Dáil Éireann - Volume 306 - 23 May, 1978

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Nuclear Power Station.

7. Mr. D'Arcy asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, if he will instigate a balanced public discussion, on radio and television, regarding the provision of a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point, County Wexford.

8. Mr. D'Arcy asked the Minister [1475] for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will allow a public inquiry into the erection of a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point, County Wexford.

Mr. R. Burke: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together. While it is a matter for RTE and not for me to determine the type and content of the programmes they wish to present to the public I would welcome the type of discussion suggested by the Deputy. For my part, I arranged with the ESB some time ago to resume the public information nuclear programme that they initiated some years ago. As already announced, I propose to publish shortly a discussion document on the energy situation in Ireland which will, I hope, lead to informed public debate on the options which are open to us. In these circumstances, I do not think that a formal public inquiry, of the kind which the Deputy appears to have in mind, would serve any useful purpose.

Mr. D'Arcy: Is the Minister aware that organisations and groups of people are raising their voices in opposition to this project as a result of the lack of information? The latest group of people are the IFA. We have had several branches of the IFA in Wexford expressing opposition and I got the following communication this morning which I presume I am in order in giving to the Minister of State.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may not quote documents at Question Time.

Mr. D'Arcy: May I not read a small paragraph?

An Ceann Comhairle: No.

Mr. D'Arcy: As a result of the lack of information to the general public does the Minister not consider that a public inquiry is essential to inform the people and to stop this type of opposition?

Mr. R. Burke: As I have already said, it is proposed to publish shortly —next month actually—a discussion document on the energy situation in [1476] Ireland which will lead to an informed public debate on the options which are open to us in this matter.

Mr. D'Arcy: That is not a public sworn inquiry.

Mr. R. Burke: That is right. It is not.

Mr. Corish: Will the Minister say who will arrange this?

Mr. R. Burke: There will be an informed public debate I assume in the media and in the other sectors as well on the basis of the information available.

Mr. Corish: The Government are expecting there will be a debate. Will the Minister initiate a debate?

Mr. R. Burke: There will be a national debate.

Mr. B. Desmond: Is there any prospect of a change of heart on the part of the Government towards setting up a commission of inquiry into energy resources generally, including nuclear energy? Is the Minister aware that the board of the ESB have made it perfectly clear that they would be only too willing to attend a commission of inquiry, not necessarily a public hearing, into a particular power plant and to lay all their information before the commission so that public fears and public misunderstanding on the future of energy resources would be fully allayed? This is a minimum democratic requirement.

Mr. R. Burke: As I have already said, it is intended to release this discussion paper on it. It is not for the board to say that they will attend or provide information. If the Government decided on such an inquiry the board would co-operate because they are a semi-State body and would do what they are told.

Mr. Kelly: What has the Minister or the Government to lose by holding a public inquiry?

Mr. R. Burke: The type of reactor it is intended to use at Carnsore Point is in use on hundreds of sites around the world and has caused no problems whatsoever. Because of the history of the situation around the world there [1477] is no reason to have any inquiry held here. It is not a fast reactor like that at Windscale. If it was one of that type I would agree with the Deputy, but it is the normal conventional nuclear reactor in use right around the world.

Mr. Kelly: I agree with the Minister about this. I do not have the misgivings he is talking about, but many perfectly honest and decent people do. What have the Department got to lose by setting up such an inquiry— number one, from the point of view of the safety aspect, about which most people are concerned; and, number two, in order to thrash out in public the question of whether or not we need this enormous investment, or whether there is some cheaper way of satisfying our energy needs?

Mr. R. Burke: A lot of the questions that have been disturbing the public mind through bad information will be sorted out in the discussion document on the energy situation in Ireland generally which will be published next month.

Mr. Kelly: May I tell the Minister what is my prediction about this, that he is going to wind up finding himself in the very same position as the Minister for Fisheries found himself when he was in charge of the Department of Justice, when the whole country was shouting at him and he had to lay on an inquiry into the death of a man in a Cork police station having, first of all, stone-walled for three months? The very same thing will happen to this Minister's Department.

Mr. B. Desmond: May I ask the Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I should like to ask the Minister if I heard him correctly when I think he said the board of the ESB, being a semi-State body, would do what they were told.

Mr. R. Burke: In regard to cooperation on any particular inquiry— that was what I meant.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Did I understand the Minister to say that if an inquiry was [1478] held the ESB, being a semi-State body, would do what they were told, thereby giving the impression that they were puppets in the hands of the Government? I will leave it to the Minister.

Mr. Lenihan: The Deputy is taking it totally out of context.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I will leave it to the Minister; let him get out of his own mess.

Mr. R. Burke: The Deputy is taking it totally out of context; there is no suggestion whatsoever of their being a puppet. The intention I had in mind was that I had no doubt that if the Government decided on a public inquiry the board would then co-operate. It is not for the board to initiate a public inquiry; it is for the Government.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Did the Minister not say that the board would do what they were told if there was a public inquiry? There is a difference in principle involved.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. B. Desmond: Is the Minister aware that the proposed Government discussion paper, which will deal in part with the nuclear power plant proposed, in no way deals with, for example, the disposal of radioactive waste, and makes no proposals therefor? Hence the need for a commission of inquiry.

Mr. R. Burke: Do I take it from what Deputy B. Desmond has just said that he is aware of the contents of the discussion document? I am not aware of its contents and I am Minister of State at the Department?

Mr. B. Desmond: I can assure the Minister that I have attended a number of seminars recently on the energy question, including one that the Minister addressed. I attended one that his own Minister attended and I have from these papers a reasonable indication of what is in the Green Paper.

Mr. R. Burke: I am not familiar with what is in it.

[1479] Mr. Wilson: I heard a man from Deputy D'Arcy's constituency talking about it too.