Amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 38, 39, 40 and 54 to 61, inclusive, are consequential. It is proposed therefore, with the agreement of the House, that, for discussion purposes, we take all those amendments together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following definition:
" `feeding stuff' means products which are intended only for animal nutrition;".
This amendment refers to a new definition of the term "feeding stuff" resulting from a clarification by the Department of Agriculture and Food. This term appears a number of times in the text. The wording has been taken from the appropriate European Community Council Regulations—2219/89—on special conditions for exporting foodstuffs and feeding stuffs following a nuclear accident.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 20, after "feed" to insert "for poultry and fauna".
The term "for poultry and fauna" is being inserted following clarification by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
The Bill states at line 15 that "fauna" has the meaning assigned to it by the Wildlife Act. Could the Minister give us the meaning assigned to it in the Wildlife Act?
I would have thought the Deputy would look up the Wildlife Act himself. Fauna is defined in the Wildlife Act as "all wild animals (both aquatic and terrestrial) and includes in particular wild birds, wild mammals, wild reptiles, nonaquatic invertebrate animals and amphibians, and all such wild animal's eggs and young, but in relation to fish or aquatic invertebrate animals (or their eggs or spawn or brood or young) only includes fish and such aquatic invertebrate animals as are of a species specified in regulations under section 23 of the Wildlife Act which are for the time being in force".
Therefore we are talking about all wild animals and not domestic animals. Is that correct?
Amendment No. 3 is in the name of Deputy Tomás Mac Giolla. With the indulgence of the Deputy, amendment No. 53 is related and amendments Nos. 4 and 52 form an alternative composite proposal. It is proposed therefore to take, for discussion purposes, amendments Nos. 3, 4, 52 and 53 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, line 5, after "reactor", to insert" or any instrument or device containing fissile materials or fusion devices which have been designed, constructed, developed or prepared for any military purposes".
The Bill is designed to ensure radiological protection for the public, a matter that arose in the course of ratification of the three conventions in this regard. The Bill deals with the various uses of nuclear equipment and devices, radiological equipment and so on. The extraordinary thing is that it does not deal at all with what people are most frightened of, that is, nuclear explosives, nuclear bombs, weapons and so on. My amendment is intended to deal with them.
A basic flaw of the Bill is that it does not deal with the issues that have most frightened people over the past 45 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped out by atomic weapons. Those events have over-shadowed everything else that has happened in the world since and have most moved and worried people, young and old alike. In those 45 years, there has been the extraordinary development of even more massive weapons with the capability of destroying the whole earth and all the people who dwell on it. The question clearly arises as to how we can be protected in the event of nuclear explosions and so on. Much has been learned about this because of the hundreds of thousands of people who died, indeed those who are still dying, in Japan from the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, indeed the effects on future generations. All of these have been measured scientifically and people are much more knowledgeable today than they were in 1945. There are ways of protecting people in the event of some madness overtaking the world when nuclear weapons would be used or indeed as a result of accidental explosions of nuclear weapons.
When this Bill was being talked about it was assumed that that would have been one of the areas covered by its provisions, that is protection of people in the event of nuclear explosions, protection from nuclear weapons, knowledge of when nuclear weapons might come near us, passing through or over us, coming into our stores or whatever. All of that would be relevant to a Bill of this nature.
That is why I tabled this amendment which differs somewhat from others tabled by Deputies Richard Bruton, Pattison and Garland in regard to nuclear explosive devices. In section 2, the interpretation section, there is a definition of "nuclear device". The intention of my amendment is to include in that definition the words "or any instrument or device containing fissile materials or fusion devices which have been designed, constructed, developed or prepared for any military purposes." I am suggesting the inclusion of those words after the word "reactor" in page 6, line 5, as a more comprehensive definition of what "nuclear device" means. The term "nuclear device" appears regularly throughout the Bill, particularly in Part II, sections 7 and 8, where one finds the term "nuclear device" referred to perhaps 10 or 12 times.
Inserting a definition of "nuclear explosive device" as a separate issue I do not think will be of much assistance because that term will not appear elsewhere in the Bill although various amendments can be tabled to ensure they do appear in the Bill. But at present it makes it somewhat more complicated to insert a separate definition which would have to be included by way of various amendments throughout the Bill.
I believe my amendment covers the purpose very clearly. People may wonder where the words I have used emanated from. They are taken from a Bill introduced in the House of Commons a couple of years ago generally for the same purposes. In that Bill "nuclear weapons" were described as "any instrument or device containing fissile materials or fusion devices which have been designed, constructed, developed or prepared for any military purposes". That was a Private Members' Bill introduced by the British Labour Party a couple of years ago from which I borrowed the words I have just quoted.
An amendment defining "nuclear explosive device" which I had considered including for some time was a definition contained in a proposed Bill—a Nuclear Free Zone Bill, 1988 — suggested by CND and others. In that proposed Bill, the term "nuclear explosive device" appeared in several sections, in fact seven times in the course of 17 lines.
My amendment has been tabled and is designed to include nuclear weapons and all possible definitions of "nuclear weapons" in this Bill under the term "nuclear device" so that wherever "nuclear device" appears in the Bill it will be understood to mean nuclear weapons in the terms in which I have defined them, that is containing fissile materials and so on. The purpose is to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept from our shores and skies.
Much work has been undertaken and documentation introduced in regard to nuclear-powered ships and ships carrying nuclear weapons but very little study has been undertaken or information been made available in regard to aeroplanes which carry nuclear weapons. Since 1987 we have been asking parliamentary questions as to how many authorised over-flights of this country have occurred in the preceding year. We have ascertained that there have been huge numbers of over-flights; I think there were 11,000 in 1987, approximately 8,000 in 1988 and 9,000 in 1989, those sorts of figures. In those years, to my knowledge, something in the region of eight or ten overflights only were refused. We do not have any information on why those overflights were refused; there could be many reasons therefor. The most likely reason for their refusal would be that they may have been cross-Border flights when the British Army might ask to be allowed an overflight of our territory for some particular purpose, perhaps some kind of follow-up operation, which might be refused. We do not know the reasons but a handful only have been refused. There is no information whatsoever that any was refused by virtue of the fact that some inspectors had gone aboard and found something on those planes that should not have been carried on such an overflight. Of course, the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs assume that nuclear weapons of any kind are not being carried aboard such over-flights, although they have no information to that effect; this assumption is made purely on the basis of trust.
The American Government will never say, "No, we are not". They will neither confirm nor deny as to whether there will be nuclear weapons on board. The Government assume and trust them not to carry nuclear weapons or nuclear bombs across our territory. Similarly the Government take it on trust that ships coming here have not got nuclear weapons on board or are not nuclear powered. I do not know the policy of some other governments. Maybe they say yes or no but the American Government's policy is to say neither yes or no, they do not confirm nor deny.
Greenpeace, that extraordinary brave and diligent organisation, have done an immense amount of work and study in America. Under the America Freedom of Information Act they are able to get considerable information by digging, but it means a great deal of digging out material in regard to ships. By digging out this material they discovered the ships which were nuclear powered, which of them carried nuclear weaponry and which were capable of carrying nuclear weapons — many ships are not capable of carrying nuclear weapons and some ships that used to carry them have become obsolete. A number of frigates are now known not to be nuclear capable. If this Government had gone to the trouble of seeking the type of information Greenpeace got and published they would be able to say which ships are nuclear capable and which are not. They would also be able to say which ships were potential carriers of nuclear weapons and, on that basis there would be certain ships they could allow in and others they could bar because of their nuclear capability. However, this Government took no steps towards studying the situation or anything else. They just allow vessels in on trust.
Vessels are not supposed to come in if they are on naval exercises. Of course, many of the ships have come here almost directly from naval exercises and have been allowed here for crew relief at the end of their exercises.
Amendment No. 53 deals with the question of preventing the entry of ships carrying nuclear weapons and the prevention of over-flights of planes which may be carrying nuclear weaponry. It is a fairly lengthy amendment and I would like to deal with it after I hear the Minister's comments on amendment No. 3, because we need quite an amount of information from him in regard to ships and planes entering and leaving our territory.
Another area I would like to mention that carries great dangers for us in regard to possible nuclear weapons, is the fact that submarines speeding up and down off our coast outside Dublin——
On a point of order, with the greatest respect, I think the Deputy is straying very far from the subject. He is now discussing a later amendment. I feel, Sir, you should consider this.
I think Deputy Garland was not here when the House agreed we would discuss them.
I beg your pardon, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The Ceann Comhairle has instructed us that we may discuss amendments Nos. 3, 4, 52 and 53 together. I propose to leave most of the discussion on amendment No. 53 for the moment but I want to refer to one other possible danger of nuclear weapons which is the submarines chasing up and down our shores, which are such a great danger not only to our fishermen but to others as well. Five Belgian fishermen were drowned a year ago and four Scottish fishermen were drowned recently. Let us consider the great danger from an accident such as occurred when theNathaniel Greene went aground on the Wexford coast and we were told nothing about it. The American Government never even contacted us or told us there was an accident. This was very serious. Had any fire or explosion followed that accident it could have had enormous repercussions for us, and this can happen at any time because of the huge number of submarines travelling up and down our coasts, whether they are American, Russian, British, French or whatever. It is difficult to understand why the Government have not taken more serious action publicly at both UN and European levels to ensure that all this traffic going into and out of Holy Loch and coming down the Irish Sea cannot get to the Atlantic north of our coast and take that route to wherever they are going. Furthermore, submarines using the Irish Sea should travel on the surface. The Government have been asked for years about this. One of the greatest protections that can be given to our citizens is either to stop this traffic or ensure it is all on the surface and that there are no submerged submarines.
Obviously, if they cannot see fishing vessels, how can they see our passenger ferries? This is a real danger to passenger traffic on the Irish Sea. Last year a submarine was carrying sonar equipment which an Irish trawler took up in its nets. That is the other danger to our country and our people where radiological protection is needed and which is not covered in this Bill.
The question of nuclear weapons which I have defined in this amendment is not dealt with anywhere in the Bill and unless this or some similar amendment is inserted, this Bill will be useless when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons, nuclear accidents off our shores, nuclear weapons exploding in the sky when these planes crash, possibly into passenger planes, etc. We must protect our skies and our seas from nuclear weapons and devices.
I would like to move amendment No. 4.
Gabh mo leith-scéal, we have only one amendment formally moved and we are discussing the others with it. If the Deputy wishes a question to be put at the appropriate time we can do that, but we make our contributions on the relevant amendments now.
Thank you for clarifying that. I share the concern expressed by Deputy Mac Giolla that there is a gaping hole in this Bill if we do not face up to the issue of military sources of radiological hazard. We are providing in this Bill a mechanism for regulating many of the radiological hazards to which our people are being exposed. Perhaps there has been excessive emphasis in the public mind about the hazards of civil uses of radiation in this country when in reality the greatest hazards in an international context are from military sources.
Irish policy is very clear in this area. Irish policy is that no naval vessel shall enter Irish waters if it is carrying nuclear weapons, and no vessel shall enter Irish waters if it is part of a naval exercise. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has reiterated on several occasions that this policy is conveyed to any country requesting to make a visit to Ireland. He also, I understand, has some form of consultations with the Governments making the request, though the precise nature of these consultations is very vague.
However, as recently as last November, the Minister assured the House that the Government are confident that existing arrangements are adequate to ensure that the conditions laid down are upheld. As many Deputies will have read, a recent Greenpeace study looked at the situation with 13 recent US naval visits to Irish ports. Their findings were quite startling and certainly put in question the Minister's assurances that our policies are being upheld. The Greenpeace survey showed that only two of those 13 ships that visited Irish ports were not nuclear-capable. It also showed that six of them had received nuclear weapons inspections prior to their visit, and that, allegedly, is done only if they are going to be actively carrying nuclear weapons in the course of a particular naval operation. They also found that ten of the 13 were involved in major naval exercises and many of them were only visiting an Irish port in the course of the naval exercise they were involved in. From the Greenpeace report there is very strongprima facie evidence that our policy is not being respected in practice and, of course, as has been often pointed out, there is a policy among all nuclear powers that I know of, certainly in the UK, Europe and the US, of neither confirming nor denying that nuclear weapons are being carried by a particular ship or aircraft. The combination of the Greenpeace evidence, the vagueness of existing systems for policing our policy, and the policy of the nuclear powers, puts into considerable doubt whether our policy is being respected.
The situation is similar in relation to military aircraft overflights. We have evidence from the Department of Foreign Affairs that last year there were about 7,000 military overflights, about 4,000 from the US, 1,400 from the UK, 375 from West Germany and 560, roughly from Canada and many other countries in the Eastern and Western blocs, to use the old language of the Cold War. Again the situation in relation to those is vague. It would appear that it is simply that we have a clear policy that these aircraft must be carrying no arms, ammunition or explosives, they must not engage in intelligence gathering and must not form part of military exercises or operations.
Again in this area we run up against the same difficulty. As Deputy Mac Giolla has pointed out, while there is no research work as to what these military craft may have been doing, there is a genuine concern among many members of the public and Members of the House here that there may in fact be a breach of our strict requirements in regard to military overflights and that, in fact, all that is happening is that our policy is notified to the powers concerned and, once we are satisfied that they understand what our policy is, that is the end of the matter.
What this set of amendments is attempting to do is to provide a system where there would be some actual certification procedure involved so that naval visits or military overflights would be preceded by a certificate making it quite clear that they were not carrying nuclear explosive devices. The purpose of this amendment is simply to underpin and to strengthen in law the existing practice of the Irish Government, and I think it is a very reasonable request. It means that we will have some certificate from the various powers stating that they are observing our policy. That is a very significant advance.
In the case of military overflights, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to undertake inspections. Nonetheless we will have documentary statements from those requesting the facility of overflight that they do respect our policy, and that would be a very considerable advance. It is ironic that this is not in the Bill because in section 30 the Minister is providing himself with very wide powers under which he will by order regulate, restrict or prohibit the custody, production, processing, handling, holding, storage, manufacture, use, importation, distribution, transportation, exportation or other disposal of radioactive substances, nuclear devices and so on. He is giving himself those very explicit powers to regulate or prohibit, and he is also saying that he would have particular regard to apparatus that may, in his opinion, be a danger to the life or health of any person. In the context of that section of the Bill, it is quite clear that the Minister has the powers to provide the sort of regulation we have in mind.
What Deputies on this side of the House are trying to do in this amendment is go beyond the enabling powers that appear to be in section 30 and provide that the Minister would exercise those powers in a certain way. That is the purpose of the amendment I have tabled. Other Deputies have tabled similar amendments. The amendment specifically requires the production of a certificate from the relevant foreign state that the ship, submarine, hovercraft or aircraft in question does not carry any nuclear explosive device. It is just taking the enabling section of the Minister's Act and underwriting a certain portion of it.
The context of this issue is in a Europe that is heading towards political union and my party believe that in this context the whole issue of traditional neutrality which we have espoused is worth reexamining. We believe that a Europe worth creating is certainly worth defending but it is vital that Ireland have an actual input into the shape of any scheme of European defence when that becomes an integral part of political union. It is equally important that Ireland be seen to be pressing for a non-nuclear form of defence of Europe and that specifically there would be no further nuclear expansion but rather the gradual elimination of the store of nuclear weapons and the remit within which nuclear weapons are moving.
This amendment to the Bill underpins the general position that Ireland should be adopting. We must be seen to be serious about prohibiting nuclear weapons from passing through our territory. I think we cannot declare that sort of policy in principle and then turn a blind eye to what are certainlyprima facie breaches of the policy. It is timely that we adopt this amendment and be seen to be serious about nuclear disarmament and the protection of the public from the hazards of radiation be they civil or military. I hope this amendment commends itself to the House.
I hope these amendments are accepted by the Minister. We cannot afford to be wishy-washy about the dangers of nuclear activity. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to certain international conventions among other things. The countries which are parties to these conventions mainly have vested interests in the use of nuclear weapons. We must view the inadequate provisions concerning nuclear weapons with caution because countries with nuclear weapons are very sensitive and secretive about them. It is too much for us to believe that every overflight and every military ship that visits this country does not carry nuclear weapons of any kind.
In a booklet published some time ago entitledThe Case for a Nuclear Free Ireland, published by the Local Government and Public Services Union, and the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, US Rear Admiral Gene LaRoque, a former Pentagon strategic planner stated:
My experience has been that any ship capable of carrying nucler weapons, carries nuclear weapons...They do not offload them when they go into foreign ports.
That is an accurate and honest statement. We need the kind of amendments we are discussing. We cannot give the kind of protection this Bill seeks to give unless we deal with the danger posed by nuclear weapons.
Every country is exposed to the danger of a nuclear accident be it civil or military. There is a 50-50 chance of an accident occurring and I hope the Minister accepts the amendments to help us try to prevent one. It could be argued that with the Warsaw Pact almost a thing of the past, and a reduction in NATO exercises, these dangers will recede. We have a great opportunity to lead other nations on this question.
Many countries closed down their nuclear power stations over the last five years but with the uncertainty in the Gulf there is a great temptation to set them up again and develop them. That temptation must be resisted. By accepting these amendments we can show the way. We can then encourage other countries to follow suit.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 4 which is very similar to amendment No. 3 proposed by Deputy Mac Giolla. Deputies Bruton, Pattison and I put down amendment No. 4 jointly and there is great need for it as there is for amendments Nos. 52 and 53. We must be clear that it is essential for this country to be declared a nuclear free zone. This Bill provides an excellent opportunity to do that. My amendments would bring this about.
New Zealand is a nuclear free zone and that is greatly to their credit. Apart from a few small Pacific islands New Zealand is the only major country which has declared itself to be a nuclear free zone. The Minister should take this on board.
The question of overflights and visits to our ports of nuclear capable vessels has been adequately dealt with by previous speakers and there is nothing useful I could add. Many of us are becoming increasingly concerned with the very slow nuclear military wind down by the great powers, particularly France, US, Britain and Russia. The Cold War has been over for a long time now and one wonders why it is necessary to have nuclear submarines going up and down the Irish Sea. Is it just a question of the governments in those countries not having faced up to the short term economic problems that would be caused by a wholesale reduction in arms? There is talk about massive unemployment, particularly in America, in the arms industry both in civil employment and in the army. If western capitalism is to survive, this is one of its greatest challenges. How will it cope with the huge numbers of people coming back into the labour force? Will arms manufacturers think of reasons why people should be employed in the industry? We should keep these thoughts in mind at all times.
I am in sympathy with the amendments. They have certainly been tabled with the best of intent and with full meaning and understanding of the enormity of the problem of nuclear overflights, nuclear submarines and also the transporting of nuclear spent fuel to the enormous Sellafield cesspit on our doorstep. Continuing attempts have been made by the nuclear industry to hoodwink the population of various countries about what they are doing. It is very difficult to get information that could even be put in front of this House about the number of shipments or overflights that occur. It is ironic that on a day-to-day basis we issue in our newspapers health warnings such as asthma counts, smog counts and so on while yet this deadly fuel is passing our doorstep practically every day of the week. Some major accident will take place before people sit up and take notice. Chernobyl is a classic example.
I must avail of the opportunity today to finger-point Sellafield once again. This is the plant where the refurbishment of atomic warheads take place. That is the principal danger to this country. Anybody who took an interest in the Sellafield plant and its activities over the years will realise that a lot of the information emanating from that plant is grossly inaccurate and unreliable. There were so many contradictions that people were tripping up, not realising they were contradicting what was said a year or two ago.
Suffice it to say that Sellafield have engaged in a massive public relations exercise costing millions of pounds to try to instil in the public mind that they are dealing with a safe industry. They speak proudly of the thousands of tourists who come to the hinterland of Cumbria to look around that plant, and the percentage of people who go away feeling more assured. It is an absolute disgrace that that type of hoodwinking or evading of issues that are of major concern to this country is allowed to happen.
There should be continual warnings of nuclear ships or spent fuel along the Irish Sea. There should also be warnings of overflights. I am concerned about this matter because I feel that perhaps it should come within the ambit of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I hope we are not limiting ourselves in the input we are trying to make. I am quite certain the Minister will refer to that in his reply. It is important that the Department of Foreign Affairs are involved at this stage.
I subscribe very strongly to Deputy Garland's suggestion that Ireland should become a nuclear-free zone. This has been on the stocks for many years and it would be an ideal opportunity for Ireland to so define itself. It is ironic that New Zealand on the other side of the world should be termed a nuclear-free zone. Why should Ireland not also be so termed? It would be an example in Europe where techniques of manufacturing in this industry that were deemed impossible ten or 15 years ago, such as the storage of waste nuclear fuels are now becoming possible. We are destroying the planet by dumping spent fuel, perhaps not knowing that in ten or 15 years time this practice will be superseded by more modern techniques and that we will be leaving a legacy of catastrophic proportions.
If at all possible the Minister should take cognisance of some of the points made by previous speakers. The contributions were made with the utmost commitment to their particular cause. I have been fairly close to Greenpeace over the years, an organisation I have very greatly admired. Were it not for the fact that this small organisation in their international efforts flew the flag of peace as regards nuclear power, a lot more destruction could have occurred.
We do not like to feel that in Ireland we are a voice in the wilderness as regards this huge question. Our neighbour, Britain, at times views this country with great concern, realising that a huge percentage of her own population along the coastline live in similar fear of nuclear warheads and spent fuel. We must take a very strong stand here. We should use Europe as our springboard for attention. I certainly would see no harm in this country setting an example of allotting a certain amount of money per year from the fiscal budget to try to counteract the abominable public relations exercise that takes place at Sellafield. Perhaps other countries would then follow suit. The Minister should take the initiative in trying to set up some kind of international warning system for the movement of nuclear warheads throughout the world. Quite obviously there would be strong resistance from the superpowers, but so be it. We should make our voice heard. Ireland is making a strong stand in this field. We owe it to future generations primarily — we are essentially birds of passage on this planet — to preserve the planet. As I have said, I am in sympathy with these amendments and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
It is a coincidence that I am speaking after Deputy Brady because, as I recollect, in the years 1982 and 1983 when this whole matter was a Cinderella issue in this country, Deputy Brady and I came in here week after week to raise such matters as what was once called Windscale, the whole question of the disposal of toxic chemical waste, and the discharge of nuclear liquid waste into the Irish Sea. At times our protests fell on deaf ears of Ministers from all Governments. It was only when the matter became a high profile issue internationally that people started to take notice in this country. As a result we were left behind in our legislative programme regarding nuclear, toxic and chemical waste.
The week before last I paid a visit to Kiev which is only 80 miles from Chernobyl. I went to see the ecological outfall from the Chernobyl disaster, visited medical facilities and met ecological experts and civic leaders in Kiev who outlined to my colleagues and me the outfall from that trans-Continental — as I term it — disaster. There are still question marks over the quality of products coming from the area round Chernobyl to Kiev. Kiev is very dependent on fruit and vegetables from the district and we were told when the accident occurred that people, from a sense of duty, rushed to Chernobyl to rescue those who wanted to leave. Indeed, many people wanted to stay but those who wanted to go were brought out quickly. The residents of Kiev recognised early on that the rescue effort was contaminating Kiev because the trucks, lorries and trains going in and out of Chernobyl were bringing back the contaminated dust and soil on their wheels.
Chernobyl was the time bomb on their door step and we also have a time bomb on ours. Nobody should say that Sellafield is 100 per cent safe, it is not, it is only as safe as man's ability to make it so. I have been a frequent visitor to Sellafield — I was there in 1983 when it was called Windscale — and they changed the name to Sellafield as a result of a public relations exercise. I was also there in 1987 and on both occasions, despite the massive public relations effort which was put into our visit, I came away unconvinced of its safety, to the disappointment of British Nuclear Fuels.
Sellafield is one of the most lethal nuclear projects in the world in that it is not just a nuclear generating station, it is a nuclear processing plant, and there is traffic in and out, week in week out, from all parts of the world. It is one of the keystones of the British economy because it is processing — and reprocessing — fuels for the world nuclear industry. I am afraid that today we use a lot of energy in looking at what are at times harmless incursions to our ports while, at the same time, there is very dangerous traffic up and down the Irish Sea which, at times, is not even notified to the authorities here. The time is now ripe for an international inspectorate for Sellafield to report on even minor incidents there because, in the past, incidents have been misrepresented by British Nuclear Fuels and, indeed, not reported until previous Governments set up a bilateral agreement. At the same time, we are still dependent on the goodwill of Britain to inform our Government of what happens there. Until such time as there is an international inspectorate, not only looking at Sellafield but at other nuclear plants throughout Europe, I will feel unsafe. I am sure that applies to people here and in Europe because we hear daily of nuclear plants in Czechoslovakia and throughout Eastern Europe. This is the time to put in place a bilateral agreement between the European Community and the nations of Eastern Europe. It should consist of an international inspectorate which would monitor activities in all nuclear plants, East and West. The example of Chernobyl is that nuclear pollution does not recognise boundaries and that is why the time is ripe for a major international agreement involving an inspectorate examining all those plants from Britain to the Urals.
Deputy Brady rightly referred to the problem of storage of the high level nuclear radioactive waste in Sellafield. The problem has not been resolved because they are still toying with the idea of storing waste under the Irish Sea. They will proceed with that and nobody will stop them unless we get our act together. We have highly toxic nuclear waste here and we do not have a policy in relation to its disposal. We depend on Britain to dispose of our waste and until we have a comprehensive national policy for the disposal of our toxic chemical and radioactive waste, we will be compromised in our attitude to our European neighbours and — more important — compromised in our opposition to Britain's sinister moves to store high level radioactive waste under the Irish Sea.
For all our sakes, I ask the Government — in a non-political way — to proceed with a policy in relation to the disposal and treatment of waste as quickly as possible. There is no point in telling us that it is being examined by a committee or a commission. They have been looking at the problem for years and now is the time to grasp the nettle. A site for the treatment plant should be identified and it should be built quickly. The Government should come clean on this issue. I know the Minister will say that he has plans in this regard but this has been going on for years and it is just a cop-out.
Vessels come in and out of our ports. I come from a port city which is nuclear free and this amendment poses difficulties for it. Ships come in from the United States and the USSR — a huge naval ship came from the USSR recently which was very welcome; it was a training and military ship — but there must be a fine tuning of this amendment on Report Stage. It must be more specific and deal with ships which are military but not obviously capable of carrying nucler weapons. Under the terms of the amendment, the recent Russian visitor to Cork which brought in 600 cadets and a lot of business to the city, would, I am afraid, be debarred from entering that port in future. This would also apply to the huge aircraft carriers. Ships which are obviously not carrying nuclear weapons should be allowed access to our ports and there must be a way round these difficulties.
Aircraft overflights is a non-issue. There may be a problem but we are still very much dependent on the goodwill of our colleagues in the international community. We do not have the capability of intercepting or — to be more dramatic — shooting down aeroplanes which invade our air space. Goodwill is the important word.
I hope the time will come, in the foreseeable future, when this amendment will be a non-issue and when the ongoing programme of countries eliminating nuclear weapons will continue. Deputy Bruton implied, and I agree with him, that we must be a part of Europe, prepared not only to build Europe but to defend Europe. What we build and invest in we must defend. If somebody invades my house or property I will defend it. Likewise our role in Europe is to be willing and full partners.
Deputy Allen is straying from the amendments.
If we are threatened by external pressures we should be prepared to defend the system. We must have a flexible approach to this.
That is for another day, it is not for now.
I would ask for a more accommodating proposal on Report Stage on this issue.
We have had wide ranging contributions on the four amendments before us. Many of the matters raised were outside my area of responsibility and in some cases were outside the jurisdiction of the State. I sympathise with many of the sentiments expressed.
Amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Mac Giolla proposes in the interpretation section to insert new wording after the word "reactor". I cannot accept this on the basis that the definition for nuclear device and nuclear reactor already contained in section 2 is quite sufficient and all embracing. If we were to include the concept of military purpose by extending the definition of nuclear device this could have the negative effect of excluding these devices for civil purposes, which I am sure is not what the Deputy had in mind.
In regard to the insertion of a definition for nuclear explosive devices. I have to oppose that on the basis that the definition of nuclear device is already in the text and covers the concept of nuclear explosive device. In the section, "nuclear device" is defined as including "any machine or apparatus the operation of which involves the use of a radioactive substance, and irradiating apparatus or a nuclear reactor". The definition covers devices regardless of whether they are explosive devices or of whether they are military or civil devices. Therefore, what the amendment seeks is already covered in the Bill. I hope the House will accept that explanation with regard to that matter.
Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 deal with the question of the entry of foreign military aircraft into our airspace and the entry of ships into our territory. Ireland's policy of opposition to nuclear weapons is clear and unequivocal. The only acceptable level of nuclear weapons is zero. Our policy in relation to the exclusion of nuclear weapons is also clear. Permission will not be granted to any vessel or aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to enter our territory. The entry of foreign military aircraft into our airspace and landings of such aircraft in the State are already covered under legislation. The strict controls which exist under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952 provide that no foreign military aircraft shall fly over Ireland unless at the express invitation or with the express permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In addition, any aircraft involved must comply with any stipulations as the Minister may make. Information such as identification numbers and aircraft types must be provided. In seeking permission it is also necessary to state whether the aircraft complies with certain conditions, the most important of which are that they are unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or intelligence gathering equipment and do not form part of any military exercise or operation. It should be clear that the Government's policy is not to permit nuclear weapons to enter our airspace. Ireland is not a member of any military alliance and thus will remain free from any commitments that that might entail, in particular, the admission of nuclear weapons. Foreign governments are aware of our policy on ships' visits and overflights and are reminded of this policy on a regular basis.
The Government are not aware that any nuclear vessels have been brought into the State in vessels or aircraft nor are circumstances envisaged in which such is likely to occur. Public safety is not endangered nor is long established opposition to these weapons being abused, threatened, tested or in any way misunderstood.
The Greenpeace report was quoted by some Deputies and I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has already responded to some paramount questions with regard to that matter. Indeed, this whole area is a matter which is the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and not of the Minister for Energy. In order to help the House and the Deputies who put down these amendments I have sought to give the House as much information as I can. I understand that the evidence provided in the Greenpeace report is almost entirely circumstantial in nature. In fact in the presentation of a similar report to the Swedish Government, Greenpeace acknowledged that a US nuclear capable vessel which they had insisted was carrying weapons was later found not to have been doing so. The Greenpeace research officer offers no proof that nuclear capable vessels are carrying nuclear weapons when they visit. To suggest that because a vessel has a nuclear capability and pays a visit here it is therefore a vessel carrying nuclear weapons is a fair stretch of the imagination. I am sure the House will agree that it would not be sufficient grounds to exclude a vessel to say that it had the potential to carry nuclear weapons. The official position here is that as long as the vessel is not carrying weapons it is in compliance with the regulations and with Government policy. We do not grant permission to vessels which are nuclear powered.
Submarines have been mentioned and it is important to stress that submarines travel on the surface in our territorial waters. They must travel on the surface and must fly a flag. Under international law they have the right of innocent passage. This relates to the problem which has been highlighted in regard to Sellafield and the transshipment of nuclear waste for reprocessing there. Under international law all vessels have a right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of another state provided, in the case of submarines, they travel on the surface and carry their flags for identification. Specific authorisation to exercise this right or notification that it has been exercised is not required. Therefore, it is not possible to monitor the frequency and extent of such traffic. Vessels of all nations, including submarines, have free access to the international waters outside the 12 mile limit. In the present state of international law it is not possible to ban their passage through international waters or to ban their innocent passage on the surface through our territorial waters. I am only giving the explanation here and the official Government policy on it, even though it is not a matter that comes under my own area of responsibility in the Department of Energy.
As the House, and the Deputies who raised this matter, know it comes under the area of responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs who has answered a number of questions on this issue recently. Much information has already been put on the record of the House in regard to that matter. It is not appropriate to deal with the matter under the provisions of this Bill. For those reasons I cannot accept the amendments. There is no need for the first two amendments and the third is not appropriate to this Bill. The Department of Foreign Affairs have given assurances on numerous occasions that their requirements are adhered to and there is no evidence to suggest they are not being adhered to. They are fully satisfied with the procedures laid down and that they are operated effectively.
I found the Minister's reply amazing. I thought he would dwell on explaining why it was not necessary to put in this Bill any reference to nuclear weapons, nuclear bombs, nuclear explosive devices, etc. Now he tells us that the Bill covers all those items. That is an extraordinary statement. He says the fact that the Bill states:
"nuclear device" includes any machine or apparatus the operation of which involves the use of a radioactive substance,....
means that nuclear weapons, nuclear bombs, nuclear explosive devices are all covered in that definition. We would be delighted if that were the case but why not make it clear? What is the problem about making it clear in the Bill that this covers nuclear explosive devices, nuclear weapons and any word one cares to mention for atom bombs, nuclear bombs, neutron bombs or anything of that nature? I cannot understand the Minister's attitude in explaining that all those devices are covered in the Bill. They are not all covered in the Bill when nobody else can see it, except himself and his advisers. Why not make it clear so that if the occasion arises, the judge on the bench will be able to see it but as the Bill is worded, the judge will not be able to see that. If the Minister wants to have those devices included he must write them into the Bill. I found it amazing that he should say we are all blind, except himself. That is how I interpret his comments when he says those items are included in the Bill when it is obvious that they are not. No judge in any court would say this definition covers nuclear weapons, nuclear bombs, etc. He would look at the Bill but would not find them there.
The purpose of legislation is to ensure that everything we mean when we are passing legislation is clear to the public as well as to the Judiciary. That is what the Judiciary want to know when a case comes before them and there is a question of penalties for breach of the regulations, and this is the type of thing the general public will want to know. If the Minister is an anxious as we are to see that nuclear weapons are included, I would urge him to look again at a wording which would ensure that it is obvious to us all that they are included. In his reply the Minister said the definition in the Bill was quite sufficient and all embracing. I do not know what he means by "quite sufficient and all embracing". I take it he means it covers nuclear weapons and nuclear bombs.
The Minister tried to explain the Department of Foreign Affairs' policy which has been said repeatedly, in precisely the same words, by the Department of Foreign Affairs year after year. We do not want any ships or vessels or aircraft coming into our territory with nuclear weapons. They are not allowed in. The next question is: how do you prevent them coming in? The answer is we trust them. We tell them they are not allowed in with nuclear weapons and then we assume they will not bring them in. That is the actual position. The Minister knows as well as I do and the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Affairs before him all gave the same answer. That is the stark diplomatic answer to this question. The Minister then expects the Greenpeace organisation to come up with evidence in court that they saw a nuclear weapon on board. Anything else is only circumstantial evidence despite the enormous amount of scientific work put into the production of the information which is presented to the Government, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I presume the Minister for Energy would have seen it.
They gave specific information on each of 13 US Navy ships which visited Irish ports. They gave more specific information that six of the ships which visited Irish ports were not alone nuclear capable but had been fully certified by the US Navy before leaving the US ports. Special nuclear weapons inspections were carried out to ensure they were capable of performing their assigned nuclear mission that is, to carry and launch, if necessary, nuclear weapons when they left the US ports. From the time they left the port and visited the Irish ports and until they arrived back at the United States port, nothing would have changed. All the evidence is there; it is circumstantial, but it is the best one can get. That is when an inspector needs to go on board to find out whether what they say is true. In amendments Nos. 52 and 53 we are asking the foreign Government to certify to the Department of Foreign Affairs that neither the ships nor the aircraft flying overhead are carrying nuclear weapons, that they are not part of a naval exercise or part of a military exercise.
The Minister said that nuclear submarines must surface when going through our territorial waters within the 12 mile limit. That is the regulation. Has the Minister any evidence that that happens? Has he any information about what actually happened theNathaniel Greene when the ship went aground off the Wicklow coast? Was that ship in Irish territorial waters when it went aground? Obviously it was because it could not go aground if it was surfacing; it was submerged. What information did we get about this accident subsequently from the American Government? Did they give us any information on the effects of the accident, the damage that was done to the ship, the danger of fire, how the accident occurred and the evidence to show it will never happen again? Was there any evidence to suggest that the ship was not surfacing, as it was required to, and what did we do about that?
These are the kind of questions people put when they get glib ministerial answers such as, "we are all pure, we do not allow any ships carrying nuclear weapons into our waters and we do not allow any aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to overfly our country". It is extraordinary that the number of overflights of this country — this issue was raised in October — which have been fairly consistent in the past year — over 300 every month — increased from 321 in June, which is about average, to 624 in July, twice as many, to 824 in August and to 725 in September. The number of overflights in August was almost three times the average. The total number of overflights by these aircraft was 2,173 for those three months, which is well above the average for those three months in any other year. Had this anything to do with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? It is amazing that the huge increase began in July, a month before the invasion took place. Was information available about the possibility of invasion?
The point I am making is that these overflights have a direct bearing on military problems in other parts of the world. Aircraft have to overfly Ireland to get to the Gulf and other countries. One assumes that these aircraft are carrying some kind of weapons. They are military aircraft and they are taking part in some kind of manoeuvres, war games or whatever. Yet the Minister said that the Governments who own these aircraft are asked to state that the aircraft are armed and that they are part of military exercises. Did the Irish Government receive such certificates in respect of the 624 overflights in July, of the 824 overflights in August and of the 725 overflights in September? Did each one of those 2,173 overflights certify that they were not carrying arms and were not part of any military exercise? Are those 2,173 certificates available to show that that was the case or is there one general certificate for the year issued on 1 January stating, "all flights for the coming year will be unarmed" and so on?
The Minister's response was not convincing and therefore the amendments we have put down must be pursued. If the Minister can give us an assurance that he will include a provision in this section to cover nuclear weapons, explosives and so on, we will withdraw our amendments. However, we will have to press our amendments in regard to ships if the Minister cannot give us a guarantee that some certification will be required.
Deputy Richard Bruton is offering.
I share Deputy Mac Giolla's concern about the Minister's attitude. The Minister expressed concern but it had a very hollow ring to it. He reiterated the formula of the Department of Foreign Affairs for answering questions about non-nuclear and non-military activities in our air space and territorial waters but, once again, he slurred the key detail as to the precise regulations which are in force to exercise control over these issues. It is quite clear from the Minister's reply that no certificate is being produced by these countries. The Minister used phrases such as, "foreign countries are reminded of our policy", and, "our Government are not aware of any circumstances where these have been breached". It is the vagueness of those terms which create concern. It is not sufficient to remind people of a policy if it is their explicit policy not to provide any evidence as to whether or not they are carrying nuclear weapons. That is the weakness in the Minister's reply.
Amendment No. 52 recognises that the Minister has taken unto himself the right by order, to regulate any movement related to radioactive substances. According to the Minister's definition, this includes any possible movement of military radioactivity substances. We are not asking the Minister to break new ground outside his responsibilities. His responsibilities are clearly defined in section 30. It is the Minister who chooses to bury his head in the sand and hide behind Department of Foreign Affairs' pat answers produced time after time.
I contend that the Minister has precisely the powers to do what we are asking him to do. Furthermore, I contend that the whole purpose of producing the Radiological Protection Bill was to draw together into a coherent radiological protection policy strands which had been scattered through the Department of the Marine, the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Health and, as we now learn, the Department of Foreign Affairs also. If the Minister is going to sponsor a Bill which is designed to produce a coherent policy for protection of the public from the radioactive hazards all we are doing is asking him to do that and exercise the powers he has given to himself.
The Minister may well argue — I wish he had done so on Second Stage — that he is not the Minister to do this. Energy is not the appropriate vehicle for carrying all this responsibility. I would have applauded him for saying that on Second Stage and agreed that it should be a matter for the Department of the Environment or Health. However, the Minister said on Second Stage that he must have these responsibilities and insisted that he was the one to exercise control in the area of radiological protection. Having said that on Second Stage, the Minister has the gall to come in on Committee Stage and tell us that as far as military overflights are concerned he is not going to go back on what has been allocated to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
From looking at the text of the order which gave the Department of Foreign Affairs this responsibility I contend that this was simply an administrative convenience at the time. The order was signed by Seán Lemass who was the Minister for Industry and Commerce at that time and he also held responsibility for Energy. He conferred these powers on the Minister for Foreign Affairs simply because it was easier for him to execute it in that way as the Department of Foreign Affairs had daily contact with the Governments of other countries. I contend that when the Minister decided to bring forward this comprehensive legislation dealing with radiological protection — we all applaud him for doing so — he took unto himself the responsibility to subsume all the previous orders. It is quite clear from the text of section 30 that the Minister has the authority to do what we are asking him to do. I do not accept for one minute the Minister's suggestion that this is outside his area and he cannot deal with it.
I hope the Minister will re-think his response to this amendment. Essentially what we are trying to do in this Bill is provide the public with a comprehensive set of protections so that people can rest easy when they see we have an institute which is dealing with their concerns about radiological hazards. If he leaves out this crucial area he is leaving a huge gap in the Bill. He is quite explicit that he is not willing to give the House the assurance it wants that under section 30 he will exercise his rights. That is not good enough.
Unlike Deputy Mac Giolla, I am happy to accept the Minister's assurance that the definition includes nuclear explosives. I am no expert in that field. If the Minister is happy that it is watertight and that any court would regard his definition as including all forms of nuclear weapons, assembled or disassembled, I am happy to accept that. I am certainly not happy to accept his rejection of the spirit of amendments Nos. 52 and 53 in regard to a proper certification system.
Like the two previous speakers, I am very disappointed with the Minister's response on all points raised. It is not good enough to say that he is not aware that any of the nuclear-capable ships visiting our ports were carrying nuclear weapons. This must be one of the greatest cop-outs of all time. Why are these ships made nuclear-capable? They are made nuclear-capable so that they can carry nuclear weapons. I am not saying that on every occasion these ships are in fact carrying nuclear weapons.
We must be guided by Greenpeace, an organisation who have no axe to grind and no party political stance to take. They are an environmental group and no one has ever, as far as I know, questioned their bona fides. I do not think the Minister is so doing, although he gets very close to it at times. By implication he is certainly questioning their competence, something which comes very badly from the Minister. Greenpeace are a very large organisation who have people all over the world tracking down these nuclear-capable ships. I will write to the Minister tomorrow and give details of a specific case where Greenpeace, through methods which they do not entirely publicise, established beyond all doubt that a particular ship leaving a US port had nuclear weapons on board. They followed the course of that ship when it visited various neutral countries, including Ireland. In all these countries the story was the same. They neither confirmed nor denied. This is stretching the bounds of credulity too far. Is the Minister saying it has never happened that a nuclear-capable ship arriving in an Irish port actually had nuclear weapons on board? I hope he will not say that, because it would be too ludicrous for words. I am most disappointed with his response and I have no intention of withdrawing amendments Nos. 4 and 53.
As somebody who has had a deep interest in environmental matters through the years, I thought in my innocence that the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of this Bill would bring in a comprehensive system whereby the health, well-being and quality of life of our people would be maintained and protected. We await with interest the publication of the Environmental Protection Agency Bill.
I thought the Minister would have come to grips with some of the problems which the Nuclear Energy Board failed to deal with. I was a critic of that board where I believe there was a conflict of interest. I imagined the Minister would come to grips with the issues that have been raised over several years and which have not been tackled because of the disjointed, disorganised approach of Government Departments and agencies who were dealing with issues of environmental protection. A few of us have today addressed these issues but the Minister said most of them were outside his brief and decided that while it was irrelevant to him he would answer what suited him. He pushed us all off with that glib statement.
The attitude of the Minister indicates that this legislation when passed will have no teeth but will be dependent on the goodwill of other people. We are still not dealing with the real issues of environmental protection. We will be compromised in our attitude to other people. I must express my extreme disappointment at the anaemic attitude of the Minister to the valid points raised by Deputies. I will leave this House tonight very dispirited because this is yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem. We are not willing to grasp the nettle of modern living and we will still have to depend on our colleagues across the water to deal with our problems for us. The Minister is copping out.
I reiterate that I have been assured by the Nuclear Energy Board that nuclear explosive devices are already covered by the definitions in the Bill, in other words that "nuclear device" covers radioactive substance, whether explosive or non-explosive, whether military or civic. I am glad Deputy Bruton accepts that point.
I sympathise with many of the points made by Deputies but it is and has been Government policy that the movement of international ships and aircraft is a matter appropriate to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Deputies are seeking to take unfair advantage of me. It is not a matter for me. Deputies have raised this matter on numerous occasions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This may have seemed a convenient opportunity to raise these important issues but I am precluded from taking the steps I am being requested to take because it is not my area of responsibility and it has been long-standing Government policy that these matters are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The proposal to amend the Bill to include nuclear weapons in its provisions is not acceptable because it is not within the jurisdiction of my Department. We are not a nuclear nation and do not own nuclear weapons. Such weapons would have to be the property of some foreign government or authority. I am not the Minister charged with responsibility for dealing with that matter. We are dealing here with a Radiological Protection Bill whose main aim is to establish an institute which would provide for radiation protection measures and give effect to international conventions in that area. The question posed is of a military nature and more pertinent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I reiterate as a member of the Government that I am satisfied that our existing legislation and policy in this area is fully adequate to cover Ireland's concern with regard to nuclear weapons. The permission of the Department of Foreign Affairs is required for visits to Irish ports by foreign naval vessels. Permission for a visit will normally be granted provided that the visit does not form part of a naval exercise and the vessel is not carrying nuclear weapons.
I should say to Deputy Garland that it is very easy to get up here and give the impression that one has information that an American naval vessel came into an Irish port with a nuclear device on board. The Deputy has not given the name of the vessel, the date on which the vessel visited a port or indeed the name of the port. I would suggest to Deputy Garland that that is very flimsy evidence on which to base an argument in Parliament that such a thing happened. If the Deputy wishes to make an allegation in such specific terms it is incumbent on him to present the facts. It is not good enough to say on an occasion such as this that he has a big file on this matter over in his office but, unfortunately, he does not have it with him now. The Deputy's office is only across the road. I had an office in that building for a period of three or four years so I know how long it takes to go from the House to there. I invite the Deputy before the debate concludes this evening to proceed to his office. I am sure both the Ceann Comhairle and I would be glad to facilitate him in giving the House the specific details which are required when a Deputy makes an allegation against another state on a matter of serious importance.
The Deputy has alleged that the American Government and their naval service have breached our laws and regulations with regard to these matters. That is a very serious allegation to make against them and of course they are well capable of replying elsewhere.
He knows it is good for a headline.
I hope we are not witnessing a headline grabbing exercise here this afternoon as these are very serious matters.
As I said, before a vessel can visit one of our ports the permission of the Department of Foreign Affairs has to be obtained. I would like to reiterate, that this has been Government policy during the past two decades. The present leader of Deputy Bruton's party, who is well known to the Deputy, was in the Department of Energy for a period and had responsibility in Government——
With respect, this is the first time we have attempted to produce a comprehensive Bill to protect the public from radiological hazards. The Minister's suggestion that section 30 of the Bill gives him the power to require the sort of certification that the Opposition request is bogus.
It is a cop out.
Let us hear the Minister who is in possession. We will hear other Deputies again.
I am only making the point that this has been Government policy for 20 years——
The Minister criticised Deputy Garland for headline seeking but he is now seeking to delve into low party political debate.
Deputy Bruton ought not to continue interrupting.
The Minister is provoking us.
I hope I will not be tempted to do that but I am merely stating the fact, even though this may hurt, that this has been Government policy for two decades and practically all parties, with the exception of The Workers' Party and Deputy Garland's party, have participated in Government during that period.
I wish I had the honour of participating in Government.
I am not introducing any change or anything new and I suggest that this matter should be dealt with by the responsible Department.
The Minister is taking the responsibility but he will not use it.
The point I am making is that it is not a matter appropriate to this Bill. Deputy Mac Giolla suggested that permission for a visit is granted on the basis of trust. I wish to point out that it is not granted on such a basis but rather on the basis that the visit complies with certain conditions which include that the visit does not form part of any military exercise and the vessel is not carrying nuclear weapons. These conditions apply to all requests for permission to visit. It should be noted that these requests are received from friendly governments with whom we have good relations. We have no reason to believe that our policy in this area is not being respected. If, however, Deputy Garland produces evidence which would confirm unequivocally that a friendly government have broken the conditions action would be required from the Government here.
Reference has been made to a number of other matters, including theNathaniel Greene. Again, this is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is unfortunate that I have to say this but if Deputies raise matters which are the responsibility of another Minister——
That is one of the weaknesses of the Bill.
——it is the tradition that I indicate with whom the responsibility lies. The Minister concerned in this case has already replied in very generous terms to questions raised in this House by Deputies. If Deputy Mac Giolla wishes to pursue the matter further I would recommend that he consult the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In fact, I will ask that Minister to reply directly to the Deputies who have raised points outside my area of responsibility. I am trying to be as helpful as I can.
The purpose of the Bill is to establish an institute which will be as independent as possible which will take the necessary measures to protect the community living on this island, within our jurisdiction, from any contamination from radioactive substances, and take whatever precautions are deemed both wise and prudent to avoid this happening within our jurisdiction. It is within those terms that the Bill is structured. The Bill will enable us to adopt certain international conventions which will be of assistance in achieving that objective. I am sorry, but I cannot accept the amendments before the House at present.
I would reiterate that the corollary of the Minister's statement that his definition covers nuclear weapons of any sort is that section 30 enables him to issue orders that craft have to have the type of certificate that we on this side of the House have requested. That is as clear as day. It was to make it convenient for themselves that they allocated this to the Department of Foreign Affairs. If the Minister wants to see the Department of Foreign Affairs continue to collect certificates we will be happy to assist him but he has the prime responsibility to protect the public from radiological hazards. This means he has the primary responsibility to make orders. As I say, I would be quite happy to allow him exercise the powers provided in those orders with the Department of Foreign affairs as his agent if that suits him.
The Bill makes provision for a range of activities to be carried out by various Ministers in the event of a radiological emergency. I would hold that it should also make provision for the taking of a range of activities to prevent such a radiological emergency or nuclear disaster. I see no problems in this regard. It is unfortunate that the responsibility to protect the people of this country is divided between two Departments and this opportunity should be taken to co-ordinate in a better way the activities aimed at preventing such a disaster rather than the measures aimed at protecting the public in the event of an emergency. To illustrate my point I quote section 31 (1) which reads:
For the purpose of protecting individuals from radiological hazards, the Minister, after consultation with the Ministers for Agriculture and Food, Finance, the Environment, Health and the Marine and the Institute, may prescribe by regulations levels of activity (in this Act referred to as "prescribed levels") in respect of animals, fauna, poultry, eggs, crops, carcases, fodder, animal feedingstuffs, fish, seaweed, bottled water or water supplies intended for human consumption or any food.
Why would not the Minister reintroduce amendments along the lines I suggest providing that he may, after consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, deal with the military aspect of nuclear danger? Such a provision would undoubtedly improve the Bill. Probably it would cover the points raised in the course of this debate because, after all, the Minister is taking unto himself in this Bill powers to consult with a number of other Ministers, as is said in the subsection I have just quoted. It is significant that the only Minister who is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill, the very Minister we are told by the Minister present plays the sole role in protecting our country from a nuclear accident occasioned by a military aircraft, naval or any other vessel, is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister tells us that is the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, yet there is no provision in this Bill for any consultation between the Ministers for Energy and Foreign Affairs.
I want to take the Minister back to the purpose of this Bill which is to give effect to the provisions of the Convention on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency — the Assistance Convention; the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident — the Notification Convention; and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material — the Protection Convention. How can we ratify the Convention on Assistance in the case of a nuclear accident if we are not talking about nuclear weapons coming in on board ships or even nuclear-powered submarines coming close to our coasts, which was the case with theNathaniel Greene? The Minister for Energy now says that is the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He could say in other parts of this Bill: Sorry, that is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment; it has nothing to do with me. In another section he could say: Sorry, that is the responsibility of the Minister for Health; it has nothing to do with me. That is a total nonsense.
The Minister must take responsibility for giving effect to the provisions of those three conventions, no matter what other Ministry is involved. If he has a problemvis-à-vis the Minister for Foreign Affairs, he should raise it at Cabinet level with the Taoiseach or whoever else. That should have been done before he ever introduced this Bill in the House. The Minister must be responsible for ratification of these three conventions and for the contents of this Bill. I would ask the Minister not to use the excuse that it is the responsibility of some other Minister.
If there is to be established a Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland with some independence over and above that of the former Nuclear Energy Board — indeed the fear of many people about this Bill is that the institute might be just another name for the Nuclear Energy Board for which nobody had any trust or respect, particularly after their performance following on the Chernobyl accident when they were three or four days too late in their intervention — I should imagine they would have a role in ascertaining what nuclear submarines might run aground close to our coasts, in ascertaining what nuclear weapons enter Dublin Bay or indeed might be flying overhead every day of the week in this city, Galway or elsewhere. I am sure the institute would have an interest in what is taking place all around us. I presume the institute would come under the aegis of the Minister. This would mean that, when they would seek permission to check out such happenings, the Minister would have to ensure that the Minister for Foreign Affairs would allow them do so; they would have to have their independence and be able to move about for that purpose.
It must be remembered that every Department crosses every other Department at some stage or other. I am sure the Department of Justice discover that constantly, say, when the Garda want to check out something which has a bearing on another Department's competence. One cannot tie down Departments just like that. The Minister has given us an assurance that such independence will obtain. I suppose, in some cases, if a Chief Justice is very conscientious then, as well as reading the Bill, he will read all the reports of what was discussed at the various Stages of its passage — which would entail considerable work — in order to ascertain what the Minister said and what was his interpretation of the position. What the Minister has said now might be of some help in that event.
That is no way to pass legislation. It is not in the Bill; I cannot see it and, no matter what assurance the Minister gives that he intends it to be in the Bill, it still is not included. While taking the Minister at his word that it is his intention and he believes it to be in the Bill, nevertheless, I must pursue amendment No. 3 because the Minister has not changed one word since we began this discussion at 3.45 p.m., or uttered one word to indicate that, yes, he agrees it should be included in the Bill. All he is saying — in order to satisfy us — is: look, it is there; you do not see it. I am not at all happy with that.
With regard to the Minister's attack on Deputy Garland — which I thought a bit off the wall — the evidence given by Greenpeace is as close as one can get. Six of the 11 nuclear capable ships that entered Irish ports received special nuclear weapons inspections by nuclear weapons training personnel from the US Navy and the Defence Nuclear Agency prior to their visit to Ireland. These six ships were fully certified — this is on the certificate — as "capable of performing their assigned nuclear mission" and their assigned nuclear mission was to carry and launch nuclear weapons. The names of these six ships were: first, theUSS Conte de Grasse that visited Cork on 1 to 5 April 1982; second, the USS Truett that visited Cork on 18 to 22 May 1983; third, the USS Pharris that visited Cork on 21 to 27 September 1985; fourth, the USS Aylwin that visited Dublin on 21 to 28 — the month is not given — 1985; fifth, the USS Nitro that visited Dublin from 28 September to 3 October 1986 and, finally, the USS Conyngham that visited Cobh on 8 to 11 July 1988. Those are six specific ships named not only as being nuclear-capable but as being nuclear-certified as well when they left port and, therefore, most likely to be carrying nuclear weapons. The Minister can contend that that is circumstantial evidence only. Nonetheless, it is the best evidence that can be obtained from United States documents available to the Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs, though not availed of. Indeed, any arm of Government can as easily inspect them as can Greenpeace. Those are the facts.
I might add that the United States Government do not tell lies. The United States Government do not give any guarantee to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The United States Government say simply: we neither confirm nor deny that there are nuclear weapons aboard. They simply seek permission to enter our ports. Our Government say: you are not allowed enter if you have any nuclear weapons aboard. The United States government neither confirm nor deny and sail in. The evidence is that it is 99 per cent likely that some of those six ships that used the ports of Cobh, Cork and Dublin, were carrying nuclear weapons.
The Minister will be setting up an institute to protect us against nuclear accidents, to ensure there is early notification of a nuclear accident and for physical protection from nuclear materials. That institute would have been interested in those ships, in all such aircraft and in nuclear submarines off our coast which were carrying weapons and could cause nuclear accidents. There should be early notification of the accidents and there was no notification of theNathaniel Greene accident, and maybe there were others. The institute must insist on that notification.
Therefore, the Minister for Energy will have to sort out his problems with the Minister for Foreign Affairs because he will have to ensure the institute are independent of all Ministers and capable of carrying out their job. Irrespective of what the Department of Foreign Affairs, or any other Department say, they must be permitted to carry out their job to ensure that these three Conventions of Assistance, Notification and Physical Protection are adhered to.
Before calling Deputy Allen I will remind the House that the first round contributions were wide ranging and unrestricted. At times they were not strictly in accordance with a Committee Stage debate where we are obliged to deal with precisely what is in the section and the terms of amendments proposed. I point that out before we move much further into round 2 so that I will not have to be reminding Deputies of the requirements of Committee Stage. I appreciate this is a very special, sensitive area but we should not make the mistake of thinking this is the only opportunity we will have. There are other sections where Deputies will be at liberty to deal specifically with what is in the amendment. I am calling on Deputy Allen now to give example by doing the right thing.
With all due respect to the Chair, I will be very brief. The Minister's last response to Deputy Garland was a very arrogant response. I am not going to protect Deputy Garland in this House; he will do it himself but the Minister should come off his nuclear horse and get down to facts. The expectations in this and other sections were that we would have comprehensive protection for our people against nuclear accidents, and the Minister said there would be protection for people in the event of a nuclear accident. In this and other sections there is no sign of any tight, effective safeguard by Government Departments or agencies in the event of a nuclear accident. I ask the Minister to illustrate how he sees an improvement in performance in the event of a nuclear accident. What will the difference now be in the event of an accident as against the Chernobyl incident some years ago? Then the Nuclear Energy Board said things were not too bad, this country was OK, there was no possibility of any fall-out initially and then things changed. We had the tragic farce of health boards not being in a position to provide iodine tablets.
Gabh mo leithscéal, Deputy Allen. I am looking for your co-operation.
I will not evade the issue.
Confine yourself to what is in the section and the subject matter of the amendment.
Sir, you just came in, your predecessor was there and we were following this line of argument. You cannot cut us off in mid-stream after what we have been working on for an hour. There has to be continuity.
It is not a good reflection on the House that you were working on something for an hour. There must have been a great deal of repetition.
It was not repetition. This is important because we have been waiting so many years for this Bill.
Deputy Allen, please, confine yourself to section 2 and nothing else.
I ask the Minister to tell this House how things will be different when the Bill is passed as against the situation when the Chernobyl disaster occurred.
I am aware Deputy Allen is an assiduous reader of the Nuclear Energy Board's annual reports. Being so — I see him nodding his head in agreement with that — he is already familiar with the fact that a national radiological emergency plan is being put in place, that a number of measures have already been taken in connection with the establishment of that plan, and that substantial funds have been included in the annual Estimates of the Department of Energy for that purpose. It is true to say there was disappointment with the capability of the Nuclear Energy Board to respond to the Chernobyl emergency, but it is also true to say we would be much better prepared now to deal with such an emergency if, God forbid, one were to occur.
I thank the Minister.
I will not resort to repetition. I have said all I can say. I am constrained inasmuch as the matters I am being asked about are, strictly speaking, matters which come within the remit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs because they relate to the military wing of foreign governments and that is not an area where I have responsibility. The Conventions which will be brought into operation, and which we are providing for in this legislation, relate to civil emergencies, civil uses and nuclear material used for peaceful purposes. I am constrained in not being able to give a full reply. I have no doubt the Minister for Foreign Affairs has already indicated the situation. I am aware of the procedures that are followed and I can only go so far as to say the interpretation Deputy Mac Giolla gave of what happens is not correct. Quite a stringent set of procedures must be followed thoroughly by the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs in regard to these matters. Suffice it to say there is a permanent staff dealing with these issues in that Department.
Is Deputy Mac Giolla anxious that I put the question.
- Byrne, Eric.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Foxe, Tom.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- McCartan, Pat.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Browne, John (Wexford).
- Calleary, Seán.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P. J.
- Nolan, M. J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
I propose to withdraw amendment No. 4 at this stage. I am accepting the Minister's assurances that the existing definition in the Bill includes military nuclear explosive devices. I will, however, be consulting in the meantime with people who are more expert in this field than I, and if I feel the Minister's assurances are not watertight I will reintroduce it on Report Stage.
The point I wish to raise also applies to section 7. It deals with an omission which may have been accidental. In the definition of radiological emergency there is a list of items that are under threat. It states: "may cause any individual, animal, fauna, poultry, eggs, crops, fish, seaweed, soil, minerals (including rocks of all descriptions) air, water or other things in the State to be exposed to significant levels of ionising radiation". I know that almost everything is covered there but since this list includes eggs, I am surprised that milk and meat are not included.
At a time of an accident such as Chernobyl, the item which reaches the food chain before any other is milk. If a cloud comes over the country in the morning, people could be drinking the affected milk that evening, or certainly the following morning. I am surprised that such a specific list including eggs, fish and so on does not include milk. Maybe it is not necessary to include all these items but I think it would be useful if milk was included.
With regard to radiological emergencies we are speaking of being exposed to significant levels of ionising radiation, but of course the key to a radiological emergency hinges on what is meant by "significant". I wonder if the Minister will at some point provide the necessary definition as to what triggers the radiological emergency.
The institute will lay down the relevant levels subsequent to the Bill being passed, if that is not already covered under the existing nuclear emergency legislation. As regards the point raised about milk and meat, they are inside the animal and are therefore covered by the inclusion of animals.
So are eggs.
I think we can take it that the addition of "or other thing" covers anything about which there may be concern and which is not specifically covered.
I do not see a section enabling the institute to define the levels of ionising radiation that constitute an emergency. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that such a power is being given to the institute.
I would be advised by the institute as to the levels at which they consider an emergency would deem to exist.
Where is the Minister providing for the issuing of those criteria?
The institute have very wide-ranging powers under the Bill, and we will be dealing with those sections later.
Is the Minister satisfied that they will have such powers?
Yes, I am satisfied. I think the Deputy will agree that this is a very comprehensive Bill which enables the institute to deal very adequately with the matter he has raised. They will give their advice to the nuclear accident committee where they feel the levels are such that emergency action is required.
I agree with the Minister that the words "or other thing" would cover practically everything but, from the point of view of public perception, since eggs, poultry and fish are mentioned, people would find it surprising that milk and meat, particularly sheepmeat — the two main items about which people are concerned — are not included.
To meet the Deputy's point, I will consider the inclusion of meat and milk, and if it is confirmed to me that it would be appropriate to include them I will be happy to do so on Report Stage. However, if I am advised that there is no need for their inclusion, that they are covered by the interpretation here, I will leave it as it stands.
I will leave it to the Minister's discretion.
Amendment No. 5 in the name of Deputy Mac Giolla. Amendment No. 6 is related and it is proposed, therefore, for discussion purposes to take amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
"3.—Where it is proposed to make an order or regulation under this Act (other than an order made under section 5 or 32 of this Act), a draft of each such order or regulation shall be laid before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and shall not come into effect until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.".
This is the type of amendment we have put down to quite a number of Bills over the last few years regarding ministerial orders and regulations. The Bill says "that every order made under this Act shall be laid before the House as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order or the regulation is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the order or the regulation is laid before it, the order or the regulation shall be annulled accordingly." Small groups, Independents and individuals in the Dáil find it very difficult to put down a resolution annulling the order before the House within the required 21 sitting days. Apart from that, it is a much more positive thing, from a democratic point of view, that the ministerial order be laid before the House and is required to be passed before the order becomes effective. We should like to bring in a new section which means that the present section would be deleted. The wording of the new section is in my amendment.
We are entering a new area of radiological protection which may change quite a lot with new technological advances in food, preservation and so on. Where the Minister is making orders, certainly under this Bill, they should be laid before the House and required to be passed by resolution of the House, in other words, the Minister brings in a resolution of the House to pass them before they are approved. The intention of my amendment is that ministerial regulations laid before the House will not come into effect until a resolution approving them has been passed.
I share Deputy Mac Giolla's concern about this sort of provision and, in principle, there are many cases where the point he made is correct. Is this really necessary in the case of the two sections here? One provides for the establishment of the institute and the other, as I understand it, provides for designating countries which are parties to the protection convention. The 21 day provision is probably sufficient for these provisions. If it was a more far-reaching order I would agree with Deputy Mac Giolla that the House should have the right to scrutinise it, but in this instance — maybe he will correct me if I am wrong — it seems that it is essentially just triggering things to which no one could object. In that instance it seems reasonable that the requirement of a positive approval should perhaps be waived by the House. I should like to hear Deputy Mac Giolla's arguments if he feels there are very strong reasons for a contrary view in this case.
There is an important matter of principle here, that as much as possible should be done by Dáil Éireann rather than by the Government, provided it does not have the effect of unduly delaying matters. This is a very important principle and it should apply to all these kinds of regulations. The opportunity should be given in Dáil Éireann — and in the Seanad — to deal with these matters. Therefore, I support Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment.
I oppose this amendment on the basis that the procedure already set out in section 3 is the established practice. The intention is to ensure that orders are made as speedily as possible and come into force without any undue delay. This approach is especially relevant in the context of a radiological emergency, as the Deputy will appreciate, where speedy decisions are of the essence. However, having said that, I propose an amendment to this section which I wish to move.
I will ask the Minister to formally move his amendment later as we must first dispose of amendment No. 5.
Very well. The Deputy will have noted my intention to move my amendment later. This section requires that every order or regulation made under the Act, apart from the order relating to the establishment day, must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as possible after it is made. An order or regulation laid before the House will be annulled if either House passes a resolution within 21 days annulling the order or regulation but, of course, such annulment does not prejudice the validity of anything previously done under the order or regulation.
It is fair to make an exception of the establishment day order from the requirements of that section to ensure that there is no doubt or delay relating to the chosen date of the establishment of the institute and to the dissolution of the board. As mentioned by Deputies who contributed, this Bill has been a long time in preparation as certain matters caused it to be delayed. Now that it is before the House I am sure it is the intention of Members, having debated and passed it in an amended form, that its main provisions are implemented as soon possible, in other words, that the new institute is established and the existing Nuclear Energy Board disestablished. There should not be any need for delay in regard to this and, if we adopted Deputy Mac Giolla's proposal there could be a delay, which I do not think is his intention.
It is certainly not my intention to delay matters but I do not see how my amendment would have that effect because the Minister can bring a regulation in on the first day. It can be laid before the House and passed straightaway, there is no problem in that regard. When the order has been brought in you do not have to wait 21 days if the motion is moved by the Government side. The reason for the 21 day delay is to give an opportunity to other sides of the House — or Independent Deputies — to make whatever arrangements they can to have a motion laid before the House annulling it. I do not think it has ever happened because they have never got around to it as it is an impossible thing to do. That is why I am saying that it is a simple, democratic procedure, the Minister brings his order before the House and it is passed on the first day. Therefore, there is no question of delaying anything and I am anxious not to hold up anything. I want to push this amendment.
If the House is agreed that this Bill should be brought into law as quickly as possible and the institute established, there does not seem to be any need for the amendment.
I wish the Chair to put the amendment.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 7, line 6, to delete "32" and substitute "35".
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 7, subsection (1) (c), line 40, after "advise", to insert "the public,".
On a point of order, in section 6 when agreeing that "the provisions of the First Schedule of this Act have effect with respect to the institute", I take it that that does not preclude us from amending the Schedule?
It does not.
Subsection (1) (c) is to advise the Government, the Minister and other Ministers of the Government on measures for the protection of individuals in the State from radiological hazards. My amendment seeks to insert after "advise" the words "the public". That is a very important factor. The day has gone when information can be passed secretly to the Government but kept from the public. This area in particular has been clouded in secrecy by Governments throughout the world. With regard to Sellafield, for example, the deviousness in responding to things that happen there is something else. This is a Bill for the protection of the public so the public must know what the institute are doing.
As the Minister admitted, the response of the Nuclear Energy Board to Chernobyl was, to say the least, lacking in urgency. It was known where the radioactive cloud was at any given time and other Governments were way ahead of us in monitoring and testing with a view to protecting the public. Nothing was done here until the nuclear cloud had almost passed us. The first monitoring began on the Sunday after considerable rain which made the problem even worse here than in other countries. The Nuclear Energy Board were not open in their response. They responded by saying that things were not serious or significant. They gave the same sort of glib answers we get from Windscale, from Sellafield and from British Nuclear Fuels. We are still told that discharges are insignificant, will have no effect and so on.
The Minister, in this Bill, should ensure that the public have confidence in the new institute and that they are aware of what the institute are doing. The institute should be open to the public especially in relation to measures for the protection of individuals in the State from radiological hazards. The institute is supposed to be independent and it is important that it should have independence from the Government. No matter how honest or straightforward a Government or a Minister, the public will always suspect that they are covering up something. The public will have more confidence in a professional independent institute which gives information publicly. My amendment seeks to make it one of the functions of the institute to advise the public as well as the Government, the Minister and other Government Ministers.
My amendment No. 9 is similar to that of Deputy Mac Giolla. I share his concern in this area. We should recall the weaknesses that were exposed in the Nuclear Energy Board. Not only were they caught off guard and proved to have defective systems of communication with the public but they had not seen their role as advising the public. That was a very major problem exposed by the Chernobyl accident. Their telephone lines got clogged and information did not flow freely to the public. People were left in confusion; there was a panic reaction and concern was created.
A very explicit mandate for the Radiological Protection Institute should be that it should have a role in advising and educating the public about radiological issues. A very serious weakness is the lack of understanding and the lack of effort to create an understanding of radiological hazard. That is why, for example, the problem of radon gas, an acute problem in the west of Ireland, has never been properly addressed. The public have not been made aware by the Nuclear Energy Board and the board have not had a proper mandate to make the public aware of this hazard.
I would remind the House that a previous Minister abused a similar provision in the mandate of the Nuclear Energy Board on an occasion that many in the House will recall, when an officer of the Nuclear Energy Board issued a view to the public about a particular radiological development in Britain. He was disciplined by the Minister and the Minister insisted that in future any such statement should come through his Department and be sanitised by the Minister. That is highly unsatisfactory. The current Minister's party at the time were as disturbed as my party at the abuse that was permitted to the former Minister by virtue of the fact that the role given to the Nuclear Energy Board was to report to him so that he could advise the Government, but not to advise the public. The use the Minister made of that provision was to prevent the Nuclear Energy Board from advising the public on an issue which an official thought to be of sufficient public concern and public interest that the public should have an expert view. We do not want that sort of situation to continue, and this Minister would not want such a situation to continue. I expect that the Minister will give a very positive reaction to amendment No. 7 and amendment No. 9 which is similar.
I do not want to rake over the coals but in considering this issue we must recall the Minister concerned is the Minister for Energy, and like it or not, ten years ago, the self same Minister and a colleague proposed the building of a nuclear plant. In that context a radiological protection institute is the public defender against the plans of the Department of Energy. While we all agree that there should not be nuclear capacity for Ireland, this legislation does not ban the possibility that that might occur or the possibility that a Minister could, in the future, decide that nuclear power was appropriate to Ireland. In that context the provision of the right to advise the public independently of the Government and the Minister is a very important element in this Bill.
Similar legislation in other countries where they have protection agencies of this nature, very commonly have reporting rights and advice rights to a Special Committee of the Houses of Parliament, built into it. That is not provided for here. There are only provisions for annual reports which go to the Minister for Energy before coming to the Oireachtas. In other jurisdictions there would be direct reporting either to the public or to the Parliament. I strongly favour the concept behind this amendment and I hope the Minister will see the wisdom of it.
The section could be strengthened by these amendments. I do not know whether the matter of educating the public is provided for in the section but there does not appear to be any obligation laid down in this section to involve the public. As has been said, the public would have an important part to play in any emergency or in any measure for their own protection. It could be argued on the Minister's side that this is provided for in subsection (1) (c), in other words that the institute will have powers to advise the Minister for Education to introduce some educational courses to give young people an idea of what should be done in the event of an emergency. It could be argued that the institute would also inform the Department of Health who in turn would inform their health boards and all those in the medical area on what to do. Similarly the Department of the Environment might be informed by the institute. Perhaps all that can be read into subsection (1) (c) but I hope the Minister can suggest something even more embracing than that laid in the amendments to strengthen the section because if it is seen purely as a Government or ministerial responsibility the public will not be that interested in it. The success or otherwise of the whole exercise will depend on the co-operation of the public, and co-operation depends on the knowledge they have. If the public have not been advised or educated in this area, it will be useless relying on a procedure involving someone going on radio and television to advise them on what they should do after a disaster has occurred. That would be far too late. I hope the Minister will agree to these amendments but if not perhaps he can suggest something as good or better by way of involving the public, both young and old, at all levels.
I would like to support this amendment in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton, and the other allied amendments. I was here during the debate on Deputy Shatter's Bill proposing the setting up of an environmental protection agency. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Harney, was in the House, too, for most of that debate. In the course of that debate we talked about radiological protection in this island and the means of ensuring it. The Minister gave us an assurance that that was not required in the context of an environmental protection agency, that it would be handled under a Bill which was in preparation. That is the Bill we are now discussing.
If this new institute is to become a elitist academic body whose operations will be secret and known only to the Minister and a few close associates, then, of course, it will defeat the purpose. If, God forbid, there was to be another accident like Chernobyl, or more minor accidents, people need to know where they can turn for advice. It must be advice that sets their minds at rest because the whole area of radiation and accidents such as this gives rise to a considerable amount of concern and panic. It is important that full public knowledge would be available.
I have read the statement by the Minister for the Environment where he announced perhaps for the first, but maybe for the second, third or fourth time, the proposed environmental protection agency. It was very much on his mind that this agency would be available for the public to contact had they complaints to make. The Minister for Energy should take on board the concept that we must have an agency which I or anybody else can telephone for assurance or for information.
I would also like to know whether, under the provisions of this amendment, an institute such as this would be available to be called to give evidence or information to an Oireachtas committee. It would be very important that we would not be told that this is the private instrument of the Minister and cannot be questioned in any way in front of elected Members of the Dáil or Seanad. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether it is his intention that that institute would be so private as that. If that were to be the case we could run into extreme difficulties.
Some years ago in Sutton in north County Dublin a major problem arose where gas escaped under a block of up-market apartments. The occupiers had to be evacuated for many weeks and did not know where to turn. The problem was shunted from one agency to another: the county council, the Department of the Environment and the body which is now being replaced here. Nobody wanted to take responsibility. All that time the residents and the people in the area were not sure whether the gas which was escaping was methane or radon. That highlighted for me, at a local level, the need for some agency where I could get direct answers with no fudging and where I would not need to have a high powered masters degree or doctorate on the subject to get some straight answers. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment, as I am sure he will, in the openness of the party he represents.
I should like to support either amendment No. 7 or amendment No. 9. My instinct is that amendment No. 9 is the better one. Later in the debate perhaps Deputy Mac Giolla will indicate his agreement with me. I think it is better to set out the rights of the public in a separate subsection. The Minister may say this is unnecessary and that, of course, the public will be advised. That may or may not be so but it is important to allay the disquiet of the public. The public are entitled to have the benefit of a specific provision in this Bill to ensure they will be advised on what is taking place. The whole secrecy business reflects very badly. We badly need a freedom of information Act; until we have that there will be much public disquiet about the manner in which our system works.