I had suggested that we discuss amendments Nos. 13 and 14 together.
Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Committee Stage (Resumed).
We have had some time to reflect on this issue since the last day and Members on this side of the House are still concerned about the matter which led to the tabling of the amendment, the exclusion from the remit of the new institute procedures used in medical and dental activities. A sizeable body of opinion in the medical field believes that tradition is used excessively in certain treatments. In view of the fact that nothing has happened in the interim to change our minds we ask the Minister to accept the amendment. I am anxious to make progress and reach the substantive parts of the Bill so I will not go over the debate which has already taken place on this amendment. However, I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. I look forward to a favourable response from him.
I have already gone into some detail in explaining why I cannot accept the amendment. To return again to the points raised by the Deputies in relation to section 7 (2), I want to re-emphasise that I deem it essential to clarify and set down the limits of the intervention of the new institute in medical and dental diagnosis or treatment of patients in full recognition of the role of the medical or dental practitioner in the case of his or her patient.
The exposure of patients to radiation is a matter for the judgment of the doctor or dentist concerned. While this has been their traditional prerogative they may, of course, seek advice and guidance wherever or whenever they wish. Recognition of this traditional practice has been reflected in legislation. Therefore, it is obvious that we are not introducing anything new in section 7 (2) but are simply carrying on traditional policy and maintaining thestatus quo in relation to the use of radiation in medicine and dentistry.
Deputy Bruton stated in our previous discussions that there is respectable medical opinion that radiation is used excessively in diagnosis and treatment. If such is the case — and there is not a scintilla of evidence to indicate that it is — surely it is a matter for the Minister for Health and the medical and dental councils to deal with it as they would any other case of alleged malpractice, misbehaviour or incompetence. Hospital management would, one would imagine, be expected to curtail such practices and be, even from an economic viewpoint, very concerned at any inefficient or wasteful practices. The same respectful medical opinion must surely be aware of the proper course of action for it to take if it is aware of abuses in this area, that is, to inform the appropriate hospital management body or employing agency.
Disability benefit claims and medical negligence cases involving many consultations and apparent duplication of exposures was referred to by Deputy Higgins. He said there is a considerable amount of laxity in regard to exposure. These are matters for referral to the medical authorities. It would not be proper that the institute should involve themselves in such issues. Granted they may have medical personnel on their board but they will not be, strictly speaking, a medical unit as such. If they were, it is the Minister for Health who should be here now and not me.
To further allay any fears Deputies might have in this area, I would point out that the Nuclear Energy Board have established, with the Department of Health, a medical advisory committee with the function of providing advice on the medical uses of radiation. This committee consist of experts in the medical field and in radiation protection. This work will, of course, continue when the new institute is established. From the reasons I have given on the previous occasion we discussed this matter and from my contribution this morning, it should be clear that I cannot accept the amendment.
I was not aware of the existence of this committee. Perhaps a development of their role might meet some of the issues raised. The Minister suggested that he was simply maintaining thestatus quo. If the status quo was adequate we could all pack our bags and go but since we are always trying to improve the status quo, there is no justification for the Minister's response. We believe a restriction is being introduced here but the Minister said he is simply recognising the status quo.
In relation to the use of radiation in the treatment of patients, we are talking about utilising very specialised techniques, and I am not sure the average patient or their families would easily be able to assess or evaluate the necessary dosage and so on. I continue to believe that the institute could have a role protecting patients and examining this area.
I know from other areas — I am not necessarily talking about negligence — that practices can develop which become regular practice without being examined unless they become the subject of specialised studies. There are particular treatments in maternity cases which have come into serious question, for example, minor operations on women giving birth which were entirely unnecessary, and when examined closely the level of such procedures was reduced substantially. That is an area that is easier for the average person to assess. Here we are talking about a very specialised area which would be more difficult for the patient or their representative to evaluate and question and to take the action that would be open to them in other areas. The institute could have a greater role in this area. The committee to which the Minister referred, if developed and strengthened, could take a greater interest in this area and answer some of the questions that have been raised in the medical profession. Perhaps they should be asked to turn their minds to this.
As I explained on a previous occasion, a number of the practices to which we are referring here involve the traditional doctor-patient relationship. I made it clear in my contribution the last day we discussed this Bill that is it important we should not seek to interfere with the doctor's role in diagnosing and recommending certain types of treatment for his patient. It would not be the institute's role to interfere in the level or type of treatment to be administered to any patient. The medical committee is sufficient to enable the medical profession to seek advice in relation to dosages and so on if and when that is required. I oppose the amendment.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 8. subsection (2) (b) (i), line 42, to delete "treatment" and substitute "medical or dental application".
We now come to amendment No. 15 in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton. I observe that amendment No. 16 is cognate and I suggest, therefore, that we discuss amendments Nos. 15 and 16 together. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 9, paragraph (f), line 23, after "bodies", to insert "and at a minimum observe standards laid down in EC Directives".
The purpose of this amendment is very simple, namely, to bring some sort of concrete level of standard into this legislation. We are asking the institute to issue codes of practice, to establish safety guidelines and to take into account relevant international views on these matters. There is a need to strengthen that and at a very minimum to lay down that we will be observing standards recommended in EC Directives. There is a history in this area in that we have often been tardy to move in line with EC Directives. I know that in the area of emergency planning to deal with radiological problems, Ireland was one of the countries that were particularly slow to move on proposals promulgated by the EC in the early eighties, long before Chernobyl brought public attention to the need to deal with this. There is a case to be made that we put into legislation a requirement that certain minima be met and that we take on board the EC Directives and recommendations as the minimum standard and that hopefully we will exceed those standards in areas where Irish interests require it.
In opposing this amendment and the following amendment I would like to emphasise that section 8 (f) and (g) already requires the institute to take into account standards recommended by relevant international bodies, which would, of course, include EC standards as set out in directives. Furthermore I consider it inappropriate to refer specifically to European Community Directives for minimum standards because in many instances, and indeed in other areas of activity, we in Ireland maintain higher standards than those in EC Directives. Therefore, I see no need for this amendment because the point has already been covered.
The Minister does not appear to have read what the amendment suggests. First, it states quite clearly that these would be minimum standards. I was not suggesting that where we have better standards we reduce them to EC levels. I was proposing a base beneath which we would not sink. The other point is that while the clause as it stands states that you should take into account the standards set down, what I am seeking to do is insert that, at a minimum, we would observe these standards. I do not think the Minister in his short speech addressing this amendment has answered either of the questions raised by the amendment, namely, that there would be a minimum standard required by the institute and that the minimum would be set from EC levels. They would not become the maximum as the Minister seems to think is implied in the amendment.
I am inclined to support the Minister's point of view and perhaps Deputy Bruton will comment on what I have to say. We are told that Sellafield is operated in accordance with the minimum standards of the EC Directives, at least that is the argument which the British Government use. If that is so, clearly those minimum requirements are not adequate as far as this country is concerned. We should aim for much higher standards than the minimum requirements of EC Directives which are not adequate to protect this country from places like Sellafield.
I support the amendments tabled by Deputy Bruton. In any other legislation I have dealt with I do not recollect coming across the phrase "take into account". What does it mean? Does it mean to examine and reject them or to adopt and accept them? What legal status has the phrase? It seems a very weak phrase. It does not seem that it requires you to enforce EC or any other international directives. Substantial improvements have been made to this Bill and it is quite clear that it was framed in the most conservative way possible by persons whose thinking was directed more towards the industry and its area of responsibility instead of towards the protection of people.
One of the fundamental problems of this Bill is that it should have been part of the general protection Bill. I cannot claim to have been involved in huge bodies of legislation, but I have followed legislation which set up various institutes and organisations and I have yet to come across "take into account". To clarify the matter, Deputy Bruton suggested that we should have "at least a minimum" and that EC Directives should be the minimum. What standards have we set in the Bill? It is vague and imprecise and Deputy Bruton's proposals strengthen it.
I agree with Deputy Bruton's amendment which basically states that our guidelines should be those recommended by the EC and that they should be the minimum.
The House should bear in mind that, in establishing the institute, we do not want to place restrictions on them in exercising their own judgment in relation to the level of guidelines they should recommend and propose.
If I accepted Deputy Bruton's amendment it would be seen as accepting the EC levels and placing a restriction on the institute in relation to the levels of standards they should apply. There is an implication in the amendment that we should aspire to EC levels at all times.
That is not the case.
That is the implication, although it does not state it specifically. It has already been interpreted by Deputy Foxe as meaning that.
Not by Deputy Foxe.
It would be seen as implying that. It is not appropriate, in legislation of this kind, to single out specifically any one international body's set of recommendations. The institute should be free to carefully examine the recommendations of all the international organisations and to come to their own decision in the matter. It is unnecessarily restrictive to suggest that we should adopt as the minimum the standards recommended by the European Community. There is a much wider corpus of knowledge available with which, I hope, the institute will acquaint themselves and draw their information from before arriving at their decision. I have every faith and confidence in the institute adopting what they felt to be the best standards for Ireland which, as I have already indicated, in many cases exceed the standards proposed by the European Community.
When the minimum is suggested, there is a possibility of that becoming the norm and it would remove from the members of the institute the necessity to continue to carefully examine what all the international bodies recommend in regard to standards. If it was specifically mentioned in the Bill that they must comply with at least the EC standards, they could just do that whereas we might like to see much higher standards applied. That would also be the case in relation to other international bodies and we know that the Community, in arriving at its decisions, has received representations from a wide number of countries and interests. The Community's recommendations need not necessarily be the best.
Dr. Ian McAuley, the expert from Trinity College in this area, is in favour of amendments of this nature to strengthen the Bill. There seems to be a misplaced self-congratulatory attitude on the part of the Minister, as if Ireland was somehow a paragon of virtue in this area. He had to admit that the Nuclear Energy Board, in their report on the way in which we dispose of radioactive waste generated, said that 99 per cent goes into the public sewers and that some institutions which store radioactive waste do so in conditions which the board regard as unsuitable in the long term. They did not want to cause panic or to create a major public worry in this regard, but it is quite clear that they did not see this as the long term way to deal with our problems.
We are not legislating for Britain, we are legislating for what we will do and it is incumbent on us to set standards for those who will be handling radioactive waste in this country. I should like to see a minimum put on this because we have known for a long time that the disposal of our own radioactive waste is defective in many ways. Indeed, there is a lot of hypocrisy in the way in which we talk about handling radioactive waste. There is a need to have something of this nature and the Minister should reconsider his position. Perhaps, on Report Stage, he will look at the matter again after he has consulted more widely than he has to date.
The problem is the use of the term "international standards" because, throughout most developed countries, the use of nuclear energy and nuclear power is widespread. Consequently, there is bound to be pressure from vested interests which influence the setting of standards. Luckily, we are not in that position in this country and there are not any internal pressures of that kind where large commercial undertakings are dependent on the use of nuclear energy and nuclear power.
I should prefer to see the institute here completely free to set their own standards and I hope they will be much higher than those set by international bodies which, as I said, must be influenced by the widespread use of nuclear energy within their own areas of responsibility. The section should be strengthened to make it quite clear that this House will look for nothing less than the highest standards.
I ask the Minister to let us know if his reluctance to accept the amendment is a way of avoiding obligations we would inherit or take upon ourselves as a result of having to abide by EC Directives. As somebody who, before going into politics, worked in this area and worked with nuclear and radioactive isotopes, I am aware of problems hospitals and educational institutes have because of the total lack of guidelines and nuclear and chemical waste disposal policies. The most recent answer we got from the Government in relation to the disposal of waste was to take it up to Du Pont in Derry. As one who visited Sellafield and questioned them closely about their activities there, I saw they had a very easy way out. They said, "We will take you down the road and show you the dump where we are disposing of your nuclear waste for you". Is the Minister's reluctance to accept the amendment a way out of taking on obligations we should be taking on and are avoiding because our way of dealing with problems like this is to get somebody else to dispose of it? Are we still dependent on British Nuclear Fuels to dispose of some of our nuclear waste? Surely that would be in contravention of EC Directives. Is the Minister in the process of putting together some policy in relation to disposal of our waste ourselves without having to be dependent on Britain? Our dependency compromises us in any stand we could take against Britain in relation to places like Sellafield.
I think the amendment is clear and unambiguous. It does not state that we should accept EC standards but that we should accept EC standards as a bare minimum. Our standards may be far more strict.
Without the amendment the section as drafted is so vague that the Minister is committing us to no standards at all. I did not get a reply to the point about what legal standing "take into account" has. That phrase could mean look at, accept, reject, take bits, take nothing, and the Minister could say we did take them into account. The Bill as drafted fudges the issue of a commitment to any standard and leaves the agency entirely free to adopt whatever guidelines they may choose at any time with no direction from this House. If that is the purpose I do not know why we are bothering to come in here and to debate the Bill at all. We are very concerned that there be some clear direction, some clear intention, to minimum international standards and "take into account" does not achieve that. Perhaps the Minister will consider a tighter drafting of that section on Report Stage to meet some of our points.
In reply to Deputy Allen, we have already dealt with the question of waste disposal in an earlier section when I informed the House that the waste management services of the International Atomic Energy Agency will be visiting Ireland in July in relation to proposals for the identification of a suitable site for toxic waste disposal here. That matter is under consideration but no great progress can be made in the matter until we get their recommendations. I have already given full details of that to the House.
That is a cop-out.
It is easy to say it is a cop-out. In fact, it is the proper way to progress the matter because they are the international experts. They are the people best qualified to advise this country on how to handle the very issue the Deputy has raised which, as he knows, has been an issue in this country for many years and about which nothing has been done to date, that is identifying the site and proceeding with the establishment of the facility. We hope some steps will be taken following the advice of this group, who are very specialist. Because of the amount of work they have they were not available to come to the country immediately when they were sought and we still have to wait a few months before they can come to do the intensive type of research that is necessary. It is hoped that then the results of their work will help us to make progress in the areas of concern to me and all other parties in the House.
Let me also allay the Deputy's fears, if they are genuine, that the reluctance on my part to accept the amendment is an indication of the Government's and the future institute's unwillingness to adopt the highest possible standards. Nothing could be further from the truth. From all we have done to try to make this institute as independent as possible it must be clear that they themselves have great discretion in deciding matters of this nature. I expect the persons who will be appointed will carry out their duties diligently and will lay down the very best of standards for us.
The difficulty I have with the amendment is that it picks out the EC as if the EC was the world authority on all the various issues that will have to be decided and on which guidelines will have to be made. There are many other international bodies, many of them far ahead of the EC in making recommendations on the most modern standards required in relation to radiation. In some cases the EC is behind in adopting these higher standards, yet if I accept this amendment it is tantamount to declaring that we in this country are prepared to accept whatever levels the EC decides, which in many cases are not the state of the art in relation to safety precautions in radiation.
We will settle for an Irish solution.
The Deputy should not try to be too cynical. We are working together here to try to make this institute an effecive body and I have deliberately pulled them out from under the influence of the Department — if the Deputies are prepared to concede that — in the amendments I have put forward. The International Commission on Radiological Protection, for instance, have recently set out higher standards than those currently in force in the EC Directives. While these will probably be adopted by the EC, it will take some time to transfer them to EC legislation. If I am to accept the suggestion in this amendment it means we will be quite happy here to wait until the standards are adopted in EC legislation. At that stage maybe the international commission will have some new discovery and upgraded its guidelines. I think it would be very restrictive to put in an amendment such as this. I have every faith in those who will be appointed carrying out their duties diligently and the Bill as written places an obligation on the institute to take into account all the relevant standards that are being recommended by the various international bodies. I think that puts a serious obligation on them to be acquainted with developments in all the international bodies and to seek to incorporate into the guidelines and recommendations they are issuing the most modern recommendations in regard to safety in this area
We would all be perfectly happy if compliance with the international agency's recommendations was written into this Bill. I think the Minister is cleverly skirting around this. I am concerned that what we are left with in this is absolutely no standard at all, a general aspiration, but this is legislation. If we are to seek through the law to challenge the Minister or the institute in relation to the performance of their functions under this section because EC standards are not complied with, all they have to say is that they took them into consideration and that they were inappropriate to the Irish situation. This is loose and imprecise and I am concerned about that description. The section as drafted is open to interpretation and applies a general but not a specific obligation. In what way does this protect the public or ensure that any standard is applied? It would depend on the goodwill and talent of individual members at the time.
Will the Minister do what he did in relation to the debate on "nuclear device" and rather than accepting the amendment make a statement? The Minister has been quite co-operative so far in this Bill and he intends to observe the best standards. In the case of "nuclear device" the Minister made a statement to the effect that "nuclear device" as already in the text and covered the concept of "nuclear explosive device". What the Minister says on Committee Stage of a Bill is almost as important as the Bill if court proceedings arise. Will the Minister say that the section covers acceptance of EC Directives? I take it that the Minister's intention is that the institute's standards if possible, will be above the standards set by the EC Directives. Will the Minister confirm that "standards recommended by international bodies" covers acceptance of EC standards and that that will resolve the issue.
It is ironic that the Minister is aspiring to the highest standards possible when we do not have any standards at the moment. Surely the acceptance of the amendment would not prevent the Minister from aspiring to the highest standards possible. The amendment suggests that we should adhere to EC Directives as a minimum. It does not prevent the Minister from doing what he wants. It is ludicrous to have a Minister here aspiring to the highest possible standards and saying that we are waiting for reports and for international bodies to visit here while at the moment we do not have any standards. At the moment, hospitals, for instance, have spent nuclear devices and they do not have an idea what to do with them. The Nuclear Energy Board know that. We do not have a waste management system, admittedly we never had, but the situation is becoming more serious day by day. The Minister knows the standards and if his Department and his officials had the guts they would make hard decisions.
We had an example recently of another cop-out when we were in the process of setting up a chemical treatment plant. Suddenly the easy option of exporting it to Du Pont was taken — an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The Department should knuckle down to setting standards and not delay the process by saying that we are waiting for an international body to come here. That does not cod anybody. The problem should be tackled. Instead of aspiring, the Minister should at least set minimum standards.
I came into the House this morning with an open mind on these two amendments, but having listened to the debate I come down very strongly in favour of these amendments. We all want this institute to lay down standards that are as high as possible. I do not see why the Minister is objecting to this innocuous amendment, and that is all it is. We will have to conform with EC Directives anyway. With respect to the Minister who has been co-operative so far, I suggest he is being a little stubborn in this matter. I would ask him to reconsider his opposition to these amendments.
On reflection, perhaps the wording of the amendment is slightly flawed.
Instead of "and at a minimum observe standards laid down in the EC Directives" we should have "and as a minimum observe standards laid down in the EC Directive".
I would not be happy with regulations setting a standard of safety that had an input from the British, the Belgians and the Dutch who have been dumping nuclear waste in the seas off the south-west of Ireland for over 20 years. I suspect that even the EC standards with an input from these countries which have been creating a nuclear waste dump in the seas off this country for many years are not strict enough. Our guidelines should come from a much wider area than EC Directives about which I have grave suspicion because of experience relating to a number of prominent EC countries.
One of the biggest offenders in dumping nuclear waste, the people with the biggest problems, are the Japanese who are dependent on British Nuclear Fuels and their nuclear regeneration operations to take care of their spent fuels. I do not understand the previous speaker's argument. We are just taking EC standards as a minimun. This frees the Minister to do what he wants subsequently.
There may be some confusion in relation to the guidelines and the code of practice and directives. What we are discussing under this amendment is the guidelines and code of practice which are being prepared and will be issued by the institute when it exists. The House knows that the implementation of EC Directives is a separate matter. We are required to implement these directives in national legislation. The guidelines and code of practice will be designed to assist users in implementing the requirements of EC Directives as reflected in legislation. What the Deputies are suggesting in the amendment is that in complying with EC Directives and in introducing the guidelines and code of practice we should take account of EC standards as a minimum. There is no need to put a clause of that nature into the legislation. The institute will take account of the current recommendations from a wider range of international bodies than just one. In complying with EC Directives it could in its code of practice be implementing a higher standard, as I believe will be the case. It has been the practice that it has sought to achieve the highest standards possible here. For instance, under Statutory Instrument 166 of 1977, licences issued by the Nuclear Energy Board set standards which are higher than those currently contained in the EC Directive setting down basic safety standards.
My opposition to the amendment is based on my desire to remove the restrictive elements contained in it and to encourage the institute to seek to contain in its code of practice the highest possible standards known to international organisations who are studying these matters, rather than to encourage them to stick to the minimum standards that may have been adopted by an EC Directive. In 1977 we introduced higher standards than the current EC Directive standards in one instance.
I do not think we will get any good of the Minister. We should lay down some minimum standard in legislation. If the Minister is not satisfied with the EC Directive I am quite happy to see him substitute that our minimum shall be that laid down by the Commission on Radiological Protection, which he rightly said is often at the cutting edge of setting standards. If he wishes to substitute that, I will accept it, but we need some minimum standard. His quotation that directives from the EC apply here is belied by the reality. For example, the EC have a directive stating that cities the size of Dublin should have tertiary sewerage treatment plants, but that does not mean we have one in Dublin. The same would apply in other areas. There is a need to set some minimum standard in this. By all means let the Minister say to us now he will consider coming back on Report Stage with his set of better standards from the International Commission on Radiological Protection, which he will seek to put into this Bill.
Regarding the comment by Deputy Bruton on sewage treatment plants, the Government accept the EC Directives in that area and have plans to implement that requirement.
By the year 2000.
It will be enormously expensive but the Government have made a commitment to it. To mention it in that vein seems to suggest that the Government are totally ignoring it. They are not. It takes time to implement some of these directives which require enormous capital expenditure. However the commitment in that area is made.
I am fully satisfied with the terms of the section in the Bill as it is worded and I do not understand why the Deputies should express such concern. There is a serious obligation on the institute to take into account the relevant standards recommended by relevant international bodies and it is open to any Member in the House, if he is aware that this is not being done during the life of the institute, to bring the matter to the notice of the relevant Minister or the authorities at the institute. I certainly would have a much more optimistic outlook on the quality of the work of the proposed institute than the Deputy would seem to have. I would encourage the institute to seek the highest standards and not to be satisfied with the minimum standards.
May I ask the Minister to confirm my statement that we are depending on Britain still to take some of our waste? That is the situation as it was two years ago. British Nuclear Fuels are still disposing of some of our waste.
I dealt with the waste issue earlier. The Deputy should consult the record.
I am aware of what the Minister said. I am asking him to confirm.
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- Bruton, Richard.
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- Connor, John.
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- Crowley, Frank.
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- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Harte, Paddy.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lee, Pat.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
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We now proceed to amendment No. 17 in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton. I observe that amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are either alternatives or related and I suggest therefore that we discuss amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 together. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 9, paragraph (j), to delete lines 35 and 36 and substitute the following:
"(j) to carry out a licensing system".
I think we can be very brief on this because the Minister's amendments, between what he has tabled here and his later amendments to section 30, as I read them have met the intention of my amendment. If the Minister's amendments go ahead, I am satisfied to withdraw my amendment.
The Deputy would be correct in the assumptions he has made. It is for him to decide the thinking behind his amendment. I just had to anticipate what his thinking was and I think I have largely met his point.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 9, paragraph (j), line 36, to delete ", as agent of the Minister,".
Arising out of the amendment which I will be proposing in relation to section 30, I propose to amend this paragraph. I propose to delete from section 30 the option to enable the Minister to issue licences for radio-active substances thereby providing that the institute will be the licensing authority in any control system introduced by the Minister by order under section 30. The idea that the institute would be an agent of the Minister in the issuing of licences is not in keeping with my intention that the institute would be an independent regulatory body. I therefore propose to delete the words, "as agent of the Minister" and the two commas in line 36.
I welcome the Minister's amendments in this area. That was precisely the intention of amendment No. 17. It will improve the Bill.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 9, paragraph (l), line 44, to delete "act as an agency for the collection and dissemination of" and substitute "collect and disseminate".
In order to remove any doubts that may exist about my intentions in relation to the institute and its freedom to supply information to the public I propose to delete the words "act as an agency" from this paragraph. The function will then simply be to collect and disseminate information.
Once again this is a welcome amendment. It clarifies the direct role of the agency in relation to supplying information to the public and we support it.
I would also like to congratulate the Minister on these amendments. It does confirm what I have been saying from the outset about establishing the independence of the institute This is the most important factor. An independent institute is vital in this area in order to have the confidence and the credibility with the public in the very sensitive area it will be operating in. I want to congratulate the Minister on these two amendments which help to establish the independence of the institute.
I know that we should not be discussing waste disposal or anything like that on section 8 because it is very specific. Nevertheless the whole issue of disposal should come into the preparing and issuing of codes of practice dealing with radiological safety etc.
It is not so much where a disposal unit is but what in fact happens. Deputy Allen made some points which have been brought to my attention over the past year or two. Deputy Allen probably has more exact information on what happens. He referred to hospitals. There are very few codes of practice for dealing with very minute amounts of radioactive materials that might be lying around. This occurs in universities as well. It was brought to my attention by students in universities over a year ago, and not too long ago as well, that there is nobody in charge in these institutions to tell people what they should do. It is left to the lecturer or professor in the particular laboratory to try to get rid of these waste materials in whatever way they can. In some cases students actually dispose of materials. They are probably very tiny and minute. Nevertheless there is not, apparently, a procedure for having an individual responsible for ensuring that everybody who uses any radiation equipment or devices can dispose of waste materials. There is nobody to supervise how it is collected or disposed of. I have been told that some material from universities has been disposed of in playing pitches by being buried and by other procedures like that. Maybe there is nothing to worry about. Maybe it is all quite safe. We do not know.
I read the section but I am not sure whether this is covered. Presumably these codes of practice and guidelines are to ensure that there is a procedure whereby somebody is in charge at all times of the waste materials whether in hospitals or universities. The institute should be informed of what materials are there and there should be very strict guidelines on how and where the materials aee disposed of. I hope the codes of practice and the guidelines will cover all of these matters which Deputy Allen referred to and which have been brought to my attention and which probably happen in a whole series of areas other than universities and hospitals that I am not aware of. I know they are only minute quantities but when they are all put together there is probably a significant quantity to be disposed of. I would like some confirmation from the Minister that this will be one of the areas the institute will be very strict on, that there will be an insistence that safety officers will be available to be in charge of the disposal and that it is not left to whoever happens to be using it to try to get rid of it wherever they can either down the drain or into a football pitch.
In case my name might be associated with what has just been said, I am aware of the problems facing hospitals and educational institutions in this regard. I do not think for a moment that nuclear waste is being dumped in football pitches or down drains. I know for a fact that in respect of the institutions concerned, we are talking of low level radioactive waste in most cases. There are safety officers in those institutions and there are regulations, guidelines and procedures that are followed very strictly in all the institutions that I am aware of. Once the nuclear waste is collected there is a problem in disposing of it. On tomorrow's Order Paper there will be a question from myself to the Minister about storing radioactive generators in hospitals. The dumping in football pitches or in drains of low level radioactive waste may have happened many years ago but now there are strict guidelines in all institutes — they are being responsible but they are being frustrated by the lack of policy. I am not trying to criticise the Minister but there has been a lack of policy from day one at national level. The issue we have to face is the formulation of policy regarding storage or disposal and until such time as we do there will be suspicion and statements such as we have just heard. I have to defend the hospitals and the institutions and the board — for once. I have been critical of the board before but they are working as best they can under the present legislation. In the absence of a policy regarding disposal there is a huge frustration factor.
I support what Deputy Allen has said. It is important that we quash any suggestion that there is some laxity in the way in which the low level waste is being disposed of in this country. The Nuclear Energy Board exercise very strict control on the disposal of radioactive waste. Indeed, we had a very extensive discussion on this aspect of the Bill on 5 December last. I do not want to go back over all that was said, it is already there on the record, other than to say that in issuing licences for the use of radioactive substances, licencees are required — as Deputy Allen has rightly said — to appoint radiation safety officers. Within that institution they control the procedures in relation to the disposal of waste. We know from previous discussions and from the previous opportunity we had to discuss this matter here the wide level of concern about the absence of a radio-active waste disposal site in this country. I have already indicated the steps we are taking to try to identify a suitable site and to take the steps necessary to establish one. The International Atomic Energy Agency will be advising us on that matter when their experts come here in July. The situation at present is that the 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. We have recognised the need to have a disposal site here and I am anxious to progress it as quickly as possible.
I want to clarify a point: Deputy Allen spoke about hospitals whereas I was talking about universities and when speaking about the universities I was not talking about 1950 but about 1990.
As a former staff member of a university I know what goes on there. To suggest that university departments are going out dumping waste in football pitches and in drains is not correct. That is the point I want to make.
If Deputy Mac Giolla has information confirming the allegations he made here he has a duty as a citizen to report that to the Nuclear Energy Board.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are related. I suggest that for discussion purposes they be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 10, subsection (2) (a), line 30, after "State", to insert "and,".
This is an amendment to correct a textual error in paragraph (a) of subsection (2).
Amendment No. 21 proposes:
In page 10, subsection (2) (a), line 31, to delete "Affairs and" and substitute "affairs,".
What is intended is that the agreement of the Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs should relate to the conclusion of agreements with the appropriate bodies rather than the making of arrangements for supply.
What is the intention of that section? What type of radioactive substance and devices is he planning to have supplied?
Under this subsection the Minister may assign by order to the institute the function of making arrangements for the supply of radioactive substances or devices to users in Ireland and the implementation of safety codes or regulations that may be made under the Health Act, 1953, by the Minister for Health or under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, by the Minister for Labour.
In relation to paragraph (a), certain radioactive substances and devices, because of their possible use in nuclear weapons or in the manufacture of fuels or other materials for nuclear weapons, are subject to international controls on supply and use. Countries from which such substances or devices might be supplied may subject their supply to certain conditions aimed at preventing their diversion to non-peaceful uses. In particular, most countries of the world including Ireland, are parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Under this treaty, nuclear-weapon states party to it undertake not to transfer nuclear weapons or the ability to make them to any recipient. Non-nuclear-weapon states party to it undertake not to receive the transfer of any such weapons or such ability and also undertake to arrange through an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, called a "safeguards" agreement, for the verification by the Agency of the fulfilment of their obligations under the Treaty. Ireland as a member of the Euratom Treaty is also subject to the "safeguards" provisions of that Treaty relating to the non-diversion of nuclear material to military purposes.
If a person in Ireland wishes to obtain any of the relevant substances or devices it will be necessary that the required safeguards agreements be concluded between Ireland and the supplying country or the international organisations.
Paragraph (a) will enable the Minister, with the agreement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs who is responsible for Ireland's disarmament policy, to devolve the function of negotiating the necessary supply agreements and making the necessary arrangements to the institute, if it is considered appropriate.
Paragraph (b) will enable the Minister to assign to the institute a role in relation to any safety codes or regulations made under the Health Act, 1953, or under occupational safety legislation, if such a role is considered appropriate. There are powers under the Health Act, 1953, and under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work legislation for the Ministers for Health and Labour to control the use of radioactive substances and devices within their areas of responsibility. The Minister for Health's responsibility relates to the medical uses of ionising radiation and the Minister for Labour's responsibility relates to the safety of workers, including those using ionising radiation. With the existence of the powers of the Minister for Energy under the Nuclear Energy Act, 1971, which will be replaced by the powers under this Bill, there is a certain degree of overlap in the responsibilities of the three Ministers as set out in the legislation. In practice, of course, appropriate arrangements have been worked out among the various bodies concerned. However, this paragraph will, if it is necessary, enable the implementation of any measures introduced by the Ministers to be centralised in the institute.
So far, no regulations have been made by the Minister for Health under the Health Act, 1953, relating to radiation and so the question does not arise at present in relation to that Minister. Regulations relating to the control of radiation used in the industrial sector, dating from 1972, have been made by the Minister for Labour and are enforced by the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health. The undertakings to which those regulations apply are also covered by the licensing system operated by the Nuclear Energy Board, and which will be taken over by the institute. If it is considered appropriate in the future that the institute should enforce those regulations or any other relevant codes or regulations that may be made under occupational safety legislation, paragraph (b) will enable the Minister to confer the necessary powers on the institute.
By virtue of paragraph (c), an order assigning functions to the institute under paragraph (a) or (b) may, if it is considered necessary, include powers to enable the institute to control the custody, use, manufacture, importation and so on of radioactive substances or devices. There are no specific circumstances in mind at present in which it would be considered desirable to assign such powers but it is prudent to make provision for this in case it is considered desirable at any time in the future.
I thank the Minister for what seemed to be a very comprehensive reply but I am not sure I picked up all the implications of it. Perhaps a few more questions put in layman terms would satisfy the issue.
It seems that we are providing that the radiological institute may in the future if they wish bring in radioactive devices which could, as I see it, be anything from an X-ray machine to a nuclear generating station. This section seems in some way to make provision for this. From my reading of the section, it does not seem to be confined to compliance with the non-proliferation agreements into which we have entered. Perhaps the Minister will clarify in simpler terms the precise limits of the section and explain why no specific references are written into the section on the non-proliferation agreements or other agreements to which he referred in the course of his reply so that we would know exactly to what it refers.
The amendment relates to section 9 (2) (a). As I said, it is merely a textual change. My reply, which explained what is covered by the entire section, was meant to be helpful to the Deputy. Section 9 (2) (a) and (b) cover such matters as the importation, control, manufacture, distribution transportation and so on of radioactive substances. Is the Deputy satisfied with that answer?
From my reading of the section, the Minister may from time to time assign functions to the institute, one of which could be the bringing of a nuclear generating station to Ireland. That is the way I read section 9 (2) (a) but I take it that is not the Minister's intention. My reading of the section does not indicate that that could not be an interpretation of it.
The Minister was clarifying the position when the Deputy interrupted.
I am sorry, I thought he had concluded.
I do not think the Deputy should come to that conclusion in view of the fact that we are discussing a Bill which proposes to replace the Nuclear Energy Board whose remit it was to establish a nuclear power station here. The purpose of the Bill is to highlight the Government's policy in relation to protection from radiation. There is no intention to change the policy in relation to the establishment of nuclear power stations here. Obviously, that would be a matter for the Government. The Deputy, and the House, are fully aware of what Government policy in this area has been for many years. Therefore, there is no question of this happening.
An bhfuil Deputy Bruton críochnaithe?
I will come back to this.
The Minister's explanation is totally at variance with the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. He made no reference to the explanation given in the explanatory memorandum in regard to section 9 which states:
Section 9 provides for the assignment of additional functions to the institute by order of the Minister including functions in relation to directives or regulations of the European Communities.
I thought the Minister was going to say that this explanation would satisfy Deputy Flaherty's point about minimum standards under EC Directives but he made no reference in his reply to EC Directives. What is the relationship between the explanatory memorandum and the Minister's statement? Do they deal with the same section? Section 9 simply lists the functions which may be assigned to the institute. Will these functions relate mainly to future EC Directives which may be introduced? Why will these new functions be required?
We are dealing with amendments Nos. 20 and 21 which only relate to textual errors in the printing of the Bill. Can we deal with the amendments first and then deal with the section?
They are textual corrections to section 9 (2) (a) on which I am seeking clarification as to its precise meaning. As Deputy Mac Giolla rightly pointed out, the explanatory memorandum refers to the making of arrangements for the supply of radioactive substances or devices as one of the functions which may be devolved to the institute. Why would we devolve this power to the institute in this apparently loose way? If the State decide at some stage to have a nuclear generator for energy purposes no one in their right mind would suggest that an institute charged with the protection of the public from such generating stations should be the body involved in making the arrangements for setting it up and so on. Essentially, I do not understand the section as it is presently worded. The Minister's textual corrections to the section do not make what he is trying to do any clearer.
The section states clearly that there has to be agreement of the Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It relates to the supply of radio-active substances or devices which the Minister may specify by order. This could relate to a wide range of substances which I listed in the long reply I gave. I am not clear what specific point the Deputy is trying to get at.
The Government may decide, as was their view in the past, that a nuclear generating station should be set up here, something I do not think any side of the House wants. If the Government decided to do this section 9 seems to provide that they could instruct the institute to procure that station for them. It does not seem correct that an institute whose job it is to protect the public interest and act independently of the Minister should be asked, by way of order, to procure a generating station. Perhaps I am completely misreading the section but as I read it that is a possible interpretation of the section. If that is an interpretation of it it is very unsatisfactory. If the Minister wants to ask the institute to make arrangements for the procurement of radioactive substances it should be only in the context of the direct work in which the institute are involved. For example, they may want to bring in a substance which has to do with setting standards for calibrating X-ray machines and so on. I could understand why the Minister would, by order, ask the institute to bring in something which would strengthen their role in monitoring and policing the use of radioactive substances. It certainly does not seem right that if a Government of the day at some stage decided to go nuclear in energy generation, they would have the powers suggested by subsection (2) (a).
I support Deputy Bruton when he says there are anomalies here. When the Nuclear Energy Board were in existence we felt that, like all nuclear energy boards, they were too pronuclear to be protective of the public. Now a good independent institute is being established to protect the public from nuclear substances or devices, radiation and so on. From the interpretation in the explanatory memorandum the Minister seems to be giving them what would be the powers of a nuclear energy board, to promote and supply radioactive substances and devices. I do not understand why they should have that power. They should oversee other people, the Department of Energy or whoever imports or supplies radioactive substances and devices, and protect the public against them. Is it a method of raising finance that they should do all the importing and selling of these substances? I can understand them overseeing the carriage, supply and transport of these substances and safety precautions in their transport, but to actually supply them seems extraordinary. There is an anomaly there as between a protective board and a supplying board.
I will refrain from saying which nuclear or radioactive devices might be supplied with the agreement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I presume the current position is that individual institutes make their own arrangements. Is it proposed that the new institute would have a greater role in the procurement of these items? Would they be a single supplying source? What is the thinking behind this? What change from the current position is envisaged here and what new functions will the institute have?
It seems the Deputies are raising the point that if, in the unlikely event, a nuclear reactor was to be established here, this legislation in some way provides for that. The purpose of this Bill is to establish an independent authority, the institute——
What is the purpose of subsection (2) (a)?
——which will be charged with having the power to do all things required to ensure the safety of the community from radiation and radioactive substances. To translate that into the possibility of a nuclear reactor being established here is very farfetched. I can give an assurance to the House that that is not the intention. It is obvious to me that, if it was intended, it would require separate legislation. I am surprised this concerns the Deputies in this way.
What is intended?
Leave the reactors out of it. What other substances would the institute supply?
In the long reply I gave I covered the matters dealt with in this section. Are we dealing with section 9in toto?
No, section 9 (2) (a).
Section 9 (2) (a), as I have already told the House, enables the Minister, with the agreement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs who, as we know, is responsible for Ireland's disarmament policy, to devolve to the institute the function of negotiating the necessary supply agreements and making the necessary arrangements if it is considered appropriate. There are no circumstances under consideration where it would be deemed appropriate at present, but in order to fulfil the Minister for Foreign Affairs' responsibilities in that matter, it is important to make this provision in subsection (2) (a).
If this has to do with the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to disarmament, non-proliferation and so on, the least we could expect is that that would be in the section. As it reads it could be interpreted that a future Government deciding to supply nuclear generation could do so through the auspices of an institute which, as Deputy Mac Giolla said, is designed for protection rather than for supply. If an institute are in the business of supplying, their independence must inevitably be interfered with. Perhaps the Minister should consider for Report Stage whether this section needs to be tightened up in view of the concerns that have been expressed. It would give him a chance to discuss with the Minister for Foreign Affairs precisely his requirements in this regard.
I have just come in on the debate and listened to some of the comments. I understand the Minister's position but this Government have adopted a very definite stance on the nuclear question. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister have a very definite position on disarmament. If this section in any way misinterprets that Government position, it would be worth looking at. Perhaps the Minister would look at the language used in the section. Ireland is a non-nuclear nation. We have a very respected position at foreign affairs level in the UN in any debates on disarmament. I do not envisage a day when we will have a nuclear capacity.
This Bill which is a very radical and positive one establishing an independent Radiological Protection Institute should encompass that general principle. If there is any danger that the Bill might misinterpret our international standing on the whole question of nuclear policy or disarmament, we should look at it. Perhaps, as suggested, the Minister might consult with the Minister for Foreign Affairs before Report Stage, and in some way tighten the language of the section. That would be a good day's work. The Minister's assurances have been very positive. Since I came in on this debate in the last half hour or so he has stated a very specific position, but perhaps the language could be tightened up in some way.
I would be concerned if that interpretation was put on the section, and I would be pleased to consult with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the matter. We could deal with it again on Report Stage if what Deputies suggest is appropriate. It is important to put on the record, in view of some of the suggestions that have been made, that we are, as Deputy Kitt and others have confirmed, very much a non-nuclear weapon State. We are a party to——
The Minister said we are a non-nuclear State, not a non-nuclear weapon State.
——the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and in so being Ireland has foregone the right to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, we have actively supported all efforts to reduce existing arsenals of weapons held by the five acknowledged nuclear weapon powers. As I said previously, the only acceptable level of nuclear weapons is zero. This has been the policy of successive Governments and continues to be a fundamental element of Irish foreign policy. Indeed Ireland is a prominent opponent of nuclear weapons and, as an author of the non-proliferation treaty, will continue to be committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons. I am happy to reconsider the matter but it is important to remind the House that subsection (2) (a) is merely an enabling provision to cover possible eventualities in the future. However, an eventuality has been raised on which the House has asked me to consult the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I am happy to do that.
A lot of nonsense is talked at times about Ireland being a non-nuclear nation. We may not have nuclear weapons or generate a nuclear supply of electricity but, if we did not have nuclear power in one form or another, parts of our health service and engineering services would collapse; we are dependent on the proper use of nuclear energy for advances in science. I welcome the use of nuclear energy in the advances which have been made in medicine and in engineering as, without them, we would still be almost in the Stone Age with regard to diagnostic procedures in the health services. This talk about being a non-nuclear nation is codswallop. By facing up to the fact that we are dependent on nuclear energy and by going on from there we can formulate our policy to deal with the problems which arise subsequently from the natural waste outfall from the use of nuclear energy.
Before we leave the matter, I repeat that we are a non-nuclear weapons State.
The Minister has not indicated what kind of supplies he would anticipate having to make arrangements for in the future. If he does not provide us with a reasonable indication of what he expects, he will have to accept the consequences of our filling the gap with other possibilities, serious ones, which would involve the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the question of whether this relates to the whole area of armaments. We need to be reassured in this regard.
Legislation cannot cover every eventuality or be specific in every regard. This is merely an enabling Bill and provision, and there may be times when some of these devices will be required for safety, protection and treatment of people here. It is enabling in the sense of providing legislative authority for a Minister, by order, to enable the institute to become involved in making the necessary arrangements. The situation will be rigidly controlled by the provisions in the section.
I fully accept that the Minister does not have any sinister motives but, to allay the fears which people may have, the Minister should consider tightening up the section so that people who think the worst will be reassured.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 10, subsection (2) (a), line 31, to delete "affairs and" and substitute "Affairs.".
Subsection (1) (c) says that the Minister may, from time to time, by order, extend the powers and functions of the institute to cover such matters pertaining to non-ionising radiation as may be specified in the order. This is a very important matter which we have not examined. It is necessary to protect the public and the environment from the hazards of non-ionising radiation, for example, the electro-magnetic fields around high voltage power lines and microwave radiation.
If the Minister made an order pursuant to this section, I should like to remind Deputies that, as Minister for Energy, he would in effect be dealing with his own problems. I very strongly feel that this subsection should be omitted, which would mean that if there were any problems in this area they would be referred to the Department of the Environment or, better still and more specifically, to the proposed Environmental Protection Agency. There is a clear conflict of interest here: the hazardous side-effects of these activities, electricity transmission, which clearly forms part of the brief of the Minister for Energy, should not be dealt with by the Department. It is highly inappropriate and, for that reason, the subsection should be omitted. I will be tabling an amendment for Report Stage in regard to this matter.
Subsection (1) enables the Minister to extend, by order, the institute's activities to non-ionising radiation such as microwaves and radiowaves. There is, at present, no central authority in Ireland for the assessment of the effects of non-ionising radiation, laying down protection measures and the regulation of its occurrence. Apparently, there is no clear evidence of any adverse effects from this radiation but the matter is receiving greater attention worldwide. There is concern in some circles, for example, about the effects of radiation from electricity cables. If the institute are to take on this new function they will have to acquire the necessary expertise and resources, as the existing expertise and resources relating to ionising radiation may not be appropriate for non-ionising radiation. Before any decision to extend the institute's responsibilities to non-ionising radiation can be taken, it will be necessary to consider, in consultation with other relevant Government agencies — the Department of Communications, the Department of the Environment, which was mentioned by Deputy Garland, the Department of Health and other bodies such as the ESB — what needs to be done and to which bodies responsibility should be assigned. It is, therefore, premature to extend functions in relation to non-ionising radiation to the institute. However, I should like to indicate to the House that it is an area which I intend to have examined by my Department as soon as possible.
I am a little concerned about charges for services in respect of any body who have responsibility for providing protection to people. As a member of a local authority, I have some little knowledge with regard to the introduction of services for the fire brigade. In some cases people tend to delay wondering whether the fire is sufficiently serious to warrant calling the fire brigade and incurring a charge. On this section, will the Minister elaborate further on what exactly is meant by the charges?
Section 10 (1) "... provided or carried on for the Minister". Why does the Minister not include other Ministers? Why is it just the Minister for Energy? I have in mind the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Environment being covered under this subsection.
On the last point, since the Nuclear Energy Board, or the institute, are funded under the Vote for the Department of Energy, it would not make a great deal of sense if the Department were to be charged. The institute are there to advise the public and the Minister for Energy in particular in relation to these matters, but other Ministers, as the Deputy says, provide a wide range of services. I think it is appropriate in a case like this that some charge be made, nominal in many cases, to cover some of the expenses involved. That may not be appropriate in all cases because it is only in some cases the charges are levied.
It is interesting to hear Deputy Pattison being critical of some of the local authority charges when we consider the long debate we had here when his party proposed the introduction of those charges. Let us not go back to that argument, but that is the reality. The legislation that introduced those charges was brought in by the Deputy's party in Government. This section enables the institute to charge fees——
If you want to build a nuclear reactor——
——subject to other provisions. The world woke up after Chernobyl, and the Deputy's party changed their attitude and had second thoughts about nuclear energy for power generation when they saw the effects of Chernobyl.
I was protesting in Carnsore.
Yes, and I had a number of relations there protesting long before the policy was changed at Dublin level. It is appropriate that the institute be in a position to charge for their functions, services or activities wherever that is provided for by the Minister. It is likely the institute will continue the fee earning activities already carried on by the Nuclear Energy Board. Indeed, a substantial proportion of their revenue comes from this area. These activities are, for instance, the processing on behalf of radiation users of dosimeters worn by their staff, the provision of analytical and certification services to food exporters — I see no reason they should not pay for that service; it is costing the State a substantial sum of money to maintain the fairly elaborate laboratory facilities provided by the NEB at present; testing of radiation equipment and in recent times extensive testing for radon in dwellings where the fee is a very nominal £15. Fees at present earned by the NEB from these various activities represent about a quarter of their total revenue. In the processing of the dosimeters, users are obliged to monitor the doses received by their staff in the course of their work, and the NEB maintain dose records on behalf of the users for all persons monitored and retain them for 50 years.
In the case of certification of food exports, following the Chernobyl accident many countries require certification that foodstuffs they imported comply with international standards of radiation content. The export of food from this country is very dependent on certification by the NEB. I have visited the laboratory and was very impressed with the extensive work being carried out there. If any of the spokespersons from any parties would like to visit I issue an invitation to them to come and see the work of the NEB soon, it is hoped, to become the institute. I have other examples but I think the case can genuinely be made that there is a need for the institute to have the legislative authority to make these charges.
I thank the Minister for his explanation and I would like to refer to part of the history of the charges the Minister conveniently left out when he went into the historical aspect of charges.
I should not have done that.
I would like to remind the Minister that in a previous incarnation when he was spokesperson on the Environment he promised faithfully to abolish all charges when he got back into power. That still unfulfilled promise is an important part of the Minister's historical record.
The charges invariably are determined not by the importance or quality of the service but by the amount of the shortfall from the Exchequer. That is a pity, particularly in relation to services such as this. I hope that will not be the yardstick by which these charges will be fixed and that a reasonable amount will be charged having regard to the service provided and not having regard to the shortfall from the Exchequer.
I am tempted to respond. I am not the mighty man Deputy Pattison suggests I might be when it comes to abolishing the charges referred to.
The Minister has the powers.
I would never pretend to have that kind of power. At that time I was merely stating the policy of the party I represented then, and the policy in that party was the consensus of opinion of the members, and that was faithfully recorded by me while I was a member of that party.
Little progress is being made.
Amendment No. 22 in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton. Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are alternatives and we will take amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24 together by agreement.
My amendment No. 22 is linked to amendment No. 67. They refer to the same matter.
We will follow the brief I have. If you want to move amendment No. 22 you are free to do so.
For the purpose of discussion, can I take amendment No. 67?
Nil áon ceist anseo mar gheall ar sin. Amendment No. 22.
Can I ask the House to agree? This is essentially about the appointment of the chief executive officer.
Are we going to have such a limited debate on the remaining areas — with the agreement of the House?
What is the amendment?
My amendment No. 22 proposes to delete subsection (5) and my amendment No. 67 is to the First Schedule and deals with the board of the institute.
What other amendment did you mention?
Amendment No. 67.
Does the Minister agree to take amendment No. 67 with this amendment?
This was not discussed before we came in here. However, I have no objection in principle. I will agree to it on the basis that if some problem arises with it I would have to ask the Deputy to be reasonable. I am prepared to have it discussed.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 11, lines 40 to 44, to delete subsection (5).
This amendment proposes an alternative to what the Minister is doing. I am glad to see the Minister in his amendment, has decided he will not take the power to appoint the first chief executive officer but that he will leave this for the institute. The purpose of my amendment is to delete subsection (5). In amendment No. 67 I have recommended that the chief executive officer be appointed by the President upon a resolution passed by the Dáil and the Seanad recommending the appointment of this person. That model is taken from the Ombudsman Act and our party regard the position of chief executive officer of the institute as being on a par with the Ombudsman in terms of the need for independence in his role. That was the alternative I put forward.
Linked to this debate about the chief executive officer is the board of the institute. It causes me some concern that the Minister's amendment in this regard, where he is talking about having people of expertise on the board, is framed in such a way that while he says that not more than five shall be appointed, he can get away with only one person of expertise. This is a rather strange provision with which we will deal later. The essence of my amendment was to withdraw the notion that the Minister should appoint the chief executive and to change the notion of the ministerial appointed board selecting the chief executive to the notion that the Dáil and Seanad would have a role in picking the chief executive officer. I did so in the belief that this position should be one of exceptional independence, in much the same way as the Ombudsman is regarded by this House.
I thank the Minister for accepting amendment No. 23 in my name. The effects of amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are the same. The Minister's amendment has accepted that deletion which will mean that the chief executive officer shall be appointed and may be removed from office at any time by the institute with the consent of the Minister. That is the best procedure.
The Ombudsman position could not be equated with that. In an institute like this the chief executive officer must be subject to the board and an occasion may arise when the board will want to fire a chief executive officer. That is the procedure in regard to a chief executive officer in any institute or any board. The Ombudsman is not like a chief executive officer of any institute, being subject to a board. The Ombudsman is a distinctive and special appointment. The Ombudsman can inquire into any body or into any institute and he can demand whatever information he wants in pursuance of his objectives. This is not related to the work of a chief executive officer. However, it is virtually important that the institute be independent and be able to appoint or fire a chief executive officer. The independence of the institute is what we must maintain in the Bill. The institute should be able to carry on their business without political interference from the Department or the Government. That can be achieved with the procedure, now accepted by the Minister, of appointments being made by the institute.
We welcome the amendments to the extent that they meet some of the points we raised. The process of amending this Bill has been to take it out from under the Minister's control, with the willing support of the Minister whom we have convinced of our view. Fine Gael would have preferred a different model integrated with the Environmental Protection Agency role, as the basic aim of this is to protect Irish citizens as much as possible from the dangers that exist from the use of radioactive substances in the State. Although they are used for the general good they lead to many problems. The approach of the Government is flawed although it is improving as we go along.
While we would like the approach outlined in the Schedule, the Minister's amendment goes at least some way down the road in meeting our reservations and it conforms to the more conventional model of how chief executives of boards operate. It was extraordinary that the Bill as originally drafted proposed such an involvement from the Department. I raise that, not to batter the Minister, but to encourage him to continue perhaps even more generously down the road he has taken, to row back as many as possible of the negative elements in this Bill to make it as strongly independent as possible. We welcome the amendment although it means we will not reach our further amendments which we are discussing in conjunction with this. Ours would have been a fundamentally better approach.
I welcome this amendment. If we have confidence in the institute we must trust them to select the best possible person for the position of chief executive officer. Any other course would undermine the independence of the institute. This amendment means that we place full trust in the institute to make the appointment. That is a good thing and we should leave it at that.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 11, subsection (5), lines 40 and 41, to delete "first Chief Executive Officer shall be appointed, and may be removed from office at any time, by the Minister; each subsequent".
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 12, subsection (2), line 5, to delete "such, and such number of," and substitute "such number of".
As it is worded, this subsection seems to require the consent of the Minister, and the Minister for Finance, for the appointment of individuals as well as for the numbers involved. It is not the intention that the Ministers should vet the person which the institute wishes to employ, but only the overall numbers involved. I am proposing therefore, to delete the words, "such, and such number of," and substitute, "such number of". There remains adequate controls over the staff numbers and grading in this subsection and in subsection (5).
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 12, lines 19 and 20, to delete subsection (4).
This subsection originally provided that the institute may remove a member of the staff for stated reasons. It has now been deleted because it is contrary to the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 13, subsection (1), line 15, after "Minister", to insert "and the Minister".
I propose to make this minor amendment. The consent of the Minister for Energy for a superannuation scheme prepared by the institute for their staff has been inadvertently omitted. At present the consent of the Minister for Finance is required for superannuation schemes prepared by the institute for their staff. However, under subsection (3) the consent of the Minister for Energy as well as the Minister for Finance is required for any amendments or for revocation of a superannuation scheme. Subsection (4) also refers to the consent of the Minister for Energy. I propose therefore to insert the words "and the Minister" after "Minister" in line 15 to achieve that effect.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 15, lines 22 to 29, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following:
"(1) The Institute shall cause a report on the performance of its functions under this Act to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas annually, and may from time to time cause to be laid before each House such other reports with respect to those functions as he sees fit. The terms of any direction under section 20 shall be included in a report under this section.
(2) Notwithstanding the generality of these reports each annual report shall include—
(a) a report of any notification made to the Institute under section 34 of this Act,
(b) a report of the current state of preparedness of the National Radiological Emergency Plan and any trials of procedures within that plan which have been undertaken during the year.
(c) report on the arrangements for the disposal of radioactive waste emerging from activities within the State, and
(d) any information in such form and regarding such matters as the Institute sees fit.".
The purpose of this amendment is to provide that the institute should report directly to the Oireachtas rather than have their reports sanitised by the Minister before they would go through. I know that would not be the intention of the Minister. He would have copies of the original report laid before each House without change. The purpose of this amendment is to see that the report contains certain elements as a minimum. We are anxious to see a very high level of reporting from an institute like this to the Oireachtas, so that we can keep up-to-date with what they are doing in the way of protecting the public. The proposed section puts some specific requirements on the reporting by the institute. Among the matters the Oireachtas has a right to have reported directly to it is the occurrence of any accident under section 34. If accidents occur they should be promptly notified to the Oireachtas and any action necessary should be made known to Members of the Houses and appropriate action taken.
We also provide for a report on the current state of preparedness of the emergency plan. The essence of any successful emergency plan, particularly in this area where it is unlikely the plan will ever be called into use, would be regular reporting and testing of the plan to make sure it is up to scratch. What shocked many people about Chernobyl was the poor preparedness of many of the countries, despite the existence of different bodies to respond to the crisis. It is important that part of the annual reporting by the institute should include an up-to-date report of testing and the procedures that would constitute an emergency plan.
The other item which concerns the House is the arrangement for the disposal of radioactive waste emerging from activities within the State. It is acknowledged by the Minister and the House that things are not as they should be. It is important that the institute report on a regular basis to the House so that we can see if progress is being made. This is re-enforcing the provision for direct reporting to the Oireachtas on matters that are of major concern to the House on an annual basis and that would be part of the institute's reporting function.
The one element of the amendment which is no longer relevant relates to the terms of a direction under section 20, where the Minister has amended his original position in a way which most people will welcome. It is worthwhile spelling out the form of reporting that the Oireachtas expects from the institute on an annual basis in their reports.
I support this amendment. An important function of the institute will be to keep the public and public representatives informed. It is important that reports be made to the House on a number of issues. It is important that we are aware of what the institute are doing, as specified by Deputy Bruton, that we are aware of the plans in hand and arrangements made as regards the disposal of waste. There was a danger in the past, and there still is, of nuclear energy boards engaging in a high degree of secrecy. The hallmark of the nuclear industry is secrecy about security, keeping the lid on and not letting people know what is happening. That creates suspicion. People are prepared to believe anything when they are not told to the contrary. When they are not aware of what is happening, rumours abound. There is no reason why there should be secrecy here in regard to the use of radio-active substances. Safety is a crucial issue as far as the institute are concerned. The more knowledge people have the more credit they will give the institute, the more confidence they will have in them and the better they will be able to adopt the directives or suggestions from the institute in regard to safety. It is important that the institute report to the House on their activities.
It is extremely important that Deputy Bruton's amendment be taken on board. The areas he thinks should be clearly covered in the report are important. It is not good enough for the content of the report to be left to the discretion of the Minister.
There are two other matters which could usefully be added to Deputy Bruton's list of contents. The first is that the annual report should include a report summarising the results of any monitoring of radioctivity carried out by or for the institute. Another interesting matter that section 19 deals with is the power to accept subscriptions and donations. I feel rather strongly that if subscriptions or donations are received by the board pursuant to this section, full details of this should be contained in the annual report.
I am sorry, Deputy, are we discussing Deputy Bruton's amendment to section 17?
We are, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The Chair does not get that impression. You must confine yourself to what is in the section and what is in the amendment, please.
I am endeavouring to do that. I suggest that donations of this nature should be acknowledged in the report as provided for in the draft Environmental Protection Agency Bill which was published subsequent to this Bill.
I support this amendment also, even though I would prefer to see the retention of lines 22 and 23 and of section 17, because I believe that it is essential to have time limits on the production of these reports. Unfortunately, I do not see any reference to a time limit in the amendment, whereas there is a marker put down in the section that is proposed to be deleted. Having said that, I believe, for the reasons already put forward by the proposer of the amendment, that this amendment should be accepted, while perhaps retaining the words: "as soon as may be after the end of each financial year of the Institute, but not later than 6 months thereafter, the Institute shall..." and the continuing on with the wording of the amendment. Would Deputy Bruton agree to that?
We have not had any notification of that amendment so I do not think it is in order. So that we will know exactly where we are going, if we get an indication as to what the specific amendment is and having listened to Deputy Allen and Deputy Flaherty who have offered, we can put that in order.
When this legislation was published first the hope was that we would have at long last a body that would be entirely independent of ministerial influence. Section 17 (2) of the Bill states:
Each report under subsection (1) of this section shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct.
That could be a serious erosion of the independence of the institute in reporting on an annual basis. Deputy Bruton's amendment No. 28 (2) (d) which states: "any other information in such form and regarding such matters as the Institute sees fit" is an essential element and must be included in order that the institute will have independence, because matters may come up from time to time on which the institute may wish to comment on, and it must have the freedom and flexibility to comment on these matters. Therefore, it is essential that paragraph (d) would be acceptable by the Minister and, in fact, that the amendment in full would be accepted by the Minister.
In relation to paragraphs (b) and (c) of the amendment, I was appalled by the lack of reaction to radioactive fallout in this country post-Chernobyl, especially in the weeks afterwards. That was the first time some people realised that radio-active fallout was trans-continental. Up to then all our eyes had been focused on Sellafield which was considered to be public enemy number one, but at the time some people did not realise that nuclear pollution is trans-continental.
I believe there is a need for an up-to-date report on the national radiological emergency plan because there was such an unco-ordinated response to it the last time. We had State agencies, health boards, local authorities all doing their own thing and there were major gaps in the situation. Therefore, a report must be published regularly so that this House and the public can be assured that we are prepared.
We have already dealt with radioactive waste, in previous sessions and again this morning. We are entitled to know, however, what is happening and it is essential that Members of this House be kept up-to-date on how we are disposing of our radioactive waste. From now on I hope its disposal will be part of a national plan for waste disposal and that we do not continue with the dependent attitude that has prevailed for so long.
This amendment would add a very important element to the Bill. The Radiological Protection Bill is aimed at providing protection for workers and patients in our hospitals; for workers in academic institutions and for the general public in relation to the dangers posed by radiological devices. This report will be a direct line of communication from the institute annually to the public and it must be an effective form of communication to the public, to us and to organisations like Earthwatch and Green Peace, who take a great interest in this area. In the development of this Bill we have seen that those involved in the industry have acted traditionally in an atmosphere of secrecy and it will take them a little time to adjust to the modern communicative approach that is required of all industry, and more particularly of a controversial industry such as the nuclear industry. Therefore, it is important at this stage in the development of this institute and the development of the whole industry nationally and Europeanwise that we demand precise information and that we ensure that the public will be informed in the annual report of the Institute of the major areas of concern currently and for the future. When we discuss this type of national organisation, it is not uncommon that the annual report is seen as being very important. It is no less important in this case. In my experience amendments have been accepted from the Opposition in these areas on quite a regular scale.
Before I call on Deputy Mac Giolla will you allow me to put things in order by asking whether the House gives leave to amend the amendment as indicated and requested by Deputy Pattison. Agreed.
In the amended amendment No. 28 (1) after the word "shall" and before the word "cause" in the first line we insert "as soon as may be after the end of each financial year of the Institute, but not later than 6 months thereafter". Is that agreed?
We agree to amend the amendment. The amendment is not agreed.
It is agreed to amend the amendment.
I agree with the amendment to the amendment, but it is most unfortunate that there is a guillotine put on this 57 page Bill and we are only at page 15. I want to commend the Minister on his co-operation which gives us some confidence in the remainder of the Bill but it is most unfortunate that we have not an opportunity of dealing with it at more length. On Report Stage, I hope the Minister will take into consideration some of the points that have been made so far. I doubt if he is accepting the amendment but I hope he will deal with it on Report Stage.
I am not accepting the amendment. I do not see any need for it. We are coming to the end of this debate because of the guillotine motion, but we did have a very full debate on Second Stage and the House is indicating its agreement that I have tried to amend the Bill to take account of most of the major arguments that were made by the Deputies of the Opposition parties during the course of the Second Stage debate. Even though we are finishing discussion on Committee Stage, I think it is fair for me to comment that a lot of the wishes of the Opposition have been incorporated in the Bill. The primary desire was to ensure the establishment of the independence of the proposed institute and I have sought to achieve that objective in the amendments. Deputies will agree that many of the amendments are in my own name for that purpose. I regret that because of the shortage of time we have not the opportunity to go on to the other amendments.
I must now put the question: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Energy, for Committee Stage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill: in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, other than section 20, that the section or as appropriate, the section as amended, is hereby agreed to; that the First Schedule as amended, the Second, Third and Fourth Schedules and the Title are hereby agreed to and that the Bill, as amended, is hereby reported to the House".
May I clarify that the amendments that have not been reached may be tabled again for Report Stage and dealt with on that Stage?
Correct. When is it proposed to take Fourth Stage?
Next week, whenever the Whips agree.
It is required that we indicate a day, with a qualification.
Next Tuesday, with the agreement of the Whips.