best estimates which one can get, would cost £100 million plus. It would be money well spent. It is a classic case of where we could spend some of the money we are going to receive from privatisation. It could be spent on capital expenditure in this particular area. Tertiary sewage would be an item of capital expenditure which would last for generations and which would be appropriate for the sort of capital that we are going to get from the privatisation of Irish Life and Irish Sugar. It is most important that that capital is not made part of current Government spending, as is threatened by the difficulties into which we are now sailing. It is most important that we pigeonhole that money and use it for capital expenditure of a sort which will last a long time. A tertiary sewage treatment plant for Dublin is an appropriate place for this money to be actually spent.

We also need to do a serious study of and make a serious plan for Dublin Bay. It was quite extraordinary, when researching this, to find that so little has been written on the dangers to Dublin Bay, especially on the actual sewage content. There is very little information on the algae. There is very little information available on the actual scientific effects which sewage is having on various areas of Dublin Bay. We know from surveys that have been done that fauna have been driven out of polluted areas. We know that the worst area is between Butt Bridge and Poolbeg. We know that various areas are totally unsuitable for bathing. I am talking about the South Wall. We know that in Blackrock a polluted stream runs in unchecked and we know that we are certainly in breach of the EC water bathing directive in various areas.

We also know that salmonella bacteria was discovered in Dollymount in 1988. We know that the worst sewage is in the [1555] Blackrock to Seapoint area. This is as a result of the untreated sewage discharged to the west pier in Dún Laoghaire. We know all that, but what we do not know is what we can actually do about it. There is a hotch-potch approach of plugging problems when they arise, breaching EC directives from time to time and hoping that we do not breach them in the next year.

There are other concerns about Dublin Bay with which we should also deal. The condition of the shores and of the shoreline waters which are polluted by the accumulation of algae and of sewage solids should be examined. We also need to look at the pollution by the river Tolka and other streams which flow into Dublin Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency could do us a great service by insisting on continuous monitoring of all these particular difficulties in Dublin Bay itself. I do not know how much of its limited budget that would take up, but it would be doing us a great service if it started such monitoring.

Another thing which the Environmental Protection Agency could usefully do is to take over the powers of local authorities where particularly objectionable schemes are proposed. I am thinking in particular of Dún Laoghaire at the moment where plans are afoot for an infill of 70 acres in the West Pier area. Even the suggestion of this is an abomination; it is unnatural. It has not been scientifically investigated. It is a terrible reflection on the sort of society we live in that, for commercial reasons, it can even be contemplated that 70 acres of our most natural asset and of our most beautiful environment should actually be filled in. That scheme is so offensive that the Environmental Protection Agency could certainly do us a great favour by killing it dead at birth. It should not allow, for commercial reasons, plans to destroy one of our most natural assets.

With regard to the west pier in Dún Laoghaire, what is proposed there is the building of 600 houses, supermarkets, car parks and various other commercial facilities to be imposed after 70 acres of [1556] the sea have been filled in. No reason has ever been given for this but discussions are afoot with property developers about it. The only possible reason for this is because the sea is cheap. They will not have to buy land to put housing there. The offence to the environment is so enormous that I think it would be unforgiveable to even contemplate a plan like that. Once again, we would be offending the natural environment by stopping not only all the seafaring activities which go on there including, obviously, swimming, sailing, surf boarding and other activities, but we would also be affecting one of the most wonderful wetlands in Europe where birds migrate in winter. Apparently, that does not seem to matter particularly to Dún Laoghaire Corporation which is, astonishingly, going ahead and discussing this plan with property developers. I do not think for one moment that it should be allowed beyond the first stage. Once plans go beyond the first stage, they have a habit of getting to the next stage and then actually developing a momentum of their own, which enables them — sometimes due to improper pressure on councillors — to go ahead and destroy the environment before it can be stopped.

Water quality should be improved. The environment should be protected, particularly in Dublin; the coastal water quality should certainly be tackled. I have examined Dublin Bay beach by beach and it is all in danger. A lot has been said about blue flags by previous Senators. It is my understanding that we have far fewer blue flags than we had some years ago. The only outstanding water quality award in Dublin was in Shanganagh, County Dublin, and the blue flag has been removed from there.

We should also look at the situation where people own private beaches. It may come as a strange suggestion from me, but it is something that we can no longer tolerate in Ireland. Beaches should no longer be privately owned. There are still private beaches in Dublin Bay. This is a public amenity for which the Environmental Protection Agency [1557] and other agencies must take responsibility. While we cannot confiscate private beaches, the era of private beaches should be over. These beaches should be open to all members of the public.

Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. I welcome the Minister for State to the House and commend her for bringing forward this Bill. The testimony to that is here almost 100 per cent attendance here during what must rank as one of the longest debates in the Seanad. The many contributions from both sides of the House indicate the interest, commitment and concern of all of us in this House. Many of us are members of local authorities and see various problems from time to time at first hand. Others in their work or in connection with their nominating bodies see the problem of the environment which is becoming more obvious to all of us in recent years.

I read an article recently in which it was indicated that there was a time when chimney stacks with smoke bellowing from them was seen as prosperity for an area. For many years that was probably the case. Nowadays, we are more likely to be worried about the question of unemployment and the provision of jobs. We are trying to get cleaner industry, cleaner air, cleaner environment and to protect our natural resources. If we do not get it right in relation to the protection of the environment and if this agency is not set up and working well, if it becomes another body that will attend to matters in a half-hearted manner, it will not be able to take effective decisions.

We will not be able to bring in retrospective legislation in later years to correct these wrongs. The damage will have been done for ever and we will not be able to solve the problems that arise. It is very important that the Minister moves ahead with all possible speed to ensure that the agency is set up as soon as possible. What sort of a timescale does she envisage? This has to be debated in the [1558] Dáil, but when the Bill is put through the Houses and signed by the President, has the Minister plans for getting the agency up and running? Undue delay would be a sign that we are not taking the protection of the environment seriously.

The Minister indicated that a certain amount of money will be provided this year and that something like £8 million will be provided in a full year. It is important that this agency does not have the problems which have bedevilled the Ombudsman's Office, the Garda Complaints Board and An Bord Pleanála. If they are moving, they are going at a funeral pace, very slowly. There have been problems with lack of staff, lack of decision making and, at times, a lack of commitment from the relevant Minister once the body had been set up. I urge the Minister to ensure that she does not set up an agency with obvious drawbacks. The staff must have the expertise, finance and numbers to do what has to be done. The necessary staff, finance and powers must be made available. It is important that the necessary directives and regulations be brought forward without delay.

It will take a while for this agency to get moving and it is important that the groundwork be done and that the local authorities set out the guidelines. At times we have had legislation dealing with derelict sites, unfinished estates and enforcement matters under planning legislation. It can become a war of attrition to get things done. If there is a fault or a problem in an area it should not be necessary for some individual to take a legal action, as happened in the Hanrahan case with Merck, Sharpe and Dohme. I know Senator Doyle had an interest in this case. What would be the position had they not won? They would have had to sell their farm. I hope the agency will be able to take on board some of these cases, particularly where it appears that there is a genuine complaint, and that it will not be left to an individual to put everything — the house and their business — on the line if his rights are being infringed. I ask the Minister to ensure that the agency can take on cases, get itself involved and make sure that [1559] defenceless people in our society are not going to bear the brunt of possible excessive legal costs.

It is also very important, as it is with something like the Ombudsman's Office and other bodies, that an annual report be brought in and debated by both Houses. I know the Minister has a special interest and a special commitment in relation to this area and will not say: “I will set up the agency and off it goes”. She will investigate complaints from the board in relation to directives, regulations or difficulties with local authorities, or difficulties with other Government Departments. There can be nothing worse than seeing various Departments involved and one Department saying it is not their responsibility while another Department says it is not theirs, with the agency in between trying to act as a referee. It is important that a report be drawn up on a periodic basis and that the Minister can act in relation to questions coming from the report.

The question of how we develop this agency in relation to the European dimension is important. We must look at how the environment has been protected elsewhere and, in particular, learn from catastrophes such as Chernobyl or the ongoing problem of Sellafield. I would urge the Minister, with her colleagues, to keep pressing for the closure of Sellafield, because the problems which have arisen in that area, particularly in relation to deaths that have taken place, will continue.

In relation to the appointment of the director general under section 31, is the Minister happy that he will be independent of the Government? It is important that this agency have the power to carry out their functions. It is important that they are not hamstrung by the Government. The agency should be accountable to both Houses of the Oireachtas and be able to receive from both Deputies and Senators, representations regarding a particular area. As in vandalism the case of crime in an area when we write to the Garda Commissioner or the local Superintendent to [1560] carry out an investigation, the agency should be able to respond to Members' queries and complaints and to set investigations in train. If this body is to have teeth, it should not be restricted by lack of finance, a lack of expertise or by interference by Government Ministers or Departments.

This has been one of the furthest-ranging Seanad debates. This shows the interest that all Members have in this subject. We may have some amendments on Committee Stage through our spokesman, Senator Naughten, but having regard to the fact that we had a Bill on the agenda in the Dáil some time ago, I hope the Minister was able to get some of her better ideas from our Bill.

I support the Bill in principle and thank the Minister for acting in relation to it.

Acting Chairman (Professor Conroy): Before I call on the Minister to reply, could I have guidance from the Leader of the House? We were now due to have a sos between 1 and 2 o'clock.

Mr. Wright: If the House is agreeable we will continue until the Minister concludes.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Miss Harney): I thank Senators on all sides of the House for the warm welcome they have given this Bill Certainly, the decision of the Government to initiate the Bill in this House was a wise one, given that there were 37 contributions — in excess of 60 per cent of the membership of this House. It was not just the number of contributions that impressed me but the depth of knowledge Senators showed in the very fine details of this Bill. That certainly indicates very clearly to me that it is taken seriously by the Members of this House. It is the case that environmental protection is now a matter of high priority for the public and for their representatives. Given the warm welcome on the different sides and from different groups in this House, I think it is the case that environmental matters transcend party political differences and [1561] that there is a common interest and concern about our environment and its protection from all the various sectors and Members of this House in particular.

It is important that the Bill in its broadest sense should receive the support of the House and that there will not be a division on Second Stage. Any political difference between us in relation to the fundamentals of this Bill — and I accept there will be differences and amendments on Committee Stage — would lessen the credibility and the impact of the agency. If it is to be successful and if it is to do the job that is required of it, it is extremely important that it is established with the goodwill of as many groups as possible within the country and in particular that it has the goodwill of all the political parties.

Many of the contributions and the suggested amendments are more appropriate on Committee Stage. They deal in the main with various refinements that people would like to see in the Bill. I will certainly be happy to be as open and as receptive to suggestions and changes from the Members of this House as I can. I look forward to studying over the next few days the amendments that may be put down to this Bill. However, there are a number of common themes running through many of the contributions. I am, therefore, going to deal with them, because it is important, particularly in the context of people trying to decide what sort of amendments they might frame.

Most Senators raised issues about the relationship between the agency and the local authorities. They expressed the need — which I agree with — that there must be a very close relationship and they must work together and have a co-operative approach to what they are about. First of all, let me make it clear that the agency is being established to supplement and complement existing bodies, including local authorities. It will not be a substitute for local authorities in the area of environmental protection. The local authorities will still be the principal bodies concerned with protecting the environment through the continuing [1562] operation of environmental legislation. Most licences, particularly on the water pollution side, will continue to be issued by the local authorities and the planning and control system will remain solely the function of the local authorities. That having been said, it is clear that the establishment of the agency will have a direct impact on local authorities by taking over the licensing and control of about 1,000 activities, by the provision of expert advice and assistance and as a result of the agency's general supervisory role in relation to local authorities environmental functions.

In relation to the monitoring of general environmental quality, the agency will have overall responsibility and will be expected to do some monitoring itself. However, it makes good sense that it would avail of the experience and the resources of the local authorities in this matter and I anticipate that most of the monitoring required will continue to be done by them. The control of planning by planning authorities and the integrated licensing system to be operated by the agency will be independent systems and could largely operate separately from each other. The practicalities, however, will dictate a degree of co-operation and, indeed there are specific provisions in some sections which require consultation between them. In addition, the general consultation requirements under sections 77 and 78 will be enforced through regulations, if necessary, in relation to the planning and licensing systems.

A number of Senators, including Senators Norris, Naughten, Honan and Jackman, have referred to the Minister's powers in the Bill to make regulations or orders. I would like to explain to the House that the Bill is a framework Bill, but the general principles and requirements are set out in individual sections together with the power of the Minister to make regulations or orders. This is a standard provision in legislation of this type and is designed to allow the more detailed procedural and other matters to be legislated for separately. This is intended purely as a practical measure. The Bill would become unwieldy if the [1563] alternative approach of including all details in the Bill were adopted. There are numerous examples of this approach in environmental and local government legislation, including the Air Pollution Act, 1987, the Urban Renewal Act, 1986, and the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1964 to 1990. Regulations cannot change the basic principles set out in the primary legislation but they allow detailed procedural and other matters to be changed more readily in the light of developing circumstances than if they were separately provided for in the legislation.

Section 6 provides that all regulations made must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, which may within 21 days annul the regulations. Under section 7 the more significant orders, including those which would amend provisions of the Bill, the composition of the selection committee in section 21 and the First and Second Schedules to the Bill, will require a positive vote of each House of the Oireachtas before they can come into effect.

I would like to deal with concerns over the manner in which the director general and directors are to be selected. Senators Finneran, Norris, Upton and Hederman raised points about the composition of the selection committee and the power of the Minister to change it. Senators Naughten, Neville and Murphy urged that a final decision on the selection should be a matter for the Oireachtas. I can assure Senators that there is nothing sinister in the power to change the committee, which is also in the An Bord Pleanála legislation. For example, there is no guarantee that all the bodies listed in subsection 21 (ii) will continue in existence. Some might, for example, join with and be subsumed into a new body. In any event, any order altering the composition of the selection committee must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not accept that it would be appropriate that the Oireachtas should have a final say in the appointment of the board, as this I believe, would greatly politicise the appointment.

[1564] Contrary to the views expressed by some Senators and certain reported public misconceptions in recent months, the licensing procedures to be operated by the agency make provision for full public participation in the decision making process and recognise the need for oral hearings, which were referred to by Senators Hourigan, Kennedy and O'Donovan among many others. The various stages included in the decision making process for integrated licences are modelled on the procedures involved in applying for planning approval and in appealing decisions to An Bord Pleanála. There should continue to be a relationship between them. The essential difference is that the objections to the proposed licensing decision are made to the agency rather than a separate body.

I realise that some Senators have difficulties with this procedure, but I gave it long and careful consideration. I have consulted widely with many groups in the country and have listened to the views of all sides before deciding to adopt this approach. The proposed arrangements are considered to be the most practical and equitable, given that the range of environmental expertise available to the agency will not be available in any other public authority. This procedure will guarantee full consideration of licensing issues while also ensuring that unnecessary delays are avoided.

Public access to environmental information and the degree of restriction with regard to the confidentiality provision in section 38 were referred to in a number of the contributions, including those of Senators Ryan, O'Keeffe, Raftery and Doyle. I believe the establishment of the agency and the many specific provisions in the Bill requiring it to publish information or otherwise make it available to the public will lead to a major increase both in the quantity and quality of such information. Provision is made in section 107, which Senator Norris had a misunderstanding about, for implementing the European Community directive on access to information. There are at least 18 other sections in the Bill where there is specific provision for publication of [1565] information and, contrary to what was suggested by some speakers, the duty in most cases is mandatory rather than discretionary.

Sections 57 to 59 and sections 62 to 69 are examples of the mandatory provisions. There are other sections where discretionary powers were considered more appropriate, such as the publication of environmental quality objectives, codes of practice and environmental labelling schemes. While overall I consider the duty being imposed on the agency to make information available to the public is clear and unprecedented in its extent, I would be happy to look favourably at any amendments that might come to these sections of the Bill. The greater availability of such information will inform public debate in the future and ensure that facts rather than fantasy are the basis for public discussion on particular development.

There was a lot of discussion about BATNEEC, or best available technology not involving excessive costs. It was raised by Senators Doyle, Naughten, Jackman, Fallon and Kennedy among others. This concept has been developed internationally and is supported by the European Communities and by OECD and is in operation in many other countries. A similar concept, Best Practical Means, is contained in the Air Pollution Act, 1987, and has not given rise to problems or to a bonanza for lawyers, as some Senators suggested. BATNEEC marks an attempt to ensure that standards to be applied in environmental protection take account of improved technology. Were we to lay down rigid guidelines at this stage, as Senators Naughten and Upton suggested, they could date very rapidly because of new advances.

In applying BATNEEC in the context of integrated pollution control, we are in effect balancing not only environmental impacts on various media — air, water and soil — but also the economic consequences of the technologies that are on offer to us. The key point here is that since we in Ireland are importers of industry and, more to the point, importers of technologies, including environmental [1566] technologies, the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities will be influenced by the type of technology widely used and proven in the more developed countries such as Germany, The Netherlands, Japan and the USA. A technology which claims super environmental control but which was only employed in one or two plants in Japan or the US would not be acceptable on the basis of proven performance.

Mrs. Doyle: That does not apply to farmers.

Miss Harney: I will deal with that in a moment. On the other hand, neither would a process that was 20 or 25 years old which was known to be inferior to a newer process operating successfully for five years. It is important to note that BATNEEC is intended to assist the agency when making licensing decisions, but it is only one of six factors or criteria which must be considered. The other criteria generally relate to mandatory standards which must be complied with regardless of whether BATNEEC applies or not and without regard to cost.

Senator Doyle raised the question of the water pollution legislation and in particular, how it applies to farmers and agricultural sources. I believe the application of the principle of best available technology is not appropriate in this area. The requirement here is basically one of adequate storage of effluent in conjunction with good management techniques in regard to slurry spreading times, weather and soil conditions. These factors, combined with the lethal nature of effluent in terms of using up oxygen dissolved in waters, makes it essential that none of this effluent is ever released to water.

Senators McKenna and O'Toole raised the possibility of giving the agency an educational role. A provision was not made in the Bill to do this because of the establishment by the Government in September of last year of the Environmental Information Office in Andrew Street in Dublin. I am pleased to note [1567] that that office has been extremely successful with in excess of 15,000 visitors to the office already and many telephone and written queries. The agency does, however, have specific functions in certain sections of the Bill, including sections 54 and 55 with regard to training courses, conferences, seminars and the like. However, the assignment of a general educational function in the environmental area would be an obvious duplication of the resources and functions of ENFO. I believe there is a need for coordination between what the agency is doing and what AnCO are doing and perhaps on Committee Stage we can look at that again.

Many Senators sought an extension of the agency's function or an assurance that the agency will have an overseeing role in relation to particular problems or issues which cause them concern. Senator Mooney, for example, referred to the environmental problems that result from the planting of conifers and Senator Raftery referred to the need to improve recycling and to look at the problems in disposing of animal waste and so on. Senator Upton referred to wildlife. It was not possible, obviously, to go through the whole list of the items that might from time to time have an impact on the environment, but these functions are not specifically laid our because it would be impossible to cover every function. There are general and wide ranging powers in the Bill for the agency to look at anything that is causing environmental damage, including the power to investigate any incident of environmental pollution, to issue codes of practice, to offer advice, to make recommendations to any member of the Government and so on. These functions adequately cover the concerns Members expressed during the debate. However, as I said during both my Second Stage opening speech and, as I have reiterated here, I am prepared to look very favourably at the amendments that come forward from all sides of this House. I hope the Committee Stage debate will be as informative and as serious as the Second Stage debate.

[1568] I want to thank all sides of the House for the co-operative way they approached this Bill, despite some very lengthy contributions. Everybody approached this Bill in a serious way. There was general goodwill. I would like to thank the House for the embarrassing compliments that were paid to me. While I may have given this Bill some political impetus, I have to pay tribute to the people behind me and to the officials in the Department of the Environment whose work this Bill largely is, and without the commitment they gave to the preparation of this legislation such a major and comprehensive Bill could not have been before us for the past three weeks. I would like to record my appreciation — and many Members of the House also mentioned this — to the people who have been involved on a day to day basis, doing the hard work to produce what I believe is a milestone in terms of environmental protection legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 7 March 1991.

Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.