I am sorry the Minister of State had to leave as I wanted to welcome her personally to the House while she steers this very important legislation through the House. I was also hoping to take the opportunity to commend her for introducing the legislation which got rid of smog in Dublin. That measure has been largely but not entirely successful in that this winter people in the city will be able to breathe more easily and the city's infrastructure will improve as a result. Prior to the introduction of that legislation many people were sceptical about the possibility of clearing away this smog. They felt it was useless to ban the sale of bituminous coal when people could continue to light fires. As a nation we like open fires. They also drew a parallel with London 25 years ago when the city had been choked by smog. As far as I can remember, rigid rules were brought in at that time. People were not allowed to light a fire of any kind. However, there were no smokeless fuels at that time. I am delighted with the results of the legislation and hope we can go on from here. I also hope the Minister of State will extend the legislation to cover other cities so that other densely populated areas where there are traditional coal fires will benefit.
Before Deputy Bell leaves the House I would like to respond to some of the points he made when he spoke about the role of women in relation to environmental protection. He is quite right when he says that many of the main proponents of environmental protection at both national and international level are women. I am thinking of such women as Petra Kelly whose voice was one of the first I heard alerting us to what was happening on a global level. One of the reasons for this is that women produce children — not entirely on their own — and are aware of the need for continuity, to ensure that their children are not killed in war or poisoned by the environment and to pass on an environmentally clean world to their children.
Like other speakers, I am very relieved that this long anticipated Environmental Protection Agency Bill is before the House at last but despite the best intentions of this House, I hazard a guess that the agency, its advisers and structures will not be a reality for perhaps another year. I say this with regret rather than to rebuke the Minister of State, as I note from her speech her sense of frustration and even desperation at the tedious and long drawn out incubation period of the Bill. It is something on which I can sympathise with her because I know what the process of preparing and drafting legislation is like. It is like a political iceberg: the important parts of the legislation are hidden from public view and only the tip is seen. Important legislation, particularly an original Bill in a new policy area, suffers inexplicably from delays in production which should not occur. I am not suggesting that short cuts should be taken in the process of consultation or research but, if the Bill had been given the priority it deserves, it would have been enacted by now.
This is substantial legislation comprising 110 sections. While I have no doubt Members will give the debate due urgency and co-operate in every way, it will have to be scrutinised line by line on Committee and Report Stages. In the Seanad 416 amendments were tabled, of which 111 were passed. That is an indication of the interest that will be shown the Bill in this House, which is how it should be. While the main structures and details of Bills are written elsewhere, the refining, revising and amending by legislators is the vital element and should not be seen as a threat or criticism. I am heartened by the style and approach adopted by the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, when she dealt with the Bill in the Seanad. I look forward to an equally good mannered and co-operative debate in this House; the debate so far has been extremely co-operative.
This is an ambitious Bill and aims to whip our environment into shape between now and the year 2000. The Minister of State calls it strong medicine. It will be a legal canopy setting up an environmental watch dog to license, monitor, advise, supervise and carry out research. It will work on an integrated basis, controlling systems for air, water and waste. The agency will promote good environmental practices and penalise bad ones. It will establish a labelling scheme for environmentally friendly products and services and set down codes of practice and quality objectives.
It is a happy litany of aims; who would not want to see them implemented quickly? Who among us also feels that quick implementation is going to be the order of the day? I suspect the sad outcome, when it comes to allocating resources to give the agency teeth, will be questionable, that short cuts will be taken. I have no doubt the Minister of State will do a fine job in giving the Bill life, but I fear other people in other Departments and places will butcher it. We all know that we are talking about substantial running costs. One has only to read through the detail of the legislation and what is proposed to know that it will be very costly to finance. Therefore, substantial funds will have to be guaranteed by the Government. Indeed, I had to smile wryly at the final paragraph in the explanatory memorandum regarding the financial implications. It states that as the agency become operational their costs will increasingly be offset by licence fees and charges for services. I wish them luck but I am not too optimistic.
Section 10 enables the agency to claim fines imposed by the courts on prosecution. I am not sure whether this is a novel provision, it is certainly an interesting one, under which the agency will have a vested interest in prosecution. Has consideration been given to whether this will in any way compromise the agency? Perhaps it will not, perhaps it is a worthwhile measure which will, undoubtedly, guarantee a certain income in the years to come. I wonder if it has been done anywhere else and what the experience has been of this type of measure.
Thankfully, the revolution to protect the environment, to get rid of abuses and to reclaim our environment where it has already been abused or killed, is continuing and cannot be reversed. No other movement of our time has taken hold so dramatically, effectively and broadly, impacting awareness at all levels, local, national, European and international. My earliest recollection of large scale public protest on an environmental issue was the opposition to a proposed nuclear station at Carnsore, County Wexford. Other speakers referred to this. Indeed many were nostalgic in their recollections of the protest. At that time my eldest daughter, who was then still in college, spent a very wet muddy weekend camping at the proposed site to protest. She was not the sort to take on radical politics of any kind. I was quite surprised when she told me she was part of this campaign and going on the weekend. However, I realised she was part of this young movement which had been so seriously and realistically touched by the likelihood that we would have a nuclear station in the south-east. They were having none of it, they were uncompromising in their approach to the matter. We should be thankful to the young activists of that time because their campaign was successful and the plan was dropped.
One woman who figures in my memory of the environmental debate is Petra Kelly, one of the founders of the German Green Party, one of the early voices warning of the devastation resulting from international policies with regard to nuclear energy, deforestation and the general waste of natural resources. Hers was a lone voice — I think I first heard her in 1978 or 1979 — and she had a compelling message. I am sure she converted many. She contributed greatly to the comprehensive environmental controls and the legislation which has been in place for some time in Germany.
Ireland is coming late in the day to environmental protection. I do not think we should be congratulating ourselves on a green unspoiled land. It is more by accident than design and there has been great abuse. For instance, I saw the decline of Lough Sheelin, County Cavan, 12 years ago because I spent weekends in the area on a regular basis; 12 years ago it was a tranquil spot, a beautiful water landscape which drew crowds for picnics, swimming, boating and fishing. It would be hard to find a more delightful inland waterway. Then, over the years, it died, which was very sad; thousands of gallons of farm effluent were dumped irresponsibly and deliberately in the lake. Fish were poisoned, vegetation died and the overall picture was almost like a desert. Hotels ceased to function, boat hire companies went out of business and it was awful to see how such a beautiful spot, from which people got so much enjoyment, could so easily be turned into a virtual desert. However, I believe that some remedial action has been taken, pollution has been reduced and the lake on the way to recovery, which I am very pleased to hear.
How much of this type of pollution is going on? Lough Sheelin is a major lake and people could see what was happening but I suspect there are smaller rivers and streams which are similarly polluted by irresponsible dumping. I wonder how such pollution can be stopped. Can it be detected earlier or prevented? Will the best possible measures for detection be part of the Bill? They are not enshrined in it as it stands. Recently, while in county Waterford on a walk in the country, I saw a case of deliberate pollution; a small pipe leading from a cattle shed was discharging slurry into what had been a small stream. The result was that the water was fetid, flowers and bushes were withered and there was a dreadful smell. This was not an accidental leakage of farm effluent, it was a deliberate act of ongoing pollution by a prosperous farmer, although I know that no farmer will admit to being prosperous. I contacted the local authority involved and was assured that the area would be inspected as I had given the details. I hope the matter will be resolved.
Will there be a facility for inspecting farm areas and farmlands by local authority officials under the Bill? Will the public have to continue being the police force in country areas? Serious pollution has been caused over the years by the farming community. Every summer there are fish kills in rivers and lakes, there has been a growth in the use of mechanised farming and an increase in the amount of insecticides and artificial fertilisers in recent years. The debate on agricultural pollution has very much centred on grant-aid to farmers to try to give them an incentive to care for the environment. I find this quite extraordinary. I do not understand this thinking. How can we expect good practice on a long term basis from all involved in productive business if they have to be paid to protect the environment? Responsible behaviour which protects, preserves and nurtures our natural environment, must be an intrinsic part of operation in any industry, farming, chemical and energy production.
My colleague, Deputy Dukes, in his contribution touched on a question which also interests me, that of battery disposal. I should like to ask the Minister what the chances are of starting a battery bank such as we have for cans and glass recycling. We should at least have one for button batteries as I have been told they are very hazardous when dumped. Thousands are discarded every year because they are used in calculators, cameras and dictating machines. They contain silver and mercury and are a serious hazard if randomly discarded. One camera distributor told me that there is concern in the industry at what is happening. People just wantonly throw away these batteries. People in the industry have been asked again and again by their counterparts in Germany and Denmark whether we have a collection programme not only to responsibly dispose of the batteries but also to break down the component parts for reuse. I would be interested to know if there are any proposals in this regard, what is happening in other European countries and if it is possible that the component parts of batteries, particularly button batteries, can be reused.
There are many matters that can be raised in this legislation. The contributions have been very varied, some technical and more informed that others. When one focuses on the environment one thinks of it in broad terms. Matters such as Chernobyl, the burning wells after the Gulf War, global warming, Brazilian forests, Sellafield and so on are too great to cope with. All these incidents are happening at a distance and we have no control over them. However, Ireland and other European countries can introduce co-ordinated legislation, standards and regulations and put in place the kind of educational provisions that Deputy Gerard Brady spoke about. We would then achieve a uniform respect for the environment and a commitment from people generally to its protection. Unless we do that we will end up with a world sadly depleted of natural resources.
In focusing attention on a Bill as comprehensive as this, we tend to consider our own environment and community. We think of the matters that irritate us and about which something should be done. Apart from the smog in Dublin the greatest concern to me is the pollution caused by fumes from city buses. Anybody who drives behind buses here must be horrified at the filthy fumes emitted into the atmosphere. I question whether there is any control over transport pollution, particularly from buses. Something should be done to clean up the buses because they are contributing enormously to pollution. I hope that in the future environmental impact assessments will be carried out in areas of development, be it industrial development, major factories or even suburban development.
During my childhood I lived in Dundrum, an area I now represent. The whole landscape from Dundrum to the mountains, where school children once went for picnics and walks, is now another suburbia and is mostly very badly developed. Environmental impact assessments are very important in finding out the effects of development and buildings in such areas.
I welcome the provision in section 76 of what is called eco-labelling. This is intended to give clear guidance to consumers and enable them to become familiar with quality goods which are environmentally friendly. This is a very good provision because at present consumers are being exploited as regards labelling, purely for commercial reasons. The provision in this regard is very well drafted and, I believe, will be effective.
I concur with Deputy Bell's views regarding litter from fast food outlets. This litter is a blight on cities, and something should be done about the matter. We are always saying here that something should be done but I wonder if there can be some control in this regard so that such a forest of litter is not created. I wish the Bill well. I know it is very much welcomed. The debate has been very constructive and informative. I look forward to the development of the agency and its success in the future.