Dáil Éireann - Volume 456 - 27 September, 1995

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Environmental Health Hazards.

40. Miss Quill asked the Minister for the Environment the steps, if any, he proposes to take to facilitate the introduction and enforcement, on an EU-wide legal basis, of measures necessary to protect EU citizens from environmental health hazards emanating from another member state. [13542/95]

Ms McManus: EU legislation on the environment, which covers practically all sectors of the environment, applies throughout the Union for the benefit of all EU citizens. Primary responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of this legislation rests with member states who are required to establish the necessary legal and administrative arrangements at national level, and in accordance with national practice, for that purpose. Responsibility for taking legal proceedings to ensure compliance with Union environment legislation rests primarily with the European Commission. It is also open to a member state, under Article 170 of the Treaty on European Union, where it considers that another member state has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaty, to bring the matter before the Court of Justice. No fundamental change in this allocation of responsibilities appears at present to be contemplated within the EU.

[95] Community involvement in relation to nuclear issues is based on the EURATOM Treaty. A possible review and update of this Treaty to place a greater emphasis on health, safety and environmental aspects is among the proposals being considered by a group of Ministers and senior officials set up to develop a concerted strategy for progressing the Government's policy on Sellafield and related concerns about the nuclear industry. The group will submit proposals to the Government at an early date.

Miss Quill: Would the Minister accept that there is a major gap in both the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty because no Euro law is in place to control or govern transboundary pollution? As a result, emissions from plants in a member state can, with impunity, cause serious damage to the health or livelihood of citizens in a neighbouring state. Would the Minister agree that this country is particularly vulnerable because of our proximity to places like Sellafield and Wylfa? Is it the Government's intention to put this matter on the agenda for the forthcoming environmental conference with a view to having the law strengthened?

Ms McManus: There is certainly concern about the EURATOM Treaty. In my reply I mentioned that a possible review and update were among the proposals being considered by the group of Ministers and senior officials established by the Government. This is the first time that the Government has set up such a group specifically in response to our concern about Sellafield. The Deputy has raised a point which is of great concern to all parties so I do not see it solely as a Government concern. The group is looking at the treaty involved as well as assessing the possibilities of legal action. We will be seeking advice from the Attorney General on that. There should be no let up on this issue and the Government is determined to explore all avenues to ensure [96] whatever action can be taken will be taken.

Miss Quill: I accept that a body is now in place and that possible review of the EURATOM Treaty is being considered but that is a very weak response to an extremely serious issue, an issue that has been——

Mr. N. Ahern: Nine months.

Miss Quill: Nine months, exactly. Now we are told that there will possibly be a review. Will the Minister confirm that there will be a review to force an amendment to the provisions of the EURATOM Treaty? Better provisions are required to protect member states from transboundary pollution.

Ms McManus: If it were up to Ireland alone to carry out or implement the review——

Miss Quill: To initiate review.

Ms McManus: ——it would not be a problem, but we are part of a much larger group of countries. We have to pursue that approach and there is general agreement that a review is necessary. The way in which it is framed at the moment is not adequate. As regards taking legal action as an individual country, if we are dependent solely on a cross-European approach it may be that we are not taking every opportunity open to us. The ministerial group has adopted a comprehensive view including a review of the EURATOM Treaty. While it is obviously a vital one, we may not be able to wait for it. We want to make sure that we take all the options open to us.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Quill may perhaps ask a brief concluding question. I am sorry that I may not call Deputy Sargent as we are dealing with priority questions.

[97] Miss Quill: Does the Government intend to put the matter on the agenda of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference?

Ms McManus: I do not have the answer to that specific question but I can follow it up with the Minister. I would take it that the answer would be——

Miss Quill: It is important that it should be done.

Ms McManus: Of course it is and I will get back to the Deputy on that.

Miss Quill: Will the Minister of State use her influence?

Mr. Dempsey: The programme, A Government of Renewal, says it will be raised on every available occasion, so I presume that it will be raised at the Intergovernmental Conference.

Mr. E. Ryan: The Attorney General must be exhausted.