Amendment No. all in the name of Deputy Pattison has been ruled out of order.
Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 10, to delete lines 24 to 26.
I tabled this amendment because of the failure of the Minister to take my ideas on board on Committee Stage. I spoke very briefly then and outlined the reasons for deleting the section. Unfortunately, the Minister did not see fit to make the appropriate amendment to the Bill.
I will explain what this amendment means. Section 9 (1) (c) of the Bill deals with the question of allowing the institute to deal with matters pertaining to non-ionising radiation as may be specified. The Green Party feel that this matter should not be dealt with by the Department of Energy, it is like asking a person to be a poacher and a gamekeeper at the same time because policy in this area will be set by the Department of Energy. Quite clearly, this matter should be dealt with by the proposed Environmental Protection Agency, a body which, I hope, will be able to extend their tentacles far and wide to investigate all matters which are in any way connected with pollution. This subsection should be deleted from the Bill and I appeal to the Minister — even at this late stage — to take my amendment on board.
I want to express my continuing concern over the transparency in the functioning of the proposed Radiological Protection Institute. One of the major problems facing the National Energy Board has been the lack of public confidence in their operations and attitudes which has been manifested at the highest political level.
On Second Stage I outlined my concerns in regard to the independence of the institute; I said I had a strong suspicion that the employees of the institute, who will be civil servants and subject to the Official Secrets Act, would not have the sort of independent status we would wish to see in an institute charged with protecting our people from the dangers of nuclear energy.
The Labour Party maintain that unless freedom of information is an integral part of the institute and enshrined in the Act establishing them they are unlikely to enjoy public confidence. That would be a pity. As well as the issue of public confidence it is now generally accepted, for example in the preamble to the EC Directive on Access to Information on the Environment, that public access to information will improve the quality of environmental protection. Furthermore, there is an inconsistency in the approach to freedom of information adopted in the Bill and that adopted in other legislation such as the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. That Bill at least aspires to address the need for transparency in the operations of the proposed agency or the environmental impact assessment regulations of 1989.
On Second Stage this point was argued when I stated this Bill was being presented by the wrong Minister. That is the essential reason we have continued to oppose the contents of this Bill which should have been presented by the Minister for the Environment and not the Minister for Energy. The reason is that radiological protection is not concerned with price or cheapness of energy or with the strategic considerations that arise when security of energy supply is considered. Radiological protection is about the environment and the health and welfare of people in a sometimes hostile environment. For that reason the Radiological Protection Institute ultimately must be answerable to the Minister for the Environment and not the Minister for Energy.
I am particularly anxious to see the institute established as an integral and central part of the Environmental Protection Agency. The institute will have to monitor, control, advise, educate and occasionally speak out. They must be free to do all those things unfettered by political control or interference. Having the institute under the control of the Department of Energy is simply not the way to achieve all these objectives. The EC Directive on Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment was adopted on 7 June 1990 and is due to come into force by the end of 1992. This will require a far greater degree of public access to information than exists at present and the Bill provides a timely opportunity to incorporate these requirements in the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy, but he seems to be embarking on a Second Reading speech which is not in order at this stage. We are on Report Stage, an amendment in the name of Deputy Garland and the Deputy's own name.
I want to make the point on the inclusion of the amendment at this late stage, about the lack of provision of public access to radiation monitoring data. May I at this stage refer to my amendment?
Amendment No. a1 is out of order. The Deputy's name is enjoined with Deputy Garland's in respect of amendment No. 1 and of course he is entitled to address that amendment.
I believe the Bill represents a missed opportunity.
While we have some reservations about selecting any one aspect of the Bill, we are supportive of this amendment simply because it brings us back to the question of the appropriate Department for looking after the protection of the environment from radiological hazard. As the Minister knows, and as we debated on Second Stage, Fine Gael's strong view is that it would have been more appropriately and safely placed under the Environmental Protection Agency Bill.
I gather the intent is that regulations under this Bill will become the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment in due course. My only reservation about supporting the amendment is that it leaves us in a kind of never-never land and we are not sure whether it will be dealt with by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is an area of great public concern and a number of organisations have expressed serious reservations that the public need to be protected from the hazards of non-ionising radiation in particular. That has become topical.
Electro-magnetic fields around high voltage power lines and microwave radiation are causing great concern in residential areas and there is a view that these would more appropriately fall under the Department of the Environment. This view has been expressed regularly to the Minister and I am surprised, and disappointed, that he has not acted on this. As Earthwatch have pointed out, there is a clear conflict of interest in that the hazardous side effects of activities, such as electricity transmission, are regulated by an institute under the auspices of the Department of Energy. Therefore, with some reservations, I support this amendment. I will be interested to hear whether the Minister will be willing to accept it.
I also support this amendment. We dealt with this issue on Second Stage. I have dealt at length with the question of why the Minister for the Environment was not involved in the procedures.
It appears that the Minister for Energy and the Minister for the Environment will be coming together at some point and one will be saying, "That is my job" and so on. This may concern a controversial issue.
I do not know why the Minister wants to take this to himself in the Bill. The Department of the Environment have been handling this matter in local areas where it has arisen. Obviously, it is an environmental issue, and one in which the Department of the Environment in their housing programme have to be involved. It deals specifically with houses built adjacent to high tension wires. That is where the major problem arises. It is an issue for the Department of the Environment and something with which they will have to deal. They will be clashing with the Department of Energy as to whether it is safe to build houses in this or that area, what the problem is and so on and I cannot understand why the Minister insists on retaining this provision.
The Minister has repeatedly emphasised that he intends to have the institute independent; he recognises the importance of its independence and credibility. I hope he does so to the fullest extent because the independence of the institute will be vital. The institute are going to clash with the Department of Energy, and the Minister for Energy, on the issue of electricity supply and that is where there will be a constant clash. The Electricity Supply Board will, obviously, prove continuously that there is no problem and the institute, if they are to be independent, open, free and making their own decisions, will clash with the ESB. The latter will go to the Minister who, in turn, will ask the institute whether they have checked this, that and the other and whether they are sure about such and such. I do not see how the institute will be able to preserve their independence in that sort of clash. The Bill, unnecessarily, contains a provision that will tie the hands of the institute to a certain extent. They are going to have to waffle instead of coming out straight with the truth.
We should be satisfied with regard to the independence of the institute and the freeing of information to the public on all issues. It is not quite clear that there will be such public access to information under this Bill. Without that access to information the institute will be more of a hindrance than a help in this area of non-ionising radiation. The Minister has been very helpful throughout the Committee Stage and seems to be genuinely trying to create an independent institute. This is an area where they will find it difficult to maintain their independence. I would ask the Minister to look at it again.
This amendment raises the whole issue debated at great length on Second Stage, that is, the appropriateness of a gamekeeper and poacher, in that the Minister is the one who would provide ultimately should the ESB decide to go nuclear. Again in this area of non-ionising radiation in respect of high tension power, it is the Minister who provides for the ESB's activities. There is an inherent weakness in having under the aegis of the Minister for Energy an institute which essentially deals with environmental protection.
As Deputy MacGiolla pointed out, in this instance there is even greater reason to feel that putting non-ionising radiation under an institute that comes within the ambit of the Minister for Energy is inappropriate in that the sort of issues that arise here will typically be wrapped up with planning Acts and the appropriateness of certain types of development in relation to good planning and environmental protection. It does not seems very sensible that we should have a Department and an institute under the Department of Energy trying to get involved in what is in essence a planning matter where An Bord Pleanála, the Department of the Environment and the local authorities are the recognised experts in the field. It does not make sense. This is an aspect which should be left to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Planning Acts the local authorities and An Bord Pleanála who are the experts in dealing with these issues.
I have to oppose the amendment, the intention of which is that the new institute should not have any role in relation to non-ionising radiation. It is appropriate for the new institute to have a role in this important area. I do not accept that there would be a conflict of interest here, as suggested by Deputy Garland on Committee Stage and today.
The new institute is an independent body and Deputies have recognised that I have strengthened the independence of the institute during the course of the preparation of this Bill. All the arguments that were made on Second Stage were taken on board by me and amendments were duly made on Committee Stage. The Bill has been greatly improved and is much different from that I orginally introduced. The Bill establishes to a much greater extent the independence of the institute that we are about to establish.
It is not legitimate to argue, the House having accepted amendments strengthening the independence of the institute, against the institute. I cannot accept the argument casting doubt on the degree of independence that the board would adopt in exercising their responsibility under this Bill. I would have faith in the new institute. It will be true to the intention of the House as contained in the Bill. It will act independently and will give good, independent advice to the public, to the Minister and the Government when they seek it or when the board feel it is necessary to speak out. That right is clearly enshrined in the Bill.
Paragraph (c) of this subsection enables the Minister to extend by order the institute's activities to non-ionising radiation such as microwaves, as distinct from microwave ovens, and to radio waves. There is at present no central authority in Ireland in relation to the assessment of the effects of non-ionising radiation, the laying down of protection measures and the regulation of its occurrence. There is as yet no clear evidence of any adverse effect from this kind of radiation, but the matter is receiving greater attention now.
There is concern in some circles about the effects of radiation from electricity cables and from MMDS television signals. It is necessary for the new institute to be in a position to take on this new function and acquire the necessary expertise and resources to do so. Recently in my constituency and in other counties in the west concern was expressed about the dangers to the public from radiation emanating from MMDS television equipment. I had this very thoroughly examined and all the advice available to me is that there is no danger to the public or any cause for concern.
The surprising thing is that there is no body in the country to whom the public have recourse in a matter such as this to seek professional independent advice. That is why it is important that there be a section in this Bill enabling the Minister at some time in the future to extend the powers of the institute to include non-ionising radiation. There should be some professional institute under the aegis of the State whose advice people would rely on and accept, who could give a definitive statement in regard to these matters.
The Environmental Protection Agency.
The public should have access to such a body and that is the intention under the terms of this Bill. This is merely an enabling section. There seems to be a need to act upon this power at some date in the near future and to extend the expertise of the institute to cover non-ionising radiation. Before any decision to extend the institute's responsibility to non-ionising radiation can be taken, it will be necessary to examine, in consultation with other relevant Government agencies such as the Departments of Communication and Health and other bodies such as the ESB, what needs to be done and which bodies should be assigned the responsibilities. I intend to have this question examined as soon as possible by my Department in consultation with the relevant agencies.
The difficulty at the moment is to determine what is necessary and what hazards are to be dealt with. The scope of non-ionising radiation is vast, the hazards, if any, are not at present clearly identified, nor are the control measures that would be appropriate or useful. Section 9 (1) (c) is worded so that it can be specific to any one type of radiation considered hazardous and outlines the powers and functions necessary to cope with a specific problem.
As to whether the Department of the Environment or the Department of Energy is the appropriate Department, that is academic. If we establish an institute which we are satisfied has the professional expertise and ability to act independently and if we have confidence that the institute will give advice which the public will accept and rely upon, that should be the main objective. It seems appropriate to have the institute under the Department of Energy. Given the independence of the institute and the undoubted expertise which exists in the Nuclear Energy Board with regard to radiological protection and nuclear safety matters generally, I firmly believe that the institute is best placed and that it is logical they should assume this role. Radiation is a specialised field which is dealt with worldwide either by separate bodies or by separate entities within wider bodies.
The new institute on establishment day will inherit a well equipped laboratory and expert staff and will be in a position effectively to carry out their functions as laid out in the Bill. There is no advantage to be gained in amalgamating the institute with any other body. What counts is expertise, effectiveness and independence.
Deputy Pattison referred to the directive on freedom of access to information on the environment. The EC Directive is currently being examined with a view to its implementation in Irish law. As I would not wish to pre-empt any legislation which might be brought forward in this area, it would be inappropriate to propose any amendments to this Bill to take account of the EC Directive. If in the future, following a full examination of the implications of this directive for Irish law, it is considered appropriate to amend the Radiological Protection Act to take account of the directive, I shall bring forward the necessary amendments.
I oppose the amendment.
I am most disappointed that the Minister could not give way on this point. He quite rightly dealt at some length with what is covered by non-ionising radiation, which sounds rather technical. He mentioned the potential problems with high volume power lines and also the MMDS system. I was surprised and disappointed at his statement that he has had MMDS checked out and that his information is that it is completely harmless. That is not the information we are getting. There is a real risk of danger to the public from MMDS. It is not generally recognised that the MMDS system is a rip off. The deflector system which is already in place in most areas is adequate and there is no need for MMDS. It is ridiculous to play ducks and drakes with public safety when a perfectly adequate and totally safe alternative is there.
Something else has come to light since Committee Stage. The organisation most closely involved in this area, Sparks, has produced some research which suggests very serious potential problems with proposed light rail transportation, which may be a viable option in Dublin. This is very bad news because light rail would seem to provide a lot of answers to transport problems. Apparently it too is suspect. The importance of independent information and an independent body to deal with the whole area of non-ionising radiation is highlighted following this disclosure.
Deputy Flaherty had some reservations about my amendment. She was quite right in saying that there could be a gap here. God knows when the Environmental Protection Agency will be set up. The legislation has not yet reached the Dáil. There could be problems if there is a prolonged delay in setting up the agency and if this is an area which requires immediate attention.
I will put a compromise to the Minister and withdraw my amendment if it is acceptable. I propose on line 25, after the word "radiation" to insert the phrase "until such time as the Environmental Protection Agency is set up." If the Minister will not agree to that compromise, I will press my amendment.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, David.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Browne, John (Wexford).
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Foxe, Tom.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
- Ahearn, Therese.
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
- Bruton, John.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Connor, John.
- Crowley, Frank.
- Currie, Austin.
- Deasy, Austin.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Dukes, Alan.
- Durkan, Bernard.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Sheehan, Patrick J.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Spring, Dick.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kemmy, Jim.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lowry, Michael.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Owen, Nora.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Yates, Ivan.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 10, to delete lines 30 to 35.
This amendment arises from our discussion of section 9 on Committee Stage and, in effect, means the deletion of all of section 9 (2) (a).
The discussion on Committee Stage showed that a close reading of this subsection could give rise to some misapprehensions I would prefer to avoid. Section 9 allows for the conferral by the Minister, by order, of additional functions on the institute. Under subsection (2) (a) the Minister may, from time to time, by order, assign to the institute the following function: the making of arrangements for the supply of such radioactive substances or devices as may be specific in the order for use in the State and, where so agreed by the Minister after agreement with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the conclusion of agreements with appropriate bodies for this purpose. The provision was taken with a slight amendment from the 1971 Nuclear Energy Act which established the Nuclear Energy Board. Section 5 (2) (a) of that Act reads as follows:
The making of arrangements for the supply of fissile fuel or such other radioactive substances or devices as may be specified in the order for use in the State and, where so agreed by the Minister after agreement with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the conclusion of agreements with appropriate bodies for this purpose,
It is clear that at the time of the 1971 Act the functions envisaged were appropriate to a body such as the Nuclear Energy Board which was set up to oversee a nuclear power industry and advise on proposals for the construction of nuclear power stations. It is not considered appropriate to the Radiological Protection Institute. Indeed, a supply role could be at variance with the institute's regulatory functionsvis-á-vis users of radioactive substances. On examination of the files there appears to have been no firm reason for inclusion of this provision in the current Bill. It would appear to have arisen from a wish merely to retain a role for the institute in relation to supply. However, as this has never arisen, even under the 1971 Act, and there is no reason to suppose that the institute would require such functions in the future, the subsections are, with the agreement of the House, being deleted.
Regarding the second part of the paragraph concerning the making of agreements with appropriate bodies, the conclusion of such agreements would have been contingent on the supply of the materials. It was not intended that the institute would be involved in the function of concluding major international agreements which are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs nor of concluding safeguard agreements as these are relevant to the importer of the radioactive materials. The House will see that I have taken on board the arguments that were made in this case on Committee Stage. I am bringing forward this amendment to deal with the matter as I said I would.
I welcome the Minister's decision to delete this section. The fact that he listened to the arguments and concerns that were raised here, which he now admits as being substantial, indicates that one of the real problems with this Bill is that it was framed from the outlook of a nuclear energy board which would have a very different brief from what I believe should be the brief of a radiological protection agency. It is encouraging because it improves this Bill substantially. It also indicates how much easier the job would have been if we had come at it from a very different angle, which Fine Gael believe would have been preferable.
This amendment removes what could have given rise to very serious concerns and, as the Minister realised when he investigated it, quite justifiable concerns because this proposal was based on an historical situation where there was an expectation of an obligation to supply nuclear resources within this State and could have left a residue of power that would potentially have undermined the intentions of this Bill. Therefore, I welcome the Minister's amendment and his positive response to points we raised on Committee Stage.
I also wish to congratulate the Minister on deleting this section. It covers a number of points made both on Second Stage and Committee Stage. I pointed out, on Second Stage, the danger of the institute becoming a nuclear energy board under another name. This vouches for the Minister's determination. The fact that he has deleted this section proves that this will not be just another nuclear energy board with all the secrecy and adopted modes from the procedures of nuclear powers over the years. The deletion of this section makes that distinction. I want to congratulate the Minister for taking on board the points that were made. It proves his determination to attempt at least to have an institute totally different from what we have under the Nuclear Energy Board.
I, too, would like to congratulate the Minister. We had quite a lively debate on this subsection on Committee Stage. The Minister has shown his ability to take on board arguments put up and is to be congratulated for that. I only hope that there are not other little items like this that we have not succeeded in picking up and which we may live to regret at some date in the future. However, at this stage, congratulations are in order for the Minister.
Amendment No. 3 is in the names of Deputies Flaherty and Richard Bruton. Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are related and, with the agreement of the House, may be taken together for discussion purposes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This amendment of ours deals with a substantial element of the Bill we did not deal with adequately on Committee Stage. It is considered to be absolutely essential on this side of the House that we get this right. The success of this Bill will depend on how well its provisions protect the public and how much confidence they have in them. That will be directly related to their perception (1) of the independence of the institute, (2) their accessibility and (3) the accessibility of information the public will need to protect themselves through this institute. In this context it is essential to get right the process by which the institute will report on their work. On this side of the House we do not believe that the Minister, in his present proposals, has got it right. Given that he has come such a distance in other areas it would be our hope that he would accept the direction of our amendments even at this stage of the debate.
The essential distinction in our amendment — and we would be happy to take on board the amendment to the amendment: I am not quite sure, as a matter of order, whether its acceptance is required of us or of the House——
I was happy to note that Deputy Flaherty cooperated with me in not proposing her amendment because, technically speaking, the first question that will be put will be on the amendment to the amendment. I invited Deputy Flaherty to speak but I will ask Deputy Garland to move his amendment to amendment No. 3 when Deputy Flaherty will have concluded when, if necessary, there can be two separate questions.
May I clarify that it is for the House to decide whether to accept the amendment to the amendment rather than us as movers of the amendment, to decide whether we accept the amendment to the amendment. It is an issue for the House rather than one for the movers of the amendment to decide whether to accept the amendment to the amendment.
The mover of the amendment to the amendment will be entitled presently, with the agreement of the House, to withdraw his amendment to the amendment, if he wishes. But if he does not do that he is entitled to have the question put on his amendment to the amendment. Then Deputy Flaherty would also be entitled, if she were so disposed, to formally move her amendment and have a decision of the House on that.
If she wishes, is Deputy Flaherty not entitled to accept Deputy Garland's amendment to amendment No. 3?
She can so indicate. While she has not yet moved it, she would have to get permission of the House to withdraw her amendment.
That is now as clear as mud.
If the Deputy had moved her amendment she would have to seek the permission of the House to withdraw it. She has not moved her amendment; she has spoken on it. So she can speak away and indicate to the House that she wishes to withdraw her amendment and is happy to have the question decided on the amendment to her amendment.
No, that then removes my amendment whereas the amendment to the amendment introduces an additional element.
I thought that Deputy Mac Giolla, in helping you, was indicating that you would be satisfied with the amendment to your amendment.
So long as it includes my amendment, that it is an addendum as distinct from a replacement.
No, they are two separate matters. We have an amendment and an amendment to that amendment; two separate matters.
But the amendment to the amendment is additional to my amendment; it does not displace it in any way?
The Deputy is not going to encourage the Chair to adjudicate on that. I will put two separate questions.
Will I still have an amendment at the end of having accepted the amendment to the amendment, or will my amendment——
The first question that I will put will be the amendment to amendment No. 3 in the names of Deputies Flaherty and Richard Bruton. When the debate will have concluded that is the first question I will put. That having been decided, whichever way, I will then ask you, Deputy Flaherty, to formally move your amendment, have a question put on that and have the House decide it.
If I may revert to my general train of thought, it is crucial that we get this section right. There is an increasing understanding and awareness of the need for a maximum level of public information, indeed a right to information, on the part of all citizens in relation to areas of concern to them. This whole area of radiological hazard is of increasing reality and concern in a rapidly changing world and is likely to continue in that direction in the foreseeable future. Information in this area is vital for the public at large.
We are concerned that the section, as drafted by the Minister, gives the Minister and his Department too heavy a hand in relation to how the institute will report, the content of those reports, indeed to their independence in taking up issues outside of those immediately required of them by the Minister. As at present drafted, this is a serious flaw in the Bill. Our amendment seeks that their report on the performance of their functions would go directly to the Houses of the Oireachtas. To a Minister of good intent this may appear to be an insignificant amendment but, under the section as drafted, the proposal is that their report would go to the Minister and in due course find its way to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is absolutely vital that the independence of this institute be established, that their primary function will be to report to the public through the Houses of the Oireachtas and not to the Minister. There is an important distinction to be drawn there.
We are concerned also in relation to section 17 (2) (b) and (c) that their special obligations to report should be specified. These are areas of major public concern on which progress made to date has been most inadequate. If this institute is to protect people, as we hope it will, the notion that we would have an annual report that would not adequately direct the public mind to progress in these areas would mean that they simply would not be doing their job in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we consider it important to specify this reportage.
It is because of this we are happy also that the amendment to our amendment, those additional specific functions, should be outlined. It is important that the results of any monitoring of radioactivity, together with summaries and interpretation of such results, be made available for inspection by the public, with copies made available for public purchase at a reasonable cost. It is our opinion that this information should be immediately and readily available to the public, through the Houses of the Oireachtas. There should be no question of delays at Departmental level or any undue interference with or limit on the institute in deciding their priorities in performing their functions via the Minister and his Department.
Even at this late stage it would be my hope that the Minister would accept that there is nothing in these amendments to which he could object. I am sure they are all functions he would like to see the institute adequately undertake in a transparently, accountable way to the public. I hope he will be able to accept our amendment.
I regret the confusion. Perhaps Deputy Flaherty would now formally move her amendment.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 15, to delete lines 22 to 29 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 and 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 other information in such form and regarding such matters as the Institute sees fit.".
You can do nothing about including the letter or the spirit of Deputy Garland's amendment in your amendment other than indicate to the House that you would be so disposed.
I strongly urge the Minister to support this amendment. Essentially the Minister has moved progressively, throughout this debate, to remove ministerial control and he must be congratulated for recognising a genuine concern among the Opposition parties that we wanted to see an institute that was truly independent and that we would not have a situation — which unfortunately we had in the past — where a Minister was seen to intervene, in a way that was not helpful to the public interest, in the affairs of the then Nuclear Energy Board.
The reason we are not satisfied with section 17, as currently drafted, is that not only does the Minister receive the report under that section, but under subsection (2) he has power to decide the form in which the report is made and the matters reported in it. I read that as giving the Minister the sort of power a previous Minister for Energy used to exercise to control the then Nuclear Energy Board's ability to offer advice to the public on radiological safety.
I fully accept the bona fides of the Minister and that he would not attempt to muzzle the Radiological Protection Institute but, as an Oireachtas, we have to be mindful of what happened in the past and seek to put in place legislation that, as far as possible, will not be open to any undesirable influence at any future date. That is why it is important that we provide in this legislation that the institute will report directly to the House. It was an error on our part to omit something we agreed on Committee Stage, on the suggestion of Deputy Pattison, that this annual report should be presented as near as possible to the end of each financial year and, in any event, not later than six months thereafter. We would like to see that incorporated in the Bill if the Minister accepts the spirit of our amendment.
The other point about our amendment is that we are seeking to have the institute report to the Dáil on an annual basis on specific important issues in the field of radiological protection. These are listed at subsection (2) (a), (b), (c) and (d) of amendment No. 3. Indeed, the additional amendment on monitoring is one we recognised on Committee Stage should be included.
Under the provisions of section 34 if accidents occur and have been brought to the attention of the institute — and the institute has been involved in them — we should know of them. If there are issues that could cause public concern and there are lessons to be learned from the fact that things are going wrong, then the Dáil is entitled to be told about them if necessary more often, and the action that has been taken. That is the essence of section 34, and there are special penalties underlining its importance. The Dáil would want to see a report on such events.
Similarly, the preparedness of a national emergency plan and the trials of the procedures involved are also matters the Dáil would like to see addressed in an annual report. The Chernobyl accident showed up a number of weaknesses in emergency planning. An annual report on the preparedness and the trials of any procedures that have been carried out by the institute would put an onus on the institute to update their emergency planning, year in year out, and explain to the public, through the Oireachtas, that they are keeping up to the best modern standards and are in a position to deal effectively with any emergency which, God forbid, should come to pass.
The issue of disposal of radioactive waste is one which the Minister, in the course of the Second Stage debate, recognised that not everything in the garden is rosy. The Minister has indicated that he has seen fit to bring in an institute from abroad to advise us on how we might get over this problem. Given the Minister's concern and his willingness to bring in outside expertise, he must recognise that there is a genuine concern in the House to see an annual progress report on how we are moving on this very important issue.
What we have set out in our amendment, with the additional amendment put down by Deputy Garland in relation to monitoring, would provide the House with a very good thumbnail sketch each year of our state of preparedness and would give the Oireachtas something to assure the public at large that not only were the institute doing the job but we, the Oireachtas who have charged them with this duty were keeping them to their job by having an annual report from the institute which would keep the pot on the boil and assure the public of the safety they have a right to expect this institute will provide.
Deputy Garland rose.
I want to state my full support for this amendment and to repeat the point I made on Committee Stage about the inclusion of the words "not later than six months" because it is vitally important that these reports be made available as quickly as possible and that, if necessary, they are open for scrutiny and discussion. If questions arise from these reports we should be able to put parliamentary questions to the Minister on what follow up action he may consider taking on any particular report. I support the amendment.
In supporting the amendment, I am not worried about subsection (1) as it appears in the Bill as against the replacement subsection as proposed in the amendment. It does not matter, one way or the other, so long as the report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is only fair that it should go through the Minister first then be laid before the Oireachtas so that it is not held up. I presume that is what is in the minds of the proposers. If a report goes to the Minister first it can remain on the shelves for some time before it is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am really worried about subsection (2) which states:
Each report undersubsection (1) of this section shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct.
I suggest that is in conflict with the Minister's statements in the House in regard to the independence of the institute when he ensured that the Minister would not dictate to the institute, that the institute would do their own business, in their own independent way, without interference from the Minister or the Department. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I submit that directing the institute that they shall make information available "in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct" is an interference with the institute.
If the Minister can direct the institute to include information on a certain matter he wants included and to do it in such form as he directs, it will mean that the institute will not be independent and cannot give information in the form in which they want to give it. Why would the Minister want to direct the institute to give information in a particular form? That may be all right, in the case of statistical information but in some cases he may direct them to give information in a form which does not reveal all the facts. If the Minister wants the institute to include in their report information on certain matters, they be allowed to do so in such form as they see fit. The main purpose of the institute is to give information in a clear, open and honest manner so that there is no cover-up or suppression of information with the use of difficult, scientific language. It is absolutely essential that the institute give proper information. I believe the Minister is anxious to ensure that this will be the case. However, as is often pointed out during debates on Bills, it is not the present Minister we should worry about; we have to take into consideration what the Minister in office in ten years time will do.
I am worried about how the Minister may use section 17 (2) to give directives to this independent institute on the information they should include in their annual reports. I see no reason whatever for the inclusion of this subsection in the Bill. I agree that the Minister should be able to suggest to the institute that they should report on something which has happened during the year. This amendment refers to information which should always be included in annual reports, for example, the current state of preparedness of the national radiological emergency plan. As we have found in other Departments, such plans are forgotten about until an emergency occurs, at which time they may be found to be inoperable. The institute should report on the state of preparedness of the emergency plan each year so that we will know that they have thought about it, tried it out and are satisfied that it works. While I am sure the institute will report on the disposal of waste, which will be an ongoing matter, nevertheless we should provide that they will have to report on this matter.
Subsection 2 (d) of the amendment provides that the annual report should contain any other information in such form and regarding such matters as the institute sees fit, whereas section 17 (2) provides that it shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct. Section 17 (2) will reduce the independence of the institute and will give the Minister power to cloud over any matters in the annual report. He could direct that the report should be made in a specific form and, therefore, enable certain facts to be suppressed. The form in which reports are made should be decided on by the institute.
I do not know if we are discussing amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 3.
We are discussing both.
I believe any independent institute would naturally monitor radioactivity and include such information in their annual reports. In fact, they should not wait for annual reports to give such information. They should make monthly or three monthly reports on the monitoring of radoactivity, radium, etc., in certain areas. I am sure that they will make such reports. The Minister will probably say in his reply that the institute will report on such matters and there is no need to include such a provision in the Bill. However, reference should be made in the Bill to matters on which they should report. I support the amendment on that basis. I particularly support the deletion of section 17 (2) and its replacement by paragraph (d) of the amendment which provides that the annual report shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the institute sees fit. Section 17 (2) could be used by a Minister to erode the independence, objectivity, openness and honesty of the Radiological Protection Institute.
I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 3:
Before the second last line, to insert the following:
"(d) a report summarising the results of any monitoring of radioactivity carried out by or for the Institute,
(e) details of any subscriptions or gifts received under section 19,".
I should like to refer first to amendment No. 3. Section 17 (1) provides that the Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. That subsection is fine as far as it goes but it does not put any time limit on the submission of such reports. I should like to remind the House that there are considerable delays in regard to reports which are given to Ministers. The most recent example is the report on Dublin Zoo which was laid before the Minister for Education a year ago but which has not yet seen the light of day. It seems reasonable to include a provision in the Bill which provides that annual reports shall be laid before the Oireachtas within a reasonable time, perhaps six months. This is a reasonable proposal and I am surprised the Minister has not taken it on board. Perhaps he will do so.
Section 17 (2) is very short and merely provides that the annual report shall include information in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct. We can only hope that the Minister will not ask for information to be included on the items bought with petty cash and on how the staff canteen is run. I presume the institute will inform the Minister that he should direct them to deal with certain items. Nevertheless, this provision gives great power to the Minister. The Minister or any future Minister for Energy — we do not know who he or she will be, or which party he or she will represent — might have a different view from the institute on various matters and might direct them to limit the information in their report to certain items. It appears that the institute will have to accept the Minister's opinion and direction in the matter. This is a clear breach of the principle of freedom of information, which is what is at issue here, be it in connection with the Radiological Institute or the Environmental Protection Agency. They should be allowed to give the maximum amount of information. This is a very important issue. I would be very supportive of amendment No. 3, which makes reference to three specific areas and includes a fourth very important catch-all provision, as it appears to be a very reasonable amendment and would ensure that the institute would merely put on record the work they had done in specific areas.
Unfortunately, no reference is made to two areas in amendment No. 3, but I am glad to note that the movers of that amendment have said that my amendment to their amendment is acceptable to them. Very briefly, my amendment deals with two further matters which I think should be dealt with in the annual report. The first part of the amendment would ensure that the annual report includes summarising the results of any monitoring. I agree with Deputy Mac Giolla who said that if need be we should not have to wait for the annual report. Indeed, monthly or quarterly reports should be rendered if only to allay the fears of the public as much can happen in a year. For example, the issue of radon gas is very much in the public eye and we do not know if, or when, there will be another Chernobyl. Please God, there never will be but something of that nature could happen again. As we are all aware, there was considerable public disquiet at that time but there was a very poor response from the Nuclear Energy Board. I hope this will not be repeated by the Radiological Protection Institute. One would hope that this will happen but I feel such a requirement should be enshrined in the legislation.
The second part of my amendment refers to subscriptions or gifts received under section 19. Unfortunately, we did not deal with section 19 on Committee Stage as the debate was guillotined. I would have opposed that section unless provision was made in section 17 for such gifts or subscriptions received by the institute to be clearly recorded in the annual report. Clearly, section 19 is a very dangerous section and, if possible, all gifts or subscriptions to the institute should be publicly recorded. The section has all sorts of ramifications and it is very important that the public have confidence in the impartiality of the institute. It is very worrying that the institute could receive gifts from vested interests and certainly, unless I receive reassurances from the Minister on these two points and he agrees to incorporate them in the Bill I will press my amendment.
Like other Members on this side of the House, I acknowledge that the Minister is attempting to ensure the greatest degree of protection in the legislation. However, we need to consider its implications and see if it contains any loopholes. There is a long and tragic history of attempts worldwide to cloak in secrecy and conceal the effects of nuclear fall-out and radiation. Indeed, there is a widespread perception that this has happened. Therefore there is an onus and a responsibility on us, in putting the Bill through the House, to allay such suspicion and belief. None of us needs to be reminded of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and many others. Indeed, there are probably others about which we have heard nothing because of the secrecy and censorship I have spoken about.
The point was made during the course of the debate on the legislation setting up the Marine Institute that any legislation setting up an institute must guarantee independence and autonomy for that institute in carrying out their work, particularly if it is in a specialised or complicated area. The people who are best able to decide what should be included in a report are the skilled staff who work within an agency. Other speakers have made the point, which I accept, that subsection (2), as it now stands, which contains the words "information in such form and regarding such matters as the Minister may direct" is open to interpretation. A Minister in the future, either wilfully or through ignorance, may decide to direct resources in such a way that the institute will not be able to publish the best possible report. I hope the institute will also be encouraged to enter into dialogue with international bodies on standards and possible dangers and share information on nuclear power and radiation.
It is possible that pressure could be brought to bear on a Minister or a Government not to release information or minimise dangers for reasons which they would consider to be fair and proper but which from the point of view of the institute would not be the most professional way of doing their work. Given this possibility, which perhaps might not occur within the term of office of the Minister, every safeguard must be included in the legislation to guarantee the independence of the institute in reporting not just to the Minister but also to the House. The amendments which have been tabled are eminently sensible, are not radical and would go a long way towards guaranteeing the protection which the institute and, indeed, the Minister desire. I would like to think that the Minister would respond positively on that, taking into account the implications not only nationally but internationally. Political pressure has been exercised in the past and could become a type of censorship on the institute.
I oppose these amendments because, first, section 17 subsections (1) and (2) are standard provisions in relation to the presentation of the annual reports of semi-State bodies and should therefore remain. The detailed reports set out in the proposed amendments would all normally be contained in the institute's annual report anyway. Subscriptions or gifts would of course have to be accounted for as receipts in the annual accounts as provided for under section 16. I believe it would not be appropriate to insert in the Bill specific details of what should be contained in the report. This could even prove to be an impediment to ensuring that all relevant and important information from year to year is contained in the report, by isolating in the Bill certain areas of activity.
As regards the proposed section 17 (2) relating to the national radiological emergency plan, this would normally be a function of my Department as co-ordinator of the plan. With the early publication of the plan, the Deputy will see that trials and the state of preparedness will be features of the information which will be available to the general public. I would refer Deputies specifically to section 17 (5) of the Bill, where the Minister of the day has power to ask the institute to provide certain information on certain topics, should the Minister deem it necessary.
Deputy Flaherty and indeed a number of other Deputies mentioned the necessity for the maximum level of public information. I would again remind Deputy Flaherty that I have already agreed to amendments in this regard on Committee Stage. We have already changed the Bill to strengthen this whole question of public information. The amendment that was made sets out that the institute will provide information to the public on any matter relating to radiological safety which the institute — not the Minister — may deem fit. I would refer Deputies to the section dealing with that, section 7 (1) (k). That should dispel any fears the Deputies may continue to harbour in regard to the ability of the institute to act on their own in relation to the dissemination of information. They are not a tool of the Minister, and we have gone out of our way to ensure that they will not be so.
Deputy Bruton suggested that the Bill would give power to the Minister to muzzle the institute and to decide what the institute could refer to in the report. Other Deputies seemed to travel down that road also. It is an overly suspicious approach in the first instance——
It is an overly dangerous area.
——and it is a wrong interpretation. Deputies should read the words carefully. The provision refers to the fact that the Minister can ask the institute to include certain matters. It does not give the Minister power to prevent the institute from referring to any matter they consider worthy of mention in their report or to any of their activities. Perhaps Deputies would read — I know many of the Deputies here read it assiduously — the report of the Nuclear Energy Board. It is a very extensive document with very comprehensive information. The experience we have had in that regard, even with the existing Nuclear Energy Board, has been satisfactory. I am just making the point that there seems to be a misinterpretation of what the section says and the kind of powers it gives the Minister. Section 17 (2) does not give the Minister of the day absolute control over what should be in the report. The subsection merely states that the annual report shall include information as the Minister may direct. The institute can act independently in regard to any other matter they wish to have included in the report.
Deputy Garland referred to the need to provide in the Bill that the Minister should lay the report before the Oireachtas within a specified period. Yet the amendments do not refer to this at all. The Bill as proposed by me and as adopted by the House on Committee Stage places an obligation on the institute to report within six months of the end of the financial year, and provides that the Minister would then lay the report before the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no such provision in any of the amendments and I am surprised the Deputy thought it necessary to refer to it. The Minister will, as a matter of normal course, publish the reports, bring them before the Cabinet and lay them before the Oireachtas. The Deputy mentioned one report where the experience seems to have been different but the common experience is that once these reports are presented to the Minister he brings them to an early Cabinet meeting and when they are dealt with there they are laid before the House if that is the requirement under the Act. I have not heard many complaints that that procedure has not been complied with.
The emergency plan and the difficulties experienced at the time of the Chernobyl accident have been referred to. It might be appropriate for me to make some reference to the emergency plan and the action that has been taken, if the Chair will allow me to indulge in this area for a few minutes. I want to assure the Deputies that the Government — not just this Government of which I am now a member but previous Governments — have been making considerable progress in making adequate preparation for a radiological emergency. Funding for extra personnel and equipment was provided to the Nuclear Energy Board immediately following the Chernobyl accident. A new laboratory for the Nuclear Energy Board was completed in 1988 and its equipment is being upgraded continuously. These resources would allow for extensive monitoring in the event of an accident resulting in contamination of the Irish environment. In addition the Government in 1988 approved an emergency plan for radiological emergencies and allocated £890,000 for its implementation. The plan which is being phased in is designed to provide a rapid and co-ordinated response to any radiological emergency.
As regards the progress that has been made to date on the implementation of the plan, first an alerting system has been established, including the establishment of an emergency control centre at the Nuclear Energy Board headquarters, which will make recommendations and provide information to the Government and the public. A national continuous gamma dose rate monitoring system has been installed to detect and monitor any increase in radiation levels here. A computer system which will speedily process all monitoring information has been commissioned at the Nuclear Energy Board. A Civil Defence organisation has been equipped for and is being trained in the use of portable monitors to undertake local and regional surveys. Our thanks go to the loyal and dedicated voluntary members of the Civil Defence who have given so much of their valuable free time in that organisation and have made an excellent contribution to community services. I commend everybody involved in the Civil Defence organisation for what they have been doing.
A whole body monitor has been installed at St. Vincent's Hospital. Various systems for monitoring air, grass, soil, meat and so on are being installed in the board's laboratory and indeed are being used extensively, as I mentioned on Committee Stage. Generally speaking it is fair to say that progress to date has been very satisfactory. Certainly we are far better prepared now for an emergency than we were at the time of the Chernobyl accident. From what I have said, it is clear that I see no necessity for the amendment or the amendment to the amendment. Therefore I oppose them.
I am disappointed at the Minister's attitude to the amendments put down by this side of the House to this important section of the Bill. The Minister said there is great public confidence in the Nuclear Energy Board and a great sense of being adequately protected by them. However, the Minister is seriously out of touch and I wonder what happened to his party's commitment to giving information to the public, accountabity and reform. He said this is being done in all Bills and that this is how it will continue. There is a serious problem because of the general approach the Government are taking in the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute independent of a general Environmental Protection Agency, under the aegis of the very Department who have responsibility for many of the national agencies or bodies which might produce the greatest risks to the environment at the same time.