Dangerous Substances (Amendment) Bill, 1979: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The dual aims of this short Bill are, first, to enable the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 to be brought into operation in stages and, second, to provide for an advisory council on dangerous substances.

The 1972 Act consolidated and amended the law relating to explosives and petroleum and provided enabling powers in relation to other dangerous substances. The purpose of the Act was to regulate the industrial as distinct from the criminal use of these substances. My intention is to bring certain provisions of the Act into operation and at the same time to make comprehensive regulations relating to the areas of law affected. The Act provided for the repeal of controls under old statutes, and among these were certain parts of the Explosives Act, 1875. Because of a development in the meantime, which I shall presently explain, repeal of these provisions now would leave a serious gap in our laws for dealing with the criminal uses of certain substances, which, if freed from control, would tend to be used as explosives even though they were not considered to be explosives in 1972.

In the latter part of 1972, after the legislation of that year had been passed, orders were made by the Government under the Explosives Act, 1875, prescribing ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate and nitro-benzene to be explosives for the purposes of that Act. Two of these substances were at the time in common use as weed killers or fertilisers, but it was established that they were also being used as ingredients for the manufacture of explosives. The needs of public order dictated that they should be controlled and, on the initiative of the Minister for Justice, the Government introduced the controls which they considered to be necessary. The position today is that the need for these controls remains.

As I have indicated, the substances in question are not "explosives" within the terms of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972; therefore they would cease to be controlled if that Act were brought into operation as drafted. Hence the need to leave the legal position with respect to explosives as it is for the time being, while bringing other provisions of the 1972 Act into operation. It is my intention to bring the Act into operation minus Part II, which relates to explosives, and also to arrange that the relevent provisions of the Explosives Act, 1875, shall remain in force. Powers in relation to explosives will continue in force under the existing legislation and will remain with the Minister for Justice.

I turn now to Part III of the 1972 Act relating to petroleum. Last autumn, having reviewed the work done in the Department on the preparation of regulations on petroleum, I gave notice of intention to make four sets of petroleum regulations and invited observations from the parties affected by them. The observations received have been examined, discussed with the interests concerned, and where appropriate, changes have been made in the draft regulations. These, I hope, can be made in a matter of weeks. They will operate from the date the Act comes into operation and certain existing provisions will be repealed by the Act. The intention of the regulations is to reduce, in so far as it is within our compass to do so, the risks to persons and property involved in the conveyance, loading, unloading and storage of petroleum.

As to other dangerous substances, to which Part IV of the 1972 Act relates, these will come within the scope of the Act according as orders are made declaring that the Act applies to them. I intend in the near future to initiate action under the Act to deal with the packaging, labelling, transport, loading, unloading and storage of some 25 substances which have already been identified by the industrial inspectorate as requiring attention under the Act. The collaboration of a number of other Departments and State agencies will be involved in the implementation of any such regulations and the necessary consultations are proceeding.

Having regard to the growth in the number and variety of materials being used and developed, there is a need for vigilance in the identification of hazardous substances and providing information on the dangers, precautions and protective measures in respect of them. Even though advice will be available to me from official sources, as well as from the EEC, the ILO and other agencies, I believe that an advisory body representative of interests concerned will be of considerable assistance in making for the effective working of this legislation. There is no provision in the 1972 Act for such a body. I am therefore availing of the present opportunity to provide for an advisory council. The provisions in the Bill aim to give maximum flexibility as to representation and terms of reference of the council. It should enable me to draw on the best advice on all aspects of the safe movement, storage and handling of dangerous substances.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for explaining it for the benefit of the House and the country. Ever since the major disaster took place a year ago this week the movement of dangerous substances has been the cause of great concern. Of particular concern in this country is the movement of acrylonitrile or vinylchloride from the port of Dublin to Ballina. In making regulations under the 1972 Act, as amended by this Bill, I should like the Minister to have regulations that would ensure the absolutely optimum degree of safety in regard to that very dangerous cargo.

I think the advisory council is a very good idea but I wonder why the Minister is circumscribing it so much. It is stated that an inspector may attend a meeting if the advisory council request it. Why should that not be "shall" attend a meeting? There is a further qualification, "subject to the consent of the Minister". Here the Minister who appoints an advisory council over which he has total control is saying that one of his inspectors may attend a meeting subject to his consent. Without making an issue of it, I consider the subsection a little tight. The advisory council should have more freedom than the subsection provides. I hope that the Bill will go speedily through both Houses.

On behalf of the Labour Party I join Deputy Mitchell in welcoming the Bill. It has our full support. There has been some criticism, as the Minister is aware, in regard to this matter and there has been some pressure to have the Bill enacted. I am glad to see it brought in before the recess. We particularly welcome the setting up of the advisory council on dangerous substances. There is a good deal of concern at present about the transport, loading and unloading and, indeed, storage of a number of dangerous substances. Today I had a question down to the Minister—it will not be reached now but we shall have a written reply later in the day—regarding the transport of ammonia from the NET plant in Cork by rail through various railheads to Arklow. That is the type of instance where the problem has been highlighted by theCork Examiner recently in a major report, of which no doubt the Minister is aware, regarding the proposed arrangements for the transport of bulk ammonia from Cork over a major rail network through Dublin to Arklow. We have yet to get to grips totally and completely with that kind of issue. We have the case of the Dublin-Ballina issue and the new one now arising in regard to Cork-Dublin-Arklow by rail. I am glad, therefore, that the legislation has been amended and the situation clarified between the Explosives Act and the new Dangerous Substances (Amendment) Bill. The dangers have been self-evident in situations other than the normal use of these substances. On that basis we welcome the clarification given by the Minister in the Bill and the setting up of the advisory council and hope that it will be brought into operation as soon as possible.

Perhaps the Minister in his reply might refer to the situation which has been raised extensively in the Cork area and which has given rise to serious concern. It is a situation which should be clarified as the House will not meet again until mid-October. A number of us have been asked to ask the Minister what precautions are being taken and the extent to which he will be consulted, for example, by NET and the extent to which CIE, in the event of their tendering for such contracts, would consult the Departments of Labour, Tourism and Transport or Environment on transportation. I have no doubt that the advisory council can provide considerable assistance to the Minister in facing issues of that nature. I welcome the Bill and the setting up as quickly as possible of the advisory council.

As Environment spokesman for the Labour Party I want to refer to what Deputy Desmond has just raised, the Marino Point ammonia gas spillage and its relationship to the terms of reference of this Bill.

On Saturday week I was at a funeral of a colleague in Cork and I took the opportunity of going to Cobh and looking at the environmental damage. Subsequently, I attempted to put down a number of questions to the relevant Minister as a result of representations from people working in CIE in the Cork area and from other people. I was told that the matter was directly of concern to CIE and that it did not fall within the competence of the Minister to answer. I accepted the Chair's ruling on that. The point I am making is that because of the nature of our industrialisation programme and our positive encouragement of certain large-scale chemical plants whether Schering Plough, the Corkbased ones or Asahi in Mayo, we are putting our environment at risk in a way which none of us, despite the goodwill attached to the industrial benefit of such projects, can adequately measure in the full administrative sense of the word. This falls within the terms of reference of the Bill and of the advisory committee that the Minister will appoint.

There is a double responsibility on a Government which attract by way of grant or otherwise or, as in the case of NET fund to a substantial amount, a development. They have the responsibility to ensure that all reasonable safety precautions take place. It is not sufficient that adequate safety regulations are designed and implemented—they must be seen and felt by the public to be implemented. I will have to write back to the people in Cork this week and say that I am sorry that I cannot raise the question in the Dáil and cannot get an assurance from the relevant Minister that the situation will be safeguarded and so on.

I should like to ask the Minister in his appointment of the advisory council to make it clear that that advisory council and its members should be fearless in their advice to the Minister, should be unequivocal in their recommendations and should not hold back on them for fear that they may cause problems of one kind or another. It is the Minister's task to make decisions and it is the job of the advisory council to give advice. If that advice has a price-tag which is difficult to pay or politically onerous to honour, that is not the problem of the advisory council. It is the political problem of the Minister of the day.

If we have a serious environmental accident, which hopefully we will not, for whatever reason—inadequate regulations, inadequate maintenance, human error and so on—the political will of the community to industrialise and develop growth will be weakened. If that political will is weakened we are putting our prosperity and that of our children's generation at risk. We are not just narrowly talking about dangerous substances; we are talking about the relationship of the political acceptability of industrialisation in the latter part of this century at a time when—the next Bill we debate will be in relation to tourism—we will have to counterbalance the benefits of our environment to the tourist industry with the development of our environment as a resource for human exploitation.

Hopefully, the implementation of this Bill and the appointment of the advisory council will make it clear to the public, directly or through public representatives, that there are safety regulations in relation to dangerous substances. If anybody, whether the wife of a worker driving a train for CIE or a relative or friend of a person employed in the plant, wants assurance or information about the exact state of play in relation to X, Y or Z material they should have immediate access to the Department concerned directly or through their public representatives. This is something they do not have at present. The advisory council the Minister will appoint should be seen to be a very strong independent council charged clearly and explicitly by the Minister to give the best possible advice in any circumstances. The Minister of the day should worry about the political consequences of that advice.

I welcome the Bill.

I compliment the Minister on the Bill and wish to make the point already made by Deputy Quinn on the dangers of environmental accidents. We had one in my constituency which got widespread publicity. There is another aspect to environmental accidents apart from damage to trees and flowers. The whole agricultural area must be thought about.

If we have a major environmental accident it could wipe out, for example, an entire crop of peas with a loss of thousands of jobs. We all want industries and we need the industrial will to forge ahead with them. At the same time, we must ensure that nothing we do by way of industrialisation will hinder the jobs already in existence in other industries. There is a real danger of hazard to crops from dangerous substances, leaks, human error and so on. We should be able to assure people that this will not happen. The advisory council, as Deputy Quinn pointed out, should be a fearless council. The political side of it will have to be decided by the Minister but he should get the facts.

I am grateful for the constructive approach to the Bill and the businesslike way it has been dealt with by the House. Having regard to the importance of the Bill, I felt this would be the approach.

Deputy Mitchell referred to a major disaster in Spain 12 months ago and felt this highlighted the need for legislation here. The Government and former Fianna Fáil Administrations realised the necessity for legislation as far back as 1972 when the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972, was passed. At that time certain difficulties were found to exist regarding explosives with the result that the Act lay dormant for a considerable time. When I took office in 1977 I was aware of this situation and immediately became concerned that as this was an important matter no effort should be spared to ensure that the 1972 Act was brought into operation and that any obstacles to this were eliminated. With the co-operation I received from the Department of Justice and the help and assistance I got from the Attorney General I have been able to achieve that situation by the introduction of this amending Bill.

Vast volumes of regulations are required in respect of petroleum and the various dangerous substances. In the latter half of last year the petroleum regulations were prepared in draft form and, as is required under the Act, submissions were sought and obtained from the interested bodies. Certain specific points were made about the advisory council. I agree with Members who lay emphasis on the importance of this council. I took advantage of this Bill to set up such an advisory council because I have long held the view that such a council should be established to give me ready access to the most reliable information on the wide variety of dangerous chemicals here. The best expert advice on these measures should be available to me so that any special risks associated with such substances are eliminated as far as possible.

I agree with those who said that the terms of reference of the council should be flexible to allow for adaptation to meet situations as they arise. It is my intention that the matters on which the council will advise me will include the desirability of amending or revoking any orders or regulations under the Act, matters relating to the enforcement of the Act or of orders and relations made under the Act, the nature and extent of the movement of dangerous substances in Ireland, the several international systems relating to the safe transport of dangerous substances, co-ordination of the movement of dangerous substances by sea, through ports, by air, road and rail. That is an indication of my concern about the importance of that advisory council.

Specific substances were mentioned by Deputy Mitchell. He referred to the transport to acrylonitrile to Asahi. I should like to tell the Deputy that it is my intention to have that included under the list of dangerous substances. In fact, it is one of the 25 dangerous substances we have listed and are working on in the preparation of regulations. Deputy Desmond referred to the Cork scene and the ammonia problem involved in the transport of that product from Marino Point to Arklow. Deputies Quinn and Hegarty also referred to this matter. I am concerned and aware of the situation as reported in the press but I am not aware, nor do I have any information, of the concern stated to have been expressed by certain people in those reports. When this Bill comes into operation I will examine the position with regard to bye-laws for the transport by rail of dangerous substances, including this ammonia. I will have power under this Bill —something I do not have at present—to request that bye-laws be made. I have also power to vet the substance of the effectiveness or usefulness of those bye-laws and express whether I deem them to be acceptable. That is a step forward. However, I believe progress should have been made during four dormant years when nothing was done in relation to this legislation.

On 8 July an interviewer on RTE, during the course of a radio programme on the Cork scene, commented on an interview I had given the previous February. That interviewer said that nothing further had been heard from me or the Department of Labour since. Obviously, he was not up to date with his information and had not been keeping in touch with the progress that had been made, because on 15 June this Bill was circulated to enable the 1972 Act to be brought into operation. In fact, it had already passed First Stage.

I should like to thank the House for the co-operation given to me. I agree with Members who expressed the view that this was an important Bill because it enables us to introduce certain provisions of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 which are needed.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.