Deputy Gerard Brady was in possession.
Air Pollution Bill, 1986 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
During yesterday's contribution I outlined the seriousness of the problem of air pollution throughout the country and more particularly in our capital city and the devastation that is occurring in many different aspects. I will now present to the Minister a programme of various steps he could take immediately which would alleviate the problem to a very great extent and which could be enforced through this legislation. I expressed my reservations about the fact that it was merely enabling legislation. The Minister through this legislation can perhaps indicate that it is his intention, unless immediate action is taken by local authorities, to take alternative steps to make sure the quality of our air improves.
The first step I propose is that there should be a declaration of intent that the capital city be declared a smokeless zone. This can be done within a fixed period. I suggest one year from now, which will enable preparations to be made and old ways to change. A year is a long time. I would like to see a smokeless zone declared now but we have to envisage some period to adapt to the new system. Having made that declaration that Dublin will be a complete smokeless zone, this system should be allowed to operate for two to three years to assess how the improvement in the environment took place.
Secondly, a system of smog warnings, or a smog alert system, should be coupled with the weather forecast programmes in much the same way as other warnings are given in relation to the pollen count for allergies and so on in the daily papers. There is no reason why a smog alert system could not be instigated straightaway. It has been reported that it is not possible to do this because the equipment is not readily available and that we have to wait for two or three months before the environmental health section of Dublin Corporation can produce the figures. This is not correct. The equipment is available. A continuous smoke particle monitoring system which is in use in Germany, Belgium and in Holland is available. The cost of this smog warning device in 1985 terms is of the order of between £15,000 and £20,000 per unit to give a continuous read-out of the smog situation in Dublin.
There is a piece of German equipment which I should like to read into the record —a switchable measuring range for continuous smog warning, the Beta-Staubmeter F703 Verewa. That equipment could be used and would be welcomed by people who are very sensitive to smog. It would be an advantage if, in times of temperature inversion when this is a very acute problem, people could switch to an alternative system, such as bottled gas heating or electric fires. I know they are slightly more costly but during those particular times this switch over could be made.
Another area in which I would like to see the Minister engaged over the next 12 months or so is in an in depth programme of education, primarily through the schools. I do not mean that older generations are lost generations, but it is very important to at least instil ideas in young minds that in future the environment will be theirs, as well as ours, and that systems can be used to protect the quality of air. This can be done through the local authorities or the Department of Education. There are many systems which can be used, such as smokeless fuels, the sulphur recovery grate system and so on.
The fourth area is the investigation of the development of the anthracite mines in Tipperary. Ironically last year these mines ran into difficulty and were closed down, perhaps due to overseas rather than national interests. Let us face facts. We are parochial in our approach to this problem and if the anthracite is present as an indigenous fuel, it should be used and the Department should address themselves to developing those mines and ensuring a ready availability of anthracite. I would even go so far as to say that an investigation could be carried out into providing an incentive scheme to encourage people to burn anthracite and smokeless fuels.
The fifth point I wish to mention deals with the development of clean air in the Moneypoint installation. As I said yesterday, sulphur recovery equipment should be installed at that plant without delay. Any policy, particularly on the environment, must seek a balance between the encouragement of economic growth or progress and the preservation and the delicacy of our natural environment. Modern growth entails new products and a greater volume of waste matter, be it air or any kind of waste matter in the wake of progress in industrialisation, but at the same time there is a growing demand for good living conditions and a good quality environment.
The aim of any legislation must be to ensure that the established agencies of the State are utilised to their maximum ensuring that, within the ability of society to pay, the environment is protected.
I welcome the legislation and look forward to its speedy implementation in the most efficient manner. I hope this practical legislation will force Irish society into making the necessary changes as quickly as possible.
Given that this is European Environment Year, it is appropriate that the Dáil should be debating a Bill to introduce measures aimed at tackling the hazards of air pollution. The heart of this problem so far as Ireland is concerned is the smoke and smog pollution in the Dublin area especially. In yesterday's newspaper the alarming extent of this problem was highlighted. According to the environmental health officers of Dublin Corporation there were record concentrations of smoke and smog in the capital on 31 January last which were five times higher than the EC accepted levels. In Ballyfermot alone smog levels exceeded the EC standards on no fewer than 30 days in the four months November to February, and between 12 and 18 February this year smog concentrations were above the EC limits.
We must remember that the EC standards are endorsed by the World Health Organisation as the level beyond which human health is damaged. If such smog levels persist for a number of days they can result in serious respiratory problems, and sometimes death. These tragic consequences were already borne out in the case of Dublin according to the research by Doctor Geoffrey Dean in 1981. Mortality among Dubliners from air pollution related diseases was then running at up to three times the national average and it is clear from the Dublin Corporation data that the situation has worsened considerably since then. That will give the House some idea of the seriousness of the smog problem in Dublin.
Another factor which must be borne in mind is that Dublin Corporation's monitoring of the position is seriously deficient and, therefore, is likely to greatly understate the true extent of the problem. There are 11 monitoring stations in the capital, but most are situated on the south side and are not concentrated in the highly populated suburbs of Coolock and Artane. Given that over 80 per cent of the smoke emissions in Dublin come from households burning solid fuels, it is obvious that the real test of the Air Pollution Bill now before the House is how it proposes to deal with this specific issue and, if we do not confront this issue, we are simply waffling and ignoring the central problem.
On the face of it, Part IV of this Bill addresses this issue. It provides for the making of special control areas by local authorities where regulations can be applied, determining what kind of fuels can or cannot be used by householders, and what kind of fireplaces they must use. In theory that is fine. All we have to do is to adopt special control areas in the affected parts of Dublin, ban various forms of coal and fireplaces and legally require householders to transfer to smokeless fuels. At a stroke the problem can be solved in theory, but what is the reality? The reality is that in some of the worst affected areas householders cannot afford to convert fireplaces and switch to smokeless fuels. That brings us to the nub of this debate and whether this Bill will remain a dead letter with pious aspirations or whether it represents a serious intent by this Government to tackle the deadly smog problem in Dublin. What I want to know, what the Progressive Democrats want to know and what the householders of Dublin want to know is what measures the Government will take to ensure that if the special control areas are adopted, they can be made to work in areas where householders themselves cannot afford to fund such measures.
It is interesting that the Minister in his speech yesterday very carefully omitted to indicate the Government's intention in this regard but there is a section in the Bill, section 45, which enables the Minister for the Environment to grant financial assistance "in relation to the whole or any part of the cost incurred by the owner or occupier of a premises situated within a special control area". I am asking the Minister to indicate the Government's intentions on this key issue in his reply to this debate. Have his Department done any cost benefit analysis of the value of a grant scheme to enable smokeless zones to be established and the parallel savings in health costs that could result?
That is why I queried the possibility earlier of this Bill being nothing more than a pious aspiration. It is impossible for any Deputy or for the general public to assess the true merit of this Bill without a clear indication of how the Government propose to respond to the central issue. Will finance be provided to enable householders who cannot afford to do so to comply with the conditions necessary for smokeless zones? If such a scheme is envisaged the Minister must spell it out to the House. If none is planned I challenge the Minister to show how this Bill amounts to anything other than a pious platitude. This House deserves to know what are the full intentions of the Government in this matter. There has been already too much unplanned public expenditure and there are too many laudable Acts that remain dead letters.
Neither must we muddle into increased public spending without making full account to the taxpayers of this country. The Progressive Democrats are determined to scrutinise every item of public spending coming before this House. That, too, is why I raise this very real issue of the possible cost arising from this Bill and of how the Government intend to face up to its implications. This is an issue as important as the question of tackling air pollution. Section 45 of the Bill raises the possibility of a new Government expenditure programme being created. The House must be fully aware of the implications of this. We must not simply stumble into increased public spending. That was the politics of the past and the Progressive Democrats are determined to tackle it. There is a clear obligation on the Government and on the Minister to spell out in cost terms and in benefit terms where this Bill may be leading us.
Deputy Gibbons, congratulations on your maiden speech. In welcoming Deputy Kitt I offer him my congratulations also.
Ar dtús ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leatsa, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, agus freisin don Áire Stáit nua, Gearóid Ó Conghaile. It gives me great satisfaction to speak, in this my maiden speech, on the Air Pollution Bill as this is a matter of particular concern to me.
Pollution has no frontiers. The whole issue of acid rain and the disaster of Chernobyl gives an immediacy and particular relevance to this Bill. Fianna Fáil's track record on this issue is very positive. The Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, at the 1986 Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis said that we must avoid "detrimental planning decisions, harmful development and ensure the preservation of our unique environmental heritage". This Bill must be part of an integrated attack on pollution which must embrace air, sea, river and sound pollution set in the context of a creative and forward looking policy on conservation as a whole.
I would like to pay tribute to the key role of environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Earthwatch, An Taisce and the Irish Clean Air Group. These groups, among others, are no longer operating on the periphery but are in the mainstream of public concern with the whole question of the environment. Before commenting on the details of the Bill I would like to focus on the cost of pollution, in particular the health cost. A very detailed paper by Dr. Dale Tussing in a recent analysis of Irish medical care resources points out that, and I quote:
Car and bus emission, the burning of rubbish and the use of soft fuels have made Dublin as polluted as most of the highly industrialised cities in Britain and Europe despite the fact that we are not an industrial country.
These environmental conditions have been linked directly to the high incidences of cancer and heart disease which are two of the principal causes of mortality in Ireland. Even more striking are the high instances of death in Ireland from respiratory diseases, mainly pneumonia and bronchitis which are well above European average levels. This reflects not only the effects of pollution but also, among other things, the prevailing climatic conditions which is all the more reason for us to face up squarely to this major threat to human life.
A striking feature of morbidity statistics is that a large number of respiratory conditions have a much higher prevelance in Dublin as compared with rural areas. In effect, Dublin is being discriminated against through our failure to control pollution. Our historic buildings are being destroyed. Pollution is killing not just our heritage but our people. The previous speaker referred to the figures released on Monday by Dublin Corporation concerning the city's smog problem this winter and which support this viewpoint, with the highest concentration of smoke ever recorded in Dublin occurring in Ballyfermot on 31 January when it reached a figure of over 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre, more than five times the EC daily limit of 250 micrograms.
I would like to refer now to the dangers of vehicle pollution, in particular leaded petrol. Lead has been added to petrol since the twenties as a means of boosting octane. Because lead is corrosive and abrasive, however, other components are added at the same time to scavenge it from the engine so that it comes out along with exhaust gasses. As a result of this, roughly 75 per cent of lead in petrol is subsequently spewed into the atmosphere.
There health environmental hazards are associated with lead. First, when inhaled or ingested by people it can accummulate to levels high enough to cause toxic effects including neurological disorders such as brain damage. At lower levels of concentration it can still produce hyperactivity in children — this was confirmed to me by many of my teaching colleagues — and high blood pressure in adult males. Secondly, the scavenger compounds which I referred to are extremely toxic and thus represent a risk during their distribution and handling even before being mixed with petrol and combusted. Thirdly, if leaded instead of unleaded fuel is used in a car which is fitted with a convertor designed to reduce emissions of other pollutants the lead additives react with the catalyst system.
During the past ten years these dangers have caused most industrial countries to lower the limits of the amounts of lead that can be added to petrol. The availability of alternative ways to boost octane and the growing body of knowledge of the dangers of lead have kept Governments under pressure, and rightly so, to reduce permitted concentrations of lead in petrol and to require the introduction of unleaded petrol. The EC, for example, decided in March 1984 to require all member states to make lead free petrol widely available by the beginning of 1989. Yet, other countries have gone further and we must have regard to these.
In Japan, for example, very few people still use leaded petrol, while in the United States the permitted concentration of leaded petrol has been reduced to 0.026 grams per litre. This compares with a range of 0.15 to 0.4 grams per litre in the EC. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency are now considering a complete ban on leaded petrol by next year. We have to emphasise again the dangers that arise to a healthy environment through the use of leaded petrol and to ask ourselves seriously whether we have gone far enough in meeting these concerns.
What we have talked about are the costs in terms of health. We have to be concerned about the very high expenditures on health that arise through our failure to control air pollution. Those expenditures in terms of hospital care, disability benefits and associated costs run into millions of pounds each year, another strong argument for action. A third cost of pollution which we have to consider very seriously is the damage to our natural resources and to tourism. In a recent lecture a leading German industrialist pointed out that forests in County Wicklow were showing pronounced signs of sick forest syndrome; in other words, he was stating that acid rain was devastating one of our chief natural resources. We have to examine very seriously the effects of air pollution on our tourism industry. Ireland has an image of an environmentally pure country and that helps attract thousands of tourists here annually. We should market that image but our failure to control pollution means that we are directly undermining that major resource.
The next area I should like to look at is the experience of other countries in controlling pollution and to see if there are any lessons we can learn from them. My research suggests that the Scandinavian countries have learned important lessons which we should look at seriously. For example, in Finland sulphur emissions are required to be cut by 50 per cent by 1993 and the Finnish Government are ensuring that lead-free petrol will be cheaper than leaded petrol. I commend that suggestion to the Minister for Finance. The Norwegian Minister responsible for the environment at a recent conference, argued strongly that cutting down dramatically on exhaust emissions was essential for health and environmental reasons. He said that his Government were taking strong action in that area. The Italian experience is interesting. The pollution policy in that country is built around a desire to control traffic. Traffic needs planning, like any other aspect of our environment, if we are serious about controlling air pollution. A walk through Dublin on any day of the week will indicate the serious effects of the uncontrolled growth of traffic. Our policy should address the consequences of the growth of traffic.
The Ministers responsible for the environment in industrial countries issued a declaration one year ago in which they recognised that "the responsibilities and need for action concerning environmental protection do not end at national frontiers". Those Ministers confirmed the need to increase international co-operation in addressing environmental problems of a global or regional character, especially those which impact on neighbouring countries. Our small country is particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution from neighbouring countries. In this regard I should like to draw attention to nuclear plants in Britain. The environmental Ministers in their declaration pledged all industrial countries, including Ireland, to achieve "through vigorous national policies and international co-operation early effective reductions of emissions of major air pollutants from stationary and mobile sources in order to achieve environmentally acceptable air quality and acid deposition levels and to prevent and combat damage to health and the environment".
I should like to look in more detail at the recommendations of those Ministers in regard to the control of air pollution from fossil fuel combustion. It is important that we understand those recommendations as a back-drop to the legislation before us. The OECD Council recommended that member countries should pursue policies to control more effectively air pollution resulting from the emission of oxides and nitrogen, hydro-carbons and particle matter. That organisation suggested that member countries should achieve that objective by an appropriate combination of some or all of the following means: more efficient use of energy; the use of less polluting fossil fuels; stricter control on air pollution emissions and the development of consistent emission control strategies on a regional or national basis. Member countries were asked to actively encourage internationally co-ordinated research and development aimed at a better understanding of atmospheric processes and the effect of air pollution on man and the environment.
Developments within the EC are of more direct consequence to Ireland since we are constrained by EC directives on pollution and related matters. The EC Commission recently issued guidelines which recommended that nitrogen oxide be reduced by 30 per cent over the next couple of years. I recognise that Ireland is one of the low pollutant countries in Europe but it is disturbing that we have found it necessary to seek a derogation from the draft EC Directive on Air Pollution. We are a small country on the receiving end of pollution from other countries and, therefore, we are in a position to play a very constructive role in the formulation of international policies aimed at curbing pollution.
It is disturbing — I make this point with some reluctance — that the ESB have found it necessary to apply for this derogation, although I appreciate the cost constraints which have led them to adopt this position. The ESB have pointed out that it will cost £70 million to bring the Moneypoint station to EC standards of safe control of air pollution by the installation of desulphurisation equipment. I understand that involves trickling lime and water down the chimneys of the power stations. We must ask ourselves if our credibility will not suffer, even allowing for the fact that we are one of the low polluting countries in the EC, if we do not tackle the problem of pollution. We must ask ourselves at what cost in terms of damage to the health of the population and the environment we are prepared to secure cheaper electricity. I leave it to Members to form their own conclusions on this.
I should like to comment briefly on some of the more important provisions of the Bill. When considering its provisions we must bear in mind that pollution is an international problem. We must take into consideration efforts made by other countries to tackle pollution. I recognise the constructive suggestions of An Taisce in their submission on the Bill. They argued that instead of insisting on each local authority having their own scientific staff to monitor air pollution it would be more cost effective to have this work carried out on a regional basis making use of the expertise available in An Foras Forbartha, the IIRS and NBST. I have some sympathy with their concern that the designation of special control areas should be discretionary rather than mandatory.
We must now show good faith and trust in our local authorities and encourage and assist them in their efforts to tackle this problem, particularly in the greater Dublin area. I detect from my discussions a widespread awareness of the seriousness of this problem and I have no doubt that local authorities will apply themselves to implementing not only the letter but the spirit of this legislation.
I should like to extend good wishes to the Ceann Comhairle on his election to that office. I know he will carry out his duties with impartiality and justice. I should like to extend good wishes to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. As a rural Deputy I am sure he is concerned about the environment. I should like to congratulate the two new Deputies who made their maiden speeches today. I can recall how nervous I was when making my maiden speech to an almost empty Chamber. I wish the two Deputies a long and successful career. The Minister, in the course of his speech, spoke of the urgency and importance of the Bill.
We all share a sense of disappointment that once again in respect of EC directives Ireland would seem to be lagging behind in some respects. It is a pity we have not been to the forefront in implementing legislation in accordance with the directives and that once again we have had to be taken to the European Court.
We have an enormous task keeping our environment healthy and clean for the future. Sometimes we consider it a disadvantage to be apart from the mainland of Europe, but one of the great advantages we have is the wonderful, wild Atlantic Ocean with nothing to pollute it for 3,000 miles, provided we ensure there is no dumping. I welcome Deputy Síle de Valera who, I am sure, will be doing her utmost to preserve the west coast. We have an inbuilt environmental and geographical advantage and I do not think we, as a generation, could live with ourselves if we did not take every precaution to protect our environmental heritage by continuing surveillance and strengthening our legislation, when necessary.
Who would have believed in the fifties that we could reach a stage where we would be threatened by the same type of health hazards which were experienced in London and other industrial cities in Britain as a result of smog? I remember being an immigrant in Britain in the fifties and encountering the frightening consequences of smog. I have a very fresh memory of coming out of the underground into a wall of black where one could not identify the road from the footpath. On feeling a lamp standard I looked up and could not see the light on the top. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I know how the pollution from industry, if unchecked, can affect the lives of people. Citizens in Britain who were suffering from lung problems literally had to wear masks in order to go out into what is commonly known as the "fresh air". The positive side is that the British, when they reached that crisis, introduced the Clean Air Act in 1956. The results were incredibly positive, to the extent that smog is now spoken about by elderly people like me to a younger generation who have never experienced it. Happily, in Ireland we have not reached that stage. The United States has had a Clean Air Act since 1970, to which several amendments were made in 1977. They have managed to a great extent to stop the pollution of a very beautiful environment.
The Minister, in introducing the Bill, undertook to consider all amendments with a more open mind than usual on Committee Stage. I will not take up the time of the House on Second Stage and I very much welcome the Minister's promise regarding Committee Stage.
We are all concerned about smog levels in Dublin and other urban areas of Cork, Limerick and elsewhere. We must never believe that Dublin is Ireland, but what happens in Dublin this year could happen in the rest of the country in the years ahead. While the problem may seem to be concentrated in Dublin it is a warning of how quickly such problems can build up unless we take precautions.
The Minister said in his speech that smoke from domestic sources contributed 79 per cent of the 117,000 tonnes emitted in the State as a whole in 1985. Although the figures for 1987 are not yet available, the Minister and other scientific people who have been evaluating the situation tell us that the figures will be worse. An incredibly high level of pollution is coming from domestic sources and the combination of smoke and damp must affect our citizens very much. A great amount of the heavy cloud of smoke that lies over Dublin arises from some of the most densely populated areas where it might not be economically easy to change to more expensive fuels. If costs are involved, particularly in low income areas, funding must be made available to people. We will take into consideration as well the situation of elderly people who may get their fuel in small amounts. I was going to say less expensive amounts but in many cases it is more expensive to buy in small quantities.
We are not unique in having these pollution problems. When the clean air legislation was introduced in places like London, Birmingham and Manchester they also had high density areas with low income groups and they managed to overcome all these problems. We have no less capacity for innovation and compassion. Examples from other countries will enable us to deal with the problems arising in the interim period.
The Minister went on to discuss the full effects of the directives from the EC. He mentioned reducing lead emissions from motor vehicles. Deputy Kitt referred to the health hazards of such emissions to children, particularly those in the city who play near busy roads. Their height makes them susceptible to emissions from car and bus exhausts and children of this age should not be exposed to such a hazard. It has been medically proved that the brains of young children can be affected by these emissions.
I particularly welcome the fact that Ireland, with other countries, will be part of the Protocol which will ensure that we will not be invaded by transboundary pollution borne on the wind from other countries. In Helsinki in 1981, 21 countries undertook to reduce their sulphur emissions by 30 per cent as soon as possible. They are working to ensure that there will be further reductions in that level and hope that more countries will join the Protocol. I will be referring to this later on and the need for everyone to see this not just in a national or country sense. Chernobyl has proved that the world is literally a village that can be invaded and even countries that take stringent precautions to keep their environment clean can also be invaded. This applies to Scandinavia who are still paying a very high price in human, animal and plant terms as a result of polluted air from the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl.
The Minister said that the Bill does not deal with radioactive emissions or those connected with the incineration of waste at sea because other legislation, namely the Nuclear Energy Act, 1971, and the Dumping at Sea Act, 1981, already cover these matters. In any event the Minister believes that these matters would not be within the field of competence of local authorities. We are all aware of uninvited pollution, not only from nuclear waste but also from the Kowloon Bridge which is leaking oil off the coast of one of the most beautiful parts of our country, south west Cork. This was arrogantly dumped there and nobody wants to take responsibility for it. There is a threat to beaches from which people have physically shovelled tar and saved birds from certain death. However, that obscene vision is still in front of them and thousands of tonnes of oil are still there. We must ensure that people who do not take full responsibility for such actions will be penalised in the fullest possible sense and that compensation will be paid. We are all appalled that such an incident could take place and that no one seems to want to take responsibility for it. I know that the Taoiseach has already visited the area and I welcome the Government's strong attempts to bring those concerned to justice. I hope that this legislation will prevent such occurrences in future and that it will prevent us from becoming a dumping ground for nuclear waste or oil. Our independence and neutrality apply to our clear, pure water and we must not allow other countries to pollute it. We must do this for future generations so that our country will be unpolluted.
I also share the concern which many people have expressed in relation to the plant at Moneypoint. It has been alleged by the ESB that it would be too costly for them to put in the essential scrubbers and non-pollutant equipment needed. I do not accept that. If such equipment had been basic to the building of Moneypoint in the first place, would it have been as costly as they say? I am not an expert but I doubt it, as it is always much more expensive to try to improve something when the job is finished. Other countries in Europe have discovered, to their great distress, that their equipment of 50 or 100 years ago is now irreversible. We must not allow that to happen here; other countries did it through ignorance but we would be doing it in full awareness of the position which would make it all the more criminal.
When we talk about cost considerations, what do we mean? We have a commitment not alone to keep this country as fresh, healthy and clean as possible but to agriculture and tourism which are our two greatest resources. How cost effective is it for the ESB to argue that it is not financially feasible for them to improve Moneypoint when they could be not just polluting a country themselves but setting up a very dangerous precedent by asking for special consideration regardless of this directive? If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction the whole area of the Burren would be under threat. This is not just an Irish heritage, it is recognised world wide as being unique. We would never be forgiven if we allowed the ESB or anybody else to destroy what was laid down thousands of years ago. We must ensure that this does not happen. We must give people a sense of the awareness of the shocking — I use the word advisedly — behaviour of people who attempt to do that. I am sure we will come to that again.
The Minister mentioned that the legislation will apply immediately to new industrial plant and licensing, but he says, too "Licensing under Part III will also apply to alterations of industrial plant which may materially increase or change emissions and it may be gradually extended to cover existing plant by ministerial regulation". I have made a passionate plea on Moneypoint but it is there now. This is an extremely important part of the Minister's powers. Because of the strict planning regulations that will emerge as a result of the legislation here much of what we might have to examine and ensure is changed could be plant which is in existence already. That is one of the most important parts of the legislation and I welcome it.
The Minister said in his speech that the need for national standards and guidelines and for central policy direction and co-ordination in air pollution matters has not, however, been overlooked and that the Bill provides the Minister for the Environment with powers to ensure adequate action by any reluctant local authority. Without indicting any local authority, I think this is a power that the Minister must not alone take on, but must implement if necessary. We can put the argument that pollution crosses all boundaries with regard to countries; even more does it cross all boundaries with regard to local authority areas. Where a local authority adhere totally to their planning and to legislation to ensure that their area is living up completely to the environmental laws it is totally unfair that another local authority who might not be so conscientious be allowed to exist beside that area. Apart from the area itself there are huge implications for people who are conscientiously trying to do the right thing. The Minister needs those powers.
The Minister said that this Bill has a flexibility and that amendments may be made to it. Very often pollution occurs as a result of the speed of scientific development and it is wise of the Minister to include that power. I would like us to concentrate in the Bill, maybe on Committee Stage, on trying to ensure that we have the legislation and more emphatically the education and awareness within the proper authorities responsible so that if an accident or an incident occurs the responsible bodies are totally trained and prepared for it. I remember hearing of a rather frightening incident, not of air pollution, where a truck with chemicals in it collided on the Naas carriageway. The chemicals spewed all over the road and there was a delay of about an hour while all kinds of institutions had to be contacted in an effort to find out how such chemicals should be treated. The people who had to take the time to find that out were very concerned about the fact that a far worse, more tragic accident could have occurred (a) if people had been involved (b) if the wrong treatment had been applied. A chemical explosion could have occurred. Therefore, part and parcel of what we are attempting in this area is not just making sure that the legislation will be evaluated and balanced but that it will be controlled to the extent that where an accident or incident occurs anybody who is responsible and in whose jurisdiction it lies will not alone be totally educated to cope with it but will have the resources to do so.
On the matter of expertise and education, I note that the Minister has referred to the fact that An Bord Pleanála will be the overall board responsible, the body to whom appeals could be made and who could give final decisions. I applaud the fact that an independent body would do this and that in the complicated, scientific, fast changing technological age we are living in An Bord Pleanála would have within their membership and staff the expertise to enable them to make the right decisions regarding such appeals.
The Minister spoke about the Geneva Convention and said that EC member states are all party to the Convention and that being part of this Convention gives us access to expertise and learning that we as a small country could not possibly have the resources to attain on our own. For instance, the Norwegian Institute of Air Research is responsible for technical co-ordination and there are two meteorological synthesising centres, again in Scandinavia. I am glad to note something that I did not know until the Minister said it in his speech, that we because of our geographical position will aid and contribute to the shared information under this Convention.
I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the Meteorological Service here who with a small staff but a high level of expertise have been contributing to the programme over the years. I include also in that tribute such institutions as An Foras Forbartha. I note that further links will probably be set up with them. We live in a very finely balanced and dangerous world and we in Ireland even on the fringe of the Atlantic are part of it. We have learned that the only way we will not only survive but, we hope, enjoy the quality of life and environment that we want is to observe our responsibility to preserve it: that must come from shared expertise and shared resources. Our being part of the larger European and world groups allows us to take advantage of not alone the shared learning, but the shared responsibility, too.
Let me mention two areas which I am sure we will all be attending to and which will not come within the Bill. One area some Deputies have mentioned is noise control. Noise can make life almost unlivable and can lead at times to deafness. Another area which is a pollution of a kind is smells. We have all been appalled at times at trucks or lorries loaded with offal passing us and they not even covered. Those of us who come from a rural background and know the importance of agriculture do not object to the transport of such materials but they need a covering and a protection so that people are not paralysed by the stench for about 15 or 30 minutes before and after such transport passes. That again is a consideration, a sensitivity, a hygiene. Above all it is a control of our environment which we should examine but we are very lax in that respect.
Let me finish on a positive note. Many people still regard this country very highly because of the quality of life it offers. This is something we will try to maintain through this Bill and other measures. A recent survey was carried out with regard to the relative enjoyment and quality of life in certain countries. It is good to know that despite our problems and some of the bad image we get abroad Ireland came eighth in choice. From an affluent point of view, the countries that were ahead of us were the United States and the United Kingdom. The countries that were ahead of us with regard to enjoyment of life and concern for the environment were the Scandinavian countries. They achieved that by good planning and at a cost that did not seriously injure them industrially or financially.
All of us in this House are endeavouring to ensure that what has been achieved in other countries can be achieved here, particularly in a country as beautiful as ours. It is something that all of us can agree to and work towards on Committee Stage of this Bill and also in other Bills that will come before the House.
I now welcome Deputy Síle de Valera back among us and invite her to make her contribution.
Thank you very much, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I join with my fellow Deputies in congratulating you and wishing you every success. I also would like to take this opportunity of wishing the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, well in his work. I would also like to thank Deputy Barnes for her kind remarks.
The fact that we are discussing such a Bill as this shows that the matters of pollution and conservation are no longer the preserve of a few. Instead, we have become more mature and responsible in our attitude towards conservation and the hazardous effects of pollution. We are no longer looking at the short-term effects of that, wanting to put off the evil day of doing something about conservation and the problem of pollution. Instead, we are looking at the major effects, particularly on industry. I will name an industry directly affected by pollution, that is tourism. That is something not many people immediately advert to but in a constituency such as County Clare, to which Deputy Barnes already referred, that can boast of unique environmental assets such as the Burren, tourism is of extreme importance. We must ensure that pollution, from wherever it comes, will not cause problems for that industry in Clare or indeed elsewhere.
There has, of course, been much criticism of the Moneypoint plant and I want to refer to that because it is in my constituency. It causes much concern in the County of Clare and outside it. There has been much criticism of Moneypoint simply because there are 90,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide emitting from that plant per annum. To comply with the EC directive, we would need to reduce the sulphur dioxide by 60 per cent, the dust emissions by 40 per cent and oxide of nitrogen by 40 per cent. In order to install the scrubbers — I am told the scrubbers that will be needed are the Wellman Lord flu gas desulphurisation equipment — the ESB estimated that the cost would be about £400 million in 1984 figures. This would not only cover the imported emission control equipment but would also take into account the associated efficiency losses and operational costs.
Deputy Barnes rightly said that the matter of pollution should not be put down to terms of cost but, unfortunately, we must be realistic and see the effects of such costs on the day to day running of the country. The ESB said that if they were to install these scrubbers it could well mean a 20 per cent to 25 per cent increase in electricity costs for the consumer by 1995. Obviously that is not the solution. I would hope to see the Minister pushing very strongly for European capital grant aid in this area. As Deputy Barnes said, the Burren and many other areas of the country that are noted for their unique environment are not just of national interest but are also of European and worldwide interest. I hope that in the year Europe has designated as the Year of the Environment they will take some action in this regard and will be prepared to give us some capital grant funding with regard to this matter. That would alleviate much of the cost that may be involved.
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the clean technology demonstration programmes. These programmes are run by the EC on a four yearly basis. One of them has just been completed. No less than four Irish programmes were accepted for the last phase of those technology demonstration programmes. I will name them — if the Minister is interested I hope he will follow this up — UCD under the direction of Mr. Brendan Keegan, the project leader, were granted aid to look into a system for monitoring the seabed for pollution using computers; Professor Richard from Trinity got funding to look into the uses of leaf yeast for testing air quality; Mr. Hegarty, the project leader of Dublin Corporation, also got funding for air pollution; the Agricultural Institute were also in receipt of funding in Moore Park in Cork.
The basic philosophy of this demonstration programme is, of course, to cut down on pollution. I have been told that new regulations are being proposed at the moment in the hope that further phases of these programmes may be brought in. If so, I suggest that the Department of the Environment nominate somebody from the National Board of Science and Technology to sit on the advisory board. In the hope that the second phase of these demonstration programmes goes ahead by the EC, I hope that the ESB research institutions, colleges and the Department of the Environment will get together to formulate proposals. They could be considered for submission for these demonstration programmes so that we could find some solution in terms of research.
I am sure the Minister will be glad to hear that the European institutions under this programme will fund the programmes by 30 per cent. We hope that if the submissions that are sent in are accepted, at least we will have some direction or policy on this matter. When I talk about policy I am talking about a policy from the ESB and research institutions so that the unique qualities of the Burren in County Clare in particular can be preserved.
Once these submissions are accepted and there is agreement among the authorities on their approach, I would hope that the Minister would look further for capital grant aid towards the installation of scrubbers and towards making the many other changes that are needed in our generating plants to ensure a discontinuance of the great hazard of pollution. I stress that it is too easy to criticise a plant such as Moneypoint which has been a tremendous asset to the constituency of Clare. I hope the European Community would have a very strong part to play in granting aid direct to Moneypoint in order to solve the many problems that could arise.
As every speaker has already said, this Bill is very welcome. There is inclined to be some repetition in the debate because there is a certain amount one cay say on the subject and that is it. It is heartening that so many Deputies are standing up to say their piece, even if it is repetitive, because this is such an important issue and such an important Bill. I make no apologies for repeating much of what has been said previously and I doubt if anybody else would.
We have more information about the Dublin conditions. I do not have the required information about Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway or rural areas. I do not have the information about the particular industries in rural areas which may be causing local problems. Statistics should be available for every town in the country. There should be monitoring stations everywhere. There should be far more stations in Dublin. When I raised this question at a meeting in Dublin on Monday, the systems manager asked did I want them to have stations in every parish in Dublin. Of course, that is the answer. Why not have a monitoring station in every parish?
I do not think that would be needed in Mayo. The air is pure down there.
One never knows. There may be pollution in local towns in Mayo that are not being monitored. In particular kinds of weather the smoke will lie exactly where it rises. In even a small town one can have a concentration of pollutants which are not being monitored.
In Dublin all one need do is look at the older buildings, those of which we are most proud, to see the manner in which they are decaying before our eyes. It is bad enough to see limestone and Portland stone being damaged, but granite which we thought was perennial and would last for thousands of years is disappearing before our eyes also. The Bank of Ireland could afford to do a very expensive and long job which was very welcome but there are not many other organisations which could afford to do so. I understand that the authorities of Trinity College are very worried about their buildings which are well over 200 years old — the manner in which they are deteriorating and the huge cost of endeavouring to restore them.
One need only go as far as Stepaside or the Pine Forest and look down on the city. At times of calm, cold weather one will see the enormous pall of yellowish brown smoke right across the city of Dublin. It used to be known as smog. Deputy Barnes referred to the problem of smog in London but it was experienced in Dublin also. In the forties I remember three continuous days when you could hardly walk through Dublin without putting your hands in front of you. We are back to a crisis situation again. There was a slight fall in the figures from 1979 but certainly it has been rising since the mid seventies. The figures released through a Dublin Corporation report show that the level of air pollution increased by 50 per cent in one year alone, from the winter of 1982-83 to that of 1983-84. The annual smoke emissions per square kilometre in Dublin are six times the level of those in London. We all remember how bad the problem was in London, but there a clean air Bill was passed.
The figures for Dublin released this week show that an already bad picture has got steadily worse. It is no exaggeration to say that we are now at crisis point. Several city monitoring stations have recorded smoke levels far in excess of the EC limit of 250 micrograms per cubic metre, a figure which is also accepted by the World Health Organisation. It is the level at which health can be damaged, particularly if it must be endured for a period of time. It is generally accepted that exposure to over that level of 250 micrograms per cubic metre can lead to respiratory problems and even death. In the light of this, the figures produced by Dublin Corporation are quite frightening. One of the highest levels of smoke ever recorded in the city was registered in Ballyfermot, my constituency, at 1,429 micrograms per cubic metre. That is more than five times the level beyond which the EC recommend that one should not go. On the same day in Crumlin, the level was almost as bad at 1,242 micrograms per cubic metre.
In Ballyfermot the smog levels were exceeded on no less than 30 days in four months. The EC say that its limit of 250 micrograms per cubic metre should not be exceeded on more than seven days in a whole year. In Ballyfermot these levels were exceeded on three days in November 1986, six days in December 1986, nine days in January 1987 and 12 days in February, making a total of 30 days in a four month period.
The next highest level to Ballyfermot was registered in Cabra where the level was exceeded on 15 days in the four month period. The EC also says that the value of 250 micrograms per cubic metre should not be exceeded on more than any three consecutive days at a station. After that, it is even more serious for health. That occurred in Dublin at four different stations. In Mountjoy Square it was exceeded on four consecutive days in February, from 12 to 15 February. That is the north inner city area. In the south inner city area. Herbert Street, it was exceeded on four consecutive days and in Crumlin also on four consecutive days. As far as Ballyfermot was concerned, it was exceeded on seven consecutive days in February, 12 to 18 February, inclusive.
These reports come to us monthly. I have asked Dublin Corporation constantly — the figures are very bad all over the city — why are they consistently much worse in Ballyfermot than in any other monitoring station in Dublin? Of 11 monitoring stations Ballyfermot has been consistently way above the others in Dublin. For instance, in February the median in Ballyfermot was 252 microgrammes per cubic metre as against 116 in February 1986, more than doubled in the year. The next highest — which of course is excessively high — was Cabra where the median was 165 microgrammes per cubic metre for the month of February 1987 as against February 1986. Therefore it will be seen that consistently Ballyfermot has been 60 per cent or 40 per cent higher than the next highest level. The last time I posed that question to Dublin Corporation — I think in January last — I was told it was an atmospheric problem, that the wind levels were not as high in Ballyfermot as on the north side. That was a unique meteorological position. It would lead one to believe that people from all over the world would be coming to see Ballyfermot, that unique meteorological phenomenon where wind levels in one area of Dublin ceased. While all around they were gushing all over the place, clearing away the smoke, for some reason they were quite static in Ballyfermot. That is the type of answer one receives when one poses such questions. There must be a specific answer that no scientist or anybody else has yet produced for this extraordinary phenomenon in Ballyfermot as compared with other areas.
As has already been pointed out there is no monitoring station in Finglas, the other side of the river from Ballyfermot, with the same concentration of houses and so on. The levels must be as high there. Neither is there any monitoring station in Kilbarrack, Coolock or in many other areas on the north side. Presumably the same position obtains in many other areas, which is absolutely appalling. We do not know how many people die as a result of these levels. Apropos the figures for February of this year two good friends of mine have been in hospital for the past two weeks with respiratory problems. How many people have died as a result we do not know.
There was an article in the Irish Medical Journal in October 1984 which produced chilling evidence of the link between air pollution and deaths from respiratory problems. The article was written by Doctors Ian Kelly and Luke Clancy of the Trinity College Medical School showing that excessive air pollution and sub-zero temperatures were responsible for doubling the number of deaths in St. James's Hospital in Dublin in January 1982. According to a study carried out there were 120 deaths at the hospital in January 1982 compared with a monthly average of 54 and a January mean of 64. Between January 14 and January 20 of that year there were 39 deaths. During that week exceptionally higher levels of air pollution were recorded in Dublin. There were high and static concentrations of pollutants in the area around St. James's Hospital.
Of the 120 deaths in January 55 per cent were as a result of respiratory problems. The average age of those who died was 77. In that month no bacteriological or viral epidemic occurred. The high levels of pollution during that week in January 1982 were caused by fog being trapped under a blanket of cold air as a result of calm, cold weather. That is when smoke levels are concentrated downwards in one area. It occurred in January and February of this year and again in early March. It can happen in any town in Ireland, in certain atmospheric conditions when smoke is trapped under a blanket of cold air.
The authors of that article say that the effects of a rise in air pollution have been well established, that these have been demonstrated by an increase in the number of exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, increases in sickness absence benefit, increases in hospital bed demand and, most important, by increases in mortality among patients already suffering from chronic respiratory disease. They say that the young and elderly are among those most vulnerable to those adverse effects. While it is not fully understood how air pollution causes death in those with severe respiratory disease, the authors say that reports suggest that harmful effects are associated with particles in the air and, to a lesser extent, sodium dioxide.
People, quite rightly, have been very concerned about the number of recent casualties arising from gas explosions. But a greater number die every single winter as a result of the appalling levels of air pollution in this city without there being any fuss, any attention being paid to them by anybody other than their immediate families and friends.
There was a time when environmental issues were regarded largely as the interest of the middle class or well-off only. Over the years there has been a growing awareness that the protection and preservation of a healthy, clean environment are matters of concern to all. It is significant that the areas in which the highest levels of air pollution have been consistently recorded in Dublin have been working class areas like Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Cabra. It will be seen that the working class has more to gain than anyone else from a clean and healthy environment.
We welcome the Bill and hope its provisions will have the desired results. Of course, the three main elements contributing to pollution in the air are domestic fires, pollution from industrial concerns and from motor vehicles. Quite rightly domestic coal fires have been identified as the key element of the problem. Smoke from the chimneys of dwellinghouses and flats is responsible for 81 per cent of the total smoke load — approximately 16,000 tonnes per annum — emitted in the Dublin area. Three quarters of domestic smoke emissions derive from the burning of household coal which generally are discharged through relatively low chimneys. It is no coincidence that the air pollution in Dublin increased as the volume of coal sales shot up. Coal sales went down during the early seventies to a minimum equivalent to 430,000 tonnes of oil equivalent. By 1978 it had risen to 551,000 tonnes of oil equivalent and, by 1982, it had shot up as far as 869,000 tonnes.
The aim of the Bill is to encourage householders to transfer from coal to smokeless fuels through the creation of special control areas, an aim much to be welcomed. The first thing that must be done is to increase the number of monitoring stations in order to identify areas which should be categorised as special control areas. The Bill provides for a scheme of grants to cover the whole or part of the cost of any adaptations to fireplaces which might be necessary to comply with the limitation of emissions. The cost of conversion would comprise part of the problem only.
A restriction requiring householders to burn smokeless fuel would constitute a heavy imposition on lower income families. Since such fuel costs approximately 50 per cent more, weight for weight, than bituminous coal, it must be understood that if sales of smokeless fuels increased enormously their price would drop. At the moment they cost about 50 per cent more but that would be a reducing amount. There is no point in giving people money to adapt fireplaces for smokeless fuel if they cannot afford to buy it. There is no point in saving the old from death through air pollution if they are going to die from the cold instead. If the scheme is to be a success, smokeless fuels must be available at a cost people can afford.
Alternatively there is now an opportunity for the State run gas company to contribute to the smokeless zones in Dublin by making gas available at a cheap rate in order to eliminate the burning of coal. That should be discussed at Government level with the Minister for Finance and with An Bord Gáis to ensure that it is possible to do so under the terms of this Bill and as part of the process of ensuring that the Bill will be effective. If we want a genuinely clean and healthy environment, it will cost money. Many people fear that the Bill will be passed and that it will be quietly forgotten, or that it will become a victim of the financial stringency to which Fianna Fáil have become converts judging from the replies of the Minister for Finance to questions today.
The licensing system for industrial emissions is very welcome. While industry certainly contributed to pollution problems in Britain and other European countries in the first half of this century, most modern industries, especially high technology industries, are almost pollution free but there are still traditional heavy industries and chemical industries in which precautions must be taken to limit or eliminate pollution. This will cost money. The Government and the IDA must evaluate the jobs to be gained by admitting dirty industries here which would not be taken into other countries as against the jobs that could be lost in tourism and the food industry as a result of such industries coming here. These decisions must now be made. We have a reputation as a country with clean air and water and therefore clean food. That reputation could be damaged and jobs lost. These evaluations must be made.
One of the most frightening aspects of industrial pollution is the phenomenon known as acid rain. So far, Ireland has managed to escape the worst effects of acid rain but evidence of the environmental disaster it can create can be seen in the withering forests and dead and empty lakes of Germany, Sweden and some other countries. We have a right to be protected from the effects of acid rain created by other countries and we have a duty to see that we do not contribute to this problem. Legitimate concern has been expressed about the possible contribution of the new Moneypoint power station to the problem. I understand that filtering devices could have been installed at the design stage to eliminate or greatly reduce the problem.
When sulphur dioxide combines with water in rainfall it forms sulphuric acid, creating the lethal cocktail known as acid rain. Moneypoint at peak production will produce 70,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide. Deputy de Valera today gave a figure of 90,000 tonnes, but even taking the lower figure of 70,000 tonnes as against the domestic production in Dublin of 16,000 tonnes which is causing a grave problem there one can readily see the effect Moneypoint will have in regard to acid rain. What goes up must come down and the cost of the damage done could be far in excess of the cost of remedying the problem now. The Minister should ask the Minister for Finance to reduce his £20 million levy on the ESB and allow them to apply some of that annually to installing scrubbers in Moneypoint and at least reduce the emissions of sulphur dioxide. The Bill is very welcome and we look forward to its implementation to save lives and our environment.
The evidence is overwhelming that a problem exists in our major cities, not only in Dublin. There have been comments today that only Dublin has a problem and that the rural areas do not have a problem. There are other cities besides Dublin. Cork has a problem in certain areas. The evidence has been documented clearly by the local authority. Any money being made available to implement the clean air policy must go not only to Dublin but to other local authorities that have documented evidence of an air pollution problem.
We have a reputation as being a clean country environmentally and we are one of the few European countries that can boast about being nuclear free. Our reputation helps to sell our agricultural produce abroad and it is in our interests to ensure that our reputation is maintained. The evidence as we walk around our cities however, shows that we are careless and slipshod in ways about our environment. Instead of having our litter wardens involved in a punitive role they would be better employed going around our schools training our young people to care for our environment in a positive way.
We seem to be unable to tackle our environmental problems effectively. We do not have an overall national environment protection policy and we do not have any strategy to deal with the problems caused by industrial development. At present we just react to crises without having any clear objective. Many major problems have arisen because of departmentalised thinking. One has only to consider the role of State bodies to see that our attempts to maintain a clean environment are being hampered by the sectioning off of the environment protection policy. We have problems of waste disposal, both domestic and industrial. We have problems in relation to sea pollution and river pollution.
The Irish Sea is polluted with nuclear waste and the Atlantic is polluted by the dumping of nuclear waste off our western coast. There are major question marks about the quality of the technology being used to dispose of toxic and nuclear waste. We also have a problem which we have not addressed in relation to the disposal of toxic and chemical waste. Technology is advancing so quickly that we are not in a position to predict the environmental consequences. This is very worrying. We seem to be embracing technology for purely economical advantages while not being able to predict the environmental consequences. Major changes are taking place in this country and we do not yet know what the effects will be.
I referred recently to the departmentalisation of the environmental problem which is affecting our attitudes and the attitudes of the State in a most serious way. We have about ten State and semi-State agencies involved in environmental management. On top of that we have each local authority attempting to do their own thing without having the financial resources to treat the environmental problem seriously. I pose the question: could we not, even at this stage, harness all the departmentalised efforts together and bring them under one agency? At the moment we have each local authority and each Government Department appointing their own specialists to interpret the rules and regulations coming within the sphere of their own interest without getting involved in the overall situation, and with very little liaison.
We need an agency comparable to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States who do an excellent job providing specialist advice and taking corrective action. They also involve themselves in long term planning. I am saying that we need a central agency, and this is a proposal I put to this House on a number of occasions but without much success to date, unfortunately. The evidence is there and will show that dividing our efforts has caused problems for this country. We only have to look at the oil spillage off the south coast recently. I believe the indecision arose because nobody could decide which Department were responsible. In such a crisis, and in a crisis like the Chernobyl disaster which happened thousands of miles away, we were badly equipped to deal with the problem as it affected this country. The Nuclear Energy Board did their best within their limited resources but they were not responsible for the health of the population. The health boards were undecided whether they should monitor the radioactive levels in milk. They did not know if it was their responsibility or the responsibility of some other agency. Such indecision has arisen from the fuzzy thinking in relation to environmental protection. The only answer is to have a central agency with adequate resources to meet the problems in an effective way as they arise.
We should be planning and thinking of the environment and the management of it for the future. We are reaching a situation whereby economic and social policy cannot be taken in isolation any longer without embracing the question of the environment and the implications for it. Thankfully under the Water Pollution Act — which is related because air pollution causes water pollution — no company can set up in business without going through a very select and difficult screening system with people such as the IDA, An Foras Forbartha, the IIRS and the local authority, all judging the implications which the setting up of the company would have for the environment. I am not satisfied that local authorities, who are badly short of finance, are laying all the emphasis they should on environmental protection. I know they act at times only when pushed by public opinion. That is human nature.
Atmospheric pollution has been a source of concern to environmentalists and legislators for quite some time because of the possible damage to health and the environment. As we all know, two of the more significant atmospheric pollutants are smoke and sulphur dioxide and these have been the subject of an EC directive adopted in 1980. As previous speakers have said, levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide have reached worrying proportions in recent times. As Deputy Mac Giolla said, certain areas of Dublin have reached danger point because of meteorological factors in recent months. The same can be said of other cities.
Acid rain is a major problem throughout Europe. Acid rain levels are increasing in Ireland too, and we must address ourselves to this problem immediately. Strict compliance to EC pollution level directives would have serious economic consequences for Ireland. We must decide if we can afford a comprehensive clean air policy which would demand the use of expensive smokeless fuels, compulsory smoke free zones and so on. I believe there is only one way we can go; we must tackle this problem seriously before it reaches dangerous proportions.
Our clean air policy must be linked with our energy policy. We must utilise our natural gas because this is a clean fuel which is relatively cheap, but we must use it as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We do not have a very big reservoir of natural gas. Therefore, the Department of Energy must look seriously at the proposal to tap into the European grid where there is a limitless gas reservoir. This gas can be piped from as far away as Siberia if we decide to tap into the British gas grid. This is something we must consider. The link between our environmental policy and our energy policy is something this Government must address. It would be appropriate in the Dublin and Cork areas where natural gas is available to encourage people to use natural gas. The Cork Gas Company and the local authorities should get together and devise a policy to introduce gas in areas of high levels of pollution. The same should apply in Dublin.
The guiding principles in an environmental policy should be first, that a clean healthy environment is the basis of a flourishing community; second, that industrial development and environmental protection are complementary; third, we must educate our young population and our industrialists about the problems that can arise from litter, silage, slurry run-off and so on, and there must be an education programme for farmers; and fourth, we must insist on the elimination of the irresponsible disposal of chemicals around the country. Up to now the environment has tended to be approached on a fire brigade or crisis management basis.
This legislation is being introduced today against a background of ambivalence concerning our attitude to pollution. We criticise the British Government, and rightly so, in relation to Sellafield and its operations but, at the same time, we continue to export our industrial and toxic waste because we cannot get our own act together. We must not be ambivalent about this matter.
Quite rightly, we have grave anxiety about nuclear installations in Britain but, at the same time, we fail to deal with plants such as Moneypoint which are and will cause severe environmental damage not only to this country but, through transboundary pollution, will cause damage to the European mainland. Therefore, while we criticise Britain on the one hand we fail to deal with our own environmental problems at home. Sooner rather than later it will catch up with us; our colleagues in Europe will not allow us to get away with it. Our attitude to Britain and Sellafield is compromised seriously by our failure to dispose of our own toxic and chemical waste. We will have to face up to this problem sooner rather than later. We have to be consistent and introduce a comprehensive environmental protection policy.
I now want to deal with the Bill. The Air Pollution Bill, 1986, has as its core the provision of a comprehensive modern framework for the control of air pollution in order to meet national requirements and to enable full effect to be given to relevant EC directives. In conferring on local authorities the necessary powers to ensure the protection of air quality in their areas, it is to be hoped it will be implemented with far greater effect than some of the previous legislation. The Bill is a comprehensive one. In examining its detailed provisions I found them to be defective in not having mandatory time limits inserted to force local authorities to act and carry out their duties under the legislation. I view this as a serious omission in view of the local authorities' track records in this field to date, which I have referred to earlier. Consequently, I believe the Bill is defective without these mandatory provisions.
The deterioration in air pollution levels has been scientifically documented and newspaper reports of recent days have confirmed that fact. It suffices to say that air pollution has now reached a serious and worrying level. The Bill cannot be implemented in any way without the allocation of substantial funding from the Exchequer. It will be interesting to see in the months ahead what funding the local authorities will receive to implement the provisions of the Bill.
I believe the introduction of mandatory time limits for local authorities to carry out their duties under the Bill is essential. There should be a mandatory stipulation on local authorities to act on air pollution when the situation warrants it. Research and monitoring must be stepped up. There must be an increased emphasis on medical research to quantify the damage which is being done to the nation's health because of the present levels of air pollution. As I have said, special grants must be made available to the local authorities to follow up and carry out the provisions of the Bill.
On a parochial level and as a Deputy representing Cork. I read with interest that Dublin Corporation had made submissions to the Department of the Environment requesting finance for pilot schemes in the Dublin area. I hope that any moneys which are made available will be made available to a number of cities in the State and are not totally spent in Dublin. The local authority in Cork have a large number of monitoring stations throughout the region and they have documented their arguments and their facts in a responsible and scientific way.
Finally, I ask the Government to ensure that the report which was undertaken by the Nuclear Energy Board in relation to the Chernobyl disaster be published sooner rather than later. I hope the Government will publish the report within the next few days if possible. A number of questions which were raised at the time still remain unanswered. I ask that the report which was undertaken by the Nuclear Energy Board be published.
I am not going to go into detail on the question of lead pollution and burnt hydrocarbon pollution in our cities as they were dealt with earlier but I would hope that the provisions of the Bill would ensure that action is taken on those matters also.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating you on your election to the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I would also like to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, on his appointment to what is obviously going to be a very demanding and interesting post.
One cannot but be very pleased that this Bill is before the House today. Having had a very comprehensive airing in the Seanad, it is most desirable that we proceed with all haste to give it legal effect. When one studies the short title and the various headings, one quickly identifies the vital and crucial importance of this Bill. Having listened to some of the previous speakers, it is becoming very obvious that matters such as air pollution, the protection of air and cleanliness of air are matters impinging on energy policy. Because of the financial constraints at present, the implementation of Government policy which is going to cost will be difficult in the coming years. Therefore, I would suggest to the Minister that one should take an overall and cohesive view of energy policy when talking about air pollution. Deputies representing Dublin constituencies have expressed concern about the level of air pollution in their constituencies which has been brought about because of a shift in energy policy and the use of various fuels. The various fuels which are used are controlled by different Government Departments and I would ask the Minister to endeavour to undertake with the Minister for Energy cost-benefit analysis of the usage of gas, oil, power through the ESB, solid fuel from Bord na Móna and imported coal.
I and you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can recall that in the vast housing areas we represent such as Ballyfermot and Finglas this was not a particular problem some years ago but because of various economic changes and a shortage of oil there was a return to solid fuel heating in homes. That has been the biggest single contributor to air pollution in the capital city. As the State controls the price of gas and as Dublin Gas are now about to come into State ownership we should look at the cost levels and the profitability of the gas company as against the national concern about air pollution. The price levels which the ESB are charging and which Bord Gáis will be charging Dublin Gas have got to be related to some of the very valid points made earlier by Deputy Mac Giolla regarding the health cost of the continued air pollution about which we are all concerned.
We must consider the knock-on expense that arises from pollution, particularly in the Dublin area. The Minister should carry out a cost-benefit analysis to ascertain the best type of heating at the most economical rate. Imported coal appears to be the biggest source of air pollution. I understand that coal ships which were anchored off Dublin during a recent dispute at Dublin docks could not be diverted to other European countries because of the quality of the coal on board.
An article in the January issue of the OECD Observer, under the heading, “Making the Cities more Liveable”, dealt with upgrading the urban environment and pointed out that Scandinavian countries are concerned to reduce air, water and noise pollution. It stated that sulphur emissions in those countries are to be cut by 50 per cent from 1980 levels by 1993 and that lead-free fuel will be the cheapest form of fuel to buy in Scandinavian countries. If we allow the pollution to continue in our cities we will find it difficult to get people to reside in houses provided by local authorities and private developers at economic prices. Unless we make it clear that from now on our environment must be clean and healthy, we will be failing in our task.
According to the article in the OECD publication the Italians, the Spanish and other member countries, have adopted policies to reduce air pollution such as traffic control, environmental upgrading, concentrating on the renovation of old buildings and so on. It is important that people recognise the need to have a clean and healthy environment. In the early seventies, in compliance with the County Dublin Development Plan, we created three satellite towns around Dublin and housed 100,000 people in Tallaght, Clondalkin-Lucan and Blanchardstown. The first inhabitants of those satellite towns were fortunate in that the air was clear when they moved there. However, following the huge increase in the price of oil in the early seventies many of those people had to change to using solid fuel to heat their homes. Many of the local authority houses had warm air heating systems installed but because of the high cost of electricity they had to switch to solid fuel. People could no longer afford a pollution free system. In fact, grants were given to people to enable them to change to solid fuel systems. In carrying out any cost-benefit analysis we must bear in mind that a pollution free environment will lead to huge savings in other areas.
We have not concluded our development in west Dublin and it is proposed to build many more houses in the satellite towns in that area. We must try to get our plans right from now on. We must use our by-laws and planning regulations to ensure that we do not add to the problem. The Minister, who also has responsibility for planning, must ensure that all regulations are complied with. He must ensure that the natural gas grid is extended to new housing estates and that pollution free systems are made available to new tenants. Dublin County Council should insist on developers extending the gas grid to new housing estates so that we do not have to dig up roads and footpaths later on to instal such a facility. I understand that matter is not covered in the existing by-laws and that the local authority cannot insist on that work being carried out by developers.
Ballyfermot, which is in my constituency, is an area that is causing great concern to local representatives because of the extent of the air pollution there. There is no doubt that because of the extent of the pollution in that area the Department of Health have to spend a lot of money on health care. People are very concerned about the damage to the health of pensioners who are adversely affected by air pollution there. In any area where there has been a shift to solid fuel there will be a problem of air pollution. Ballyfermot has 6,000 local authority houses and the Department and the corporation will have to make an effort to eliminate the pollution there. I accept that the Bill represents a step in the right direction but I urge the Minister to embark on pilot schemes in Ballyfermot and Finglas as the first phase in a determined effort to eliminate air pollution.
Dublin Corporation have broken the back of their housing programme with the result that staff in the housing section are available for other work. I suggest that they be made responsible for the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. We would hope that a blueprint to deal with the worst affected areas of Dublin would be devised and that decisive action would be taken as soon as the President signs the Bill. That would be an indication that the Department of the Environment are serious about taking real action.
Appropriate action must also be taken in the housing construction sector. This very day Department-funded local authority housing schemes are under way and the open fireplace is being built into those houses. This is understandable because of the economics of that type of heating but pollution will certainly follow from the use of solid fuels. The Department will have to address this issue and take action.
Several sections of the Bill deal with research into air pollution. I urge the Minister to ask city and county managers to identify staff from their local authorities to undertake that research. This would not involve an extra financial burden on the local authorities. Staff resources could be made available with a little more flexibility, less attention to demarcation and better utilisation of personnel. It should be possible for local authorities to make an indepth analysis of air pollution within their jurisdictions. It would appear that in next week's budget various Government Departments and local authorities will not get the financial resources they would wish to have. If spending is to be curtailed in various areas, local authority staff must be briefed and educated to embark on research into air pollution in their areas.
The licensing of industrial plants is another very important matter. Local authority staff can carry out research into existing plants within their areas and engage in various tests. We were discussing this morning charges being levied on agriculture for advisory services. Surely the local authorities should be able to recover some funds where they are endeavouring to ensure that manufacturing industries are complying with the regulations in regard to air pollution. Section 19 appears to allow for some mechanism by which funds could be recovered. A very big money earner for local authorities is the collection of funds for the disposal of industrial waste. In Dublin county we had to pay a very high price for a tip but within three years the manager told us that he had recovered the cost of the investment. There is some elbow room in the area of dealing with industrial plants and it may be possible to have an annual recovery of costs incurred by the local authority in monitoring air pollution. There are knock-on effects of air pollution such as the costs to hospitals of dealing with people whose health is affected by it.
I now refer to special control areas in Dublin city and county. Rapid residential growth in the western part of Dublin and the build up of various satellite towns where the houses are heated by solid fuel means that there is often a pall of pollution hanging over Dublin in certain climatic conditions. This is very obvious when one comes from the higher areas in the south of the county down towards the city. Areas which are badly affected will have to be designated special control areas. Something will have to be done to identify some pilot areas as quickly as possible. Section 39 (2) states:
In deciding whether it is necessary or expedient to make a special control area order in relation to any area, the local authority shall have regard to—
(a) any air quality management plan in force in relation to the area, and
(b) any relevant air quality standard, and
(c) the availability of the means necessary for compliance with the order, and
(d) the expense which would be incurred in complying with the order.
Subsection (3) states:
A special control area order shall specify—
(a) the area to which it relates.
(b) the pollutant with which it is concerned, and
(c) the measures to be taken and the requirements which shall have effect in the area to which the order relates.
Ballyfermot might be identified as one special control area. I am asking the Minister to ensure that a pilot project of this type is undertaken. Statistics of pollution levels justify a decision to make it a special control area. The bulk of pollution is from residential areas and it is not a simple problem of blaming one or two industries. On the contrary, since the car assembly industry and other industries closed in that part of Dublin, there is very little air pollution from industry. The Minister must show the way by identifying Ballyfermot as a special control area due to the very severe air pollution problems which have been identified there.
Regarding air quality management plans and standards, section 46 (1) states:
A local authority may, and shall if the Minister so directs, make, in relation to all or any part of their functional area, a plan (in this Act referred to as an "air quality management plan") for the preservation or the improvement of the air quality in the area to which such plan relates.
There is a slight overlap with the special control areas but the Bill identifies that there are black spots about which something needs to be done.
I would ask the Minister to ensure that the 1963 Planning Act is implemented in such a way that by-law approvals will be given only when considerations of air quality have been taken into consideration. We must not continue to compound the problem, as has been happening every day of the week. Decisions are being made to allow further residential growth which, in itself, is desirable, but we are adding to the air pollution problems. Action must be taken by the drawing up of positive guidelines. I would ask the Minister to identify in his reply to this debate the resources which will be made available in this financial year. I get the impression that with the overall financial constraints it may not be intended to provide funds for these purposes this year. I ask the Minister to clarify the position and to have a special pilot project for Ballyfermot which has such a major problem at present. I welcome the Bill which will have a very important effect on the whole country.
The tourism industry is another major plank of our party's policy in Government. Pollution will be the most prominent issue in the years ahead in relation to air, water etc. The various sections of the Bill should be vigorously pursued as the Department of the Environment, the outgoing Government, Seanad, where the Bill was introduced, and the incoming Government are all committed to this issue. I compliment the Minister and his Department for moving so quickly in bringing the Bill before the House and in making progress in the work done by the Seanad by getting it on the Statute Book as soon as possible. The Minister made it clear that he is amenable to amendments on Committee Stage and he also stated that he will study in detail many of the excellent submissions he received. There are probably many areas which could be strengthened. I wish again to appeal to the Minister to designate a pilot area to ensure that everybody realises we mean business with the introduction of this legislation.
Is maith liom arís glaoch ar Theachta nua atá tagaithe chugainn, an Theachta Diarmaid Mac Giolla Phádraig.
Go raibh míle maith agat as ucht na bhfocal úd. I welcome the Bill and I compliment the Minister and his staff who have drawn it up. If fully implemented, it will lead to a significant improvement not alone in the quality of the air in Dublin and other cities but also in the general health of the population.
Anybody who canvassed in the city in the general election during the months of January and February will realise that in those months the air becomes extremely polluted. The main cause of such pollution is domestic fires. However, there is a problem in controlling domestic smoke emission in that the main source of heat for the population of the city is coal fires because coal is the cheapest and most controllable source of heat. If we control smoke emission, we will have to replace carboniferous fuels, mainly soft coal, with some other fuel. Trying to replace coal with something else will increase the cost to domestic households which will not be accepted by the public. While the Bill is very welcome with its long list of repeals, regulations, offences, penalties and prosecution of offenders, thought will have to be given to what will replace smoke producing fuels.
I mentioned the effects of the smoke from these fuels on the population at risk, those who suffer from lung problems and asthma, mainly the elderly. As a practitioner it is my experience that the number of admissions to cardiac and respiratory units in hospitals rises dramatically in the winter months. This adds extra costs to our medical services which has not been quantified. It would be interesting to see how much money the State spends on the treatment of respiratory diseases and if it has increased over the past few years. If an inquiry into the cost of this aspect of medicine was instituted, we would find it has risen over the past few years. It would pay us to introduce fairly rigorous methods of controlling air pollution, especially as it affects the grater urban areas.
Once again I congratulate the Minister and his civil servants on bringing forward this Bill.
I now have pleasure in calling on the Minister of State and I wish to join with all the other speakers who have tendered their best wishes and congratulations on his appointment.
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate you on your appointment as Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I wish you well in that office. I have no doubt that the experience you will bring to the post means that we can look forward to your wise counsel and judgment at all times. I have known you over the years to be impartial, fair and honest.
I wish to thank all the Members of the House across the political divide for their good wishes to me on my reappointment to the Department of the Environment. This is my third time in the Department with the same portfolio. I assure all Members of the House that in all matters relating to my Department I will be fair, honest and as helpful as I possibly can. That will be my policy, as it was in the past.
I also wish to congratulate the new Members elected to the Dáil on their excellent contributions which dealt with a wide range of matters affecting many areas. They were most informative and very well put. The standard of the debate has been excellent and I thank them for it.
Many interesting points were made by Deputies. Deputy Doyle, who guided the Bill through the Seanad, spoke knowledgeably about many aspects of it. She suggested that we should consider bringing nuclear safety within the ambit of the Air Pollution Bill now that the new structure for radiological protection is being planned by the Government. The suggestion is interesting in a way. The incident which brought home the reality of transboundary air pollution most dramatically to the people of Europe was the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Nuclear emissions of this kind are clearly a form of air pollution. However, I doubt whether that very wide question of radiological protection could be adequately accommodated within the long title of the Air Pollution Bill. At the moment the Nuclear Energy Board have to deal with such diverse matters as licensing of equipment for use, safety of operators, monitoring of food and nuclear contamination of the sea and other waters. Nuclear safety is a very specialised area and it is not possible to reduce it to the air pollution aspects alone. Having said that, I am aware of the developing interest of the EC Council of Environment Ministers in nuclear safety and I intend to support and to participate actively in this development.
Deputy Doyle and Deputy Quinn spoke about EC environment policy generally and about the principles on which it should be based. There is an explicit acknowledgement in the Single European Act that Community environment policy in future must have regard to the economic circumstances in member states, to different environmental conditions in these states and to the balanced development of the regions. We will insist that these principles are taken fully into account in developing important directives on air pollution and other matters.
Deputy Quinn argued that in so far as the Community wishes to impose costly standards of pollution control it should be prepared to provide financial assistance to countries for which this might represent an unfair burden. There is already some acceptance of these principles. The European Investment Bank already finances major pollution control projects and under the draft Fourth Environmental Action Programme to be adopted this year the Regional Fund is also to be made available for this kind of undertaking.
Deputy Brady referred to the EC environment policy. He made the point, with which I agree, that we should not be complacent about the concept of accepted levels of pollution and that we should strive where possible to achieve even higher standards, but there is a helpful and a positive side also to the EC environmental standards. In the air pollution area, for instance, they establish a common regime which industrialists must comply with across all 12 member states. There will be no question then of dirty industries trying to play off different countries in order to obtain lax treatment. In broad terms a common environmental standard will be upheld throughout the Community.
A number of Deputies referred to possible air pollution problems from the Moneypoint power plant. The statutory environmental requirements at present applying to Moneypoint, including emissions and limits on smoke and sulphur dioxide, are set out in the planning permission granted by Clare County Council in 1979 to take account of the impact study carried out by An Foras Forbartha and a study of the consequences for agriculture by An Foras Talúntais. It is interesting to recall that no appeal to An Foras Forbartha was taken against the Moneypoint planning permission in 1979. The environmental criticisms which we now hear of Moneypoint have, therefore, an element of hindsight about them in that serious international concern about acidification seems to have asserted itself only after 1979.
The Moneypoint power plant has a total capacity of some 900 MW and would be capable of emitting a maximum of 70,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per year. In addition to emissions monitoring at the plant itself, 11 stations in Clare and several in the neighbouring counties monitor the air pollution requirements of the planning permission. A number of these stations are run by Clare County Council but most are operated by the ESB themselves. An Foras Forbartha have been engaged to provide a check on validation results of the ESB network of monitors by independently monitoring them themselves. Results so far have shown a negligible impact of emissions on the environment of Moneypoint including the Burren. As regards possible longer range effects from Moneypoint, the ESB have established a monitoring station on the Slieve Bloom mountains and An Foras Forbartha are arranging to set up further stations at Turlough Hill, County Wicklow, and near Kilkenny. It will take somewhat longer to assess this longer range data. I have dealt with these arrangements in some detail to demonstrate that a strict monitoring regime is being maintained at Moneypoint. As a plant which is now operational and which was authorised in 1979, Moneypoint will not immediately at least come under the new licensing system contained in Part III of the Bill. However, it will be subject to the general requirement of section 24, to use the best practical means to limit emissions from it. If it should ever transpire that this obligation is not being met in relation to Moneypoint, Part II of the Bill contains full powers to take remedial action.
Deputy Brady expressed the view that the Bill contains too many discretionary provisions and is not sufficiently directive. This criticism was made also by some speakers in the Seanad as well as by certain outside commentators. There is no denying that in many respects this is a framework Bill. In other words we are setting up a new system of environmental control to deal with all future eventualities as best as we can foresee them at this point. Knowledge of air pollutants and their effects is constantly developing and this is as true for the EC and international environmental bodies as it is for ourselves. It follows that not all provisions of the Bill may be suitable for immediate application. Moreover, some of them may never be needed in certain parts of the country. In these circumstances it would simply not make sense to require that the Minister make full use of all his functions in every case.
The main provisions of the Bill are not discretionary. These are included in the general obligations under section 24. All non-domestic premises should use the best practical means to limit and, if possible, to prevent emissions. In the licensing system established under Part III for industrial plant these provisions are mandatory and the Minister has no discretion on whether to put them into effect. Many of the items raised by Members in the Dáil yesterday evening and today will be dealt with in great detail on Committee Stage. I want to give an assurance to the House that all amendments will be looked at carefully.
Thank you, Minister.
We will take everything into consideration and we will be sympathetically disposed in so far as we can go. There is general agreement in the House on the thrust of the Bill. If there is to be a tidying up or an improvement, taking everything into consideration, that will be looked at and examined very carefully.
Does that mean the Minister will accept the Fianna Fáil amendments from the Seanad?
We will be looking at all amendments. Every amendment put down by a Member will be examined very carefully. Deputy Quinn who has very good experience of Government operations can be assured that we will try to be as helpful as we possibly can. We must take the financial position into consideration also. In doing that we must protect the national interest, too. I think everybody in the House agrees with me on that.
There has been a growing understanding in recent decades of the causes and effects of air pollution. The main causes lie in the very ordinary activities by which we produce goods, rely on transport for commerce and leisure, provide ourselves with heating, lighting and cooking and generally use the energy needed to maintain our 20th century standards. Deputy Barnes dealt with trucks which carry products which in her opinion need to be better protected in transportation. I agree completely with that. Vehicles carrying material such as contaminated material or waste should be covered in and managed properly. I regret to say that on some occasions that has not been the case. I am glad that very little of such material is transported in uncovered vehicles, but I should like the House and the press to take note that I wish all vehicles to be carefully loaded and given the necessary protection of covers. That is essential. In other countries if this is not the case one is breaking the law and heavy fines are involved. I should like the public to be aware of these measures. The cost involved will not be very high and the country will benefit. This will keep our environmental standards high. Visitors to the country will be watching to see how we manage our affairs in this respect. I am making a special appeal here that commonsense will prevail.
There is now better documentation of the effects of air pollution. Localised effects include damage to health, to buildings and to vegetation. There are longer range effects in terms of acidification which can damage lakes, forests and also soil. Air quality is becoming an issue of international, national and local importance. Ireland's most fundamental obligation in the international sphere is as a party to the Geneva Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Under this convention we have accepted the duty to limit and if possible to reduce air pollution. The reduction of air pollution is also a prime concern of EC environmental policy. Some eight directives dealing directly or indirectly with air quality are already in force and several more are being processed.
Ireland's position on air pollution in the international forum reflects a number of concerns. In the first place we are anxious to support the general aspiration towards better air quality in the industrialised world. At the same time — and I say this without apology — we must have regard to certain characteristics in the Irish situation. We are neither significant emitters nor receivers of transboundary air pollution.
I should like to see a greater awareness in our housing estates where many have been depending on local authorities to clean up their estates and where the residents could do a little in co-operation with those local authorities.
Is this in connection with air pollution?
My remarks relate to pollution in general. This is an opportunity to mention these matters. In many of our estates a little more could be done. I shall say no more on that topic. This Bill deals with many aspects of future policy. Many Members ask about the financial undertakings that would be given in regard to its implementation and want to know what finance will be available. They must appreciate that we have just taken over the office of Government and we must take into account the overall situation with regard to budgetary policy and financial constraints. That is something which we will take into consideration when the time comes. The Deputies can rest assured that, finances permitting, we will implement the Bill.
Publicly and politically, air pollution has also assumed a much higher standing in Ireland in recent times. A number of environmental groups have been active in this area and two reports have been published by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities. The major response to this has been the Air Pollution Bill. Without a proper and specific legislative framework, air quality controls could at best be implemented in an ad hoc way in Ireland and the system of administration would remain impoverished in every sense.
The Bill will provide a comprehensive framework for the control of air pollution to enable our national requirements to be met and to give full effect to the relevant EC directives. Its provisions will afford local authorities the necessary powers to ensure the continuance of good air quality in their areas and will allow the Minister for the Environment to exercise effective supervision of this work. Furthermore, the provisions of the Bill constitute the statutory framework within which many of our pollution problems can be tackled. Before final solutions are decided, the position obtaining in each area will have to be assessed objectively with appropriate remedial measures devised on a rational, cost-effective basis. A number of options come to mind such as encouraging the use of natural gas and other smokeless fuels, prohibiting the use of certain fuels or requiring the use of appliances which burn smokeless solid fuel.
Our objective is clear and is required by way of an EC directive, which is to have the necessary legislative measures passed and operational by 1993. This will ensure the smoke emissions in Dublin city conform to the requirements of the relevant EC directive. However, much work remains to be done. First, we shall have to convince the public, particularly those in the most severely affected areas, of the importance of the necessary smoke abatement measures and then have such measures implemented. The task will not be easy. We shall have to tackle it as quickly and as thoroughly as resources allow. I look forward to receiving full co-operation from all concerned in this task whether they be Government Departments, local authorities, fuel suppliers, residents' associations, environmental groups or whoever — in short, the public at large.
I should not like to give the impression that action with regard to the control of air pollution is something for the future only or that no worth-while advances have been achieved by way of measures already adopted. For instance, regulations made in 1985 provided for a 60 per cent reduction in the lead content of petrol with effect from 1 April 1986. That constituted a significant step in the direction of ultimately eliminating lead from petrol in line with the requirements of the relevant EC directive. A further set of regulations was made in 1985 to limit the sulphur content of gas oils used in domestic oil-fired central heating and diesel-engined vehicles to 0.3 per cent of weight from 1 October 1985, again in compliance with the EC directive. This last requirement helps to ensure that we continue to observe the EC emission standards, a point to which I adverted briefly earlier and it is worth emphasising.
While there are problems obtaining in relation to smoke emissions in Dublin, the requirements of the directive for sulphur dioxide, which constitutes such a problem on mainland Europe, have been met so far. The Government will be working to ensure that the smoke porblem can be tackled and curtailed in the immediate future. It is my belief that the overall drive against air pollution at home and abroad — I have dealt very briefly with some aspects of it here today — is beginning to show results and that we can all look forward to there being a significant improvement in air quality in the years ahead. This is a challenging time for all concerned about air pollution. We face the task of adopting policies and strategies which must serve us for some time to come.
I have dealt with a number of matters raised. I want to reassure the House that the Minister will be dealing with these also and will be making a comprehensive statement to the House when concluding, dealing with many more matters raised by Members. The debate has been of a very high standard, with matters relating to air pollution being dealt with in great detail. We can tease out the various sections of the Bill on Committee Stage which I am sure will be most enlightening. Seldom in my experience in this House has any Bill gone through without some amendments being made to it. Some very good amendments have been made on Committee Stages of Bills. For the information of the new Members of the House, Committee Stages can be very interesting and enlightening.