Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Helsinki Protocol.


asked the Minister for the Environment if it is his intention that Ireland should join the so-called 30 per cent Club by signing and ratifying the Sulphur Protocol known as the Helsinki Protocol to the United Nations Commission for Europe, a convention on long range transboundary air pollution which requires countries to reduce their national emissions of sulphur dioxide by 30 per cent from their 1980 levels by 1993; and if he will make a statement on the effects on Ireland's environmental quality from such emissions at present.

Ireland's national annual sulphur emissions are small by international standards and there is no evidence that Irish emissions either create environmental problems in Ireland or contribute to any significant transboundary air pollution. The financial implications for the ESB and, indeed, for the entire economy of a 30 per cent reduction in sulphur emissions would be enormous, bearing in mind our overall economic situation and our level of development. Accordingly, I do not consider it appropriate that Ireland should sign the Helsinki Protocol to the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air pollution. However, in sympathy with the need to control air pollution internationally and as a contribution to international efforts in this regard, Ireland has agreed to limit sulphur dioxide emissions from large combustion plants in this country to a ceiling of 124,000 tonnes annually in accordance with Council Directive 88/609/EEC of 24 November 1988.

Would the Minister agree it is extremely hard for Ireland to be taken seriously when it makes representations internationally about the impact on our environment of transboundary pollution if we do not accord to European norms in areas such as this? Am I right in assuming that the Minister is saying, no, Ireland is not going to sign this Convention, that our sulphur emission standards will not be reduced in accordance with the wishes of our European partners, there is no medium or long term plan to accord to European norms in this respect and that once again we are going to make an exception of ourselves in this respect, unlike the main countries in Europe who, apparently at even greater cost, will accord to this Convention?

They have a real problem.

I beg the Minister's pardon?

They have a real problem——

It could be ours.

——so far as their own SO2 sulphur dioxide emissions are concerned and in so far as transboundary emissions affect them. I was at the final discussions regarding the thresholds to this last year at a Council meeting. Of course, they do not regard us as having any SO2 problems at all. As the Deputy knows, we have only the one major coal burning station at Moneypoint. The thresholds were finally decided upon at Council, granting so much reduction to certain areas and then stabilising it at certain levels, and we were granted 124,000 tonnes. They regard that as a nonsense in comparison to what they have to endure by way of emissions. In regard to SO2 emissions, we are not causing any problem to ourselves or to our neighbours. We have decided on limits which will involve the ESB in an expenditure of £6 million or £7 million putting in scrubbers.

The Minister is saying that our problems are not as great as Europe's, but that is not the same thing as saying we have no problems or that we do not make a contribution to sulphur dioxide emissions. Does he not agree that in principle it is right and proper that Ireland should play its full part in complying with international directives and European wishes in this respect?

The Deputy is right. We do.

I know we are not signing the protocol.

There is no significant national or international impact from SO2 emissions here. In Dublin and other areas SO2 levels are below EC standards. We are below the standards required of other member states. Perhaps the Deputy wants us to go further than others are expected to go. We are not a contributing factor to SO2 levels.

We are not the worst or amongst the worst but we do contribute.

It is not causing a difficulty and one way of establishing this is by considering the effects of, for instance, acid rain. Monitoring around the country has established beyond doubt that we do not have a problem from the SO2 emission levels which we are allowed to have. What is the point in pursuing something when we are below the EC standard?

It saddens me to hear any Minister for the Environment suggesting that we do not have a problem. I put it to the Minister that the best time to take action to reduce emissions by 30 per cent is while the problem is still of manageable proportions. Would the Minister not agree to act now before it becomes a problem and we are part of the black countries of Europe? Is the Minister not aware of the problem posed by the Moneypoint project? It is an acid-producing outlet which requires scrubber installation. It is a problem.

I cannot accept that. We are playing our full part. Our emissions are infinitesimal compared to those of our neighbours and we do not contribute to the transboundary element of SO2 transfer to any significant degree.

We are only poisoning a few people.

I do not want that to go on the record because it is not true. The analysis of the monitoring is there for everybody to see. The SO2 emissions from Moneypoint are not causing a hazard or acid rain here. Neither are we contributing to acid rain levels in other countries. I accept that there can be small incidences of acid rain in this country but they are on the east coast and are the transboundary result of emissions in other countries.

The major drive at the meetings of Councils of Ministers in this regard was to reduce the level of emissions in industrialised countries so that they would not contribute to the level of acidification in their own countries or elsewhere. We are not contributing to that. We have it under control and we have our limits. We will not surpass the limits which have been laid down and which are regarded as very reasonable. No great concern is warranted in this matter at member state level.

We have dwelt over long on this question.

This question is an important one which I think the Minister is running away from.

All questions are important.

How can representatives of the Minister's Department decide where the acid rain comes from which kills trees on the east coast? How can he advise this House that Moneypoint is not a contributing factor?

I did not say that.

The Minister did. He said it was from transboundary sources.

The Deputy should not be so beligerent.

There is no need for argument.

I said that a few incidences of acid rain have been recognised at certain locations on the east coast, in Northern Ireland in particular.

Wicklow has had it also.

Wicklow on one or two occasions. It has been established that the acid rain more than likely comes from transboundary emissions in other industrialised nations because of air movements at the time. The monitoring arrangements at the stations in the Slieve Bloom, Valentia and the Burren can immediately determine the level of SO2 emissions from Moneypoint and they do not constitute a hazard. It is not right for Deputy McCartan to suggest that there is such a hazard. We have agreed levels of emissions. Ours are tiny compared to those of other countries. If all SO2 emissions could be withheld from the atmosphere worldwide, that would be fine, but it is not possible in today's economic circumstances.

The Minister is not even prepared to reduce it by 30 per cent in 1993.

No, I am not. I have said that.

That is disgraceful.

Question No. 18 is disposed of. Question No. 19, please.