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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 May 1999

Vol. 505 No. 2

Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Military Waste.

Michael Ferris


4 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Defence the amount of military waste dumped at sea by the Defence Forces; where this material has been dumped; if ongoing monitoring of this waste is carried out by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13164/99]

In the period from 1970 to 1994 approximately 1,360 tonnes of obsolete ammunition was disposed of at sea in the Beaufort Dyke and the North Atlantic. The material consisted of small arms ammunition, bombs, depth charges, fuses, primers, shells, grenades, pyrotechnics, etc. Under the Dumping at Sea Act, 1996, such dumping is no longer permitted. I am advised by the military authorities that their records relate only to the disposal of obsolete ammunition referred to above.

Under the Dumping at Sea Act, 1996, certain members of the Defence Forces serving on board Naval Service vessels are designated as authorised officers for the purposes of the Act. This enables them to take certain actions in relation to dumping at sea, including the monitoring of the effects of any such dumping.

I welcome the fact this dumping has been discontinued. Does the Minister agree it was an extraordinary practice? Will he clarify if live ammunition is dumped and, if so, does he not consider that a risk to marine life and other forms of sea activity? I ask the Minister for an assurance that officers will be designated to monitor this practice.

I am advised by the military authorities that disposals by ordnance personnel of improvised explosive devices, including bulk explosives, is in accordance with the best international training and practices and is updated with advances in both technology and knowledge. The accepted and best method of disposing of home-made explosives, as found in north County Dublin, is by immersion and dissolution in water. On the basis of the information available to me, the risks to which the Deputy referred do not exist.

The practices have changed and we have advanced technology in recycling. We take the opportunity to export to Germany for recycling some of our remaining explosives. Technology is so advanced, we must manage it in the best environmental way possible.

How often is a report received from the monitoring agencies?

I am not able to answer that question directly but I will communicate with the Deputy. The practice is no longer permissible under the Dumping at Sea Act, 1996. Designated officers in the Naval Service play this role. I will find out to what extent these reports are made available and publicise them if that is deemed to be necessary.

I am concerned about particles of these dumped items being washed up on strands which could affect our tourism industry. That is why I want to know how often reports are received from the monitoring agencies.

I will communicate that information to the Deputy. We have had experience of strange objects on our shores. However, our investigations show there is no blame attaching to the Irish authorities. As the Deputy knows, the wind blows and the sea flows and we cannot control everything in the world. It is important to protect the sea water environment. There have been major advances in this regard and we are continually learning.