Deputy Garland was in possession and reported progress. Níl sé anseo anois. Have we completed discussion on amendment No. 7?
Private Members' Business. - Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Deputy Mac Giolla has proposed the insertion of "the public," after "advise". This is an important paragraph as it gives the institute the function of advising the Government, the Minister and other Ministers on the radiation protection of persons in the State. This is the first of three general advisory functions of the institute. Along with the monitoring functions, the advisory functions are another major group of the institute's functions. The provision of expert advice to the Government on radiation protection is one of the main reasons the institute is to be set up.
Deputy Mac Giolla has asked that we include "the public", in other words that the public also be advised by the institute. I made it clear on Second Stage that it was my intention that this new Radiological Protection Institute would, as far as I could make it possible through legislation, be an independent body in order to ensure that the public would have every assurance that the advice to be given by the new institute would be the best possible advice based on the professional expertise of those who worked in the institute and those who were appointed to its board. In order to achieve the objective of ensuring that there is a widespread public perception of the independence of the Radiological Protection Institute, I will be proposing a number of amendments on Committee Stage. There will be opportunities to discuss these proposed changes as we move on to the later sections.
In accord with that spirit I have no difficulty in accepting the principle behind Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment which is similar to my own objective as stated on Second Stage and restated now. I am prepared to accept the principle of the amendment but would seek the Deputy's agreement that the words "and the public" be inserted after the word "Government" in line 41. That would achieve what he and I are anxious to achieve. It is merely positioning the words "the public" in a more appropriate place in subsection (1) (c).
I thank the Minister for that.
There is a format which needs to be satisfied. Does the House give leave to amend amendment No. 7 in the manner proposed? Agreed.
I move amendment to amendment No. 7:
In page 7, subsection (1) (c), line 41, after "Government" to insert "and the public".
Does Deputy Bruton wish to speak on the amended amendment?
Yes. As you know, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I put forward an alternative amendment as amendment No. 9.
We have not reached amendment No. 9 yet.
They are related in that they are providing for precisely the same power for the institute. One is suggesting advising the institute and the other is merely using the words "to provide information to the public".
There is a very strict formality to be complied with; I am afraid we will have to wait until we reach that amendment.
I am not trying to move amendment No. 9. I am trying to clarify the meaning of the suggested amendment.
I suggest that if Deputy Bruton waits until we come to amendment No. 9 in his name we may be able to deal with it in a satisfactory manner.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, subsection (1) (e), line 4, to delete "assist" and substitute "co-ordinate".
This is one of a number of amendments I have tabled seeking to expand and clarify the functions of the institute. Amendment No. 8 specifically proposes that the role of the institute in relation to planning, in the event of a radiological emergency, would be extended from simply one of assisting in the planning to being the central co-ordinating agency for a radiological emergency plan. If we are putting together people with skill and expertise in the radiological area, we should equally entrust them with the role of co-ordinating and executing an emergency plan. It goes without saying that a radiological emergency requires very specific skills in relation to intervening where radiation levels have risen above acceptable levels. It would seem to me that we need a central agency that is not only charged with the task of co-ordinating the response but also reports regularly to the public on the state of preparedness of those plans. In the last emergency when the radiation from Chernobyl put Ireland under threat, there was no real co-ordinating body. The Nuclear Energy Board did not succeed in acting as an effective co-ordinating body for our response to that emergency. Various Ministers seemed to suggest that they had the power but there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to where exactly the power lay and who was to do what.
In an effort to improve and clarify the Minister's plans in this area I propose that if we are setting up a radiological protection board and bringing in people with a range of proven knowledge and expertise in this field, the sensible thing to do is to give them the right to execute and co-ordinate the planning and preparations. In the event of such an emergency happening, which God forbid, they would be the central agency bringing together all the information coming in from the regions, compiling it and producing the needed response.
Section 7 (1) (e) provides that it will be a function of the institute to assist in the planning and implementation of measures to deal with radiological emergencies. Because of the nature of radioactive substances and nuclear devices, proper emergency planning to enable swift and adequate measures to be taken to minimise the effects of a release of radioactive material as a result of a nuclear accident or other occurrence is very important.
Following the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 — this was referred to by Deputy Bruton — a national emergency plan for nuclear accidents was drafted by an interdepartmental committee chaired by my Department. The plan involves the deployment of a network of radiation monitoring devices around the country in order to detect any increases in radiation, a system to enable notification of an accident abroad to be received and the rapid calling together of a nuclear accident committee, following the notification or detection of raised radiation levels, to direct the response and identification of the roles and functions of the various Government Departments, agencies and other bodies in relation to the emergency.
The Government approved this venture of approximately £900,000 in 1988 to be phased in over a four year period for planning, for the purchase of equipment, the recruitment of approved staff and other running costs arising from the plan. Much of the necessary equipment for the operation of the plan has been purchased and it is now operational. Some further work on the elaboration by Government Departments and other agencies of their roles is in progress. A limited test of the plan has taken place and further tests will be held from time to time. When it is established, the institute will take over the functions and resources of the board in relation to the emergency plan.
The amendment proposes the deletion of the word "assist" in section 7 (1) (e) and the substitution of the word "co-ordinate". I want to inform the House that under the national plan for a radiological emergency my Department have been designated as the co-ordinating body for the work of all the relevant State agencies such as the Nuclear Energy Board. The Radiological Protection Institute will, of course, continue to fulfil the important role of assisting in the planning and implementation of measures to deal with a radiological emergency. I cannot, therefore, accept the amendent.
In what way does the Minister envisage his Department having the expertise necessary to co-ordinate an emergency plan for a radioactive accident of one sort or another over and above the expertise which will be available in this institute? If we are setting up an institute to protect the public is it not more logical that we should go the whole hog and give them responsibility for co-ordination? After all, as I understand it, we are drawing together in this board the expertise in radiation matters. Rather than leaving it to the Department of Energy to maintain expertise to duplicate that work, would it not be more appropriate to give the task to the institute? Will the Minister elaborate on why he believes this planning should not be executed by the body which, on the face of it, looks like the one to which we will entrust all the skills, who will run the network of monitoring and, as I understand it, receive many of the notifications. Why do we not go the whole hog and let them execute the plans as well?
The Deputy may be under a misapprehension in saying that the Department will retain a lot of the expertise. The Department will have a co-ordinating role and the expertise for dealing with radioactive substances and the implementation of the necessary measures to deal with that will rest with the institute. The planning will be greatly dependent on the assistance given by the institute. The co-ordinating role of the Department is important. We must realise that in an emergency of that kind one would not be just activating the Nuclear Energy Board or the institute when it is established but one would also have to have access to the whole spectrum of activities throughout the country. All Government Departments can be involved in one way or another in certain situations and in all the different areas of activity in the economy which need to be co-ordinated. I believe a Government Department is the appropriate body to have responsibility for that co-ordination role rather than handing it over to the institute. I believe the Minister would be reneging on his responsibilities in this instance if he were to give the full co-ordinating role to the institute. Obviously the institute will play a vital part in assisting in the planning, as is provided in the section, but I do not think it is appropriate that they should be the co-ordinators of the activation of the plan. I think this matter has proceeded satisfactorily. As I have said, there has been one test already and following close examination of the results of that test the plan will be brought before the Cabinet and after it is approved it will be published.
Would the Minister have any objection to the institute assisting in the co-ordination as well as the planning and implementation of measures?
If the Deputy reads section 7 (1) (e) he will see that it gives the institute the power to assist in the planning and implementation of measures.
What about assisting in the co-ordination——
I think the Deputy is splitting hairs. They will have the power to assist in the planning and implementation of measures. The buck has to stop somewhere and I think it is appropriate in this case that the Minister for Energy and his Department should be responsible for co-ordinating all these activities on the part of the State, particularly when such a wide range of other bodies are going to be involved in the successful implementation of such a plan if it is ever necessary to put it into operation, something which all of us hope and pray will never happen.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to publish such an emergency plan. Can he also give us an assurance that we will have access to independent assessment of that plan for the institute? I think many people are worried — perhaps this is borne in on them by experience — that when the memory of a serious accident such as Chernobyl fades from the mind the vigilance and resources devoted to keeping such a plan up-to-date would slacken. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the institute will be in a position to critically appraise the state of preparedness for a radiological emergency and will inform the public and the House of their view as to the adequacy of the resources provided and the adequacy of preparedness based on their ability to test what is in place?
I am sure the chair will agree that I am slightly inhibited in that the Deputy is asking questions about a plan which has not yet been finalised or formally approved in its final state. Until it is and until it is published it would be more appropriate to reserve our comments. There can certainly be a public debate on the contents of the plan when published. Under the provisions of the plan an accident committee will be established who will report to the Minister, who will then report to the Government. The House will accept that it is necessary for the Minister of the day to be responsible for serious national matters of this nature. A lot is at stake and it is appropriate that a Minister should report on these issues to the Government, not an institute operating under the aegis of the Minister.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following paragraph:
"(k) to provide information to the public on any matters relating to radiological safety which it deems fit.".
I expressed my views on this amendment during the debate on amendment No. 7. It is critical that the public should receive information from the institute which is not in any way sanitised or censored by a Minister or Government Department. We have had bad experience in the past where a Minister tried to intervene to stop information flowing from the Nuclear Energy Board. While I welcome the Minister's amendment to an earlier section regarding the right to advise the public, it should be made clear that the provision of information and advice to the public will be independent of Government policy of the day and that the institute will not be beholden to the views of future Governments about the use of nuclear power or a Minister's views about how we should conduct international negotiations or dealings with EURATOM. EURATOM has been extremely unsatisfactory for Ireland from the point of view of radiological protection. It is essentially a club of Energy Ministers, the bulk of whom are wedded to the idea of nuclear power. We should set an example by establishing an independent institute who can advise the public independently of what a Minister for Energy might be saying at EURATOM. This is crucial and should be enshrined in a separate section which copperfastens the institute's right to speak directly to the public on affairs it regards as important. That would include criticism of Government policy in relation to preparedness for an emergency or in relation to the negotiating position being taken in international bodies and so on. It is important that the public get clear information based on the best possible scientific evidence. I hope the Minister will agree.
I support this amendment. It is right that there should be a separate section giving the function to the institute of providing information to the public. I commend the Minister for accepting my earlier amendment providing that the public be advised. It is more significant than might be apparent and certainly gives me much greater confidence in the type of institute the Minister has in mind. The great problem in the past was secrecy and attempts to cover up by officials or boards lest the public be panicked. The Minister is correct in saying that the public will not panic over any information given but are very anxious for as much information as possible. The Minister's attitude in making it more open and in providing advice to the public, as well as the Government and Ministers, is a very good indication of a more open institute.
Deputy Bruton's amendment provides that it should be a specific function of the institute to provide information. It should be possible for a member of the public to ring up the institute and ask for information. If this were listed in the functions, it would be a good addition.
I thank Deputy Mac Giolla for his generous words. I am glad that the spokespersons accept my good faith in this matter. It will be seen in the other amendments I am bringing forward that it is my intention to copperfasten as far as I can in legislation the independence of this institute in carrying out its functions under this Bill.
In keeping with my policy of independence for the institute and in the context of Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment No. 7 to which I have already agreed, I will accept the principle of this amendment. I would ask Deputy Bruton to agree to a slight change. As he has worded the amendment it could lead to a different interpretation from that intended. I propose replacing the word "it" in the last line of the amendment with the words "the Institute". As originally worded it could be interpreted to mean that the public deemed it fit. In order to ensure that there is no doubt about what the amendment proposes, I am asking Deputy Bruton to agree to that change. If so, I can accept the amendment.
I am delighted to accept that and I thank the Minister. This area is significant because it is the essence of any protection institute that the right to advise the public is at its heart. The Minister is to be commended on his attitude.
Does the House agree to give leave to amend amendment No. 9 in the manner proposed by the Minister? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following paragraph:
"(1) to enter into arrangements with the Government, the Minister for the Environment and such other persons or bodies as appropriate to provide a safe and secure system of disposal of radioactive waste created within the country.".
This amendment is born out of considerable frustration over the years at the snail's pace progress we have made towards having a secure system for the disposal of radioactive waste created within the country. I understand the bulk of our waste, if not kept in secure sites in Ireland, is sent back to the producer, to the UK in many cases, for disposal. The Nuclear Energy Board have been critical of the facilities available for storage of many radioactive substances used in Ireland. In view of the record in this area, I am anxious to see in legislation the provision that it is the clear function of the institute to sort out this issue, which has been bedevilling the country for a very long time. It is particularly important at present because my understanding of the European Community's attitude to toxic waste of different sorts is that increasingly the policy will be that states must look after waste created within their own borders, and the option of sending waste back to manufacturers or other countries will be closed off to Ireland. The reason I sponsored this amendment is that I wish to see this issue brought up front to ensure we create a strategy for the secure storage of waste. Even though the Nuclear Energy Board in their report did not indicate a need for panic, they quite clearly indicated that they did not regard the present arrangements as satisfactory. I think we should take this opportunity to bring the issue to a head.
I support the amendment. It is surprising that there is no reference to radioactive waste in the Bill. I hope the Minister will indicate what his intentions are in this regard.
I also support the amendment. There is a serious problem in disposing of our low level radioactive waste, some of which is being disposed of at Sellafield which is not very satisfactory. It is my understanding that the Irish flag flies outside Sellafield as an indication of the good relationship which exists between us at customer level. I find it very strange that, on the one hand, we are trying to have it closed down and, on the other, we are dealing with these people. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this problem of the disposal of low level radioactive waste.
I wish to support my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, who has tabled this amendment. Like other speakers, I find it extraordinary that the Minister has not included such a provision in the Bill. Perhaps he would let us know why he felt it would be inappropriate to provide for the disposal of radioactive waste here and of our low level radioactive waste which is disposed of at Sellafield. I agree with Deputy Garland on this point and have in front of me some quotations from what the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, said about Sellafield polluting the Irish Sea and so on, despite the fact that we give tacit approval to the disposal of radioactive waste at Sellafield. Therefore we are trying to speak out of both sides of our mouth at the one time.
I am deeply concerned at the growing problem we face in this country in relation to the disposal of radioactive substances and materials from such places as hospitals and academic institutions which carry out research involving the use of radioactive isotopes and other materials. More and more we are beginning to hear reports about radioactive waste and other serious toxic materials being unearthed around the country. Recently I spoke to someone involved in the disposal business and he told me some hair-raising stories about where some of the waste from our hospitals, which might be radioactive, is ending up. He also said that it is given to people who might not always be as diligent or as moral about where it is disposed of, with the result that, as the soil is gradually eroded from around the pits where this material is buried, it will come to the surface again and might present a danger to people. Needless to say we have all read reports about waste which has been washed up on our beaches or found in out of the way places. If the Minister is not going to accept the amendment, I ask him to allay our fears by ensuring that the radiological institute will monitor the disposal of radioactive waste in this country.
There can be no doubt that considerable public concern would be expressed if a decision was made to build a radioactive waste disposal facility. Fears about radioactivity are widespread and a consultation process would be necessary with people living close to any proposed location for such a facility. That having been said, it goes to highlight some of the difficulties we are confronted with in arriving at a point where we can make a decision regarding disposal in our own country. Before I go any further I should say to the Deputies that reference is made in the Bill to disposal under section 7 (1) (d).
The reality, as has been said, is that there is no site in Ireland where radioactive waste can be disposed of. Hospitals and laboratories dispose of low level radioactive waste by storing it on site and dispose of high level radioactive elements by returning them to the supplier. The Nuclear Energy Board and some users have for many years been seeking the establishment of a central disposal site. The problem was previously highlighted during the preparations for the possible re-entry into the earth's atmosphere of the Soviet satellite, Cosmos 1900, in the autumn of 1988, when it became clear that in the event of radioactive satellite debris falling on Ireland there was nowhere here to dispose of it.
The Nuclear Energy Board carried out a survey of radioactive waste disposal in Ireland and the findings of that survey were published in December 1988. In summary, the report indicated that a very small amount of radioactive waste was produced in Ireland, mainly from the use of isotopes in nuclear medicine and radiotherapy. Ninety-nine per cent of this waste is discharged as patient excreta to the sewers. Should there be a substantial increase in the usage of radioactive isotopes a change in disposal methods would be necessary. However, the report indicated that no increase in usage is expected during the next five years.
The International Atomic Energy Agency have a waste disposal advisory service called WAMAP, waste management advisory programme, and this service visits countries on request to assess the disposal situation and to identify solutions. We invited the IAEA in August of last year to send a mission here, but as there is a backlog of requests to the WAMAP for such missions we have been informed that we are unlikely to receive a visit from them until mid-1991. It is intended that proposals for a suitable waste disposal facility will be fully considered following the recommendations of the WAMAP team when they come here in the middle of next year.
It is clear from what I have said that the disposal of radioactive waste is a matter of grave concern for me and that I have provided for it in this Bill at section 7 (1) (d) and (g). A great many areas are covered by these sections and I do not think it would be appropriate to insert specific proposals into the Bill. Indeed, it would seem from Deputy Bruton's introductory remarks that he was availing himself of the opportunity to highlight the need for such a system for the disposal of radioactive waste in this country, and I fully support the concern he has expressed. I trust that he and the House would accept my anxiety to make progress in this matter, as evidenced by the approach to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Unfortunately the delay since I became Minister has been caused by a number of requests that the special management advisory programme group have received from others prior to our request having been submitted. It is a hopeful sign to be able to indicate that they will be coming here within the next six or seven months. Armed with their expertise and knowledge we hope to be placed in a better position in which to take a decision in this matter. I am not at all unaware of the type of difficulties that can arise. I have a lot of political experience of the type of issues about which the public are wary. I know there is a need at all times to have open discussion and consultation before taking any decision. Certainly it would be my intention — based on whatever advice emanates from the advisory programme people and the institute, which I hope will be established by then, from officials of my Department and others in the planning areas, encompassing expertise in various Departments, in the Environmental Protection Agency — which I hope will also be established by then — that all of these people and agencies will proffer their advice, and we will take our decisions based on the best possible advice available. I have no doubt but that there will be some difficult decisions to be taken in regard to the actual location. There is no point in my anticipating that until I see what emerges by way of proposals. Having said that, I do not think it is appropriate that we should have specific proposals of this nature when they are covered in the broad spectrum of responsibility being allocated under this section; we are not short of legislation, rather we are short of action in regard to the matter. I am facing up to that in the best way I can. Hopefully the point will be arrived at at which a decision can be taken without too much delay. I do not think it is appropriate that it be written in in the form suggested in the amendment. I take the intent of the amendment but I am afraid I will have to oppose it.
I should like to make a couple of points. While acknowledging that there is reference to disposal, it is in the context of advising the Government and the Minister. As I understand it, the Nuclear Energy Board have already made clear their advice, that this is a deficiency that must be addressed. It is also my understanding that the direction of European thinking is to close off the opportunity for disposal in the manner in which we now do so.
While accepting the Minister's good faith that he is looking at this problem I would have to say, with respect, that writing off to whoever are these people — WMAPs — asking them to come and see us is hardly a great step down the road. They may be able to provide us with some useful advice on how we should put the thing in place. But the issue has been established at this stage, that we do need such a disposal centre. The question that arises is really not another review to go back over the 1988 review by the Nuclear Energy Board; that is not what is needed but rather an action plan to put this disposal centre in place.
Where my amendment differs from the approach of the Minister is that I am seeking to actually locate the initiative for doing this with the institute who have the skills and who have their fingers on the pulse. It does not appear to me that the initiative, wherever it now rests, is being properly acted upon. This has been around for a long time; there would not appear to be a great deal of urgency. The merit of giving this as a function to the institute is that it would be one of their specialised jobs to set about dealing with the problems that will be thrown up in finding answers to this problem. I do not have great confidence that the Government, with other pressures on their minds, will be responding to this need in the same way as an institute which is tailor-made to address the task.
May I pose a straight question to the Minister arising out of his reply? After the establishment of this institute who will be responsible for dealing with complaints on the part of members of the public, local authorities or others about suspicions that might arise about the disposal of radioactive substances? Will it be the local authority, the Department of the Environment, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland? With the greatest respect to local authority officials, they are not trained to recognise and fully appreciate the dangers of radioactive substances. The Minister is losing an opportunity to bring together all of the issues relating to radioactive, radiological studies and so on under the one umbrella where the expertise will rest. There have been complaints lodged at local authority level from time to time on the part of the people who suspect that radioactive substances are being dumped indiscriminately. Such radioactive substances may not be dumped indiscriminately but, with the greatest respect to local authority officials, they are not always able to tell; they can be blinded by scientists or others who will contend: no, there is nothing wrong with that, there is no danger involved. Once the words "radioactive" or irradiation" are used at all, the Minister will be aware, as a member of a local authority, they cause the greatest concern and emotional reaction. The Minister must acknowledge that there are academic institutions, such as some of the universities, one of which disposes of some of their material on the fringe of mine and Deputy Bruton's constituencies. A few years ago when they sought planning permission from Dublin County Council the reaction was that they were going to build a nuclear bomb or something of that nature; that is the kind of reaction one gets.
The Minister is losing an opportunity to bring this all under the one heading to ensure there is a proper, expert body able to examine and decide whether something is radioactive when found in a ditch, field or wherever. Will the Minister say who will be responsible? To whom can I or any other member of the public lodge a complaint — once this institute has been established — whenever I suspect the remains of academic research and radioactive isotopes are being dumped indiscriminately, or even going into ordinary domestic tipheads?
In deference to the Deputy, if it is not clear already, her inquiry affords me an opportunity to make it clear. When the institute is established, provided they have the powers we intend giving them under this Bill, they will be the institute to whom the public should have recourse with any concerns they may have about contamination or danger to health from any radioactive substance. It will be the institute who will be the licence-issuing authority. It is to the institute that the public, or public bodies will have recourse to ascertain the facts.
I have already agreed to amendments tabled by Deputies Richard Bruton and Mac Giolla. I have said, and it is clear in the amendments I have tabled myself, that I am anxious to establish this institute so that they can operate as independently as possible of, for instance, my Department. I want the public to have the fullest possible confidence in the advice and information disseminated by this new institute once established; that is what we are doing here setting up that body. There should not be any confusion as to whom one should go for the kind of technical and professional advice one might require. I am well aware how easy it is to upset individuals and communities because of their fears about something they cannot see but which they know can cause them great damage if allowed to go out of control or in the event of some accident occurring. Therefore, it is important that we have the best possible safety procedures and that is the intention in the Bill.
Deputy Bruton talked about disposal, and the lack of a site. Yes, the Nuclear Energy Board in their study identified the problem. They have not formulated proposals but I will be requesting the institute, when established, to put forward firm proposals to me. Of course, it will be a matter for the Government to decide where this disposal site will be located and how it will operate. It would be prudent of me to take into account the best possible expertise available and the WAMAP will integrate authenticity into any decision the Government might make. It is proper that we get the best advice. We have had comment from Deputy Owen that the expertise certainly does not lie in many planning sections of local authorities. The officials are in the main civil engineers who may have a planning degree, and they cannot be expected to have this specialised expertise. It is hoped they will have the institute to consult for expert advice in this matter.
The difficulty I see is that we will have an institute with responsibility for responding to the public's concern who, if they find some radioactive waste illegally dumped, will not have the executive authority to find a safe and secure place for it. An integral part of what the institute should do and an integral part of the licensing procedure, is to police a secure site where radioactive waste can be disposed of. It is difficult to impose on them a licensing responsibility and a responsibility to deal with the public's concerns and breaches of regulations if they have not the wherewithal, responsibility and authority to resolve the problems that will be crossing their desk. The essence of this amendment has not really been met. I would feel better if we knew the institute would be reporting to the public on the state of progress in this area so that year by year they would be telling the public, "we have made such and such progress, put forward proposals to the Minister and are awaiting a response". That would give me some assurance that this was moving, but I feel the correct way to deal with this is to give executive authority to the institute.
It is a major problem and we all know it exists. As the Minister asked, if we get a site, can it ever be used? My problem is that I do not know very much about this business and neither do the majority of people. How safe can radioactive material be made if it is covered with lead and buried in concrete? For how many generations will it remain safe? Education will be an enormous part of the function of this institute. They will have to let us know, first, the very important uses in hospitals and colleges, Trinity and UCD or wherever, of various nuclear materials, nuclear devices and radioactive substances. The Minister told us something tonight that I never heard previously and I was quite shocked to hear it. He said something to the effect that 99 per cent of radioactive materials from hospitals are disposed of through human excreta and down the sewer. I understood that when hospitals are using various devices they have radioactive waste left over. I do not know what radioactive waste is. Has anybody seen it? Certainly, I never saw it to know what it looks like. The Minister tells us 99 per cent of it goes in through the human system and out through the sewers. I cannot follow that. We have no problem when there is only one per cent disposal——
When the 99 per cent does not cause a problem why should the one per cent cause us a problem?
Swallowing syringes and things?
Our problem is nearly solved. It may be that if we get a few more people to eat up some more of this radioactive waste the tiny percentage will be gone.
I would like a little sense to come into this. What in heaven's name are we talking about? By how much material must low level radioactive substances be covered before they become safe or can be picked up in your hand without harming you? People do not know about that. What they should know, but do not know, is how important these materials are for the health of people through their use in hospitals. Why are they needed? The Minister should tell us the various procedures that depend on the use of these substances. At the end of the day if we use radioactive materials we are going to have something left over. What are we going to have left over?
If there was a mine shaft 10,000 feet, or ten miles deep and one covered up the tiniest bit of radioactive waste in wads of lead — we have thousands of tons of lead in Tara Mines and more discovered in Galmoy; we have more lead to dispose of than any other country — by dropping it down that mine shaft, I would object if it was near my town because I know nothing about it. A major problem is that people know nothing about it.
I agree with Deputy Bruton's amendment, but if the institute find a safe and secure system of disposal will the public accept that it is safe and secure? Unfortunately, they will not at the moment. The Minister should see to it that the institute educate the people on what we are talking about and then it may be possible to get a safe and secure system acceptable to the public.
The institute's annual report would rightly contain all the information the Deputy has been requesting. Unfortunately the Nuclear Energy Board were established for a different purpose and at a time when it was planned to have a nuclear power station here. The legislation did not put a strong responsibility on the Nuclear Energy Board in regard to purely radiological protection. This Bill is specifically designed for that purpose. The institute will have a duty to make a full report on the matters raised in regard to levels. I will check whether the information I gave was new and whether it had been made public in one of the Nuclear Energy Board reports. I am not certain.
In fact I am in some difficulty here. maybe I could appeal to the Ceann Comhairle to help me. I have been advised that one of my advisers is not allowed to attend in the House because he is not a civil servant, and he is the one with the expertise in radioactive substances. He is from the Nuclear Energy Board. Would it be possible to seek the permission of the House to have my other official attend, or is that going beyond bounds? I could give the information quicker if he were here.
Yes, I think the House would wish to be facilitated in that regard I see no objection to it.
He cannot address us, can he?
Will he be glowing?
I am informed that large quantities of radioactive substances are used for medical purposes but not all become waste. Most of the radioactive substances are used for prognostic or therapeutic purposes. These substances have a short life as only a very small proportion becomes waste and, of that, most is discharged via the sewerage system. I understand that that information was given out in a report.
Unfortunately, I cannot accept the amendment. It is too specific. I have given as much information as I can about the intentions of the Department and the Government in regard to finding a suitable site and I would ask the House to accept my reasons for refusing the amendment.
On a point of clarification, I thought the Minister sought the permission of the House to make available to us some more information in this area. I did not understand that he had made it available.
I thought the information had not been published in any reports. A note came to me that it had. The information I was seeking at the time was to establish whether the information which Deputy Mac Giolla was claiming he had not heard before about disposal had been published previously and I understood that it had. It is accessible. In regard to the levels that Deputy Mac Giolla mentioned, that is all contained in the report and if any Deputy would like to have a copy of it, I would be happy to make it available to him as it is something that has already been published.
I understand that report was not concerned about the problem of human excreta going into the public sewer, but it still was not happy with the system for disposing of radioactive waste. I feel that this amendment is important. The institute is the body with the skills. The institute will have responsibility for licensing; it will have responsibility to the public for discovering and dealing with unlicensed disposal. At present, it is only being offered a facility to advise the Government. I will stick to my guns and press the amendment. The Institute should have the right to deal with this problem.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
- Bruton, Richard.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Carey, Donal.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Connor, John.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Creed, Michael.
- Crowley, Frank.
- Deasy, Austin.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Durkan, Bernard.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Finucane, Michael.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lee, Pat.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- McGrath, Paul.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Owen, Nora.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sheehan, Patrick J.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- 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.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- 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'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Stafford, John.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following paragraph:
"(m) to enter into arrangements with the Government, the Minister for the Environment and such other persons or bodies as appropriate to put in place a programme to deal with the presence of radon gas in excessive quantities in houses.".
Essentially this amendment provides that the institute would enter into arrangements to deal with the presence of radon gas in excessive quantities in homes. As most Members of the House will be aware work has been done recently in Ireland on the extent of radon gas. Indeed it is the largest proven problem in Ireland of radioactivity affecting the ordinary public. It is estimated that there are up to 100 deaths per annum due to excessive exposure to this naturally occuring radon gas which affects houses. The great concentration of the problem is obviousy in the west where it is associated with the rock formations there. In some counties up to 10 per cent of houses are experiencing levels of radiation from radon gas which are many times more than would be permitted from a civil use, such as a nuclear reactor. One hundred times higher exposures are being experienced by people in their homes than would be permitted to a member of the public from somewhere like Sellafield or a similar nuclear centre.
It is not a problem which can be quietly brushed aside; it is a real problem and the Government have not come up with an effective programme to deal with it. There has been talk but there is no effective programme to deal with it. In some counties there have been reports of schools experiencing very high levels of radon gas build-up. The children have been exposed to this radiation and it could cause long term damage to their health. Because it is such a serious problem the institute should put a programme in place to deal with it.
The significant thing about exposure to radon, unlike some of the other problems, is that it can be solved. The excessive build-up in houses can be successfully dealt with and, at an even lower cost, the design of new houses can ensure that this problem will not occur. The Department of the Environment have been very far behind in dealing with this and it is a good opportunity for the Minister, in taking overall responsibility for radiological protection, to give an impetus to the institute to drag the Department of the Environment into this field to deal effectively with the problem.
The question of the presence of radon gas in houses has been a matter of particular concern to me. Indeed, excessive quantities have been measured in my own constituency. However, the Deputy should be aware that a programme to tackle this problem is already in place. For some time now, the Nuclear Energy Board have been carrying out an intensive programme of monitoring and measuring radon levels in various parts of the country. Very strict action levels have now been set by the Government in this area.
The Department of the Environment are at present working on the production of guidelines for remedial measures for existing houses with high radon levels and for the building of houses in high radon risk areas. The Nuclear Energy Board have had an input to these guidelines and will continue to have an input under sections 7 (1) (b), (c) and (g) and section 8 (h). As with the Deputy's previous amendment, I am of the opinion that the question of radon gas is too specific a problem to be included in the Bill and, therefore, I must oppose it.
The Minister's faith in his colleague's ability to deal with this problem is touching because I do not think that anybody living in those areas has seen any of the guidelines or the concrete evidence of movement to deal with the problem. A real cost will be imposed on householders in this regard but there has not been an adequate warning — or identification of the problem — to them. We are still in the monitoring phase many years after the first UCD study brought it to our attention that there was a serious problem in parts of the Minister's constituency and in other areas in the west. I admire the Minister's loyalty to his colleague but I could not possibly agree that he has been effective in coming to grips with the problem. I am sorry that the Minister does not feel that this is an opportunity to seize the initiative in relation to what has to be done.
In relation to this problem and Deputy Richard Bruton's amendment, one does not want to be accused of scaremongering and frightening the people over and above the due level of care, attention and alertness required in relation to it.
We acknowledge that the existence of radon in dwelling houses, particularly in the west, is a relatively newly discovered phenomenon but I am not satisfied that the monitoring is being carried out on a wide scale and that there is the required vigilance to determine where it exists.
We do not doubt the Minister's sincerity in relation to this matter but we doubt the sincerity of the Department of the Environment and the manner in which they are tackling it. The Minister said that very strict action was being taken by the Department of the Environment but I should like to know whether the Minister is satisfied that his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, has issued strict guidelines, recommendations and designs (a) in relation to planning permissions which would issue in respect of new houses; (b) for the conversion of existing houses affected, and whether these are contained in the county development plans which are currently under review in each local authority, including the Minister's local authority in Galway.
there is a problem with radon in certain parts of the country, particularly in the west and, as I said, my own constituency has shown some of the highest readings in the country. It first came to my notice when I read the report from the Nuclear Energy Board shortly after I became Minister for Energy and I immediately brought the matter specifically to the attention of my colleagues in Government. I have been in close touch with the Minister for the Environment in the matter because the best way to deal with it is through building regulations operated by the Department of the Environment.
Public notice has been given of the service of the Nuclear Energy Board advising that people should avail of their facilities to have their houses tested for radon. This service has been made available to the public at a nominal fee. I have commented on it on numerous occasions — and have given plenty of publicity to it — and I appeal to the public, particularly in western counties, to seek and avail of the services of the Nuclear Energy Board and to have their homes tested, particularly if they live in houses which have been built for some time.
The Department of the Environment have done a lot of study on this and the new building regulations will make provision where it will be a requirement to take certain steps to ensure that the radon emissions do not become a problem in a new house. Of course, the problem is mainly in old houses where some alterations to the floors are required if high readings are obtained. The necessary work will involve a cost but the first step the public should consider taking is to have their homes tested. All that is required to have the test carried out is the placing of a very small instrument in a cardboard box in each of the rooms in the House and the readings are taken over six to 12 months. In many cases it will be seen that there is not a need to take action but in those cases where the readings are high it will be necessary to take some action.
The Nuclear Energy Board have to date completed an initial survey of schools in the western counties. Initial measurements have been made in some 500 schools of which about 15 have levels in excess of the 150 becquerels per cubic meter. Further measurements will be made. The level adopted by the Government is 200 becquerels per cubic meter at which one should consider taking measures to reduce levels. One school mentioned in the Nuclear Energy Board report in the county from which Deputy Higgins comes and for which I have a special attachment was identified as having high readings. That matter was dealt with immediately on my instructions and there is not any problem there now.
It is important not to alarm the public. As Deputy Owen said, when one talks about radioactivity everyone gets the jitters. We must accept that there have been some high readings in some places but overall the situation is fairly satisfactory. We must identify the problem areas and take action there.
This amendment has given me the opportunity to give some information on this matter to the House. One of the ordinary responsibilities of the existing Nuclear Energy Board which will be carried through this Bill to the new institute relates to this and there is no need for a specific amendment relating to this area of responsibility. I am satisfied that the existing provision in the Bill places the responsibility on the institute to deal with this matter as it should be dealt with and that the Department of the Environment have a role to play, being the Department responsible for physical planning and the construction of houses. What is required are measures to be taken with regard to building regulations to deal with this matter.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following paragraph:
"(n) to set regulations in relation to the safe dosage level of radiation permitted in irradiating different foods and make recommendations regarding the appropriate labelling and notification to consumers of irradiated foods on the market.".
The level of exposure of foods to radiation doses for the purpose of preserving their shelf life is a matter of concern. There is considerable concern among the public about what constitutes safe levels and how these should be notified to consumers. The Bill as at presently constituted does not intend to deal with this, although it would appear that the Minister may be entitled to include it at a subsequent date, using his discretion. My amendment will bring this within the remit of the Bill. There is a growing concern among consumers perhaps not about health but about the right to know. There have been suggestions that foods exposed to high doses of radiation while they are not radioactive, do not show the normal rotting signs that would warn people not to use them and there may be problems with such foods. My amendment is a vehicle to deal with this problem.
I support this amendment. There is a lot of confusion about the irradiation of food. Radiation of any kind worries people. There is a lot of misunderstanding with regard to food and radiation. We need to tighten up on the uses of irradiation for food and the manner in which the consumer can be defrauded by food irradiation which is used to remove bacteria from rotting food, in other words, to give the impression that it is fresh when it is not. There is a need for Deputy Bruton's amendment.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether this is already covered in the Bill because I cannot see it. Perhaps it is hidden in the same way as we found in an earlier amendment where the Minister showed us that nuclear weapons were covered in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can show us a section that deals with the matter Deputy Bruton covered in this amendment. The Workers' Party will support this amendment.
I, too, will support this amendment, subject to what the Minister will say. There is considerable public disquiet about food irradiation. As the House knows a Private Members' Bill has been laid before the House in connection with this matter but in the meantime the Minister should make sure there is provision to cover food irradiation in the Bill and, if there is not, he should accept Deputy Bruton's amendment.
The question of irradiation of food is essentially within the responsibility of the Minister for Health and the amendment is, therefore, not appropriate to this legislation. The new Radiological Protection Institute will co-operate with the Department of Health as set out in the Bill. Under sections 7 (1) (f) and 7 (1) (g) the institute will have a special role in relation to the monitoring and regulating of irradiating apparatus. The areas of health and labelling of foods are matters for the Ministers for Health and Industry and Commerce. Food quality is the responsibility of the Minister for Health. When food is irradiated it is not radioactive. I will be opposing this amendment.
I can see some logic in what the Minister is saying in that he will be overseeing the equipment being used, but I am not satisfied that the Government have addressed the public concern in this area. The safe radiation levels are not specified in law here and we do not have labelling requirements in this area. While I can accept that the Minister is able to kick to touch under existing legislation by saying that provisions for health, food and labelling are not his responsibility, most members of the public would be concerned about this and would be looking to the Radiological Protection Institute to give them some independent line of advice in this area, which does not seem to be forthcoming from the bodies that have that responsibility.
The point that worries me is that this is the responsibility of the Minister for Health. Why then is it not the responsibility of the Minister for Health to monitor activity regarding ionising radiation levels in animals, poultry, eggs, fish or any other food? That does not appear to be the responsibility of the Minister for Health simply because it is obviously the responsibility of the institute we are setting up under the provisions of this Bill where we are talking about radiation levels.
In irradiating food there are obviously safe dosage levels and unsafe dosage levels. I agree with the Minister in that I would not like anything I say to give the impression that irradiated food is radioactive food or anything of that nature. That is an impression abroad which must be corrected. Nevertheless, if there is an unsafe dosage level surely it would result in radioactivity in food. The whole food chain is the direct responsibility of the Minister for Health but where anything in the nature of radiation is involved the institute must be involved. The Minister has already mentioned that the institute will advise in relation to international standards regarding ionising radiation and irradiating mechanisms. I cannot understand why the Minister is wiping his hands of this and saying he does not want to have anything to do with food irradiation which is increasing and becoming a major part of the food chain at present, though perhaps not as much here as elsewhere because we are not sufficiently educated. In relation to maintaining food on the shelves it will be a very important function in the future. I would accept it if the Minister said the institute will be monitoring this area and that it is covered by virtue of paragraph (f) or (g) or some other paragraph. I became very disturbed when the Minister said this matter had nothing got to do with him or the institute but that it was a matter for the Minister for Health. I am more perturbed now, following what the Minister has said, than I was earlier. I would like the Minister to say at least that the institute will be continually monitoring this area or something of that nature.
I referred to section 7 (1) (f) and the Deputy has now mentioned it. There is a provision in paragraph (f) in relation to the irradiating apparatus on which the institute will have the duty to advise the Government. The existing powers, under the 1971 Act, in relation to licensing of these apparatuses are being transferred to the institute. That will be dealt with when we come to section 44. One of the orders made under section 44 was Statutory Instrument No. 166 of 1977. This is an important document in relation to consideration of how radioactive substances and irradiating apparatuses are controlled in this country and this order will continue in operation. This statutory instrument deals with the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order, 1977. That is the power under which the licences are issued, and the institute will be the responsible authority.
The question of safe dosage levels is under consideration at international level. In the event of the institute licensing a food irradiation facility in Ireland conditions would be attached to its usage. While it is too early to be specific about such conditions it is likely that the question of dosages would be addressed. No plans exist at present for the construction of a food irradiation facility in Ireland.
We now come the amendment No. 13 in the name of Deputy Bruton. Amendment No. 14 in the name of the Minister is related. With the agreement of the House, amendments Nos. 13 and 14 may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, lines 31 to 46, to delete subsection (2).
Essentially, this amendment is designed to explore what the Minister is trying to achieve in subsection (2). It seems to me — and I think Deputy Mac Giolla referred to this earlier when we were talking about the lack of education and appreciation of what radiation is all about — that we should not restrict the remit of the institute to simply the equipment being used in the medical area and the conditions in which it is used but that they should also have, as part of the institute's remit, the right to look at the medical practices and the extent to which the medical profession are exposing their patients to radiation. The institute should be the body that would look at the correct approach to the use of radiation in our hospitals and by the medical profession.
The public are very much in the dark and they would appreciate the confidence that would be given if they knew the Radiological Protection Institute had, among their functions, the supervision of the manner in which radiation was used on patients, not in the immediate sense of interfering with the relationship between a doctor and a patient but in the broader sense of saying what would be the right standards to be adopted and how they should be dealt with. As I understand subsection (2), it is designed specifically to rule out of the institute's remit the idea of making suggestions about the proper use of radiation in the medical profession. I put down this amendment to tease out the Minister's intentions and to see whether he would consider that we should have some oversight in this area.
As Deputy Bruton is proposing the deletion of subsection (2), perhaps I should give an explanation as to what exactly is intended here. This subsection qualifies all the functions conferred on the institute under the provisions of sections 7, 8 and 9 in relation to medical and dental uses of ionising radiation in order to clarify the limits of the intervention of the institute in medical and dental diagnosis or treatment of patients, in recognition of the role of the medical or dental practitioner in the care of his or her patient. The purpose of this limitation is to preserve the role of the medical or dental practitioner in the care of the patient. The practitioner should retain full control over whether to use a radioactive substance, device or apparatus on a patient and the strength or quantity of the application. The institute in exercising its function of regulating the custody, use, manufacture, etc. of radioactive substances, devices and apparatus — see section 8 (j) — is limited to ensuring that the substances, devices and apparatus are properly supervised, stored, protected and maintained and ensuring that when used by the practitioner they do not give rise inadvertently to a dose to workers or others in the vicinity and that they deliver the dose to the patient which the practitioner intended.
The uses of radiation and radioactive substances in the medical field involve diagnostic X-ray examinations, internally administered radionuclides or diagnosis, radiation therapy for treatment of cancer and other diseases. There was no corresponding provision in the 1971 Act thereby giving rise to some confusion about the role of the Nuclear Energy Board in the medical field. It would not be possible for me to accept this amendment because to delete section 7 (2) would be contrary to the express wishes of my colleague, the Minister for Health, who is anxious to preserve the doctor-patient relationship by restricting in this section the function of the new institute in the health area to specific technical matters. It is my particular concern to clarify in this section the limits of the intervention of the institute in medical and dental diagnosis or the treatment of patients, in recognition of the role of the medical or dental practitioner in the care of his or her patient.
My simple question is: why? I do not understand why the institute should be restricted from offering some guidelines to the medical profession as to how radiation should be used in diagnosis and therapy. Having listened to the Minister, the only reason he seems to be advancing for not accepting this proposal is that the Minister for Health does not want it. As I understand it, the Minister's amendment to the legislation will provide that there will be medical experts on the board. If we are putting medical experts on the board it seems appropriate that they should provide some sort of overseeing role into the extent to which radiation is used in therapy and diagnosis. I do not understand why the Minister for Health is not keen to see some standards applied in the profession if the board feel they are appropriate for the protection of the public.
I thought it would have been clear that where a doctor is treating one of his patients it would be for the doctor to decide what levels of these substances should be used in the treatment——
Yes, but within guidelines.
Surely it would not be appropriate that a person with a medical background who happened to be appointed to the board of the institute should have a say in what the levels should be in any particular case.
Not in any particular case; I am talking about general guidelines as to its use.
I think that the whole question of professional etiquette and the judgment of the medical practitioner as to what treatment he decides is appropriate in any particular case, is involved here. Levels which in his estimation may be safe in one case may not be safe in another case. In that type of one-to-one case the decision should rightly remain with the doctor who is treating the patient. I agree fully with the advice given to me by the Minister for Health in this matter and I think most reasonable people would accept that explanation.
I understand that doctors differ in this area. There is respectable medical opinion that radiation is used excessively in diagnosis and treatment. It is easy for the Minister to brush this aside by saying it might interfere with the patient-doctor relationship or that the Minister for Health does not want it but we have a duty to the public to provide protection outside those personal relationships. No one is suggesting that the Minister interfere with those relationships but there should be some element of protection in this area.
I do not want to hold up the House but my view differs considerably from the view of the Minister for Health. I believe the public would like to think that outside of their personal relationship with their doctor someone was looking at the general principles of the use of radiation on patients.
I accept that but I do not see how the board could be involved in the case of any particular patient.
I am only talking about guidelines; I am not saying they should intervene in particular cases. We have the authority to set standards for all sorts of different areas where radiation is used but we are specifically saying there will be none in the medical area where there is respectable medical opinion to the effect that radiation is being used excessively on patients. The simple point I am making is that we are doing all sorts of things to try to protect people from excessive exposure but we are saying we will not interfere in this one area.
I do not accept that. As I said earlier, the Bill is very broadly structured, comprehensive and places a wide level of responsibility on the institute to lay down guidelines in relation to various matters.
But not in this area.
I do not accept that this area is excluded——
The whole point of the section is to exclude medical practice from supervision by the institute.
The whole point of this section is to make it quite clear in regard to medical practice that the decision is made by the doctor for his patient. The role of the institute under this section is to ensure that the apparatus is up to standard and no patients are put at risk because of faulty equipment which is not properly stored, protected, calibrated or suitable in all manners for the purposes for which it is being used. If the Deputy looks at section 8 (f) he will see the wide powers being given to the institute to prepare and issue codes of practice dealing with radiological safety, radioactive substances, nuclear devices and irradiating apparatus, taking into account the relevant standards recommended by the relevant international bodies. I suggest that that meets the point.
Section 7 (2) excludes that provision from applying to the medical profession in their diagnosis and therapy——
That is so in relation to any individual case — they can lay down guidelines — but the patient-doctor relationship must be preserved. As I indicated, there was a difficulty under the 1971 Act where there was no specific provision in regard to this matter. Much confusion arose because of this and I am trying to remove the confusion in this Bill by being specific in relation to the role of the institute and, in particular, their role in the doctor-patient relationship. I think that is self explanatory.
I do not think the Minister's interpretation of this section is correct. Section 8 which deals with the preparation and issuing of codes of practice is limited by section 7 (2) in that all the functions of the institute are limited. Therefore, the specific functions of the institute set out in section 8 are also limited by section 7 (2).
Would the Minister not accept thebona fides of what Deputy Bruton is attempting to do, that is, give the agency the status it deserves so that it will be the general policeman, the final arbiter or the overall authority in relation to what constitutes safe levels of radiation? Very often the special nature of the patient-doctor relationship is used as a protective mechanism or excuse for not doing what is intended, that is, the ultimate protection of the patient while at the same time not infringing on the special nature of the patient-doctor relationship.
Even though it is not the direct remit of the Minister I submit, in view of the fact that we are talking about safe radiation levels, that there is a fair degree of evidence of a considerable amount of laxity in regard to the exposure of patients to excess levels of radiation. I am talking about, for example examinations under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health — people who are sent from one doctor to another in relation to disability benefit claims — people involved in long and intensive medical negligence cases and people who have to go for second, third, and fourth consultations. Very often the files in relation to the amount of exposure to radiation are not properly perused, or examined at all. There is considerable evidence of this. We are simply asking the Minister to assume overall responsibility for the general application of the guidelines without in any way affecting the patient-doctor relationship.