——has abandoned a strategy of sustainable development for the agriculture and food industries against the background of a growing awareness of the problem of pollution. His giant step backwards defies the quality revolution in the marketplace. His refusal to take the necessary political decisions now in terms of his Department's expenditure will give rise to serious fiscal and economic problems down the road. Against this background the contradictory and confusing explanations he has given for his decisions are especially galling.
In spite of having responsibility for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry since 15 December last, it took the Minister until 17 April last to abandon the scheme he now says he never had adequate money to fund. During that time approximately 10,000 farmers applied in good faith for the scheme and made plans and financial commitments on the basis that they would qualify. Why did the Minister delay for so long a decision which he now says was inevitable? His explanations lack credibility. In reality, he played ducks and drakes with the control of farm pollution scheme while he tried and abjectly failed to elicit support in Cabinet or the EU Commission. Did he mention this matter to Commissioner Fischler this morning?
This predicament could be understood if the Minister had not compounded his lack of clout by a complete lack of inclination to take the necessary political action. If funding is not forthcoming elsewhere he should and could find the money within the totality of his resources. His failure to take the tough decisions required highlight the chasm between his rhetoric and reality. The Minister has chosen instead to devote his energies to a farmers' charter which was waste paper before the ink was dry. The frantic chase for photo opportunities does not substitute for leadership.
The control of farm pollution scheme which was designed for 30,000 farmers was shut down with barely 6,000 applicants managing to avail of it. Another 3,000 applicants have been granted the almost theological status of conditional approval. The Minister wants farmers to undertake major works on the basis of a promise from him. He is asking them to ask bank managers for bridging finance. Who does he propose will pay the interest? The agricultural community has a book of broken promises from the Minister, called the farmers' charter.
It is extraordinary that at the same time the Minister was moonlighting as a salesman for the banks he and the Government refused to do the one practical thing which might have improved the situation. The Government should allow in the Finance Bill for an accelerated capital allowance of 50 per cent in the first year for pollution control works. Against a background of a general abolition of accelerated capital allowances, in 1991 Fianna Fáil made an exception for pollution control work on farms. That facility coincided with the previous CFP scheme. Fianna Fáil brought forward a similar proposal on Committee Stage of this year's Finance Bill but the Government, including the Minister and Deputy opposite, voted it down. I reiterate and underline the necessity for such a provision. Because of the Minister's incapacity to fund the CFP scheme, £500,000 for the rural environmental protection scheme is now at risk. This EU fund is designed to enable farmers to adopt environmentally compatible farming methods.
It is the next logical step after the CFP. By the Minister's own admission, 40 per cent of REPS applicants require CFP to be eligible for participation. Administrative chaos has added to a very low take up of this vital scheme. On 12 May last only £7.6 million of a possible £240 million in the present round of funding for REPS has been taken up. The Government is risking hundreds of millions of pounds by its incompetence. Unspent money must be returned to Brussels, and Irish agriculture and the Irish environment will be losers.
The rainbow Coalition's environmental policy is schizophrenic. The Minister, Deputy Yates, is content to allow hundreds of millions of pounds of EU funding for pollution control to go down the Swanee. Alternatively his Cabinet and constituency colleague at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Howlin, promises the panacea of Cohesion Funds to finance his pipe-dream of a sewage treatment plant at every crossroads. If the Minister, Deputy Yates, has his way we will certainly need them all.
The contradiction between spending £1.2 billion on end of pipe technology while refusing to tackle the problem at source is absolute. There has been a significant increase in what is inappropriately termed moderate pollution. The figures will be updated later this year for the first time since 1990 and those figures will outline an increasingly intolerable problem. The public will rightly demand action. The likelihood this year of a dry summer succeeding two very wet ones — and hopefully we will have that — will hugely heighten the likelihood of large fish kills.
There is also the scandal at Ballycroy. People have a right to drink water free from animal effluent. They have a right to immediate access to information. It has been a particularly unhelpful feature of this episode that the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, has refused to answer questions in the Dáil on this matter on the grounds that responsibility lies elsewhere. It is unacceptable that his Department has refused to reveal the terms of an inquiry from the EU Commission on this matter received on Monday, 1 May 1995.
The situation at Lough Sheelin is worse, and I am sure this subject will be developed as the debate goes on. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, has in his possession an unpublished report from the Environmental Protection Agency. That report from an agency of the Minister's Department says that the loss of phosphorous from agricultural activities and from sewage discharge from Ballyjamesduff is a huge threat to fish stocks. A separate report from Greenpeace showed that domestic water in Granard contained a carcinogenic substance. The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended the export of pig slurry from the area. It has also asked for by-laws to control the amount of phosphorous-containing fertiliser used on the land. The report further insists that local authorities insist on the control of farm waste. Clearly the solution is to control farm pollution at source. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is unwilling to be open and transparent with the information in his possession. He is adamant, however, that it would not be appropriate or possible for local authorities to undertake works in substitution for those proper to the CFP — in other words, the Minister's Department. They were the Minister's words to Dáil Éireann on 9 May. Government Ministers are not prepared to be open with the public about vital information. The policy of openness and transparency ends at the gates of Government Buildings.
There is mounting concern and anger in communities all over Ireland about the cavalier treatment of their environment. In not appreciating that groundswell of public opinion the Government has made a fatal political mistake. People realise they have only one environment and are not prepared to take chances with it.
The Government's abandonment of an effective pollution policy comes against the background of a worldwide quality revolution. Consumers increasingly demand not only quality in the finished product but quality and integrity in the production process. This, in turn, comes against the background of GATT. World trade has become significantly freer. The quality revolution is not only consumer-driven, it is also the new protectionism. If the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry were more interested or more aware, he would know of the eloquent portrayal of his party colleague, Mr. Peter Sutherland, of the danger of quality standards being used as this new protectionism. It is in our vital economic interests that we guarantee the integrity of our production process. If we cannot, we will not be allowed to bring our goods into the marketplace. The consequences for our main industries, food processing and tourism, would be disastrous.
I have pointed out some of the more obvious consequences of abandoning the CFP. The effects on REPS of abandoning CFP are more immediate. Money spent on the CFP-funded scheme is pumped back into the local economies through small businesses. Requiring a tax certificate, as such businesses do, the Revenue Commissioners would also be a significant beneficiary. As I have detailed already, an appreciable amount, and sometimes most, of the money must be put up by farmers. Additionally, there is the pending catastrophe of the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds in EU money for REPS. Farm income from REPS is taxable.
There is no calculation that demonstrates that it does not make environmental and economic sense to fund the CFP. Farmers have proven themselves genuinely committed to improving their environment. In the brief time allowed, 18,000 asked to be allowed to put their money where their mouths are and to take part in CFP. They probably recognise that not just their future viability but that of entire communities depends on a pristine environment. In a quality focused market the integrity of our production process is vital to the value and acceptability of our product.
The foolishness and short-sightedness of the Government's laissez faire policy is underlined by the inadequacy of the alternative. The billions hoped for by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to fund his empire of sewage treatment works will not be nearly adequate. Furthermore the vision behind the project is gravely misplaced.
Ministers Yates and Howlin and I share a common constituency, that of Wexford. Wexford County Council has estimated that it would cost £190 million to fund all necessary works. Considering that the new sewage treatment works planned for Ringsend will cost well in excess of £200 million we can begin to appreciate how thinly spread the Minister's solution will be. Pollution problems do not neatly rank according to population density. The Department of the Environment's priorities, however, do. Nothing that is planned in Government expenditure will do anything for many pollution black spots. There will not be even an attempt at prevention.
The problem with the Minister's proposed solution does not end here. It will be the responsibility of the local authorities to fund the running costs of those sewage treatment works. The annual running costs of the Ringsend works will be in excess of £10 million. In County Wexford, if works planned for the towns of New Ross, Wexford and Enniscorthy were in operation the local authority would have to find an additional £250,000 per year. These proposals from a Government that will not enforce collection of local authority charges and refuses to bring forward proposals for local government funding are ludicrous. The one immediate step that would be of definite help — prevention at source — is being ignored.
A pristine environment is what we have been repeatedly promised by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin. Tackling farm pollution was to be the special remit of his constituency colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates. That Minister has neither the clout, the inclination nor the capacity to deliver. Because agriculture has, in Deputy Yates view, drawn the short straw, it is to be condemned to the status of a dirty industry.
Money abounds for other projects. A sum of £60 million was found for Irish Steel; £12 million was found for Shannon Aerospace; £10 million was found for community employment schemes; and the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, could command hundreds of millions of pounds upfront for special social welfare payments. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry cannot deliver.
By shutting down control of farm pollution, the Minister is setting his face against the co-ordinated pollution control policy endorsed by previous Governments. He is undermining the ability of farmers to benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in EU funding for sustainable development under REPS. He is planning his Department's policy in opposition to the Department of the Environment's attempt to curb pollution. The laissez faire policy of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry is outdated and outrageous. It defies every lesson we have learned in our development over the last 30 years. Environmental costs are real costs. Sustainable development based on an integrated approach to economic and environmental factors is simple business sense.
If the contradictory and ineffective environmental policy of this Government was applied worldwide, we would get deforestation, global warming and a bigger hole in the ozone layer. In abandoning control of farm pollution, the Government has changed sides. It has opted to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
How many cases like Lough Sheelin and Lough Derg, how many poisoned water schemes, how much damage to our environment and our economy must be done before the lunacy of this decision is realised? We have only one environment. We cannot afford to take second chances.
I commend this motion to the House.