Seanad Éireann - Volume 127 - 14 February, 1991

Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Hussey: I welcome the introduction of this Bill and particularly the fact that it was first introduced in this House. I hope that this will be the first of many such Bills to come before this House and to be processed by Senators.

The promotion of Ireland's natural assets has assumed great importance in recent years. There is a public awareness of the need to protect our environment. The establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency will help in achieving this objective. Because of the expertise available to the Environmental Protection Agency, a more informed approach will be taken on environmental matters. Local authorities will also be asked to play a major role in the work of the new agency. I have suggested that local authorities be compensated for the work they carry out on behalf of the [1295] agency. I understand that local authorities have control over agricultural land, and that the agency will be monitoring rivers and lakes. There could be overlapping in these areas because it could be argued that much of the pollution going into rivers and lakes comes from the land. It might be better, indeed, if one authority covered those two areas.

I am sure those problems can be resolved as the work of the agency progresses. Changes can be made along the way. What is important is that our environment be protected. Our national well-being depends very much on tourism and on our food industry which is renowned world wide. Last night this House accepted a motion proposed by the Fianna Fáil Members calling on the Government to control the sale of pesticides and poisons, particularly strychnine. I was pleased to hear the Minister stating in his reply, that he proposed to ban the sale of strychnine. This is a step in the right direction and is taken for environmental reasons. I wish the legislation a speedy passage through this House and through the other House and I hope the agency will be able to commence its work very shortly. It is a great step forward and it is one we have all been asking for for a long time. I wish the agency every success.

Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. It is a particular pleasure to see a Bill of this substance being introduced in this House. I want to compliment the Leader of the House for acknowledging the requests and the concern of Senators that a more substantial body of legislation should be introduced in this House. I would also like to acknowledge the work that has been done by the Minister over the past 12 to 18 months in dealing with pollution in the City of Dublin, the degree to which, despite what conditions looked like around Dublin last night, smog has been attacked and to a large extent eliminated in the environs of the city.

I welcome this legislation and I am [1296] delighted to see it coming along in the context of some other legislation which has been very favourable towards the environment. We debated the Derelict Sites Bill not so very long ago which was an excellent attempt to deal with certain aspects of interference with the environment and to improve the quality of the environment by eliminating derelict sites and creating a register of derelict sites. Some of the same principles are incorporated into this Bill and likewise the Building Controls Bill to try to tie up some of the loopholes in relation to planning and building. This legislation is a welcome addition to the other legislation we have been dealing with over the past 18 months. It is also a reflection of the new awareness in this country, albeit belatedly. We are way behind in the European context. Perhaps the Europeans had greater need of it because of the greater degree of industrialisation that took place in other parts of the world and in Europe and, therefore, the greater threat to the environment that was perceptible on so many other countries. We have been very fortunate that our environment has been relatively clean and unpolluted because we avoided the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and, indeed, avoided a lot of it in the 20th century. While that has its own irony, nevertheless it has resulted in our being in a better situation but also it has resulted in our being very slow to tackle the problems. We have real problems of pollution in this country.

The Environmental Protection Agency Bill establishes new powers over pollution. It gives powers to control pollution. The integrated licensing system it provides under which pollution licences are now granted by the agency and not by the local authority is welcome. The register that will be established under Part IV, section 86, and will be open to the public for inspection is a very desirable development and is positive in relation to dealing with pollution matters.

I am also satisfied with the appointment procedures to the board in that it does seem to be fairly and reasonably [1297] independent. I would have very considerable concerns about the extent to which the agency operates as distinct from any direction or target that is in the agency. I believe the functions of the agency are too narrow, that it limits itself mainly, not exclusively, to pollution control. It deals with air, water, waste and, to an extent, noise but mainly pollution control is the focus of the Bill and I would have thought that it could have been extended to cover the entire environment. It is a negative aspect of the Bill that it has limited application.

I am also concerned about section 107 of the Bill where there is no adequate provision for freedom of environmental information. There is a very large measure of discretion left to the Minister and I am not sure if that is the direction in which we should be going. It certainly is not in conformity with the wishes of the EC and the EC directives. There should be total freedom of information in an environmental context to the public.

I would also have thought that the Bill could have gone further down the road. Something I would have liked very much to see is the Bill statutorily stating the situation in relation the nuclear issue. We in Ireland are a nuclear free zone and it has become ad hoc policy for so long that it has almost been established as a principle. We have made very formal decisions that we are not developing a nuclear industry and certainly we are not going down the road of nuclear power. It would have been a welcome statutory statement to incorporate a decision of this matter in the Bill.

The other area I am concerned about is the destruction of Dublin. Two weeks ago we were debating a Private Members' Bill and in that Bill we were dealing with Dublin city plans particularly in relation to motorway construction and the various developments that had taken place or were in the process of taking place. It is difficult to see how the application of the terms of this legislation can do anything to protect the environmental from the Dublin city draft development plan. That is a major section of our environment. There are whole communities involved, [1298] there are whole areas of sensitive wildlife in areas such as Booterstown. There is Dublin Bay and the fabric of city life and community life in the city. I cannot see how this legislation is going to have any impact on what is a warmed-up Dublin city draft development plan which was effectively rejected almost 20 years ago and which has now been presented in a slightly revamped form and is likely to destroy the fabric of the city of Dublin.

I would certainly like the Minister to give me some indication about how this legislation can protect the city from — I will not say the city planners because I do not think the city planners get much scope — the city engineers. They seem to be the people who have a bee in their bonnet about the desirability of motorways as the means to solve all our transport problems. They are not too interested in feasibility studies or environmental impact studies. Also I would be concerned that this Bill does not seem to be in accordance with EC requirements. It does not seem to have the strictness of the legislative requirements that have been promulgated in the EC.

I would like to dwell a little further on the situation vis-á-vis the city of Dublin. Dublin this year is the European capital of culture and Europe is focusing attention on it. Last year it was Glasgow. We see the tremendous developments that took place in the development of Glasgow, the very substantial funding that was put into that development and then we look at the meagre provisions being made for Dublin. The only plans that the city fathers seem to have are road plans which will have as their effect the destruction of the greatest amenity we have, a city centre surrounded by a beautiful bay with the wildlife heritage centre in Booterstown. Is is very difficult to see all of that surviving, plus the whole length of Sandymount Strand which is to be subjected to a four or six lane roadway, either running underneath it, running over it or running alongside it. That certainly does not seem to be environmentally conscious and aware particularly [1299] in this year when Dublin is the cultural city of Europe.

I would be concerned about the way decisions have been taken in the council where at present the motorway proposals are on exhibition. They did not go to the full planning committee, they went to the general purposes committee and were endorsed subsequently by the council. Only after the exhibition has been terminated on 8 March will we have any movement towards a feasibility study or an environmental impact study. That is not likely to be available until the end of the summer. The public will have the privilege of inspecting the city father's plans and lodging their objections and then they will be told that subsequently they will have the benefit of seeing the conclusions of the feasibility and environmental studies. That is putting the cart before the horse. I would like to see an amendment to this legislation which would ensure that this is not the way our planning laws operate in the future. This type of loophole, which can allow a development to take off, on a momentum of its own, which it is virtually impossible to stop because the necessary information is not available to the public at the time that they have the authority to put in their submissions and objections should be closed. When the old plan was presented there were over 15,000 objections to it. Even in its revised form it certainly poses a major threat to the environment. I wonder if the Minister would address this environmental feature and this section of the people which comprises almost one-third of the population. What will this legislation do to protect that environment?

I would like also to see the agency having real powers to deal with our protected list of buildings. What can it do in that respect? We see buildings falling to development of one sort or another, whether by the local authority who of course, are immune from the operation of derelict sites legislation, or by speculators. We see it happening all the time and there is no point in saying that the [1300] legislation is adequate to protect it. If it was, this would not be happening.

What can be done in the context of the new Environmental Protection Agency to protect publicly listed buildings, or what can be done to protect areas of historic or architectural heritage? What can be done to protect the habitats of wildlife which Dublin Corporation itself are proposing to destroy? What can be done to protect the city from the local authority who are immune to the provisions of this legislation and immune to the provisions of previous legislation? I have always regarded that as being the significant factor which has not been dealt with in the legislation. It is a different matter in towns and villages and, indeed, cities around the rest of the country.

Dublin seems to be a city which has had the local authority as the worst landlord, as the worst perpetrator of environmental damage and allowing planning laws to be abused in so many areas. So much seems to have happened in the city of Dublin and I would be worried about legislation that does not try to curtail the very extensive scope of the local authority to cause environmental damage. A motorway can be planned for donkeys years, as has happened in this city. It has not been constructed but as long as it has been planned it is not amenable to the law virtually because it is within the plans of the corporation. That has been one of the reasons for the dereliction in this city. The new derelict sites legislation is not going to make any improvement there.

Finally, in the context of the European environmental law, the Government are obliged to implement the directive on environmental impact assessment. We have statutory provision for that. We have the 88 statutory instruments in relation to the European Communities environmental impact assessment on motorways. The procedures that should be followed are set down. We have the 1990 regulations made by the Minister for the Environment. The problem I find about the regulations implementing the EC Directives is that there is an absence of a categorical statement granting freedom of information to the public. That, [1301] to my mind, is in direct breach of the European legislation. I would like to ask the Minister if there is any intention to address that or whether we can have a suitable amendment to this legislation that can address it.

Section 69 allows the agency to comment on the environmental impact assessment if the Minister allows it to do so. It does not have a right or an entitlement, it has a privilege that may be taken away or may be granted. Therefore, what is its value? If what we have here is an agency that is allowed to draw up guidelines for environmental impact asessment but they are not necessarily binding, if we have only got an agency that has an advisory role, a guideline role, that there is not total freedom of information, then you have an agency without teeth. How can we leave to the discretion of the Minister all of these important functions? It is my contention that if that is done we are creating an agency which is not fulfilling the acquirements of the European legislation in this area and we are, therefore, creating a flawed agency. I would like the Minister to address some of those points and to indicate whether she would be amendable to amendments to effect improvement.

Mr. Dardis: May I begin by welcoming the Minister here today and joining with many Members of the House in congratulating her on what is, by any standards, a remarkable achievement in bringing legislation of this scope, size and significance before us. It is a tribute to her tenacity and her determination that she has bought the Bill to the House, very much supported obviously, as it is introduced by my party colleague. I notice this morning she has having people singing valentines to her on the radio and she may become embarrassed by all the favourable attention she is getting at the moment.

This Bill will have an enormous impact, and a very welcome impact I believe, on the nature of our environment. It is very comprehensive in its scope and it is very far-seeing in its entire outlook and [1302] nature. The Minister's credentials have been well established in this respect in the way she has courageously tackled the smog problem in Dublin. I noticed driving home yesterday evening there was far more fog on the dual carriageway than there was in the city and it was fog, not smog.

From the Progressive Democrats' point of view, we are very glad that we have succeeded in bringing to the centre of the political stage matters of an environmental nature, concerns for the environment and our commitment to its protection. That is in the knowledge that that commitment is entirely consistent and supportive of positive economic benefits to the country. That is a point that needs to be stressed and it is one that the Minister stressed in her opening remarks, that it is because of the economic benefits to the country that these measures are so important and so essential. I noted the Minister in her address said she was determined that the agency should not be seen as anti-industry but that it would be pro-environment and if that meant anything it meant it would be anti-dirty industry, anti-dirty agriculture and antipollution of any kind. I endorse those sentiments completely.

One of the features possibly of our society, and it may well be a growing feature, is that there is an expectation that the Government or those in power do everything for us. Of course, the fact of the matter is that it is our country. It is the people's country and it is our environment. I sometimes wonder as to the extent of individual responsibility in these areas and the responsibility that each citizen has to see to it that the country is clean and friendly. Of course one of the biggest offenders in that respect is our attitude to litter, possibly because we do not live in quite so densely populated a society as some of the European countries where we perceive these matters to be very well attended to. There does appear to be, for instance, in a country like Holland very little litter and possibly that is because of the density of the population but that is an area [1303] where the individual citizen has responsibility and that is a matter of education. The Government have taken their initiative, the Minister has taken her initiative, but I believe that there is responsibility on the citizen as well in relation to the small things which count, in relation to promotion of our tourism and of the image of our country we wish to represent.

I believe a clean environment is entirely consistent with our overall national economic advantage. The argument which says that we must be restrained or aggressive in this area because we know it would affect jobs and because of the employment-depressive possibilities of this type of legislation, in my view is entirely ill-founded. It is represented as if there was some sort of contradiction between wishing to protect and preserve and in some cases restore the environment, the overall environment, and national economic advantage. I think it is entirely consistent for two particular reasons: the significance of agriculture and the significance of tourism, particularly the growing significance of tourism in our economy.

It is quite apparent in the tourist area that one of the attractions of a country such as ours is its relatively unpolluted state. We are dealing with a market which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and discerning and is demanding standards to which we hope this Bill can contribute in a significant way. Industrial development is entirely consistent and compatible with environmental protection because it is quite obvious that in the drive that is coming from the European Community towards market-led agriculture, our greatest hope of surviving and prospering is by the promotion of food that is clean and environmentally friendly and that we can stand over on a national quality basis. That is why it is in the interests of agriculture, as well as every other industry, to protect, preserve and enhance our environment. Therefore, what we are talking about is the overwhelming national value, of a clean national resource and its preservation.

[1304] Having said that, I do believe that in legislation, and it is addressed here, there must be a flexibility in relation to distinguishing between very large industries that have a huge capacity to pollute and destroy an area and smaller industries that are much less of a threat by nature of sheer size and of their lesser capacity to pollute. I believe they have to be controlled in relation to what they can do. There cannot be irresponsibility but nevertheless I believe there must be a degree of flexibility which allows those smaller industries to develop and does not submerge them in a sea of legislation and of cost in complying with that legislation. That is not to say that if they do pollute they should not be required to clean up and the principle contained in the Bill that the polluter pays is a very good one.

I think we only have to look over the past 20 or 30 years to see the kind of crimes — I say “crimes” advisedly — that have been committed within the country on an environmental basis. I can recall a time when Lough Sheelin was one of the premier trout angling lakes in Europe, not just in these islands. People came from all over Europe to fish in Lough Sheelin. That was an immense national resource with an immense potential to create jobs and bring economic prosperity to an area which needs development. What happened? We allowed the pig industry to develop. That, in itself, I do not object to, but we allowed the slurry to destroy Lough Sheelin. Thankfully, the lake appears to be improving. I recall meeting a very prominent pig farmer, one of the most prominent pig farmers here, at a time when it was apparent that problems were beginning to develop in Lough Sheelin. He told me that if he was given ten years he would have Lough Sheelin reclaimed, that it would be dry land. He thought that was funny. I did not think it was funny. That was his attitude to a resource that was there since the Ice Age, a resource which this generation in its greed and avarice could decide was expendable. That was a crime. It was also a crime what happened to Lough Ennell, only few miles [1305] away from Lough Sheelin. That was the responsibility of local authority through the absence of tertiary treatment. I recall going to Lough Ennell, putting an oar in the water and not being able to see the blade of the oar because the water was so green.

We get into these arguments, then, about who provides the funding. Who is responsible? Are the Government responsible or are the local authorities? I do not think it matters. That again is a crime and something must be done to address those situations. Reference was made to the vulnerability of a river like the River Shannon. Of course, the reason it is so vulnerable is because of the very slow flow of water within it. There is the whole question of peat abstraction. Again, I recall as a boy going down to Banagher, rowing a boat down to Meelick weir and being able to fish all day, catch pike, perch and so on. Now it is black with peat in suspension. It is black with peat that is going into Lough Derg and is settling in Lough Derg. It is affecting the whole ecosystem of a lake in terms of the fly life, not just of angling, in terms of the vegetation that grows there — again, a unique national resource. I do not accept that technology was not available to prevent that from happening, to take peat out of suspension, to filter it out of the water courses entering the Shannon. I do not accept that that was impossible.

Again, there is the whole question of the preservation of virgin bogs. How ironic it must be that we depend on the Dutch to preserve virgin bogland, to buy out, as they did with Clara bog, and preserve something which is a national resource, something which again we must stress is an economically beneficial national resource in terms of the attraction it would be to people who are interested in flora, fauna and so on. These are the people who will come to the country and, hopefully, spend money here.

Nearer my home we have the situation of the River Liffey. Thankfully, it has improved to the extent that the salmon are again running in the Liffey, but we [1306] have had fish kills on the Liffey near Newbridge. That is down to the local authority. I realise that most of the people in this House are members of local authorities, were put here by a local authority electorate and that is why they might not be as vocal as I would be in relation to criticisms of local authorities on this matter. But I can say that, were it not for the vigilance of the North Kildare Trout and Salmon Anglers Association, the situation in the River Liffey would be far worse than it is. It is all wrong — the Minister has seen this; she has personal experience of it — to go to a village like Kilcullen and see raw sewage being pumped into the River Liffey, across the stream from the home of one of our most prominent citizens. There are people, very prominent people, coming from all over the world to visit that home. What must they think? They are people who are in a position to influence other people to come here. What must they think when they see that? They can only have a very poor opinion of the country.

The other matter that needs to be dealt with is in relation to developments like forestry in the west of Ireland, salmon farming, the intensification of sheep farming on the hills. We are into a very difficult area there, where we are looking at parts of the country which are very depressed, which are sorely in need of development and which are sorely in need of employment. But, within those areas, it is legitimate to say that tourism is the foundation on which most of the other economic activities can survive and prosper.

My criticism is not so much that forestry was allowed develop or that salmon farming was allowed develop or that sheep farming was intensified on the hills, but that we had a total lack of knowledge as to the impact of these activities on the environment. That is why it is so essential that the agency have adequate research back-up to assess these things in a proper and scientific manner and to make calculated assessments as to what the impact of some of these activities would be.

Again, it is appalling — and I am sure Senator Ó Foighil is well aware of this — [1307] that if you take lakes like Lough Inagh, the Gowla system, the Screeb system, the Costello system, and what has happened there in relation to the sea trout, the evidence is unclear as to whether or not it was salmon farming or forestry or whatever that caused that decline. But the fact is that something did cause it and it seems to be impossible for us, two years down the line, to establish exactly what it was that is causing that. That again has had huge economic significance in terms of tourist revenue within a part of the country that is quite depressed.

I notice that the Bill addresses the matter of water quality. There is another matter of course, which is a fairly significant one too, and that is the matter of water abstraction, where we have a place like Ballymore Eustace where it is proposed to take, I think, 75 million gallons a day out of the River Liffey. At one stage it was proposed to take 120 million gallons a day out of the River Liffey. When that debate was raging I saw a television programme from Britain and it showed streams that had disappeared. The Thames Water Authority had taken so much water, artesian water, underground water, out that streams had disappeared. We saw the picture 20 years ago of the country house with a large stream in front of it and then we saw the same picture from the same perspective and the stream had vanished.

I understand fully the needs of Dublin city for an adequate and clean water supply, but we cannot allow a resource like the River Liffey to disappear because of that. The farmers along the Shannon know that there is plenty of water down there and they would be quite happy I am sure to export it to Dublin by whatever means. I know that that was talked about previously, the fact that Shannon water could be channelled to Dublin. Perhaps with the increase in the Structural Funds that could be done.

Who are the culprits? Agriculture is not blameless. A lot of what happened possibly arose out of ignorance and that is why the whole information side is so important. Industry, obviously, has had [1308] its crimes. Then there is the question of the local authority. As I said, I realise that Members of the Seanad are also members of local authorities. They understand the problems of local authorities, even when they have the wish to address these problems, of not being able to do so. But I believe that local authority must look to its responsibilities and that is why I am a little uncomfortable about some of the aspects of the Bill which vest certain activities within local authority. I am not sure how that problem can be overcome, but certainly my experience would be that local authorities are not always the best people, firstly, to monitor what is going on, certainly in water pollution; and, secondly, if they are, they may not have the resources, or even the will, to address the matter in a proper fashion.

Coming back to the perception of the country, the economic need of the country to have this environment which we can stand over, that it is acknowledged internationally that this is a clean country, that this is a country to which it is desirable for foreigners to go on holidays, one of the things that strikes me is this. If you leave the country for a fortnight or three weeks, when you land again at Dublin Airport — assuming that you are not landing at Shannon first — and drive into the city centre, litter is the overwhelming thing that will strike you. You may take this for granted when you drive around every day, but when you return to the country it becomes more striking. The neon signs and the haphazard nature of that development, which is now being attended to, has been improved; but litter is certainly at the centre of the problem,. I hope the Minister, in view of this resounding success, will move on to other successes in relation to litter. I know she has ideas in that respect and in relation to the whole question of waste legislation.

There is the matter of noise, which is addressed in the Bill, and that is to be welcomed. How do we decide what level of noise is acceptable? There is only the scientific way of doing it and that is through decibel levels. I would imagine, [1309] having crossed the road this morning, that the activities going on outside the front gate would be above acceptable noise level standards. But that activity must not be prevented. We must develop in a reasonable way. The OECD, in relation to noise said, that either from choice or necessity central government often passes on the responsibility for enforcing standards and regulations — that is, the basic component in noise abatement policies — to local authorities or to the police. This is a shift in responsibility that is out of all proportion to the skills and resources available locally. So, in relation to noise pollution, the question arises as to how we are going to monitor noise pollution and how we are going to control it.

The essential requirements of the agency have been met in the Bill. The central significance is that of independence. An agency of this nature must, if it is to be effective, be independent of outside interference, and that is something that has to be copperfastened. I know the Minister is aware of it and I know it is addressed in the Bill, but it is a centrally important element of the Environmental Protection Agency. Its independence must be protected, must be preserved, if it is to be effective; and the most effective way of ensuring that that independence is protected and preserved is through information.

That, I am glad to see, is addressed in the Bill. I believe profoundly that it is the responsibility of Government to allow access to the public to see and judge upon its activites. Information is essential. It is essential in convincing people of the need to be environmentally responsible; but in a broader context it is a fundamental of good Government that there is open and free information. One of the things that is to be very much applauded is that in the event of a pollution incident it is open to establish a public inquiry and that then the results of that public inquiry would be published. That is an important principle. Accidents will happen in the best ordered societies; but in the event of an accident happening we must learn from it and, not only that but we should publish the results [1310] of whatever inquiry takes place. The principle that the polluter pays is very important, and one to be welcomed.

Legislation of this nature should not be piecemeal. That is why the Bill is large, has many sections and is comprehensive in its nature. One of the things that is desirable, and is addressed as well, is that emissions into water and air are taken together. It is important to associate both, because any industry that tends to pollute one, tends to pollute the other. There will be exceptions to that in relation to, say, silage making and some farming activities, but they are addressed in the Water Pollution Bill.

Apart from its independence and the fact that it is important that the information should be freely available, the agency must have power and teeth. That includes the capacity to take on big business, which has an extraordinary facility to be able to circumvent legislation, to be able to circumvent rules and to be able to represent itself as being environmentally friendly when sometimes it is not. Some big business may well be environmentally friendly, but sometimes it is not, and it does have a capacity to represent itself as responsible, environmentally friendly, because of the resources that are available to it.

That is quite notable in a country like France where, as I saw last year at the Paris Show, every activity that you wanted to be environmentally friendly was environmentally friendly. They would put a wrapper around everything from a combine harvester to — dare I say — white sugar — and say that it was what everybody needed and the reason they needed it was that it was environmentally friendly. Paint a tractor green and it becomes environmentally friendly. That is something that has to be attended to.

There are questions I have in relation to certain sections of the Bill, but they are probably more appropriate to Committee Stage. One relates to section 24 — that the Minister may specify qualifications for all or any particular post of director. That includes, I suppose, the director general. “Qualifications” is an all embracing word. Would it include [1311] political qualifications? I know the Minister will not see it in that context, but I have some difficulties in that regard.

I wish to say something in relation to the advisory committees and their membership, where it is suggested that more than seven in all from each of five lists of candidates, nominated by professional environmental protection, economic development, community development and educational research organisations prescribed by the Minister, should be in the appointment system. The type of organisation I would see having a role there would be something like the fishery boards, which on a local basis, have been very active in terms of monitoring and bringing to the attention of the public incidents where activities that are not environmentally friendly are being carried out near water courses. Bodies such as the Royal Dublin Society may have an input in this area, where there is a very wide background of scientific knowledge from a widely dispersed group of people. There is an environmental committee within that society and maybe it has an input in this type of situation.

In relation to consultative groups and regional environmental units, perhaps the Minister could enlighten me as to what she has in mind in relation to those consultative groups, who might constitute them, their relation to the environmental units, the regional units, how many there would be and where they would be located. What would be their role?

Another niggly point is in relation to genetically modified organisms. I would submit we are all genetically modified organisms, but I am not quite clear as to what is meant by genetically modified organisms.

The Progressive Democrats obviously welcome this Bill absolutely wholeheartedly. It has our full support. We congratulate the Minister. I think possibly we could go forward from there. In relation to this matter is it too much to ask that we have some input or that the Minister, through the European Council of Environmental Ministers, would have [1312] some input into the types of global initiatives that are so desirable? I note that the European Parliament has made recommendations on the formation of a European charter and a European Convention on Environmental Protection and sustainable development. That is something we could make quite a significant input into. I think it would be very desirable and I know that the Minister, given her record, would be able to make a valuable contribution to that. It is obviously difficult, when we get to the supranational level, to get agreement. We have seen in relation to CFCs the difficulty of getting people to behave themselves. Again, you are looking at very big international vested business interests, who are slow to respond other than through a very definite signal from the marketplace or through a very clear direction from international bodies and from individual Governments. So, perhaps the Minister can now go forward to an international forum and bring her tenacity and her determination in this area to bear. I unreservedly congratulate her on what she has achieved. I think it is a remarkable achievement by any standards and I look forward to the Committee Stage of the Bill.

Pól Ó Foighil: Cuirim fáilte roimh Aire Stáit an Roinn Comhshaoil agus is maith liom go bhfuil an deis seo againn chun an Bille tábhachtach a scrúdú sa Teach inniu. Ta an-chuid scríbhneoireachta agus cainte déanta i leith caomhnú na timpeallachta, le blianta beaga anuas. Cuirimid ceist orainn féin, uaireanta, ag féachaint cá bhfuil ár dtriall nó cén deireadh a bhéas leis an obair seo nó cén sórt comhluadair a bhéas sa tír seo, go mór mór faoin dtuath, má chuirtear gach a bhaineann leis an mBille seo i gcrích. Tá imní orm ina thaobh agus tá an imní bunaithe ar mo thaithí phraiticiúil le dhá scór bliain i gceantar atá an-tábhachtach ó thaobh na timpeallachta de.

Níor fhás tuiscint ar an dtimpeallacht agus a caomhnú sa tír seo go dtí na seachtóidí agus na hochtóidí. Glacaimid leis go bhfuil aos óg na linne seo ag fáil oiliúna sna scoileanna ar an dtimpeallacht agus [1313] ar ár gcomhfhreagarthacht ina leith. Rud nua-aimseartha is ea an oiliúint seo. Ní raibh na modhanna múinte againn sna caogaidí ná sna seascaidí chun tábhacht na timpeallachta a chur in iúl do na páistí.

Cloisimid anois go bhfuil gach páiste scoile in ann caint a dhéanamh faoi sraith an “ozone”; tá go leor ráite i dtaobh díothú na bhforaoiseacha báistí, i leabhair atá feiliúnach do pháisti scoile de gach leibhéal. Craoltar eolas ar an dteilifís faoin dochar a dhéanann dóireadh ola do na farraigí. Ní bheadh focal le cloisteáil faoina leithéad, blianta ó shin sa tír seo. Bhí a fhios ag gach duine faoi thubaist Chernobyl agus faoi mar a chuir sé isteach ar an dtír seo agus ar thíortha eile na hEorpa. Is eol duinn conas mar atá atmasféar na príomhcathrach millte le gual agus le deatach.

Baineann an-chuid taispeántas agus beartas a chuirtear isteach ar an gComórtas Eolaíthe Óga san RDS gach bliain leis an dúlra agus le caomhnú na timpeallachta. Is léir go bhfuil an-dul chun cinn déanta maidir le eolas a scaipeadh faoina bhfuil ag tarlú thart orainn.

Ar an dtaobh phraiticiúil dhe, tar éis a bhfuil cloiste agus léite agus foghlamtha ag na páistí faoi chaomhnú na timpeallachta, cuirim céist orm féin cén fáth nach bhfuil na páistí seo níos airdeallaí agus níos cúramaí maidir le ceist an bhruscair, mar shampla. Is cuimhin liom a bhéith ag obair ar Inis Oírr, Oileán Árainn, trí blíana ó shin fad a bhí suas le 200 scoláire ag freastal ar choláiste Gaeilge ann. Is ó Bhaile Átha Cliath a tháinig 80 faoin gcéad de na scoláirí sin. Nach aisteach an rud é, bíodh gur scoláirí iad a fuair ceachtanna faoi ghlaine agus chaomhnú na timpeallachta, gurb iad na gasúir sin a tháinig go hoileán Inis Oírr agus a mhill an t-oileán ó thaobh glaine agus na timpeallachta de i gcaitheamh na dtrí mhí a bhí siad ann. Ba chuma leo, a bheag nó a mhór, faoi pháipéar milseáin, páipéir ar uachtar reoite agus mar sin, á gcaithieamh timpeall, agus nuair a chuir mé stop le cuid acu chun a chur ar a súile dóibh bheith níos airdeallaí agus níos cúramaí faoina n-iompar ó thaobh na timpeallachta de, is amhlaidh go ndearna siad gáire fúm. Is olc an toradh é sin ar ár [1314] gcóras oideachais, agus ar ndóigh, ní leis an dream sin amháin a bhaineann an scéal, ach freisin le go leor scoileanna agus daoine eile a thugann cuairt ar áiteanna éagsúla.

Bíodh go bhfuil go leor oibre déanta ar bhealach amháin ó thaobh chaomhnú na timpeallachta de, is é mo thuairim dhaingean go bhfuil an t-uafás eile le déanamh maidir le hoideachas. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé éasca an t-oideachas a thabhairt d'aos óg na tíre ar bhealaí anphraitíciúil. Nuair a bhíonn siad sa bhaile agus ar scoil bíonn orthu bheith cúramach maidir le páipéir a chaitheamh thart, ach nuair a bhíonn siad thiar i gConamara is cuma leo, caitheann siad i dtraipisí iad. Tá ceacht éigin le foghlaim againn ansin agus is ceacht simplí é. B'fhéidir go gceapann daoine, i gcomhthéacs an Bhille mhóir seo atá faoinár mbráid inniu, nach fiú bheith ag caint faoin ábhar seo, ach is iad na rudaí beaga simplí seo a léiríonn intinn an phobail. Nuair a fhágann gasúir timpeallacht Bhaile Átha Cliath le dul siar go Conamara nó áit ar bith eile ar laethanta saoire, ní bhíonn an meas céanna acu ar an dtimpeallacht nádúrtha ansin.

Nuair a mheabhraimid ar an bhfáth go bhfuilimid ag plé Bille den chineál seo, cuirtear in iúl dúinn go bhfuil go leor le foghlaim ón Eoraip agus ó thíortha eile, a rinne dóthain dearmad iad féin, rud atá fíor. Nuair a chuamar isteach san CE, i measc na ndualgas a bhain leis an mballraíocht sin ná caomhnú na timpeallachta. Is é mo thuairim féin gur de bharr brú ón CE atá an Bille seo os ár gcomhair, ach ní aontaím leis an modh oibre atá ag an gComhphobal maidir leis an timpeallacht agus an tír seo. De réir mo thaithí féin, níl rudaí ag feidhmiú i gceart, agus tá rudaí ag tarlú ó thaobh na timpeallachta de nach léir do na riarthóirí ná don phobal. Luaifidh mé sampla amháin. Tá rud a dtugtar “areas of scientific interest” air sa CE, nó áiteanna a bhfuil tábhacht speisialta eolaíochta ag baint leo, ach sula leanaim leis seo ba mhaith liom a rá nach maith liom teideal an Bhille seo, Gníomhaireacht um Chaomhnú Comhshaoil, mar sílim go bhféadfaí teideal níos oiriúnaí agus níos [1315] simplí ná sin a chumadh. Ach deir lucht aistriúcháin liom go bhfuil orthu bheith an-dlíthiúil nuair a bhíonn siad ag aistriú ó Bhéarla go Gaeilge.

Ach le dul siar go dtí an ASI seo, áiteanna a bhfuil tábhacht speisialta eolaíochta ag aint leo, céard a rinne an CE? Fuair siad léarscáil na hÉireann ó Bhord na nOibreacha Poiblí agus le cabhair leabhair thagartha, chuireadar ciorcal timpeall an tríú cuid beagnach den tír seo. Chuireadar go leor ciorcal thart ar cheantair Chonamara agus Mhaigh Eo agus áiteanna eile, na ceantair is áille sa tír, agus dúirt siad gur áiteanna seo uilig a raibh tábhacht speisialta eolaíochta ag baint leo. Níl mise ag cur in éadan a leithéide, ná duine ar bith eile ach oiread, mar is rud inmholta é seo, ach tá siad tagtha isteach aniar aduaidh orainn. Má chuireann éinne anseo ceist ar fheirmeoirí i gConamara, i Maigh Eo, nó Sligeach nó áit ar bith eile, gur leo an talamh a bhfuil na ciorcail seo thart timpeall orthu faoin roinnt seo, níl a fhios acu go hoifigiúil nó go neamhoifigiúil go bhfuil sé sin tarlaithe dá gcuid talamh.

Is trua liom nár thug mé an léarscáil isteach lena taispeáint daoibh go bhfuil na mílte acra gearrtha amach, agus tá sé ráite ag an CE gur áiteanna iad seo a bhfuil tábhacht speisialta eolaíochta ag baint leo. Níor tháinig cigire ar bith de chuid na nOibreacha Poiblí chucu le heolas a thabhairt dóibh nó le hiad a cheistniú maidir lena raibh fúthu a dhéanamh. Tá go leor samplaí ar an dul sin le ríomh.

Anois táimid ag caint faoi chaomhnú na timpeallachta sa Bhille seo. Tá suim ar leith agam i dtuairimí daoine nach n-aontódh liom, b'fhéidir. Tá sé curtha i mo leith agus i leith daoine eile a bhfuil baint agam leo i dtionscal an fheilmeoireacht éisc, gur muidne an dream is measa sa tír, go bhfuilimid ciontach i gcoireanna uafásacha in aghaidh na timpeallachta. Ach, tógaimis na ceantair éagsúla seo a bhfuil an oiread sin cainte futhu. An feilmeoir beag seo a bhfuil píosa talún aige, bíodh sé ina phortach nó ina fhoraois, is é an rud a deir Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí — agus tá sé seo [1316] ina ábhar chás cúirte — gur de réir shoc ruithe an CE atá siad ag feidhmiú, gur áit é sin a bhfuil tábhacht speisialta eolaíochta ag baint leis agus thairis sin níltear ag déanamh dochar ar bith don fheirmeoir beag, ach tá dóchar á dhéanamh dó sa mhéid má bhíonn sé ag iarráidh an talamh sin a dhíol, nuair a chloiseann an té atá ag brath an talamh a cheannach uaidh go bhfuil, cornasc air agus nach ceadmhach de réir an CE rudaí áirithe a dhéanamh mar go bhfuil tábhacht eolaí ochta ag baint leis, laghdaítear luach na talún.

Freisin, ní bheadh aon deontas le fáil ag an bhfear sin ón CE, mar shampla. Táimid ag déanamh dlí anseo, Bille atá bunaithe ar phrionsabal Eorpach, ar phrionsabal an CE, agus tá rudaí á ndéanamh anseo atá mícheart. Ní hamhlaidh go bhfuil an prionsabal mícheart, ná go bhfuil an caomhnú mícheart, ach tá easpa chothromaíochta ann, níl an chothromaíocht ann ó thaobh na heacnamaíochta agus chaomhnú an dúlra agus na timpeallachta de. Tá dhá rud i gceist agus ní féidir ceann amháin a scarúint ón gceann eile. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Dardis romham, agus é ag caint ar an ábhar seo faoi áiteanna i gConamara agus in iarthar na hÉireann trí chéile, an áit is déine an áit is mó a gcuirfidh sé seo isteach ar shaol dhaoine phríobháideacha.

Mar a dúirt mé, níl tada bunúsach agam ina éadan seo, ach níor caoi bheith ann le go mbeadh a fhios ag daoine go bhfuil sé seo ag tarlú. Ba cheart go bhfaigheadh an duine cúiteamh cóir ar an talamh atá saothraithe nó insaothraithe aige. Níl a fhios agam cén réiteach a bheidh air seo. Tógaimis an t-iarthar arís, mar shampla, Cruach Phádraig, áit mhór oilithréachta agus tá cinneadh déanta faoin timpeallacht nach ceart mianadóireacht a dhéanamh ar an gcnoc. Ar ndóigh, tá sé sin go hiontach. Is beag duine a chuirfeadh in aghaidh an bheartais sin, go háirithe polaiteoirí in iarthar na tíre, mar bheadh vótaí i gceist.

Is é mo thuairim dhaingean, má tá i ndán don saol anois nach féidir aon rud a dhéanamh le Cruach Phádraig mar gheall ar oilithreachtaí, thurasóireacht ná aon chúrsaí eile, gur chóir go mbeadh [1317] cúiteamh le fáil. Sin an fáth go n-abraim nach bhfuil an chothromaíocht sa Bhille seo. Tá go leor rialacha ann le rud a stopadh, le pionós a chur ar dhaoine agus lena dtabhairt chun na cúirte, lena gcearta a bhaint díobh as an timpeallacht a mhilleadh, ach ní fheicim, ar an taobh eile den scéal, aon chothromaíocht don duine a gcuirfear isteach air. Beimid ag caint faoin mBille agus na hailt éagsúla atá ann, ach ní bheidh aon chaint ann faoi chúiteamh. Beidh dóthain cainte ann maidir le cé mhéad airgid a bheidh le fáil ag an chief executive officer chun seo agus siúd a dhéanamh, cén dóigh a roghnófar a leithéid seo, agus mar sin.

Ná déanaimis dearmad, agus an chaint seo uilig ann faoin timpeallacht, go bhfuil dochar á dhéanamh d'eacnamaíocht na tíre agus go háirithe sna limistéir thuaithe. Sampla beag eile: bhí an-raic anseo breis agus bliain ó shin nuair a bhí lucht gnóthaí Baile an Chlocháín i gConamara ag iarraídh tuairím is 100 acra portaigh. Bhí iarratas ístigh go dtógfaí aerstráice ag an gClochán, rud a chabhródh go mór leis an turasóireacht, ach cuireadh go tréan in aghaidh a leithéide, in aghaidh na daoine cróga misniúla a bhí thiar sa Chlochán, iad scoite amach ón gcuid eile den tír, agus iad ag iarraidh rud éigin a dhéanamh ar a son féin chun a gcúinsí eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta a fheabhsú. Téann sé sin lom díreach in aghaidh prionsabal atá sa Bhille ó thaobh caomhnú na timpeallachta de. Cuireadh i mo leith-se agus i leith daoine eile go rabhamar ag milleadh na timpeallachta. Mar a luaigh an Seanadóir Dardís tugadh daoine isteach ón Ísiltír a bhí tar éis ceacht a fhoghlaim trína bportaigh féin a mhilleadh; tugadh daoine isteach ó Shasana agus ó Bhaile Átha Cliath — an tarm glas a thug mise orthu. Rinne lucht na meáin cumarsáide ionsaí uafásach ar iarracht na ndaoine seo chun a gcuinsí eacnamúla a fheabhsú. Ní raibh duine amháin díobh seo í gcoinne caomhnú na timpeallachta nó caomhnú an cheantair, mar tuigeann said go rí-mhaith gur dá leas féin an chaomhnú seo.

Níor thuig daone ag an tráth sin ná ní thuigeann siad fós go raibh 24 míle acra de phortach ansin agus nach raibh i gceist [1318] ach imeall beag ar bhruach bhaile an Chlocháin — 50 nó 100 acra ar a mhéid — a usáid chun aer stráice beag a thógáil ann. Cuireadh glan ina aghaidh. Níor tugadh cead pleanála dóibh toisc go raibh ciorcal beag ag Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí timpeall na háite sin i nganfhios do mhúintir an Chlocháin agus i ngánfhios dón fhear ar leis an portach. De réir an diúltú ceada, ba limistéar é seo a bhí ainmnithe ag an CE mar cheantar a raibh tábhacht speisialta eolaíoch ag baint leis agus nárbh fhéidir cead pleanála a thabhairt. Fillim ar mo bhuncheist arís nuair a fhiafraím cén áit sa Bhille seo a bhfuil leas eacnamiúil an phobail i gceist chomh maith le leas na timpeallachta? An rud is mó a chur fearg orm agus muid ag caint faoi chaomhnú na timpeallachta i leith an Bhille seo ná gur tháinig fear uasal ab ainm dó Bellamy ar Raidio Éireann agus gur thug sé “Amadáin” ar mhuintir an Chlocháin toisc go ndearna siad iarracht aerstráice a dhéanamh, ansin. B'éigean dó é sin a tharraingt siar go poiblí. Mar a dúirt mé, mura bhfuil cothromaíocht ann idir an dá thaobh, an timpeallacht agus an eacnamaíocht, beidh siad ag tarraingt as a chéile.

Tá go leor samplaí againn anois a léiríonn domsa go bhfuil lochtanna móra ar an gcaoi a bhfuilimid ag dul i mbun caomhnú na timpeallachta. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil réiteach na faidhbe sa bhille seo. Níl an dá intinn tagaithe le chéile ó thaobh chaomhnaithe, eacnamaíochta agus saol tuaithe na tíre. I leith na heacnamaíochta, tháinig Bord na Móna isteach agus bhain siad na portaigh i lár na tíre, agus anois táthar ag rá gur dhona an rud é sin a dhéanamh. De bharr go raibh muintir an iarthair scoite amach ar an chósta, bhí siad deireanach ó thaobh bheith ag forbairt go heacnamúil. Anois nuair atá an deis acu siúd dul chun cinn le forbairt, tá an rud mór seo ar a dtugtar “caomhnú an imshaoil” tagaithe chun tosaigh orthu agus á dtachtadh agus ag tachtadh aon dul chun cinn is féidir a dhéanamh ar thalamh bocht an iarthair. Tá bac orthu aon rud a dhéanamh leis na portaigh. Níl mé in aghaidh agus ní raibh mé riamh in aghaidh chaomhnú an phortaigh, an “blanket bog” mar a thugtar air. [1319] Ach má táimid ag iarraidh go mbeadh pobal tuaithe ann ní féidir bheith ag baint agus ag baint agus gan tada a thabhairt.

Tá mé ag caint go príomha faoi iarthar na tíre. Tá chuile dhuine ag caint faoin a cheantar féin. B'fhéidir go gcuirfear i mo leith go bhfuil mé paróistiúil ach aon rud a bhíonn le foghlaim againn bíonn sé le foghlaim sa bhaile, agus nuair a fheiceann tú rudaí ag tarlú i do cheantar féin, caithfidh tú labhairt futhu. Tá cosc anois ar chrainn. Tá aithne agam ar fhéirmeoirí beaga a bhfuil dhá mhíle acra de shliabh acu agus tá sé coscaithe orthu crainn a chur, de bharr laincisí an Bhille seo. Is é an Bille seo atá ag tabhairt feidhmiú do rialacha atá ag teacht ón gComhphobal Eorpach. Táthar ag rá anois go ndéanann na foraoiseacha seo a bhíothas lena chur ar shléibhte, dochar don dúlra, idir aibhneacha agus fharraige. Caithfimid glacadh leis seo. Ní fhaca mé Aire Stáit ar bith, áfach, ag dul ar ais go dti na feirmeoirí seo chun a rá leo nach féidir leo rud a dhéanamh leis an bpíosa sléibhe atá acu, seachas é a dhíol, más féidir leo. Tabharfar cúiteamh dóibh agus is é a bhéas mar thoradh ar an ngníomh ná bánú na tuaithe do bharr na constaicí móra a chuirtear i bhfeídhm in ainm caomhnú na timpeallachta.

Céard is tábhachtaí ar an saol seo — caomhnú na timpeallachta nó caomhnú an duine; caomhnú an iascaire nó caomhnú na farraige áit a bhfuil sé ag obair? Tá sé deacair a fhreagairt. Deirtear go gcaithfear an duine, an daonra agus an t-aonad teaghlaigh a chaomhnú ach ag an am gcéanna, ní mór dúinn an timpeallacht a chaomhnú, freisin. Tá deacrachtaí agamsa leis an réiteach seo ó thaobh an teaghlach a choimeád beo go heacnamúil agus an dúlra a chaomhnú ag an am céanna do shliocht ár sleachta amach anseo.

Tá amhras mór ormsa faoin mhaitheas a dhéanfaidh an Bille seo agus conas mar a rachaidh sé chun tairbhe an teaghlaigh ar chósta iarthar na hÉireann, ó Dhún na nGall go Ciarraí. Cén mhaitheas é muna mbeidh tairbhe ann do dhaoine?

Tá roinnt mhaith le rá agam faoi chaomhnú na farraige, maidir le timpeallacht, [1320] tránna, uisce doimhim agus uisce éadoimhin ach ní fheicim tagairt ar bith don fharraige sa Bhille seo. Níl a fhios agam an ormsa atá an milleán toisc nár aimsigh mé a tuairisc. Tá an fharraige ar cheann de na hacmhainní nadúrtha is luachmhara atá againn. Ná déanaimís dearmad gur oileán í Éire, an t-aon oileán i gComhphobal na hEorpa. Bheadh sé suimiúl, dá ndéanfadh duine éigin scagadh ar an mBille seo feáchaint cé mhéad uair a luaitear an focal “sea” ann. Is í an fharr aige an acmhainn nadúrtha is tábhachtaí atá againn toisc go dtéann gach abhainn isteach ann ar deireadh, is cuma cá bhfuil eirí uirthi nó cén contae trína ghabhann sí. Bíonn a fhíos ag an bpáiste scoile sa triú nó sa cheathrú rang bunscoile go mbaineann an fharraige le gach a bhfuil ag tárlú sa tír.

Seachtain ó shin, chuir mé rún síos sa Teach ag fiafraí d'Aire na Mara soiléiriú a dhéanamh ar scéal a tháinig ón gComhphobal Eorpach i dtaobh na ASIs — áiteanna a bhfuil ard-cháiliocht speisialta eolaíoch ag gabháil leo — agus maidir le scéal a tháinig i nganfhios go bhfuil na farraigí thiar i gcuan Chill Chiaráin agus na Beirtrí Buí i gConamara tar éis athrú stádais oifigiúil a fháil ón gComhphobal Eorpach. Ceantair shliogéisc ab ea iad agus ceantair feirmeoireacht bhradáin is ea iad anois. Is beag nár thit muintir Chonamara Thiar as a seasamh nuair a chuala siad é sin. Beidh 300 feirmeoirí agus iascairí beaga thíos leis. Tá na daoine seo beag, ní ó thaobh méid de ach ó thaobh acmhainní dhe, agus tá siad suite idir Chloch na Rón agus Leitirmealláin, i gCarna, i Rosmuc agus i Leitir Mór.

Tá na daoine seo tar éis comharchumann áitiúil a bhunú; tá siad ag obair agus ag comhoibirú leis na Ranna Stáit agus le Bord Iascaigh an Iarthair ó thaobh monatóireachta, glaineachta agus rialacha a chomhlíonadh dhe. Tá deireadh leis na leapacha oisrí a bhí ann ag dul siar go dtí an 16ú aois, tar éis d'Údarás agus d'Aire na Gaeltachta agus don Chaibinéid breis agus £1 mhilliún a chaitheamh air seo. Bhí gach cruthú ann go raibh sé ag dul ar aghaidh go maith agus bhí idir 200 agus 300 feirmeoirí beaga ag baint usáide agus airgid as, ag cur leis an maoin [1321] aiceanta agus eacnamaíochta atá acu.

“The Irish authorities have informed us” atá scríofa ann, go bhfuil deireadh le feirmeoireacht shliogéisc sa cheantar sin. Is de bharr an Bhille seo atá a leithéid ag tárlú i nganfhios beagnach, do na daoine a bheas thíos leis.

Is beag contae sa tír nach bhfuil baint éigin aige leis an bhfarraige agus feicfear an rud céanna ag tarlú thart faoin gcósta, in ainm chaomhnú na timpeallachta. Aontaimíd uile maidir leis na buntáistí a ghabhann le timpeallacht ghlan. Ach ní ghlacaimid leis ná ní thuigimid an t-easpa cothromaíochta ar cheart a bheith sa Bhille seo idir dhul chun cinn eacnamúil na ndaoine agus caomhnú na timpeallachta.

Tá an-ghá le caomhnú na timpeallachta i gcás feirmeoireacht éisc. Tá an-diomá orm nach bhfuil cur síos ná rialacha sa Bhille seo maidir le truailliú nó caomhnú na farraige, ach déantar trácht ar rialacha a dhéanamh maidir le gach a théann isteach sa bhfarraige ó thaobh séarachais de. Tá bliain gafa thart ó chuaigh Bille um Foras na Mara tríd an Teach seo, agus tá sé anois ina dhlí. An bhfuil comhoibriú i gceist idir an Bhille seo agus na Billí a ghabh roimhe, ar an ábhar céanna? Ní fheicim go bhfuil Bille um Foras na Mara luaite sa Bhille seo, agus is dona nach bhfuil, mar is ar an bhfarraige is mó is cóir dúinn béim a chur. Tá an-chuid mí-thuiscintí ann faoi láthair maidir le hoibriú, glaineacht agus truailliú na farraige de, agus ní mór na mí-thuiscintí seo a ghlanadh suas.

Nílimid ag iarraidh truailliú farraige a cheadú. Nílimid sásta ach oiread go gcuirfear as riocht an chothramaíocht a ba chóir a bheith ann idir chaomhnú farraige agus saol eacnamaíochta na ndaoine atá ag obair ar an bhfarraige. Déanadh trácht an tseachtain seo caite ar staidéar a dearnadh ar an mbreac farraige agus ar a dhíothú as an bhfarraige. Níl sé le fáil timpeall ar chósta na Gaillimhe níos mó, de thoradh galair agus míoltóga farraige. Dearbhaíodh gurbh iad na feirmeoirí bradáin a ba chúis leis an truailliú seo. Ní dúirt an staideár é sin go baileach ach b'shin mar a dúradh sna nuachtáin, a bhí [1322] claonta i gcoinne na bhfeirmeoirí seo. Shílfeadh duine ar bith a léigh an tuairisc gurbh iad na feirmeoirí éisc a ba chúis leis na fadbhanna uilig.

Ní mór a mheabhradh dúinn féin go bhfuil an-chuid gnéithe i gceist maidir le truailliú na farraige. Ní bhaineann sé le feirmeoirí éisc amháin mar a agródh nuachtáin agus teilifís. Níl an chothromaíocht cheart ann ó thaobh forbairt eacnamúil agus caomhnú timpeallachta de. Is í an deacracht is mó a fheicim-se leis an mBille seo ná cothromaíocht a bhaint amach maidir leis an dá phrionsabal seo.

Ar na gnéithe eagsúla a bhaineann le caomhnú timpeallachta, tá comhairlí contae, monarchana móra, séarachas as na bailte. Ar deireadh thiar déanann gach rud, gach dramhail agus gach truailliú, a bhealach ó na haibhneacha chuig an fharraige agus is í an fharraige bun agus barr ceist an chaomhnaithe. Tá go leor rudaí sa Bhille faoin stádas a bheas ann agus faoi foras a bhunú le rudaí a dhéanamh, ach níl mé cinnte a bheag nó a mhór go bhfuil leigheas an scéil istigh anseo.

Bhí mé sa Teach nuair a dúirt an Seanadóir Honan seachtain ó shin go raibh sí cineál imníoch faoin struchtúr atá istigh anseo. Luaigh sí go speisialta na boird sláinte atá timpeall na tíre agus an chaoi ar fhás siad; gur deineadh sliabh mhór de rud beag, agus go bhfuil an oiread sin ama, dúthrachta, airgid, speisialtóireachta, seo siúd agus uile, bainteach leis na boird seo anois gur beag airgid atá fágtha don bhfear nó don bhean sínte in ospidéal. Tá fás mór cruthaithe ar bhealach éigin nach bhfuil chun leasa, dar liomsa nó dar le go leor daoine ag deireadh an lae, don ghnáth-dhuine thíos ar an dtalamh.

Cuirimid uilig míle fáilte roimh rud ar bith atá le déanamh leis an timpeallacht a chaomhnú, ach an bealach le gníomhú, sin an fáth go bhfuil mise amhrasach. Ní faoi na haidhmeanna atá ansin; tá na haidhmeanna go hálainn agus na prionsabail go deas ann. Ach sa tír beag seo faoi láthair tá 87 de ranna Rialtais de chineál amháin nó de chineál eile ag plé le cúrsaí sláinte ó thaobh séarachais agus rud ar bith a bhaineann le truailliú. An faitíos atá orm faoin Bhille seo go bhfuil [1323] mé ag ceapadh nach mbeidh ann arís ag deireadh an lae ach gluaiseacht mhór daoine ag iarraidh rud a chur chun cinn agus gan a fhios acu cá bhfuil siad ag dul, nó cén chaoi a dhéanfar an struchtúr seo nó cén bealach a dhéanfar an dlí seo a chur i bhfeidhm i dtreo is go mbeidh toradh ceart leis. Tá an oiread sin reachtaíochta ag an Roinn Comhshaoil le blianta. Tá Achtanna ann, mar shampla, a bhaineann le luas bóthair, le caitheamh crios sabhála, le brúscar, le toghcháin, le pleanáil agus go leor ábhar eile Is í an cheist atá mise á cur ná, cé chomh maith is a d'éirigh leis an hAchtanna sin, agus cé chomh maith is atá siad ag obair? Cén toradh atá orthu, má tá toradh ar bith ar chuid mhaith acu? Agus cén maitheas atá á dhéanamh acu? Tá go leor Achtanna curtha tríd ag an Roinn Comhshaoil le blianta anuas nach bhfuil infheidhmthe agus níl siad á bhfeidhmiu, dar liomsa, go foirfe agus i gceart.

Sin an fáth go bhfuil faitíos orm go bhfuilimid ag dul ag bunú córais nua mór eile. Céard le haghaidh? Chun an dúlra agus an timpeallacht a chaomhnú a deirtear, le chuile shórt a tharraingt le chéile sa chaoi go mbeidh siad uilig ag feidhmiú le chéile agus go mbeimid uilig ag obair as lámha a chéile, go mbeadh aonad amháin speisialta ann ag plé leis an dúlra agus le gach a mbaineann leis.

Tá sé an-deacair dom a thuiscint cén chaoi a bhféadfaí sin a dhéanamh, nuair atá cúrsaí chomh dona sin sa tír is atá siad, ó thaobh truaillithe de. Tá sé an-deacair a thuiscint, mar shampla, go bhfuil bailte beaga ar chósta na tíre — tóg bailte Chonamara, An Spidéal, Bearna, Carna, An Cheathru Rua, An Clochán, — agus na háiteanna sin go léir — gan aon chóras speisialta séarachais in aon cheann acu siúd. Is é sin, tá an séárachas as na bailte beaga sin go léir ag dul díreach isteach sa bhfarraige gan aon rúd déanta faoi. Is ait liom go bhfuilimid ag caint faoi Bhille anseo inniu a deireann nach mbeidh aon truailliú ar bun sa bhfarraighe nó ar an dtalamh agus ag an am ceanann chéanna go bhfuilimid ag tabhairt ceada do na húdaráis áitiúla séarachas, gan aon chóras speisialta á chur ar [1324] bun iontu, a ligint isteach sa bhfarraige chun dochar agus truailliú a dhéanamh.

Mar shampla, téann an séarachas poiblí amach sa trá sa Spidéal, agus tarlaíonn an rud céanna i mBeárna agus áiteanna eile. Ansin táimid ag caint faoin truailliú, faoin timpeallacht agus faoi céard a tharlós amach anseo. Is mór an scannal é go bhfuil na tithe inaistrithe nó demountable homes mar a thugann siad orthu, le feiceáil ar thalamh nó amuigh faoin dtuath, bíodh siad i gConamara nó in áit ar bith eile. Is uasfásach an caitheamh anuas orainn féin agus ar na húdaráis áitiúla go bhfuil muidne ag ceadú a leithéid sin, go bhfuil muid sásta glacadh len a leithéid sin. Cé mhéid tithe chomhairle chontae atá ann, mar shampla, gan aon séarachas iontu nó gan aon uisce iontu? Agus anois táimid ag caint ar an Bhille breá seo.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Bhí mé ag caint roimh an briseadh ansin faoin ngá a bhí leis an struchtúr seo a fheidhmiú agus cén bhaint a d'fhéadfadh a bheith ann leis an gcomhairle chontae. Ag am lóin fuair mé glaoch gutháin aniar ó Chonamara, agus dúradh liom, le linn dúinn bheith ag caint ar an mBille faoi chaomhnú, go raibh Bardas na Gaillimhe ag tabhairt ceada le haghaidh seastáin do lucht siúil i gceantar atá á chaomhnú de bharr áilleacht radharca, éanlaithe fiáine agus talmhaíochta, agus go raibh caint ann faoi rezoning sa cheantar.

Más í sin an aidhm atá acu, tá fáitíos orm go mbeimid ag cumadh córais leis an mBille seo chun rudaí áirithe a dhéanamh agus ag an am céanna go bhfuil neamhshuim á déanamh de na bunstruchtúir agus na bunrialacha, go háirithe i gcás Bhardas na Gaillimhe. Deirtear sa Bhille go gcuirfear comhairleoirí agus eolaithe ar fáil, daoine a mbeidh saineolas acu ar an gceist, ach is eagal liom go bhfuilimid ag bunú struchtúir a bheidh thar a gcumas ar fad. Níor mhaith liomsa go mbunófaí struchtúir agus go dtabharfaimis neamhaird ar na rudaí atá ag tarlú thart timpeall orainn. B'fhearr plé leis sin ar dtús sula [1325] gcuirimid dlús le Bille a bhfuil an CE go bunúsach taobh thiar de.

Ní dóigh liom, d'ainneoin aidhmeanna fiúntacha bheith ag an mBille, go bhfuil sé praiticiúil, agus ní shílim gur féidir a bhfuil faoi chaibidil sa reachtaíocht seo a bhaint amach, rudaí ar nós ídiú an chósta thart ar Loch Garman, i gConamara agus áiteanna eile. Is é ceann d'aidhmeanna an Bhille an bealach a réiteach le fíneáil a chur ar dhaoine nó iad a chur i bpríosún. Níl aon rud dearfa ann maidir le háilleacht a chaomhnú, agus níl polasaí ceart ag an Stát maidir le hídiú na farraige isteach sa tír. Éinne a bhí ag breathnú ar an teilifís inné fiú amháin, bhí mír ann faoi Chloch na Rón i gConamara, a ndearna na stoirmeacha scrios ann cúpla seachtain ó shin, stoirmeacha a ghearr trí dhumhacha móra cois trá agus a scuaib amach san fharraige iad. Anois tá faitíos ann i dtaobh cheantar mór turasóireachta a bhí ann go dtí mí ó shin agus nach bhfuil ann anois. Ach nach aisteach an rud go dtagann maith de chineál éigin as gach tubaiste, mar tar éis don fharraige gach rud a scuabadh chun bealaigh osclaíodh amach áit seandálaíochta, áit a raibh stair 4,500 bliain ag baint leis; tháinig sé sin de dheasca na stoirme agus, mar a deir an seanfhocal, “ni thig olc i dtír nach fearrde duine éigin”. Ach níl aon airgead le fáil chun an áit sin a chaomhnú. Is amhlaidh an scéal le chuile rud thart ar an chósta. Tá an rud céanna le rá faoi na bóithre a théann síos chun na farraige. Níl a leithéid de rud ann mar bhóithre anois, cúram atá ar an Roinn Comhshaoil.

Nach é an trua é, bíodh is go bhfuil aidhmeanna maithe sa Bhille seo, nach bhfuilimid in ann an rud a reachtú sa dóigh is go mbeadh an phraiticiúlacht ann as a bhfásfadh an fhoirfeacht. Táimid chun na saineolaithe go léir a chur ag obair, rud a chosnóidh a lán airgid. Deirtear, mar shampla, go bhfuil sé i gceist idir £8 milliún agus £17 milliún a chaitheamh ar fheidhmiú an Bhille seo sa dóigh is go mbeadh sé ina eiseamláir don tír maidir le caomhnú an chomhshaoil. Tá caint ann faoi shuim mhór airgid, faoi fhoireann mhór a cheapadh, theicneolaíocht nua a thabhairt isteach, faoi [1326] chleachtadh staidéar féidireachtaí, environmental impact studies, le scrúdú a dhéanamh ar an gcaoi a gcuirfeadh aon fhorbairt isteach ar an gceantar nádúrtha thart timpeall orainn. In áit an struchtúir a luaitear sa Bhille seo a thabhairt isteach, bheadh sé i bhfad níos fearr dá bhféadfaí cur leis an gcóras atá ann faoi láthair.

Tá córas rialtais áitiúil ann agus tá sé i gceist go mbeadh réigiúin ann. Má ghlactar leis na comhairlí contae, na rannóga rialtais áitiúla, mar atá siad agus an t-airgead a chur isteach iontu siúd, in ocht réigiúin a bheadh ann taobh istigh de bhliain nó dhó, is fearr go mór an toradh a bheidh ar an mbeartas seo ná an rud seo a bhunú leis féin. I mbeagán focal, táimid ag dul ag baint den chumhacht atá ag an gcomhairle contae agus é a fheidhmiú go lárnach. Deirtear sa Bhille nach bhfuilimid chun sin a dhéanamh, ach deir fo-alt (56), “the agency may for the purpose of subsection one make arrangements with their local authorities on such terms and conditions as may be agreed for the provision of services, including services relating to staffing and equipment to that local authority”. Is rud é seo nach dtuigim.

Táimid anois ag caint ar struchtúr mór nua a chur ar bun, agus ag an am céanna táimid ag caint ar airgead a chur ar fáil do na comhairleoirí contae chun struchtúir eile a bhunú. Nárbh fhearr go mór cur leis an struchtúr atá ann cheana agus foireann bhreise a chur isteach in ocht réigiúin leis an gníomhaíochtaí agus an obair a dhéanamh go praiticiúil agus go háitiúil. Leis an struchtúr sin d'fhéadfadh ocht réigiúin feidhmiú trí na comhairlí contae, mar tá na comhairlí sin ann cheana féin. Nílimid ach ag bunú maorlathas mór eile leis an mBille seo. Ag deireadh thiar ní bheidh muid in ann na haidhmeanna atá sa Bhille a bhaint amach.

Ceart go leor, déarfar go mbeidh sé neamhspleách ó thaobh ballraíochta de, go bhfuil sé tábhachtach muinín an phobail a chothú agus go bhfuil An Taisce ag cur fáilte roimhe. Ach tá mé ag rá go mbeidh deireadh leis an mBille, sa mhéid go mbeidh muid ag fáil réidh leis na [1327] comhairlí contae, cé nach bhfuil sé sin á rá anseo. Cén fáth nach féidir linn an obair seo a dhéanamh trí na comhairlí contae? Nach fearr go mór, agus £8 milliún le caitheamh, gach comhairle contae a láidriú, na rannóga speisialta sna comhairlí contae a láidriú leis an timpeallacht a chaomhnú?

Dá mbeadh cead pleanála le fáil agamsa amárach agus dá ndéarfadh an chomhairle chontae liom go gcaithfinn staidéar a dhéanamh féachaint cén tionchar a bheadh ar an bhfiontar atá agam ar an timpeallacht, bheadh orm é sin a dhéanamh. An chéad rud a shínfí chugam ná liosta téarmaíochta agus coinníollacha atá tagtha chugainn, ní ón Roinn, nó ón Rialtas ach ón CE. Sin an fáth go bhfuil mé ag rá go mbaineann chuile rud sa Bhille seo leis an CE. Táimid ag iarraidh an CE a shásamh agus ag an am céanna nílimid in ann aire a thabhairt do na rudaí beaga atá fíorthábhachtach. Cén mhaith a bheith ag bunú struchtúir mar seo nuair atá chuile bhaile beag i gcontae na Gaillimhe, dála, is dócha, na gcontaetha eile, gan córas séarachais. Táimid ag caint faoi chaomhnú na timpeallachta agus ag an am céanna táimid mar rialtas áitiúil ag tabhairt ceada séarachas ámh a chur isteach san fharraige ag an Spidéal agus áiteacha eile thart ar chósta na Gaillimhe. Tá sé mar a gcéanna timpeall gach cósta ansin. Ach seo muid ag caint faoi Bhille anseo atá chun an timpeallacht seo a chaomhnú, agus céard atá ráite istigh ann? Chuirfear fíneáil ar an gcomhairle chontae, agus ní amháin fíneáil orthu siúd, ach ar fheirmeoirí chomh maith. Rud eile a bheidh an-chontúirteach, go mbeidh tú ag iarraidh ar oifigigh ón gcomhairle chontae bheith ina mbleachtairí agus dul isteach sa chúirt chun cuidiú le daoine a chur i bpríosún. Nuair a bhí an Bille seo á chur le chéile, ní dóigh liom go ndearnadh aon comhráití le hionadaithe na gcomhairlí contae atá ag plé leis an gcaomhnú, nó gur iarradh orthu an mbeadh siad sásta é seo a dhéanamh. Táimid ag iarraidh an córas a oibriú trí dhul i gcomhairle leis na comhairleoirí contae. Tá sé sin ráite go soiléir in ailt 55 agus 56, agus tá gach comhairleoir contae [1328] sa tír ag briseadh an dlí. Níl aon locht orthu, níl mise á lochtú. Níl aon neart acu air mar níl aon airgead acu lena mhalairt a dhéanamh. Mar sin, le bheith praiticiúil faoi seo, tá na haidhmeanna anseo inmholta. Is í an aidhm an timpeallacht a chaomhnú, sin é an in-thing ag an nóiméad. Creidim go mbeifear ag briseadh an dlí i mBearna amárach ó thaobh bird sanctuaries agus a leithéidí de agus suímh á socrú do lucht siúil, agus tá an chomhairle chontae nó an bardas sásta é sin a dhéanamh. Déanamid dlíthe agus ansin brisimid iad.

Níl an Bille seo ag dul a shocrú rud ar bith, agus, dá bharr sin, ní féidir liom fáilte a chur roimhe. Níl aon locht agam ar an mBille ó thaobh fáilte a chur roimhe, mar rud ar bith a chuirfidh feabhas ar an timpeallacht agus ar chaomhnú na timpeallachta, caithfidh muid fáilte a chur roimhe. Ní bheidh toradh ar an mBille go dtí go mbíonn feabhas curtha ar an gcóras rialtais áitiúil le go mbeidh ar a gcumas aire a thabhairt dá gcontaetha féin ó thaobh eisilteacht farraige agus séarachais de.

Mar sin, tá mé ar an dá thaobh anseo. Tá mé ag cur fáilte roimhe an mBille mar b'fhéidir go dtiocfaidh feabhas air amach anseo. Ach ní chuirfear feabhas ar bith air go dtí go mbeidh chuile rud in ord againn féin, agus ní dhéanfar sin gan a thuilleadh airgid a thabhairt do gach comhairle chontae le go mbeidh ar a gcumas na gnáthrudaí a chaithfidh siad a dhéanamh a dhéanamh, go dlíthiúil agus go bunreachtúil. Caithfidh siad aire a thabhairt dóibh siúd.

Fáiltím roimh an smaoineamh, roimh na haidhmeanna atá sa Bhille ach is oth liom a rá nach bhfeictear go ndéanfaidh an Bille seo leas mhuintir na tuaithe go ceann i bhfad, go dtí go mbeidh muid sásta agus in ann airgead a chur ar fáil.

Mr. Lydon: May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is for me to find a cousin, albeit a distant cousin in such an exalted position and to welcome her as Minister to the House. This legislation which she is introducing is one of the most important pieces of legislation to have come before us in recent times. When Minister [1329] Pádraig Flynn was launching the Bill on 11 December last he said that the enactment of this Bill will powerfully reinforce the protection of the environment in Ireland. The Minister herself has said it represents a blueprint for a modern and effective organisation which will be a cutting edge in the battle against pollution.

I am afraid that I do not share Senator Ó Foighil's reservations that this has been foisted upon us by the European Community. There is a misconception abroad that we are not somehow part of the Community, that if a directive, an idea or even a concept comes from Brussels, the Commission or from the Parliament, we do not have any responsibility for this. This is something I cannot accept. As Europeans, we are part and parcel of the Economic Community. We have to take responsibility for whatever directives, ideas or concepts emanate from that source. I really do not believe that anything is being foisted upon us.

It is significant that the Government have decided to bring forward this Bill because never before has our environment been under such threat from so many sources. We are rightly concerned about the purity of the air we breathe, the water we drink, about pollution of our rivers and seas, about the destruction of our forests by acid rain and by indiscriminate cutting of timber. We are rightly concerned about the destruction of wildlife and animal species. It is a sobering fact on which to ponder that every hour we eliminate forever from the face of the earth a life form which we cannot replace and which will never again evolve. That is a very frightening statistic, but it is true.

Because of our greed or hunger we have pillaged and wasted our natural resources. Even the very ground on which we walk and in which we grow our crops has become polluted through the use of pesticides and other chemicals and through the use in war of defoliants such as Agent Orange, which was used to such devastating effect by the United States in Vietnam during the war there. Soil is a natural non-renewable resource of vital importance to mankind, both present and [1330] future generations according to one of the resolutions adopted at the Council of Europe's sixth ministerial conference on the environment which took place in Brussels in October 1990. The threats to the soil, particularly those of human origin but also those of natural origin, can cause serious damage, some of which is irreversible.

It is this notion of irreversible damage and of irreplacability which has in recent times served to focus our minds and our efforts on preserving for future generations all that was handed down to us. This idea that we are using up forever or that we are destroying forever, that which we cannot replace has been a necessary impetus for action. We have here in Ireland in recent times done our bit with regard to protecting the environment. For example, a major declaration entitled The Environmental Imperative was agreed by the heads of government at the European Council on 25 June last year. This declaration was prepared by the Presidency at the initiative of the Taoiseach. The objectives and principles contained in the declaration are intended to form the basis of the Community's fifth action programme for the environment.

One aspect of this Bill which I most welcome is that it will tackle the problem of noise pollution. In most industrialised countries noise is one of the main causes of the declining quality of life, if not the principal cause. There are many reasons for this, but let me give you just three. In the 15 years to 1987 the number of motor vehicles in the countries of the OECD almost doubled to 400 million, including 130 million in the European Community. Secondly, urbanisation has increased by 50 per cent and air traffic has risen by a factor of four. The sound level usually considered as an acceptable level is 65 A-weighted decibels, or dBAs. At this level, if dwellings are not properly sound-proofed, noise interferes with conversation, listening to the radio or TV and with rest and sleep. If we look back to the mid-seventies we find that 15 per cent of the population in the OECD area, or 100 million people, were exposed to [1331] noise levels of at least 65 dBAs, the proportion being much higher, often around 50 per cent, in large towns and cities.

Fifteen years later, in the early nineties, the situation has become much worse. Almost 16 per cent of the population of the OECD countries, 130 million people, are now exposed to much higher noise levels. I hope when the Bill is in place citizens will have some means of redress when noise is foisted upon them. I think of elderly or sick people who live close to venues where pop concerts are held. The sheer volume is often deafening. It often lasts for up to four or five hours and is a terrible hardship, for those subjected to this noise level have no say in its production. This is one of these things we must look at. I hope to discuss this aspect in much more detail on Committee Stage and I expect also to refer them in detail to a number of other sections.

I welcome this Bill because I believe that environmental monitoring is essential if we are to maintain our clean environment for our own health reasons and, indeed, so that we can hand on to our children something of what was handed on to us, not to mention the question of our tourism industry.

Senator Hussey said earlier that we have a reputation worldwide for the pure quality of our food and anything, or any agency, that can help sustain this hard-earned and well-deserved reputation must be worthwhile. We know our faults, we know there has been pollution in various parts of the country, but despite this and despite what has been said, in recent times we have developed a greater awareness of this. The public awareness following the Green Presidency has been heightened through sponsorship, advertising, etc. The whole problem of smog in Dublin was satisfactorily tackled and there is great credit due to the Minister present for having done this. I think it was Senator Dardis who said that when he was driving home last night there was fog but no smog, and credit where credit is due.

In conclusion, I welcome the thrust of [1332] the Bill. It is a lengthy Bill and there are many sections in it. I would like to leave comment on these until we get to Committee Stage when I feel that the House will have an opportunity to comment on the fine print. I listened to Senator Ó Foighil's comments with interest. Ar taobh amháin he was for the Bill, ar an dtaobh eile he was against it.

Mr. Hussey: Tadhg an dá thaobh.

Mr. Lydon: Exactly. And you know what happens to a man who goes along the middle line. I welcome the Bill. I do not have the same reservations. I do not feel it has been foisted on us from some nebulous body in the European Community of which we are all a part. It is a good Bill brought forward by the Minister. It will serve to check pollution in all areas in our environment. Great credit is due to the Minister for having brought in this Bill at this time. I look forward to commenting further on it on Committee Stage.

Mr. Harte: I welcome this Bill. Obviously in its present state it does not do all of the things we would like to see done but the provisions are there within the Bill and let us hope the drive, initiative and imagination will be there along with it. We hope that will exist in the minds and in the hearts of whoever is going to make up the agency. The task before them is a fairly daunting and challenging one but if it pursued diligently — which no doubt it will be — it will be rewarding.

I would not like it to be thought by anyone in the House that I see the Bill as the panacea for all of our environmental ills. Certainly not. I look on it as a substantial effort to control some aspects of our environmental problems and to provide scope for preventive action, having regard to the nature of the people we are dealing with and the world we live in. When we are making a major move to take control of the situation it is as well to take stock. Human beings, as far as I am concerned, have been using the cosh on nature for a long time. The [1333] habit of coshing nature has been handed down to us over hundreds of years. It goes back to the spirit of the so-called pioneering days, the spirit of the settler which resulted in many good things but also contributed greatly to the plunder of nature mentality, which has been handed on. Quite a lot of that is still with us and is still wrecking havoc on the environment. That makes the agency that much more important and that much more urgent.

The pioneers always believed that human nature had great powers and could recover and it did not matter how badly it was abused. It was like many human beings who thought the same about the liver — abuse it, give it a rest and it will come right again. That is how they looked on the environment. They thought it could be abused and that it had the powers of recovery. The belief was that it could hit back and also that we would always have scientists to look at the problems we created, and this would help to remove the onus from us.

Quite frankly, when I see some of the things that are happening I think it would be too kind to say that people just wanted to shift the onus. The fact is a very substantial number could be justifiably described as thugs attacking the natural world, the planet earth. Without being too unparliamentary in my language, I would venture to suggest that the present day mentality of some is: “Joe off, it is only the bleeding earth”. I mean that in the context I said it.

The fact is that the earth in a lot of cases and places was a bleeding victim of thuggery and very often was left lying prostrate in the hope that someone else would do something about it. Perhaps some people would feel a little upset at the suggestion that thuggery was at work on the environment and might look on it as an overstatement. In so far as the overall environment is concerned, the natural world in all its facets has in fact been the victim of a great deal of violence. Who are the armed robbers except the people who live on the earth? Ireland is no exception. We may not have had the major industries that would have aggravated the problem but nevertheless we [1334] were there, we have as much guilt on our hands as anyone else. What really happened was that there was less of the world to grab. If we do not get tough with ourselves by having some sort of an agency like this, and giving it much more strength than it has, we can hardly get tough on others. If we do not, the natural world is going to shrink more and more. I take this very seriously indeed.

This is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that will come before this House for a long time to come. That is saying a lot because it does not begin and end with the question of having a place looking tidy or preventing illnesses. There is a great economy in it and great energy saving. It covers many situations.

At the moment we all know that many places throughout the country are destroyed by massive, mindless pollution. There are hundreds of vehicles clogging the streets with their engines heavily spewing emissions. I know the Minister has been dealing with pollution from coal burning and full credit to her. The evidence is there that there is a great reduction in pollution in this area. Nevertheless these strong emissions are continuing to pollute. People are still getting sore throats and stinging eyes and breathing difficulties plague residents. Obviously this is more emphasised in the cities. I do not think even the new born can escape it. The high lead levels in blood has been evident in many new born babies. Mining is not one of our major industries but nevertheless we did have a lot of mining. There were many broken bodies not just because people had to work in the mines but because of environmental difficulties arising when a mine was worked out. If an abandoned mine is left long enough it causes water pollution.

There are many things to be done there and the agency will be able to do a considerable amount. However, it will need a lot of help from these Houses.

One area the agency could concentrate on is the area of recycling. In an average house in a year we put into our dustbins about 100 lbs. of paper and board, 100 lbs. of vegetable and other food waste, [1335] a considerable amount of glass, metal, plastic and so on. A report in 1987 by the US based environmental research organisation World Watch tells us that it takes 12 to 14 million tonnes of timber to provide Britain with its paper each year and if half the paper used in the world was recycled it would meet 75 per cent of the new paper demand and preserve 20 millions acres of forest. That report also says that recycling paper can use from 23 per cent to 74 per cent less energy than making new paper and causes 34 per cent less air pollution. Then it goes on to talk about newsprint, tissues, cardboard, iron, steel, copper and aluminium.

In essence, there is a lot to be done on educating people into the value of recycling. The agency will have to start thinking about the matter more seriously and give more emphasis to this question of recycling. In many cases obviously it is not a good economic proposition to collect rubbish from individual households, to try to sort it and to sell some of the contents for scrap. Nevertheless I think householders need to be persuaded to sort it out themselves and bring some of it to a central point. People could be encouraged to recycle in their own areas, to work together on the question of recycling centres to which scrap materials etc could be brought. The aluminium can recycling scheme in London was started by a firm of metal merchants and the collectors are paid so much a kilo for the aluminium drink cans. On this project in 1985 fund raisers actually made £100,000 for themselves. In Birmingham they introduced reverse vending machines and installed them in about six or seven supermarkets. These reverse vending machines accept the aluminium drink cans in return for money and the six or seven used on an experimental basis about three years ago showed that about 1,000 of those cans per week were returned for recycling from each supermarket. We know about bottle bank schemes. We know their value if they are properly run as well as administered.

We have some manufacturing plants that take tonnes of rubbish a year. The [1336] contents of dustbins, cardboard paper and some plastics are sifted in some companies outside Ireland and are then dried and turned into small pellets which are sold as fuel. I am not advocating this scheme because I do not know if the actual pellets would be some sort of a pollutant when they are burned but it is as well to know about these things and to put them on the record so that the agency can see if the projects are feasible. Even if it cannot use the idea in total perhaps it may take some of it.

We know that rubbish is used to provide heat for turbines to produce electricity. Methane gas produced by decomposition of rubbish is drawn off and sold as fuel in other countries. In the USA some states have laws obliging people to pay deposits on soft drink and beer containers. Obviously this is a major way of making sure that the roadsides are not littered with this rubbish. I live in a housing scheme in Inchicore and there is hardly a morning of the week that I do not come out and pick up at least two empty cans. People passing by throw them in. I do not know whether we have recycling advisory units but it could be a proposition to be considered by the agency. In some countries Governments actually subsidise recycling. One of the reasons is possibly that raw materials are becoming much more expensive.

New technology may permit recycling to a greater extent. While experts may know there are considerable natural resources in the sea and below the earth, the quantities may be too small and the area too remote to make it an economic proposition to exploit such resources. However, there is much material available that can be recycled and you do not have to put people to the bother of going into the sea or digging down in the bowels of the earth. There are lasers, for example, that can separate paper from plastic etc. I just put these views forward. I am not saying they are all viable and I am certainly not claiming to know a lot about them. There are a lot of ideas around.

The main thing to which the agency will have to have clear regard is the whole [1337] question of the commercial people talking about profits and the economy and so on. You cannot talk about the environment in a “now” situation. Enough damage has been done to it and, as I said earlier, there is going to be less to grab so we must protect what is left. That means we do not have to deal with the straightforward economics. There can be a quantification of what the long term value of recycling is, if that is the way to do it, or some other proposal that might emanate from the agency.

I do not know whether the Bill in its present state can show sufficient incentives to people to become more environmentally interested rather than having to be compelled to do so. The agency will go a long way towards compelling things and prevention, but it would be wonderful if we could get to the stage where it could be persuasive through advertising, etc., and that people could start to do thing themselves. For example, it might be possible for the agency to start issuing information packs or videos of good projects that have been tried somewhere else. People might take up the idea and try out some of those projects in their own areas. They could also explain how to set up these environmental groups, in other words, give practical advice.

I am very enthusiastic about the idea. I am looking forward to the agency doing well, but we have to remind ourselves that things happen in the world and it is no harm to put on record, for example, the Chernobyl reactor that went out of control 420 miles from Moscow! The roofs were blown off, 50 people were killed, 600 people were hospitalised and 140,000 people had to be evacuated. The fall-out spread across Europe. The sale of milk and leaf vegetables was banned in many parts of Eastern Europe, Austria and Italy because of the risk of contamination. In north Scandinavia the Lapp's reindeer meat and the berries, which was their staple diet, had to be examined for contamination and new measures and controls were introduced. Economically they suffered quite a lot.

In Britain, the Welsh, Scottish and Cumbrian sheep farmers suffered [1338] millions of pounds worth of losses because of the restrictions on the movement and slaughter of contaminated lambs. Despite all this, the world still has confidence in nuclear power. No matter what damage is done, nuclear power is here to stay. I do not know how it is going to affect us, an island people, in ratio to the population of the rest of the world. That is the type of problem that can be caused by nuclear reactors. We are going to be faced with the question of whether we allow nuclear energy. That may be in the future, but nevertheless we are going to have to think about it. The agency is a beginning and certainly not an end. It is a good means to an end in the sense of looking to the future and ensuring that we know exactly what we are doing and, if we are ever faced with the question of having nuclear energy, we will know how to react. On the question of the Chernobyl diaster was it a human or mechanical error, or what was the problem?

On the question of the super powers depending on oil and other fuels, they know this resource is not going to last for ever; it will come to an end in the long term. What we are doing today for Ireland has a large investment in the future. America, Russia and Europe are not going to rely on dwindling supplies of coal and oil, despite the war in the Gulf they know they cannot remain dependent on those forms of energy. They know that the lights will go out on that means of energy. The development and operation of safe nuclear reactors, etc. if we are to get into the energy area, is there as a consideration, perhaps not an immediate one except in the sense of the worry that Sellafield gives us and the ships carrying nuclear waste etc. in the Irish sea. Problems continue to be created by the pumping of nuclear waste into the Irish sea. There is enough waste being dumped at sea at present to poison future generations. We have stopped short of calling for the closure of Sellafield. That may not come directly within the ambit of the agency, but nevertheless the effect of what is happening in Sellafield is an environmental problem and therefore has a relevance.

[1339] Most of the population increases, for example, were allowed to happen without thought of the environmental consequences, economically speaking, and in other ways. Prevention of damage through ecological commonsense is surely part of the economics of conservation. This is something else we will have to think about.

As I said earlier, people will ask if it will pay. That should not be the question because the cash benefit may be short term and we are not always there in environmental situations to satisfy the short term views or aims of the economists. One of the tasks in environmental action is to develop methods of quantification that will not lend themselves to the short term interpretation of economists. We should not suffer the argument that the wilderness has, no commercial or tangible benefit. The fact is that the wilderness must not be wiped out in the name of progress. I trust that the agency will be on their toes in this respect.

What we do not have is ecological reconnaissance before projects are introduced. This should happen where the agency itself has doubts about certain projects. It should be included as part of the agency's policy that ecological reconnaissance, should take place where somebody is putting up a project that is doubtful from the environmental point of view. There would be a need to look at the extent to which it might cause damage, but if the agency were satisfied that it was then the ecological reconnaissance should take place.

Nature conservation and revised land use would, for example, be definitely economic vis-á-vis tourism. We heard that earlier on. When we were talking about local government reform some years ago at a conference in Sligo quite a lot of people were satisfied that local government is not involved sufficiently in the area of tourism. Generally speaking, it has not got enough power to deal with matters affecting the environment. If some authority has to be delegated, if it [1340] is in the interests of the environment, I could not see anything wrong with the agency making recommendations to the Government that this sort of power should be hived off to local government.

I am satisfied that the job can be done and can be done well. If the desire is going to be made a consuming one, we have a lot of educational work to do and that should begin at primary level. We would need to start all over again from the bottom up. I was long into adult life before I understood — I probably would have not been able to pronounce the word — what the environment was about. I have a great interest in it now. I am very satisfied that this is a good development. It is not perfect. It is not going to solve all the problems. But it has a deftness of purpose and, whether we disapprove of some of the measures or not, we have an obligation to give it our fullest possible co-operation to see that it realises its purpose.

Éamon Ó Cuív: The first thing I would like to do is welcome the Minister to the House. A long time ago, when I was looking at the plethora of agencies that exist in the State, I remember writing an article — unfortunately, it was never published at the time — regarding a reaction to problems.

At the time I was caustic enough about what I would call at times a knee-jerk reaction to trying to solve our problems by setting up new structures. I will have some comments to make regarding certain aspects of this Bill. However, I would say, having looked at the Bill in its totality, that certain sections merit comment. However, first I would agree there is a need for such an agency and, secondly, in general there is a lot in it which I would have to welcome. However, my whole approach to problems is to identify the reality of the problem and then to try to solve it. When the Progressive Democrats Party were set up there was one thing they said that I could not quibble with it and that is that we tended to go round problems, not to meet them head on. I had argued previous to that that it is very important that we continue with [1341] that type of approach. It is important that we do not think that the setting up of an agency and the passing of legislation in itself is going to solve problems. At the end of the day problems will only be solved when steps are taken that on the ground actually eliminate those problems.

The second reservation I have is the tendency with agencies, once set up, to be self-perpetuating, to draw powers to themselves and to get involved in empire building. I accept that this is something that cannot be protected against in the Bill, but it is something we will have to ensure does not happen in this case. Now I would measure the success of such an agency, or any other steps we take on the environment, would not be in how many convictions we get, would not be in how many staff the agency have, but would be in an audit of the improvement in the environment over time.

When I was thinking about this Bill I tried to identify the sources of pollution, the sources of environmental hazard. Everybody is aware of industrial threat. We have the problems relating to refuse, to farming, to sewage, and so on. We also have problems relating to products not necessarily manufactured within this country but which are for sale here. Obviously, the aerosol spray is the most obvious one that comes to mind. We have the problem that has been tackled — I congratulate the Minister on the work she had done — regarding smog. We have also the question of radiation pollution of all types. That is, quite rightly, the subject of the Radiological Protection Bill and that matter should be left aside in this Bill. We are very conscious of the dangers of nuclear radiation but there is a need to reassure the public by ensuring the effective and continuous monitoring all radiation emitted by all types of transmitters in the modern world.

One question I asked myself when I looked at the Bill was: on the standard side of it could EOLAS have done it and, on the monitoring side, could the local authorities have done it? In regard to the standard side, I have had to accept that EOLAS could not have done the job for [1342] a very simple technical reason, and that is that they are involved in a lot of environmental impact studies. One thing that is very important about this agency is that they be seen to be totally independent and not both gamekeeper and poacher at the one time.

The independence of the agency is important in their operations, that is, that they would not be swayed by any lobby in the job they are going to have to perform. I have no problem with that. However, it is very important that independence and answerability to the people would both be accounted for. I will be interested when we get down to the small print of this Bill to see what mechanisms are there to ensure that, whereas the operational independence of the agency must be protected, on the other hand it must be answerable in the end of the day to the people through their elected representatives in the Oireachtas.

On the environment generally, the first things I would favour are the practical steps. As I pointed out, we know quite clearly — and it is not very complicated to identify — the primary sources of pollution in our environment. I have already welcomed the steps taken to eliminate smog in Dublin and I would hope to see a speed up in the steps taken to eliminate lead from our petrol. I would also favour the total elimination over time of the use of CFCs and all similar type of dangerous chemicals.

Regarding the question of dumping, I think this is something we are going to have to look at again. Living in a rural area, where we have no regular refuse collection, it does make you look at the disposal of refuse in a very practical way. I certainly know that we could reduce the volume of refuse quite considerably by separating paper from glass and from the remainder. There are two ways I can see that you can make recycling economic. One is to charge an economic price for dumping, that is, that there is a cost in dumping. We normally have traditionally provided, except for the actual collection of it, that service for free.

However, I see a problem there with the reality on the ground. I see a problem [1343] with the mentality that people have, because in my view if you charge for dumping most people will throw it over the nearest hedge. Therefore, I think what we have to now look at is the reverse, that is, that dumping costs so much money in providing land, providing facilities and whatever and at the end of the day you have nothing in return, whereas by recycling you reduce the volume quite considerably and at the end of the day you actually are saving natural resources, reducing the import bill and creating economic activity.

Therefore, I would like to see a situation whereby certain products would be systematically chosen and where comprehensive recycling programmes would be introduced. I would think that there is a case for saying that the money that would be saved on the one hand would be used to subsidise this programme on the other. The obvious candidates for such a programme would be glass, paper, plastic, aluminium, iron and, of course, farm slurry. I would imagine that if we were systematically to tackle the elimination of these products from general dumping, or the reduction significantly of the volumes of them in general dumping, the total amount of product we dump would be drastically reduced.

The second comment I would make is regarding effluent from our towns and cities. We know what we want to do here. We know what should be done here. We do not need anybody to tell us what is desirable, because it is already known. What we need there is efficient, effective action — and money. In my view — and I have said this many times before — whereas I have spoke consistently against any borrowing for current budget use, I do think it is necessary to speed up even further steps to control and eliminate as far as is practically possible the situation we have now regarding sewage treatment.

Regarding farm pollution, certainly in the county I live in this is one of the biggest problems we face. Farmyard pollution is created by farmers, not because farmers do not care for the environment [1344] but because for one reason or another they have not until recently been aware of the damage they are causing and, secondly, because the specifications that were insisted on ten and 15 years ago are proven to be totally inadequate today. I know of many cases where farmers in good faith got grants from various authorities to build slurry tanks and sheds and that these now have to be replaced because they have been proven to be sources of pollution.

This problem has to be tackled on the ground. We have to tackle the problem of the limestone country, where seepage into the water table is an absolute inevit ability. This will be done not so much by prosecution and by law, but by looking for co-operation and help and by advice. Also it is very important that resources would be put into identifying the sources of pollution, informing the polluters and looking for their co-operation in eliminating that pollution.

May I diverge slightly into one particular item that we know has caused serious pollution problems in rural Ireland and which is, I would say, in counties like Galway probably the biggest single source aside from slurry, of pollution, and that is silage effluent. It would seem to me that there could be a case for encouraging people to revert to the use of hay. We always talk about organic farming. We talk about changing our farming methods from the very intensive, about moving funds away, under the CAP and other programmes, from the factory farm back to the ordinary farmer. In all those negotiations, in all those talks, one of the prime considerations should be the environment. Farmers should be adequately compensated, because otherwise you cannot expect them to do it, for moving into more environmentally satisfactory methods of farming.

On this subject there is one slight worry to me. Under the existing 1977 Water Pollution Act there is very good provision for the serving of notices to polluters. I understand from people involved in this work that at the end of the day 90 per cent of the people within a reasonable [1345] period of time do co-operate and eliminate the sources of pollution. I am slightly worried however that there might be an overemphasis on prosecution as being the solution to the problem. I would not feel happy with a situation that ordinary people trying to earn a livelihood, who with encouragement and pressure would comply totally with good practices, would be branded as criminals on indictment. I would hope that the rod in this case would be used very sparingly and that we would not be given statistics annually to prove the efficiency of this Agency that will be based on the number of successful prosecutions. That to me would not be protection of the environment. That would be the wrong way of approaching it. At the end of the day prosecution should be the last resort and should be only for those who, consciously and knowingly, continue to pollute and are not willing to take the appropriate steps to rectify their problems.

When we are talking about the environment we have to look at this whole question of emissions, emissions particularly from the likes of the ESB and also from motor cars. This is a very complicated subject, but it is no good having an agency and at the end of the day have a plant such as Moneypoint, or any other new plant, spewing sulphur dioxide or nitrous oxide into the air, which as we know, creates acid rain in the form of sulphuric acid and nitric acid.

This is something, if we are willing to put our money where our mouth is, that we should tackle. We should not look at how far we can get away from EC regulations. Whether there were ever EC regulations there or not, we should be willing to give an example to protect what is a relatively clean environment, to keep it that way and to protect what people have traditionally enjoyed in our environment.

I am a bit worried also about the role of the local authorities in all of this and the use of resources. I think we have talked at length in principle about this, but in practice we tend to get away from it. I am in favour of everything that could possibly be done at local authority level [1346] being done at local authority level. I would like to see a situation where the ordinary day to day inspection and application of the work of the Environmental Protection Agency would be done by the local authority. I know that they can call in the local authority to do it; they can ask them, but they are not obliged to do so. However, it does not matter how many laws or regulations you bring in, it is very important that the staff is there to monitor such a scheme.

I think one of the problems the local authorities have been faced with is that previous Acts were brought in and the reason that their enforcement was not very effective was because the staff were not there to do the work on the ground and they had neither the training nor the manpower. For example, in County Galway you have two environmental protection officers and two technicians; and that, obviously, is not sufficient, with the amount of water particularly in that county, to protect the environment in that county. Similarily, if your are saying to people that they cannot dump in water, which is obviously said under the Water Pollution Act, you have to provide the resources to provide suitable and adequate landfill sites to dump adequately on them.

I would personally favour it if the Act, in its operation and general monitoring, was localised and that the local authorities were officially the agency on the ground; that in the case of an environmental problem which they thought needed pursuing they would then call on the agency to come and help them. I think that would be a more efficent use of staff, a cheaper way of doing it, and also much more effective, because from my experience there is no question but that the people locally operating have a much better knowledge of the problems than somebody sent from Johnstown Castle or Dublin to look at a problem on a once off basis. I would hope that the agency when set up, rather than building an empire, would operate as far as possible through the local authorities in this matter.

The whole idea of licensing is a good [1347] idea, because whereas the number of industrial premises, piggeries and so on, that will come under this might not be great in any county, they can be very big polluters in their own right. Therefore, the concept of licensing, as laid down in the Bill, I would have to support as being very effective. When we come to Committee Stage I will have some comments to make on the relative size of various types of industry that require licensing and otherwise, but, generally, they are only small points, they are only quibble points.

In principle, I think that is a very desirable provision. But it is not enough to check — and I am saying this as an industrialist — that the process is right. That is important in the first place before you allow a process to commence, but much more important is continuous monitoring to see that the licensee acts within the guidelines specified in his licence. Too often in the past we have had very stringent regulations to allow you start to do something, but once you got past that stage you were on your own and the actual implementation on a day to day basis left things to be desired. If we do not ensure that the monitoring of the licensee is thorough and ongoing, licensing will not have the effect that most people imagine.

On the function regarding the promotion of research, I have already pointed out a whole lot of simple things that could be done. There is no doubt, with the phenomenal growth in the processes available to manufacturers and in the chemicals that are being used, there is a need for some agency to be promoting — and I think the keyword here is “promoting” — research to be carried out so that we are aware in time of possible new problems arising in our environment with new subjects. Similarily, the provision of support and advice is going to be a very important part of this Bill, as well as the laying down of standards and guidelines which are very badly needed.

Overall, having looked at all the component parts of the Bill and having considered all the other possible options, [1348] because I think we are all conscious of the need not to be setting up agencies for the sake of setting up agencies, for the sake of being seen to be doing something about things — we are all serious about tackling the real problems — I have to say that I think there is a genuine need for such an agency. But I see the agency only as a means to an end. I will watch over time to see how that Agency evolves, whether it actually tackles and reduces the incidence of pollution in our environment, or whether despite all the best intentions of the Minister and of the Oireachtas it becomes just another agency, just another piece of red tape to be got through, just another hassle for people trying to get on with things without achieving the aims it was set up for. I think if that happens it will be very important that steps will be taken to ensure that it actually does deliver on the ground what is promised and that we will be able to come back in ten year's time and, as I said previously, not count the number of prosecutions but actually on an audit of our environment say that the founding of such an agency actually eliminated environmental hazards that were there in 1991 and that it left a better environment for the generations that will be growing up.

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire as an iomlán, mar sílim go bhfuil an t-uafás oibre curtha isteach sa Bhille seo. Dúirt mé rudaí b'fhéidir nach n-aontódh sí leo, ach creidim na rudaí sin, ón taithí atá agam ar chúrsaí tionscail agus feirme; creidim iad mar dhuine atá ag plé go praiticiúil leis na fadhbanna seo chuile lá, agus mar dhuine a rinne staidéar ar chúrsaí eolaíochta, agus a bhíonn an-bhuartha, go mórmhór faoi úsáid cheimicí. Is maith liom gníomh seachas caint, agus bím ag breathnú ar an toradh praiticiúil, seachas an toradh a ghealltar. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an-rath ar an mBille seo atá faoinár mbráid agus go mbeidh toradh fiúntach air sna mblianta atá romhainn.

Mr. Norris: I welcome the Bill. I suppose I better welcome the Minister [1349] because everyone else has. It is in a sense a formality. When I say I suppose I better welcome the Minister, I do not intend to suggest that I am in any way grudging her her welcome because she is somebody whose skills I have had the opportunity to watch for quite some considerable time since the days when she was an extraordinarily able debater in the Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin. She then became one of the youngest — if not the youngest — Members of this distinguished House. I give a hearty welcome to the Minister although it is sometimes a little silly for each successive person to welcome a Minister who has been sitting stolidly day after day listening with what seemed — and I was watching it on the monitor — to be very polite interest in what was being said. I hope I will not repeat too much of what has been said already as that would be a form of pollution in itself.

May I just say that, unfortunately, the records of Seanad Éireann do not reach Senators with quite the same degree of promptitude that they did in the past. It took a fortnight for the first accounts of the beginning of the debate to reach us. This is rather a pity because some of us had looked forward to having the opportunity to read in cold print the considered contributions of some of the Senators who spoke earlier. I have, however, had an opportunity to look at the Minister's speech and will comment in some small detail on that. I hope I will not bore the Minister or appear irrelevant or repetitious. It is my ambition not to be too rambling — though I am inclined to ramble and also to be discursive. After all this is an 18th century city and we are in an 18th century building. In the 18th century a good, decent, Irishman, Lawrence Stern wrote a novel Tristram Shandy in which he not only digressed consistently but went to the extent of writing a chapter entitled, “A Digression Upon Digressions”. I hope not to digress too much but in order to avoid repetition for which in certain wireless parlour games one is penalised heavily, I have attempted to adapt and cut what I have to say. I hope that will not minimise the coherence [1350] of anything I have to say or take away from the seriousness with which I want to make certain proposals.

I discussed this last night with my colleague, Senator Joe O'Toole, who I understand has placed before the House the theoretical framework of certain amendments to this legislation. I hope the Minister will look sympathetically upon those amendments. I also intend to place some amendments and I have signalled this already to the office and submitted them although it appears in this instance that I am the early worm that gets the bird because Members cannot put amendments down before the passage of Second Stage of a Bill.

I have three amendments principally involving deletions. I will sketch out some degree of theoretical framework to support these amendments this afternoon. I will list them now because, being long-winded, I may not reach the end before 4 p.m. There again, of course, one could be optimistic and perhaps I will but on the premise that I might not reach this happy state I would like to indicate them so that the Minister may have the opportunity to consider them should I be prolix enough to remain in possession of the Bill until next week. I assume it is intended to continue with the Bill next week. I see the Minister is nodding. I know there are many speakers on both sides of the House who wish to come in on it.

I hope to arrive at a suitable wording in section 5 to seek the inclusion of the precautionary principle in subsection (2) (a) (ii) — the requirements of environmental protection — to ensure that this requirement does not come into action once the horse has bolted and then we run desperately to shut the stable door. I will give some instances of this, notably, Bhopal and a very serious case in Japan involving mercury poisoning in which it is perfectly clear that the absence of any notion of a precautionary principle prevented the halting of highly dangerous industrial processes. This went on, as I am sure the Minister is aware, for something like 20 years and signals were given at least 16 years before the process was [1351] stopped. I will seek to frame some suitable form of words to indicate that the Government are interested in the precautionary principle and not just in waiting until the environment is damaged and then implementing something.

It is clear from a reading of the Bill that some such intention is present, at least in the Minister's mind. My second amendment relates to section 64 which says:

The Agency shall keep and maintain, or cause to be kept and maintained, such records, including such summary records, of the results of any monitoring carried out, caused to be carried out, or arranged by it under this Act as it considers necessary for the purposes of any of its functions and shall, subject to section 38, make such records available for inspection by the public at all reasonable times, and, as the Agency considers appropriate, publish such records.

I have a rather nitpicking mind and I am always a little wary when I see innocuous phrases like “subject to section 38”. I tend to look back to section 38 and see what kind of qualification is in the minds of the draftspersons. Section 38 relates to the disclosure of confidential information. It states:

(1) A person shall not disclose confidential information obtained by him in his capacity as Director General, other director, an employee of the Agency, a member of the Advisory Committee or of a committee or consultative group established by the Agency, a consultant, adviser or other person engaged by the Agency, or a person whose services are availed of by, or supplied to, the Agency under section 43 or who exercises or performs any function on behalf of the Agency under an agreement under section 44, unless he is duly authorised to do so.

(2) In this section — “confidential information” includes information that is expressed by the Agency to be confidential either as regards particular [1352] information or as regards information of a particular class or description;

“duly authorised” means authorised by the Agency or by some person authorised in that behalf by the Agency for the purposes of this section.

I propose to delete “subject to section 38” This is an instinct. The Minister may well have some sophisticated argument to protect the governance of section 64 by section 38. My instinct appears to be supported by the fact that in the days prior to the introduction of this Bill in the Seanad I sent out a request for briefing materials from a number of environmentally conscious groups and also from individuals with whom I was involved in the general area of conservation and so on. A number of them pinpointed this as a concern and supplied me with some detailed brief as to why this was so. I serve notice that it is my intention to come back to this again and I have placed before the Clerk of the Seanad, amendments which, in due time, will I hope be considered by the House.

The final amendment about which I wish to serve notice on the House — I am not aware of anybody else having proposed it but perhaps they have — relates to section 107. The Bill has 85 pages, if you include the end papers, and half a page will not really lighten its weight very much, even if it restricts some of the operations of the Bill. Section 107 worries me a little and I propose its deletion. This is a deliberate swingeing attack upon a section of the Bill and it may well be that the concerns I intend placing on the record will be met by the Minister in her reply or that some medium ground can be found. Maybe this has been dealt with already and it is already on the record, a copy of which I do not have, but the section deals with access to information on the environment. This is a crucially important area. If the Bill is to work and be seen to work, it must have the full co-operation of the public at all levels, and in order for debate to be informed there must be the fullest possible access to information. [1353] I see this as restricting the freedom of access to information. I wonder if the Minister would comment on this. I know this may be a little bit outside her range as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, but perhaps she would be able to comment on the relevance of the Community Freedom of Information Directive, June 1990, and whether it is her view that section 107 is consonant with that directive.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Miss Harney): That is the only way we can implement it.

Mr. Norris: I am interested to hear what the Minister says because I would be very satisfied and happy if the two are completely consonant and if this implements, as the Minister says, the freedom of information directive. The other thing that worries me, not because of the present Minister — long may she be at that Department — in fact I would feel a lot happier if Deputy Harney were Minister for the Environment. That is a consummation devotely to be wished for. I would be very happy if she were there for ever. That would be heaven on earth, but she is not——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator must stay with the Bill.

Mr. Norris: I will tell the House why the character of the Minister comes into play. This legislation confers very considerable powers, and they are actually extra parliamentary powers. This worries me. We have seen this in legislation over the last couple of years I have actually been in the House. It is the technique of permitting through principal legislation the variation of the implementation of that legislation through regulation, which does not have to be referred to the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. This removes a very important power from the Houses of the Oireachtas and places it in the hands of a Minister. I may say, as somebody who has been privileged to witness the meteoric rise of the Minister, that I have every confidence in her and I have no difficulty about placing [1354] this authority in her hands, but there are plenty of people around not too far away from this room in whom I would not have quite such confidence. The section states that:

(1) The Minister may, following consultation with any other Minister of the Government concerned and without prejudice to any other provision of this Act, by regulations provide for the making available by public authorities of information relating to the environment to any person or persons upon request.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), regulations may provide for all or any of the following—

(a) the type, format and subject matter of information to be made available,

(b) the public authorities by whom information, or particular kinds of information, is to be made available,

It may appear that it is foolish to place this on the record but I am not aware of it having been placed on the record and if I have my way it will not pass into legislation and the principal record of its existence will be on the record of the Seanad. It is for that reason, and not to be time wasting, that I am weaving it into the record. I hope the Minister will bear with me because it is a serious and valid reason. The section continues:

(c) procedures, conditions and restrictions relating to the provision of information generally or of specified information,

(d) classes of circumstances in which requests for information, or specified kinds of information, may be refused,

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I request the Senator to stay with the general principles of the Bill. We can deal with the amendments on Committee Stage. You can anticipate them, but not deal with them.

Mr. Norris: I can take this as read in other words. I would like to tease out a [1355] few of the principles that are involved because if you look at them, the powers given to the Minister are extraordinarily wide. The Minister has the power to make regulations outside the authority of the Oireachtas and without referring back to the Oireachtas. That is what this section will do. That is dangerous for a start. That is why I was reading it into the record, but I am very happy to be guided by the Chair's superior wisdom in these matters. If you look at the list of the regulations, the principle is reinforced because the powers are so extraordinarily wide. The Minister may make regulations about the type of information, the format and subject matter. That covers virtually everything except the presentation. The Minister cannot control whether the paper is to be of a particular quality, what colour it is to be, what the binding is to be, but these are about the only things the Minister cannot control.

I could not care less what method of presentation is used. I am sure the Minister realises as well as I do that it is the subject matter that is controlled. That comes close to a form of thought control. The type, format and subject matter can be controlled by the Minister without reference to the Oireachtas. If, for example, a matter of serious public concern were the subject of an inquiry by the Environmental Protection Agency, and if the Minister decided it was a matter of national security — and that is a very wide thing — the Minister could say “no, I do not think that should be”. The Minister is shaking her head, and I am very glad to see that because what worries me is that something like the Chernobyl disaster could be in the making somewhere and it would be decided that it was not in the national interest to disclose this information. The Minister has power under the regulations to decide what quality, type, format and subject matter of information can be made available. If the Minister can decide the subject matter of information to be made available, she may decide that nuclear energy, because of its sensitivity in terms of the national profile, is the kind of subject [1356] matter that must not be disclosed. I see another Member shaking his head. These are the kind of questions that need to be asked.

Mr. E. Ryan: It states specifically that it cannot——

Mr. Norris: Thank you, Senator Ryan, I feel I should identify the Senator on the record because of his assistance.

The public authorities are covered. I will not go into this because I have illustrated my reservations, some of them may be unjustified but they are now on the record. I have done so because a great deal of the legislation we have had recently contained this kind of provision, and it worries me. There is an unevenness in the kind of legislation the Department of the Environment provided for us and I wish to come back to that. I just wanted to place on the record so that they could be considered, and perhaps rebutted, the three principal amendments that I hope to make to the legislation.

I return now to a general consideration of the principles of the Bill. Despite these three instances, and others that may occur to me over the next week or so, which may be considered on Committee Stage, I give a hearty welcome to the Bill. I do not quite share the concern of Senator Ó Cúiv whose speech I listened to with some care. I do not believe the Bill will prove to be an inhibiting factor industrially. My opinion is that high standards enforced by a central State agency will render industry more efficient and competitive. I do not think industry, including small industry, need be concerned by this.

I note the fines range from £1,000, which is basically a fly-blow, to £10 million. I am delighted that the maximum fine in one section is £10 million. I congratulate the Minister because a Bill of this nature is absolutely useless without teeth. To the kind of agencies that have created the worst pollution or may create the worst pollution, if we are suckers and leave ourselves open to exploitation, this £10 million is a flea bite. Look at the disaster that was caused in Bhopal, at the [1357] compensation that had to be paid out and the way they squirmed at paying it. I am delighted that £10 million is considered an appropriate fine.

I do not share Senator Ó Cuív's reservations about the severity of the Bill. I am very glad it has teeth. It needs teeth if it is to operate. I congratulate the Minister. We ought also to indicate our gratitude to the various elements in our society who have prepared the way for this Bill. Even with a forward looking Minister I do not believe that a Bill like this would have been produced ten or even five years ago. We are grateful to elements like the conservation groups, such as the Green Party. I am prepared to be moderately grateful to the Green Party because there was a Green candidate in the election for my seat the last time. He did extraordinarily badly. He was such a nice person, he did not really understand politics and said he would be rather embarrassed if he got a seat. That was commendable. I see the Green Party as a party who produce ideas, act as a ginger group and mildly threaten practical politicians but do not really get in the way. They put matters like these on the agenda in a very real fashion. We should be extremely grateful to them. They sensitize us to the necessity to provide for the future.

I am reminded, I may say ironically, of the ancestor of a Member of the Dáil, Sir Boyle Roche in the Irish House of Commons, who asked on one occasion in what is now the Bank of Ireland, “Why should we do aught for posterity? Posterity be damned, what has it done for us?” It was a remarkably foolish and selfish sentiment. We have now in our independent Parliament come to a realisation that we owe posterity something. We owe to posterity the right to live in an environment that is at least as safe and as enjoyable as the one that we were lucky enough to inherit. I have entered a caveat here as well. I deliberately use the words “lucky enough to inherit” because it is down to sheer luck.

Very little provision was made legislatively or educationally to encourage our citizens to cultivate and appreciate the [1358] environment. We have only to look around and see that we have inherited one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful country in Europe with an extraordinarily rich natural environment. We have squandered it with abandon in every way we possibly could. One has only to look at the city of Dublin to get an example of that. One will see the way Dublin Bay has been polluted and the way the visual amenity has been largely destroyed. I grew up between Ballsbridge and Sandymount; it was Sandymount and I was desperately trying to fall over postally to Ballsbridge which was then grander. Now I understand the residents of the area in which I lived are trying to do the reverse trick and fall back into Sandymount because it has become grander. I remember Sandymount strand and how beautiful that was. The cockles and periwinkles on the strand were marginally edible. Now the strand is polluted by sewage.

I note with satisfaction that a section of the Bill will deal specifically with the monitoring of the purity of water supplies and so on. It is extremely important. It affects drinking water, the possibility of bathing and tourism. The Minister, I am sure, will have read and listened with dismay, as I did during the last week, to reports from Wicklow where Hunters Hotel have noticed an alarming fall-off in the number of guests because of sewage pollution in the local river. The Minister, and Members of the House, may know that beautiful hotel, one of the very few hotels that survives from the days of being a coach inn with a heavenly garden reaching down to a small river. There is a notice in the flower garden saying, “ladies and gentlemen will not, and others must not, pull the flowers” — the kind of notice that naturally attracts the eccentric American or English visitor and gives a particular flavour to Irish life.

An Leas-Cathaoirleach: The Senator is roaming from the general principles of the Bill.

Mr. Norris: I am not really. Wait and see. I am a very practical man but I am [1359] grateful for the gentleness of the rebuke. I am trying to make the point that in terms of the tourist industry the control of pollution is extremely important. Here we have as a case where a local business is being badly affected by the fact that there is no tertiary treatment plant available to deal with the raw sewage and effluent that pours into the river. It causes an extremely obnoxious smell. I will substantiate my point further in terms of tourism because I am sure that the Minister has also been down to the celebrated Walpole gardens in Ashford which were suffering from precisely the same thing. These were a major tourist draw. Monitoring the purity of these waters it to be welcomed.

I have congratulated the Green Party and the conservation groups. I would like also, not in any sense wishing to be divisive, to congratulate the Progressive Democrats Party. There is no doubt but that the genuine and very valuable working coalition between the major and junior elements in Government has led to the production of this legislation which, in the main, is quite excellent. It is notable there are two kinds of legislation emerging from the Department of the Environment. Most people looking dispassionately at the legislation which emerges would agree. On the one hand, there is what I would call the facade job. In my opinion the Derelict Sites Bill and the Building Regulations Bill were facade jobs. They posed as if they were going to do something. They attitudinized about specific problems. There are real problems but they carefully and scrupulously avoided dealing with them. This, however, is a Bill that deals with the real issue and that is the balance between three elements in the protection of the environment: the State, the individual and industry. It is necessary for the Minister to be careful in maintaining the correct balance between the rights of the individual, the rights of the State and the rights of industry. If there were not this very valuable tension between different elements in Government, there might be [1360] a tendency for one or the other to lean towards one or other of the elements in that equation.

Debate adjourned.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Fitzgerald: Next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.