Dáil Éireann - Volume 340 - 03 March, 1983

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - London Dumping Convention.

13. Mr. Allen: asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he will make a statement on the outcome of the London Dumping Convention which was held earlier this month.

14. Mr. N. Andrews asked the Minister [1775] for Industry and Energy if he will make a statement on the outcome of the London Dumping Conference; and if he will indicate clearly our position on the question of nuclear waste dumping at sea.

15. Mr. Blaney asked the Minister for Industry and Energy whether the Government have any policy in relation to the continued dumping by Britain of nuclear waste material in the Atlantic; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 14 and 15 together. The meeting held in London from 14 to 18 February 1983 was the Seventh Consultative Meeting of Contracting Parties to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972. Fifty-two countries had ratified or acceded to the convention by 1 January 1983, and of these, 32 sent delegations to this meeting. The Irish delegation consisted of a representative from the Department, a representative from the Department of Transport and two representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Four countries which are not contracting parties to the convention sent observers. In addition, observers attended from some United Nations organisations and from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Commission of the European Communities. Non-governmental organisations such as the International Association of Ports and Harbours, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and Greenpeace International, which have been granted observer status were also represented at the meeting.

The items which gave rise to most interest at the meeting were those relating to the dumping of radioactive waste at sea and I will confine my remarks to those items since the other items were mainly of a routine nature.

Proposals were submitted by the delegations of Kiribati and Nauru to amend Annexes I and II of the Convention [1776] which, if adopted, would have the effect of prohibiting the dumping of all types of radioactive waste at sea, immediately, for each country accepting the amendment. The five Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — submitted a draft amendment to the Kiribati-Nauru proposal, the effect of which would be to prohibit the dumping of all types of radioactive waste at sea with effect from 1 January 1990. In the meantime the level of dumping would be restricted and would be subject to very strict controls. The Spanish delegation submitted a draft resolution calling for the suspension of dumping at sea pending the completion of research to ascertain all its implications.

The proposals gave rise to lengthy debates which it would not be practicable to deal with in detail in a reply to a parliamentary question. The Irish delegation stated that they were opposed in principle to the dumping of radioactive waste and indicated their support for the Nordic proposals. Following some informal negotiations it was agreed that the scientific basis for the Kiribati-Nauru proposal should be reviewed by an expert group. The Nordic countries, in these circumstances, withdrew their proposals.

The Spanish delegation then introduced a revised draft resolution which in effect stated that, as the meeting had decided to refer the Kiribati-Nauru proposals to an expert group, all dumping at sea of radioactive materials should be suspended pending the presentation to the contracting parties of the final report of the expert group. This resolution was adopted by 19 countries in favour, six against, with five abstentions. The countries which voted in favour were: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Kiribati, Mexico, Morocco, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden. The countries which voted against were: Japan, Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. The five countries which abstained were: Brazil, France, Republic of Germany, Greece and USSR.

It should be noted that the resolution [1777] does not have binding effect. The purpose of the resolution is to bring pressure on those countries which are at present dumping to discontinue the practice pending the report of the expert group on the scientific implications of the dumping. It is anticipated that the expert group will take about two years to complete their report.

As regards Government policy, it will be clear from the foregoing that the Government are opposed in principle to dumping of radioactive materials at sea and desires an end to this practice as soon as is practicable.

Mr. Allen: I tried to take in as much as I could of the Minister's reply. Has the Minister any guarantee from Britain that they will comply with the Spanish resolution? Also, has he made any objection to Britain and the fact that they have ignored the guidelines of the previous convention in that they continue to dump without proper monitoring and did not investigate the possibility of dumping on land?

Mr. J. Bruton: I regret that I have no such assurance from Britain that they will not carry out such dumping. They are obliged under existing practice to inform us of any plans that they have in this regard. These, of course, will be examined and we will make whatever representations we can, but, as I said, the resolution passed at this convention was not binding.

Mr. Allen: Would the Minister agree that Britain are continuing a very selfish line of action at present and are ignoring the views of this country? Are we compromised in that we cannot decide policies ourselves in relation to toxic dumping and that Britain are taking care of our problems in that respect?

Mr. J. Bruton: That is part of the problem, although toxic dumping relates to a much wider matter than radioactive dumping.

Mr. Blaney: Is Ireland probably the one country at greatest risk as far as this [1778] Atlantic dumping is concerned? Also, is it a fact that dumping of any significance is being carried out solely by Great Britain in contravention of any previous understandings? What are our Government doing about this matter?

Mr. J. Bruton: Britain is one of the countries engaged most extensively in dumping. It must be said that some activities in this country purchase radioactive materials from Britain as part of their normal commercial operation, and return them to Britain when used. Presumably they are dumped then by the British authorities and some jobs are involved in this type of activity. However, we would all wish to eliminate this ocean-based dumping which, as the Deputy has rightly said, poses a special threat to a country like Ireland which is exposed not only by the nature of its location but also by Atlantic currents, to a threat from such activity.

Mr. Haughey: Would the Minister agree that this is such a fundamentally important matter from our point of view, as perhaps the maritime nation most directly affected, that it would be worth our while to have a short Dáil debate here in which we could explore every aspect of this matter because it cannot be dealt with adequately at Question Time——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair agrees.

Mr. Haughey: ——at any length, as indicated by the length of the reply the Minister had to give? I ask the Minister to consider seriously giving us three hours of Government time some day to explore every aspect of this matter. In the meantime I ask him why we voted for an amendment which in effect would mean that no action would be taken about this matter until 1990? Did I get that correctly from the Minister's reply, that we voted in favour of a Nordic amendment which would ensure that dumping would continue?

Mr. J. Bruton: I understand how the [1779] Deputy would not have got the exact nuances of my reply in view of its length. We voted in favour of the Spanish resolution which was proposing that dumping of radioactive materials be suspended pending the presentation to the contracting parties of the final report of the expert group which had been agreed to on the proposal of the two Pacific nations, Kiribati and Nauru.

Mr. Haughey: I took it from the Minister's reply that we had voted for the Nordic amendment.

Mr. J. Bruton: No. I will make one point to the Deputy to explain why all of this discussion goes on. For a resolution to be binding at this convention it must get a two-thirds majority which means that you do not always vote for what would be your ideal. You may find yourself voting for something which is less than ideal in order to get the requisite majority. It is a question of trying to balance the ideal against——

Mr. Haughey: That is a tactic I would never agree to.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is a part of the rules applying to this convention.

Mr. Haughey: We should be very straightforward and definite about this whole matter. This dumping takes place 370 miles off the south-west coast of Ireland. Therefore, we are probably more likely to be directly affected by any fall-out than anybody else would. Was the question of monitoring the existing dumping adverted to in any way at this conference? Would I be correct in suggesting that there is no effective monitoring and that we have no idea of the effect of this dumping on either the sea bed or marine life at present?

Mr. J. Bruton: There is monitoring by the Nuclear Energy Agency and also by our Nuclear Energy Board, the Nuclear Energy Agency being an international body. They are informed of any proposal by member nations to engage in dumping [1780] of radioactive material. In the likely event that there is a proposal on the part of the United Kingdom to dump material in the Atlantic this year, they will be informed, as we will be, and we will have the opportunity of making our views known.

Mr. Allen: In the light of the published scientific evidence which indicates that dumping is a potential hazard to health and since Britain has refused to monitor its operations, will the Minister make approaches to the British Government in the matter?

An Ceann Comhairle: When this supplementary has been answered I will call Deputy Haughey and then Deputy Blaney for final supplementaries.

Mr. J. Bruton: In preparing my recommendations to the Government as to the position they should adopt in this matter, I looked at the scientific evidence which had been adduced by the delegations from Kiribati and Nauru. While it did prove the possibility of escape of the waste concerned, it was rather weak on any quantitive evaluation of how real the danger was. I imagine, although I am not certain, that this matter is now being examined by the expert group which was established when delegates to the conference detected that there was some gap in the technical data adduced by Kiribati and Nauru.

Mr. Haughey: I think we could all agree that this is a matter with which we cannot really get to grips at Question Time. I should like to ask once again about monitoring because I think the Minister misunderstood the nature of my question. Would he agree that it is one thing for these international agencies or our own Nuclear Energy Board to monitor who is dumping, when and where, but that it is a completely different matter to monitor the effects of the dumping? Deputies who are interested in this matter are concerned as to whether there is any effective measuring or monitoring of dumping and its effects on the sea bed, [1781] on the tides and on marine life. Am I correct in thinking that this aspect is not being measured or monitored?

Mr. J. Bruton: That is the type of matter which will be the subject of study by the review group. However, I will ask my Department to prepare a report on the general question raised by the Deputy as to the adequacy of the monitoring arrangements, independent of the work being done by the expert group. It may be rather indefinite in its conclusions due to lack of data but at least I will set the ball rolling.

An Ceann Comhairle: A final supplementary from Deputy Blaney.

Mr. Blaney: I would ask the Minister to include in any investigations the dangers of Windscale. Is it not established and accepted that the sealed containers and concrete encased containers are suspect as regards their long-term life on the sea bed? Is it not also accepted that the currents and tides miles off the south-west coast are such as to bring very grave danger to us if these containers break up, as it is predicted will happen in a relatively short time?

Mr. J. Bruton: Regarding the last part of the Deputy's question, I have already indicated that I agree with his point. Regarding the second part of his question, that matter is being investigated by the expert group and I have indicated to Deputy Haughey that I will be looking for an independent report on the subject from my own Department. As to Windscale, there have been reports in the paper recently about dangers to health arising from an accident which occurred there in 1967. I have requisitioned copies of this report and I will examine them. Since I have not yet received them I could not be drawn into comment.

Mr. N. Andrews: A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle: Before you came into the House, Deputy, we decided to [1782] pass from this question. We have spent 15 minutes on it. Question No. 16.

Mr. N. Andrews: On a point of order, I am not satisfied that the answers have been adequately given or that the Nuclear Energy Board are supplying the necessary information to the Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order. Before the Deputy came into the House, having heard the question from Deputy Allen, I indicated that I would call the Leader of the Opposition and then Deputy Blaney for final supplementaries.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Deputy did not even hear my reply.

Mr. N. Andrews: I heard the reply and——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Andrews is being disorderly and he will resume his seat. Before moving to the next question I would draw the attention of both sides of the House — and this goes for Minister too — to Standing Order 35 (2) which states:

Where a question put down for oral answer is of such a nature as to require a lengthy reply or a reply in the form of a tabular statement, the Ceann Comhairle shall, at the request of the member of the Government to whom the Question is addressed, direct that the answer be furnished in the Official Report of the Debates.

That suggests that Question Time is not suitable for a question that needs a very long reply and I know that both sides of the House appreciate that.

Mr. J. Bruton: I was asked the question and I answered it. It was the subject matter of questions before the conference and it would be inappropriate for me to have answered questions about it before the conference and not answer them after the conference.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please do not [1783] take my intervention as a rebuke. I am pointing out Standing Orders.

Mr. Haughey: On a point of order, I want to find out the exact effect of what you have just said.

An Ceann Comhairle: I only mentioned it for consideration.

Mr. Haughey: That is all right. We have had experience here from time to time of very long replies by Ministers and by the Taoiseach of the day and I do not think any of us object.

An Ceann Comhairle: I drew the attention of the House to Standing Orders as an indication that those who drew up Standing Orders seemed to think that a question which needs a lot of time is not suitable for Question Time. I did so for the consideration of the House. Question No. 16.

Mr. Blaney: Might I ask on this matter——

An Ceann Comhairle: We have left the question.

Mr. Blaney: I am not on the question. I refer to the matter you have raised. I would hope to be helpful by suggesting that we look back over the years when 50 or 60 questions were answered in an hour. This would be very beneficial because a long list of questions going on for months is not satisfactory to anybody.