Dáil Éireann - Volume 375 - 24 November, 1987

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dumping at Sea.

12. Mr. McCartan asked the Minister for the Marine if he will outline the position taken by the Government at the sitting of the Oslo Commission held in Cardiff in June 1987 on the issue of an imposition of a termination date for the dumping of sewage waste and incinerated waste at sea; if he will outline the reasons for this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. P. Gallagher: I presume the Deputy is referring to the dumping of sewage waste at sea and incineration of certain other wastes at sea which are provided for under the Oslo Convention.

The Irish position at the meeting of the Commission of this Convention in Cardiff was that it could not at this stage support proposals for the phasing out of sewage waste dumping at sea or the setting of a [1459] date for the termination of sea incineration for the following reasons:—

(a) These disposal methods are allowed only where they are the only option considered environmentally acceptable and preferable to other disposal methods and where they are the only practical solution available for the material involved.

Permits to dump or incinerate are given only where examination of possible alternatives shows that these are not feasible and dump-sites are monitored to ensure no environmental damage is caused.

(b) They may in many cases be the disposal option of least detriment to man and the environment.

(c) Should they be discontinued there might be an increase in illegal discharges to the marine environment from land based sources and/or the use of disposal methods on land which might lead to additional environmental hazards.

(d) Ireland is lacking in facilities for incineration of certain types of waste on land.

Mr. McCartan: Would the Minister of State agree that the position adopted by his Government makes us the laughing stock of our friends in Europe to whom we have looked to try to close the Sellafield nuclear plant; that while we are looking to the Nordic countries to support us in that proposal, we tell them we cannot support them when they look to us in regard to proposals they are putting forward to end the dumping of incinerated toxic waste and other waste disposal at sea?

Mr. P. Gallagher: I would be very happy if I could inform the House that there should not be any dumping at sea. These methods are allowed because they constitute the only option considered environmentally acceptable and preferable to other disposal methods. What we are endeavouring to achieve there is the lesser of two evils.

[1460] Mr. McCartan: Would the Minister of State confirm that the reason we support the British Government, as the Minister highlighted in his first reply is that we are currently contracting with Britain — we export the toxic and other undesirable waste we cannot dispose of ourselves to England who contract to dispose of it for us — and, for that reason, we are tied to them against the Nordic countries? Is not the kernel of the problem that this Government have no waste disposal or management programme in an endeavour to deal with these toxic wastes.

Mr. P. Gallagher: The ideal position would be to recycle everything. But we have not reached that stage. Indeed I do not think any other country is as yet sufficiently technologically advanced in this respect. Having responsibility within my Department for this matter I will be anxious to have the position reviewed from time to time.

Mr. McCartan: Could the Minister of State inform us of any efforts the Government are undertaking with the people who create these wastes, for those people themselves to research and develop means of their disposal?

Mr. P. Gallagher: We should like to see a position evolve in which disposal of waste in any manner did not take place, with all waste being recycled or put to some productive use. To this end industries are obliged to examine alternative methods of dealing with waste when applications are made to dispose of waste at sea. If there is an alternative we shall ensure that that alternative will be used.

Mrs. Doyle: Can we expect legislation in this area shortly? When this area of responsibility was transferred to the new Department of the Marine from the Department of the Environment am I correct in thinking that there had been draft proposals or heads of a Bill in relation to legislation in this area gathering dust for some time? Indeed, it is a indictment of all of us over the past ten [1461] to 20 years that we have not tackled this problem by way of the proper procedures. Can we take it from what the Minister says now that we can expect legislation to copperfasten our country's policy in this most important area shortly and if so when?

Mr. P. Gallagher: The legislation to which the Deputy refers may well be that which was promised in relation to oil pollution at sea——

Mrs. Doyle: No, it is not.

Mr. P. Gallagher: ——which has passed through the Seanad and comes before the House this afternoon.

Mr. McCartan: The Minister of State should try again.

Mrs. Doyle: No, I am talking of waste disposal management legislation.

Mr. P. Gallagher: The position in relation to this matter — which I might add we are all treating very seriously — will be reviewed from time to time. If legislation is felt to be necessary it will be introduced. To the best of my knowledge no legislation was promised at that time. However, I stand to be contradicted and will come back to the Deputy in relation to this matter. While I have the opportunity I should say that all options must be examined before we would even consider issuing a licence for dumping waste anywhere, other than recycling and being used for productive purposes.

Mr. McCartan: In view of the position the Irish Government are taking with regard to an inspectorate from the EC in relation to Sellafield would the Minister of State say whether our Government carry out any inspections or monitoring of the disposal of our toxic waste by British companies when such is undertaken? Do we play an active role in the standard applied or in the areas in which this work is undertaken?

[1462] Mr. P. Gallagher: The answer is: I would not think so. But if we are afforded such an opportunity I should like to so ensure.

Mr. McCartan: We should inspect all of these matters.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 13 has been disposed of.