Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to bring this legislation before the House. Since I first began work on this Bill almost two years ago, the environment debate has moved on. We can no longer view environmental protection in the simplistic terms of previous decades. Today it is not just a matter of saving the whale or even the corncrake. The nuts and bolts of pollution prevention and control are less emotive but have assumed a central position.

The debate in the Seanad reflected this in the level of interest in even the most technical and complex areas of the Bill. I endeavoured to approach the debate in the Seanad in an open and constructive way. A reflection of this is in the number of amendments which was made to the Bill as a result of that process. A total of 461 amendments were tabled at Committee and Report Stages in the Seanad and 111 was actually applied to the Bill.

I am committed to pursuing this same open and constructive approach here in the Dáil. I will, however, admit a sense of frustration at the length of time which it has taken to get this important Bill this far and I would appeal to all parties to take account of the urgency in putting this agency in place as soon as possible.

This Bill to establish an Environmental Protection Agency has come at a time when there is unprecedented pressure on our natural environment.

Forces such as the Common Agricultural Policy have led to widespread intensification of agriculture with its attendant pollution problems. Many years of complacency regarding the effects of industry on the environment have left us all ill-prepared to deal with the increasing number of large and complex developments which are coming to our shores.

The current difficult economic situation coupled with continuing high and unacceptable levels of unemployment have tempted many to say that the environment should be placed on the back burner until these greater priorities are tackled. Our planning system, the greatest strength of which is the right of access by third parties, is now under attack by those who would have development at any cost.

Our economic ills require strong medicine which many will find unpalatable. While this medicine will be formulated from many different ingredients, one essential component of the formula has to be high environmental standards and strict but fair controls on all activities with pollution potential.

I have spoken on many occasions of the importance of the continuing health of our environment to our long term economic prosperity, a subject close to my heart.

Suffice to say that the strongest economy in Europe is Germany, and it is no coincidence that the Germans consider strict environmental controls to be an essential ingredient in their continued prosperity.

The Environmental Protection Agency which I propose to establish under this Bill is strong medicine for our environment and a key component in this Government's strategy to improve our economic performance.

Much has been achieved already in our efforts to protect and preserve this unspoiled environment. The Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, 1977 and 1990, and the Air Pollution Act, 1987, contain very wide ranging controls for the protection of the environment. My Department are presently working on new legislation dealing with waste to complete this legislative umbrella over land, air and water. However, environmental protection in the area of licensing of new and existing development has become increasingly complex and specialised. It has become increasingly difficult for each local authority to provide the expertise necessary to carry out their licensing functions. Problems of public confidence and the need for a more uniform decision making process have made it clear that these functions should now be carried out by one expert body. The idea of an Environmental Protection Agency was born out of the need for such a body.

In common with an increasing number of countries, we have concluded that the satisfactory control of activities with a major polluting potential will best be implemented through a national body with the necessary expertise and resources to deal with the increasingly complex issues involved. The agency's licensing activity will operate on an integrated basis. In other words, the existing separate control systems for air, water and waste will be replaced by one integrated system of licensing and control to cover all affected environmental media. Accordingly, about half of the EC member states have adapted their environmental control systems to this integrated system, and the EC Commission has just recently brought forward proposals for a directive on integrated pollution control.

While the proposed agency will have direct responsibility for controlling activities across a wide spectrum — in all, over 1,000 developments are licensable — they will also seek to promote the implementation of environmentally sound practices generally through a wide range of advisory, support and supervisory functions. These include: the provision of guidelines and back-up to local authorities and other public bodies concerned with the environment; co-ordination of environmental monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment; co-ordination of environmental research; supervision of the environmental performance of local authorities particularly in the area of drinking water quality, management of sewage treatment plants and landfill sites; participation in the environmental impact assessment procedures; promoting the conduct of environmental audits for existing development; the establishment of a labelling scheme for environmentally friendly products and services; and, finally, issuing and approving codes of practice and specifying environmental quality objectives.

If the new agency are to have the full confidence of the general public they must be tough, independent and fair in all their dealings and they must be seen to be so. The independence of the agency is guaranteed by a number of important elements. The executive board will be appointed by the Government from candidates selected by an independent committee following public advertisement of the vacancies. The agency will be given the necessary resources, including an effective and expert staff, to carry out their functions, and will have the freedom to act of their own volition. It is also proposed that it will be an offence to lobby any member of the board or employee of the agency with the intention of influencing improperly a matter to be decided by the agency. The impartiality of the agency is further underpinned by the comprehensive provisions of sections 37 and 38 in relation to the declaration and disclosure of interests by directors, employees of the agency and other relevant persons.

The agency will have wideranging powers including sole and direct responsibility for licensing and controlling a wide range of activities, the power to prosecute summary offences and the power to refer more serious cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions. They will be empowered to investigate and publish reports on pollution incidents or other matters related to environmental protection either on their own initiative or if requested to do so by the Minister. There is provision also for formal inquiries by the agency into a pollution incident or any other matter related to environmental protection. They will be able to avail of all the appropriate enforcement powers and functions provided for in the Air and Water Pollution Acts, including, for example, the power to seek a High Court injunction to prevent serious pollution.

The Bill breaks new ground in establishing open and transparent procedures. The public will be entitled under the Bill to have access to all of the agency's monitoring data as well as monitoring data collected by local authorities on behalf of the agency save in clearly defined circumstances. There is also provision for the agency to establish and maintain a data base on environmental quality. They will prepare state of the environment reports at least every five years and will be obliged to report regularly on their operations and activities.

Section 108 provides for the application of freedom of access requirements to the wider public service and will allow for full implementation of the EC Directive on this matter. These provisions on freedom of access to information will be an important link between the agency and the general public.

A detailed explanatory memorandum on the Bill has already been circulated to Deputies. I wish, however, to deal briefly with the Bill's main provisions in sequence. The text of the Bill, which has 110 sections and is in six parts, can be summarised as follows.

Part I contains standard provisions of a general nature dealing with such matters as interpretation, regulations, offences, penalties and other housekeeping provisions.

Part II deals with the establishment, membership, staffing, financing and operational matters of the agency. It also provides for the formal dissolution of An Foras Forbartha and the transfer of their staff to the agency.

Part III deals with the functions of the agency.

Part IV provides for the establishment of an integrated licensing system to be operated by the agency for activities listed in the First Schedule to the Bill, i.e., those activities with potential for major pollution.

Part V includes a number of general matters in relation to environmental protection and, in particular, provision is made for powers under water and air pollution control legislation to be operated by the agency in addition to or in lieu of local authorities. It also provides for special reports and inquiries.

Part VI is a miscellaneous part dealing with noise, improved access to information, control of genetically modified organisms and the increase of certain penalties under other legislation. These matters are not directly connected with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The First Schedule specifies the activities which are to be subject to licensing by the agency. The Second Schedule specifies existing enactments in respect of which functions can be transferred to the agency. The Third Schedule contains certain amendments to the Air Pollution Act, 1987.

Both the First and Second Schedules can be amended by ministerial order, subject to an affirmative resolution to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I would like to deal with some of the functions of the agency in some more detail.

With regard to their regulatory functions, the agency will have direct responsibility under Part IV of the Bill for operating an integrated licensing system and for monitoring, control and enforcement of environmental criteria in relation to classes of activities with potential for serious pollution. The activities involved are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill, which will be capable of amendment by ministerial order, with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, to cater for changed circumstances. The activities to be licensed by the agency are mainly those associated with heavy or large-scale industrial processes but also include activities such as mining, peat extraction, the food industry and intensive pig and poultry rearing. The agency will have regard to the best available technologies not entailing excessive costs for preventing or reducing emissions and to the polluter pays principle when deciding on licence applications. The integrated licensing system will operate for the activities concerned, instead of the system of separate licences and permits for air, water and waste as exists at present.

The relationship between the physical planning and environmental control systems, including environmental impact assessment procedures, has been raised as a matter of some concern. Representations were made to me by all the major interested parties, including representatives of planning authorities, developers and promoters and environmental and local community groups, about the possible difficulties in operating two separate systems and the issues were discussed at some length in the Seanad.

I have had further discussions with a number of those bodies from whom representations were received. I have had a review carried out within the Department of the relationship between the proposed licensing process and the planning process.

I will be bringing forward certain amendments on Committee Stage to give effect to the results of this review.

The agency will have a general supervisory role in relation to public authorities to see that environmental standards are being met. For example, mariculture and other marine related activities will in future be the subject of separate scrutiny by the agency under the Bill. Section 71 will enable the Minister for the Environment to make regulations, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Marine, requiring the prior approval of the agency in relation to the environmental implications of activities requiring licences, permits or other authorisations by the Minister for the Marine. These could include aquaculture, marine dumping and certain foreshore developments.

Local authorities will continue to be extensively involved in environmental monitoring and control activities. It is desirable that a mechanism should exist to guide standards of local authority performance and to encourage the consistent application of control procedures throughout the country.

Sections 56 and 57 give the agency general powers of advice and assistance in relation to local authorities. Section 61 provides for the taking of appropriate action by the agency if the environmental functions of a local authority are not being properly performed. Under sections 58, 59 and 60, the agency will fix criteria for the management of local authority sewage treatment plants and landfill sites and will have a general supervisory role in relation to local authority obligations for the quality of drinking water.

Under section 55, the agency also will have the right to provide advice or make recommendations to any Government Minister or public authority on environmental matters relative to their functions.

Sections 70 to 76 empowers the agency to influence and promote the use of environmentally sound practices in a variety of ways.

The agency are given an extensive involvement in the operation of the environmental impact assessment procedure. In particular, this involves power for the agency to prepare guidelines on the information to be contained in such statements. Those preparing and assessing such statements must have regard to the guidelines. I may have further improvements to propose on Committee Stage in relation to the agency's role in environmental impact assessment.

Under section 72 the agency will be responsible for promoting environmental audits through the specification of guidelines and criteria for this purpose. Section 73 places a duty on the agency to specify environmental quality objectives which must be taken into account by Ministers and other public authorities in formulating policy, setting standards or exercising their environmental protection functions.

The agency will be obliged, under section 76, to establish an eco-labelling scheme involving the use of a special symbol on the labels of products or in connection with services which meet specified environmental criteria. Here it is of interest that the European Commission have prepared draft proposals for a Community wide eco-labelling scheme; the relevant regulation is expected to be adopted in December. Section 76 requires account to be taken of these EC requirements.

There is an increasing demand for reliable and authoritative environmental information. The Bill provides a leading role for the agency in ensuring this demand is met. Sections 62 to 68 set out a range of relevant activities to be undertaken or co-ordinated by the agency.

The agency will prepare, publish and implement programmes for the monitoring of environmental quality including hydrometric data. Much of this monitoring will continue to be done on an agency basis by local authorities but will be subject to co-ordination by the agency to ensure that comparable and comprehensive data are produced. In order to provide a reliable supply of environmental information the agency will establish an analytical quality control programme and require laboratories which supply them with data to comply with a high standard of operational excellence.

The agency will have the role, under section 69, of fostering and co-ordinating environmental research. A well developed cohesive network of environmental research linked to environmental monitoring, both of which are to a large extent interdependent, will be critical to our ability to avoid environmental problems in the future and, when they occur, to respond positively and efficiently to them. Therefore the agency will co-ordinate environmental research and related programmes by public and other bodies and will prepare and publish registers of environmental research projects or operations. The agency will have power to carry out research directly, or through consultancy or commissioned work. As a matter of priority the agency will liaise with the European Commission and other international organisations so as to secure maximum funding for, and participation in, environmental research in Ireland.

To exercise such a wide range of functions effectively the agency require strong enforcement powers. Offences under the Bill will carry maximum penalties on summary conviction of £1,000 and/or imprisonment for six months, and on conviction on indictment of £10 million and/or imprisonment for ten years; fines on foot of summary convictions will be payable to the agency. These fines are of a magnitude sufficient to reflect the gravity of pollution as an offence and will act as a deterrent to the enterprises or individuals who may be tempted to take the pollution option if it would result in a short term financial saving. Other provisions of the Bill also will prove effective as a deterrent, for example, the liability under section 12 on conviction to pay the legal and other costs of the agency and the application, under sections 98 and 99, of these provisions of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, 1977 and 1990 and the Air Pollution Act, 1987 relating to liability for damage resulting from water pollution or emissions to the atmosphere.

I am determined that the agency should not be seen as anti-industry. It will, of course, be pro-environment. This means that industry and other activities with major polluting potential are well regulated.

The Government are committed to sustainable economic development. Essentially that means that, in the pursuit of economic development to meet the needs for the present generation, we must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. I have no doubt that the greatest legacy we can leave to future generations is a clean, unspoiled environment because that is our single most important natural resource.

We do not have huge resources of oil or mineral wealth but we do have what is probably the cleanest environment in Europe, a natural resource which will never be exhausted if we take care of it.

The decisions we make in future about what type of development we want in Ireland will have to take this into account. Much of our recent economic recovery can be attributed to industries which are dependent on a clean environment, for example, food, agriculture, electronics and tourism. Continued economic growth, will depend more and more on the perception abroad that Ireland is environmentally friendly. It is no longer an issue of jobs or the environment. In the nineties we look forward to jobs because of the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency Bill is a radical and progressive step forward. It will help to safeguard our environment and our economic future. The Bill is striking evidence to the wider world that Ireland is serious about preserving the unique quality of its environment.

The Bill is an important one. I am anxious to hear the full views of Deputies on it. However, we should all bear in mind the urgency of implementing the improved environmental management arrangements which the Bill will bring. With this in view, I would hope that, in this House, we will be able to order business and conduct our debates in such a way as to facilitate the reasonably early enactment of the Bill.

Anyone who cares about the environment, any Irishman who appreciates the special preserves and attributes of our island environment might be expected to give the Bill an unqualified welcome. Yet I have a lurking unease that the Bill, if enacted in its present form, will put environmental matters beyond the influence or control of the elected representatives of the people in this House.

The establishment of State agencies for specific purposes often is justified on the grounds that the need, in the public interest, for independence and flexibility outweighs the need for direct public control. As a consequence, the establishment of an agency invariably means that the sponsoring Minister no longer has to answer questions in this House on day-to-day matters, on specific details, even on matters of general concern. Sometimes the balance of public advantage lies with such an arrangement. Nonetheless it represents a democratic deficit.

In the case of the Environmental Protection Agency, as proposed under the provisions of the Bill, judgment has to be made whether the balance of public advantage justifies such a democratic deficit. In this case I think not. Consequently I have grave reservations about the balance of the Bill. Yet Fine Gael were the first party to propose an Environmental Protection Agency and were the first to introduce a Bill to this House for that purpose. Let there be no doubt about our commitment to a cleaner, greener environment or to the principle of an effective Environmental Protection Agency. My concern is that the agency proposed in this Bill will be easily stymied in their environmental endeavours by, for instance, expenditure or staff restrictions by a Government which in turn will refuse to answer to this House under cover of the "independence" of the agency. For these reasons Fine Gael will seek to amend this Bill so that the agency will be answerable to and monitored by an environment committee of this House. In this way public input into the priorities and performance of the agency will be provided and the democratic deficit minimised. By linking the agency directly to Parliament we will ensure that it will be more vibrant and less under the yoke of an evasive Minister for the Environment or a restrictive Minister for Finance. In thus establishing the most effective apparatus for the setting and achieving of clear environmental goals, this House will be doing a signal service in a crucial area.

The environment is an issue of growing concern to more and more people. It is a local issue, a national issue, a community issue, a world issue. It is an issue which affects all our senses, our sight, our hearing, our smell, our taste and even our touch. It affects our physical and mental health, our sense of well being and our morale. It affects manufacturing industry, agriculture, services, hospitals, schools and sport. It even affects our climate. The environment is no longer a side show for the vegetarian fringe, nor is it the preserve of comely oddballs dancing at the crossroads in a Celtic mist. It is a world issue and it is centre stage.

In proceeding to consider this issue it is necessary to give separate consideration to the natural environment and to the built environment. It is also necessary to divide the local from the national and the national from the international. Next year the world conference on the environment is scheduled for Rio de Janeiro. It is entirely appropriate that the world conference should be held so close to one of the earth's great rain forests, the destruction of which is vital to the collapsed economy of Brazil but which, for obverse reasons, is vital to the climate and environment of all the earth. The economic and social problems of Brazil and many other parts of the Third World impinge directly on the rest of the world. These Third World problems, together with the separate questions of nuclear energy and of the manufacture of CFCs, have major and urgent implications for the world's environment. All have their main basis in economics.

The 1992 world conference is timely but it requires from the First World, of which we are part, meaningful economic initiatives which supersede even the impending sacrifices of the GATT round. In anticipation of the world conference, the European Community ought to be preparing economic and fiscal proposals to meet the world's environmental needs. Agreement should be sought urgently with the United States, Canada and Japan and with the six EFTA countries and the Societ Union on an agreed approach. This approach must include much greater economic assistance and incentives for the Third World. It must also include agreement on domestic, fiscal and energy policy. In particular, the avoidable use of polluting energy should be the subject of clear fiscal disincentives. In this respect the United States would appear to be trailing the rest of the developed world, especially in its excessive consumption of petroleum products per unit of economic production. It should not be overlooked that the EC trails Japan in this respect.

The world conference is a unique opportunity and one which should not be missed to deal effectively with such threatening problems as global warming and the erosion of the ozone layer. The EC have a major role to play at this world conference and I hope our Minister and our Government are to the fore in proposing, pressing and supporting appropriate EC initiatives. The EC and EFTA countries, constituting as they do the 18 wealthiest countries in Europe, have a particular duty to lead the Council of Europe in their environmental endeavours and to assist eastern countries in catching up on environmental standards.

Within the EC there remains much to be done to continue the environmental advances which undoubtedly have been made. On the questions of toxic and hazardous waste, EC proposals may be inappropriate and the Greenpeace case seems compelling. In recycling and packaging and eco-labelling progress is too slow.

Too little is being done and too slowly about the danger of nuclear or radioactive pollution of our air and waters. The lesson of the Chernobyl disaster has not been taken on board to an adequate degree. The widespread concern in this country regarding Sellafield has not been met by an adequate response in London or in Brussels. Nonetheless progress has been made within the EC, especially in raising the consciousness of industry regarding its duty to the environment. However, while future industrial and other developments will, through environmental impact assessments, be more geared to environmental requirements, much more needs to be done regarding long-standing breaches of acceptable environmental standards. I do not accept that we should have to put up with environmental breaches long into the future merely because the practices causing these breaches have been of long standing. Tighter and clearer deadlines for the ending of these practices are necessary. This will not be painless, especially in the agricultural area. The present gloomy outlook for agriculture cannot be used as an excuse to delay appropriate environmental standards.

In Ireland, peripheral as we are to the main concentration of European industry, we have been spared some of the worst environmental breaches. Nonetheless we are still a long way from achieving the optimum environmental standards which an island of our size and population could reasonably aspire to. There is still far too much pollution in our waters and in our air. However, the most obvious gaps are in our built environment. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, will agree. It is in this latter respect that our local authorities, which should be the main protectors of our environment, are frequently the worst offenders. For example, much of the dereliction in our cities and towns arises from protracted and long delayed road proposals of local authorities which have the effect of not alone freezing all potential development along the proposed line of the road but also frequently of causing existing buildings to be abandoned or unmaintained. Despite the widespread dereliction, this Bill is virtually silent in regard to the built environment. Urban dereliction is one of the single biggest causes of alienation among our people. Alienation in turn leads to crime, social unrest and to physical and mental health problems.

Even the provisions of the Derelict Sites Act have been insufficient to make impact because the main enforcers of that legislation, the local authorities, are themselves the main offenders. This paradox arises principally from lack of financial independence and, it seems, the agency could very well fall into the same trap.

Urban dereliction arising from long delayed road proposals is compounded by urban dereliction of a different kind, dereliction arising from non-maintenance, again principally by the local authorities, and poor urban planning which lead our cities to sprawl and our city centres to decay. The non-maintenance of local authority estates, especially local authority flat complexes, is one of the biggest environmental nightmares in our country.

On Committee Stage I will be proposing several amendments to deal with environmental obnoxia in the built environment. However, let us again be reminded of the link between economics and the environment, a subject to which I will later return.

The Dáil environment committee which I have proposed as both a lever for and a monitor of the Environmental Protection Agency should also have a role in measuring the performances of local authorities.

Finally, in Fine Gael's proposals for expanding the role of the President of Ireland we envisaged an important inspirational and inspectorial role for our President in the environment area. I remain fully convinced that the stature of the Office of President can be mobilised to great effect to improve environmental standards at home and abroad. I would like to invite the Minister to consider including in the Bill a prescribed role for the President at the leading edge of environmental standards.

The principle of the Bill is heartily welcome but I hope on Committee and Report Stages its provisions can be greatly strengthened.

I wish to return to the question of the effectiveness of the agency. Of course, the agency cannot be effective until it is set up. The Minister has asked us for our co-operation in the speedy enactment of the Bill and I can assure her of that co-operation. Indeed, I would criticise the Minister for the delay in bringing the Bill before the House.

Fine Gael introduced a Bill proposing the setting up of an environmental protection agency 14 months before this Bill was introduced in the other House. The Government could have accepted that Bill with a view to improving it on Committee Stage. Indeed, the Minister's Bill was the subject of 416 amendments in the Seanad of which 111 were accepted. If the Minister had been gracious enough to accept the Fine Gael Bill I am sure it could have been improved and made effective with fewer amendments. Nevertheless, I can assure the Minister that there will be no obstruction from this side of the House to the speedy enactment of the Bill.

However, there is no sense in this House setting up an agency which has no teeth or enacting legislation which will not be enforced. Indeed, a most urgent need in this whole area of Dáil reform is the question of enforcement. We persistently pass new laws without making adequate provision for the enforcement of them. I strongly suspect that we are replicating that regrettable process in the case of this Bill.

The Minister made scant reference to resources. In fact the word was mentioned only once by the Minister. The agency could easily be stymied in their work by lack of staff and financial resources. We all know that many Departments and agencies of State are already stymied because of lack of resources, even when the provision of extra staff could save the Exchequer money, as I know from bitter experience. I would like assurances from the Minister in relation to resources. I would like her to elaborate on the financial resources and staff she will guarantee as a minimum for the proposed agency this year and in succeeding years. Will she assure the House that the agency's minimum resources will be sufficient to ensure rigorous enforcement of all the laws?

On the details of the agency, I am somewhat surprised that there is no provision for any outside directors. It appears that all the directors will be full time directors appointed by the Minister, following nomination by a committee. There seems to be no provision for an outside overview of the executive directors. That is certainly an unusual procedure, to say the least. It greatly adds to the case for an environmental committee of this House to oversee, among other things, the functions and performances of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Minister paid scant regard to the principles of environment policy. As far as I could see from my quick perusal of her speech she did not say anything to the effect that the polluter should pay.

To some extent that is not surprising in view of the fact that very often the principal polluter is the Government or some of our local authorities. Very often this pollution is the result of a lack of resources which prevents local authorities or statutory agencies doing their job or implementing and enforcing existing legislation.

Let there be no doubt that this Bill is of considerable importance. The subject of it is of great concern to increasing numbers of people not just here but throughout the world. By their nature issues relating to the environment cannot be confined to national boundaries. There is an enormous international dimension to environmental issues and in some cases there are even global issues such as global warming and damage to the ozone layer.

This debate should alert our people to the full dangers to the environment which will occur unless environmental problems are urgently addressed. If nothing is done about global warming and the erosion of the ozone layer much of the land of Europe and the rest of the world could be swamped by the oceans because of melting ice. Some of the data in this regard is quite frightening. While it would be wrong for us to create hysteria on environmental matters, even in regard to global warming and the ozone layer, it is nonetheless important that we mobilise public opinion and alert ourselves and our public representative colleagues in other countries on the need for action now to prevent a disaster in a few decades time. Because some of the consequences will not arise for 20, 30, 40 or perhaps 60 years, this might be used as an excuse to defer action for a few more years but the reality is that the need for action in several respects is urgent and the time for action in some respects has long since passed. Therefore, the enactment of this Bill is a matter of urgency. However, this Bill will be a failure unless the Government are committed to providing the resources needed to ensure that its provisions are enforced.

I should like at the outset to welcome the Bill and the Minister of State. I think this is the first time I have been involved with her in a debate on environmental legislation. We have waited for this Bill for a very long time indeed. The only criticism I would levy against the Minister is that there has been so much talk about this Bill. It is a great pity and shame that we have had to wait so long for its introduction in this House. I want to remind the Minister of State that on the last occasion we debated an environmental protection agency proposal, 12 December 1989 — a Bill in the name of Deputy Shatter — she concluded her contribution by saying:

It is my intention to have the necessary legislation, that is, the legislation to put in place the environmental protection agency, prepared as early as possible in the New Year to give effect to the Government's proposals, and to have the agency up and running in 1990.

We are now nearing the end of 1991 and we are only beginning to debate this legislation in the House. The fact that we have long-fingered this legislation for so long is shameful. This legislation is urgently needed. The Minister of State has come in here and suggested that we on this side of the House should regard the legislation as urgent and deal with it expeditiously. From the Labour Party's perspective, she will be given all the co-operation necessary to do just that.

There is a view that Ireland is green, unspoilt, pleasant and unpolluted, a view which is largely true, certainly in comparison with our partners in continental Europe and most definitely and emphatically true in any analysis or comparisons with the new democratised countries of eastern and Central Europe. Those countries present a tremendous challenge to the European family for the future. I had the opportunity in recent weeks to attend a conference and hear about some of the catastrophic challenges from Central and Eastern Europe which we must face in the future.

We should learn from their experience and put in place as a matter of urgency mechanisms to ensure that that sort of damage can never be done to the eco systems of this land in so far as we can control them ourselves. Although Ireland is physically an island, no country is an island in terms of world ecology: we are affected by the workings of every nation and of people very far away. For example, the sheep in counties Wicklow and Wexford were affected by the Chernobyl accident and when Sellafield spews out its waste the people on the East coast of Ireland are directly affected by it. There is a reality of cleanness and greenness about this land which we should as a matter of priority seek to protect. For that reason I heartily welcome the belated legislation before us today.

We have an historic opportunity in terms of this Bill. We often decry ourselves for being late in developmental terms but maybe that lateness will be a great advantage in this instance and will be to the eternal benefit of the Irish people. The 20th century has been an era of unprecedented economic growth and violent change. Global production of goods and services has increased more than 50-fold during this century and 80 per cent of this huge growth has taken place since 1950. Global industrial production today is 500 per cent greater than it was in the late forties. This rapid technical and economic development has been positive in many respects. Obviously it has benefited the western developed world and all our lifestyles, with increased material wealth, better health care, the availability of social security, a better selection of goods and services, more choice and the expansion of education.

During the sixties steps were taken towards an even more global distribution of growth. Reforms in international trade were envisaged, undertaken and negotiated and many new organisations were established, a new economic order. Unfortunately this effort came to a virtual halt in the seventies and eighties. The Helsinki Declaration on international security in 1975 and the agreements on nuclear arms control in the seventies raised expectations of a more stable world order. The prospects for sustained world development looked bright throughout most of the post-war period: natural resources seemed to be abundant, never-ending almost; environmental problems were seen as technical problems amenable to technical solutions; technological optimism prevailed and the potential for growth seemed unlimited and unbridled. There were going to be no problems that we could not resolve and mother earth would provide an endless source of raw materials.

However, structural imbalances in the development process became apparent, not least as we became increasingly aware of the environmental damage to our lifestyles, the air we breathe, the waters we depend upon and the soils which grow our food. During the sixties people began to see the first signs of large-scale reaction in nature and people's health to the rapid processes of industrialisation and urbanisation. The environment was gradually being poisoned and the signs were very obvious: birds were dying as a result of the use of mercury and pesticides and lakes were becoming unfit to bathe in. New ideas and words came into common use, for example, acid rain. There was also the Minamata accident in Japan. The working environment was often detrimental to our health.

One sign after another began to indicate that something was profoundly wrong and awareness began to lead to a demand for action. There was a growing green awareness during the early eighties and calls made for the establishment of agencies and legislative frameworks to protect nature from being attacked. A major effort was made on a world scale on the convening of the first UN conference on the environment in 1972 in Stockholm. International environmental co-operation was intensified and conventions were signed and implemented. As a result the process of developing and improving technologies for the control of pollution began to take place at great speed.

The seventies arrived with an energy crisis which led to an increased awareness of the limits of the natural resources that up to then had seemed to be unlimited. At the same time as the environmental effects of fossil fuels became clear to us, those same fuels were noted to be in short supply. Up to then nuclear energy was thought to be the saviour of mankind. When it was introduced in the fifties in Britain, the promotional blurb indicated that energy would be too cheap to charge for, too cheap to meter.

My first involvement in the issue was when it was proposed by the then Minister for Energy — now Minister for Industry and Commerce — to site a nuclear power station 12 miles from my home town in Carnsore Point. That was a very significant proposal not only for the horrendous consequences it would have had on the people of Wexford and the country generally, but as a start of an awareness process that has gone on since then. The green movement was founded in a mass campaign of action undertaken by the Wexford people, and supported by the people of Ireland, that culminated in 40,000 people encamping on the site over a weekend in 1977.

During the eighties we saw increased environmental degradation on a global scale. Emissions from industry, agriculture, households and traffic are serious threats to the air, the water and the atmosphere. Major accidents have now gone down in the annals of world history in places such as Bopal — which probably few of us had heard of before the catastrophe that crippled that city and killed and maimed so many people — Chernobyl and many other places. These accidents have shown just how vulnerable this small planet is to environmental harm and we have common cause — to save human kind from pollution. That is the international historical background to a push throughout the world for increased standards in environmental care, monitoring and protection.

On the international front I have mentioned some issues but there are others that no doubt will be spelt out in detail by other contributors to this debate. They are not particularly relevant to this Bill so I will make a passing comment on them.

The issue of climatic change was mentioned by Deputy Mitchell. A horrendous prospect would be if there is a depletion of the ozone layer because this would raise sea levels. This would have serious effects for a maritime country like ours, which has many low lying urban areas that are susceptible to any noticeable rise in sea levels. The rise of desertification is a major international problem that must be tackled by all of us and this is not a problem merely for those poor unfortunate nations, the most impoverished on the earth, just below the Sahara Desert which are constantly being eroded.

The continuing use of CFCs and halons is having an effect on the stratosphere as I have mentioned in relation to the depletion of the ozone layer. All these issues are world issues which we must address. They are not esoteric, remote and irrelevant to us. We cannot simply focus on our own backyard and be unaware of major international issues. When the UN sponsored international conference takes place in Rio next year the Irish position will be very clear because we are held in great respect by the international community because of our neutrality in the past, because we seem to be able to bridge the gap between the First and Third World and we are seen in many developed countries as honest brokers, without any vested interests in terms of exploitation of the Third World, but in a genuine concern of common humanity to make this earth sustainable for its people into the future.

As legislators, we have a role and a mission in relation to these issues. Our mission is to fight for the restoration of the right to a clean and habitable environment and this Bill is an important step on the road to achieving that aim. There are many different decision making structures in our society in companies, in local communities, in voluntary organisations and in Government. Each of these organisations or structures make decisions which impact on the environment and any of these decisions must not be made by any one small group of individuals or by a single individual; it must be for the common good and after common debate. If people are to feel confident, and if they are to take part in the decisions that effect them, their environment and their future, they must have access to knowledge.

We are very fortunate to have a developed and refined education system. Many people have commented on the focus on environmental education, particularly in the primary schools, in recent years. I pay tribute today to the role of primary teachers and the drafters of the school curriculum in relation to the new awareness among young people, particularly primary school children, which is impacting on their parents and families and is educating us all to the demands for protection of our environment. There are many unsung heroes in our classrooms who should be saluted today. Information and knowledge are all important. I hope that access to all information, without equivocation, would be made available through this Bill.

I am concerned that in this country we have a fixation about secrecy. I want an assurance from the Minister that there is a public right to know, a right that will take priority over any other supposed vested interest of secrecy whether it is business, commercial or political. People have a right to know the content of the water they drink, the land they walk upon and the air they breathe without equivocation and without hesitation. I hope that assurance can be given by the Minister today.

Another suggestion, touched upon by the Minister of State, is an often repeated falsehood of a conflict between jobs, job creation and the environment. I believe there is no such conflict. For proof I would ask people to look at those countries that have the best employment records, the best environmental standards and the lowest unemployment rates, countries such as Sweden and Germany. Conversely, if you look at countries that have the worst unemployment problems — I will not mention them — they generally have the weakest environmental standards, if any. A patent falsehood has been perpetrated for a long time that somehow there is a conflict between environmental protection and job creation and that if we impose stringent measures and standards we will frighten industry away or close down existing industries. We must be sensitive to the needs of the people but we should strive urgently for the best and not accept standards below those demanded in countries like Germany and Sweden. It is interesting to note that the same sort of argument is often put forward against the enactment of minimum wage legislation or equality of treatment for women. They always argue that these measures too, will militate against employment and frighten off industrialists or potential industrialists.

I wish to state clearly that no economic progress will be possible if our environment is destroyed. The Minister of State and Deputy Mitchell mentioned enshrining the principle of the polluter paying. That is obviously a very important principle. It is reflected in the Bill and it is one that is now enshrined in international agreements also. It must be unprofitable as well as unacceptable for anybody to despoil the physical environment. I am afraid it is often the case that it is seen that those who dump are never caught and if they are caught there is a token fine that bears no relation to the real cost of cleaning up the mess or the real cost of the damage caused to our environment. I heartily endorse and support the notion of the polluter paying. It must be enshrined in the legislation and rigidly supported by the agency, once it is up and running.

Thanks to the people of Wexford and the people of Ireland we do not have a commercial nuclear industry here. It is important to state, on any legislation dealing with the environment, that we categorically abhor and reject Sellafield and the continuing process there, the potential expansion they have in mind for Sellafield, and the suggestion that THORP will come on stream next year providing reprocessing facilities for Europe and the world so that the Irish Sea can be a lane for traffic from as far away as Japan, bringing its lethal cargo to Sellafield within sight of the Irish east coast. That is a disgraceful rejection of the wishes of the Irish people and I call on the Minister of State to appeal to her Ministers in Government, particularly to the Minister for Energy who is a party colleague, to intiate legal proceedings against the British Government in either the European Court or in the International Court of Justice both of which would have suitable mechanisms to hear a case brought by the Irish Government against the British Government and British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The notion that they will store, in deep caverns a matter of miles from the Irish coast, deadly radioactive waste which would pose a threat to life for historical time periods in the future is mindboggling and totally unacceptable. I am taking this opportunity to again call on the Minister and the Government to resist in the most emphatic terms the deep underground dump proposal and the commissioning of THORP which will make Sellafield and Cumbria the nuclear waste bin of Europe and the world.

This Bill is a start for a broad-based integrated set of legislative measures which are required if we are to have an ecologically sound and an economically viable country. Those measures would embrace a number of areas on which I will comment briefly. They would embrace the area of agriculture. In many aspects the use of the land is of crucial importance and significance to this country. In the context of the MacSharry proposals we see that there is huge over production in Europe and the the use of fertilisers and pesticides here and at the same time there is mass starvation and hunger in the southern hemisphere. That issue must be addressed by this Government in a way that is fair not only to the food producers here but to those who are struggling for life in the Third World.

The legislative framework about which I am talking needs to touch upon transport policy. The Minister of State has an interest in transport policy for this city in particular, a policy that will get vehicles off our roads so that people can choose to travel by public transport in the sure knowledge that they will have a safe efficient and reasonably priced system to bring them to and from work and places of entertainment, so that they will not have to struggle through endless traffic jams and choking exhaust pollution. The legislative framework needs to touch upon urban planning. Deputy Mitchell talked about the built environment. This legislation does not focus on that area. If we are to have a cohesive package this area must be focused on. There must be a clear policy for the development of cities and towns. That has not been set out in nearly enough detail yet. There must be a clear industrial policy that not only protects the worker in his physical environment but which protects the environment in relation to emissions from industry. Regard must be had to the location of industry and the juxtaposition of industry and people.

The framework must also embrace tourism policy. There is obviously great controversy in Deputy Carey's constituency in relation to the siting of an interpretative centre on Mullaghmore in the Burren. Issues like that must be addressed and the Government must have policies on them. We must preserve wilderness areas and balance the need for the development and promotion of tourism with safeguarding our heritage that once damaged can never be repaired. Most of all such a legislative framework must touch upon consumption policies, on the way we look at materials which in recent decades we were taught to consume avariciously without regard for the future, without regard to where any product came from or without regard to what was happening to it once we threw it in our bins. We can have a waste management system in our cities and towns that minimises waste, with a mechanism for the best possible processing and recycling to follow on. That process has begun and I commend the Minister of State for the beginnings this year in relation to promotional pilot projects like "Kerbside". "Kerbside" is the way to go. It is a much more successful policy than the installation of bottlebanks or aluminium banks or paper banks. People will separate material at home if they are trained and prepared for it. There must be investment and a fast expansion of that scheme nationwide.

I am only touching upon these issues that could take up Dáil time for the day. The Minister knows my views and the views of the Labour Party and I know she has a great interest in each of the areas upon which I have touched. I say "touched upon" to illustrate that we talk almost as if this legislation was our response to environmental protection and that we can then rest on our laurels. We have to do a lot more and a Minister for environment protection must do a lot more to develop an integrated cohesive set of proposals for enactment. Such proposals would have the support of the people.

This Bill provides for the establishment of a reasonably strong and independent agency with a range of responsibilities including environment monitoring, the establishment and the maintenance of data bases on environmental quality, the publication of environment information, the publication of promotional environmental audits and ensuring that Government Departments, State agencies and local authorities carry out their responsibilities in the area of environment protection. There are clear enough objectives. However, the Bill as it stands has a significant number of flaws, notwithstanding the prolonged discussion on it in the Seanad and the 463 amendments proposed there. There are weaknesses and inconsistencies which could make the agency unable to carry out effectively and independently the functions we have set it. The Labour Party maintain that effective environmental legislation should ensure that policies, developments or actions are not merely environmentally acceptable but that policy makers, planners, proponents of projects and developers are made incorporate environmental considerations into their design concepts and proposals.

We believe environmental legislation should also be unambiguous and should apply automatically to all policies, programmes and projects which may give rise to significant environmental effects. Exemptions may be allowed but only for clearly defined serious reasons. Most important of all legislation must ensure early and effective public participation to allow the incorporation of the people's views and ensure the independence of decision making.

We will table a number of amendments on Committee Stage to ensure the maximum possible independence of the agency. Our aim will be to strengthen the agency to ensure it is truly representative, has the widest possible terms of reference and has effective powers to carry out the functions that we have detailed for it. The Labour Party believe that this agency must remain fully accountable to the people while at the same time fully independent of any invested interest.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight briefly some of the inadequacies and deficiencies that exist in the Bill as presently drafted. The definition of "environmental medium" refers only to air, land, soil and water. It should also include landscape, habitats and certain aspects of the built environment consistent with the application of the planning laws, the Wildlife Act and the National Monuments Act. The definition of "environmental pollution" makes no reference to the discharge of energy, for example, heat into the environment. Those subsections will have to be amended to ensure a more broadly based definition. The phrase "best available technology not entailing excessive cost" is used repeatedly in the Bill. The Labour Party accept the need to be pragmatic. Some would say that the Labour Party are always pragmatic but we are concerned however that this clause could be used by developers and the local authorities to undermine or circumvent the best intentions of the Oireachtas.

Section 39 inhibits proper freedom of information. I have repeatedly mentioned that the right to knowledge is fundamental to the success of any programme of environmental protection. Section 39 in my view inhibits proper freedom of information in that it allows the agency to declare as confidential any information or type of information. Such a declaration should be restricted to information necessary only for national security or for the protection of a particular manufacturing process or trade secret. We believe that written reports or oral hearings heard under the authority of the agency should available for inspection by members of the public and copies should be freely available from the agency. Such reports should specifically be included in the list or definition of information collected and held by public authorities to which any person has the right of access. This interpretation of freedom of access to information would be in accordance with the EC Directive on Freedom of Access to Environmental Information which, as the Minister of State has reminded us, will come into effect in December of this year and which guarantees — I quote the directive —"to any natural or legal person the right of access to any information on the environment collected and held by public authorities in exercise of their legal rights."

Section 108 of the Bill allows the Minister for the Environment at his discretion to make regulations requesting public authorities to make available to members of the public certain types of information on the environment. This provision is too vague and allows for the possibility that the regulations may prove to be extremely restrictive. We would like to see this section amended so that all information relating to the environment will be publicly available with exemptions to be specified under a restricted number of circumstances.

We are pleased to note that the Government have decided to follow in the Bill the procedure originally followed by Deputy Spring as Tanáiste in 1983, in the context of the Bord Pleanála enactment, for the appointment of a director general and others. This approach, too, is to be welcomed. It should be noted that the inclusion of this procedure is in stark contrast with the attitude adopted by the Government when setting up the RTE Authority or the IRTC under the Broadcasting Bill.

The Labour Party are concerned about the proposed funding of the agency. In each piece of legislation which goes through these Houses there are many aspirations or good intentions which very often at the end of the day are stymied by the lack of resources. In recent years we spent a great deal of time debating the Child Care Bill, for example, when everyone in this House made huge efforts to put in place a legislative framework containing the best possible procedures and protections for children. Most of that Bill has not yet been enacted and no resources exist to put it in place. That is a shame, if not a crime. Similarly, in relation to the Nursing Homes Bill no money is being provided to allow health boards subvent people staying in nursing homes. We repeatedly pass measures in this House and then refuse to give the financial wherewithal to enable effect to be given to the legislative procedures. I hope that will not occur with this legislation and I appeal to the Minister of State to assure the House that this will not happen. We have seen this all too often when the Government tightened the purse strings. What is also worrying is that they use that economic muscle to punish an agency who trawl in information or touch on issues about which the Government are sensitive. Their response is to squeeze any such body. We have seen that in the case of RTE and the Broadcasting Bill and in the case of the Office of the Ombudsman where, literally, the Ombudsman had to make a public statement in relation to understaffing. I hope this agency will not go down that road, will have an independent budget and will be allowed to function independently of any pressure from any source whatsoever, especially from the Government.

The Labour Party believe that the Green debate to date has dealt solely with the waste and disposal end of the environmental issue. I have tried in my contribution to broaden the scope so as to see the environment as a total entity. We see the Environmental Protection Agency as the catalyst in sensitising the public to the broader economic environmental issues. Earlier this year the Labour Party published their own environmental policy which was adopted at our annual conference. Our comprehensive policy statement on the environment is entitled "All things are Connected". It reflects the growing concern of many people about the state of our environment and the impact this generation is having on the environment.

There are many other issues in the Bill which I could touch on including the potential under sections 53 and 54 for the Minister to increase the functions of the agency and broaden their scope and to take functions from the local authorities and give them to the agency. We will examine all the provisions in detail on Committee Stage but let me say that I heartily welcome this Bill. It is the first step in a process I hope will culminate in a decade, perhaps longer, in a legislative framework from every Government Department which will put in place a scheme of protection for our environment which will protect and husband our natural environment for our children in the future. The environment document adopted by the Labour Party states:

Humanity's relationship to the environment, the one world which we inhabit, must be based on the recognition of our total dependence upon that environment and of our responsibility to maintain and renew its riches and resources for future generations. In exploiting the vast riches of our environment to satisfy the needs of this generation we have an obligation and a duty to leave intact and/or to replenish those riches for future generations. This generation of humanity must not prosper at the expense of our children or our children's children.

I welcome the opportunity — at long last — to debate this Bill in the House. I welcome the Bill as comprehensive environmental legislation and the opportunity it gives us to debate environmental issues in a comprehensive way in this House.

As the Minister of State said in her opening contribution, the environment debate has moved on quite considerably since she first began the preparation of this Bill two-and-half years ago in the sense that it is now no longer sufficient that we pray to the environment, that we commit ourselves to very lofty aspirations in relation to environmental policy and then fail to meet them in practice in the many walks of economic, social and political activity.

I do not intend to criticise the Minister for the delay in the Bill being introduced in the House or indeed to embarrass her by reminding her of the many and varied deadline dates which she gave for the appearance of the Bill because I know that the Minister of State has been very committed to its introduction. I suspect that she has had many difficulties in bringing the Bill before the House. Indeed, we could serve a very useful role in the debate particularly on Committee Stage, in trying to give assistance to the Minister of State, not just in getting this legislation through the Dáil, but in encouraging her to further strengthen it and to address some of the inconsistencies and weaknesses in it, an aim which I have no doubt she shares.

The Bill, while welcome, is a disappointment; it is a reactive Bill, it reacted at the time of its inception to a number of public controversies mainly relating to industrial pollution. It reacted too to the emergence at that time on the national political stage of environmental issues. It was conceived as a panacea to environmental concerns, the idea was that if an environmental protection agency could be established then everything in relation to the environment could be put right. The agency were somehow to be the answer to many of the environmental problems and issues arising in the community.

The Bill is a compromise between those who are concerned about the environment, those who wish to put ecological principles at the core of economic and political decision-making and those who see the environment as an "add on", as some kind of an irritant that must be placated, something to be decided as an afterthought. It is out of that compromise that the principle of BATNEEC — best available technology not entailing excessive cost — has emerged, the classic compromise between the need to address environmental issues and at the same time pander to economic and industrial concerns.

The Bill is also a compromise, it would appear, between the Minister of State and her Government colleagues. No doubt, as the debate goes on, we will all become familiar with the concept of the BATNEEC principle. However, the BATNEEC principle which underlines this Bill reflects a principle in Government with which we are becoming more familiar, the BABNEEC principle — the best available Bill not entailing excessive compromise.

There are many provisions in the Bill which are welcome, it is to be welcomed that it has been introduced. It is to be welcomed that the Environmental Protection Agency are to be established on an independent basis. The method of selecting the directors and the director general of the agency is to be welcomed. The concept of the declaration of interests is also welcome and indeed if these principles had been applied in relation to the appointment of directors to other bodies, some of the political difficulties which we experienced over the last couple of weeks might have been avoided. The establishment of an advisory council is to be welcomed although I question the size and representation of the proposed advisory council. The idea of integrated pollution control, about which the Minister spoke, is to be welcomed although the means of achieving it will have to be very seriously questioned and teased out. I am glad that the Minister appears to be taking into account some of the submissions which she has received in relation to the interface between the licensing procedure and the planning procedures.

The increases in fines are welcome and the gesture which the Bill makes towards good environmental policy and practices is also to be welcomed. However, the Bill falls short; while it introduces a number of good concepts in relation to environmental policy and practice it stops short in relation to their implementation. I have already referred to the BATNEEC principle. The idea of an environmental audit is introduced in the Bill but only in a way in which the agency can establish some kind of guidelines for it, there is no obligation on industry or enterprises to carry out an environmental audit. The same applies to environmental quality objectives, codes of practice, eco-labelling and access to information. They were all introduced as concepts but the wherewithal has not been given to implement them.

The Bill is full of good intentions with most of the right concepts which are acknowledged in it. The problem is that they stop at that. It is a frustrating Bill, reading it one is inclined to think on the one hand that all its provisions are great but then one is left wondering why we cannot go the whole way. In many ways the Bill has already passed its "sell by" date. The Minister acknowledged that since she began work on it the environmental debate has moved on; certainly it has. When the Bill was conceived it was in the immediate aftermath of An Foras Forbartha and in many ways it is attempting to reincarnate An Foras Forbartha albeit under a different name. It was in the middle of the Merrell Dow, Merck, Sharpe and Dohme and Sandoz controversy that the idea of an environmental protection agency was seen as a panacea for environmental concerns. The idea was that if we had an Environmental Protection Agency public trust and confidence could be restored.

It is somewhat ironic that as we are debating this Bill in the House this week citizens in the city of Derry are preparing to take buses to travel to Leinster House tomorrow to protest at the siting in Derry, of Dupont, of a major toxic waste incinerator, a proposal in which the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, it appears, has had a very major involvement. That underlines what is happening here: We are debating a Bill which two and a half years ago was seen as the answer to all our environmental problems but which has not addressed the core problems relating to the environment. While it addresses the problems of pollution, and seeks to provide for some kind of pollution control, it does not address the core question of preventing pollution in the first place. It is probably more accurate to describe this Bill as a pollution control Bill rather than an Environmental Protection Agency Bill.

I do not propose to make a lengthy speech in praise of the environment. I want to address a number of areas where I think this Bill is defective. I want to highlight them not in any sense through a lack of generosity but to put down a number of markers for areas which I wish to see addressed during the Committee Stage. The first question about which I want to express concern relates to the philosophy underlying this Bill. It has been stated, and other speakers have spoken very lyrically about the fact that this country is relatively under-polluted. That is an acident of history. It is a fact that, unlike many European countries, this country was not heavily industrialised during the Industrial Revolution. It was not until recent years, in the last 30 years or so, that we saw an intensification of agricultural practices and an increase in industrialisation and consumerism in this country and that environmental problems have come to the fore.

I regret that the approach which appears to be taken in this Bill relates more to the control of pollution than to preventing pollution in the first place. The Bill addresses itself to controlling pollution, establishing standards, licences for emissions and so on. It is regrettable that the Bill has not gone one stage further and addressed the prevention of pollution. In that respect the Bill is at variance with Government policy on the environment was announced in the environment action plan which was launched with great fanfare at the beginning of the so-called Green Presidency of the European Council. The environment action plan very clearly states that Government policy on the environment is based on the precautionary principle. There is a very big difference between applying the precautionary principle and the BATNEEC principle in this Bill. There seems to be a contradiction between the stated intentions of Government policy and the provisions in this Bill.

This Bill is, in many ways, a missed opportunity to put environmental considerations and ecological principles at the core of economic decision making in this State. It is a missed opportunity in that it could have set out how those principles could have been incorporated into economic decision making. There is not enough emphasis on waste elimination. Denmark, for example, is many years ahead of us in that the kind of legislation which is before the House now was introduced there 20 years ago. They have adopted a much different approach to waste management. They have certainly dealt with the kind of issues contained in this Bill, issues relating to licences for emissions, the location and management of landfill sites and the supervision of the standards which local authorities are expected to maintain in relation to the disposal of waste. In their Waste Management Act, for example, they also addressed the question of reducing waste at source and they set targets for the reduction of waste, but those points, unfortunately, are not covered in this Bill.

The Minister may argue that the codes of practice, the environment quality standards and so on provided in this Bill will meet that requirement but they will do so only on a voluntary basis. It is a pity the opportunity is missed to introduce those concepts on a mandatory basis.

I have mentioned already the idea of the environment audit — this concept is introduced in section 72. The idea is that the Environment Protection Agency may promote and encourage the use of environmental audits and that they may set down guidelines and standards for them, but there is no obligation on any individual enterprise or industry to carry out such audits. That is in marked contrast to the position in the United States, for example, where toxic release inventories are now mandatory. It is ironic that many United States companies which locate subsidiaries in this State have to meet much stricter domestic enviromental protection and control requirements than they do in this State. We are selling ourselves short if we introduce the minimum standards and environmental legislation one sees in countries which have a worse environmental record and greater environmental problems than we have.

The very limited approach taken to the environment was referred to already by Deputy Howlin. He quoted the submission made by An Taisce and their concern about the inadequacy of the definition of "environmental medium" and "environmental pollution." That is something with which I concur and to which I intend to return on Committee Stage.

I am also concerned about freedom of information. Again the Bill makes a gesture towards the principle of access to information. Section 108 enables the Minister to make regulations dealing with access to information. I am curious about this section. This is the eve of the introduction of the access to information directive, but I have to wonder why we do not take this opportunity to introduce and give effect to the EC Directive on access to information. Why is it being wrapped up in an enabling section which at some time in the future will enable the Minister to make regulations governing access to information? Why can we not have a section which legislates for the right of the public to have access to environmental legislation? Such a section should give legislative effect to the EC directive rather than putting it on the long finger and dealing with it in the realm of "behind closed doors" where the Minister can make regulations which, of course, will not be subject to debate in this House. It is a matter of great regret that the regulations dealing with environmental impact assessments, which the Government had not introduced in a proper way but were forced to do so by the EC, were sent out in the post rather than being brought to this House for debate. It may be argued that at that time there was no environmental legislation before the House which would have enabled the regulations to be introduced. However, we are now discussing environmental legislation and I put it to the Minister that we have the opportunity now to give legislative effect to the EC directive on access to information. Why put it on the long finger and leave it for regulations to be made at some stage in the future?

The next point I wish to make in relation to access to information is that the gesture and fine sentiments on access to information sit very uneasily with section 39. This is a most remarkable section which commits the director general, director and employees of the agency to confidentiality. While there might be some case to be made for that I cannot understand why members of the advisory committee or of a committee or consultative group established by the agency are being wrapped into what virtually amounts to an environmental version of the Official Secrets Act. People from environmental organisations or those with expertise in this area, consultants and so on, who will attend meetings and give their views will be bound by section 39 which wraps them in a cloak of secrecy. Access to information is an essential pillar of good environmental legislation.

If this Bill is to have meaning it is essential that we legislate properly for access to information. Let us consider the circumstances which gave rise to the birth of the Bill. The lack of trust which arose in Cork in relation to industrial projects had more to do with a loss of confidence in the local authorities and the State's institutions dealing with environmental matters than with levels of pollution. People lost confidence in the system and felt that things were being kept from them. The Bill unfortunately does not release that information. However, it is high time it did. In the past couple of days I read reports that the Minister for the Environment expressed concern at the levels of aluminium in drinking water. It is a pity, however, that he does not release the information available in his Department as local authorities are required to test drinking water under the 1988 Directive. This information has never been released to the public who surely are entitled to it. This Bill should enable the public to get that information.

I am concerned also about the degree of centralisation proposed in the Bill. Again, that sits uneasily with the Government's commitment to decentralisation and the lofty sentiments expressed during the course of the passage of the Local Government Bill which proposed to devolve all kinds of powers to local government. I accept and understand the need for an independent agency but a balance has to be achieved between independence and integrity on the one hand and the need for a degree of public involvement and democratic accountability on the other. I very much fear that the type of agency being established will be lacking in the area of democratic accountability.

There is a danger in setting up an agency which effectively becomes a committee of experts and which is divorced from democratic accountability and public participation. I see a number of areas in which the Agency will lack that essential input of public involvement and democratic accountability. It is proposed, for example, to establish regional units but it is not clear if those regional units will correspond to the regional authorities, which we were told in the revised programme for government will be established by next March. It would appear that the regional units will be the implementing arm of the agency and it is a matter for concern that this is not at a lower tier, and lower than the existing local authority tiers which are under democratic control.

I am concerned about the possible removal of some functions from local authorities as proposed in sections 98 to 100, inclusive. I am referring to the powers which local authorities have under the water and air pollution Acts. Their powers to make water and air quality management plans could be transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency. I have no problem with the Environmental Protection Agency being involved in the development of these plans, in setting the standard guidelines which local authorities could use but I am concerned that the functions in the water and air pollution Acts would be transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency at the say so of the Minister for the Environment and taken out of the area of democratic control and accountability. That would be conferring on the Environmental Protection Agency powers which they do not need and which may conflict with their wider co-ordinating role and diminish the degree of public accountability and acceptability.

I am alarmed at section 15 which provides for the immunity of the agency. The agency can do no wrong and if they do wrong nobody can do anything about it because section 15 provides that:

No action or other proceedings shall lie or be maintainable against the Agency or any body referred to in Section 44 or 45 for the recovery of damages...

In other words if the agency make a hames of it and do something wrong the public will have no comeback against the agency.

The public are effectively excluded from the environmental protection process by the effective abolition of an appeals mechanism for the issuing of licences for emissions and the right of appeal is effectively gone in this Bill. I wish to raise this matter later.

A further area of concern — the Minister referred to this and offered some glimmer of hope that the matter may be addressed on Committee Stage — is the separation of the licence application from the planning application; the Environmental Protection Agency will deal with licence applications and the planning applications will remain under the control of local authorities as at present. That would be a very unwise move. Virtually every comment I have heard made about the Bill has highlighted the inappropriateness of such a move and has pointed out that that would prevent the planning authority from considering an application in its totality and would separate the licence application from the planning application. A number of comments made in that regard are very clear. For example, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions stated: "Congress is concerned that the application of the licensing arrangements laid down in Part IV of the Bill could if divorced from the planning application process greatly delay and possibly discourage inward industrial investment in this country". That is one way of looking at the issue. An Taisce, taking a different approach, is very emphatic in its statement:

"In An Taisce's view, the Bill is fundamentally flawed in its insistence on a licensing role for the proposed Environmental Protection Agency. While welcoming the introduction of an integrated pollution control licence. An Taisce considers that this function should remain with the local authorities and that the Environmental Protection Agency should stand back from the actual process of pollution control licence permission or refusal".

The Irish Planning Institute also make the point very forcefully:

"This Institute would not like to see the Agency taking over any of the licensing functions of local authorities nor the appeal functions from An Bord Pleanála. Our recommendations are that all licensing should remain the responsibility of the local authorities but that the Agency would have to be informed of all applications for licences. It would, where it is considered appropriate, prepare and publish standards that should be applied. A decision by a local authority could subsequently be appealed to An Bord Pleanála by the Agency, who would be given a general power to do so".

The views expressed have dealt with the concern that the separation of the licensing application from the planning application could cause confusion and that it could also cause a conflict within the Environmental Protection Agency itself in that the same body that was setting the standards and making the regulations would also decide on them.

However, the most disburbing feature of that separation is that it would effectively eliminate the appeals procedure. At least under the existing system if a member of the public, or indeed an applicant, is concerned about a decision reached by the planning authority in relation to, for example, an air emission licence, an appeal may be made to An Bord Pleanála. Under the proposed system such an issue would go into the Environmental Protection Agencyab initio. The Environmental Protection Agency would make a decision and that would be the end of the matter. There would be no right of appeal, no second chance for a member of the public or an applicant.

My fourth area of concern about the Bill relates to the question of funding. Many times we have experienced the establishment of independent bodies that are expected to resolve a whole range of problems, bodies that the Government starves of the necessary finance to do their job a couple years after they are established. That experience was witnessed recently in relation to the Ombudsman. It has been experienced repeatedly in the environmental area. There is a considerable amount of environmental information on the Statute Book. The big problem is that the bodies responsible for the enforcement and implementation of that legislation are not given the resources to do so.

Mention was made in the House earlier of the Derelict Sites Bill. I recall that when that legislation was before the House Members were told that there would be registers of derelict sites held by every local authority and that there would be levies on the owners of derelict sites. How many local authority registers have been completed? How many owners of derelict sites have had that site levied? Very few levies have been made, because the local authorities who have had the responsibility to implement that provision simply have not had the staff available to inspect derelict sites and put them on a register in the first place. The House has dealt with legislation on water pollution, and there have been instances in which local authorities and regional fishery boards have not had the staff to go out and police such legislation on the rivers and the lakes. The absence of funding would make any agency, no matter how well legislated for, redundant. The precurser of the Environmental Protection Agency, An Foras Forbartha, came a cropper itself when a Government decided that at a particular time they did not want an independent agency to deal with environmental issues and wiped out that body.

The problem with the Bill is that funding for the Environmental Protection Agency is too dependent on the whim of the Government. If the independence that the agency are supposed to be given and that is supposed to be conferred on the method of appointing directors and so on is to be secured then it will be necessary to provide an independent, guaranteed means of funding the agency. Again, An Taisce have provided an interesting suggestion, that in line with the polluter-pays principle that we all talk about, a proportion of VAT or corporate tax could be set aside for funding the Environmental Protection Agency.

A fifth area in which I have reservations relates to concerns that have been expressed both by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and by some individual trade unions who represent staff who may be transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency. I do not wish to go into that subject in detail now, except to say that on Committee Stage I shall return to it because some concern has been expressed for the security of staff in the aftermath of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. That is a particularly relevant concern given the fate of An Foras Forbartha. I shall table several amendments in that regard when the Bill reaches Committee Stage.

And we shall welcome them to Wexford.

As I mentioned earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency when first conceived, was seen as a panacea for environmental problems. The idea was that everything would be all right when the Environmental Protection Agency was established. That is clearly not so.

It is not enough for us to have fine aspirations and fine policy statements in relation to the environment, as theEnvironment Action Plan, published by the Government, so clearly is. It is not enough for us to express concern about global issues in relation to the environment; to talk about global warming, the destruction of rain forests, desertification and so on; to express, quite rightly, the relevance of those problems to the future of life on the planet as a whole and to our own wellbeing. We also have to understand the implications of all of those issues. The problems of the global environment cannot be separated from the problems of global poverty. It is very easy for people in a relatively well-off country to express concern about the environment without taking into account the appallingly poor circumstances in which many people on the globe have to live, and it is sheer hypocrisy for this Government to protest their concerns about the environment on the one hand while presiding over a pathetically low level overseas development aid on the other hand.

It is ironic that we should be debating the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and problems of the global environment on the very day the press tell us that the advisory committee on oversees develoment aid is to be abolished by this Government. In Western society there is a conflict between the lifestyles we enjoy — let us face it, lifestyles we enjoy because of the extent to which resources and other peoples on this globe are exploited — and our concern for the environment. Ultimately, if we are serious about addressing global issues of the environment we must address their implications for our standards of living and lifestyles.

For example, we must address issues like the peace dividend. After the end of the Cold War, with de-militarisation and the reduction in the arms race, we all expected there would be released resources which could be used to redress world poverty and, ultimately, the problems of the global environment. Even in this House there are political parties, Members who, instead of addressing the peace dividend, seem more anxious for us to become part of some new military alliance, lined up against some other new imaginary threat or opponent.

The problem of the economic issue and its implications has been raised, the apparent or perceived conflict between jobs and the environment. Every time an industrial project is proposed a conflict arises. Virtually every time a project of any kind is proposed which purports to create employment a conflict arises, as practically every Member of this House will know. Every time projects are proposed there is, on the one hand, a jobs argument and, on the other, an environmental argument, however valid or invalid. We must progress beyond that point. There are implications in that conflict for our industrial strategy. For example, we must examine where we stand, particularly in the post-1992 era.

The issue of the environment is not separate or distinct from the economic considerations that must be debated by this House. For example, they are not separate from the indignity this country is suffering at present, nor indeed are they separate from the shame of this country at present in seeing so many of our young people having to participate in a sad stampede to Maryfield, Virginia to hand in hundreds of thousands of letters of application for Morrison visas. We must address how we will provide employment, a reasonable standard of living and future for our people, where we, as a nation, will fit into the European scene in the post-1992 era.

It seems to me there is a niche we should be seizing, that is in the whole area of clean technology, of building on the fact that to date this has been a relatively unpolluted country. We should be building on the green image this country had, recognising that this is the home of clean technology, of clean products. To do that we need not the kind of low or minimalist standards of environmental protection underpinned in this Bill, not the BATNEEC principle, we need high standards of environmental protection. We need also to incorporate environmental considerations at the core of economic decision-making.

While we debate this Bill, while we talk about balance in the environment — for example, the way in which the advisory council is to be established, the committee that is to be established to nominate the directors and director general of this proposed agency so that it be seen to be balanced, represented by people with environmental interests, industrial interests and so on — it is a great pity that that same degree of balance is not reflected in the review body established by the Minister for Industry and Commerce on industrial policy. Not a single member of that body is representative of what one might describe as environmental interests.

If we are serious about marrying environmental and ecological considerations on the one hand with economic considerations on the other, if we are serious about sustainable development, it is not sufficient to tack on the environment as an optional extra in such economic decision-making; we must place it at the centre. In all of the fora where economic decisions are taken we must ensure that environmental considerations are at their core.

(Wexford): I listened with interest to the debate so far. It would appear that generally we are of one mind in endeavouring to ensure that our environment is protected in the future. Our fresh, clean environment is a very special attribute, one we must continue to preserve for the future. Additionally it is a major asset in so far as tourism, our leisure industry and the marketing of our food products from land and sea are concerned. All of these attract people and overseas investment here.

In the eighties public awareness of the threat to the environment was aroused in a significant manner with the advent of the ozone layer implications, the implications of global warming, the destruction of rain forests and oil spillages at sea. The appalling lack of environmental protection in Eastern European countries — as we discovered when the barriers came down — has heightened our awareness of the need to protect our environment globally, in particular, to ensure that this country retains its clean, green image, thereby preserving it as the type of country to be enjoyed by our children.

In Wexford we have been to the forefront of environmental issues over the past 20 years or so, beginning with the Carnsore nuclear plant proposal when the Government of the day — a Fianna Fáil Government — wanted to establish a nuclear plant there. The protestations of the people of Wexford along with the remainder of the country, led——

Ably led.

(Wexford):——to a decision being taken not to establish a nuclear plant here. Indeed my colleague, Deputy Howlin, was much to the forefront on that issue at that time when he was a young, vibrant teenager, with long hair — the hippie syndrome and all that kind of thing which he enjoyed immensely.

He still is young and vibrant.

(Wexford): In fairness to him and to most politicians in Wexford I would have to say that, as a result of the actions of the people of that county, there was not foisted on us a nuclear plant.

I might request the Minister of State present to encourage the Minister for Energy to take a keen interest in what is taking place in Sellafield at present, particularly the major concerns of those of us along the east coast. In recent weeks and months there have been meetings held in every local authority to protest at the proposed developments at Sellafield. For example, Dublin County Council, Wexford County Council, Wicklow County Council and all other local authorities have grouped together to take on the might of the British Government in their proposed development of underground nuclear waste storage and in regard to the potential dangers of all those proposed developments across the water. It is my belief that no country has any right to develop or expand a nuclear industry that will place at risk the health and welfare of an adjoining nation or nations. We here have a right to protest, as have our Government. Indeed our Government should be making stronger protests than are being made at present to the British Government, using the vehicle of the European Parliament, to ensure that the major developments planned for Sellafield will not be allowed go ahead.

The health of people living along the east coast has been direclty linked to Sellafield. We have all seen what has happened following the major nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. God knows what might happen to people in Ireland if Sellafield is allowed to continue. They changed the name from Windscale to Sellafield but that did not lessen the danger to this country. The installations there are out of date and represent a danger to the health and welfare of our people. This Government are not taking on the British Government in regard to this problem and I ask the Minister to take a direct interest to ensure that the Minister for Energy and other Cabinet members take strong action. As a Fianna Fáil Deputy, I have been putting pressure on Ministers from my party to ensure that proposed developments at Sellafield are not allowed to take place. A number of protest meetings have taken place already in Wexford and they will continue to be held until the welfare of our people is protected.

I ask the Deputy to return to the Bill.

(Wexford): It is important to put on record the dangers to our people along the east coast. I do not apologise for that.

The Deputy would be perfectly in order if he were to advocate that the Environmental Protection Agency should play a part in this.

(Wexford): I know the Minister of State is very concerned and will nudge the Minister for Energy about this matter.

I welcome the Bill. Some people will say it does not go far enough but it is important to have the Bill in place. I hope Johnstown Castle will be the focal point for the operations of the agency. Deputy Howlin has already announced that Johnstown Castle is to be the centre of excellence and I support him in the hope that his announcement is correct. Naturally I should like to have made the announcement myself. Pioneering work in environmental protection has been carried out at Johnstown Castle over the past 20 years. The late Doctor Tom Walsh set up Johnstown Castle and many of the existing structures in relation to the protection of the environment. Work has been ongoing at Johnstown Castle in trying to find alternatives to the chemicals and pesticides being used by farmers. I urge the Minister to make sure that Johnstown Castle will be the centre of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The question of jobs versus the environment has become a major bone of contention. We must always strive to strike a balance in protecting the environment and providing jobs. We do not want jobs at any price. Industrial policy in the future must be developed in line with the type of environment we want. We are a country portraying the image of a clean environment and a green land and our future jobs policy must be linked to this image. The IDA and the Minister for Industry and Commerce are carrying out a review of industrial policy. It should not be beyond the bounds of possibility to link our jobs policy to environmental considerations. In Cork and other counties there have been major problems with new industries coming in without proper investigations having been carried out. The public have naturally objected. I hope this new agency will be able to tease out all the problems which might arise from the setting up of a new industry to ensure that no damage will be caused to the environment. We must be able to give assurances in this respect.

In Wexford we have the nicest beaches in the country but we have major problems in protecting them.

From Dubliners.

(Wexford): We are very pleased to see people coming to stay for a day, a week or longer, but we should like them to take a direct interest in maintaining the cleanliness of our beaches. Wexford County Council have spent a lot of money in providing bins and in buying a new beach cleaning machine. However, if one goes to the beach at night one finds it littered with nappies, cans, crisp bags and other kinds of debris. The beaches are covered with this type of material at the end of the holiday period. While people are welcome to avail of our facilities they should ensure that they leave the beach clean. The county council are not in a financial position to provide a daily cleaning service on the beaches. It is, therefore, important that people using the beaches should play their part. Visitors from abroad should be given a good example by Irish people.

Nowadays dumps are called landfill sites. In Wexford the official sites are covered over each day with clay and they are reasonably well kept but we still have the problem of unauthorised dumping. People must accept that illegal dumping cannot continue. The Government must ensure that increased moneys are made available to local authorities for the maintenance of dumps and the opening up of new landfill sites. In my county it will be very difficult to find a new landfill site when the present one is full. Nobody wants to live adjacent to a landfill site and we must be able to give an assurance that such sites will be well kept and well protected. We should consider new technology and new ways of getting rid of our waste. Much of it could be burned by individuals rather than left out for refuse collection.

Another area is agricultural pollution. Some would say that the major polluters here are farmers but I do no agreed with that. In the past five to ten years farmers have made tremendous strides in combating the problems of agricultural pollution. One cannot blame farmers for everything that is happening in the area of pollution at present because ten to 15 years ago the ACOT advisers, now Teagasc, were advising farmers to put on more fertilisers and to use more pesticides. There were all sorts of chemicals being advertised such as net nitrate, 10 10 20, and farmers were being encouraged to use them. Now, ten years down the road we are telling the farmers that this is not the way to go at all, that they should be going into organic farming and into different areas of farming. There has to be a happy medium. I know the Government have introduced for farmers grants to combat pollution but I do not think they have gone far enough. There is a very high cost, particularly for smaller farmers, in combating pollution. There is a need for money and it should be made available through the EC by way of greater grants for farmyard pollution control. Many farmers tell me that it is practically impossible financially for them to implement some of the pollution controls that are being recommended to them by farm advisers at present.

We should be encouraging more and more farmers to get involved in organic farming. There is a growing interest in natural healthy farm fresh food. I know the Government have introduced grants to encourage organic farming. However, everyone cannot get into organic farming. The major problem of organic produce is that it is far more expensive than the ordinary products produced by day-to-day farming. That is a disincentive because the housewife has a budget to stick to and cannot spend extra money on organic produce. I would like to see more farmers going into organic farming and that might make the produce cheaper. This is an area where the supermarkets and the Minister for Agriculture and Food could get together and possibly have some kind of special deal for organic produce because it would be in the interests of this country generally.

One might say that coastal erosion has nothing to do with the Environmental Protection Agency Bill but in the counties that suffer coastal erosion it is a very important issue. In Wexford it is a major problem with acres and acres of land being washed away yearly. I would like to see this agency take on board the problem of coastal erosion. Ministers of different Departments had control of it for a while but nothing has happened and the control seems to be switched from one Department to another with no one taking responsibility. To implement a proper coastal erosion policy would probably cost about £25 or £30 million. It is a lot of money but it is a problem that must be tackled because it is having a major effect on tourism and on farmers who live along the coastline whose land is being washed into the sea on an annual basis.

I welcome the Bill. I am particularly pleased that our own county council in Wexford have been to the forefront in environmental protection over the last ten to 15 years. We have our own publication calledEnvirowex and on the front of it is a photograph of Curracloe beach with a sign that says “Find a bin or bring your rubbish home.” That is an important message to the people who come to visit our coastline.

We have set an example in the area of CFCs. We know that this gas attacks and damages the ozone layer. It is present in fridges and when they are abandoned and begin to disintegrate the gas leaks out. Wexford County Council have invested in equipment which enables them to siphon out this gas from the old fridges when they come to the tiphead. It is then collected and recycled for use in new appliances. That is just one of the areas that Wexford County Council is involved in in protecting the environment.

For a number of years we have had "Keep Wexford beautiful" projects where the local schools are involved in activities and at the end of the year major prizes are given out to schools in the different regions that come forward with winning projects. This is an important way to get the message to our young people in schools that our environment is important and that they as young people, the parents of tomorrow, should continue to respect and protect and have pride in their environment. Council officers visit the schools on a regular basis informing the students of the need to have a clean environment and requesting that they would participate in environmental projects and competitions. We have also had tree planting ceremonies in the schools, in the regions in the county itself. In areas of planning we have introduced a booklet calledBuilding Sensitively in the Landscapes of County Wexford. People planning new developments can come into the planning office and get guidance on how they can erect their building in line with what was in that area of the county over the years. I know that in some cases it has caused problems but generally it has been a very welcome document that has enhanced the whole Wexford landscape and its buildings.

The council has provided recycling facilities at the tipheads for the receipt of waste oil, car bodies, unwanted machinery, etc. In general Wexford County Council has provided a very valuable service in trying to protect the environment with a very small amount of money. That is why I say to the Minister that it is important that the local authorities will not be forgotten about by the agency, that they will still be the main enforcer of environmental protection within the county boundaries.

I welcome the fact that the agency will be independent so that we can get away from the situation which pertains at present where if a council gets planning permission the lobbying starts to put pressure on the politicians and the officials on one side to have the project go ahead and, on the other, to stop it. I would like to see this new Environmental Protection Agency totally independent, like An Bord Pleanála, so that when they give a decision they regard as the best decision it will be adhered to. Naturally there has to be a right of appeal but they will not be in a situation where a lot of pressure is applied by certain lobby groups.

I want to compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, on bringing this Bill to the House. I welcome the Bill and hope that the Environmental Protection Agency will be located at Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, where they will be guaranteed first class accommodation and facilities. People should work together to protect our environment and at the same time ensure there is a direct link between industry and jobs and the environment. By working together we can ensure that Ireland maintains its green and clean image, an image we can use to sell our products in Europe and further afield without fear of being accused of selling inferior products. I fully support the Bill.

In welcoming the Bill I have to say that it is somewhat belated. In 1989 Fine Gael introduced an Environmental Protection Agency Bill in this House and from what I have heard so far today it seems that most people accept that this Bill is just a rehash of the Bill introduced at that time by Deputy Shatter. Therefore, the unnecessary delay in setting up this agency seems to have been due to the refusal of the Government to accept the proposals put forward by the Fine Gael spokesperson at that time.

This Bill deals with an area which has a high profile. The Minister has been congratulated on bringing the Bill before the House and most people said it is not controversial. However, any environmental issues which arise in my constituency are most controversial. I wonder what is wrong with the Bill. There must be something seriously wrong with it when all sides, those pro and anti the green movement, are not protesting violently about it. From my experience, environmental issues generate a great deal of emotion. Nevertheless it is a tribute to the Minister that this Bill has not given rise to a lot of noise.

I read the debates on the passage of this Bill through the Seanad. It was disappointing to note that while the Minister accepted many of the amendments put forward by Fianna Fáil Senators she did not accept any from the Opposition Parties. I do not know how many amendments were accepted——

They did not amount to much.

——but I understand there were only a few.

I want to refer to the differences between the Fine Gael Bill and this Bill. The proposals in the Fine Gael Bill in regard to the overall control of the agency were better. However, I suppose we have to deal with what is before us. I want to avail of this opportunity to criticise the proposals in this Bill relating to the organisational structure, staffing and funding of the agency. Because of the way the agency is being set up we will not have an opportunity to criticise their organisational structure in this House. This is deplorable. The necessity for such a procedure can be seen from the controversies which arose during the summer months. If democracy is to be seen to work we should be given the opportunity to voice our criticism in this House. The setting up of an environmental committee of this House, as proposed in the Fine Gael Bill, is very necessary. There has to be a link between the Oireachtas and the agency. However, no provision for such a committee seems to have been made in the Bill.

I wish to refer to the appointment of members of the agency. In this respect the Minister should have referred to organisations who have a definite interest in this area, for example, An Taisce and the CII. If hard decisions have to be taken in regard to the environment which will increase the cost of production for the CII, I find it very difficult to understaned how they will be brought on side if this organisation do not have an input at the early stages into the Environmental Protection Agency. I regret that the Minister did not avail of this opportunity to stitch into the Bill a provision in regard to the appointment of directors from the CII and An Taisce. I accept that the Minister has the best interests of people at heart, but this is not to say that future Ministers, no matter what party they represent, will be as amenable. This is why I would urge the Minister to review the provisions of the Bill in regard to membership of the agency. Even if the Bill referred to the people who can be on the panels, this would be a step in the right direction.

I wish to refer to the funding of the agency. This is one of the weaknesses of the Bill. To expect the current system to operate in favour of an agency which has already been found by the Minister for the Environment to be superfluous is going too far. We know only too well how fond the Minister for the Environment is of slashing bodies which he believes cut across his area of responsibility. When An Foras Forbartha were dissolved many projects were left unmonitored. Protests about industrial developments and applications by the IDA were held up. An Foras Forbartha gave a very good service in this area. The Minister is going to rely on this establishment which will be funded by Government grants, approved borrowing and such fees and charges as they may collect through the provision of services or the performance of functions to set aside funds for this purpose. The agency may also accept gifts subject to certain conditions. That information is contained in the Department of the Environment'sEnvironment Bulletin, No. 13, which, from the point of view of a man who comes from County Clare where piseogs abound, is not a very lucky number. Nevertheless, I suspect that gifts, fees, charges etc., would not be sufficient. I agree it is time some firm figure was arrived at to fund an agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency. For instance, in different states in America, the taxpayers realise how much money is going to education when they pay their tax bills. If there is to be a subsidy for private education you know what you will have to pay. In the same way the Minister for Finance must indicate how much is going to the protection of the environment because it has become such an important facet of Irish, national and international life. The percentage of income which will be set aside for funding an agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency should be illustrated. That should not prove to be a difficult task. In recent days we have been told that a model on the economy was drawn up in the Department of Finance when negotiations took place between the two Government Departments on tax reform. If they are able to get down to this detail in their computer models, surely they can draw up the simple solution I am advocating about the allocation of funds to sensitive areas such as the environment which is essential.

If the allocations for education and other areas were clearly defined we would have a better response from taxpayers, who would believe that Government agencies are intent on delivering the goods. The Environmental Protection Agency, according to all sides of the House, is absolutely necessary; therefore, we would have wholehearted support.

I do not understand what is meant by the agency accepting gifts. Are these gifts to come from the Heinz foundation, the O'Reilly foundation or from international bodies in the food sector. I gave the Heinz foundation as an example because they are in food processing and there is a waste disposal problem involving bottles and other containers which are used to deliver their food products. Is that what the Minister is talking about? This would be useful only now and then when a company contributed, but it would not lead to any permanent employment in the agency. Perhaps the Minister would state how these gifts are to be arrived at, what are acceptable gifts and whether standards have been drawn up in the Department about them?

Further on in the Bill it is provided that the agency will establish regional environmental units through which it will perform its function in so far as is practicable. I have not read anywhere or heard in any of the contributions how "regional" will be defined. Will it mean regional as we understand in health boards? Will it mean the eastern region of which the Department of the Environment is very fond? Will it mean that regional will be defined on a provincial basis? Will it mean regional as in the proposals which the Progressive Democrats had in connection with local government reform or will it mean the nondescript committees — which do not function but are called regional committees — which are sent to Brussels for Structural Funds allocations? Will the regional environmental units be attached to those regions? That matter is vague and needs to be teased out. Perhaps the Minister would give us some examples of her thinking in this area.

The Bill goes on to deal with integrated pollution control and licensing. We are told that the agency will have teeth to ensure that there is a proper balance between major developments and the environment and to prevent and minimise pollution. The Bill will provide for a system of licensing, monitoring and enforcing. Many people are concerned about how this would affect, say, agriculture where many difficulties are being experienced. I have heard appeals from other Deputies for a reasonable progression to point out to the agricultural sector the importance of environmental control. The danger in giving people such power is that there might be an effort to use the big stick. When the activities of the agency are under way the members of the committee should at least have recourse to meeting people in the IFA and in the other farming organisations to secure agreement and to point the way forward so that farmers would be properly educated about the aids and grants available to enable them to make those improvements.

In regard to the control and licensing system the Bill gives a definition of "noise" but gives no statutory definition of "smell". Smell has been controversial in my own parish. In fact, I live opposite a very large pharmaceutical company called Syntex. When that company was introduced to the locality we were told about the environmental controls that would be put in place. In fairness, Clare County Council together with An Foras Forbartha worked very hard to ensure that the physical controls on waste matter were properly monitored. People went abroad to examine systems in other countries. When planning permission was given everybody was assured that the river would not be polluted by waste extractions but we were not aware that there would be an odour problem. This new phenomenon caused much concern. People were afraid there might be some toxic elements in the smell and they needed reassurance. I am glad to say the company, Clare County Council, An Foras Forbartha and the agencies worked together for the elimination of this interference with the local environment. There do not appear to be any adverse effects. However, there was litigation before people were totally satisfied and a very small number of people took the case to court.

Pharmaceutical companies make a definite contribution to this economy, but in future when a pharmaceutical company is established smell should be properly monitored and the agency should have back-up information on how to tackle it. For that reason it is necessary for the Minister to have another look at the definition of "smell". The legislation should contain some indication of the Minister's thinking in this area because spurious cases can arise and industrial development can be unnecessarily delayed unless an effort is made by people in this House. Here again we are going to rely on the judgment of the courts. That is not the right way to go about it. This House has the responsibility to pursue this matter.

Earlier speakers referred to access to information. People should be in a position to inform themselves. Will the Minister say how people can get access to the data bank in the Environment Protection Agency? I notice that according to the Bill there is to be public involvement in the licensing system, but what I really want to know is how people can get access to the information.

Section 109 of the Bill deals with an EC Directive to do with genetic engineering and a licensing system. This section seems to be totally out of place and I wonder why it was put into this Bill here. We should have a White Paper on this issue so that we could examine it in greater detail. The public would be interested in this area. While I appreciate that there might be conflicts and difficulties with other Bills, will the Minister, when replying, explain why this section was put in there and why the Parliament were not given an opportunity to discuss this matter?

I am disappointed that the Dáil will only be able to debate any of these reports at five year intervals — this is covered by section 60. Will the Minister consider allowing the House to debate annual reports seeing that the environment is such an important area? The publication of an annual report would give us an opportunity to discuss problems. I know that other semi-State companies publish reports which are never debated here: Aer Lingus published accounts which were never allowed to be debated in this House. If some of the items in the Aer Lingus reports were properly debated, many difficulties might have been avoided. If environment related problems were raised by Deputies in the House, many environmental disasters might be avoided. We can always correct financial problems in semi-State companies such as Aer Lingus but we may not be in a position to correct environmental disasters. I hope the Minister will require the agency to report annually and to have those reports placed before the House.

A debate on these issues in the House would give us an opportunity to link up Departments. Because of the way the Environment Protection Agency is set up, there is total emphasis on the Department of the Environment, although the Department of the Marine, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Finance will also be involved.

We should consider the progressive attitude to the environment which prevails in Holland where Departments are closely linked. Environment protection in Holland includes such matters as Government policy on airports, land fill sites, reducing car use and agricultural policy. Their environment protection brief covers a wide variety of areas and the various Departments seem to dovetail easier than they do here. Here it seems the Department of the Environment have total control over environment protection, ignoring problems in other areas. For instance, last year the Minister of State introduced a Bill to deal with pollution and control of rivers and lakes, yet this year there was a horrific report of pollution in Lough Derg. Action will not be taken on this because Clare County Council say the Department of the Environment should fund the research and the Department say the Department of Energy should get Bord na Móna to do something about it. The necessary report on the source of the pollution of the lake is not coming to hand. We need urgent action here. I had hoped for some integration of all the forces referred to in this Bill.

Debate adjourned.