Environmental Protection Agency: Financial Statements 2017

Ms Laura Burke (Director General, Environmental Protection Agency) called and examined.

We are meeting the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in respect of its 2017 financial statements. We joined from the EPA by Ms Laura Burke, director general, who is accompanied by Mr. Gerard O'Leary, Dr. Tom Ryan and Mr. Dan Harney. The representatives from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment are Ms Caroline Lyons and Ms Aoife Byrne.

I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery that all mobile phones should be switched off entirely or put on airplane mode, as merely putting them on silent will interfere with the recording mechanism.

I advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee - that means me - to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 186 to the effect that the committee should refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government, a Minister or the merits of the objectives of such policies. While we expect witnesses to answer questions asked by the committee clearly and with candour, they can and should expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol.

I invite Mr. McCarthy to make his opening statement.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1993 and has been granted a wide range of powers and duties under the Environmental Protection Agency Acts 1992 to 2014, and other relevant environmental protection legislation. The EPA merged with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland in August 2014.

The EPA is governed by an executive board consisting of a director general and five directors, who are appointed by the Government. While the EPA operates generally under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, it also has a relationship with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which has responsibility for drinking water, urban wastewater and water quality.

The EPA’s 2017 financial statements record total income of almost €71.2 million. State grant funding for the year totalled just under €50 million. Deferred retirement benefit funding recognised in income was a further €9.2 million. The EPA’s operational activities, including licensing, enforcement, radiological and other activities, generated income of €12.3 million, or approximately 17% of income for the year.

Expenditure incurred by the EPA in 2017 totalled almost €69.6 million. Approximately 50% of the expenditure incurred related to salaries and retirement benefit costs. The agency reported an operating surplus of approximately €344,000 for the year. I issued a clear audit opinion in respect of the financial statements for 2017.

I thank Mr. McCarthy. I invite Ms Burke to make her opening statement.

Ms Laura Burke

As director general, I am pleased to be here this morning to assist the committee in its examination of the financial statements for 2017 of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am joined by Mr. Gerard O’Leary, deputy director general, Dr. Tom Ryan, director of the office of environmental enforcement, and Mr. Dan Harney, finance officer. As requested, I have provided a briefing statement in advance of the meeting and, therefore, will keep my comments short.

The Environmental Protection Agency is an independent public body under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As has been indicated, the agency has a close working relationship with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government due to its role in protecting and improving water resources. The agency’s role operates across a number of important strategic priorities for Ireland. We have a wide range of functions, under the broad headings of regulation, knowledge and advocacy. We perform a diverse range of activities, including environmental and radiological regulation, the regulation of greenhouse gases through the EU emissions trading scheme, the provision of national greenhouse gas inventories and projections to the EU and the UN, environmental research, environmental monitoring and supporting the circular economy. The agency’s scientific expertise is recognised as a significant resource, both nationally and internationally, and our work provides the scientific evidence that enables informed decision making, better policy and better information for the public.

The directors and I take our responsibilities for corporate governance seriously and I can confirm that the EPA is in compliance with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. We have developed and use a framework of assurances that includes an audit and risk committee, internal audits and an executive risk committee. Since the EPA’s internal audit structures were established in 2003, 38 audits and value-for-money reviews in a broad range of operational areas have been undertaken. Annually, I receive a report from the chair of the audit and risk committee, who is external to the EPA, which is also presented to the board. I take significant assurance from this report and the role of the committee in providing assurance that the EPA’s risk management processes and its system of internal controls are operating effectively, that the major business risks are being managed and that the governance processes are working well. As director general, I also take significant value and assurance from the unqualified audit opinion from the Comptroller and Auditor General on the EPA’s 2017 accounts and for each year’s annual financial statements since the EPA came into existence in 1993.

As the committee will see from the EPA annual report, the total budget available to the agency in 2017 was €71.2 million. The funding for the agency comes from a number of sources, including Exchequer funding, the environment fund, the water services programme and earned income. Using the funds and resources available to us, the EPA had significant achievements in 2017 in delivering on our mandate and I will comment briefly on these. On regulation, during 2017, the environmental licensing programme issued 108 decisions on environmental licensing and over 70 technical amendments covering, for example, large industry, waste facilities, dumping at sea and wastewater discharges. In addition, the team dealt with over 600 statutory consultations. In 2017, the EPA was named European leader in providing online access to licence and permit information, which is an acknowledgment of the importance we attach to public participation in our decision making. With regard to radiation protection, the EPA issued just under 300 licences. Over 1,500 visits to industrial and waste facilities took place in 2017, while there were 320 inspections of urban wastewater sites and 57 drinking water site inspections. In addition, 29 prosecutions were heard during the year, resulting in fines and costs of €390,000.

On knowledge, the EPA continues to deliver on our key roles in supporting the implementation, monitoring and assessment of climate action through collating national greenhouse gas emissions and projections for the EU and UN, regulating emissions, providing the secretariat to the Climate Change Advisory Council and through climate research.

In 2017, the EPA funded €11.2 million in new environmental research projects, including many on climate issues. In 2017, we continued our very successful public climate lecture series, while more recently we have taken on a key facilitation role in the national dialogue on climate action.

In 2017, the EPA issued a number of reports on water quality, including a national assessment of water quality and reports on bathing water quality, private drinking water supplies, urban wastewater treatment, the national inspection plan for domestic wastewater treatment systems and drinking water quality. We issued a report on air quality and developed a new national ambient air quality monitoring programme with the ambition of significantly increasing the availability of localised real-time air quality information.

With regard to advocacy, the EPA plays an important role in raising levels of awareness and supporting initiatives that increase citizen science engagement with environmental issues. The global learning and observations to benefit the environment, GLOBE, programme is an international science and education programme that provides school students with the opportunity to participate in data collection and to contribute meaningfully to the understanding of the earth system and global environment. GLOBE was relaunched in Ireland in 2017 and this two-year pilot programme is managed by An Taisce in partnership with the EPA.  

The national waste prevention programme, led by the EPA, works to foster the circular economy in Ireland, including advocating for waste prevention and using resources more efficiently.  During 2017 initiatives were promoted to homeowners, businesses and other sectors, which include the EPA's Stop Food Waste programme and the Food Waste Charter, which is a collective commitment to reduce food waste along the entire supply chain, and five major retailers signed the Food Waste Charter in 2017. 

The matters I have referred to illustrate well the broad range of programmes and activities for which the agency had responsibility in 2017. Ireland has a precious and unique resource in our natural environment and it is something of which we are rightly proud. Our environment, however, faces significant threats and we in the EPA will continue to prioritise valuable resources to address these threats.  

I and my colleagues will be happy to respond to questions or issues that emerge during today's meeting.

I thank Ms Burke for that. The lead speaker today is Deputy Cullinane who will have 20 minutes, followed by Deputy O'Connell who will have 15 minutes and other speakers will have ten minutes each, indicated in the following sequence, Deputy Catherine Murphy followed by Deputy Connolly.

The Chairman might indicate when I have ten minutes remaining as there are a number of issues I want to cover.

I thank Ms Burke and her team for their attendance. I have a number of questions relating to the 2017 annual report, which was submitted to us. On page 84 it refers to enforcement charges of €8.9 million. Is that how much was invoiced or how much was recovered?

Ms Laura Burke

To ensure I have the exact information for the Deputy with regard to invoicing, we invoiced €8.9 million and my understanding is that we collected 97% of that sum of money. That was pretty much a full collection of charges invoiced.

Do bad debts or write-offs occur in those situations?

Ms Laura Burke

We have an allowance for 3% for bad debts that we review as the year proceeds. If there are debts, we engage with the companies and if we are not successful, ultimately we proceed to legal action and in that way we recoup moneys.

How many cases would there have been in that year?

Ms Laura Burke

Regarding how many cases there were, we would have sent less than 3% for debt collection and with regard to the actual collection of that-----

Yes, but I am asking about the cases.

Ms Laura Burke

Cases, in respect of the number of companies------

Would it be a small number?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it would be only a couple of companies.

Okay. Are the enforcement charges cost recovery charges or fixed fees or what way are they calculated?

Ms Laura Burke

They are cost recovery. We do it in different ways for different companies. In terms of the figures, for the enforcement charges, we are up at around 95% to 96% for cost recovery. The Deputy can imagine that particularly with enforcement, issues can arise where there is unanticipated work at a site during the year. With regard to licensing charges, these are the fees for applications coming into the agency, the cost recovery is a lot lower. It is probably around 10% to 15%. Those are charges for applications that were set back in 1993 and 1996 and they have not been increased since then, and so the cost recovery is much lower.

Also, €7.341 million was incurred in respect of what are called contractors and external service providers and there were grants totalling €1.21 million. Who are these external service providers? Can I have a breakdown on that? If Ms Burke wants to provide a more detailed note after the meeting, that might be more helpful. Can she give a breakdown as to who those contractors and external service providers are? She might provide that information first and then deal with the €1.21 million in grants.

Ms Laura Burke

There are two matters. First, with regard to the consultants and advisers engaged, that is listed on page 60 of the EPA's annual report. The Deputy will note there is a broad range of consultants-----

I have that. That is subject of a later question I intend to ask. I have separated consultancy from workers, contractors and external service providers.

Ms Laura Burke

Okay. Of the €8.5 million incurred on contractors and external service providers, €1.29 million of that is for the Marine Institute for Water Framework Directive monitoring and this is money that-----

Ms Laura Burke

An amount of €1.249 million.

For the Marine Institute?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, the Marine Institute. That is for Water Framework Directive monitoring. We have a memorandum of funding with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the Water Framework Directive, moneys that it assigns us and how we spend it, and one of the aspects of that is for us to supervise the role of the Marine Institute.

I will deal will with the issue of wastewater later. I have a number of questions on that.

Ms Laura Burke

This is a memorandum of funding. It is money given to the agency to monitor the Water Framework Directive. It is separate from the Irish Water side of things. It is to perform monitoring on the water environment. Part of that is a subcontract to the Marine Institute to do work and it has asked us to do that.

That was my point. Regarding the more than €8 million incurred, is that accounted for by the EPA subcontracting or outsourcing work that it is not in a position to do itself? With respect to the reference to contractors and external service providers, the obvious question I have is why the expertise is not available in-house. Why must we outsource that level of cost and spend? Is there an issue regarding the skills within the EPA to do this work or is it that it is considered better to get an external service provider to do it? What is the rationale for it?

Ms Laura Burke

As I said, €1.2 million was for the Marine Institute and that is separate. With regard to the others, it is for things, for example, such as funding under the national waste prevention programme. That, by its nature, is an outsourced model in that we identify key items to be done and we work with the local authorities and others to do that work at local level. We also work with other companies, for example, to do some work on waste characterisation. That was one of the big projects identified in that year.

I understand what the agency does but the issue is why it is done and why it is done in that way because we consider the value for money context. If we are spending millions of euro and Mr. Burke's organisation is subcontracting work to be done by outside organisations, I would like to know why that is being done. Is it for the purpose that the agency wants to get independent outside analysis or views or is it that there is not the expertise within the organisation to do it or is it both of those?

Ms Laura Burke

We certainly have expertise. We have 411 staff with expertise. There are a few different models. One of the models is for once-off types of work, such as the waste characterisation which is the reason I mentioned it. In a value for money context, that is something we would do only once every large number of years. To get the resources to do that into the agency on a temporary basis and then to have that work finished would not represent value for money. It is a better use of money to outsource that. In other areas, it is not a question of not having the resources but it is more appropriate that things would be done, for example, through the local authority or the county councils with regard to resource efficiency. It is a deliberate model in order to do that. Were the Deputy to ask me whether we have enough staff to do all of the work we have to do, like every other public service body I would say, "No", in all honesty. 

We currently have a workforce plan with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to resource new work as it comes down the track.

That is my point. Ms Burke is the head of the organisation and oversees a spend of more than €8 million on outside contractors and external service providers. At a strategic level, has the EPA examined whether there might be better value for money in getting in-house expertise to do some of this work in the future? I understand that one-off projects might require very specialist work and it might make more sense to undertake them using the current model. Has the EPA examined this? Ms Burke notes that every organisation, Department or subsection of a Department would say that it wants more staff. The overall spend on external contractors is quite high relative to the EPA's overall spend. Has the agency reviewed the possibility of saying to the Department that providing more money for the EPA to do this work in-house would be more cost-effective?

Ms Laura Burke

We literally do that on an annual basis in the context of workforce planning. We use a different model to govern the money we spend on external resources in different areas of the organisation. I am certainly satisfied that this model is fit for purpose and we are satisfied with it. There are areas where outsourcing is suitable. Again I would cite the national waste prevention programme as an example. There are other areas where we will not outsource, such as our core licensing function or our inspection and enforcement functions regarding industrial facilities. We look at that on a regular basis.

It is not a critical question. I am curious about the breakdown. Perhaps Ms Burke could provide the committee with a detailed breakdown of these contractors and external service providers. Who are they? What work do they do? Perhaps we can have a look at that ourselves.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely.

Ms Burke mentioned consultancy costs. They amounted to €305,000 in 2017. Some €155,000 of that was related to the office of communications and corporate services within the EPA. What is the nature of these consultancy costs?

I remind the Deputy that he has ten minutes.

Ms Laura Burke

I would highlight two key areas. The first of these is our use of radiological consultants. As I said during my opening statement, since our merger with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, we have had a function in regulating radiological facilities. There is an example in Leinster House. The device that screens visitors as they come in must be licensed by the EPA. However the technology used in hospitals and other businesses changes all the time. We use consultants to support and advise on that radiological function. That accounts for around €75,000 of the €305,000 the Deputy identified.

My opening statement also mentioned the importance of communications. In 2017 we spent €60,000 on a complete review of our website. That is a substantial sum of money but as our main tool of communication with people, it is important that our website is as user-friendly as possible. The EPA website gets 1 million hits. That is suitable for an external view. If we look at our website we will have a particular view. If others with expertise look at it-----

That is fair enough.

I want to move to the topic of wastewater. I was reading the report on urban wastewater treatment in 2017, which in many respects is quite a damning report on wastewater infrastructure. In my own county of Waterford we are very lucky to have wastewater infrastructure of a very high quality. Is that the most recent EPA report or has there been a subsequent report? I know that some improvements have been made since.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes. It was published in 2018.

It found that in 28 of the 179 large towns and cities, wastewater treatment did not meet mandatory standards set to prevent pollution and protect public health; in some 38 towns and villages untreated wastewater flowed into the environment every day; there were 57 areas where wastewater is the sole threat to rivers, estuaries, lakes and coastal waters at risk of pollution; three urban areas needed upgrade works to protect beaches with poor-quality housing water; 15 towns and villages needed improvements in wastewater treatment to protect critically endangered freshwater pearl mussels or to safeguard shellfish habitats; and 13 priority wastewater collection networks or sewers needed to be upgraded. An awful lot of money obviously needs to be spent and a lot needs to be done. From the perspective of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is concerned with value for money, I note that the EU Commission also commenced infringement proceedings against this State for our failure to meet obligations. Are those proceedings under the wastewater treatment directive that was mentioned earlier? When did the infringement proceedings commence?

Ms Laura Burke

The proceedings are based on the situation in 2016.

When did the Commission commence infringement proceedings?

Ms Laura Burke

My understanding is that this took place in 2016. In March of this year the Commission declared that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations. It has now reached that stage.

My understanding is that the Commission commenced proceedings in September 2013.

Ms Laura Burke

I can come back on that. I am looking at the most recent-----

Does one of Ms Burke's colleagues know? The date is important.

Ms Laura Burke

It was based on information in 2016-----

Who was the Minister in 2013?

Ms Laura Burke

I cannot say who was the Minister in 2013. We have had a few. I genuinely do not remember the Ministers serving from year to year. The Deputy will excuse me.

It was a very uneventful Minister.

Ms Laura Burke

The Deputy mentioned the report on urban wastewater treatment. We have been talking for a long time about the legacy of underinvestment in wastewater treatment. A huge amount of investment in wastewater treatment needs to take place in order to get it up to standard. Since Irish Water was established, we have seen a lot of delivery on the drinking water side. One indicator is the reduction in the number of boil water notices. That is not the only indicator. We have said very publicly, including in the report the Deputy refers to, that Ireland is not addressing the deficiencies in wastewater treatment at a fast enough pace. Irish Water-----

What point have those infringement proceedings reached at this point?

Ms Laura Burke

As I have said, there was a finding against Ireland in March of this year.

What does that mean? What is the next step in that process? If the Commission finds against us, are fines automatically attached to that finding or is there another process whereby we have another chance to invest before the fines kick in? Have we already incurred the costs?

Ms Laura Burke

No. We-----

We have not incurred the costs but at some point we may.

Ms Laura Burke

Exactly.

What happens next?

Ms Laura Burke

We have all of the details on it. That process is managed by the Department. My understanding is that there will be further engagement with the Commission and ultimately there may or may not be daily fines. The Department itself is engaging with the Commission in that regard on behalf of "Ireland Inc.". We provide scientific information on the status of wastewater treatment. The Department looks after the policy end of that.

The EPA's role is to provide the report to the Department to alert it to problems with wastewater in certain towns, cities and areas. It points out the places where we are not meeting our obligations. Are the reports that have been given to the Department ignored? Have the investments simply not been made? If things have got to a point where the EPA has consistently been pointing out that we could end up being taken to court and fined by the European Union, then it would make more sense to make the investment rather than having to pay fines.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely. We are in complete agreement on that. To be clear, our report is to "Ireland Inc.". The report on urban wastewater treatment is a national report. It feeds into the Department, but it is not addressed to the Department as its only audience.

With regard to pointing out the failures, yes, the role of the agency is to describe the situation based on scientific evidence. We have highlighted non-compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive. As I have indicated, more recently we have highlighted that although there has been significant progress on the drinking water side of things, we have seen less progress on urban wastewater and the pace of investment is not fast enough.

Is there any working group or interdepartmental group on which the EPA sits that relates to this issue? It strikes me that this is a long-running issue. It also strikes me that maybe investment was cut during the austerity years, which potentially had an impact.

My understanding was that previously, in housing committees, €620 million was made available from 2017 to 2021, which was a reduction from the originally intended €1 billion. Is there an interdepartmental group that looks at the investments which are being made and whether we are now making sufficient investments to ensure we can satisfy the framework and directive in order that we do not end up with fines? I know Ms Burke is saying the EPA publishes a generic report that goes to everybody.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

The EPA just publishes a report. Aside from that, what engagement does it have with the Department on that issue?

Ms Laura Burke

There are a number of different committees including an outputs monitoring group for Irish Water. That includes a number of bodies, not only ourselves but also the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, which is the economic regulator of Irish Water. There is also a recently-established committee that was a result of the report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services on water charges. It is chaired by Mr. Paul McGowan of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the EPA sits on that committee. It is also looking at delivery by Irish Water because there is a combination of things involved. We are saying we are not seeing delivery, particularly in urban wastewater, quickly enough. The other aspect is to ensure that money is spent efficiently. The money is needed but it needs to be delivered in the right areas.

The buck obviously stops with Ms Burke within the EPA.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

As head of the EPA, is Ms Burke satisfied that the investments are being made in this area to ensure we can reach our obligations under the EU framework directive and avoid fines, penalties or costs from the European Commission? Is she satisfied, given all of the reports and information that have been given either indirectly or directly to the Department by the EPA, that the Department has listened and the necessary investments are being made so that we can avoid being fined? Is she confident we will not be fined?

Ms Laura Burke

I cannot say whether we will be fined or not.

Is Ms Burke satisfied that the investments are being made and the issue has now been sufficiently addressed?

Ms Laura Burke

I would repeat exactly what is stated in our reports. The issues are not being addressed at a fast enough pace.

That report was published in 2018. Has there been dramatic investment since? Has there been an increase? Has more attention been paid to this issue in recent times that would lead Ms Burke to think that the Commission might be more satisfied with the position? Is the Commission more satisfied, less satisfied or at the same level of satisfaction as it was in 2017 when that report was done?

Ms Laura Burke

I cannot speak to whether the Commission is satisfied with something. I can speak from the point of view of the agency and what was stated in the report. To answer the Deputy's question, there has been no dramatic change since then. Are we satisfied that legacy issues and historical underinvestment in urban wastewater have been addressed? We still say it is not happening at a fast enough pace and if Irish Water is to meet its commitment to invest an average of €326 million per year on urban wastewater infrastructure, it will need to invest approximately €1 billion in the period 2020 to 2021. We are following that as well.

Irish Water is not investing that amount. That is the point.

Ms Laura Burke

Irish Water would need to be doing that to meet that commitment in 2020 and 2021.

It would need to but it is not. Essentially, the main critique of that 2018 EPA report has not changed as to the analysis of where this issue is.

Ms Laura Burke

The overall substance is that it is not happening at a fast enough pace. That stays the same.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance. The EPA's remit involves the monitoring of intensive agriculture practices and makes specific mention of pigs and chickens. What sort of data is the EPA collecting? Many of the antibiotics that go into pig and chicken feeds are powdered. Is the EPA looking at distribution in the local air or at the waste produced by pigs and chickens? Is that waste being used as fertiliser on land? Really what I am getting at is the pathway of antibiotics into drinking water. That is where I am going with this. Could Ms Burke elaborate on exactly what the EPA is doing when monitoring chicken, poultry and pigs? What is the specific role of the EPA and what is it specifically measuring?

Ms Laura Burke

Intensive agriculture comes in under the industrial emissions directive, so that is directly from EU requirements. It is looking at intensive agriculture where there is a large number of chickens or pigs of different types all contained within a specific area. Our role is specific to looking at emissions at the site where the intensive agriculture is happening. For example, the EPA looks at things like ammonia emissions and the potential impacts on water quality in the area. It is concerned with emissions of environmental pollutants.

In the context of regulation, it is ensuring-----

I am sorry to interrupt. Is the EPA monitoring powdered antibiotics in the air and which are falling out of the chicken's trough, or however one feeds a chicken? Is the EPA monitoring the waste produced, the pig slurry and whatever happens to chicken waste? Is the EPA monitoring the product being produced that I suspect has high levels of antibiotics and is perhaps being spread on land near water supplies? I am specifically asking if the EPA is monitoring those antibiotics.

Ms Laura Burke

The agency does not have a role on the antibiotics side of things under that regulation, that is with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, we would feed in on antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance. There is a specific national plan on antimicrobial resistance into which the agency has fed. The EPA is on the working group for that plan, identifying the environmental aspects involved and has done research in the area. Industrial emissions, however, are not within the remit of the EPA.

Speaking hypothetically, take a pig farm or pig sheds in which there is a considerable use of antibiotics in the feed. The by-product, pig slurry, is then spread on a field beside a river. That is not the EPA's problem; it is that of another agency. Is that what Ms Burke is telling me?

Ms Laura Burke

It is not that it is not our problem; it is not our remit.

It is everyone's problem but it is not the EPA's job.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

It is the job of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Ms Laura Burke

It is a job for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In the context of assessing any intensive agriculture activity, we must, as part of our assessment, look at what is happening with the manure being produced and the landowner must demonstrate to us that they have sufficient lands for land-spreading that material and will comply with the requirements of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is important that roles are not duplicated between the EPA and the Department.

That is important but it is also important that nothing falls between those two stools.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely.

That is really where I am going here.

There were a number of reports about high quantities of illicit drugs in urban water. In London, eels were behaving bizarrely in the River Thames at some point. I am being deadly serious. There are a number of European countries in which drinking water has been found to have a quantity of drugs, be they illicit or otherwise. I am concerned about that in terms of foetal development and regular development. Have we data for that in any of our urban centres? Is the EPA looking at that in the light of other findings in other European cities? I think four cities were mentioned, from memory, with London and Amsterdam being among them. Is the EPA testing for that?

Ms Laura Burke

I will have to come back to the Deputy on that. There are particular requirements for the testing we carry out and we test for a wide range of different materials in drinking water but with regard to this specific question, it is easiest that I come back to the committee about that to give the Deputy full information.

I thank Ms Burke.

I will turn to the cost of running the agency.

I can imagine that travel expenses are a big cost and I assume that people have to go places to test things but the board's costs are just short of €90,000 for travel and subsistence and I think the board is made up of six members, one plus five. Where were they going and what were they doing for €90,000 of expenses in a year?

Ms Laura Burke

The board of the agency is different to the boards of other organisations in that it is an executive board. Each board member is an executive and it is a full-time job. The first thing I should say is that all travel and subsistence is paid in accordance with the Department of Finance codes. On where board members would be going, for example, we have five regional offices around the country so board members would be going to those offices and meeting up with their staff. As each of the teams has a staff complement of approximately 100 people, they have to meet them and visit them. At an international level, there are EU meetings, there are meetings of the European Environment Agency where the EPA is very active, in the context of Brexit in particular we meet our UK colleagues to ensure consistency of work and we also meet other EU colleagues. It is in the normal course of their everyday work, which, as I said, is different.

There are no holidays in the K Club or anything such as that?

Ms Laura Burke

I was going to say unfortunately not but the Deputy knows what I mean. No, absolutely not.

I know what Ms Burke means.

I refer to leasing arrangement for the premises around the country that are being used. The rent and rates came to €750,000. Do we own the buildings? Are we renting them? Have any new buildings come into operation or is this just keeping the show on the road in terms of offices? Again, I just want to make sure we are getting value for money and there are no expensive, badly measured premises emerging or anything such as that. Would Ms Burke mind elaborating on what that money is going on?

Ms Laura Burke

As I said, we are regionalised and we have offices around the country. We have a combination of our own premises, such as our headquarters in Wexford, which is owned by the State and the EPA. We also have our own facility in Monaghan, and then we lease our Castlebar office from Mayo County Council, which is a long-standing arrangement. The State also owns our building in Kilkenny. On our buildings in Dublin, we have a licence agreement with University College Dublin, UCD. We are based on the Richview campus and that is also long-standing, probably around 15 or 20 years old at this stage. When the merger between the EPA and the RPII took place, the RPII rented a building on the same campus so we continued on with that rental agreement. We did go out last year when the term of the rental agreement was up for renewal and we got advice on the status of the amount we were paying for rent and we got assurance from an independent estate agent that the amount we were spending was not in excess of what we should be spending.

This is on the UCD site?

Ms Laura Burke

Exactly, yes.

I assume there would be an added benefit to being beside the radiological people and all of the other stuff that is going on in UCD?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, and that was one of the key points in the merger. Mergers are notoriously difficult but having all of the staff within two minutes of one another makes life an awful lot easier. What we have also done there is move people from building to building so it has meant that there is not really a disruption for staff and it has meant that there is a much better integration of staff across the agency.

On the merger, has there been any rationalisation of staff? With everyone being nearer and all of that, has it led to any sort of efficiency in a reduction of staff so that we do not have a duplication of roles?

Ms Laura Burke

When the merger was being considered back in 2010, one point that was identified at that time was that there was no duplication of work between the EPA and the RPII and significant savings were not identified, so I should say that upfront. However, what I would say is that in the context of the merger, we have identified a number of opportunities through simple things, such as having only one receptionist in the Dublin campus, rather than the two receptionists that we would have had, which is a saving in itself. On the water and laboratories side of things, we now have one manager for the water and radiation laboratories in the Dublin office, whereas there would have been more than that, at least two. We also now have a single multi-site accreditation for our laboratories, which is also an efficiency and an economy of scale. The water and radiation laboratories have come together. There have been a number of efficiencies in those and the other aspect that was identified by a peer review of Ireland's response to radiological emergencies was that the RPII itself was based in Dublin and did not have a regional presence, whereas we are now using our laboratories across the country to be able to provide an emergency response to and be prepared for a radiological issue. Staff in the laboratories are now trained to do some of that monitoring as well, so that is providing an additional service at no additional cost to the State.

The global learning and observation to benefit the environment, GLOBE, project for schools in partnership with An Taisce, is a two-year pilot programme which began in 2017. I used to read a lot of the EPA's stuff as a child in libraries back in the day. There was limited material to read in Westmeath and without divulging my age, I was of the first generation of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. On the EPA's practices and what it feeds into the school's programme, does the EPA have a comprehensive method of self-auditing? For example, the slogan used to be Recycle and now it is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, so things change over time. My point is that I have a serious concern about who gets in at our children's psyches in school and is about the remit and clearance for ideas the EPA or An Taisce might have, as well as for laying those ideas in front of young children in school. Many times they are very good practices and children seem to lead the way on different types of recycling and on the conservation of water but what sort of barriers and protections are there for parents who would not naturally have expected that the EPA or An Taisce would have any involvement in their children's educational curriculum?

Ms Laura Burke

We worked with the education unit in An Taisce over the years and the green schools programme is well recognised across Europe and beyond as an extremely good programme. On the GLOBE project itself, this is a programme that has been in operation for many years. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, have been involved in it. This is not about telling children what to do; it is about taking measurements of one's natural environment and then comparing those measurements with other countries and being able to see what the difference is in air quality in Ireland versus Germany versus Israel. It is about developing one's scientific skills but there is a common benchmark of how one goes about it. As I said, it is not telling them something, it is about bringing children together from the age of eight to 18 and doing citizen's science and measurements. As I said, air quality is the one we started off with. Some 49 different countries came together in Kerry last year in July for the GLOBE project. For me, it was inspiring to see children from Ghana talking to children from India and America about science, the importance of science and the importance of the natural environment. They went out and they took measurements in Killarney National Park and looked at the environment there. To answer the Deputy's question, because that is an international programme, it is very stringent and it is all about science and scientific measurements so that is what gives us comfort.

That is really important in the context of engaging with schools. We are not engaging directly. We are engaging through this internationally-recognised programme.

Is the Department of Education and Skills the final filter when it comes to the GLOBE projects, whether coming from NASA or wherever? Do we have a protection in place there for what is entering the curriculum in a school? As a parent, I would have thought that was solely under the remit of the Department and that I did not have to worry about anyone else. In light of recent reports, I was quite concerned. I am wondering about the protections there in terms of who has the final say on what gets into our schools and is on the curriculum in our public schools.

Ms Laura Burke

Of course. The Department of Education and Skills is the ultimate arbiter.

I thank Ms Burke.

I thank the Deputy. The next speaker is Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Would the Chairman tell me when I am five minutes in as I want to divide this into two topics?

Ms Burke is very welcome. From her opening statement, she indicated fines and costs totalling €390,000, and that related to inspections of urban wastewater sites, and 57 drinking water sites. Would they have been primarily local authority sites?

Ms Laura Burke

Is that in regard to the prosecutions?

Ms Laura Burke

They would be a combination. For 2017, 25% of the prosecutions were wastewater, 14% were waste, 7% were intensive agriculture, and 25% were food and drink. They were a combination of all different things, but the 25% wastewater for 2017 is Irish Water.

Would that cover the EPA's costs, that is, the €390,000?

Ms Laura Burke

With regard to the prosecutions, we got €390,000, but the total legal costs, as the Deputy will see in the agency's accounts, were around €440,000. That is not only for prosecution, that is for other legal advice we would get, for example, on new legislation, etc. To answer the Deputy's question, there is a very high recovery of costs that we incur from prosecutions. We get almost full recovery.

What involvement would the EPA have, for example, in unauthorised landfills or facilities? I am thinking of the one in Kerdiffstown that cost a fortune to remediate. Where does the EPA come in on something like that, or is that primarily a local authority function?

Ms Laura Burke

Like everything, the Kerdiffstown issue is a little bit complicated and I am going to have to be slightly careful because there is an ongoing criminal prosecution there. If I divide it into old and new, there are a lot of legacy sites around the country. The waste management plans identified around 500 legacy landfill sites around the country. The EPA's role in that area is primarily around regulation, technical advice and support to the local authorities. The Kerdiffstown site the Deputy mentioned was a legacy site, which was in operation from the 1950s, and by the 1990s it had around 2 million tonnes of waste in it. It came into the EPA then for licensing, so this is one that transferred from the old system to the new, and we licensed that site to bring it into a regulatory regime. It was operated between 2003 and 2010, when it was abandoned, and to be blunt about it, it was a very difficult site. We had numerous complaints and took numerous legal actions, including three civil actions against the site, and a criminal action through the Director of Public Prosecutions, which is ongoing. I believe there is one case in the Supreme Court and one in the High Court at the moment.

I thank Ms Burke. In her opening statement she talked about the national waste prevention programme. That is very good work and I do not want to be negative about it, so I just want to say that in advance of what I am going to say. It strikes me that our waste policy is daft, in that we have an incinerator in Ringsend, and all our licensed landfills are now in Leinster. The one in Galway is either closed or is about to close. Does the EPA have a remit in relation to that, because rubbish is being collected in Kerry and being driven to Dublin, Kildare, or Carlow to be disposed of? What role does the EPA have in relation to waste policy? We can do things to prevent waste but we ultimately have to dispose of it somewhere. Where is the remit there?

Ms Laura Burke

They are two separate remits. Waste policy is the responsibility of the Department. With regard to where sites go, that is a combination of planning, as I am sure the Deputy can imagine. The local authorities are responsible for waste management and waste management infrastructure in their regions, but anybody can apply to the EPA for a licence to operate a facility. We have that regulatory role, and a regulatory role over those licensed sites, but we do not determine waste management policy.

As the EPA tries to guide attitudes and policy in relation to good practice, would the EPA have an input into good practice? It is surely not good practice to have rubbish trucks driving all over the country. Surely the EPA would have a role there.

Ms Laura Burke

It is mainly a regulatory role. However, because we report waste generation and treatment of waste, that provides the national statistics in order to support waste policy. What we are doing, and it is all on our website, is saying how much waste is generated, where it is being treated, what is being landfilled, etc. The other piece on that is, when one looks at the dependence on landfill, we have gone from a situation of having 200 landfills in the 1980s, down to four licensed lined landfills now. The local dump is gone, and our role is to ensure that the landfills that are being operated are being operated properly.

Does the EPA have any contingent liabilities?

Ms Laura Burke

No.

If that were the case, it would be the State Claims Agency that would deal with it. That would normally be the case.

Deputy, time.

I thank the Chairman. I want to deal with the large-scale industrial activities. We received a report some months ago when we had the Department in about Aughinish in Limerick, and I know the EPA is a totally independent agency, but it has a responsibility in relation to integration, pollution control, and licences. We were told in relation to that report that work was done in July 2014 on getting a financial provision package of €28 million in place to cover clean up and things like that. That is the financial aspect, but there is a longstanding issue in relation to human health, and an investigation was done on that, which cost somewhere in the region of €5 million. That is going back some years. Essentially, there was concern about public health, and this is what I am coming to in relation to contingent liability and where the EPA's remit is. Some blood samples went missing, for example, and that is an outstanding issue. I visited the area in 2016 and I was quite appalled about what I heard from people there, including the burning of skin, cancers and things like that. Would the EPA have a role, for example, in advising the likes of the HSE, or is it the reverse in relation to whether or not it is just financial provision that is required, or is there a health component that the agency has a role in advising on, to avoid liabilities into the future, and to make sure this licence not only covers the clean-up and any subsequent activity, or if it ceases to trade that there would be sufficient funds to deal with that? Where does the health aspect come into that?

Ms Laura Burke

There are a couple of things there. I will address the health issue first and then go back to deal with the existing licence. Aughinish Alumina started production in 1983 and has been licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, since 1998 under the Environmental Protection Agency Act. There was a multi-agency investigation in the 1990s. It had commenced prior to the EPA being established and concluded in February 1995. That multi-agency investigation was led by the then Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and included Teagasc, the then Mid-Western Health Board and the EPA. It covered all health and environmental aspects. That investigation concluded there was no evidence that environmental pollution contributed to an increased incidence of animal disease or unusual human health patterns. I want to be clear that there was that report. Since then there has also been an EU pilot case with regard to this site. That case was opened in 2011 and closed in 2014.

On the Deputy's question on how the health and environment aspects interlink, when the EPA licenses facilities the HSE is a statutory consultee of the agency and gives advice to the agency on our licence applications. In addition, we do modelling on air quality against standards, for example, and when a facility is up and running we then do monitoring. There is a combination there looking at health. The EPA also has a health advisory committee, which was established in 2011. We also had very strong engagement with the HSE and health boards prior to that. The advisory committee also gives the agency advice on health. The HSE is a consultee specifically and site by site and was also involved in that previous multi-site investigation previously.

On the financial provision aspect, we get extensive legal and financial expertise, as well as our own technical expertise, to ensure that the moneys set aside will cover whatever sums of money are required for the closure of a site.

The environmental damage is probably quantifiable whereas damage to human health is not quantifiable. Would this fall within the EPA's remit or, if there was a liability, would it be a HSE liability?

Ms Laura Burke

Our role is to ensure the facility will operate without causing environmental pollution. "Environmental" is human and environmental so they are linked.

Is that issue closed from the EPA's point of view?

Ms Laura Burke

From our point of view, we are satisfied that the operation of that facility is within all of the requirements and that the issue is closed. We have to monitor the facility on an ongoing basis to make sure it operates within its licence requirements. That is absolutely key. From the multiple investigations that have happened with regard to the site, we are certainly satisfied based on all of the science and evidence in front of us, as well as the other expert parties in those groups I referred to.

I will take up this matter elsewhere. Sometimes I come across an issue that has a real effect on me and this is one of them.

When the EPA visits a facility that is licensed, is the visit notified or is it made on spec? It is a little like when the cigire scoile visits a school and everybody is dressed in their good clothes. What is the ratio of announced to unannounced visits?

Ms Laura Burke

We do a combination of both. I understand that the vast majority of inspections are unannounced. They would not be in their good clothes expecting us to come. I do not have the exact percentage off the top of my head. The majority, however, are unannounced inspections. I can get the percentage for the last number of years for the Deputy if that is of use.

I will take Ms Burke's word that the majority of inspections are unannounced.

What types of issues does the EPA identify as risks, for example, in a licensed facility? These are the facilities for which the EPA has responsibility and it is up to others to notify the EPA if something is not licensed or is an unauthorised development under planning law and so on. What would the EPA identify as a risk?

Ms Laura Burke

To be clear, is the Deputy talking about risk overall, a risk that has to be included in a closure remediation after-care plan or the more general risk of a site?

As this is the Committee of Public Accounts, we are primarily interested in financial risks. If, for example, a facility was licensed and the EPA had not captured a risk properly, would the EPA see that as a risk?

Ms Laura Burke

Each site has to be treated within its own unique and specific situation. One of the key premises of the industrial emissions directive is that it is not one size fits all. It is about the type of site and where it is operating. When the EPA looks at the closure remediation after-care management plans submitted from the licensee, we look at them from a technical aspect and, based on our expertise, identify if the appropriate things are covered. A transfer station would be different from a big industrial facility or pharmaceutical plant. Each is different. We have that technical expertise but we also pull in expertise as necessary. For example, we will use a mine specialist if we are concerned about a particular type of industry. It is not only about identifying the risk but also identifying what would be the cost of addressing that risk. This is where we would also pull in financial expertise and, depending on the type of site, legal expertise.

Obviously the EPA has a big function with regard to climate change and monitoring. The EPA can only monitor and advise and it is up to Government to determine policy. Ireland has been missing its climate targets. Does the EPA advise on the emissions trading scheme? What level of finance will this scheme require in future? What has the EPA learned from the monitoring it has done so far?

Ms Laura Burke

Before I address that, I should confirm that 91% of our enforcement visits were unannounced in 2017. I knew the figure was around 90% but I can now confirm that.

On climate change, the EPA has a number of different roles, one of which is the emissions trading scheme to which the Deputy referred. This is a European Union scheme and the EPA is a competent authority to ensure compliance with the scheme. Each of the approximately 100 facilities in Ireland is allowed to emit a particular amount of carbon. We control that and each facility has to report in to us. If they emit more, they have to buy allowances. If they do not buy allowances, they are then subject to enforcement action. We have taken enforcement action as necessary. That is the emissions aspect.

Has the EPA taken enforcement action?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Ms Laura Burke

Last year, two facilities were non-compliant and were subject to fines. One of those fines has been paid and a payment plan is being worked out for the other fine, which will be paid over a number of months.

Are the fines punitive?

Ms Laura Burke

They are punitive. The whole idea of the emissions trading scheme is that trading is allowed and if a company has not engaged in trading and has not been compliant, the fine is very high. It works at a cost assumption for carbon at around €100 per tonne, which is not discretionary. The EPA does not have discretion on that. If a facility is not compliant, the amount is set at European Union level.

Does Ms Burke know how much the fines were?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

I can provide both of those. One fine was €210,000 and the other was €51,000. That is on the emissions trading side of things. It is a stringent regime.

On the broader issue of inventories and projections, which cover the science and the evidence that can be stood over and investigated, the UN and the EU have looked at how we calculate those inventories and projections. What we have highlighted is perhaps not dissimilar to the urban wastewater issue. We have highlighted this issue over a long number of years, including during the recession. During the recession, when emissions were going down, we highlighted that emission-induced reductions were not sustainable and that as soon as the economy took off again, emissions would go up. We have definitely seen that happen, particularly in areas such as transport and agriculture.

With regard to our role, we provide scientific and technical advice to the Government and other bodies. We have seen that emissions are only projected to decrease by 6% by 2020 under what we call the "with additional measures" scenario, meaning all existing policies and additional policies and measures included in the national development plan for 2018 to 2027.

By how much would emissions need to reduce to meet our targets? We know we will miss the targets.

Ms Laura Burke

I cannot see any additional actions that could take place between 2019 and 2020 that would lead to Ireland reaching its compliance targets. We have to look now at 2030. At the minute, we are seeing a 13% reduction by 2030 in a best case scenario, with additional measures, meaning that we would be exceeding our compliance obligations by 7 million tonnes. This means that around 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent will have to be made up in that time period. We are saying that we have to look across all sectors and decide where those 7 million tons can be made up, be it in transport or agriculture or another area. We have to look at the big hitters. Transport and agriculture make up around 70% of the non-ETS emissions. Therefore, we have to look at those areas. Residential and other areas could also be looked at. The key is the all-of-Government climate plan that is being prepared, which should look at addressing that gap.

Through the Exchequer funding we get, we fund environmental research which then supports potential changes that can be made, for example, the potential for carbon sequestration.

Cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe. Tús ár laethanta saoire atá ann so táimid i ndea-ghiúmar inniu. I have read the documentation. A whole range of very important work is being done by the EPA. Two weeks ago, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Central Statistics Office appeared before this committee. I would place the EPA among them as together they make up the trinity of organisations that are most important to the country in terms of trust and accountability. I welcome the accounts. I believe it is the first time that a clear audit has been achieved. No issues around procurement have arisen either. In my three years on this committee, there has always been an issue. I welcome the EPA on that positive note. It is important to believe in the Central Statistics Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Environmental Protection Agency. We are utterly reliant on them.

The briefing document notes that the EPA identified a shortage of skills in its work plan for 2019. It prepared a workforce plan and reviewed its existing resources and skill gaps. What are these gaps? Will they be filled? Has a plan been submitted to the Government?

Ms Laura Burke

We submitted a workforce plan to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in September. It was also submitted to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government because there is an overlap between the two.

The plan has been submitted. What has the EPA looked for? What are the gaps?

Ms Laura Burke

When one produces a workforce plan one could point to many things and say that if more resources were available in certain areas, more could be done.

I am going to talk about climate change in a minute. The children of the world are begging us to do something about it. We are beyond dialogue on that issue. What does the EPA need? What has it identified as lacking?

Ms Laura Burke

We are looking for 24 staff mainly for new functions. The agency has been asked to carry out a number of new functions, for example, water abstraction licensing, regulation of medium combustion plants and review of urban wastewater licences. Although we had temporary staff when the urban wastewater licences were originally issued, those staff are now gone. Article 27 and 28 decisions are now under our remit as well. They concern by-products and end of waste, which are particularly important in the context of the construction sector in terms of what happens to waste and whether something is waste or a by-product. We also have a backlog of licence applications. We have 17 staff doing assessments of licence applications across industrial emissions, waste and a variety of other things, and we have more applications coming in than we can get out the other side of the door. These are very complex applications. We have to consider environmental impact assessment, appropriate assessment, etc.

That is one area. The other main area is enforcement. We are currently engaging with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to see how we can better support local authority waste enforcement and drive further rigorous enforcement in waste in Ireland. There are other areas as well, but those are the two key areas.

What functions does the agency carry out in respect of climate change?

Ms Laura Burke

We received a number of staff in 2018 to deal with issues arising from climate change. We got staff for the national dialogue on climate action, which is one of our functions. We also got staff to deal with greenhouse gases and inventories. If we had more staff, we could do more but in this instance, and really prioritising, we have not looked for staff in the climate area for 2018 to 2019.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has given us much documentation. It is shocking, considering the history of our country, that we have 71 category A landfill sites around the country.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, these are high-risk legacy sites.

They are all over the country. Did some of those sites receive licences from the EPA or were they functioning without a licence?

Ms Laura Burke

There are around 500 landfills altogether, and they are divided into a number of groups. There are 285 local authority sites, which are sites that operated between 1977 and 1997. There is a legal requirement arising from the waste framework directive, and those-----

I am sorry to interrupt but I am conscious of time. Could we have a note on those sites? We would all be interested in seeing them. Perhaps the EPA could outline how many there are, which had licences and if they were compliant. We are being left with a legacy. We had a brilliant system in Galway. When I hear about dialogue and helping enforcement, it reminds me that Galway did not have problems. We rolled out recycling a long time ago. The response was that the Government took power from the local authorities. We wanted our own plan in Galway city and county and to be able to manage waste locally. We were very proactive and achieved 70% recycling rates in a pilot project lasting six weeks. As I have said repeatedly, to the point of boredom, that the solutions have been in place for a long time. Ms Burke will forgive my impatience at the use of the word "dialogue" and the language of encouraging people.

People are leading us. They want action. They wanted it in Galway and the official response was terrible. I am not asking Ms Burke to comment on that. We will examine the landfill in east Galway. The EPA worked with the county council on that in an emergency situation. I think the company involved was the Greenstar Group. What is the position there now? The EPA has not been involved for two years.

Ms Laura Burke

I will go through that with the Deputy. I will first comment on landfill in general because it would be bad to not mention this point. Regarding where we have come to in Ireland, about 90% of our municipal waste was going into landfills in 2000 but that has reduced to 26% in 2018. There has been significant progress regarding dependence on landfill and local dumps or unlined landfills. That is the history. On east Galway-----

I both agree and disagree with Ms Burke. We were doing things very well in Galway city but the official response was not good. It was not an example of not in my back yard, NIMBY, syndrome. We showed that recycling was possible when all of the engineers and consultants were telling us it was not possible. Let us return to the specific example of the landfill in east Galway, which is referred to on page 92 of the document.

Ms Laura Burke

The landfill site in east Galway had a licence from the EPA. The licence was granted in July 2004 to accept 100,000 tonnes of municipal waste annually. The licence was held between 2004 and 2013. Greenstar went into receivership in 2013. The then Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Galway County Council and the EPA were the guardians of the site in the interim. To be clear, financial provision was in place for this site. Money was set aside in the accounts for the closure, remediation and aftercare of the site. The banks, however, did not honour those arrangements at the time. The EPA initiated legal proceedings against the Greenstar Group, the Bank of Ireland and the bank appointed receiver to get the money that had been set aside to be used solely for the purposes of the closure, remediation and aftercare of the site. We brought that case to the High Court, which ruled against the EPA. It was a question of company law versus environmental law. We then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. We were not satisfied that the money set aside for environmental remediation could be removed in the way that it had been, leaving the arrangements in place not honoured. There was, ultimately, a settlement in which the bank did not admit liability. A sum of money was paid over, however, that could then be used by Galway County Council for the closure, remediation and aftercare of the site. That site is now a landfill operated by Galway County Council, as Deputy Connolly stated. The closure of that landfill site is now being sought.

When will it close?

Ms Laura Burke

I think it will be June or July. That is my understanding. To reiterate, financial provision was in place for the closure, remediation and aftercare of the east Galway site. We were disappointed with events in 2013 and we took significant legal action against the bank and the receiver. As a result of that case, requirements on licensees have become much more onerous. We have led development at a European level on what is acceptable for financial provision. We are not alone in Ireland in having experienced a situation such as this. Other countries have experienced similar issues, for example, the United Kingdom. That is why there are now onerous requirements and the key issue is to ensure that money is sufficient, secure and available. That is why we now have stringent requirements, such as bonds for landfills to ensure the money is available and the State does not end up paying for such sites.

Is that money ring-fenced?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it is.

How is it ring-fenced? I will follow up in a moment on Deputy Catherine Murphy's contribution on Aughinish Alumina.

Ms Laura Burke

The key element for the EPA regarding the scheme is that the money is set aside. A technical assessment has to be done first to identify what is required, as Deputy Catherine Murphy has indicated. There then needs to be an examination of whether the costs are appropriate. That is the costing. The issue arises then of how to protect the money. From the perspective of the EPA, the money has to be sufficient, secure and available. We accept a number different types of financial provision, namely, a secured fund, an on-demand performance bond, a parental company guarantee, a charge on property or environmental impairment liability insurance. I should, however, be clear that we do not accept every type of fund for every type of liability. We would not accept a parental company guarantee or environmental insurance in the case of inevitable closure, for example. It would have to be a secured fund, an on-demand performance bond or a charge on property in that case. It all depends on the liability.

Moving on to the topic of the site at Aughinish, I went through the information regarding the figures. I want to try to deal with the relevant issues. According to the correspondence, a sum of €14 million was identified in December 2016 for new financial provisions. On 16 January 2017, a figure of €28 million was mentioned in a letter from the EPA or issued via the Department. What is the fund that is ring-fenced for what the EPA terms "closure, restoration and aftercare management plans" or CRAMP? Is that the correct term?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it is closure, restoration and aftercare management plans, CRAMP.

It is an unfortunate word.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it is.

Cramp usually relates to paralysis.

Ms Laura Burke

This is a slightly complicated matter because it relates to different aspects of the site.

What overall amount of money has been ring-fenced?

Ms Laura Burke

The requirement is for €25 million to be ring-fenced but €28 million has actually been set aside.

I have that figure written down here and that is what we informed it was.

Ms Laura Burke

I will explain how that amount is split. There is a secured fund of €8 million and a parental company guarantee for the balance.

What does the parental company guarantee mean if the company does not comply?

Ms Laura Burke

A number of requirements have to be met for us to accept a parental company guarantee. The financial strength of the parent company is assessed as part of any proposed parental company guarantee.

That is fine. Various things are done and there are criteria. Once the parental company guarantee has been put in place, does it change over time? Does the EPA have a panel of financial experts and is the parental company guarantee assessment updated regularly? I welcome that the total ring-fenced has gone up but why did it change from €14 million to €28 million in the two letters we received?

Ms Laura Burke

This is why I refer to a split. The overall company guarantee has gone down from €28 million to €25 million. The sum of €14 million is for a particular part of the site, namely, the bauxite residue disposal area. The decrease from €28 million to €25 million is because it is an operational site and remediation of this bauxite residue disposal area, RDA, is ongoing as it fills up. Money is being spent on remediation as time passes and that is assessed regularly.

The €14 million is in respect of remediation on-site.

Ms Laura Burke

It is just on the bauxite RDA.

Is that €14 million of the €28 million?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, that is correct.

The rest is a parental company guarantee.

Ms Laura Burke

The sum of €14 million is for the residue area, €8 million is in a secured fund and then the balance of the €28 million is in a parental company guarantee.

I am going to use this as an example. Is there independent monitoring of that money? Does the EPA monitor it or does it get someone else to do that? There was a reference to modelling. Does someone go out, unannounced, and carry out regular inspections or what happens?

Ms Laura Burke

There were eight inspections of that site in 2018. As I stated, we go out to sites and inspect them and 91% of those inspections are unannounced.

How many inspections took place overall in 2018?

Ms Laura Burke

There were more than 1,500 inspections of all industrial facilities for 2018. Regarding the Aughinish site specifically, there were nine inspections in 2018.

They were unannounced inspections.

Ms Laura Burke

That is correct. As I stated, 91% of our inspections are unannounced.

Ms Burke has already given details regarding issues with inspections to Deputy Catherine Murphy. I am going to park that issue for the moment other than to state that Ms Burke referred to a "thorough investigation". I cannot judge that because I am coming late to this. I have read about it, however, and I have serious concerns about the repeated loss of samples that were given. I will leave it at that.

Certainly, when I looked at the loss of samples, and I took some time to do some research on it, there were serious concerns about how that investigation was handled. However, that is for another day outside this committee.

Ms Laura Burke

Can I respond to that?

Ms Laura Burke

We are comparing apples with oranges here a little.

Ms Laura Burke

There was a multi-agency investigation in the 1990s and the agency was part of that. What I am talking about here is the EPA regulation of a licensed facility, what we require with regard to closure and remediation aftercare plans and how we monitor the site. It is just to keep those two separate.

I understand and appreciate that. Ms Burke has gone through that and set it out for me but she said in response to Deputy Catherine Murphy that there was a thorough, multi-agency investigation and conclusions. I cannot agree with that, although that is a matter for another day outside this committee, from what I have read and because of the samples going missing, among many other things. However, I will park that.

I will turn to buffer zones, sewage treatment plants and radon. I do not wish to be parochial but an issue arose with a treatment plant in Spiddal and it has a general application with regard to guidelines from the EPA on buffer zones near wastewater treatment plants. I am not expecting Ms Burke to comment on an individual case but the inspector from An Bord Pleanála acknowledged in his report that the guidelines from the EPA are old and dated. I believe they are from 1990 or 1999. He said the guidance document is 20 years old and does not deal with larger wastewater treatment plants. This was in the context of one wastewater treatment plant where the residents wanted a larger buffer zone from the plant. They cited the EPA guidelines and the inspector cited them in recommending permission. However, he said it had to be acknowledged that they are 20 years old. In views of the changes in everything, such as scientific evidence and technology, does the EPA plan to update those guidelines?

Ms Laura Burke

The Deputy is referring to an An Bord Pleanála inspector's report. Perhaps my colleague, Gerard O'Leary, could speak on the guidelines.

I will move away from An Bord Pleanála and refer to the guidelines. I refer to table 4 of the EPA's wastewater treatment manual on treatment systems for small communities. I am asking about the general issue. Those guidelines are from 1999 and are on treatment systems for small communities, business, leisure centres and hotels. When building a water treatment plant near those facilities we look at guidelines from 1999. Is the EPA planning to update them or is it satisfied that they are adequate?

Mr. Gerard O'Leary

I am not aware if there are plans to update them but I was involved in drafting the guidelines. They emerged from a research project that was managed by the civil engineering department in NUI Galway. They were to deal with small communities.

That is right - a population in excess of 161.

Mr. Gerard O'Leary

I believe the guidance refers to minimum distances. I remember that during the consultation process there was a desire to set at least some criteria. The Deputy should not hold me to this but I believe the word "minimum" is there. Things have moved on a great deal in the area of dispersion modelling and, regardless of whether we were to change the guidance, the modern approach to odour is to do dispersion modelling. One can do it much better than using an arbitrary figure because one can quantify the amount of odour that can be generated from a wastewater treatment plant and model it in different directions. A far better approach at this stage would be to model the activity as opposed to putting a set number to it.

That is interesting and I am open to that. I am not an expert but I live beside a sewage treatment plant so I am very familiar with odours. Perhaps the EPA can look at that. It is the document residents look at and must quote, and it is from 1999.

Ms Laura Burke

We are more than happy to look at that.

With regard to radon, page 13 of the briefing report states that approximately 300 cases of lung cancer in Ireland every year are linked to the radioactive gas radon. That is from the EPA's research completed in 2018. It states that accumulation of radon in homes is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and approximately 500 people are living in homes with radon concentrations above the acceptable level. Again, my house has been affected. I understand the uptake for radon remediation is not great. Perhaps that is the wrong way to put it but not enough people are taking the assistance offered in respect of radon. Will Ms Burke comment on that paragraph in the report? It is a very serious paragraph.

Ms Laura Burke

It is, and it is an extremely serious issue. Before the EPA the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, highlighted it for many years. It is a big concern that people might not be aware of, so it spent many years highlighting the issue of radon. We took that on following the merger of the EPA and the RPII. We have active campaigns to highlight the issue to people. There is a national radon control strategy, which is an all-of-Government strategy. It has just reached the end of its first phase and the next phase is being developed. It looks at what actions can be taken. Some of the actions require visiting individual houses and doing measurements. First, however, there is identifying the areas that are most vulnerable, then there is promoting in those areas-----

That identification has been done. In Galway we have seen the maps with the red spots and the high spots. What is happening with regard to the steps? What are the EPA's recommendations? Is it the responsibility of the EPA or the local authority?

Ms Laura Burke

Regarding the maps, it is back to science and evidence. It is still necessary to update those, and that is one thing we are doing. The national radon control strategy identifies roles for a number of bodies. On what we are doing, first it involved things such as conveyancing and ensuring that radon is part of conveyancing so that if somebody is moving house the person can confirm that a radon survey has been carried out. Also, one of the specific actions we did was a pilot project last year that looked at offering grants for people to support them. First, one must do the measurement in one's area, but we identified that even where people had identified high levels of radon in their home, getting them to translate that into action and do the work was not as high as we would like. We did a pilot project offering not only the testing but also grants for remediation. We are now assessing the results of that to see if there are any lessons to push people further. We are also looking at actions around guidance for builders and requirements for new builds. There are actions by different parties and the EPA is one of them. Our role is to pull it all together and to promote and push those various actions.

How is it diagnosed? When one gets lung cancer, where is the diagnosis? I do not mean to go down the medical route but I ask out of interest. It is a phenomenal figure - 300 cases of lung cancer are linked to the radioactive gas. How did the EPA become aware of that figure?

Ms Laura Burke

Dr. Tom Ryan worked with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland for many years and he is the expert in this area.

Dr. Tom Ryan

It is an estimate based on the average concentration in people's houses around the country, the research and surveys we have done over the years and models that have been developed internationally. It is an estimate. It would not be generally possible to identify a particular cancer that was induced from radon.

It is an estimate based on scientific fact. If this is the level of radon then this is the correlation with lung cancer.

Dr. Tom Ryan

Yes, robust science.

To follow up on the questions about the Greenstar receivers, the EPA went to the Supreme Court and got a sum of money. The company went bust and then everybody obviously wanted a few pounds. The EPA had a few pounds due to it and it went to the Supreme Court. How much did the court proceedings cost in total?

Ms Laura Burke

I cannot say off the top of my head but I can get that information for the committee.

It is very important if the EPA chased it to the Supreme Court to get less than what it cost.

Ms Laura Burke

It certainly was not less than the cost. We can get the details for the Deputy.

It is important we get those figures.

Ms Laura Burke

To be clear, we went to the Supreme Court but ultimately there was a settlement before the Supreme Court hearing.

But there would still have been significant costs up to the High Court. I think back to the secure bonds and the parent company. If the parent company is an unlimited company, how would the EPA know if the parent company is good for the money? What if there are external issues that would not grant the EPA a glimpse of a company's accounts? How does the EPA deal with companies like that?

Ms Laura Burke

The first element is that we get extensive legal advice. It is only acceptable where the parent company is of sufficient financial strength to guarantee and there is no risk to the EPA legally enforcing the guarantee where the parent company and its assets are based. It is not acceptable in the case of inevitable disclosures. In terms of assessing and agreeing the monitoring of a parental company guarantee, first of all, there is a financial assessment of the parent company guarantee and its relationship with the operator and there is a review of the corporate structure and audited accounts. It needs to be demonstrated that there is no legal obstacle preventing the parent company from entering into the guarantee or preventing the EPA from enforcing the guarantee so that is a review of the corporate constitutional documents and approvals. We then look at the execution of the guarantee along with ongoing demonstration of the financial strength of the parent company, including submission of financial and management accounts. We have extensive legal input into whether this is a suitable company to have a parental company guarantee.

Why would the EPA not just get a sum of money and hold it? I cannot understand why the EPA would have to go through the process described. Local authorities used to keep a bond or surety. Why does the EPA not do the same? Many of these companies are huge companies that generally generate big enough profits. Why does the EPA not just hold the money as a guarantee the agency would hold, on the company's behalf, to make sure?

Ms Laura Burke

The key for us is that regardless of whatever instrument is used, it can be drawn down. Some companies are huge companies, as the Deputy noted, and are able to guarantee to us that this money will be available. That is the key. Whether it is a bond or a parental company guarantee, we get legal advice and rather than saying we will or will not accept a particular tool, the key is whether the tool will be able to deliver. We are not managing money in a bank so that also has its own risks, liabilities, etc. Different tools can work, which is why we try to provide flexibility as long as they deliver on their purpose.

People have become more aware of radon, the barriers and monitors put in and maps showing high levels of radon. Has the EPA carried out an audit of the impacts? Are there any positive impacts? Mention has been made of 300 cases of lung cancer cases, which is an arbitrary figure. Is a figure available for the period before the EPA did anything about radon? Do we know whether the barriers and the changes to the way we build houses have had any tangible effect on lung cancer rates? Is it working?

Ms Laura Burke

There has been research, along with research into the reasons for a lack of uptake. There has been assessment with regard to the radon control strategy on what has worked and what has not worked. Some of the scientific information evolves as time moves on. Yes, we have carried out reviews of both the radon control strategy and where we are at with it. We must also remember that it is a percentage of the population, as Dr. Ryan has identified. As the population goes up, that can have an impact as well.

That can just be factored in with a sum.

Ms Laura Burke

The Deputy is saying that we end up using an arbitrary figure of 300. A figure of 300 out of a population of 4 million versus 300 out of a population of 5 million means fewer people by its very nature. We have done that work. The major thing we keep coming back to is the uptake by people and how we get that uptake.

What I am getting back is that people might not be as enthusiastic about taking measures such as the way they can fix their radon levels if they are not seeing the raw data. It does not really matter if the population is ten or 15 people and it is one or two. That is just a proportion. What I am trying to get to are the science-led initiatives to reduce radon and in turn, reduce incidences of lung cancer. Have we data to show that anything we have done has actually reduced the rates of lung cancer?

Ms Laura Burke

As Dr. Ryan has many more years of experience on this subject than I have, I will hand over to him.

Dr. Tom Ryan

The whole objective of the national radon strategy is to improve the situation. What we do know and what is amply demonstrable is that with barriers and remediation measures in houses, one can achieve very significant reductions in radon exposure and, therefore, the risk to one's health goes down. We know it is a scientific fact that if someone has a house with a high level of radon and intervenes by putting in a sump or if a person builds a new house and reduces the potential exposure by having a radon barrier installed, these measures work.

I know that but are they having any real impact on the population's health? I know how these measures work and that they are scientifically proven to stop radiation getting through them but in terms of the overall impact on population health, do we have any figure to show anything that has been done? If we are trying to get people to make changes to their homes to improve their health, we have to show that other people made these changes and it had a net positive outcome.

Dr. Tom Ryan

That is the message we try to get across to the individual householder.

Yes, but surely the best way of getting a message across is to say that 200 or so lives have been saved.

Dr. Tom Ryan

What I am saying that the entire strategy is around trying to improve the situation. We are trying to create awareness around it but the uptake is so small at this stage that it is not having the impact and that is-----

That is my point. Perhaps there would be a better uptake if the EPA gave people very clear data as to why they need to do something.

Dr. Tom Ryan

We are able to do that at an individual level with regard to what we can do in houses. We are trying to address the situation nationally through the strategy. Things are interdependent. If we get the high uptake, we will be able to demonstrate it at a national level. We can demonstrate and prove-----

How long has the radon campaign been ongoing? Has it been ongoing for 20 years?

Dr. Tom Ryan

I have to say that it is not a problem faced solely by Ireland. It is something we share with colleagues across Europe trying to get action on this.

I know that but if we are spending money on measuring and mapping and are recommending that people do certain things to prevent exposure, surely we need to show them that there is a net gain from the spend, for example, that so many lives have been saved or so many outcomes have been better as a result of these initiatives. If we put in State money, we expect to get something out at the other end.

Ms Laura Burke

There have been reviews of the work on radon and what has worked, which we can send to the committee. To answer the Deputy's statement about the State having invested money, it is a combination of what has worked at a house level and what has worked at a policy level. That is critical because some of it is about getting individuals to take actions but if there is a policy around the building of houses, that reduces the need to do things on a house-by-house basis. It would be useful if we sent the committee information on the radon control strategy, what has worked, etc.

In terms of air quality, the documents state that the ambition is to significantly increase the availability of local real-time air quality. What sort of monitoring do we have throughout the country at the moment? If a radiological incident happens in Portlaoise, how would the EPA monitor this and how quickly could it say that the wind is blowing in a certain direction? Where is the EPA with regard to local air quality monitoring?

Ms Laura Burke

There are two separate issues there. I want to make sure I am answering the first question. The first issue is the ambient air quality monitoring programme, which is primarily about things like particulates and other things that have a significant impacts on human health, which is why we have air quality standards. The second issue, which I can also address, is the national radiological measurement network, which is a separate network.

There are two different networks.

Let us deal with the particulates first. If, for example, Rhode power station went on fire, particulate would be thrown out into the air. How many monitors are there around the country? How close are they together? What is the plan?

Ms Laura Burke

The ambient air quality monitoring network is a national network. It monitors compliance with air quality directives at EU level. At the start of 2017, there were 29 different monitors, 19 of which were real time. I am referring to compliance with EU requirements. We are fully compliant in Ireland with regard to the amount of monitoring. However, while we are in compliance with EU standards, a number of the monitoring stations' air quality failed to meet the WHO guidelines. Therefore, it is not a standard set by the WHO. Rather, it is a guideline or recommendation, including in respect of fine particulate. We have raised this in our air quality reports. We have also called for making compliance with the WHO guidelines the standard rather than the EU standard, as such.

What we are looking to do is increase the number of stations throughout the country from 29 to 81. This would more than double the number of air quality stations. We have got agreement with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment for that. It will cost around €5 million. There is a monitoring aspect but, to answer the Deputy's question, there is also a modelling and forecasting capability aspect to the programme we are rolling out. We are engaging with the likes of Met Éireann with regard to that.

It is also a matter of encouraging greater public understanding and involvement in air quality through citizen science, etc. Therefore, there are a combination of initiatives. To answer the Deputy's question, we are increasing the number of stations from 29 to 81.

Let me refer to what occurs if there is a particular issue at a site. With a fire, for example, there would not necessarily be an air quality monitoring station just beside it. We have portable stations that can be, and are, brought to locations to monitor the air quality in those situations.

With regard to GMO foods, Brexit etc., part of the EPA's remit is monitoring. Has the EPA had any role in getting Brexit-ready in terms of protecting our food chain and its integrity? Is that part of its job? I refer to the risk of hormone beef entering our system, resulting in the subsequent excretion of hormones into the water table, as with antibiotics. What sort of role has the EPA had in preparing for Brexit and the protection of our food supply chain?

Ms Laura Burke

To be very clear, monitoring transport and checking materials as they enter our ports is the role of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We have a regulatory role, which involves examining the contained use of GMOs, including in medicine and for deliberate release. It is a very specific regulatory role with regard to the potential environmental impact. To answer the Deputy's question with regard to the monitoring of materials coming to the State, we do not have a role. On occasion, when there was potentially an issue, we engaged with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and gave our scientific expertise and input. With regard to Brexit, the answer is "No". On the broader Brexit question-----

In the EPA's work with the Department, has it an action plan ready? If a very hard Brexit emerges eventually and there is a risk of certain products entering the market, will the EPA have done work on what is to happen if a container with a certain product somehow ends up entering the Republic of Ireland? Is there an action plan to deal with tracing the product and removing it from the system?

Ms Laura Burke

That is absolutely the role of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Somehow I ended up sitting on the water charges committee. Rainwater in Ireland, especially in the cities, is running into the sewerage system. We are dealing with a greater amount of wastewater that is not technically waste. Are there any plans for dealing with this in the longer term? Run-off water would not need as much treatment as sewage. I am referring to separation.

Ms Laura Burke

It is a matter of separate types of drainage.

Ms Laura Burke

That will need to be considered by Irish Water but, in the short term, more fundamental issues need to be addressed. I agree with the Deputy absolutely, however. Across Europe, there is an issue with all the water entering one drain and then having to be treated. For us, there are broader issues associated with wastewater not being treated at all and raw sewage being discharged that should be addressed in the first instance.

Let me follow up on radon. In the response the EPA sends to us, I would like to see a reference to how long the radon guidelines are in place. Other members might have something to say on this. How much has been spent on this by the EPA and across Departments, including through external consultants, in terms of administration to deliver the message to people on the ground? What has been the uptake since the genesis? Perhaps a graph could be given showing the uptake. Are there any data on the incidence of lung cancer, particularly in red areas? I am very interested to see whether we have any bang for our buck in terms of overall positive health benefits, leaving aside the well-proven laboratory testing of methods. I am talking about practical testing on the ground.

Let me follow up on the drug content, illicit or otherwise, in urban water. This issue is important considering it is a problem in other European countries. It just needs to be monitored.

Ms Laura Burke

We can get that information for the committee.

It can be forwarded to us.

Obviously, the corporate culture of the companies being examined will be important in determining what kind of a bond will be required. There is a company in my area that one can be sure will do everything by the book. If there is a criticism, one hears it often goes over the top, which I much prefer.

Let us consider circumstances where there is a changing environment. For example, while we must consider that Aughinish has important jobs in an area in which jobs are not plentiful, the changing environment there concerns the US embargo. Would the EPA review the bond situation and require a different kind of bond if there were a risk to the parent company in a way that potentially existed and might still exist?

Ms Laura Burke

That is one of the things we did do in the context of the recent situation the Deputy referred to, specifically with regard to the US Treasury sanctions. We consulted our financial advisers and it was determined at that stage that the financial provision we had in place was satisfactory and there was no risk. Where circumstances change, it absolutely needs to be asked whether the criteria on which we base a decision are still valid. "Yes" is the answer to the Deputy's question.

With regard to bonds, from my experience at local authority level over many years, I note the only bonds provided in perpetuity at construction industry level were those of Anglo Irish Bank. Every other kind had a duration of perhaps seven years. Were there any Anglo Irish Bank bonds? Are the bonds the EPA would be getting in perpetuity?

Ms Laura Burke

With regard to Anglo Irish Bank, my understanding is that the answer is “No”. They are annual or for three or five years, so they are not in perpetuity. We do include in the bond template a clause whereby we may make a demand if the bond is not renewed or replaced prior to expiry.

I was going to say “prior” is the important word.

Ms Laura Burke

It has to be prior.

In regard to parental company guarantee bonds, approximately 36%, or €267 million, of the total financial provision agreed is bonds. It is by far the highest of the financial provisions agreed.

I presume there are not cash bonds.

Ms Laura Burke

It is provided by the financial institutions themselves.

That is fine. Ms Burke mentioned conveyancing in regard to radon. Is it part of the conveyancing process?

Ms Laura Burke

It is now. It is an optional question rather than a mandatory one, but it is included.

It should be mandatory, ideally.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely.

Are grants still available for remediation in regard to radon?

Ms Laura Burke

There was a broader grant available for house works that this could have fallen into, but in terms of the pilot project undertaken last year, there was, I think, a 50% grant for this type of work. I can send this information to the committee as part of the overall radon data. Legislation was proposed which sought to provide for grants specifically with regard to radon. My understanding is that it was delayed for a variety of reasons. We undertook the pilot project to see how, if that legislation was enacted, delivery could be supported and the outcomes needed could be achieved.

There is a financial gain if we can reduce the number of people getting cancer. That is the realm in which this issue needs to be examined.

Ms Laura Burke

It is, of course, expensive with regard to households but not in the broad scheme of the cost of a house in that the sump could be installed in the early stage of construction. In terms of retrofitting, the concern is that it will cost tens of thousands of euros, but it does not. It costs just over €1,000 in most instances. I accept that is a lot of money but it is doable for a good result.

The agency has mapped the areas of the country most at risk, but the issue is not exclusive to those areas. My area is not one of the high-risk areas, but I am aware of houses in the area where high radon levels have been detected. I think it is easy enough to test for.

Ms Laura Burke

It is and it is a low cost. The testing involves having a radon monitor in the house for a month or two. Under the EPA, we have all had our houses tested. It is an easy process and it provides assurance.

It might give a person a shock.

Ms Laura Burke

For most people, it gives an assurance. Even if one is living in an area deemed low risk, it is comforting to know the radon level in one's house.

I would want to know if the radon level in my house was high.

Ms Laura Burke

Exactly. I note there is a radon monitor in this room.

I note Mr. O'Leary is pointing at something.

Mr. Gerard O'Leary

There is a radon monitor in the room.

Are we safe?

Ms Laura Burke

We have not checked the result yet.

Is the result available to the witnesses online via their iPhones?

Ms Laura Burke

No.

Perhaps we should spend less time in the committee rooms. It could be dangerous to be here.

Ms Laura Burke

Joking aside, radon has been detected in workplaces. In a number of workplaces, tested radon has been found to be high. When one considers the amount of time people spend in a workplace, testing is important. Remediation is needed as well. We sometimes think only about radon levels in houses, but it is also present in other places where we spend time.

The agency carried out public opinion polls, in respect of which it is stated in the briefing that more than one third of adults, 37%, recognise climate change as the most pressing issue facing the country and that for 61% it is among the top three concerns. There is a public understanding of the issue. Does that public awareness cause the agency to focus differently on where it directs its resources or is the agency testing the concerns people have with a view to providing the knowledge in terms of the impact people can have and what they can do?

Ms Laura Burke

This links back to the radon issue. In surveying people, we can determine if the communications we are using are working. As in the case of other providers of information on climate change, we are testing if messages are getting through. We also drill down into that information to determine what age groups are responding and where they find their sources of information, be that the television, social media and so on. This helps us in the context of our communications on climate and other environmental issues to determine where we should be investing and spending money in terms of getting environmental issues awareness levels raised etc.

I thank Ms Burke for her responses.

I have a few practical questions. First, I do not think radon and climate change are comparable. There has been much talk about climate change. We need action. On radon, there was a good awareness campaign. When I was a member of Galway County Council, we got quarterly reports on housing which included updates on radon levels. That practice has slipped. I look forward to reading the information the agency proposes to send to us. These programmes have to be monitored and led. There must be leadership from the local authorities and they must then be reviewed by a higher body. Climate change is utterly different.

Ms Laura Burke

To clarify, I am not saying radon and climate change are comparable. My point was around whether we are being successful in communicating our messages.

I will come back to that issue because I note a couple of million euro was spent on communications. The message from the people and children of Ireland is for something to be done about climate change. We do not need any more dialogue or communication. At least, I do not think we do.

The briefing documentation provided refers to a national priority site list which is updated regularly. I downloaded and examined the list for July to December. Is this a new initiative and when will the next list be available? Am I correct that the list is updated every quarter but it is not available every quarter?

Ms Laura Burke

It is. My colleague, Dr. Ryan, who is our director of enforcement, has told me that the next list, if not published today, will be published tomorrow. It is updated.

I thank the witnesses. Is it a new initiative?

Ms Laura Burke

It is a new initiative in the context of overall compliance and assurance for the regulated industry. It is also to highlight that only a small number of the approximately 800 facilities that we regulate cause significant problems.

Ms Burke mentioned the agency regulates 800 facilities. Does that include landfill and industrial sites?

Ms Laura Burke

It does not include wastewater.

There are 800 facilities, eight of which are on the priority list.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Would it be correct to call them non-compliant entities?

Ms Laura Burke

There is significant non-compliance. That an entity is not on the priority list does not mean there is no non-compliance finding against it.

Will Ms Burke clarify how an entity would end up on the priority list?

Ms Laura Burke

There are specific criteria with regard to the national priority site list. The criteria are enforcement history, complaints, incidents and compliance investigations.

There are eight sites on the national priority list. Do I take it that they are all non-compliant with the licence granted by the agency and the conditions attached thereto?

Ms Laura Burke

There would be a combination of issues.

When I say our compliance investigation is open, that means we are actively considering actions such as prosecution for non-compliance with our licence. Deputy Connolly has spoken about those eight sites. About 46% of complaints will come from those small numbers of sites. We are looking at those to see if there are compliance issues that need to be escalated.

When Ms Burke refers to consideration being given to taking enforcement action, why would such action not be taken if there is non-compliance? The granting of a licence is a rigorous process that takes much time and effort. It has been stated that the EPA needs another 17 people in that context. If there is non-compliance with a licence that has been granted, why is the EPA not taking action?

Ms Laura Burke

We are. There were 29 prosecutions in 2018 alone-----

They go on a list first and then a time is assigned.

Ms Laura Burke

It is not that straightforward. In some instances, if there is an incident, for example, we may go straight to prosecution and then such a site may end up on the priority site list after that. It depends on the nature of the non-compliance, the severity of the non-compliance and if it is a case of non-compliance for sending in a report late or a case of non-compliance for discharging chemicals into water-----

I understand. The EPA assesses the seriousness of the non-compliance.

Ms Laura Burke

Exactly.

Is the EPA reliant on complaints? I refer to the 46% of complaints mentioned earlier.

Ms Laura Burke

No, we absolutely are not. Complaints from members of the public are very important because they relate to whether these companies are being good neighbours. We are absolutely not reliant on complaints, however. It is only one of the criteria.

The EPA is reliant on its proactive inspection policy.

Ms Laura Burke

Exactly, that is correct.

Is Ms Burke happy that proactive inspection policy is up to par? Does the EPA have enough staff to be sure that the 800 entities with a licence are compliant?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, we are.

That is fine. Turning to the topic of communications, I started off congratulating Ms Burke on that, and I still do. On page 87 of this report, however, under the heading of administration costs, more than €1 million was spent on communications. Why does that much money need to be spent on communications? The EPA produces good reports and good facts and figures that speak for themselves.

Ms Laura Burke

If only that were the case. We can produce the science but a big part of our work is communicating that science. We are not just concerned with producing the science but also with how we translate that science into information that is relevant for people and that supports them taking action.

Where does the €1 million in funding for communications go? Does it go to private entities?

Ms Laura Burke

Around half of that cost is sponsorship. It includes "Eco Eye", the environmental programme on television, at a cost of €255,000. That is a great deal of money but that programme gets about 300,000 viewers. It we look at the viewership of environmental messages, on a bang for our buck basis, that is very high. We have also made smaller sponsorship allocations. About €37,000 was given to the "Grow, Cook, Eat" programme that can be seen on RTÉ. The programme looks at the nexus of food, health and the environment. Those are the types of things we are involved with. We also fund exhibitions, such as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. We are there every year engaging with teenagers, kids-----

The money is not, therefore, going to public relations, PR, companies.

Ms Laura Burke

No, it is not.

Perhaps we could get a list forwarded to the committee of where the funding is allocated.

We can get a breakdown of that sponsorship and the different programmes funded under the heading of communications.

When I see money allocated under the heading communications, I am not looking at funds going to public relations companies. Is that correct?

Ms Laura Burke

A sum of €80,000 is included for public relations. It is for Carr Communications, which is the company we have a contract with. It provides a media monitoring service for us and also assists some of our staff. If someone is going to launch a report on the state of the environment, for example, that person will sit down with the media people from Carr Communications to consider how best to translate our scientific technical message into something understandable for people in the wider world. We are a scientific organisation with many scientists and engineers and we have to figure out how to translate our information for public consumption.

How much money is going to that company?

Ms Laura Burke

It is €80,000.

Are any other companies receiving funds?

Ms Laura Burke

The other company is called Walsh:PR. It provides advice specifically for a section on our website called "live green". We are doing that work in conjunction with a number of other bodies and we are trying to support people in making the right decision in their homes regarding waste and the concept of reduce, recycle, reuse. The funding provided was to promote that site in particular and was for that particular year.

That is now finished.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, that is correct.

The Carr Communications contract is being renewed.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it is.

I have serious concerns regarding using money for public relations companies but that is a decision for the EPA and Ms Burke has clarified it. I still think, however, that the work of the EPA should speak for itself.

A company called Yellowstone designed the EPA's annual report. Is that cost included in the figure for public relations as well?

Ms Laura Burke

That figure is included in the overall communications costs.

I ask Ms Burke to send us a breakdown of those figures.

Ms Laura Burke

We will do that. We have all of that information.

Those are two matters. The website update cost €60,000 or €70,000. I think that was the figure mentioned.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, that is correct.

An bhfuil Gaeilge ansin? An bhfuil sé dátheangach? Is it bilingual?

Ms Laura Burke

Parts of it are bilingual. I should state that €60,000 was for doing a complete review of the website-----

Ms Laura Burke

-----and we are now updating the website. We have an Irish language plan, as required by an Coimisinéir Teanga. We do not produce everything we do in both languages. I will be clear and state that. We do have extensive Irish included and we have many Irish speakers within the organisation.

Is the website bilingual?

Ms Laura Burke

Elements of it are but not everything.

Does the EPA have an objective, a cuspóir, to make it bilingual?

Ms Laura Burke

We will not put every element of the work on the website bilingually. Particular reports and aspects of the web will be bilingual but we also have to look at the cost of doing everything entirely bilingually. We have an Irish language plan that was developed in consultation with an Coimisinéir Teanga and we aim to follow that regarding what we publish in Irish.

How do people who want to do their business in Irish do that in the absence of a bilingual website?

Ms Laura Burke

We are back at the cost-----

I understand that and one has to be reasonable. The website, at the very least, should be bilingual, however.

Ms Laura Burke

If we look at our website and the sheer volume of material on it-----

Ms Laura Burke

That is the key consideration.

The EPA has been in contact with an Coimisinéir Teanga.

Ms Laura Burke

We have and we have a plan.

That is fine. I will leave that. The last point I had was on remediation and I found the information I sought. There are 71 historical landfill remediation sites, just in category A, and that is outside of Silvermines, Avoca and all of the other former mining sites. It really is a picture of Ireland and what we have done. We are back to compliance and regulation. It costs us much more in the end. Aughinish will be the same. It is better to do things right the first time. If we, therefore, are going to give licences to industries, we have to ensure they comply. We are now picking up the pieces. I have lost count of the money allocated for the remediation.

What role does the EPA have regarding these old sites being remediated? There are plans but it is difficult to keep up. The Department has been very good in giving the information but then there is a delay and the allocated money is not spent. What is the situation with those sites now? There is one in Galway but it is not on that category A site list. It is a former dump in Galway. There was a time when the former city manager was about to go to prison for contempt of court. In fairness to him, he inherited that situation but that is how bad the situation was regarding the site in Galway. What is the EPA's role in respect of these historical sites? Is it part of the delay?

Ms Laura Burke

No, is the short answer regarding the delay aspect. The historical sites highlight why things should be done right. I also point to the transformational change in the waste management sector between the 1990s and now-----

What role does the EPA have regarding these 71 sites?

Ms Laura Burke

I just wanted to highlight that and that EPA regulation has created transformational change. On the historical sites, the local authorities, through their waste management plans, are responsible for infrastructure and waste facilities. Our role is regulation. Some 285 of these sites need to come to the EPA for authorisation as historical landfills. Those are the ones that were in operation between 1977 and 1997. We also have a role in providing technical support and guidance. We have, for example, issued codes of practice to local authorities to support them in their work of assessing these landfills.

The other aspect we have, which is pulled together there with regard to the number of sites, is the EPA's role in providing a section 22 register. This is where the local authorities log all of the information on the historical landfill sites and this information is included in the waste management plans for each of those regions.

With Galway, for example, is there a point at which the EPA says a site is finished and can now be used as a park? Does the EPA have a role in that regard?

Ms Laura Burke

That goes back to the regulation piece. When a historical landfill is coming in to the EPA part of the assessment will be around what is the plan for the future.

There are 285 historical sites. Is that correct?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Of these, 71 are on a priority A list. I am not holding Ms Burke to numbers.

Ms Laura Burke

It is like everything in that it is not quite that straightforward. There are 71 sites that are high priority. Some are local authority sites that we regulate, some are what we call pre-1977 sites, which are not due to be regulated, some are illegal sites and others are private sites. It is not 71 of 285 sites that are high priority but 71 of 500.

Could we get a note on that from the EPA's point of view? We have notes from the Department. When we put them together I will get the full picture of the jigsaw. That would be very helpful.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely. We will send on the information.

I thank Deputy Connolly. I have some questions also. I echo Deputy Connolly's comments that it is a fine annual report. Representatives of many organisations appear before the committee and this is one of the better reports we have seen. I refer not just to the financial report but also the rest of the report which covers many areas. I can see that it takes a lot of work to get from the science down to readable English. The report could do with a glossary for those of us who are not technical. I do not know what the term "Control of aircrew exposure" means. If I do not know, other people may not know either.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Perfect. Maybe an explanation could be provided the first time a term is used. This happens in other reports submitted to the committee. For example I note the line, "introduction to the role of Radiation Protection Officer (RPO)" in the report but if I was to see the term "RPO" for the first time 20 pages after that reference, I would not know what an RPO was.

Ms Laura Burke

I will turn to my director of communications and corporate services and give a commitment to the Chairman to-----

I am complimenting the quality of the report, which is very readable. From the committee's perspective, we often put a glossary into our reports. Members might understand the reports but not everybody does. Ms Burke might now explain what "aircrew" means. It is referred to on page 11 of the annual report. Will Ms Burke tell the committee in layman's English what "Control of aircrew exposure" is about. When one looks at the chart on the next page it illustrates a figure for aircrew that is twice as high as it was a few years ago.

Ms Laura Burke

This is fascinating and maybe in some of this work we have taken on part of the radiological side of things. This measurement is about pilots in aeroplanes. They have specific exposure to types of radiation depending on the number of flights they do. There are different types of radiation depending on where they are in the atmosphere.

This is a reference to airline crew.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Does it refer to air stewards as well?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes. The reason for the increase in exposure is there are more flights.

The percentage of flights appears to have increased significantly.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes. Having spoken with my colleagues, this issue has come up quite a lot. We need to be clear that there is a responsibility for compliance with maximum levels. The numbers of air crew in the table on page 12 shows a dramatic increase in total and, of course, the impact has also increased.

How many staff are covered by this research? How many air crew are we talking about?

Ms Laura Burke

I do not know.

Perhaps the witnesses will revert to me with a figure.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is 20,000.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, it is 20,000. I thank Mr. McCarthy.

Are these 20,000 people in Ireland or with Irish-based airlines? Does it include staff such as Ryanair's staff abroad or is it the staff on every flight that comes into Ireland? Does the 20,000 figure apply only to staff operating in our airspace?

Ms Laura Burke

I will turn to my radiation expert once more.

We understand.

Dr. Tom Ryan

The figures are for airlines that are registered in Ireland. They have a responsibility to report annually. The exposure we are talking about is cosmic radiation. As one goes higher in the air, one is more exposed to it so it has to be monitored. Most of the exposure is done by calculation. A set route from Dublin to London or Rome with a standard flight would have standard exposure for individual crew.

It is a calculated figure rather than an accounted figure.

Dr. Tom Ryan

Yes, but on models that are calibrated and used throughout Europe.

Does that 20,000 figure include Ryanair staff throughout Europe who may never come to Ireland? Are figures available for the staff exposure that occurs in Irish airspace? Can that be calculated?

Dr. Tom Ryan

I would have to come back to the Chairman on that.

I know it is a small point but I ask Dr. Ryan to send us a note on that.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely.

When I do not understand a chart I ask a question.

Ms Laura Burke

We can break that figure down.

Page 12 features a table on legal enforcement activity. The EPA had fines and costs awarded in the District Courts and the Circuit Courts totalling €390,074 in 2017. Are those fines payable to the EPA or to the courts?

Ms Laura Burke

The awards in the District Courts are payable to the EPA. In 2017, we had a recovery rate of 94.7%. Overall, when we combine 2016 to 2018, we had a recovery rate of 97%. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, cases are different. I understand that the vast majority of those awards go to the State.

That is collected by the Courts Service?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Is the EPA not involved in collection thereafter?

Ms Laura Burke

I am sorry but each case tends to be a little complicated. In one specific case, which was a DPP case, fines were awarded to the EPA. They amounted to approximately €75,000, if I remember rightly, and we collected those. In other cases, the money goes straight through to the Exchequer and that is for the Courts Service to manage.

I ask that because I submitted a parliamentary question this week asking about the number of fines or prosecutions taken to court by the EPA. The Minister replied that this was not the responsibility of the Dáil. I have asked this question across all public bodies. The Courts Service will come before the committee in a few weeks and we want to see where fines imposed on behalf of public bodies end up after collection. Ms Burke has answered for the EPA.

Ms Laura Burke

All of our prosecutions go up on the website. The cases are all accessible and everybody can see them. The European Commission published an environmental implementation review a week or two ago that looks at overall compliance with environmental legislation across the EU for each member state. One of the things it identified in Ireland is the fact that information on prosecutions is up on the EPA website but maybe not all prosecutions are as easily available, for example, on wildlife crime and so on. This is of interest, not only to the committee but also to others.

The EPA has a role in river basin management plans in respect of water quality. I am aware that there are seven or eight river basin management plans in place. In my area the rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir go into one area. I am sure the River Shannon and the River Liffey have similar plans. From the EPA's perspective, which area's management plan poses the most difficulty with regard to its role in drawing up the plan or water quality or other issues?

Ms Laura Burke

I understand there is now one national Water Framework Directive implementation plan. With regard to areas that are poorer, we issued an overall water quality report in November last year which showed an overall decline of 3% and a reduction in pristine areas. I do not have that quality report to hand. The EPA looks at it on a national level to identify if water quality is improving or declining. We have seen a decline, mainly because of phosphorous and nitrogen.

We then look at highly polluted sites rather than looking at each specific area, although all that information is available in the water quality report. Part of the role of the EPA under the water framework directive is around the science and we get down to the other extreme, which is each catchment and looking at what pressures are in each individual catchment. From memory, there are approximately 46 different catchments around the country. It is at both a local level and quite a high level but I can get that information, if the Chairman does not mind, because I do not have it off the top of my head.

I do not need it off the top of Ms Burke's head. There was a good plan in place a few years ago which involved flooding more than anything. There were regional plans for the three rivers I mentioned and there were not that many because every river ends up in the sea through some source.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Those plans were set aside during the Irish Water issue so there was one plan for one national water agency. The regional river basin management plans were a good idea because they cover a large area and I would hate it if we no longer got information on the river basin catchment area. Ms Burke might come back and update the committee on that. I do not have any specific issue.

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely. On a positive note, we did get resources to look much more at the science and water quality in each catchment. We have done an enormous amount of work on that and engaged with local authorities. Local authorities now have the local authority water catchment offices, LAWCOs, of which there are three in the country and that links back to the three plans the Chairman mentioned. LAWCOs examine what actions can happen at local authority level to improve water quality because agriculture and wastewater treatment tend to be two of the big issues, along with nitrogen and phosphorous, and there are things that can be done at local level.

Some of this cannot be done at local authority level. That is why we have the river basin catchment areas.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

The rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir cover half of south Leinster. What happens in Laois affects what happens in Kilkenny and Waterford so it is not a function that is specific to a local authority. Rivers flow thorough various local authorities and that is the whole purpose of regional plans. The regional basis was more holistic. They can do what they like in Waterford, but if they are messed up by the River Barrow in Laois-----

Ms Laura Burke

It depends where one is.

Yes, but those downstream are affected by whatever happens further upstream. I am a fan of the catchment areas because they include the full context of the entire river basin rather than a local authority point of view.

Ms Laura Burke

We can certainly come back on that.

I ask Ms Burke to provide a note.

The environmental noise directive refers to mapping noise from major roads, something the local authorities are starting to do. Local authorities have surveys out in areas where the roads are noisy. We all know the lovely soft sound one hears when driving in Newland's Cross unlike the noise a mile further along the road when the road surface changes to tarmac. I presume the noise reducing surface is more expensive.

The EPA also mentions airports and there is a Bill to regulate noise levels at Dublin Airport going through the Dáil. What about noise from wind farms? Does the EPA have a role in that regard?

Ms Laura Burke

Our role with regard to wind farms is limited. We do not regulate them.

I am only talking about noise.

Ms Laura Burke

Guidelines were being prepared for noise levels. We made an input from a technical perspective but we do not produce the guidelines. My understanding is that those guidelines have not been finalised yet. We have had an input to them from our expertise.

Ms Burke is correct. We hear that the guidelines are being finalised. At first no environmental impact assessment of the policy was done because the Department did not know it should do that. That set back progress by a year. The EPA raised some other issues last year which the Department should have foreseen and that set things back another year. The technical information the EPA provided will probably be out of date by the time the Department issues its plan.

I have a few questions about the board. The EPA had 48 board meetings. This board is unusual compared with the ones that are often before this committee because it is an executive board, a bit like An Bord Pleanála or some of the regulators. There are not external people who come in to tell the experts what they should be doing once a month. That is fine and I understand the reasons for that. The board had 35 technical meetings which I presume cover in-house, routine business. Ms Burke might give me an update on changes on the board. I presume she got a second seven-year term as director general?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes, that was announced.

When was that?

Ms Laura Burke

My second seven-year term started from November 2018. In 2017, as reflected on page 68 of the report, I am mentioned with Mr. Dara Lynott who has since retired. He had two terms. Mr. Gerard O'Leary is beside me. Micheál Ó Cinnéide attended all of the board meetings and he retired in July 2018. Mr. Matt Crowe is still on the board, as is Mr. Micheál Lehane.

I take it Mr. Ó Cinnéide served two five-year terms, whereas Ms Burke is serving seven-year terms.

Ms Laura Burke

Mr. Ó Cinnéide finished his second stint. The two members who have moved on, Mr. Lynott and Mr. Ó Cinnéide, served two terms.

Ms Burke might send the committee the current board membership in correspondence. I am sure she could call it out off the top of her head.

Ms Laura Burke

The committee has half of the board here but I will send the list.

Yes, for the sake of completeness. The list we have in front us is a little bit old. There is no issue with that.

It is good that the EPA has an advisory board. I have a suggestion that might be more for the Department than the EPA. There might be a cost but an advisory board would benefit from having some people from outside the State on it. The advisory board seems to be comprised of people nominated by the Irish Farmers Association, National Youth Council of Ireland, Irish Radiation Research Society and others. Many of the environmental issues are bigger than an individual country and do not stop at our shores. I suggest that the Department consider, if appropriate, having some people from outside the State on the board. That is a personal observation.

Ms Laura Burke

On that issue, I might mention-----

Does Mr Burke understand where I am coming from on that?

Ms Laura Burke

Absolutely. The advisory committee is really useful to the agency but its members are appointed by the Minister and it is out of our gift. The audit and risk committee is within our gift, as one can see on page 68 there. We specifically asked somebody from outside the State to be on the audit and risk committee and that is Mr. Allan Reid who is from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. One sees similar issues and challenges and we have found that beneficial.

The point is taken. On page 69, there is mention of legal fees of more than €1 million. The cost of legal advice, including financial provision of licence activity, amounted to €561,000. Legal fees and legal proceedings amounted to €440,000. Legal fees seem to account for a big chunk of what I will call the EPA's discretionary spending when salaries, pension contributions and everything else like that are taken out. Has the EPA considered employing internal legal people? Is it all done externally? Are many of the legal issues routine that could be handled in-house if appropriate people were hired?

Ms Laura Burke

This has been a subject of debate among ourselves. We have tended to outsource things that are not our core capability.

Ms Laura Burke

One could end up with one in-house person but there tends to be peaks and troughs in the amounts of work. There is a need for a lot of legal opinion which one person will not be able to provide, whereas that resource can be pulled in from outside. We need to remember, when it comes to legal costs, that we got almost €390,000 of those costs back in 2017. The figures are not quite as high but they are recorded in income rather than in that section.

Page 81 contains a note to the accounts, under revenue, that refers to the emissions trading unit. Ms Burke might send the committee a more expanded note on that. Have fines been issued in relation to the amount of money that came in or whatever-----

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

-----together with the costs. I think the EPA would get refunded for its administration of that.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Ms Burke might send a detailed note on the emissions trading unit and the level of activity and fines that might have gone through there.

I have one or two other minor issues. I saw somewhere in the note that the EPA has a role in strategic environment assessments on major developments.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

What is that role? What is a major development?

Ms Laura Burke

It could be a new wind policy, for example.

These are not detailed planning applications.

Ms Laura Burke

No, they are at a higher level.

It is at a policy level.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

When Ms Burke referred to "major development" I wondered if there was a certain category of strategic infrastructure that the EPA would examine.

Ms Laura Burke

It is what are deemed as plans and programmes. It can be local development plans or more national plans and programmes. The idea is that that is done at a significant level.

With regard to planning and engagement with the planning authority, the Chairman will see somewhere in the note that we said we had approximately 640 statutory consultations. They tend to be on individual planning, particularly if there is an interconnection between a planning permission for a licensed site.

A waste licence.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes. There is engagement in that regard between An Bord Pleanála or the local authority and the EPA.

It is primarily the waste licences. The EPA has to license a facility in terms of planning permission. I ask Ms Burke to send us a note on that because I used get confused as to whether the applicant can apply for the licence or the planning permission first. Some use it one way and others use it another way. Ms Burke might send us a note on the current position on those licensed facilities because it has often caused confusion. If the applicant got the licence and went into the local authority, the local authority would grant planning because the facility was licensed. We just want to know the current position.

Ms Laura Burke

That is fine. We can do that.

Regarding EU fines, Ms Burke said there is always the potential for those and that there are such cases. Has Ireland been hit with any European Union fines? Have we had to pay any to date for environmental reasons?

Ms Laura Burke

There have been fines over the years but I will have to defer to the Department because we feed into cases and give the situation from the EPA perspective but it is directly with the Department and the State that the EU engages.

I ask the personnel from the Department to send us a note on fines that we have paid in terms of the environment since we joined the EU.

Ms Aoife Byrne

That would be a broad church. I can confirm that for waste policy there have not been fines imposed but that is just one narrow area.

I am only talking about within the remit of Ms Byrne's Department. I am not talking about the whole of Government.

Ms Aoife Byrne

That is grand. For the environment division-----

Yes, and for environmental purposes. We often say, and I believe it is counterproductive, that the big, bad EU will fine us if we do not behave ourselves. That type of approach is damaging, and it is a bluff. I do not believe these fines are ever imposed. We continue to threaten the people who no longer listen to those threats. I want to get some clarity on that. The witness said fines may be imposed if we do not-----

Is the Chairman putting his name into the hat for the EU?

It is a bit late. I think the deadline for nominations was last Monday.

Ms Laura Burke

It is a serious point-----

Ms Laura Burke

-----and it does come back to communications. One of the things we have looked at, certainly in recent years, in the context of communications is rather than saying, for example, that wastewater treatment or air quality is compliant or non-compliant with a directive, we should explain the purpose of the directive around protecting human health and the environment. Otherwise, we are blaming the EU without explaining the reason.

Ms Burke's approach is far more positive. We should be taking these measures because it is good for us. Even if we were never told this, we should be doing that. To stray somewhat from the discussion, it is like some Tidy Towns committees saying they have to do up their towns for the tourists. I say they should do them up to make them nice to live in and the tourists will like them too when they visit. We should do this for the right reason and not because we are being threatened by the big bad wolf in Europe. I think we both understand what we are saying on that.

Regarding radon, which Ms Burke mentioned earlier, I know she cannot work out the statistics on that but is there any other country that has been dealing with the radon issue longer than us that may have some internationally calculated figures rather than actual figures that the EPA could use? In terms of what Deputy O'Connell asked about, could the EPA use some other country as an example of how this work on radon can be beneficial? It is clear we do not have it here but some other country might have useful information that we could use to help explain the issue to people. Nationally, it is a good idea but it would be helpful if people had specific figures on it to which they could relate. Ms Burke might look to see if there are any international figures available. There may not be but they would help.

Ms Laura Burke

We certainly can do that. We engage a lot at an international level because dealing with radon is a European and international activity. We have done some ex post analysis work in this area. We can see what we have and then what others have and come back to the committee on that.

With whatever is available or not available as the case may be.

We touched on recycling and Ms Burke said the amount of waste going to landfill is decreasing but much of it is being managed by heat recovery or, to use the old-fashioned word, incinerator or waste heat recovery biomass. Does the EPA have a role in terms of all the new applications that are submitted? If, say, Bord na Móna is proposing a new large biomass plant, is the EPA consulted on those issues in terms of a licence?

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

Does it have to license all of those?

Ms Laura Burke

A number of those will have to come into the agency for licensing, whether it be a power plant looking at changing some of the materials it is using or whatever. A number of them would come into the agency.

Ms Burke might include in the note whether that is before or after they get planning permission.

Ms Laura Burke

Yes.

I do not know the stage at which the EPA comes into that entire process. Does it come in at the end or the beginning?

Ms Laura Burke

There have been changes so we can-----

There have been changes. That is the reason I am not sure about that so that would be helpful.

That concludes our business. I thank the witnesses for coming in today. It is a compliment to the EPA witnesses that we are finished a little early. There will be a routine meeting to discuss its annual financial statement. We chose to invite the witnesses. I am not sure when they were here last but the EPA is a significant State organisation and the witnesses answered the questions put to them clearly and concisely without any particular difficulty. From our point of view, this was a good meeting even though it was short. I stress that is because the EPA witnesses were good witnesses. We have people in here from whom we cannot get answers and the meetings drag on with members becoming a little cross when they do not get the information they want. It did not happen today. We look forward to receiving the balance of the information, which I ask would be sent to the secretariat within the next fortnight. I thank Ms Burke and her colleagues, the Department staff and the Comptroller and Auditor General and his officials for being here today. We have agreed that the clerk to the committee will seek any follow-up information and carry out the agreed actions mentioned during the course of the meeting.

We will adjourn until 9 May when we will meet An Garda Síochána in regard to the appropriation accounts for 2017 for Vote 20, An Garda Síochána; and the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on the Accounts of the Public Services 2017, chapter 7 on the management of overtime expenditure in An Garda Síochána.

The witnesses withdrew.
The committee adjourned at 12.50 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 9 May 2019.