Private Members' Business. - Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill 1989 [Seanad] Second Stage.

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

This Bill forms a key element in the Government's programme to combat water pollution. It is designed to strengthen the controls contained in the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, and the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, and, generally, to update the provisions of the 1977 Act in the light of some ten years' experience of its full operation. Before dealing with the specific provisions of the Bill, I propose to comment on some of the background issues involved.

Because Ireland was never a highly urbanised and industrialised country, water pollution did not pose a major problem until the 1960s when we experienced rapid development of industry, major growth of urban centres and the development of intensive agriculture. In 1971, a national survey of water quality revealed that while our waters were in the main unpolluted, some 7 per cent of them were seriously polluted. Subsequent investigations into the nature and extent of the problem and the adequacy of the existing legislative controls led to the first comprehensive legislative response to the problem in the form of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977. That Act introduced a system of licensing for effluent discharges to waters, mainly as a means of tackling the pollution problems posed by industry. It also gave local authorities a wide range of powers to control pollution from diffuse sources — powers which have since been used extensively by local authorities and to great effect. In particular, section 12 of the Act, which provides for the issue of notices requiring measures to be taken to prevent water pollution, has proved to be a most useful tool in the hands of the local authorities in their on-going efforts to eliminate the problem. However, the incidents which occurred in the summer of 1987 indicated that strengthening of the law was needed and that the controls on pollution from diffuse sources, in particular, needed to be extended.

It needs to be put on the record that Ireland's waters are still amongst the cleanest in Europe. The most recent survey of national water quality, published in 1987, revealed that 74 per cent of Irish waters were unpolluted while a mere 2 per cent were seriously polluted — down from 7 per cent in 1971. The bathing waters monitored for compliance with our stringent national bathing water quality standards have also proved to be of exceptionally high quality in most areas. Our major problems with regard to water pollution are the increasing incidence of a slight and moderate pollution, and the need to control once-off pollution incidents, such as fish kills. These incidents can have dramatic effects and, if not effectively tackled, could distort the overall picture in relation to water quality here, with serious consequences for tourism and our economy generally, as well as for environmental quality.

I want also to refer briefly to the allegation that local authorities themselves are the biggest polluters, or that local authorities are above the law. The facts tell a different story. Local authorities can be and are prosecuted by the fisheries boards if they are guilty of pollution but such prosecutions have been necessary in relatively few cases. In fact, of all the fish kills caused annually, only a small fraction are caused by local authority discharges; but even that small number is still too many. That is why we must ensure that local authority waste disposal systems are run to the highest possible standards and, where necessary, that capital investment is undertaken to remedy deficiencies in existing systems. The need for local authorities to pay particular attention to this matter was specifically brought to their notice in 1988 and each authority was issued with guidelines and advice on the key areas of sewage treatment to which they should give regular and detailed attention. In addition, the local authorities have, at the Department's request, identified the individual sewage discharges which are contributing to pollution and this information is taken into account in planning the overall sanitary services programme.

In recent years, there has been considerable capital investment is providing and upgrading local authority sewage treatment and disposal facilities. Since 1980, nearly £30 million have been invested by local authorities for this purpose, using finance made available by the Government, and as a result, considerable progress has been made in eliminating pollution blackspots. New sewage treatment plants have been provided in towns such as Portlaoise, Fermoy, Carlow, Malahide, Swords, Killarney, Ardee, Listowel, Cavan, Tullamore, Newcastlewest and Blessington, to mention but a few. This programme of action to tackle pollution from municipal sources has borne results: as I mentioned earlier, water quality surveys show a significant reduction in serious pollution of rivers and streams since 1971 and much of this reduction is directly linked to the investment which has been made.

In 1989, over £62 million was provided for the sanitary services capital programme and the allocation for 1990 has been set at £67.5 million. The House may be assured that, in deciding on schemes to go to construction in the coming years, due weight will be given to the importance of building on the progress already made and ensuring that local authorities are enabled to play their full part in the drive against water pollution. Schemes already released by my Department, and which should go to construction next year, include a sludge dewatering plant at Dromin, County Kerry, which will give increased protection to the River Feale, and sewerage schemes at Athlone, Baltinglass, Ballinamore and Newbridge which will contribute to improvements in water quality in the Shannon, the Slaney, the Ballinamore/Ballyconnell Canal and the Liffey at these locations.

The National Development Plan, 1989-1993, provides for substantial continuing investment in water and sewerage services over the five years to 1993. The pattern of expenditure proposed marks a change from that which has prevailed during the eighties in that the major portion of the investment will be devoted to new sewerage schemes. EC Structural Fund support for sanitary services will amount to £95 million over this period and there are good prospects that additional funding will become available when the reserve funds for less developed regions are allocated.

In planning the investment programme for the next five years, account has been taken not only of national priorities, but also of the need to ensure full implementation of European Community's water pollution directives. In 1988 alone, three sets of regulations were made giving full effect in Irish law to the bathing water, fresh water fish and drinking water directives. This year amending regulations increased to a total of 64 the number of beaches monitored for compliance with the national bathing water quality standards. Regulations giving effect in Irish law to the two surface water directives were made earlier this month and work is in progress on the preparation of further regulations to give effect to more recent directives. The various sanitary services schemes selected to go to construction stage in the next five years will make a very substantial contribution to the achievement on a consistent and universal basis of the high standards of water quality set in the various EC Directives and the even higher standards to which we aspire in some cases.

Looked at in the European context, we are one of the few countries lucky enough to have waters which are to a large extent unpolluted. We must ensure that this continues to be so by pursuing an integrated approach towards the problem of water pollution and by ensuring that resources are effectively targeted on the areas in most urgent need of attention.

Since 1987, a great deal of effort has been devoted to reducing pollution from diffuse agricultural sources which were the source of a large proportion of the fish kills in that year. The success of the integrated approach adopted in dealing with that problem is already apparent. Measures aimed at the identification of problem farms, measures to assist farmers in making their farms pollution free and activities designed to increase awareness among farmers of water pollution were adopted. The farm surveys carried out in each county by multi-disciplinary task forces led by local authorities proved to be a very worthwhile exercise. In 1988, over 12,000 farms in high pollution risk areas were surveyed. Of these 45 per cent were found to pose a medium to high pollution risk and the local authorities concerned are ensuring that the farmers involved take all measures necessary to make these farms risk free.

To assist farmers in carrying out necessary pollution control works, the western package scheme was extended last year to cover such works. Initially farmers in all disadvantaged areas, which comprise some 70 per cent of all land in the country, could qualify for grants of 55 per cent of the cost of slurry and silage effluent storage facilities. Young farmers could qualify for grants of 69 per cent. The scheme of grants has now been extended to the entire country as part of the national development plan and farmers outside the disadvantaged areas can now qualify for grants of 45 per cent towards slurry and silage effluent storage facilities, with even higher rates for young farmers. Up to the end of September 1989, 16,884 applications for such grants were received. Of these 8,469 have been approved representing a total estimated grant of £37 million and a total estimated investment of £75 million.

The activities of ACOT — and now Teagasc — have played an important role in heightening awareness of agricultural pollution among the farming community and in assisting individual farmers to design and carry through the necessary measures to avoid or eliminate pollution. The establishment of a specialised environmental advisory service was a particularly important development, as was the environmental awareness campaign developed with the support of the local authorities and the farming organisations.

Recent years have seen a more vigorous use by local authorities of the enforcement provisions of the Water Pollution Act against polluters generally. The figures for 1988 speak for themselves. In that year local authorities initiated prosecutions in over 100 cases. The number of notices issued under section 12 of the 1977 Act requiring measures to be taken to prevent pollution came to almost 1,000. Over 9,500 advice or warning letters were issued and investigations in respect of waters and discharges to sewers were carried out in more than 16,000 cases.

These statistics illustrate the generally high level of commitment by local authorities to implementing the 1977 Act, particularly during a period when the financial and manpower resources available to them were restricted. Clearly it is unrealistic to expect that each local authority would have available to them the depth of expertise necessary to fully assess all proposals for major and complex industrial projects. Detailed environmental impact assessments are required for such projects as part of the process of determining the conditions and controls to be applied to protect the environment. There is a need for a fully integrated approach to air and water quality protection and waste management to ensure that proper safeguards are imposed and are seen to operate and to be effective. For reasons such as these, the Government are committed to bringing forward separate legislation establishing an independent environmental agency which will, of course, have implications for the role of local authorities in water pollution control. It is my intention to consult with all interests involved in developing my detailed proposals for the agency and the House will, of course, have an opportunity to consider the matter in detail when the separate legislation which I already mentioned is brought before the House in the new year.

It is still too early to say whether the programme of measures to combat pollution, undertaken since 1987, will have a lasting effect. The dramatic drop in the number of fish kills recorded in 1988 — from 122 in the previous year to 50 — was most encouraging. However, to date this year 108 kills have been reported. Agricultural pollution and low water levels were the two major causes giving rise to 22 and 21 kills, respectively. A further 17 kills were the result of industrial effluent, 11 were caused by enrichment, six by sewage and 21 were attributed to other causes such as creameries, drainage works, waterworks, etc. The causes of the remaining ten kills are as yet unknown. The reversal of the downward trend in 1989, though it was partly due to exceptionally low water levels, is a clear indication that we cannot afford to become complacent. We must continue to give a high priority to ensuring that the number and scale of fish kills is reduced as far as possible. In addition, we must give special attention to emerging trends in relation to the general condition of our waters. In particular, there is a need for action to redress the insidious pollution which in recent years has seen a significant increase in the extent to which waters are affected by slight or moderate levels of pollution. This Bill, by providing a more comprehensive and effective legislative basis for action by local authorities and fishery boards, will help to meet these needs.

It has been suggested in some quarters that the provisions of the Bill display a prejudice against the farming community and that they are unnecessary and unwarranted. It has been suggested also that the Bill will have the effect of bringing an otherwise law-abiding section of the community into serious conflict with the law and that the farming community as a whole will be made to pay for the negligence and misdeeds of a few. I wish to set out my position clearly in relation to allegations of this kind.

First of all, I should state for the record that the Bill is not intended to place unreasonable restrictions on the practice of modern farming. Secondly, the Bill is not intended to facilitate some form of witch hunt against farmers. Thirdly, nothing in the Bill should be taken as an indictment of the farming community generally nor, of course, is the Bill intended to make criminals of Irish farmers. Fourthly, no farmer who conducts his enterprise in accordance with the norms of good agricultural practice should have anything to fear from the provisions in the Bill. Finally, the Bill, in so far as it relates to pollution from agricultural activities and practices, is designed to do no more than enable local authorities to take action in relation to this form of pollution which would be no more stringent nor severe in its impact than the action they would have to take against other sources of pollution.

In considering the provisions of the Bill, we must remember that the concept of sustainable development is now being given central importance in the debate about development and the environment. In other words, it has come to be accepted that solid and lasting growth on the one hand, and environmental protection on the other, are interdependent. This is just as true of growth in the agricultural sector as it is in relation to other forms of development. Indeed, more than any other sector of the economy, our agriculture and our agri-food industries are dependent for their growth and prosperity on the maintenance of a clean and healthy environment here at home, and on the maintenance abroad of the image of Ireland as a green and unpolluted land.

It is against this background that we must view the implications for the environment of the shift to intensive — and in some cases almost industrial — farming which has taken place in recent decades. These new features of agriculture can pose an enormous threat to the environment. Developments in relation to animal husbandry have led to the generation and storage of enormous volumes of slurry. The replacement of the traditional practice of hay-making by the modern practice of silage-making has led to the generation of a form of toxic effluent which was not taken into account at all until recent years. Developments in relation to the size, layout and functions of farm buildings, and the introduction of new practices in the interests of hygiene and efficiency have led to the generation of far greater quantities of waste water in farmyards than were the norm some years ago.

These and other considerations support the contention that agriculture, as it is practised today, has a very considerable potential to pollute. While I fully accept that the vast majority of farmers manage their enterprises so as to ensure that the risk of pollution does not become a reality, I cannot accept that the law should ignore the pollution risks, even if the full rigours of the law will never have to be invoked in relation to the vast majority of farmers.

The potential of farm wastes to pollute is well illustrated by using the polluting effect of raw domestic sewage, in terms of its biochemical oxygen demand, as a yardstick. A quantity of milk is 400 times more polluting than the same quantity of raw sewage. Silage effluent is over 200 times more polluting than sewage and slurry over 80 times. These figures would need to be increased by a factor of 15 if treated domestic sewage is used as the yardstick to assess the polluting effect. The potential of farming to pollute is also well illustrated by reference to a herd of 50 dairy cows which is housed over a winter period of six months. The slurry generated would be equivalent in its polluting effect to sewage from a town with a population of over 2,200

What yardstick would the Minister use?

I would like to make one further point by way of attempting to place the pollution loadings from various sources in proper perspective. A comparison of the generated waste loads from urban, industrial and agricultural sources has been made in a report on farm wastes and water pollution published recently by the Environmental Research Unit. This report, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library, found that agriculture accounted for almost 91 per cent of the overall total generated load, urban sources for less than 4 per cent and the industrial sector for under 6 per cent. Of course it is clear that considerable reduction of the waste loads generated in agriculture takes place by absorption on land, but even when allowance is made for this by excluding the contributions from sheep and from 50 per cent of cattle numbers, the report still ascribed 85 per cent of the total generated waste load from all sectors to agriculture.

In citing these figures, it is essential to stress that the great majority of farmers act responsibly and in accordance with good farming practice when disposing of their wastes and this leads to a major reduction in the quantity of farm wastes which eventually reaches waters. The significance of these figures is that they emphasise the size of the potential pollution problem which could arise in the absence of properly managed systems for the disposal of agricultural wastes.

Many of the provisions of the Bill do not, of course, differentiate in their incidence as between farming activities and other forms of development which may cause water pollution. The fact is, however, that the main area in which experience has shown our existing controls to be in need of improvement is the problem of diffuse sources of pollution, particularly those arising in agriculture. There are, therefore, provisions in the Bill which are designed expressly to deal with this type of problem.

In considering the provisions of the Bill which will have particular application to agricultural activities, it must be remembered that the use of land for agriculture, forestry or horticulture is exempt entirely from planning control and that quite substantial agricultural structures can be erected without any need for planning permission. Bearing in mind the tens of thousands of separate units involved, and the need to minimise bureaucratic interference in the everyday activities of the farming community, few would suggest that these provisions in planning legislation should be fundamentally altered.

It must also be remembered that the licensing provisions of the Water Pollution Act do not, in the vast majority of cases, apply to discharges of agricultural effluent because these discharges are not normally made directly to waters by way of pipelines or other apparatus. It would, of course, be possible to amend the law so as to require that any disposal of agricultural effluent which might indirectly reach waters would require a licence, but few would accept that this course is either necessary or practicable, or that it would represent an appropriate response to the problem which the Bill is designed to address.

If, therefore, we are not to proceed by way of extending the full rigours of the planning control regime to agricultural practices and if we are not to introduce a general licensing regime to cover the disposal of agricultural wastes, we must be prepared to contemplate a series of other measures which will take account of the normal operating requirements of the agricultural sector and, at the same time, allow for intervention by the local authorities where this is essential to prevent or limit water pollution. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the provisions which are included in the present Bill will be accepted by the House and, indeed, by the farming community as a whole, as an appropriate and balanced package of measures.

The Bill itself is a complex one and many of its provisions have to be read in conjunction with the corresponding provisions of the 1977 Act. A detailed section by section commentary is not therefore appropriate at this stage, particularly as an informative explanatory memorandum has already been circulated. There will, no doubt, be detailed discussion on individual sections of the Bill on Committee Stage and I will consider very carefully any amendments which are put forward to improve the Bill at that stage. For the present, I will confine myself to a summary of the main provisions of the Bill. These can broadly be grouped into three categories, namely those provisions which strengthen the penalties and sanctions for water pollution offences; those provisions which amend sections of the 1977 Act which, with experience, have been found to need amendment; and those provisions which establish new controls on particular forms of pollution.

Increased sanctions and penalties form an important part of the Bill. It is a sad fact of life that research, education and financial assistance on their own will not solve the problem of water pollution. There will always be a hardcore of polluters who will only respond to the threat of heavy penalties and sanctions. Besides, the principal idea underlying this Bill is that the polluter will pay. To this end, the Bill provides for an increase in the maximum fine on summary conviction to £1,000, from £250, the increase to apply to both the Water Pollution and Fisheries Acts; with this increase to the summary jurisdiction limit, the provision for additional fines for the same offence where it is continued, has to be dropped; a new maximum penalty of £25,000 on conviction on indictment (increased from £5,000) and-or imprisonment for a period of up to five years instead of two years, the provisions to apply to both the Water Pollution and Fisheries Acts; the extension to any person of the right to apply to the courts for an order seeking the mitigation or remedying of the effects of a pollution incident, and making explicit provision for remedial measures such as the replacement of fish stocks and the making good of consequential losses suffered by any person or body as a result of the pollution; a new provision under which polluters will have a civil liability for any damage caused by the pollution; and specific provision allowing the courts to grant both costs and expenses to local authorities and fisheries boards against convicted pollution offenders.

In summary, these provisions should have a strong deterrent effect. Where the polluter previously ran the risk of prosecution by local authority and fishery board personnel, he or she will in the future also be liable to be proceeded against for damages by an injured party.

Many of the provisions of the Bill are designed to amend or expand existing provisions of the Water Pollution Act. Among these are: an extension of the grounds on which a High Court order may be sought to cover situations involving a risk of water pollution; clarification of a local authority's power to serve notices under section 12 of the 1977 Act regulating practices, such as silage making and slurry spreading, which, in its opinion, could result in water pollution; conferring on local and sanitary authorities power to obtain information on water abstractions, discharges to waters, and activities or practices which are relevant to their pollution prevention functions.

Most of these provisions are fine-tuning provisions, or provisions designed to fill gaps in the 1977 Act which only experience of its operation could have revealed.

Another group of provisions will enable specific sources of pollution to be controlled more effectively. Three provisions, in particular, are worthy of note.

First, local authorities are being empowered under section 21 to draft by-laws regulating or prohibiting specified agricultural activities in their functional areas, or any part thereof, where they consider it necessary to do so in order to eliminate or prevent water pollution. The making of the by-laws will be subject to approval by the Minister, who may approve or refuse to approve by-laws, or direct that they be amended in a specified manner. The Minister may require a local authority to draft such by-laws where he believes them to be necessary.

As I noted earlier, the use of land for horticultural and agricultural activities is exempted from planning control and it would be quite unrealistic to alter this situation on a general basis. However, the new provisions will give the local authority or the Minister power to regulate agricultural activities in a specified area if this is necessary to eliminate or prevent water pollution. This measure will be used where the nature and extent of certain agricultural practices and the preservation of the aquatic environment of the locality in which they are carried out are clearly incompatible. I might mention also that controls of this kind are likely to be necessary in certain areas if a draft EC Directive on the control of pollution caused by nitrates is agreed by the Council of Environment Ministers.

The second provision I wish to mention is section 22 which will empower local or sanitary authorities to treat each discharge of trade effluent into a private combined drain as a discharge to a sewer for the purposes of the Act. Up to now, only the combined effluent from the drain could be licensed under the Act and this has led to difficulties in identifying the origin of the particular effluent responsible for a pollution incident and applying the necessary specific controls.

I think provision which is worthy of note is contained in sections 5 and 13 which will greatly increase the powers of local authorities to carry out reviews of trade effluent discharge licences. At present, these licences cannot be reviewed within three years of their being granted unless the discharge endangers public health. The new provisions will allow local authorities to review licences in any case where the discharge could adversely affect any beneficial uses of the water.

I will be proposing some amendments to the Bill, mainly of a technical nature, on Committee Stage. First, I will be proposing that the "good defence" provision in the 1977 Act should be retained, but expanded to include a requirement to provide, use and maintain suitable facilities to prevent pollution. In effect, the amendment that is in mind will carry into the Water Pollution code a provision on the lines of the "best practicable means" concept that is enshrined in the more modern Air Pollution Act.

Secondly, I will be proposing that the Bill be amended so as to clarify that only a party from whose premises or lands the cause of the pollution originated will be liable for damages under section 20. On a literal interpretation of the Bill, as worded at present, a person who is not in any way responsible for pollution could be held liable for it and this was clearly never the intention.

Thirdly, I will be bringing forward an amendment to section 21 which concerns by-laws prohibiting or regulating agricultural activities in specified areas. The amendment will relate to procedural matters only. It will ensure that by-laws will not come into effect until approved by the Minister who would also have power to refuse to approve by-laws, or to require their amendment in a specified manner.

I look forward to hearing the views of individual Deputies on this very important topic. I am confident that the House will agree that the Bill is a good one and that its passage into law at an early date is very desirable.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Fine Gael agree with its broad thrust. We have, however, reservations on a number of aspects of the Bill and have made detailed and constructive suggestions on how to improve it well in advance of this debate.

Before I make specific reference to the terms of the Bill, it is important to remind ourselves that, as consumers, we are all entitled to a clean, healthy and pleasant environment. We are trustees of our environment and we all have a contribution to make in protecting it for this and future generations.

Fine Gael are committed to a dynamic environmental policy and we recognise the importance of our environmental heritage. We know that if we do not treat our domestic environment with respect we will not be taken seriously when we speak out on important international environmental issues in which we have a legitimate interest. We also recognise that one of the crucial factors on which our tourist industry depends is an attractive and clean environment.

Protected by our island status, our small population and our late industrial development from the worst ravages of environmental destruction, we complacently believed that we could preserve the beauty of our natural habitat without taking any special measures to protect it.

In our cities and towns we have been blind to the urban dereliction in our midst, and in our search for industry and job creation we have too frequently ignored the environmental impact of industrial and chemical pollutants and waste. In our anxiety to maximise profits in the industrial and agricultural sectors we have, for too long, turned a blind eye to the pollution of our lakes and rivers.

As a member of the European Community, instead of taking a position of leadership and showing the way to our European partners on environmental issues, we have regularly sought derogations and extra time to implement basic environmental legislation designed to preserve our national heritage and to protect our health. Too frequently, at home and abroad, we have paid scant attention to environmental concerns and failed to take positive legislative and administrative action.

Within Government Departments, too often the promotion of economic development has been received as being incompatible with a commitment to environmental protection and nature conservation. We have only taken action when forced to do so by EC legislation. It has taken us too long to understand the essential linkage between environmental protection and industrial development. Conservation of our environment cannot succeed without economic growth and development which cannot be sustained without environmental protection.

Concern about the environment, expressed at national level, has not always been matched by the necessary Government action. The international dimension to environmental issues has, however, awakened public consciousness as has a number of domestic environmental difficulties. Pollution of all types has been very much in the news in recent times. People generally have become conscious of the dangers of pollution to our countryside, waterways and seas. It is good that public awareness has been generated and that most of us have woken up to the obvious — and hidden — dangers of pollution.

Let me reduce it to its simplest form.

Prevention of pollution is each individual making sure that he or she does not by any act of carelessness do or cause anything to pollute streams, rivers, lakes or seas. If everybody looks after their own area there will not be any pollution. Every farmer, industrialist, house owner, local authority and Government Department must play their part in avoiding the dangers of pollution. If every individual is determined to avoid pollution of any kind in his own locality, river, lake or sea, we will have pollution free waters.

Despite the enactment of the Water Pollution Act, 1977, the number of rivers unaffected by pollution fell from 84 per cent in 1974 to 74 per cent in the mid-eighties, more than ten years after the passing of the Act. At present one quarter of our rivers and one third of our lakes are affected by pollution. The greater part of this pollution is due to the waste discharged directly into rivers in towns by industries, with farm effluent making an increased contribution in 1986 and 1987.

Although all local authorities have the statutory duty to enforce the Water Pollution Act they have been the principal offenders on occasions. In this regard I should like to take issue with the comment of the Minister because it is evident that lack of funding, resources and personnel mean that every local authority are culpable in one way or another. I could give numerous instances in my own constituency of north Tipperary where local authorities are polluting the area to an enormous degree.

I accept that a minority of farmers are offenders but I am concerned at the prevailing public perception that agriculture is the principal contributor to pollution of our waterways. This is leading to unnecessary farmer bashing. Because of the bad weather in 1985 and 1986 the loss of fish stocks due to water pollution reached a new awareness in 1987 which, in turn, showed farmers in a very bad light regarding fish kills. This was despite the fact that the report of the body which replaced An Foras Forbartha categorised river pollution as follows: 70 per cent is attributable to urban and industrial, 20 per cent is attributable to agriculture and 10 per cent is attributable to other sources.

Farm organisations responded positively to this by operating, in conjunction with Teagasc, an awareness campaign. Numerous meetings and seminars were held which resulted in a highly significant fall-off in fish kills in 1988. To be precise, 82 fish kills were attributable to farmers in 1987 compared with 20 in 1988, a drop of 78 per cent. In 1989 agriculture was responsible for 23 out of 121 fish kills, which is 19 per cent. This is a considerable improvement on 1988, especially if you take into account the extremely dry and hot year.

Research shows that in the last 18 months farmers have invested £200 million in pollution control facilties. As this is a clear indication of the commitment of the farming sector to the environment it should be acknowledged and appreciated.

I should now like to formally outline the reasons for the proposed Fine Gael amendments to specific sections of the Bill. The amendment to section 2 amends the definition of "water" contained in the Water Pollution Act, 1977, and deletes the reference to "contiguous areas". Concern has been expressed that, in the absence of such an amendment, ordinary and everyday farming practices could be placed at risk and result in unjustifiable prosecutions being brought.

In section 3 concern has been expressed that the amendment made to the 1977 Act by removing the "good defence" provision could result in persons being wrongly convicted for causing water pollution in circumstances in which they foresaw the possibility of the pollution occurring and took all reasonable care to prevent such pollution. The proposed amendment will ensure that where a person acted responsibly and has taken reasonable care to prevent pollution, and where pollution occurs without their being at fault, they will have a good defence. I welcome the Minister's response to the Fine Gael initiative in this regard.

Section 20 imposes a civil liability for pollution in a variety of circumstances which will result in farmers, as well as others, being liable for damages. However, it excludes from civil liability polluting matter entering waters from certain specified non-agricultural activity. Fine Gael believe that this anti-farmer bias should be removed from the legislation and it is proposed that this exclusion be deleted from the Bill. If I understood the Minister correctly, she said that only those who cause pollution can be prosecuted.

Section 21 lays down extensive provisions for local authorities to make by-laws that could directly impinge in a dramatic way on the ordinary running of a farm. By-laws can become legally binding and render a person liable to criminal prosecution and conviction without any consultative process having to be engaged in as regards the context of the by-laws. Detailed amendments proposed to this section provide for the making of draft by-laws which must be published for public comment. Sixty days after their publication by-laws can be approved by the Minister for the Environment or approved by him subject to amendments following his considering the representations made to him and any comments made by the Water Pollution Advisory Council. Following the approval of the draft by-laws, the amendment then requires that they be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and that they do not become operative unless approved by each House. This would radically change the provisions contained in the present Bill and provide considerable protection for the agricultural community, not contained in the Bill, as published.

Section 30 proposes to abolish the Water Pollution Advisory Council. A deletion of the reference to section 2 of the 1977 Act from the 1989 Bill would preserve in existence the Water Pollution Advisory Council. Fine Gael believe that the council can play an important ongoing role in dealing with the problems of water pollution and in providing and publishing independent reports. The council have not been operating since 1986 as the then Government and the present Government have failed to nominate new members to the council. The Minister for the Environment is currently in breach of the provisions of section 2 of the 1977 Act, which requires him to make appointments to the Water Pollution Advisory Council. We will be pressing in the Dáil for the Minister to appoint members to the council without delay.

It should be noted that whereas the Bill substantially increases the fines that can be imposd on polluters by prosecution on indictment, such prosecutions which can render a person liable to a fine not exceeding £25,000 or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both, can only be brought on the instigation of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Local authorities will be able to prosecute summary proceedings through the District Court only. It has been suggested that convictions could result from inspections carried out by untrained personnel with no knowledge and background in agriculture and this could pose a serious threat to the farming community. Any prosecution would have to be properly processed through the courts and it is highly unlikely any conviction could be secured on the evidence of an untrained individual, where such an individual would be cross-examined in the courts. The amendments being proposed to section 3(3) with regard to what is known as "the good defence" will provide additional protection against wrongful convictions.

It should be further noted that section 7 allows any person to make a court application against an alleged polluter in relation to the mitigation and remedy of the effects of pollution. Concern has been expressed that where neighbours are not on good terms, this provision could be used by one neighbour to take vexatious court proceedings against the other. It should be noted that in the provisions contained in section 7, the court is authorised to "make such order as to the costs of the parties to, or to the persons heard by the court in proceedings relating to an application for an order under this section as it considers appropriate". It would be normal legal procedure that a person who has instituted such legal proceedings and failed to be successful in such proceedings would be required to pay the costs of the person against whom the action was brought. If necessary, a specific amendment along these lines will be tabled on Committee Stage. Amendments will also be tabled by Fine Gael to provide for split sampling and for a clear definition in the Bill of "water pollution".

I would like to articulate the views of the Irish Farmers' Association and their concern regarding bounty hunting as specified in section 24. They are concerned that local authorities in addition to being prosecutors are also benefactors of any fines imposed by the courts. The IFA strongly oppose this amendment to the Bill as they contend it will lead to confrontation rather than co-operation between farmers and local authorities; that it would be an unfair carrot for local authorities to abuse the legislation; that it takes power away from the Judiciary in that they have no authority to decide where the fines go. The local authority have to apply to the courts for the fines and they then have to be paid to them.

The IFA are also critical of the Department of the Environment for the lack of education on pollution control and also for the lack of guidelines as to what exactly constitutes pollution. The IFA, with the help of Teagasc, carried out a survey during 1988 and their findings suggest that many hundreds of millions of pounds will have to be spent by farmers in controlling pollution. They have pointed out to the Minister for the Environment that realistic grants, taking into account the present cost of building construction, should be made available to farmers. For generations farmers have extended the hand of friendship and have had an open gate approach to all and sundry who wish to enter their lands. Nowhere else in Europe are such facilities afforded. It would be most regrettable if farmers, through the rigours of this Bill, should find it impractical to continue to extend the céad mile fáilte to all, nationals and non-nationals alike.

Does Deputy Shatter agree with this?

The Minister is a farmer's daughter.

Fine Gael are anxious to expedite the implementation of this Bill in amended form. Our party spokesperson, Deputy Shatter, took the usual step of circulating amendments to the Bill prior to the Second Stage debate in the Dáil. Fine Gael recognise the need to update our water pollution legislation so as to ensure that we have a modern legal framework to prevent water pollution and protect our natural resources in the interests of the entire community. Fine Gael regret that the Bill contains a number of provisions which appear unnecessarily oppressive in the manner in which they may affect the farming community and regret that the Minister for the Environmnent and the Minister of State have not yet adequately responded to the worries that have arisen.

What does the Deputy agree with in the Bill?

We recognise the tremendous efforts that have been made by farmers in recent years to tackle the problem of agricultural pollution and fully accept that the farming community generally have a vested interest in the conservation of the environment.

New legislation must strike a proper balance. While we must ensure that we eliminate the problem of water pollution and provide legal teeth to enforce our laws, we must also ensure at the same time that persons are not wrongly convicted or wrongly penalised where water pollution occurs in circumstances for which they cannot be held responsible.

Fine Gael published some initial amendments to the Bill in order to put the Government on notice about some of our concerns in this area and to elicit a response on these amendments during the Second Stage debate. We are anxious at an early date to ensure that a reasonable solution is found to the concerns expressed by farmers and farming organisations. Further amendments to the Bill will be tabled by Fine Gael prior to Committee Stage after we have studied in detail tonight's response by the Minister of State. I acknowledge that the Minister has conceded to our proposals in a number of areas and I hope that on Committee Stage further progress can be made in facilitating our legitimate concerns.

The Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill, 1989, has features which are to be welcomed and, essentially, the Labour Party agree with its provisions. However, we will be seeking to amend the Bill on Committee Stage in areas which we feel will make for the more efficient operation of its provisions.

We are greatly concerned about the level of penalty imposed on convicted polluters in the District Court and the apparent inconsistencies in fines imposed by district justices in what are apparently similar convictions. The low level of fines can prove to be a major disincentive to the pollution control officers of local authorities in the implementation of the Water Pollution Bill. The pollution control officers are entitled to the support of the courts in their extremely important work.

In County Waterford there was an incident in recent years where a conviction was obtained following the discharge of several thousand gallons of animal blood into the Clodagh river, which is a feeder river to the East Waterford water supply and which supplies Waterford city, Tramore and Dunmore East among other areas. The conviction was obtained through the vigilance of a member of the staff of the Adamstown water treatment plant who was on a day's leave at the time. His vigilant action led to the deposit of animal blood into the river being detected at an early stage so that the contaminated water did not get into the main water supply. I might add that, had the animal blood got into the water supply system, the treatment plant would not have eliminated the virus from the contaminated water resulting in possible frightening health consequences over a wide area. Yet a fine of £100 only was imposed in that instance. The pollution control officers in that case performed a great public service but did not receive the support of the court with such a trivial penalty being imposed.

Another illustration of this, again in County Waterford, was the successful prosecution of an industrial concern for having contravened on two separate dates the conditions attaching to a licence issued under section 4 of the Water Pollution Act, 1977. The toxic effluent was so high in that case that the South Eastern Health Board advised people not to consume shellfish from the harbour into which the effluent was discharging. One of the toxic effluent parameters was found to be one thousand times the permitted discharge limit. The district justice imposed fines of £20 and £50 in relation to those prosecutions.

It is for that reason the Labour Party will be seeking minimum penalties in the Bill. As a general rule we will be seeking minimum fines of ten per cent of the maximum fines. We welcome the fact that maximum fines are to be increased from £250 under the provisions of the Water Pollution Act, 1977, and from £500 under the provisions of the Fisheries Act, 1959, to £1,000 on summary conviction and from £5,000 to £25,000 and a period of imprisonment up to five years, from two years on indictment. But we will be seeking that the minimum fine on summary conviction will be £100 and, on indictment, £2,500.

In recent years the chairman of the Environmental Health Officers Association stated that in quite a significant proportion of the country up to 50 per cent of wells and small group domestic water schemes are contaminated. He went on to state that these are not being monitored in any proper way at present. In County Waterford some eight years ago a water supply servicing some 200 people had to be abandoned. The major problem here is that when ground water is contaminated it will take many years, perhaps hundreds of years, to recover. The water quality of a river polluted in a once-off way may recover within hours or days but that is not the case with ground water. Contaminated drinking water can result in a range of viral infections such as polio and hepatitis or in a range of bacterial infections such as typhoid, dysentry and Weil's disease.

In Britain it is estimated that approximately four million people drink water which breaches the EC nitrate limits set to guard against the risk that chemicals may cause cancer. These numbers are expected to increase as nitrates — the main source of which is agricultural fertilisers — build up in ground water. The presence of aluminium in drinking water is another major cause of concern. Indeed there is a possible link between Alzheimer's disease — which is a form of pre-senile dementia — and the aluminium content of water. In Britain up to 3.5 million people drink water which exceeds the EC limits. Indeed it has been alleged that the drinking water in half of all homes in Dublin contains four times the Community guidelines limits on aluminium. I am glad to say that in Waterford we are within the Community limit regarding the level of aluminium. Nonetheless a rather worrying feature did emerge following tests carried out at the Adamstown water laboratory in County Waterford, which was that while the water was within EC guidelines, when boiled in an aluminium vessel it was found that its aluminium content increased fifty-fold. This would suggest there is a need to examine our cooking utensils in the light of that information.

I have cited the problems being experienced in Britain in the hope that we would not make the same mistakes here.

Although this Bill is to be welcomed we should not delude ourselves into thinking that all aspects of water pollution can be dealt with effectively if the State does not provide the resources to identify potential pollution sources, to police and monitor them and act in a preventative way rather than, as we do at present, in terms of crisis management.

Cutbacks in local authority finances in recent years, together with the voluntary redundancy-early retirement job losses have had the effect of further reducing the capacity to deal effectively with all aspects of pollution and its control.

The proposals drafted by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment regarding the new environmental protection agency which I understand will shortly be the subject of a Government decision would raise considerable doubts in my mind. If, as reported, the agency will have an initial budget of £500,000——

Not true.

The Minister will agree that that was the figure reported and she did not deny it.

I did deny it.

What would the estimate be; would it be half a million?

No, that is the initial start up only.

The Minister will be presenting further legislation. I am glad the Minister has decided to consult all interests before the legislation is brought forward and that we shall have an opportunity of debating it in this House. I hope there will be no attempts to use this Bill to diminish, on a cost-saving basis, the role of local authorities. This whole area of pollution requires resources rather than their withdrawal. At this stage if that figure of £500,000 is the real one, I cannot envisage the agency having any real effect.

I fully support the establishment of national standards. Indeed the updating of the water quality guidelines, memorandum No. 1, issued by the technical committee on effluent and water quality standards of the Minister's Department in April, 1978 is long overdue.

Another area of major concern, a fairly technical one, is the issuing of notices under section 12 of the 1977 Act to farmers who are potential polluters. We have heard from the Fine Gael side of the House that farmers will be disadvantaged by the provisions in this Bill. Nobody on this side of the House wants to victimise in any way or show any bias towards farmers but it has to be acknowledged that there is a big problem to be resolved with an increasing level of nitrates in our drinking water. There is the problem of those nitrates entering rivers and, through their estuaries, the sea, the problem being compounded by ordinary household sewage entering into the sea which would appear to have played some role in the fact that in 1988 we had algae phaeophyceae which showed up right along the south coast. Luckily this was not one of the toxic algae like the red tide which caused fairly major fish kills in the North Sea. Obviously something is causing this type of algae — which multiplies at a crazy rate when certain light conditions prevail—but also when the water is rich in nutrients. Those nurients must be coming from somewhere. There is strong reason to believe that our agricultural nutrients are getting out through our rivers and estuaries to the sea. This is something else to which we must apply ourselves, if not from a tourism point of view, certainly in terms of those people who use our beaches because it is most important that we maintain our beaches to the highest possible standard.

I stress there is no bias towards farmers but there is a problem obtaining with regard to section 12 notices. In the past Waterford County Council have written to potential — I stress potential — polluters requesting written proposals for the elimination of pollution. The type of information required would be building drawings, details of animal numbers, tonnage of silage made in relation to the provision of tanks and so on to deal with the potential problem. This was a very fair approach because it allowed the farmer the opportunity of consulting the Teagasc or other advisers before the proposals were presented to the county council. The county council could, under section 12, direct the farmer to carry out whatever works they deemed fit. The council would prefer to agree the proposals in co-operation with the farmer but the Department have advised the council that they are not entitled to seek information under section 12.

Section 23 allows the council to require written details from an actual polluter but does not allow for the obtaining of such information from potential polluters. In terms of the proper operation of this Bill, that is a very big flaw and one that needs to be addressed. We will be seeking to address it by way of amendment to section 12 when we come to Committee Stage. Local authorities, by way of a section 12 notice, should be able to get full information from potential polluters. The local authorities should have a policing role rather than their role in relation to fire brigade action. We need to identify potential problems before they happen rather than react to the problems after they have happened as is the case now.

There is another aspect relating to planning which compounds the problem of section 12 notices. Development carried out in compliance with section 12 notices is exempt under the Local Government (Planning and Development) (Exempted Development and Amendment) Regulations, 1984, Statutory Instrument No. 348 of 1984. Under a section 12 notice a local authority may specify the size of tanks required but not their construction and structural design. What this means is that in complying with a section 12 notice, a construction which would be exempted from the requirement of planning permission could, from an aesthetic point of view, be totally undesirable. Obviously that statutory instrument relates to planning and the requirement for the provision of information in relation to section 12 notices would give the local authority much more effective control in terms of the aesthetic acceptability of the type of construction that was carried out in response to a section 12 notice. We must try to ensure that scenic areas are not destroyed or damaged from a visual point of view by a construction over which there is no planning control. The statutory instrument is desirable in as much as it allows for prompt action, but its possible abuse to the detriment of the visual environment must be prevented. We believe this is central to the effectiveness of local authorities in relation to their pollution and planning role.

I must again return to what I believe is the central aspect of pollution control and that is the provision of sufficient staff to carry out an effective policing role. The Clodagh river in County Waterford was chosen for a detailed survey in terms of potential pollution sources. An examination of 270 potential pollution sources was carried out and 117 of them proved to be in the high or medium risk categories. That was just one small river in a relatively large county. To effectively survey a farm or a pollution source, it would be possible for an engineer to do only three inspections per day. The extent of the problem is fairly visible from those figures. Excellent engineers with local authorities are constantly reacting to incidents of pollution. They are vigorous in their pursuit of providing the best possible environment.

Deputy Lowry said that under the amended Bill the local authorities would be the prosecutors and beneficiaries of legal action. That seemed to imply that officials of local authorities would act irresponsibly, which is very far from the case. The approach of the officials of Waterford County Council in relation to the section 12 notices is a very good example of this. The officials of local authorities and, I am sure, the Minister and her Department are only too anxious to work in co-operation with all sectors, be they industrial, farming or whatever, to eliminate pollution and risks of pollution. To imply that local authorities would be the beneficiaries of fines when polluters are found guilty by the court indicates that they would in some way act irresponsibly, and I find it difficult to go along with that.

There are essentially agricultural and industrial polluters. The purpose of this Bill, and the intention of the Labour Party, is not to put unreasonable restrictions on anyone. Indeed, as regards industrial development there is a balance to be struck. The country needs industrial development and we very badly need jobs, but good environmental control and industrial development are not necessarily, nor should they be, mutually exclusive. This new environmental agency is not being used to lessen the role of local authorities. We should have national standards so that when by-laws are introduced, one local authority, in the interests of attracting industry into its functional area, should not set fines lower than in other areas. There must be equity throughout the country and national standards and guidelines are very important. The fundamental role rests with local authorities but because of cutbacks they have not got the wherewithal to do their job properly. There is a need to lift the embargo on the employment of staff in local authorities so that we can effectively come to grips with the growing problem of pollution. Local authorities must be given the resources and the legal and judicial support to carry out their job effectively.

On behalf of The Workers' Party I would like, in general terms, to welcome the Bill and the opportunity it gives us, albeit slightly out of season, to debate the issue of water pollution. The Workers' Party will be tabling a number of amendments on Committee Stage with a view to strengthening the Bill which has been passed by the Seanad.

The Bill originated in the summer of 1987, which was the famous fish kill summer, in much the same way as the Air Pollution Act was introduced after a lot of talk about smog and the need for amending the legislation in that area. There was much public concern at the time; there were comments in the media and photographs of dead fish. The political response from the Government at the time was that they were going to introduce a new, updated, amended Water Pollution Bill. That was two and a half years ago. It is a measure of the lack of seriousness on the Government's part to bring in effective measures to combat pollution that, after all the hype about water pollution, we are now only on the Second Stage of the Dáil debate on the new Water Pollution Bill.

During the first nine months of this year alone the Department of the Marine recorded 108 fish kills in our rivers. The Department estimate that a total of 35,000 fish were killed in our rivers during those months. To date they have been unable to put a cost on the restocking of the rivers. All summer we saw photographs and heard stories about fish kills. I suppose in a way one could say that fish kills are the summer equivalent of smog. I think the public want to know if the Bill we are now debating will stop fish being killed in our rivers as a result of pollution, protect our drinking water and restore the pollution-free nature of our rivers, lakes and coasts.

While the number of dead fish were mounting up over the summer, the Minister of State told us that new tough laws were to be introduced which would force a polluter to pay, in much the same way as she has now promised legislation to deal with air pollution and to ban bituminous coal because of the smog problems. She said that the new legislation will give local authorities the power to introduce new regulations to prohibit certain agricultural and horticultural activities in areas where it is believed that such activities might cause water pollution. That is a little bit different from what we heard tonight and it is certainly different from the public statements made during the course of the summer by the Irish Farmers' Association who said they had succeeded in extracting significant concessions from the Government in the Water Pollution Bill presented to us. In May of this year the leadership of the IFA said they had got these concessions and described them as somewhat of a victory on their part.

In the last two pages of her script the Minister referred very briefly to amendments which she will be bringing in on Committee Stage. We need to have some clarification as to whether or not an agreement has been reached with the IFA to water down the provisions of the Bill as originally presented. With regard to the introduction of regulations, the Minister spoke about amendments relating to procedural matters only and said that the by-laws will not come into effect until approved by the Minister. The Minister will have the power to approve or refuse them. This seems to be a fairly significant procedural change from the original amendment and to be very much in line with the statements made by the IFA that they had secured significant concessions from the Government.

I want to ask this: is the Bill we are looking at on Second Stage the real Water Pollution Bill? Is the Bill going to be significantly changed on Committee Stage and has the extent to which it is going to be changed already been agreed with the IFA? It would appear from what Deputy Lowry said that Fine Gael are taking the IFA position on the Bill. I hope Deputy Shatter comes back into the House during the course of this debate because I would be interested to hear to what extent he concurs with the views expressed by Deputy Lowry this evening which do not seem to sit very easily with the green mantle Deputy Shatter has wrapped himself in during the past year or so. I look forward to hearing his views on this.

If we are talking about a watered-down version of this Bill then I very much doubt that the Government's answer to water pollution, which was stated clearly by the Minister of State during the summer months, will effectively tackle the problem of water pollution and prevent the spectacle of dead fish on the banks of rivers.

Of course, no amount of legislation will solve the problem. As Deputy O'Shea said earlier, there is the question of the enforcement and implementation of the legislation. It is fair to say that the Water Pollution Act, 1977, has had a fairly bad record so far as its implementation is concerned. For example, one of its provisions would have enabled local authorities to draw up water quality management plans in respect of different rivers. To date, water quality management plans have been drawn up for only four rivers and so far as I am aware there has been no case where the Minister has given a direction to a local authority to draw up a water quality management plan. If an enabling provision of the 1977 Act was not acted upon and the Minister did not give directions to local authorities to act upon it, what confidence can he have that the enabling provisions in this Bill will actually be acted upon and put into effect?

There is also the question of public confidence. Much of the public controversy which has arisen in regard to the whole environmental area has to do with the fact that the public do not have confidence in the monitoring and implementation of effective pollution control measures. It has been pointed out that there is a degree of industrial pollution. In 1980 there was a spillage of PCBs into the Breagagh and Nore rivers from a local brewery. In a recent reply to me the Minister for the Marine said that there were no fish mortalities and suggested that all was now fine in those rivers. Yet a letter from his Department to the Southern Regional Fisheries Board in May 1987 stated that the most recent results available to them concluded that these levels of PCBs were still high and gave cause for serious concern. They went on to say that they had written to the South-Eastern Health Board and Kilkenny County Council strongly recommending that a complete prohibition should exist on the taking of fish for human consumption in the Breagagh and Nore rivers for a distance of one mile up-stream of the weir and three miles down-stream. They wrote that letter in the middle of 1987 and last week the Minister said there was no problem with eating fish out of them. Yet we know that PCBs are annex one materials which are long lived, persistent and bio-accumulable and I find it very difficult to believe that during that relatively short space of time, having survived since 1980, they would suddenly disappear. There is the serious question about public confidence. How can the public be sure that there is effective control of pollution?

There is great emphasis in the Bill — this was also stressed by the Minister in her speech — on the importance to catch polluters and a new section has been inserted giving an aggrieved party power to take legal action against a polluter. I was interested to learn that Fine Gael believe this will give rise to troublesome neighbourly relations between farmers. The problem is, how does one catch and identify polluters? There have been very few prosecutions for water pollution. We are all aware of the problem in relation to staffing. This was highlighted by Deputy O'Shea. For example, each of the regional fishery boards have but one water pollution officer although it must be stated that their record is quite good. The Northern Regional Fisheries Board, for example, last year had more prosecutions on their own than all the local authorities together. That is not a reflection on local authority staff who are responsible for this work; it is more a reflection on the type of political culture in which we live and the way in which the whole question of pollution control is dealt with.

Local authorities have difficulty in trying to catch polluters. First, the onus of proof provision makes it difficult to get a conviction. It is possible to put up a good defence because of the loopholes that exist in the Act and I am glad that the Bill contains new provisions to close those loopholes. It is my hope that they will not be watered down although the Minister's brief comment does cause me a degree of concern.

I will be strict.

There is a problem in that before an officer from a local authority returns to his office or laboratory after taking a sample from a farm or an enterprise some Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil councillor, or perhaps a TD, will have made representations by telephone not to proceed with a prosecution. Local authorities, and the regional fisheries boards, are bombarded with political representations not to pursue with pollution prosecutions. That is the political culture in which we live. Up to the time that the whole question of the environment took centre stage in the political agenda the dominant political approach was to put the matter on the back burner.

In the course of her speech the Minister referred to the need to minimise bureaucratic interference in the everyday activities of the farming community but there is a phenomenon that is well-known to the Revenue Commissioners. It must be heartbreaking for them to find that many of the small farmers who have liability for tax are quite prepared to pay a lot of money to an accountant to tell them that they have no liability for tax but are not prepared to allow the man from the Department into the yard. That has been a big problem and it will continue to be. It is what is at the back of the considerable representations that have been made by the IFA in particular in relation to the Bill.

There is also the question of what happens in particular areas. For example, at a recent Bord Pleanála hearing about Kerry Milk Products of Listowel, concerned with the issuing of a licence under the Water Pollution Act, an officer from Kerry County Council gave evidence of his experience at that plant which was to the effect that on each occasion he turned up to take a sample he was delayed at the gate. He was told he would have to put on protective clothing and so on. He suspected that he was being deliberately delayed at the gate in order that the contents of the sump could be diluted. In evidence he said he hid on a bank overlooking the plant, sent a colleague to the gate, the colleague was duly delayed and as a result of a telephone call between the gate and a control centre there was a flurry of activity in the yard. That confirmed his suspicion that the contents of the sump were being diluted.

We must bear in mind that various means are being used to try to avoid inspections, sampling and so on. In the course of his contribution Deputy Lowry made big play of his belief that agriculture was not the main cause of water pollution. I tend to concur with what the Minister had to say about the extent to which agriculture contributes to water pollution. If agriculture contributes so little to water pollution why is it that we have been told that the EC are providing £140 million in anti-pollution grants for farmers aimed at covering unauthorised spillages into rivers and lakes? That is an extraordinary amount of public money to spend on the problem of pollution which we are told does not exist or, if it does, is of a minor nature. The irony is that those grants are to be used to deal with various tanks, pits and so on on farms which were grant-aided.

When the Bill was first published there was an hysterical and sustained attack on it by the farming lobby, and by the IFA in particular. For example, the Irish Farmers Journal devoted its pages week after week to attacking many of the provisions of the Bill and they published what can only be described as a misleading analysis of the Bill by some lawyers. Having whipped the farmers of the country into a state of frenzy about the Bill the IFA then set about lobbying the different political parties. The result is that the Bill, which in our view needs to be strengthened, is to be made weaker.

I am very concerned that the Government have capitulated to this lobby. The IFA have reported to their members that a number of significant concessions have been made following their lobbying. We will have to wait for the Minister's amendments before the extent of that will be known. It is worth bearing in mind that since the Bill was published there has been a considerable amount of public debate about the environment. It would be very unwise of the Government to concede to the farming lobby in the way that was announced earlier this year having regard to the degree of public concern about the environment. Since June we have had many fine sounding statements about what is to be done about water pollution but we need to be told what has been agreed with the IFA. The Minister should clarify this when replying. She should clarify what exactly has been agreed with the IFA, if there has been a cave in by the Government to the hysterical campaign whipped up about this Bill and if the amendments she is proposing to introduce are similar to the amendments Deputy Lowry's party intend introducing.

Debate adjourned.