Dáil Éireann - Volume 394 - 07 December, 1989

Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill, 1989 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Gilmore: Last night the Minister of State denied that the Government had made a deal with the IFA to weaken the Water Pollution Bill. However, I have evidence that a deal has been made as I have a copy of a circular issued by the IFA to their members which lists six areas in which the Government have agreed to dilute the Bill.

In her speech last night the Minister confirmed that on Committee Stage she will be introducing amendments in conformity with this deal. She would have us [673] believe that the amendments are innocuous procedural matters. On the critical “good defence” provision, which was the big loophole in the 1977 Act, through which polluters escaped prosecution in their hundreds, the Minister said she would be expanding it to “include a requirement to provide, use and maintain suitable facilities to prevent pollution”. Using virtually the same terminology the IFA circular says: “we have been successful in getting the term `could not have been reasonably foreseen' changed to `took all reasonable care by providing, maintaining and supervising facilities suitable, having regard to all the circumstances for preventing pollution'.”

If the IFA version is correct then the new Bill will be less effective than the 1977 Act which allowed 35,000 fish to die in our rivers last year. The Minister's statement last night confirms the concessions which have been secured by the IFA regarding liability and the making of by-laws. Under the original Bill a local authority would have the power to make by-laws prohibiting or regulating agricultural activities in specified areas but this can now be appealed to the Minister. He can simply sit on the appeal just as he did on the proposed Liffey Valley area amenity order which was submitted to him over two years ago, and which has still not been approved. The by-laws will then not come into effect.

This new concession will give farmers the same means of frustrating the Water Pollution Act as the coal industry have of frustrating the Air Pollution Act. Just as Dublin is still choking in smog two years after the passing of the Air Pollution Act, next summer our river banks will be stocked with dead fish even if the present Bill is passed. The IFA have also claimed to have got concessions on what is known as split sampling. The Minister has informed the IFA that he proposes to make regulations under the 1977 Act requiring local authorities to provide a sample of effluent and waters to the owners of the premises or lands concerned, where possible, subject to their ability to locate the individual concerned.

Provision will be made also to afford [674] the owner of the premises or land an opportunity to be present when the samples are taken. My information is that local authority staff are horrified at this proposal. This will provide farmers and their legal representatives with a golden opportunity to challenge every single prosecution on the grounds either that sufficient effort was not made to locate the individual in order that he be present when the sample was taken or, at its worst, will provide unscrupulous people with the temptation to doctor the sample handed them by the local authority. It implies that local authorities and their staff cannot be trusted to take a fair sample, to carefully deliver that sample, sealed, to a competent analytical laboratory and give evidence in court on the results of a sample taken from a known site. We will be tabling an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure that the Minister will not be in a position to make regulations under the 1977 Act providing for split samples.

The Government caved in to the demands of the IFA with regard to this Bill. Just as significant, so also have the Fine Gael Party. It is highly significant that the Fine Gael position on this Bill was expressed here last evening not by their environment spokesperson, Deputy Shatter, but by Deputy Lowry who articulated the IFA position chapter and verse. Where was Deputy Shatter last evening? Does Fine Gael's verbal concern for the environment stop at the farmyard gate? Deputy Shatter has been very good in recent days in calling on the Minister to resign. It would appear he has been less successful in persuading his rural colleagues that we need an effective Water Pollution Bill and that the law will have to apply to farmers just as it does to everybody else.

From what we heard in this House last evening I am not optimistic about the Bill before us. Both the Government and Fine Gael seem intent on leaving us with a feeble, ineffective new Water Pollution Bill. While the public are being told that tough new laws are to be introduced — and the Minister herself said so during [675] the summer — Government and Fine Gael Deputies are in here punching holes in the Bill so that it will end up just as limp as the Air Pollution Act which failed so miserably to deal with smog.

On Committee Stage, The Workers' Party will be tabling amendments to ensure that its provisions are tightened up. We will resist every attempt, whether on the part of the Government or Fine Gael, to introduce amendments which would give effect to demands made in the earlier part of this year by the IFA to have this Bill weakened significantly. There is no point in this House spending a long time debating the serious problem of water pollution, nor in Ministers making statements and issuing press releases on their concern about the effects of water pollution if we end up — just as we have on the issue of air pollution — with a Bill which is patently ineffective, whose provisions have been surrendered to a particular vested interest.

Mr. Dempsey: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I have been very disappointed so far by Opposition speakers' contributions. Deputy Gilmore, who I presume is The Workers' Party spokesperson on the Environment, demonstrated an amazing lack of knowledge of its provisions last evening. I was glad to note that, before speaking this morning, he had engaged in some preparation and had received some additional information. Last evening he demonstrated that he was totally unaware of its provisions and of amendments announced as far back as March last, repeated in the House by the Minister of State last evening. I would have assumed that a spokesperson of a political party would have been well aware of them. Deputy Gilmore appeared to engage in the classic exercise of substituting his lack of knowledge of the provisions of the Bill with the usual kind of diatribe we have come to expect from The Workers' Party against Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and anybody else he could include. His type of speech is fairly standard from The Workers' Party Members, [676] I regret to say, merely adapted on this occasion to include the IFA and farmers.

In the course of his contribution he engaged in The Workers' Party usual line of argument, that is proposing the easy solution to every problem, which is to throw money at it——

Mr. Gilmore: I was not throwing money at it. There is the very important matter of £140 million of EC money. Deputy Dempsey is throwing money at it.

Mr. Dempsey: That is what Deputy Gilmore was proposing, in that the general tenor of his remarks were to the effect that every problem can be solved simply by throwing money at it.

Mr. Gilmore: The Deputy's Government are getting £140 million of EC money.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Gilmore, if I recollect properly, was able to make his speech without interruption. The Deputy in possession now must be given the same courtesy.

Mr. Dempsey: That is the solution being proposed by The Workers' Party — increase local authority personnel, increase the money being thrown at the problem in the hope that, in the end, it will disappear. As usual The Workers' Party do not suggest where the requisite money can be got for such luxuries.

For the information of the Deputy, at present there are 62 engineers, 70 technicians, 15 chemists and 16 specialist technicians involved in the control of pollution in local authorities around the country. I would not have thought that would qualify as neglect of pollution control on the part of the Government or local authorities.

Deputy Gilmore spoke at length about the fact that consultation had taken place, with meetings between the IFA and all the political parties. I thought The Workers' Party were very much in favour of consultation, of meeting people, in an endeavour to reach the best possible [677] solution to any given problem. That is exactly what took place in this case. There is nothing wrong with consultation.

Deputy Gilmore referred to split samples. I was amazed when the IFA sought a change in this provision in the law. The amendment agreed by the Minister actually strengthens the law in that heretofore, in the case of a sampling, a farmer could always deny — and probably would be believed in court — that the sample produced by an official was that taken from his river or the area polluted. If the sample is split, as is proposed in the amendment, I contend that will strengthen the law in that a farmer cannot then deny that the polluting matter was taken from his river or from the area in question.

I would agree with Deputy Gilmore vis-à-vis the Fine Gael opening contribution which bore a remarkable similarity to the IFA document issued around the time the Bill was first circulated and appeared on the Order Paper in March-April last. All of the then changes advocated by the IFA were advocated in the House here last evening by Deputy Lowry. I have no problem at all with some of the IFA suggested changes because they appear to be very reasonable. However, we would be going to extremes were we to accept all of them. I would agree with Deputy Gilmore that what would happen if all of the IFA amendments were accepted would be that we simply render the Bill meaningless and we would be wasting our time debating the matter. As Deputy Gilmore said, it would amount to a recapitulation.

I would like to start by saying that, coming from a farming county, I totally reject the claim that this Bill discriminates against farmers. The simple fact is that since the passing of the 1977 Act, the one that this Bill proposes to amend and strengthen, circumstances have changed substantially. Farming has become much more intensive and the only way to cope with the changing farming practices of the past 12 years is by passing a Bill such as this or by putting all types of agricultural development under the jurisdiction of the planning [678] laws. The latter certainly would be a less desirable way of dealing with the problems that have arisen.

Deputy Lowry made an amazing statement in relation to the local authorities acting as bounty hunters. He gave the impression that local authorities would go mad with the prospect of the fact that they could bring charges against farmers and other people, bring them to court and have the fines paid directly to them. I think he actually used the words that “local authorities would go mad bringing farmers to court” but I reject that. Local authorities have more to do with their time and their money than going mad bringing people to court. The fisheries boards already have the power that is proposed in this Bill and they have not gone mad. They could benefit substantially, and they would probably have a greater interest in benefiting from such a provision. That argument, which has been used by the IFA, is not a valid one. The precedent for this section in the Bill is in the planning laws. Local authorities receive the money from planning fines when they bring people to court.

Having said that, there is no doubt that the proposed legislation before us, which has passed through the Seanad, considerably strengthens the legislation on water pollution. It strengthens the hands of the Minister, local authorities, fisheries boards and even private individuals in tackling the problem of pollution. It certainly strengthens considerably the Water Pollution Act, 1977, mainly by clarifying a number of sections of that Act which, in practice, were found to be inadequate. I refer particularly in this regard to provisions relating to High Court orders and section 12 notices. The 1977 Act is further strengthened by the increased penalties and sanctions which are included in the Bill.

Apart from strengthening the 1977 Act, the Bill is also to be welcomed for its attempt to tackle pollution with certain new measures and controls. The most notable of these is section 21 which allows a local authority to introduce by-laws to restrict the type of agricultural [679] activity that may be carried on in a particular area. Secondly, the new powers to review licences during the course of their lifetime is also very useful, as is section 22 of the Bill. In summary, the legislation can be said to be attempting to tackle the problem of pollution, firstly, by increasing the power of those whose responsibility it is to prevent and tackle pollution; secondly, by spelling out clearly to all potential polluters that any pollution they cause could result in severe financial penalties by way of fines and court actions and, thirdly, by the introduction of new powers and controls to prevent pollution.

It has been said on more than one occasion that the basic philosophy behind this Bill is summed up in the phrase “let the polluter pay”. I have no great difficulty with that philosophy and I venture to suggest that there are very few people in this House who would have difficulty with it. It is a very catchy phrase and in some senses it could be said to have captured the mood of the people when it first came into vogue after the awful series of pollution incidents during the summer of 1987 as fish kill after fish kill was reported. However, that is a very simple philosophy and it seems to be a very simple solution at first glance, but I wonder is it really as simple as it looks. We must avoid a situation arising in the legislation whereby we would create another goldmine for our legal people. If we do not get the balance right we could end up with everybody paying huge sums in legal fees in addition to, or perhaps even instead of, the actual polluter paying.

There will be little difficulty in using the philosophy as a yardstick in cases where someone is caught red-handed in the act of pollution — there were a number of incidents in 1987 where you could say that people were caught red-handed — to deal fairly severely with these people in the courts. For example, if a person has a pipe carrying effluent into a river or lake, everyone will agree that that person is a polluter and should pay for his crime. If a factory disposes of [680] effluent into a river or if you see somebody dumping slurry into a river, as happened in the midlands in 1987, there will be no problem as regards defining those people as polluters but in other cases it may be somewhat more difficult to define a polluter and a prosecution could be well-nigh impossible.

Some years ago farmers, including many in my constituency, decided to expand and improve the facilities on their farms. They provided slated sheds, silage pits and various other improvements under the farm improvement schemes. To qualify for the grants at that time most of these people had to receive planning permission and the work was carried out in many cases under the supervision and inspection of ACOT officers. In other words, the work was done under the guidance and direction of officers of a State body, following the specifications laid down by the Department and by ACOT, as they were called at that time. Four or five years later those works caused pollution. Who is responsible for that pollution? Is it the farmer who relied on the expert advice at the time, who complied with all the planning conditions and did the work according to Department specifications? Is it the ACOT officer or the departmental official who passed the work as satisfactory or is it an act of God?

In the south-east part of County Meath, with which Deputy Bruton will be familiar, there was a huge growth in population during the seventies and early eighties and a huge number of planning permissions were granted for once-off houses in rural areas, mostly on appeal to the Minister. This is an area of the county which is not noted for its permeability and there is growing evidence of an increase in the number of wells being contaminated from septic tanks associated with such development. Who will pay for the pollution in this case? Will it be the last person to receive a planning permission, the first person to receive it, all the people in the area or maybe even the Minister responsible for granting the permissions at that time? There are many other cases where it [681] would be just as difficult to implement this philosophy with court action. Again, I say that the philosophy is excellent in theory but I am sure it will create certain legal difficulties and the end result will be that pollution will pay the legal profession very well.

As a Deputy from a rural constitutency, I am very much aware of the concern being expressed by the farming community about the policy of making the polluter pay. These fears are being expressed by farmers not because they believe they should be allowed to pollute with impunity but because they fear that any farmer who, through no fault of his own, causes pollution could find himself faced with a huge fine and further court action to make good any losses suffered by a third party. If one takes into account the size of the fines proposed in the Bill, that a polluter can be forced to make good the damage he has caused and that he may face further bills to remedy the faults which caused the pollution in the first place I think it is fair to say that none but the very wealthy will be able to survive.

Looked at in this light, the Minister and Members of this House will understand farmers concerns. I would ask the Minister to clarify the provisions in the Bill in this regard so as to allay what I know are unfounded fears. In her reply to the debate the Minister could go a long way to allaying the fears among farmers and other sectors of the community if she makes it clear that it is not her intention nor the intent of the Bill that people who inadvertently or accidentially cause pollution will in effect be deprived of their livelihood.

Serious concern has also been expressed about the implications of section 7 which replaces section 10 of the 1977 Act. This provision will allow any person a right to seek a court order directing the person responsible for causing water pollution to mitigate or remedy any effects of the pollution in the manner directed by the court. In addition, and perhaps much more seriously, the court may also order the polluter to pay the [682] costs incurred by the applicant in investigating, mitigating or remedying the effects of the pollution.

The first point of concern regarding this section is that it appears to confer on every Tom, Dick and Harry the right to take a court action against anybody they think is causing pollution. It appears from the Bill that action can be taken at any time by an individual irrespective of whether the alleged polluter has been convicted in court of such an offence. Of course, the legal position is not as simple as that and I have been informed that only the person directly affected by the actions of another can take legal action against that person, that is, the injured party. In addition, I have no objection to a person having to compensate an individual or a group for the pollution he has caused after he has been convicted of the offence but I have grave doubts about retaining section 7 as it currently stands. It appears that under the section a person can be taken to court in a civil action which could be very costly to defend while that person might, in fact, be innocent. I would like the Minister to clarify this point.

I believe that in counties such as Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, which suffer from an overspill of population from the city, a huge spate of court actions will be taken by former city dwellers now living in the country and who object to normal agricultural activities in rural areas. Already in County Meath the massive development which I mentioned earlier has led to conflict between farmers and people who have moved out of the city to live in the country. Disputes have arisen about smells emanating from farmyards, there have been objections to slurry spreading on the land and protracted planning disputes where former urban dwellers have objected to planning applications for farm buildings, silage pits and so on. I fear this section will lead to a virtual civil war in rural areas. Every crank in the countryside will be in a position to haul his neighbour into court almost at the drop of a hat. Apart from anything else. I think from a practical point of view it could lead to a build-up [683] of vexatious cases in our already creaking legal system.

I strongly urge the Minister to reconsider this section and to continue the present system whereby the fishery boards and the local authorities are the only two bodies which can take action under the Water Pollution Acts. There are some who would advocate that only local authorities should have this right, but in the case where a local authority are not doing their duty for one reason or another, it is important that there should be another body to do that work. In addition, it has been pointed out that a local authority may be a polluter and it is important that somebody can take them to task for pollution. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify the position because this section has caused great concern among the farming community.

As I stated previously, when this Bill is enacted it will greatly increase and strengthen the powers which exist under the Water Pollution Act, 1977. Subject to the reservations I have stated, I agree that the general thrust of the Bill is correct and underlines the fact that neither this Government nor the Minister will tolerate anything less than the highest standards of pollution control. However, I have to say even with the best will in the world and the best legislation pollution will not be controlled or eliminated simply by passing the legislation. Legislation was in place in 1987 — perhaps it was faulty but it was there — but it did not stop pollution. Many of the fish kills and pollution accidents which took place in 1987 occurred because of a particular set of circumstances which included good weather prior to silage harvesting and very heavy rain during the summer months. Another factor was that advisers did not allow for sufficient expansion in farming activities when advising farmers about the provision of slatted sheds and silage and slurry pits early in the eighties.

Technically, the three major causes of pollution from agricultural holdings are (1) the failure to intercept waste at the point of generation; (2) losses of waste [684] from the storage area due to insufficient capacity and (3) excessive run-offs from the land in which waste is spread. In other words, in most cases a lack of expertise caused pollution rather than any malicious intent. We must keep this in mind while we are discussing this Bill so that we can keep a sense of balance.

Apart from having legislation in place, basically what we need to do is change the attitudes of a tiny percentage of the population who have no regard for their environment and to help the vast majority of the population who are basically well-disposed towards keeping a clean environment but who may lack the expertise in ensuring they do not do anything to spoil the environment. Changing the attitudes of people is by far the most difficult task to tackle. The problem is getting this minority of people to acknowledge that our environment is very important and it must be preserved, not just for the present generation but for future generations. Of course, there are those who believe that our environment and natural resources are there to be exploited without any reference to future generations. The attitude of these people is to get as much as possible as quickly as possible. These people have no commitment to the environment or to future generations. As I have said, for them it is a question of how much they can get and how fast they can get it. Fortunately, these people are in a minority and very few of them are in the farming community. This attitude tends to be found more so among those involved in industry and manufacturing but again I have to say that, thankfully, they are a minority in those areas also. The only way to change this type of attitude is to hit these people where it hurts, that is in their pockets. The Bill will go a long way towards doing that with the proposed massive increases in fines. However, fines alone will not change attitudes if a person does not think there is some chance he will be detected and punished. We can have all the legislation we like on the Statute Book, but if a [685] person thinks the chances of that legislation being implemented are slim then the law will have little or no effect.

In this regard, enforcement and increased vigilance by local authorities and fisheries boards will be most important. The vigilance of the general public would be most helpful. I suggest that a scheme be adopted under which an officer of a local authority would be designated a pollution officer who would encourage the public to report cases of alleged pollution. That would be a great help.

I have made my views known on the question of allowing people to take out court orders against polluters. The move I have suggested would be a reasonable compromise. It is vitally important to start the process of changing people's attitudes to pollution at an early age. Indeed, instead of trying to change attitudes we should be trying to form them in children at an early age. In primary schools efforts are being made through environmental study classes to give children a sense of pride in their local environment. However, much more could be done. Secondary schools pay little or no attention to this matter and that is a great pity. I hope that the new junior certificate will provide for a continuation of the environmental studies programme and that civics classes will be used to encourage young people to protect the environment.

I have some experience of the benefits that accrue when attitudes are changed in regard to the environment. The town of Trim has won the national tidy towns award on three occasions, the only town of its size to have achieved that distinction, and one of the reasons the town won those awards was the absence of litter in it. Visitors to the town have often commented on the absence of litter and the civic pride that exists in the town. The local council can take their share of credit for this but the major share of the credit must go to the local tidy towns committee who over the years successfully instilled a sense of community pride in the people of the town. At primary school level young people were [686] made aware of their local environment and the importance of keeping it clean. The campaign of that organisation over the years has proved very successful. I did not mention those details simply because I wanted to boost Trim but to emphasise how important it is to form attitudes in young people. Too often we adopt the attitude that it is not possible to change Irish people, that we will be always that way and that everything will be all right at some stage.

More than ever the attitude that everything will be all right at some stage or that we should leave things as they are must be changed. We should not accept anything but the highest standard from everybody. There is evidence that the farming community accept this and the notion that the farmer is the guardian of the countryside. In a survey completed at the end of 1988 the notion of farmers being the guardians of the countryside was overwhelmingly supported by the farming community. In fact, only 18 per cent did not agree with the notion that they are and should be the guardians of the countryside. I cannot over emphasise the importance of education in the context of prevention of pollution. It is vitally important to note that the drop in pollution and reported fish kills in 1988 was a result of a programme of education which was pursued by Teagasc and the IFA in 1987. The major focus of attention at that time was to educate the farming community who showed their concern about the problem. More than 300 seminars attracted in excess of 20,000 farmers and a further 30,000 farmers attended events at which pollution control exhibits or demonstrations were staged. In addition, almost 12,000 farms were visited and 45 per cent of them were found to be in the medium to high risk categories so far as pollution was concerned.

Although approximately 5,000 of the farms visited were in the high risk area very few prosecutions were instituted. That was not because of any negligence on the part of the local authorities or the fisheries boards but because the advice and assistance given by the experts was [687] followed by the farmers. That is a clear indication of the reasonable attitude that would be adopted by farmers if the proper approach was made to them. Farmers have shown that they are as concerned as everybody else about the dangers of pollution.

The effects of the positive educational programme embarked on in 1987 can be seen in the reduction in the number of pollution incidents reported in 1988. It is an indication that a positive approach to the problem, and the provision of advice, can be just as effective, if not more so, as huge penalties.

I should like to refer to section 21 which permits local authorities to introduce by-laws to restrict certain agricultural activities. I have no doubt that that will prove to be one of the most difficult provisions to implement. It is designed to do no more than enable local authorities to take action in regard to farm pollution and it is similar to the action it can take in relation to other forms of pollution. It would be helpful if the Minister of State would spell out more clearly the circumstances in which she would envisage that provision being used. It is my view that it was included to deal with the more severe cases of pollution. We are all aware of the damage done to Lough Sheelin which has been badly polluted over the years. I can see this provision being used to deal with that problem but I do not envisage it being used very widely. Before the provision is implemented the Minister should give some consideration to the preparation of management agreements which are currently in vogue in other EC countries, particularly the UK. I am referring to voluntary agreements between a public body, like a local authority, and farmers to manage lands in a certain way for environmental reasons and usually for a financial consideration. There is evidence that such agreements would find acceptance among the farming community.

The Bill is not designed to get at farmers and I say that as a Member who represents a farming community. It is intended to deal with water pollution [688] from all sources. There is an emphasis in it on the farming community simply because they were not adequately covered in the 1977 Act. The final point I would like to make is that it is more in the interests of farmers to maintain our clean green image if we are to continue to develop our agri-food sector. In the long run it will be the farmers who will benefit most from a clean environment and from producing food in a clear pollution free environment.

Mr. Shatter: For some time the Fine Gael Party have recognised the need to update our water pollution legislation to ensure that we have a modern legal framework to prevent water pollution and to ensure that our natural resources are protected in the interests of the entire community. The massive number of fish kills in the summer of 1987 clearly emphasised the need for a change in our laws. Unfortunately, this Bill was not published until January of this year. What is more unfortunate is that this Bill has made very limited progress. We are only taking the Second Stage of the Bill in the Dáil this week because the Bill, when originally published, contained a number of serious defects. In effect this resulted in the measure going on political ice for some six months while the senior Minister in the Department of the Environment, Deputy Flynn, sorted out the problems he created for himself.

If this Bill had been properly drafted it should have been passed into law prior to the last general election. The person who has to bear the full blame for the fact that the required legislation did not so pass into law is Deputy Flynn, the Minister for the Environment. It is because of the decisions taken by him, which I will refer to in a few moments, that we have a defective measure before us. In fact we had the unprecedented step — I have not seen this happen before in the Dáil — when the Minister of State at the end of her speech in moving the Bill had to recite the various amendments she intends to move to the Bill on Committee Stage.

I do not want to be ungenerous in [689] making that reference. I merely wish to illustrate that it is now accepted on all sides that the Bill as originally published is defective. Nevertheless I welcome the fact that the Minister of State indicated in her speech that certain amendments are to be put forward by the Government on Committee Stage. I welcome it particularly because out of our concern to get this measure back on track and through the legislative process we took the unprecedented step in the spring of last year of publishing a Bill, not simply a critique of a Bill which is a very easy thing for an Opposition party to do. We are all aware that the job of Opposition parties is to pour scorn on the Government even when they get it right. I never believed in that type of Opposition and I have never engaged in it. I do believe that when things are got wrong there is a duty on an Opposition party to indicate how things can be got back on track. We took the unprecedented step of having discussions with a wide variety of groups on the provisions contained in the original Bill and in drafting amendments which we circulated at that time to indicate how the Bill should be changed to ensure that, first, it would be effective and, second, wrongful convictions could not be obtained under it.

It is very important, and Deputy Harney, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, and I will be in agreement with this, that we put into real practice the principle that the polluter pays and that this has a meaningful legislative base. It is equally important that we do not put into practice a system whereby someone who is not responsible for causing pollution ends up being held liable for it through our court system. I welcome the fact that it appears that many of the amendments which Fine Gael put forward are going to be taken on board. Of course we await the detail of the Minister's proposals on Committee Stage.

In her speech the Minister made reference to the fact that 1988 was a better year, in the context of river and lake pollution, then 1987. That is true but this year has been a disaster and I do not [690] think we should minimise the extent of that disaster. It derives directly from Government policy in two areas. In the first nine months of this year 108 fish kills were reported, almost the entire amount of fish kills in the disastrous year of 1987. According to the Department of the Marine — the Government's own figure — 35,000 fish have died in our rivers and lakes as a result of pollution. Those fish did not die because people had been fishing vigorously, they died as a result of pollution. This is a very illustrative example of how the Government's rhetoric of environmental concern is sadly lacking in substance.

We must ensure that this type of gigantic disaster, in the context of fish kills in our rivers and lakes, a disaster experienced across the length and breadth of this country but which did not receive the same attention that the fish kills of 1987 received, does not recur in 1990. Let this be the last year when we experience this problem. While it may be true that some of our environmental problems, even in the context of river and lake pollution, are not as great as those experienced by some of our European Community neighbours our problems have increased in recent years. For a country dependent on its tourism industry, that sells itself as an environmentally clean country, a country to which people are welcome to come to do some fishing, a country which sells a clean food image and where the agri-business forms a very important part of the economy and employment creation opportunities, it is essential that the image of a green, clean Ireland is a reality and not just a public relations exercise. If it becomes merely a public relations exercise it will not be too long before people outside this country cop-on to the falsity of our approach.

The level of fish kills this year must never again be repeated. I get worried when I see the Minister for the Environment as he did in the debate on the Estimates last week giving himself a pat on the back for his environmental concern. When we examine the problems caused by pollution — in this Bill we are concerned with water pollution — such [691] as those caused by the smog problem in Dublin and by other types of pollution and if we consider the Government's failure to tackle these problems, I am afraid that the pat on the back is merely a self serving piece of political public relations. I hope this Bill and the approach the Government may take in the future will ensure that next year there will not be a repetition of the problems we have experienced during the course of this year.

In what way has Government policy contributed to our problems? First, there was lethargy in producing this legislation which is so badly needed and, secondly, when it was published initially it was seriously defective. The Government failed to extend the farm grants scheme to the agricultural sector nationwide as requested in order to enable farmers who wanted to tackle the pollution problem to have the financial wherewithal to tackle it. The smaller farmers particularly did not have the money to put into place new farm practices which they were anxious to adopt so as to deal with the possible causes of pollution deriving from their farms.

Last spring Deputy Avril Doyle who was Fine Gael spokesperson on the Environment, and I called on the Government to take the financial initiative, but they did not take it until it was too late to impact on the problems we had this summer. That was a singular failure.

There is an omission in the speech made by the Minister of State introducing this Bill. The Minister of State said she did not wish to deal in detail with the sections but that we would deal with them on Committee Stage in the normal way. It is quite usual on Second Stage for a Minister to give a general overview of what is in each section. It is curious that that was not done, but there is a reason and it is that the Government did not want to highlight the fact that under this legislation they are abolishing the Water Pollution Advisory Council that was established under the Water Pollution Act, 1977. The Government never gave [692] any explanation when this Bill was published by a Fianna Fáil minority Government nor have the Coalition given any explanation yet as to why they are abolishing that council. We know why Fianna Fáil wanted to abolish it. They wanted to abolish it at the beginning of this year because they did not like independent bodies which would make critical comment on environmental issues. That was the Government that had abolished An Foras Forbartha. That was the Government that got members of the environmental research unit to sign the necessary letter or form under the Official Secrets Acts not to make public comment of an independent nature as employees of An Foras Forbartha had done in the past. The Water Pollution Advisory Council produced excellent annual reports detailing the work they had undertaken and the problems in the area of water pollution. They had never been shy when it came to criticising the Government of the day — no matter what political persuasion — for failing to tackle pollution problems. Because of that the Water Pollution Advisory Council were seen by Fianna Fáil as a threat. The previous Government knew that if that council remained in being, they would be subject to independent criticism from a body they could not control and whose comment might politically expose some of the environmental rhetoric.

This Bill formally abolishes the Water Pollution Advisory Council. Someone might ask if they are only being abolished now why they have not been making independent comments since 1987 about the Government's environmental approach to water pollution issues. What is not generally known is that members of the Water Pollution Advisory Council, which represented a cross-section of bodies which had an interest in water pollution, were not re-appointed at the end of 1986 although section 2 of the 1977 Act required the establishment of the council and provided for the appointment of persons to that council. The membership of the council ran out at the end of 1986, and when there was a change of Government in 1987 the Fianna Fáil Government did not appoint anyone to the council. [693] Although, in theory, they continued to exist in law, the reality is that the council ceased to have a membership when the Fianna Fáil minority Government came into office in 1987. The Minister by sleight of hand failed to comply with this statutory obligation, and did not appoint anybody to the independent body established under the Water Pollution Act, 1977, to ensure that an overview was taken of local government and departmental policy and of the action taken by the various sectors in the economy, be it the industrial or agricultural sectors, in the area of water pollution.

Where is the environmental concern when compared with the quality of the Minister's action, or inaction? A Minister who is genuinely concerned about the problems of water pollution would surely have appointed members to the independent Water Pollution Advisory Council. The Minister might even have considered that bringing this Bill into this House was such a political embarrassment that to talk about the commitment to tackle the problems of water pollution without having appointed members to the council might have led to a rush to do something. If the previous Government did not do it, why did not the new Coalition in July 1989 appoint members to the council? Here was a Government that since July had been heavy on the rhetoric but weak on the action. It is a bit like the advert we watch on the television — heavy on the mayonnaise. Sometimes we confuse rhetoric with action taken. The good old press release comes from the Government Information Services promising to do this and that, and far too often the media are confused into thinking that meaningful action is being taken.

The promise to do something is far too frequently confused with action. There is a difference between promising something and actually doing it. Here is a classic example. Here we have a Minister who for 12 months, got away with expressing concern about water pollution, yet not a single report mentioned that the Water Pollution Advisory Council had ceased to exist despite Members [694] on this side of the House trying to draw public attention to that fact and, by Dáil question, trying to force the Minister to make the necessary appointments.

When responding to this debate I would ask Minister Harney to explain why the Water Pollution Advisory Council is now being abolished and if she is aware that when this Bill was published industry and farming organisations said they wanted the Water Pollution Advisory Council kept in place and made effective and wanted people appointed to it. The Minister of State, Deputy Harney, or her senior colleague may reply that an environment protection agency has been promised. There is a difference between promising something and producing legislation.

We on this side of the House published legislation to establish an environment protection agency some three weeks ago and were derided by the Government. We were told that this agency did not have teeth. It had teeth all right; it was an agency that, in the context of serious pollution could institute criminal proceedings. For example, if an industry caused a major chemical pollution incident the company concerned could have been fined £1 million and jail sentences of up to five years could have been imposed. We were told that this agency would not have teeth. About the only thing this agency could not have done was to bring court proceedings resulting in capital punishment against the perpetrators of pollution. I presume the Government are not suggesting that. We produced a comprehensive Bill and under it the functions of the Water Pollution Advisory Council could now be exercised, in effect, by the environment protection agency as we had constituted it.

Under this Bill the Government are abolishing the advisory council. We do not know the detail of what the Government propose the environment protection agency will do in the area of water pollution, although one would think we did from all the press coverage this week. The Government issued an outline of their proposals on the environment protection agency — an outline, incidentally, [695] published purely for public relations purposes, a document made available to the press at a press conference by the Government of the day, who did not even have the courtesy to make that document available to the Opposition spokespeople on the Environment. All I know of this document is what I have read of it in The Irish Times.

When Fine Gael contacted the Government Information Service an hour after the press conference was held to get a copy of the Government's proposals we were told there was no document; we were lied to because that night on our television screens we could see all of the invitees to the press conference turning over the document. Is this a Government who are serious about environmental issues or are they more serious about public relations exercises?

What does this document say this agency will do? First, we do not have Government legislation. If the Government are serious about this environmental protection agency I trust they will support the Fine Gael measure when we move it in Private Members' Time next week. We are told that the agency will control and regulate development likely to pose major risk to environmental quality, will engage in general monitoring of environmental quality and will have direct responsibility for licensing, monitoring and enforcing functions in relation to classes of new development with potential for serious pollution, including air, water, noise and waste. The functions assigned initially to the agency will cover the most pressing environmental problems involving aspects of air and water pollution control.

That is what was said in the public relations handout designed to suggest that the Government were doing something of substance in this area. What did the Minister tell us? She said there was need for a fully integrated approach to air and water quality protection and waste management. We all agree with that. We need to ensure that proper safeguards are imposed and are seen to operate. She [696] said that for those reasons the Government were committed to bringing forward separate legislation establishing an independent environmental agency and that that will have implications for the role of local authorities in water pollution control. The Minister went on to say that it was her intention to consult with all elements involved in developing her detailed proposals for the agency.

In other words, there are no detailed proposals yet for the agency. Despite the public relations hype this week we are only at the stage of debating this Water Pollution Bill. The Minister has told us about a few amendments the Government intend to make to the Bill which are along the lines proposed by Fine Gael over six months ago but she is not able to tell us in what way the environmental protection agency the Government say they are committed to will impact on this legislation.

What role will the environmental protection agency have vis-à-vis this legislation? Will they be able to initiate any prosecutions? Will they have any licensing function? Will they have any monitoring function? If so, why are we not introducing amendments? Why are we not told of Government proposed specific amendments to be made to this Bill on Committee Stage to take account of the fact that an environmental protection agency are being put in place? The reason is that the Government have not yet worked out what the agency will do, what the detail of their structure will be or how they will interact with local authorities and central government. They certainly will not do what the water pollution advisory council could do. On the basis of the Government's announcement the agency will not be independent in the manner envisaged by the Fine Gael Bill. I will deal with that in more detail next week. There is only one point I will make in that regard today, that is, that the agency will not be independent to the extent it seems; they will not be able to comment on the approach taken by Government in tackling the pollution problems and criticise it openly. It appears they will not have any specific function with regard [697] to recommending changes in legislation where they are required. What the Government have announced is a watered down. Mickey Mouse agency without indicating when we are going to have the legislation, what functions they will have or how they will interact with local authorities, even in the one specific area of water pollution that we are debating in this House today.

The Minister is going to have to explain to us in some detail exactly what role she envisages for the agency in the area of water pollution, why the water pollution advisory council are being abolished, why no-one was appointed to the council after the Government came into office in 1987 and why it is that the Government are afraid to put on the record of this House the detail of the press release for their press conference this week on the environmental protection agency and why they are simply putting on the record of this House the general comment that an agency is a good idea and that they will consult with people to discover what functions it should perform. This is not good enough.

One of the defects of this Bill as published is that it seeks to remove what has become known as the good defence provision in the 1977 Act. The good defence provision, as it is euphemistically referred to, is a provision in the 1977 Act designed to ensure that people who are not responsible for pollution incidents could not be wrongly convicted of those incidents. Because of the manner in which that can be interpreted there are circumstances where people who can be truly held responsible for pollution incidents may not be properly brought before the courts or if they are a court proceeding may be unsuccessful. To tackle that problem the Minister sought to amend the working in section 3 of the Bill as published; but the amendment the Minister introduced could create a situation whereby somebody who had done everything practically and humanly possible to prevent a pollution incident could still find himself before the courts. That is clearly not an appropriate way to approach matters. I welcome the fact that [698] the Minister has, in a general way, indicated that the amendment Fine Gael proposed last spring to resolve this problem will be tabled by the Government so that that type of situation does not arise. That is of considerable importance. It is also welcome that the Minister is prepared to take on board some amendments to clarify the application of section 20 which could cause similar problems. It is not reasonable, in the agricultural area or in any other area, that someone be liable to criminal or civil action in the courts as a result of a pollution incident taking place on someone else's land that results in that pollution flowing on to the innocent person's land. It is not acceptable that that innocent person be prosecuted. Equally it is not acceptable, if a farmer's neighbour does something that specifically causes a pollution incident, that the farmer across whose land a river or lake crosses should find himself in court, even though he could not prevent nor could he envisage the pollution incident happening.

The drafting of this legislation has meant that amendments have had to be made to it. I reject the approach taken by Deputy Gilmore of The Workers' Party. Fine Gael are interested in ensuring that we have on the Statute Book comprehensive and effective legislation. We are not interested, for the sake of making some political point, in having innocent people brought to court accused of a criminal offence when they had no responsibility for an incident that has occurred and that they could have done nothing to prevent. It is too trite to suggest that Fine Gael want to, in some way, water down this Bill. We want an effective measure but a measure is not effective if it results in innocent people being convicted. I would have expected that Deputy Gilmore would have recognised that.

I do not want to go through the detail, just as the Minister did not want to go through it, of every section in the Bill. We will do that on Committee Stage. However, I want to raise one thing with the Minister which she refers to as one of the areas in which the Government [699] intend to bring in an amendment. I am not sure what approach the Government intend to take in this area. Section 21, to which other speakers have referred, makes extensive provisions for local authorities to make by-laws that could impinge directly in a dramatic way on the ordinary running of a farm. By-laws can become legally binding and render a person under this legislation liable to criminal prosecution and conviction. This can happen with no consultative process having to be engaged in as regards the context of the by-laws. In the way this section is drafted the by-laws are rather odd. Some people would question the necessity for by-laws at all in this area once you can make use of the other criminal-civil provisions contained in the legislation in the first place. I ask the Minister to comment on that.

If we are to have the by-laws it is highly logical that a local authority can prepare draft by-laws which then go to the Department of the Environment, are then confirmed by the Department and could, thereafter, render somebody liable to criminal prosecution, although it is also provided that once they are made objections can be raised to them and they may be amended thereafter. It would seem a far more logical approach with regard to section 21 to provide for the publication of draft by-laws by a local authority and that those by-laws then be available for public comment. I suggest that after 60 days the by-laws should then either be approved by the Minister or approved by him subject to amendments following his consideration of any representations made in regard to the draft by-laws. It makes no sense to make them and subsequently amend them. I think the correct approach is they should be draft by-laws published for public comment, with that public comment being sent to the Minister, and the Minister then having options to approve them or amend them or return the draft to the local authority suggesting amendments to be considered by the local authority. That would make a great deal more sense.

It is one thing to have new pollution [700] legislation on the Statute Book; it is another thing to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to enforce it. I want the Minister to clarify what role she envisages an environment protection agency would play in this area. In the Fine Gael Bill it is quite clear that local authorities could continue to bring proceedings, but the environment protection agency would have a residual power, where a local authority have not acted and should act, to intervene and bring proceedings under the water pollution legislation. Indeed, the environment protection agency under the Fine Gael Bill would have other powers. The Minister should clarify the position.

She should also clarify whether the local authorities are going to have the manpower and resources to apply this legislation in practice. All too often legislation is passed in this House and thereafter everyone assumes it is operating but often it is not operating because local authorities, who are given the functions under the legislation, lack the finance and, therefore, lack the manpower to apply the legislation or police it. What additional expense does the Minister envisage local authorities throughout the country will incur in working this Bill? Does she envisage any additional financial allocation will be made to local authorities to ensure that this Bill can be worked properly? That is of importance.

It is important for another reason. Any local authority who bring proceedings under this legislation will do so in good faith, in the interests of protecting the environment and to ensure that our pollution laws are working. We are aware, and previous speakers have referred to it, that various organisations including the IFA and the ICMSA have expressed concern that local authorities, if they are to receive the fines that are levied under this Bill, may act in some way as bounty hunters. I do not believe local authorities will so act, but there is a danger that if local authorities are not given the resources to operate the Bill they may take the view that the Bill either should not be operated or should be operated in circumstances where, no matter what [701] type of incident occurs, the maximum fines are always sought. The protection that everyone has against a local authority behaving in an arbitrary way is that the courts have to make decisions about fines imposed or orders made under the legislation and if the initial court hearing does not result in a fair decision being made there is the entitlement to look for an appeal.

The Minister would set many minds at case if she would indicate how the local authorities are going to find the funds to operate this legislation. Where are they to come from? Will she also indicate to the House what expenditure each local authority incur currently in operating the 1977 Act and what additional expenditure is envisaged will be incurred in operating the new Bill when it becomes law?

One of the problems in the area of water pollution has been that on occasions the local authorities have been the polluters themselves. Local authorities are not always all that good in the manner in which they exercise their own functions. That is often very surprising, considering the policing functions they themselves are given. The Minister is right in saying the majority of pollutions, of course, are not caused by local authorities; no one is suggesting they are, but the numbers that are caused by local authorities should not occur. No local authority should ever have to be brought before the courts by a fishery board for polluting our rivers or lakes. This year we have had instances of that happening.

I want the Minister to clarify what body will in future take action to ensure local authorities do not themselves cause pollution. I believe the environment protection agency I want to see established under a Fine Gael Bill, on an all-party basis, without political contention, should have the role of policing the local authorities and policing Government Departments. I do not believe the fishery board should have that role. They should have the role of developing our fisheries industry and resolving other problems in relation to stocking rivers and exercising their other functions. On occasion there [702] is, by the very nature of things, a personal relationship between the fishery officer and the environmental officers in local authorities in particular areas.

To ensure properly that some local authorities get their act together and that they are not guilty of pollution incidents, it is of considerable importance that prosecutions or action against local authorities to force them to make good the damage done as a result of pollution caused by their activities should be taken by the environment protection agency. I think the local authorities will take their responsibilities a good deal more seriously if that is the case. I want an environment protection agency to monitor the manner in which the local authorities operate this legislation. At present, some local authorities are more effective than others in applying the 1977 Act. Some take their duties in this area more seriously than others. They will all adopt a uniform approach only if the manner in which the local authorities apply the law and the number of personnel they make available to ensure pollution incidents are not taking place are properly monitored. Annually, we have a report publicly available indicating where the problems lie, what local authorities are fulfilling their functions, what local authorities are not, a report which highlights which local authorities have themselves been responsible for incidents of pollution that have resulted in fish kills or created other problems in our lakes and rivers. I invite the Minister to take that suggestion on board and to clarify the position as she sees it operating under this Bill when it becomes law.

There are a great number of other issues that arise under this Bill, many of which we are going to tease out on Committee Stage. I hope the Minister will be in a position to respond to some of the things I am raising, when we come to the end of Second Stage. If possible, it is very important that we complete Second Stage of this Bill before the Christmas recess. If we do not complete it today, and many Deputies who have an interest in this legislation want to contribute, I invite the Minister to ensure [703] that through the party Whips this Bill will come back into this House next week with a view to completing Second Stage so that we can take Committee Stage early in the new year and tease out some of the problems I have referred to.

Mr. Jacob: This Bill represents another important step on the road to ensuring the preservation and conservation of one of Ireland's natural and most significant assets. Apart from the specific provisions, to which I would like to refer in due course, the Bill's significance can be reflected as part of the chain of developments derived from the Government's commitment to and acknowledgement of the importance of the contribution which a secure and clean environment makes to the economy of this country.

I know that many can point to individual incidents over recent years where we have suffered nationally at the hands of indiscriminate polluters where personal interest, be it in the case of individuals or individual companies, has taken precedence over the interests of the community at large. I believe that the publicity attaching to those events is the most positive evidence of a community no longer prepared to accept the interests of the individual or the company over that of the community.

Like any modern business we must accept nationally that a change or an influence in one area of the environment causes effects in many other interdependent elements. Water pollution can, for example, affect the health of the community, the tourism industry and the image of the country generally with attendant consequences in all sectors of the economy. I am therefore heartened by the Minister's positive approach to this legislation, an approach which I believe should be mirrored throughout this House, and the country generally, in pointing not so much to the detrimental effects of water pollution, of which the entire community is abundantly aware, but rather to the engendering of an environmentally conscious spirit in the [704] community, aware of the importance to the country of a safe and green environment.

Ireland stands in geographical isolation from its neighbours in Europe which, as we are aware, has had its difficulties and its blessings. We may have been slow to count our blessings in the past, but there is no excuse today not to be conscious of the strategic advantages we possess through our environmental heritage, particularly through the importance attached by the Taoiseach to this heritage and addressed through successive measures aimed at ensuring the conservation of that heritage for our children. No party, however it may name itself, could possibly propose and see through to implementation such a comprehensive programme of measures aimed at the conservation of our environmental heritage, such as that proposed and implemented by the present and the previous Government. These are not policies of lip services to the green concept riding on the bandwagon of developments elsewhere but real and true commitments, evidenced by developmental policies capable of implementation and to which significant resources have been allocated. These developments are the real signs of a truly green party. The strategy and clear focus of this nation must be on developing and enhancing that consciousness among the community at large, that we in this country possess a green heritage, be it 40 or 4,000 shades, the envy of many of our closest neighbours, and for that reason — if for no other — a prized and valuable possession for the entire community and therefore worthy of significant support in order to maintain it.

I would like to think that with the current consciousness and appreciation of the value of such assets by all its peoples, the European Community would move towards developing a concept of acknowledging the important contribution which pollution free environments contribute to the wellbeing of the Community generally in a practical way. It is not sufficient that the environment be regulated and guarded, we must look [705] towards developing pro-active approaches which take account not only of conservation needs but also of the needs of the communities living within these areas.

So many of our neighbours lament the devastation of industrial development and its consequences for the environment and on environmental amenities. They look to countries, such as ours, to conserve that remaining unspoiled asset. That policy must also take account of the sacrifices necessary to maintain that heritage and produce practical and real support for communities, such as ours, to ensure the conservation of that resource for future generations.

I believe that a successful future conservation policy lies in the adoption of real supportive measures capable of supporting those communities which take action to safeguard the environment. It is possible that through the adoption of a green charter, or some such concept for localities capable of exhibiting environmentally safe standards within specified guidelines, a support package could be developed which would provide the means to maintain those standards. Such support should be capable of ensuring that those localities need not attract environmentally substandard industries or processes and, if necessary, provide sufficient resources to ensure that any industry can adopt the most safe methods of processing or treating waste and maintaining the highest standards always.

I would also like to stress that the conservation of our environment is not a preservation process whereby we lock the gate and throw away the key. It is a dynamic process, an inter-active process capable of promoting and sustaining industrial development which co-exists in harmony with the environment, agriculture, horticulture and forestry, and, indeed, all industries have a significant place in that development. We must satisfy ourselves that the basic criteria for that harmonious co-existence are adhered to and engendered in all those engaged in industry so that they are acutely aware of and appreciate the consequences of pollution on the community [706] at large. Such, indeed, is the spirit under lying the European impact directive.

There is no change to be had in decrying industrial development, which we know is necessary for the economy, but we can be choosy and we can be safe and we can impose the strictest regulations on industry. In that scenario there is every reason to believe that we can muster even greater support for a continuation of environmentally conscious policies which safeguard the heritage of our country and that of Europe.

I am particularly conscious of the vast potential we have today to attract huge numbers of our European neighbours on the basis of our green assets, water, air, amenities and the many other attractive features of our unique cultural and environmental heritage. We know that our current visitors marvel and are rightly envious of those advantages which we ourselves, perhaps, at times do not sufficiently appreciate or exploit. In this latter context, that of exploitation, it is time to recognise the fullest developmental potential of those resources and the employment industries and amenities which they can sustain. It has never been a more appropriate time to do so, and as the European Community moves towards ever stringent regulations relating to the conservation of the environment, it is we who must stay at the forefront in promoting those policies and, more particularly, in adhering to them completely. This Bill is a significant and timely message to our Community partners that we intend to do so.

This Bill which modifies and extends the present arrangements for the control of water pollution is both necessary and timely. As the Minister has indicated previously, it is not a single measure so much as part of an on-going programme of measures aimed at combating water pollution and part of an integrated programme involving the targeting of resources and the areas most urgently in need of attention.

Since 1980 nearly £300 million has been invested by local authorities in up-grading local sewage treatment and disposal facilities. These resources have shown [707] substantial returns in terms of a reduction in the pollution of rivers and streams. The allocation of £69 million alone in 1989 for the sanitary services capital programme will enable the maintenance of this drive towards pollution abatement.

Regarding my own county of Wicklow, and particularly with regard to the agricultural implications in this Bill, I would like to make some comment. Following the widespread evidence of fish kills during the summer of 1987 a programme of measures to combat water pollution was introduced by the Minister for the Environment for implementation by the local authorities, the fishery boards, the farm advisory bodies and, most importantly, the farmers themselves.

As a result of these measures there was a dramatic downturn in the number of reported pollution incidents during 1988. Specifically in County Wicklow, the number of new cases investigated reduced from 91 in 1987 to 35 in 1988. Furthermore, cases of agricultural origin accounted for only 18 of the 35, which represents a sharp drop from 73 per cent to 51 per cent in the occurrence of agricultural pollution as a percentage of the total cases investigated.

Similarly, the number of fish kills in County Wicklow fell from six in 1987 to two in 1988. Of these, one was very minor and little supportive evidence was found; the second was the result of diesel spillage from a farmyard rather than agricultural pollution per se. Overall, between late 1984 and the end of March 1989, Wicklow County Council personnel visited a total of 385 farms in the county; of these 123 visits were in response to complaints under the Water Pollution Act; 116 resulted from recent changes in planning legislation, with the balance of 146 being due to the farm survey. Categorising these in terms of pollution risk, 32 per cent were assessed as low risk, 37 per cent as medium risk and 31 per cent as high risk. The same council followed up initial visits either by issuing advisory letters or by section 12 notices. Most recent inspections show that farmers are, by and large, taking their responsibilities very [708] seriously indeed. Remedial works have been completed in many cases and further works are in progress in most other cases.

The reasons for this Bill are general and specific. The principal Act, the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, is now almost 12 years old. As it was the first of its kind, so to speak, some of its provisions were set out in fairly broad terms which need to be tidied up or corrected in the light of subsequent experience. The current Bill is an amending Bill and, like most amending legislation, seeks, by clarifying and expanding, to move from the broad and vague to the more precise. Many of the provisions in the 1989 Bill, compared to the 1977 Act, are fulfilling precisely this function.

That is the general need, but the particular need goes back to 1987, the year of the fish kill, and the consequent promise by the Minister for the Environment to bring in amending legislation which would prove to be “a powerful deterrent to those who, through their carelessness and greed, risk destroying one of the nation's most valuable resources”. In other words, the polluters were to pay for their pollution. The 1989 Bill began life as the Local Government (Water Pollution) Bill, 1987, and its principal measures, particularly the proposed increase in maximum fines, have been common knowledge for some time. The Irish Farmers' Journal devoted most of its issue of April 29 to a series of articles on the new pollution Bill. While the articles highlight much in the new Bill which is of real concern to the farming community, some of the information was misleading, due to over-reaction or a genuine misinterpretation of its provisions. Accordingly, before dealing with what is new in the legislation I should like to comment on what is not new, provisions which either remain unchanged or are clarified, tidied up or expanded without posing any major threat.

The general prohibition under section 3 of the 1977 Act, that a person shall not cause or permit any polluting matter to enter water, remains unchanged and, [709] while there has been comment to the contrary, the new Bill does not broaden or change in any way the definitions of “waters” or “polluting matter”, both of which were more than adequately wide ranging in the original Act and which are now restated as follows: (1) “waters” are defined under section 1 of the 1977 Act as “any [or any part of any] river, stream, lake, canal, reservoir, aquifer, pond, watercourse or other inland waters, whether natural or artificial; (2) “polluting matter” is defined in the same section as “any poisonous or noxious matter and any substance, the entry or discharge of which into any waters is liable to render those or any other water, poisonous or injurious to fish spawning grounds or the food of any fish or to render such waters harmful or detrimental to public health or to domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural or recreational uses.”

It has been stated that section 9 of the new Bill extends the powers of local authorities to regulate or restrict agricultural practices without provision for the farmers to appeal. Section 9 states that where it appears to a local authority that it is necessary to do so in order to prevent or control pollution of waters, it may serve notice in writing under this section on any person having the custody or control of any polluting matter on premises in its functional area, in other words, the section 12 notice has a general requirement to specify the measures which the local authority consider necessary to prevent entry of polluting matter to waters. Section 9 of the new Bill expands the wording to enable any such notice to (a) regulate or restrict or make subject to conditions the carrying on of any activity, practice or use of land and (b) require the provision, relocation or alteration of facilities for the collection or storage of polluting matters.

Section 12 notices issued by local authorities contain new wording which merely confirms the sort of conditions which are already being imposed, for example, in relation to land spreading — minimum distance from watercourses and prohibition on winter spreading — farmyard draining arrangements or the detailing [710] of sizes, etc., for silage slabs and slurry tanks. While it has been implied elsewhere that there is no provision for appeal against such notices, the opposite is the case. If anything, the appeal provision is now more flexibly in favour of the appellant than it was under the terms of the original section 12, in that it makes specific provisions for amending the time for completion of measures. It also allows for the possibility of the notice being revoked.

Similarly, section 17 of the new Bill is a substitution for section 23 of the principal Act and deals with the issuing of section 23 notices and the information which may be sought by the authorities from the person on whom the notice is served. There is little in the new section beyond what has become the established practice.

Section 10 relates to the power of the local authorities to prevent and abate pollution, in particular, to take measures and to recover the cost of those measures from the polluter, and is in substitution of section 13 of the 1977 Act. While the provisions of the original section 13 could be invoked where it appears to a local authority that urgent measures are necessary the wording of the new section 10 is: “Where it appears to a local authority or ......it is necessary to do so, it may take such measures.....” Some concern has been expressed at the deletion of the word “urgent”. I would consider it implicit in the new wording that measures which are considered to be necessary are, of their very nature, deemed to be urgent. In practice I do not envisage this new wording as being overly significant in the day-to-day application of the provisions of this new Bill. If there is a shift of emphasis in the provisions of this section it is in favour of farmers in relation to the recovery of costs by local authorities. In the original section 13 the wording is reasonably clearcut, but the new section 10 creates a potential grey area in that it incoporates the phrase “to the extent — if any — that any measures taken by a local authority..... were necessitated by the acts or omissions of a person....” in other words, there [711] appears to be a greater onus on a local authority to prove the extent of a polluter's culpability.

Of much greater significance in regard to local authorities' interventionist powers, section 7 of the new Bill — which replaces section 10 of the 1977 Act — deals with the right of a local authority to apply for a court order directing a polluter to mitigate or remedy the effects of pollution, including the replacement of fish stocks, the restoration of spawning grounds and so on and the additional right of the local authority to intervene directly and take any steps themselves specified in the order which have not been complied with, the cost of such steps being recovered as a simple contract debt. I would agree that there may be some extreme measures implied here. However, it must be emphasised that such measures are effectively contained within existing legislation — witness the case that occurred in Limerick some years ago when a farmer was ordered by the court to pay for the restocking of a river under section 10 of the 1977 Act which section 7 of this Bill replaces.

What is significantly new in this Bill is that, whereas heretofore only a local authority, the Minister for Fisheries or a board of conservators could apply for a court order under the provisions of section 10 of the principal Act, the provisions of this Bill extend that right to any person regardless of whether he or she has an interest in the waters concerned. I will revert to this point later in the context of other new provisions contained in this Bill.

Probably the most contentious section of the Bill is section 21 which provides for the making of by-laws on the part of local authorities or the Minister for the Environment to prohibit or regulate the carrying on of specified agricultural activities. The potential consequences of the provisions of this section can be gleaned when one considers that such by-laws can be applied to part or the entire functional area of a local authority and [712] when one considers the range of agricultural activities to which they will apply.

Section 21 (1) (a), (b) and (c) read:

(a) the collection, storage, treatment and disposal of any polluting matter used in connection with, or arising from any operation, activity, practice or use of land or other premises carried on for the purposes of agriculture, horticulture or forestry;

(b) any activity that involves the application to land or to growing crops, or the injection into land, of any silage effluent, animal slurry, manure, fertiliser, pesticide or other polluting matter;

(c) any other operation, activity, practice or use of land or other premises for the purposes of agriculture, horticulture or forestry.

The procedure for making by-laws is relatively cumbersome, involving publications, circulation, appeals, the possibility of amendments or annulments and again the publication and circulation of appeals decisions. While a local authority may make such by-laws they must be approved by the Minister which converts them from being a local to a national issue. I would envisage that if and when a local authority wish to control, regulate or prohibit any agricultural activity most likely they will continue as heretofore, that is to do so by means of a section 12 notice.

Looking to the future, in the context of my county of Wicklow, I would envisage by-law restrictions being contemplated only in the vicinity perhaps of the Vartry and Poulaphouca reservoirs because of their significance as a source of water supply for Dublin and north-east Wicklow. The position as it obtains would not warrant any action being taken under the provisions of section 21.

Section 20 of the Bill before the House introduces the concept of civil liability for pollution, the subject of much adverse comment by the farming organisations. There are two aspects to the provisions of this section, first, the right of the injured [713] party, the victim of the pollution, to take a civil action against the polluter to recover damages in respect of injury, loss or damage and, second, the fears expressed that such civil action would result in the penalisation of an innocent farmer through whose lands the pollution travelled from elsewhere. Taking the latter point first, section 20 excludes from liability an innocent person through whose lands the pollution flowed from elsewhere on the basis that this constitutes an event he could not reasonably have foreseen or controlled. It is a reasonable assumption that one cannot forsee when or how one's upstream neighbour may pollute. This is another area about which much concern was expressed by the farming community. Once the matter has been clarified their fears may prove to have been without foundation.

With regard to civil liability I would regard it as a basic right that any injured party be able to recover damages by means of a civil action, whether it might arise from pollution or any other form of injury, even allowing for the fact that most pollution is caused by accident or carelessness.

In my earlier remarks on section 7 of this Bill which deals with applications for court orders — also the section dealing with the replacement of fish stocks — I mentioned that a new feature was that such an order may now be obtained on application by any person to the appropriate court regardless of whether that person had any interest in the waters concerned, in other words, any third party, individual or group, may apply to the court for an order to have the polluter mitigate or remedy the effects of the pollution, including the recovery of the costs thereof. The order may also relate to the costs incurred by that third party, presumably including legal costs in applying for the order.

Another new aspect of that section is that, whereas section 10 of the 1977 Act referred only to an application to the District Court, the new section mentions both the District Court and Circuit Court depending on the estimated cost of the [714] remedial work required. Obviously 12 years' inflation has hit the cost of pollution clean up as much as it has hit everything else.

On the extension of the right to apply for a court order to any individual or group rather than limiting it to specified authorities as heretofore, while many independent environmentalists would consider the right to such a third party a necessary adjunct to democracy, my own view is that this is not necessarily a good thing. The law and its application are already rife with confusion and the introduction of this new measure could well have the consequence of the courts being besieged with a plethora of independent applications. This extension to any third party is also included in section 8 which deals with applications to the High Court, and I would similarly comment with regard to this.

In practice, the most significant aspect of the new Bill is likely to be the proposed increase in maximum fines and penalties applicable on conviction. These are individually referred to in amendments to various sections, particularly section 24. Briefly the Bill proposes an increase in the maximum fine on summary conviction from £250 at present to £1,000 and on conviction on indictment from £5,000 at present to £25,000. The possibility of a term of imprisonment on summary conviction remains unchanged at six months but the possibility of imprisonment on conviction on indictment is increased from its present maximum two year term to five years. These increases also apply in the case of offences relating to industrial discharges. There is a further provision in section 23 of the new Bill that where an offence is committed by a corporate body, a company or a factory, the director, manager or other officer involved can be found personally guilty rather than being able to disappear behind the corporate image as heretofore.

To what extent the courts will adhere to the new scale of fines remains to be seen. However, from experience, some people feel that what is needed at this stage is not so much an increase in the [715] maximum fines but perhaps a stipulation in regard to minimum fines as it must be acknowledged that in cases brought by the local authorities to date, the courts have tended generally to give the polluter the benefit of the doubt. In many cases, even when conviction are obtained, the penalties imposed have been derisory. A £10 or £50 fine is very little incentive to any polluter to clean up his act. It might be better, therefore, to have a realistic minimum rather than a vaguely threatening maximum requirement.

Section 26 of the new Bill introduces a novel concept whereby the court, having imposed a fine for an offence under the Water Pollution Act, may order the polluter to pay the fine directly to the local authority rather than to the courts as heretofore. This again has caused some agitation in farming circles, with suggestions that it might be yet another surreptitious way for the local authorities to make money. Obviously this was the reason for the remarks about bounty hunters made by the former president of the IFA which, in my opinion, were unhelpful, to say the least.

It would seem that if a fine is imposed it is of no great importance whether it has to be paid to one body or another. What hurts is actually having to pay the fine. Given that one of the major objectives of the proposed Bill is to make the polluter pay for damage done by him to the environment, it is not altogether unnatural that such payment should be made to the statutory custodian of that environment. However, it must be remembered that this direct payment will be a novel concept for the local authorities as much as for the polluters, and again it remains to be seen how it will work in practice given that the application of this provision is at the discretion of the courts.

Section 22 of the proposed Bill appears to have caused some confusion, raising the spectre of farmers having to seek licences for the discharge of any polluting matter into drains. This word “drain” has been echoing and re-echoing around this land in terms of concern from the [716] farmers' point of view. The section relates to combined drains which, together with sewers, have a very specific meaning under the terms of the Bill. Briefly, a sewer is a sewer pipe which is in the charge of a sanitary authority and a sewer pipe which is not in the charge of a sanitary authority is a drain. A drain serving two or more premises is known as a combined drain. Section 72 of the proposed Bill allows the sanitary authority to declare such a combined drain to be a sewer within the meaning of the Bill. The impact of section 22 therefore, will be mainly in the area of trade and industrial effluent discharges rather than agriculture as it is really an expansion of the existing section 16 licensing provisions. Here again, farmers have been worrying needlessly.

The Bill also proposes a number of other changes not related to farming activities, mainly dealing with procedures for effluent discharge, licence applications and reviews of existing licences. It proposes the introduction of licence application fees similar to planning application fees and, as I mentioned earlier, extends the scope of licensable discharges and increases the penalties for related offences similar to those affecting the farming community.

While much of the Bill is without doubt a response to the summer of 1987, to which I have referred already, and therefore inevitably has agricultural implications, the opportunity is also taken to write in practices and procedures which have evolved since 1977 to tighten definitions and plug loopholes — again not all of them are farmer related.

As a rural Deputy I am in day to day contact with farmers and I fully appreciate the concern they have expressed but I believe it is vital that their fears be allayed. As I said, some of the remarks by allegedly responsible people when this Bill was first mooted were unhelpful. In fact, that is a major under-statement; they were downright provocative and caused an unnecessary scare throughout the agricultural community. A co-operative approach by the local authority and the farmer can ensure that this Bill will [717] have little serious impact on the farming community generally.

Deputy Dempsey earlier mentioned that this Bill is not about farmers — or words to that effect — and I would like to reiterate that. It is not an attack or an assault on farmers, their land or their livelihood, and that should be made very clear.

I believe the farming community will be affected to a certain extent and co-operation with the local authorities will be very important in the enactment of the legislation. It would be helpful if patience was exercised by both the local authorities and the fishery boards so that the new legislation can be introduced in a “non-bullish” way. If the high level of pollution control grants were extended I believe this would encourage farmers to doubly ensure that their activities are devoid of any pollution possibilities.

Perhaps the Government and the Minister would consider giving an incentive to farmers so that they will take anti-pollution measures and improve the anti-pollution measures they have already. Perhaps consideration could also be given to giving farmers reduced interest loans specifically for the purpose of pollution control. I ask the Minister to consider these points with a view to helping farmers to help the rest of the community in maintaining our environment.

In the final analysis, the main beneficiaries from this legislation will be the farmers who produce our food. The image our food has abroad can be put on a superlative level if we can be seen to have a good, green and non-polluted environment. This could be based on the principle that a good, green and non-polluted environment yields good, non-polluted food. If this is done, farmers will be able to seek a premium price for their beef and other foodstuffs in EC markets.

This Bill will make an important contribution to the programme aimed at improving and maintaining the standards of water quality. As I said earlier, any measure which contributes to a better environment will be of tremendous benefit to the entire community and is worthy [718] of the fullest support. I congratulate the Minister on her timely introduction of this significant legislation.

Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The cure to our pollution is a process of education. We must start in the schools at the very early stages of people's lives. Children should be brought on visits to rivers, beaches and farms in order to see pollution at first hand. Public awareness programmes should be undertaken and advertisements on television, the radio and in newspapers would bring to the notice of the public the incidence of pollution.

Of course, the other part of the cure is the provision of money for the construction of sewage treatment works. Although some experts claim that such treatment works would cost hundreds of millions of pounds, I believe this would be money well spent. With grants available from the European Community, this country should plan for the erection of such sewage treatment works, especially in the Dublin Bay area. Because of the condition of the bay the Minister should see to it that work starts in the early nineties. It is imperative that we cease dumping raw sewage in Dublin Bay in order to bring to an end an intolerable problem which is worthy of the Middle Ages.

The EC plan to ban dumping of raw sewage at sea. In a recently published report it was stated that towns with a population of 10,000 or more would have a secondary or biological treatment plant for sewage before it is discharged into receiving waters and more stringent treatment will be required in cases where water quality is a problem. At present, most of Dublin's sewage load is processed through the corporation's treatment plant at Ringsend. This is only a primary treatment facility which merely separates the solids from the liquids. It has been estimated that the cost of upgrading this facility to a full treatment works would be in the region of £45 million.

On the far side of the bay, to the nose of Howth, the north Dublin drainage [719] scheme empties totally untreated raw sewage directly into the Irish Sea beside Howth harbour. This scheme which starts in Finglas serves all the large housing estates, factories and hospitals on the northside of Dublin. It discharges all this raw sewage into the receiving water. The tidal pattern in the outer bay is very dynamic and the dumped material is spread over a wide area. This has caused serious damage to fish life and over the past few years raw sewage has ended up on such beaches as Portmarnock, Dollymount, Portrane, Donabate and other beaches along the east coast.

This must surely be a danger to our citizens' health and will certainly deter tourists from using our beaches. Fishermen at Howth can tell us that the best herring spawning grounds in the world just off Howth have been completely destroyed and the day of the famous Howth herring has passed for some time. Because of certain easterly tides, raw sewage has also found its way into the famous blue lagoon which extends from Clontarf to Sutton. One can see the green algae forming there. The silting of this estuary was brought about by the erection of the causeway which will not allow scouring to take place. Despite several motions and pressure from local community groups, Dublin Corporation refuse to breach this causeway. I believe that before long this popular amenity will disappear. I ask the Minister to use her good offices with Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council and to ask the Dublin city and county manager to carry out works to breach this causeway at the earliest possible date.

Baldoyle estuary was recently declared a wildlife sanctuary. This is a most welcome development for the estuary and the people of Baldoyle generally. The estuary is a winter feeding ground for Brent geese and supports many other species of wildlife. The estuary was recently “twinned” with Polar Bear pass in Canada, another welcome development, but raw sewage is washing onto the shores of this estuary and I fear it may contaminate the wildlife food chain [720] there. A developer is now proposing to run a sewerage pipe along the shores of the estuary discharging sewage into a local pumping station so that he can build 70 to 90 houses locally. He has already applied for planning permission to do this and I ask the Minister and the Minister for the Marine, to use their good offices to defeat this proposal. I understand that the European Community have plans to ban the dumping of raw sewage at sea. Therefore, the Minister should now provide proper treatment facilities for the outfalls at the nose of Howth and at Ringsend, to be constructed to EC standards. The Minister should now make a decision to provide sewage treatment facilities in the early nineties.

The European Community runs an award system called the Blue Flag Award for clean beaches. Forty-nine Irish beaches sought this award this year but only 35 were selected. Only five out of the nine beaches entered by Dublin County Council won a blue flag. Dublin Corporation did not enter the competition. The beaches were judged on water quality, beach quality, management, environmental, education and information aspects. The problems with Dublin beaches certainly accounted for their poor showing, mainly because of sewage outflows and litter.

The most visible sign of pollution in Dublin is the brown algae which washes up on the beaches as a consequence of excessive nutrients in the water. The continuation of the dumping of sewage sludge into the Irish Sea is a cause of serious concern and is in violation of European Community guidelines. While most publicity surrounds the discharge of nuclear waste from the Sellafield nuclear plant into the Irish Sea, very little notice has been paid to the discharging of raw sewage by Britain and Ireland into the Irish Sea. It is estimated that 1,200 million cubic metres of sewage, enough to cover the Isle of Man to a depth of five feet, is discharged annually into the Irish Sea. Most of that effluent contains industrial and chemical waste and we must ask the serious question, can the Irish Sea [721] cope with that effluent being dumped into it for much longer?

It should be our ambition that by the early nineties all our beaches will attain the EC blue flag standards. We should clean up and make our beaches environmentally sound. The pollution of our rivers seems to have grabbed the headlines in recent years. Most of that pollution is from farm effluent and I understand that effluent from the agricultural sector is ten times the amount produced by the urban sector. The discharge of effluent into our rivers is caused by a minority of irresponsible farmers. I understand that slurry is 100 times and silage is 200 times more pollutant than ordinary domestic sewage.

I was delighted to read recently that fish kills in our rivers are down considerably. In 1988 there were 44, 44 too many. There are adequate grants available to farmers to help them install proper slurry tanks and they would stop the seepage into small streams. Many small feeder springs and streams find their way to lakes and that is why lakes such as Lough Ennel have died. Acid rain is one of the major pollutants in northern Europe. Forests have been completely wiped out in countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden and now Germany is having a problem with forests. Lakes have died because of the fall-out from smoke pollution from factories in England and Germany. The burning of coal is the biggest contributory factor to acid rain. We will have to curb the use of coal in our factories and households. We must encourage industrialists to use natural gas which is available off our shores.

The Minister, and local authorities, should involve local community groups, such as Earthwatch, and associations in the monitoring of acid rain. Local authorities should appoint officials in different areas for sample taking and provide them with the necessary equipment. They should locate a laboratory in their area to test water samples. In that way a proper check on instances of high pollution could be kept. I have no doubt that community associations will be anxious to undertake that task and it would give them a sense of [722] community involvement. I am concerned that the scale of modest and slight pollution has increased in the last 20 years. What we need at this stage is an independent environmental protection agency to deal with the problem. In that regard I welcome the announcement that such an agency will be established and I appeal to the Minister to set it up as soon as possible.

Local authorities have always had wide ranging powers to deal with water pollution but in the past some of them were reluctant to use them or they adopted the light approach to offenders. The Minister should make it clear to all local authorities that it is her intention to enforce the law and to adopt the toughest line possible with local authorities. The public at large are not aware that local authorities can be prosecuted. I note that in 1987 there were 156 such prosecutions. The Minister should tell local authorities, farmers and industrialists to get their houses in order. Some local authorities claim that they do not have sufficient personnel to enforce the law or monitor pollution levels. This problem is so serious that the Department should ensure that, for as long as local authorities are responsible for monitoring, sufficient finance will be made available to enable them to employ staff to enforce the law and monitor pollution.

The sewerage outfalls into Dublin Bay have hospitals in their districts. It could happen that there would be an outbreak of hepatitis, a highly contagious disease, in any of the hospitals and yet the sewage from them would flow untreated into Dublin Bay. People swim, fish and sail in Dublin Bay and, of course, many children play on the beaches. Sewage from such hospitals could be a serious danger to the health of those people. The water in Dublin Bay should be monitored constantly and sewage from hospitals surveyed so that we will be aware of the extent of its impact on the water in the bay area. We must ensure that infected effluent from hospitals does not end up on our beaches.

One reservation I have about the Bill is that in giving all the powers to local [723] authorities and other agencies we may end up, because of under-staffing, with its provisions being useless. If the Minister established an environmental protection agency will there be sufficient money to staff it? Will local authorities have sufficient funds to ensure that inspections and enforcement are carried out unhindered? I hope the Minister can reassure me on those points. The very good intentions of the Bill could be lost if, due to a lack of money, local authorities have a staffing problem.

Another worry I have concerns oil spillages. We all remember the serious damage the oil spillage from the Kowloon Bridge caused to wildlife. To this day we are not aware of the full extent of the damage of that spillage. Analyses of the water are still being carried out in the area to ensure that there is no long term damage done to wildlife or to fish life. It may take years to learn the full extent of that pollution. Is the Minister satisfied that there is a disaster plan for the Dublin Bay area to deal with spillages from large tankers and so on? Do we have sufficient stock of the proper dispersals and the other chemicals needed to deal with such a spillage? Is the Minister satisfied that Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation have disaster plans which can be put into operation at a moment's notice? Are those plans capable of dealing with any problem that may arise?

I welcome the increased sanctions and penalties in the Bill. We will always have a hard core of polluters who will only respond to heavy fines, as the Minister said. I welcome the provision which permits people to proceed against polluters for damages. It is important that the Bill makes water pollution unattractive. Our waters are amongst the cleanest in Europe and we must ensure that they are kept that way. I should like to bring to the attention of the House the increase in the number of reported cases of Alzheimer's Disease. Scientists tell us that aluminium is a contributory factor. Are local authorities adding to the problem by the additives they use to purify household supplies? I wonder is it safe to [724] use aluminium pots and pans? We should address that matter immediately to allay people's fears.

Miss de Valera: Like my colleagues I support the Bill which strengthens the provisions of the 1977 Act. It is important to point out that pollution is not a new problem. We have been suffering from the effects of pollution for many years. Economic development and the protection of the environment are seen by some to be in opposition to each other. Of course, economic development and caring for the environment can be interdependent and should play complementary roles. I should like to refer to what I consider to be a disappointing aspect of the debate so far. It appears to me that there is an anti-farmer bias and that is most unfortunate. We do not want any more divisions or splits in our community. It is irresponsible to try to create an urban-rural divide on this or any other issue.

The whole question of intensive farming raises a number of issues but it is important to stress that there is a great willingness by farmers to comply with all rules and regulations to ensure that there is not a continuation of pollution. I should like to refer to statistics which prove that the farming community are trying to prevent pollution. Up to the end of last September, and this is a point made by the Minister of State last night, 16,884 applications had been received from members of the farming community for grants to help them stem pollution. During the past 18 months farmers have invested £200 million on pollution control facilities. I mention these two statistics to make clear once again that it is unfair that undue emphasis is placed on the farming sector.

I wish to refer to some of the comments made by Deputy Gilmore last night. His references to the farming sector were, to say the least, disgraceful. He said that some farmers were prepared to obstruct efforts to control pollution. I think he was referring to a specific case which could have been dealt with under the section dealing with split sampling. It is [725] most unfair to tar all farmers with the one brush. We are aware that a very small number of farmers are not prepared to go along with pollution control but to tar a whole community in this way is most unfair and is taking what could only be described as an irresponsible attitude. Adopting such an attitude produces negative results. It only leads to the building up of resentment and hostility among an otherwise co-operative group. He went so far as to describe the farmers as a hysterical lobby. He said they were in a state of frenzy over this Bill and had whipped up a campaign of opposition to it. Such an attack was unwarranted and is not in keeping with the facts.

Let me refer to one other important statistic. An Foras Forbartha in a report stated that 70 per cent of pollution was caused by the urban rural sector, 20 per cent by agriculture and 10 per cent by other sources. Significantly, there has been a fall-off in the number of fish kills since 1988. In that famous year of 1987, 82 fish kills were attributed to farmers, 20 in 1988 and 23 out of a total of 121 in 1989. This is a welcome improvement and underlines the fact that the farmers are not the only polluters in our community, that only a small number of our farming community do not wish to comply with our pollution rules, laws and regulations.

Let me also refer to the comments of one other speaker. In his contribution last night, Deputy O'Shea made a rather irresponsible remark when speaking about the need to protect our drinking water. All of us in this House and, indeed, everyone outside of it, naturally wish to protect our drinking water, but scare stories will not help any of us. There is a need for vigilance and improvement in the quality of our drinking water but whipping up hysteria and referring to such illnesses as Alzheimer's Disease and pre-senile dementia is of no help to anyone. I would say to him that he would need to make sure that his definitions of such terms are accurate before making reference to them. We are all aware of the very great anxieties people have about such diseases, but I would not like [726] it to go out from this House that our drinking water poses any threat.

I should point out that there are EC directives on water quality and the Government are fully committed to implementing these directives. In 1988 alone, the Minister made three separate sets of regulations on bathing water, fresh water fish and drinking water. I do not think it would help in any way to cause further anxiety, which in some cases may be unfounded, among the members of the general community.

The Government have been accused of dragging their feet on this legislation. It has been pointed out that this legislation was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas some time ago and that it is only now we are taking Second Stage. The Minister, Deputy Flynn, has shown his commitment and wants to see pollution being brought under control. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has also played his part in that he has been able to assist farmers in carrying out the necessary pollution control works by negotiating an extension of the western package scheme to cover such works. Farmers in all disadvantaged areas are now in a position to avail of grants of up to 55 per cent of the cost of installing slurry and silage effluent storage facilities and young farmers can qualify for grants of up to 69 per cent. Up to February 1989, 7,500 applications for such grants had been received. I am also delighted to note that these grants are now available nationwide.

The Minister has consistently shown that he has adopted an approach based on the promotion of knowledge and information and the heightening of awareness on the need to prevent pollution. Unfortunately, he has been unfairly criticised for not providing the personnel to do this work but, again, such accusations are groundless. Deputy Dempsey has already given the facts and figures and with the indulgence of the Chair I would like to do the same. Excluding the pollution officers employed by the fishery boards, local authorities employ 62 engineers, 70 technicians and 15 chemists, primarily on [727] water pollution control activities, together with 16 technicians engaged in hydrometric work essential in the control of pollution. In addition, 71 local authority administrative staff devoted 32 man-hours to water pollution control activities in 1987.

I am also glad to note from the Minister's speech last night that the National Development Plan 1989-1993 provides for substantial continuing investment in water and sewerage services over the five years of the plan. This is of importance because local authorities on occasion have been accused of being major polluters. The construction of sewerage facilities should help in alleviating this problem and lead to a much cleaner environment.

Local authorities have been complying with the provisions of section 12 of the existing Act. The Minister has recognised their importance in controlling pollution. In 1988, he issued guidelines to local authorities for sewage treatment and indicated they should pay particular attention to these. He wanted the sewage discharges contributing to the problem in different areas to be taken into account by local authorities in planning overall sanitary services programmes. In 1989, over £62 million has been provided for sanitary services and in 1990 this allocation will be increased to £67.5 million.

Deputy Dempsey referred to the importance of education and the need to change attitudes. I support him wholeheartedly. As a teacher and trained psychologist, I am aware of how difficult it is to change attitudes. If we are to change attitudes, particularly those of our young people, then we have to recognise the importance of our schools. I take this opportunity to congratulate ACOT, Teagasc and the farmers' associations for their continuing interest in putting forward as much knowledge as possible on the question of pollution. They have done a tremendous amount in this regard and they continue to disseminate information on pollution control. I would encourage them to continue their good work in this area.

[728] It is in all our interests that polluters be scorned by the community generally and that they be prosecuted and heavily fined. I welcome the provision in the Bill for an increase in the maximum fine on summary conviction, to £1,000, a new maximum penalty of £25,000 on conviction on indictment and/or imprisonment for a period up to five years, instead of two. These provisions will apply to the water pollution and the fisheries Acts and they are welcome.

Some farmers groups have expressed concern about some sections of the Bill. The question of split sampling has been raised during the debate. The Minister informed the farming organisations that he would take this whole question into account and that he will be in a position to make regulations under the 1977 Act requiring local authorities to provide a sample of the effluent waters to the owner of the premises or land concerned where possible, subject to ability to locate the individual. A provision will also be made to afford the owner of the premises or land an opportunity to be present when samples are taken and local authorities will retain the right to proceed with sampling should they fail to locate the owner or should the owner decline to attend sampling. That should go a long way in allaying any fears that might have arisen in relation to split sampling.

The good defence provision is also something to be welcomed. It is to be applied also in the case of offences under the 1959 Fisheries Act. No such defence was available up to now under the 1959 Act so that is certainly an improvement.

In relation to the making of by-laws, they shall be subject to the approval of the Minister for the Environment. Farmers affected by them will have the right to appeal to the Minister and local authorities will be required to give notice of the making of by-laws in newspapers circulating in the areas to which they relate. The Minister will have power to confirm, modify or annul by-laws and they will only come into operation on a date to be set by the Minister. This is of extreme importance.

On the question of consultation I was [729] surprised to notice that the Fine Gael Opposition spokesman, Deputy Shatter, seemed to be rather nonplussed at the prospect of consultation between groups and the Minister in his Department. Surely consensus politics and not confrontation politics is what we are talking about. I hope this is the way any Government will proceed. I hope that the representatives of the Opposition benches will be a little more gracious in their acknowledgment of this. Perhaps the attitude shown is a sign of sour grapes or peevishness and that Fine Gael representatives cannot accept that consensus has been reached between the Government, the IFA and other groups without the help of the Fine Gael Party.

I wonder how many of the so-called amendments put forward by Deputy Shatter on behalf of Fine Gael are truly Fine Gael amendments? How many of them are now rather out of date, having been promoted perhaps from another source?

This Bill is welcome. We all know that there is now far more heightened awareness of environment protection and of anti-pollution laws. We have seen this not only here but throughout Europe. This awareness is something to be encouraged and worked on. It is important, however, that we do not home in on one sector of our community. It would be unfair to put too much emphasis on the farming community in this regard as there are other problems with regard to pollution which should be emphasised. Industrial waste, for example, has not been mentioned very much in contributions here today. This warrants further consideration and further emphasis.

We should not shirk our responsibility in preserving our environment as it is in all our interests. We wish to be able to promote a pollution free country but to do this we must work together as a community rather than trying to shift the blame to one sector. If we approach this as a community, when this Bill is passed it will certainly bring about a new dawn for our country in terms of the health of [730] the people and the furtherance of tourism, for example, which is always under threat where pollution is concerned.

I congratulate particularly the Minister, Deputy Flynn, for his ongoing work in this area and I congratulate the Minister of State for the work she is doing.

Mr. Durkan: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This Bill is important since pollution generally has become a very topical subject over the past few years and particularly this year. It has evoked a great deal of comment from informed and not so informed sources. Notwithstanding all that we must accept the urgent need to introduce measures to protect the environment and eliminate pollution, in this case water pollution.

My only criticism relates to the way in which we go about these things. Let us look back over the last number of years, the number of pollution incidents and how they occurred, how they were remedied and how we can ensure that there is not a recurrence. Let us look at agriculture pollution and how it came about, the number of fish kills, the seriousness of the incidents and the type of pollutants now entering our waters from intensive agricultural production. Some of us were aware 20 years ago that intensive agricultural operations which appeared to be taking off were likely to lead to serious pollution. It was no surprise to some of us who had knowledge of the business that pollution incidents were likely to occur. We warned about it, we talked to people in the business about it and to the experts and we got very little hearing.

While speaking about the experts and the advisory services available to the farming community in relation to the elimination of pollution and in relation to the development of their interests, I would point out that the agencies in the business of giving advice were very slow to recognise what was likely to happen given the trend towards intensive agricultural production. They should have recognised long ago that there were dangers which could have been reduced with proper planning in the initial stages. Even [731] a couple of years ago the advice given to farmers seeking to develop and extend their operations was very different to what would be required now to protect the environment and eliminate water pollution in particular.

Some speakers have been critical of the agricultural community, but these people are safe in making their criticisms because very few of them are likely to be affected in their own constituencies by making such criticisms. This is an unfortunate feature of politics here. It is one of the few things on which I agree with the one and only Gay Byrne when he said a long time ago that politicians were responsible for setting the people of the nation at each others' throats. In that context he was correct.

If the agencies had given different advice over the years we could have eliminated the problem that arose in the last year or two. It is not fair to place all the blame on the people who are directly causing the pollution. It is incumbent on agricultural and industrial producers to ensure that the products they use do not militate against the environment and cause pollution of one type or another. Water pollution particularly is sensitive because of the degree to which pollution can have a knock-on effect, and the degree to which pollution can be transferred from one area to another in the water has huge negative potential and we must pay heed to it.

The next group of people who are maligned in this context are the industrial polluters. I would stress that I hold no brief for either agricultural or industrial polluters. There are people in industry, however, who are discharging effluent, as they are entitled to do within the meaning of their planning permissions and the various Acts laid down by the Oireachtas, but the treatment plants into which some of these pollutants eventually go are incapable of dealing with them, and these chemicals ultimately end up in the water system. Modern technology should be able to keep pace with advances in the chemical field to deal with pollutants arising from the chemical area at present, [732] regardless of what type of pollutants they are.

There have been pollution incidents all over the country and one of the problems is the time lapse between the pollution incident taking place and its discovery. It should be possible to detect a type of chemical in the sewerage system at an early stage rather than allowing it to go through plant which, in many cases, is incapable of dealing with the pollutant and so alert the community as to the dangers. There has been a number of serious scares in that area, not just in relation to fish kills and water pollution generally, but in relation to the pollution of drinking water. This happened in the greater urban areas when a chemical was either accidentally or deliberately released into the system, causing grave concern to a great number of people.

I will not go into detail on accidental discharges and the problems that might pose as various other speakers have already referred to this. There is not much I can say either about the person who deliberately discharges effluent into the system knowing it will cause serious damage. Other incidents of pollution which are caused by storms, etc. and which could not have been foreseen take place as well. These two different types of pollution incidents have to be treated separately for obvious reasons. In regard to overground storage of silage, slurry, etc., accidental discharges may take place because of sudden increases in rainfall causing damage to walls of silos, and there can be difficulties. Of course, the way around that is simply to ensure that the construction is such as to safeguard the storage facility.

As a member of a local authority I am worried that various local authorities have been penalised for allowing the pollution of a waterway by a sewer which was alleged to be malfunctioning at the time. I contend that in that situation the responsibility rests ultimately with the Department of the Environment because they have the capital responsibility for these matters. The Department of the Environment and nobody else have the ultimate responsibility to provide the [733] finance to update and improve sewage treatment plants anywhere in the country. In the past 15 years or so the response from the Department of the Environment in that area has been less than impressive. I am not making a political point but stating a fact. It is clear to everybody in this House. Any member of a local authority can point to countless repeated approaches to the Department of the Environment in an effort to update various sewage disposal plants in their respective areas, and the response has been negative, slow or bureaucratic. By bureaucratic I mean that various plans are submitted to the Minister, surveyed and examined for a period of between three months and three years, after which they may be referred back to the local authorities for further changes, and then referred back to the Department for further review. The thing goes on to such an extent it is farcical.

In cases of sewage treatment plants provided over the past ten years each purporting to be the “most modern” or “most efficient” — famous quotes from the advertising blurb — I have personal knowledge in my constituency of such plants and all I can say is that for modern and efficient plants, very shortly after they have been put in place they give off a most offensive, intensive odour. Whatever other areas they are efficient in, it certainly is not the elimination of odours. As the old story goes, if there is smoke there surely must be fire. Serious reservations have been expressed by members of local authorities in relation to the efficiency of these plants.

I draw the attention of the House to the numerous towns and villages all over this country, no constituency or county being excepted, where areas of population of up to 1,500 and 2,000 people are being served for years by inefficient sewage treatment plants, the result being that we have discharged into our rivers, lakes, streams and waterways sewage which is less than ideally treated and in many cases not treated at all. I can think of countless towns and villages in my constituency where plans were submitted to the Department of the Environment, [734] ten and 12 years ago in some cases, in respect of which approval is still awaited. These plans have been revised and revived in the intervening period. From the point of view of the unfortunate people living in those areas, there has been little response by way of progress in providing the wherewithal to ensure the plants were replaced.

Take, for example, the town of Kilcullen with a population within the numbers I have just mentioned. There is no sewage treatment plant there of a nature which would be likely to deal with the current requirements. Take Robertstown, a tourist amenity area, where thousands of children are brought on visits throughout the summer months each year, where there is no treatment plant at all. There is nothing but continuous pollution in these rural areas. Here we are spending a great deal of time and energy talking about a Bill which is going to eliminate pollution. Can I foresee at some stage down the road the local authority in Kildare possibly being penalised, perhaps prosecuted, as a result of a pollution incident arising from something they themselves have no financial control over?

It is of major importance that we recognise that in the matter of elimination of pollution of our waterways the one way to go about it effectively is to eliminate the difficulty before it arises, and the simplest and safest method of doing so is simply to provide the treatment plants which are necessary.

I do not want to spend too much time talking about that element of it but I speak from experience. Other people in this House must have had similar experience of it. I am sure the experiences we have had in County Kildare are just a microcosm of what is happening nationwide. I have mentioned the smaller populations. We also have larger urban type populations of 15,000 to 16,000 people in areas barely served by a sewage treatment plant.

I have to move to another problem in the same vein. The policy of many local authorities, rightly in my opinion, has been to ensure the continuation of a rural [735] community development, so to speak, as was traditional in this country in that we had small settlements throughout the country in rural areas. Such small settlements usually consisted of a pub, a shop, a school and a few houses, perhaps 20 or 30. These small conurbations in a rural environment have been served by package treatment plants, as they are called. Again I have to say that the efficiency of such package treatment plants leaves a great deal to be desired. I cannot think of any one of them that has worked satisfactorily. I cannot think of a single one where there have not been serious pollution problems since they were put in place. Modern technology should be well able to cope with that problem now. Bord na Móna have done tremendous research and have provided the means whereby pollution can be eliminated in such instances.

I am most disappointed that the local authorities who are given the job of implementing legislation we pass in this House to prevent and eliminate pollution are the very people who have themselves to call on agencies to provide a system for them which is tested — it must have been tested by somebody somewhere — for efficiency and ability to deal with the problem, but does not seem to work at all. Throughout last summer anybody passing by any of the rural communities throughout the country that was served by one of those small package treatment plants would not have to ask what type of plant was in operation. Whenever they came within five miles of the area they knew for themselves. I am not scaremongering or exaggerating. What I have said is fact and I am sure everybody here knows that.

My reason for going about it in this fashion is to impress upon the Minister that the financial responsibility, and with it the ultimate authority to ensure the success or failure of this Bill, will depend entirely on the ability of the Minister and her Department to provide the necessary financial wherewithal to meet the [736] requirements of the Bill and the impositions being placed on local authorities by the Bill.

As with many another Bill debated in this House in great detail by the Members, many of whom are themselves members of local authorities, here again the Oireachtas imposes on a junior body — in this case the local authority — certain responsibilities and requirements which they have to keep and enforce as a result of legislation passed in this House. That is all right, but along with that there is no question, no talk at all of the money required to so do. If one goes back over the last 10 or 15 years and examines the volume of legislation passed in this House imposing financial obligations on local authorities, one will be aghast. I hope that at some stage in the course of this debate we will see a recognition of the obligation placed on the local authorities by the passing of such legislation as this be underpinned by a willingness to provide money to pay for such obligation.

We are not going to wander into an area of devolution of power to local authorities and so on; that is for another debate, but my feeling about the operation of local authorities in any sphere is that their effectiveness can be measured by the amount of money they have to do the job they are asked to do. If they have the resources invariably they do a very good job. Various people have suggested here in the recent and not so recent past that, for instance, environmental impact studies are issues which are above the realm of the ability of local authority staff to assess properly. I do not accept that. I think they are quite capable of dealing with any study, provided, of course, they have the money to employ the expertise to deal with it. It is particularly unfortunate that local authorities are in some way being castigated for many things they have no responsibility for.

I have mentioned also — and I want to refer to it again briefly — the ability of the sewage treatment plants to deal with particular types of effluent, particularly toxicants. Oils are particularly difficult to deal with, especially those from the [737] industrial areas. They have caused many serious problems in the past. We do not hear much about them but they are still there simply because they go into the sewage treatment plant; the system cannot deal with them effectively and then we hear about the possible consequences. Recycling is an obvious way round many of those problems. A great deal of time and energy needs to be devoted to defining ways and means whereby those types of chemicals or oils can be recycled. There are people who specialise in those areas at present; it creates employment, it is useful and it also has obvious benefits for the environment.

Deputy Cosgrave spent some time talking about the pollution of our seas. When one considers it, a summer such as that gone by was an obvious time for all of us to puruse the possible dire consequences of pollution of our seas, which arises as a result of water pollution, sewage disposal, treated or untreated as the case may be. Because we thought we were removing the pollution problem from our immediate environment — where we lived — and discharging it further afield out into the sea, we were inclined to relax unnecessarily. Now we find in our recreation time that we have to deal with the problem of facing up to the sins of the past. We can look with some concern at the degree of pollution that has taken place in our seas, off our coasts and our beaches over the past number of years, and we have not done enough about it. The saddest thing about this is that much of it occurred from the various outfalls which were provided to cater for the increased population and to improve sanitation in urban areas. It is unfortunate that we had not taken a somewhat different line to ensure the elimination of pollution of our seas.

I want to refer now to another area of water pollution which has not been mentioned to any great extent today, the pollution of ground water which can arise from industrial, agricultural or ordinary domestic septic tank drainage. There are some parts of the country where this is causing very serious problems. I know the experts will immediately say, in the [738] case of septic tanks, the nature of the pollutant is not nearly as serious as a chemical from an industrial process or from silage or slurry type pollutants. That may well be the case, but there is the increased problem of various chemicals being used in households, chemicals which ultimately end up being discharged into the sewage system which, in rural areas, can only be dealt with by way of septic tank disposal and treatment.

As a member of a local authority who spend a good portion of their time trying to ensure that urban and rural areas are treated alike — many of us consider that in the recent past the rural dweller has been getting the short end of the stick and is not getting fair play — I should like to say that there are instances where septic tanks have not operated efficiently and in some cases such tanks have been drained into streams or watercourses in order to eliminate overflows. That may well work, provided that the effluent is not of a toxic nature, on the other hand it may not work.

I would like to see modern sewage and water treatment technology being used to a far greater extent, even in the case of the ordinary domestic septic tanks, in order that it would be able to cater for the kind of chemical now being used in households and which ultimately ends up being discharged into the sewage system. If that is not done we will have serious problems in that area over the next ten or 15 years. I say so in the firm knowledge —this is something I said to various other people in the intensive agricultural area ten or 20 years ago — and without fear of contradiction that we will have serious difficulties arising from septic tanks in ten or 15 years' time unless we take action. I am not saying that we take action by writing to the people and telling them: “you must cease. You can no longer exist. You cannot have a septic tank there”. Modern technology should be well able to cater for the requirements of that kind of development nowadays. There should be no difficulty at all.

We talk about the requirement we have to provide for sewage effluent disposal, etc., in this country. How would [739] we manage if we had the kind of population which they have in the Netherlands on the same kind of land mass? I know they have different means and methods for dealing with it there, but they also have to deal with an awful lot of septic tank problems, just as we have to deal with them here, but they seem to be able to deal with them much more efficiently. We should look closely at the possibilities of utilising the advances in modern science to deal with that type of problem.

There are many other areas in this Bill that one could speak about, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but I do not want to drag out the debate unnecessarily and there are other speakers on both sides of the House who wish to get in. I again appeal to the Minister to recognise that the need for this Bill is accepted by everybody and the need to ensure that the Bill can be operated efficiently rests ultimately with the Minister and the Government. If the funds which are required are not provided by the Department then there is no sense coming back to us at local authority level and saying: “Your local authority have caused pollution by virtue of the fact that they allowed effluent to be discharged into a particular river or stream”. Unless the Department are prepared to come back to us and say: “As long as you can tell us that you require an updating of a treatment plant we will provide the money for you”. Then we will say: “We will operate this Bill efficiently”. The members of the various local authorities throughout the country will then be able to say to the Government, regardless of which Government are in office, “We can ensure that we will eliminate pollution of this or any other type”.

Mr. Roche: This is very welcome legislation. It seeks comprehensively to address an issue, the issue of water pollution, and to bring our legislation up-to-date in a very vital area. It has, I am pleased to note, been welcomed by all sides of the House. In addition to dealing with the water pollution legislation itself — the principal Act — it also amends [740] legislation dealing with our inland fisheries, an area of law which badly needed attention. For that reason, the Bill is doubly welcome. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, and his Minister of State, Deputy Harney, have been rightly and properly congratulated for bringing the Bill forward. It is also in order at this point to congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Daly, who did so much work in regard to the fisheries side of the Bill in 1987 and 1988 to ensure that the law relating to the fishery boards was comprehensively dealt with at this time and also to ensure that the boards themselves retained their position in law and, indeed, enjoy an enhanced position in law.

As the Minister said last night: “This country can still be boastful of having the cleanest waters in Europe”. Long may it stay that way. This legislation and the Government commitment to historically high rates of continuing investment in water and sewerage services in the National Development Plan 1989-1993 — these twin commitments combined — will go a long way to ensuring that our waterways, our lakes, our drinking waters and our coastal waters remain unpolluted. The last speaker will recognise that what is being done in this legislation, and what is being done in the national development plan, will address, in large part, the sort of issues he raised and, in particular, the concern that local authorities would primarily be responsible for the implementation of this legislation and should have a sufficiency of funds but, in particular, capital funds to bring on stream — no pun intended — proper working arrangements for handling pollutants and, in particular, sewage.

Of course, only so much can be done by the State and local agencies in this regard, the public must also play their part. Every man, woman and child in the country has a fundamental interest in the environment. As consumers and users of recreational waters and as beneficiaries of Ireland's image as a green and unpolluted land, we must all play our part in combating the threat to our environment. [741] The householder, farmer and industrialist have a common interest in a pure and unpolluted environment. For this reason I hope that when the Bill becomes law, when the proposed capital investments are made and new plants are up and running, the Minister and his Department will invest in a major educational environmental programme which will recruit everybody in the land as an environmental guardian. It is particularly worthwhile investing resources in this area.

Investing money in expensive plant, establishing public monitoring agencies and providing in law for a heavy penalty against deliberate offenders is only half the battle. The most important part of the battle lies in elevating the public's awareness to their personal role in the matter. There are, of course, excellent community organisations such as Earthwatch, Greenpeace and so on but, sadly, they attract only minority support. We need to make the environment a national issue and recruit all the people of the nation to the cause of environmental awareness.

We in Wicklow have been fortunate in the last few years from the point of view of capital investment in the area. Major schemes have been undertaken in Bray — oddly enough that was the largest scheme in the last two years in the capital programme but it was not mentioned by the Minister of State last night — and in Greystones, Blessington and Enniskerry. There are also many small schemes in operation throughout the county and other major schemes are in progress or at the planning stage.

Many of these schemes, in particular the schemes serving the major towns, have one specific aspect in common. For example, Bray, Greystones and, ultimately, Wicklow, will all have long sea outfalls. Two of the speakers touched on this issue. This type of scheme represents a major capital investment. However, sewage which is not fully treated is still poured into coastal waters. I have my doubts about the efficiency of such arrangements and I wonder in the long term what the effects of such discharges [742] will be. Indeed, one does not have to be concerned just about the long term, I wonder, when EC regulations come on stream, whether the outfalls — some of which are only being built — will meet the required standard. What impact, for example, will the huge volume of discharge into the Irish Sea have over the next five to ten years? The Irish Sea is largely an inland sea and the tidal scouring effect is limited.

We can properly and vociferously complain about Sellafield and the careless attitude of the British authorities which is based on a total disregard for the public health of the people on the east coast of this nation, but we should also look at our own actions in this regard. Before we provide more long sea outfalls, the cumulative effect of their operations must be scientifically assessed. If you look at the beaches from Louth to Wexford, one of the depressing aspects is the amount of detritus coming in on the tide, much of it from the sea outfalls. It will obviously be a danger and a hazard in the long term.

County Wicklow is particularly vulnerable to water pollution. The lakes at Roundwood, Poulaphouca and Blessington are the most important sources of potable water on our island. They play a vital role in the life of this city and they provide drinking water for one third of Ireland's population. It is obviously important that these lakes and their catchment systems are kept pure and unpolluted, but there is a cost on the local community in preserving the integrity of the lakes and the purity of their water feeds and water catchment area.

One of the major costs, which has been willingly borne by the people of Wicklow, has been a very restrictive attitude towards development planning in the areas around these lakes. Given that the lakes are dispersed across the whole north-east of the county, that they spread from the north-east of the county right across to the north-west, that they cover a very large geographical area and that their catchment area covers an even greater geographical area, there is a problem in retaining the purity of the [743] water going into these lakes. Some response from the Department of the Environment is needed in this regard. The people and the public planning authorities in Wicklow have, as I said, willingly guarded the water purity in these areas but they have had to do it at the cost of limiting the full enjoyment of their land by local families. This has been an issue of pressure at planning level in Wicklow County Council over the last two years and has become even more acute over the last few months. Some assistance is needed for such families. Clearly, if you intend to build in the vicinity of a water catchment area, near our potable water reservoirs, very restrictive conditions will have to be applied to buildings and expensive plant will need to be put into operation.

It may not be popular to suggest it but Dublin Corporation are the major drawer of the water — they draw it for the whole of north-east Wicklow as well as the city of Dublin from Roundwood and Poulaphouca — and they are a rich authority. The Minister and her officials could perhaps be prompted to suggest that a joint effort to alleviate the hardship which is willingly borne by the population in this regard should be made. The people of Wicklow see the lakes as a very valuable and worthwhile addition to a beautiful county but, at the same time they — like the people of Dublin or anywhere else — have a right to the full enjoyment and use of their land and property.

The other lakes and waterways in Wicklow are not only important because of their use as a supply of drinking water, they have contributed to the unique scenic attractions of the county. The lakes of Glendalough and the associated archaeological remains are one of Ireland's major tourist attractions. The beaches of Wicklow are a major recreational amenity, not just to the people of Wicklow but to the people of this city and from surrounding inland counties. The people of Wicklow, therefore, have a very special interest in this Bill and in its ultimate implementation when it passes into law.

[744] Before moving to the specific contents of the Bill, I should like to deal with a somewhat strident element which was introduced to the debate last night by a spokesperson for The Workers' Party. He singled out farmers and their organisations for what can only be described as a divisive and vicious attack. It is true that farming operations cause problems with pollution, particularly — as happened over the last 15 years — when farming moved from being a low intensive activity to a high intensive activity. Everybody accepts that this transition and the educational process associated with it have been difficult. It is also true — and farmers make this point — that some operators adopt an unacceptable, could not care less and slipshod attitude to the environment. Farmers and farming organisations have been critical of such operators and they have been especially critical in County Wicklow of people who have transgressed in this regard. However, to revile the entire farming population for the sins of the few is surely doing them a grave injustice. There are not many farmers in Bray but I detest the type of politics that seeks to create a division between those who live in towns — where I and most of my supporters live — and those who live in the countryside, where most of our forebears lived. They are appealing to the urban voter by attacking the rural voter. This approach is particularly worthy of condemnation in the context of environmental protection.

As I have said, the protection of the environment is a task for the entire community. It is something that interests people in towns as much as those in the countryside. The farming community with whom I have been in contact are most anxious to ensure that we have and maintain the highest standards. They make the point themselves — and as late as last night the chairman of the IFA in County Wicklow made the point to me on the telephone — that the image of Ireland as a clean, unpolluted place is vital to their industry and to the sales of their products abroad. They make the equally valid point that the very nature of farming means that they are in closer [745] contact with nature and the environment than many of us. Conscientious farmers — and I would include 95 per cent to 98 per cent of all the farming community here — are conscious of their responsibilities to the environment.

The Workers' Party last evening attacked lobbying by farming organisations on this Bill. The point to be made here is that this is an open parliamentary democracy. The right of any group in society to lobby and make one's views known on any piece of legislation is central to the operations of our democratic system. The right exists whether the lobbying is carried out by Greenpeace, Earthwatch or by the IFA. It is a commonly shared right and one which every Member of this House should defend. One can understand that The Workers' Party — whose ideological roots lie outside democracy — may from time to time lose sight of this fact but the rest of us should not. This is a democracy and lobbying and putting forward one's views is part of democracy. It is wrong for any politician in this House to seek to deny that aspect of democracy. After all The Workers' Party — we can forgive them for their oversight — still await reorientation in matters relating to democracy from a little further east than the city of Dublin. However, we should not be drawn by their divisive rhetoric. To seek to put a divide between rural and urban on this issue is totally reprehensible. If a divide between rural and urban were to develop on this issue, ultimately it would be destructive to the emergence of a common cause for the protection of our environment among all the people of Ireland. What we should be seeking to foster in this House is a common cause in support of the common interests of a clean and pure environment.

The Minister, in drafting this Bill, rightly listened to the farming community as he did to other interested parties and, hopefully, as he and his Minister of State will listen to points made in the course of this debate. After all that is what democracy is all about.

As the Minister of State made the point herself, the Bill itself is a very complex [746] one. In the course of a Second Stage contribution it is not really possible to cover all of its features; in fact one would be ill advised to try. There is a number of specific aspects of the Bill which warrant exposition and further discussion. In section 3 there is a fundamental change in existing provisions in that a person charged must now be able to show that he could not reasonably have foreseen that an act or omission might have led to the pollution of a water system. While this change means that a person who has acted manifestly stupidly, selfishly or carelessly cannot walk away from their responsibilities, in its drafting, it provides protection for those who, due to some unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances, become unwittingly involved in a pollution incident. This seems to me to be very good drafting in that it means that the conscientious person is protected while the unconscientious person is not.

It is a pity Deputy Durkan has left the House because this section addresses a concern he mentioned, one that has certainly been mentioned in representations I have received from the farming community and from industrialists, that is, that it is not always possible to foresee every circumstance; it is not always possible to provide when one is building, say, a slurry pit, septic tank or whatever, for every circumstance. The one thing we can always be certain about is that the unexpected inevitably will happen at some time.

Therefore it is important that the Bill — which after all does introduce some very swingeing conditions — should be so drafted that a person who can show they operated with good will, with due care and caution, who can show subsequently that some entirely unforeseeable act caused them to be involved in a pollution incident, is protected. This is one of the subtleties in the drafting of the Bill which addresses major concerns on this specific aspect of the law which has been raised in some of the public debate.

The provisions of section 7 — extending the right to any person to seek a [747] court order against a polluter — are most welcome. This provision fits in with the view I have outlined already, that the whole community should become active in the protection of the environment. When the provisions of this Bill are implemented it will be important to ensure that this section does not become the base from which vexatious claims or witch hunts can be launched against neighbours. When one puts that type of provision into law there is always the danger it may be misused. It is up to the courts and the various authorities to ensure that that provision is not misused. It is a very powerful provision and if used wrongly, a potentially dangerous one, but, on balance, it is a welcome provision because it clears a point with regard to legal standing which has been problematic to date.

As the Minister of State said last evening, there will always be the hard core of polluters who ignore the common good. There will always be people who will be mindless of their responsibilities. This hard core, this mindless group, will respond only to stiff penalties particularly if there is a high risk of their being caught and punished. The provisions of this Bill include very stiff penalties. Their full implementation by local authorities, fishery boards and third parties — who, under the provisions of section 7 will now be able to act — will certainly provide a very high risk of not merely being caught but of being punished.

The Bill provides a very potent mix of penalties. For example, an increase of the maximum fine to £1,000 on summary conviction will certainly make people who are careless a little less so. A maximum penalty of £25,000 and/or imprisonment for up to five years for a conviction on indictment would certainly give people food for thought. A new provision, under which polluters will have a civil liability for damage they cause allied to the extension of the right of action to third parties, will certainly extend dramatically the level of penalties available.

A provision allowing the courts to grant both cash costs and expenses to [748] local authorities and to fishery boards against offenders is also provided in section 7. That provision is certainly very welcome because it not merely extends the mix of penalties available but has the very beneficial effect — with which I will deal later — of assisting particularly fishery boards who on so many occasions have to pick up the pieces after a polluter has done his or her nasty deed.

These penalties are very strong indeed and should certainly deter any but the most brazen from polluting activities. I envisage that the provision of a civil liability for damages could provide not just a deterrent to the general body of polluters but could also provide an additional arrow to the bows of residents' associations and householders offended, I would suggest, by the operations of road developers. I do not think any speaker has mentioned this matter so far.

In County Wicklow, for example, we have suffered greatly at the hands of road developers. One aspect of road development inevitably is that they install very poor sewerage facilities that inevitably pollute. Now not only will a local authority have the right to enforce completion of a development but residents' associations and private individuals, under the provisions of this Bill, will have the right to sue such developers and their limited companies for civil damages, which is a worthwhile extension. I could envisage a situation where, for example, a road developer who installs a faulty sewerage system and then tries to walk away from the problem, or who delays in resolving the issue, will be open to very heavy penalties indeed under this provision.

Another noteworthy aspect of the Bill is the increase in the powers of local authorities with regard to trade effluents. Particularly welcome in this regard are the provisions in sections 5 to 13. The new provisions allow the local authorities to undertake on-the-spot reviews rather than to depend on the present system of three-yearly reviews. This is surely wise because it is very obvious, if you read the papers, that from time to time people let standards slip shortly after they come into operation. They clean up their act slightly [749] before the review and they go back to their bad habits after the review.

Debate adjourned.