Other Questions.

Nuclear Waste.

John Perry

Question:

79 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his policy on the proposed long-term underground storage of nuclear waste in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16453/05]

The policy of all governments of all political persuasions here, since the late 1970s, has been opposed to the British nuclear industry and all its aspects, the manner in which it operates and, in particular, slipshod operations. A review of the long-term options for radioactive waste management in the UK is currently being undertaken by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, an independent body established in November 2003 by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, along with the Environment Ministers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The committee's main task is to recommend, by July 2006, how to manage the significant stocks of radioactive waste held in the United Kingdom.

Ireland has significant and valid concerns about this issue. We have accepted a number of invitations to participate in various consultative fora put in place during the first phase of the committee's work. Officials from my Department attended its fourth public meeting in January 2004 and participated in an interactive workshop held in December last. In February 2005, departmental officials, together with a senior scientific officer from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland or RPII, met the chairman of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. My Department has also contributed on a number of occasions to written consultation procedures put in place by the committee as part of its extensive stakeholder engagement process.

My policy is to monitor closely the work of this committee and to use the consultation process to articulate the views of the Irish Government on any proposals for the management and disposal of radioactive waste in the UK. My officials have consistently impressed upon the committee that, given our proximity to the UK, our ongoing concerns and our interest in the management of radioactive waste in the UK, Ireland considers it has a significant interest in the issues under deliberation. My officials have also emphasised that Ireland is a unique stakeholder with distinct responsibilities in terms of protecting its population from the risks of ionising radiation and for planning protective and remedial measures in respect of such risks.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

A primary consideration in addressing waste management issues of any origin or type must involve the question of waste reduction. This is particularly relevant for the nuclear industry given the nature and toxicity of the wastes arising. The role of reprocessing within the industry requires particular consideration in this regard. However, I understand that the remit of the committee does not extend to this issue and, on this basis, the issues raised and currently being addressed by the committee must be considered less than complete.

The committee drew up a shortlist last February which comprises four options. These are interim surface storage, deep underground disposal, phased deep underground disposal and near surface disposal. The committee also drew up plans for detailed assessment of these options and has since invited comments on all these proposals, including how the various options might be implemented. Following this phase of the process, the committee will move into the main assessment stage during the autumn.

Comments have been invited on the shortlisted options and my Department will respond to this invitation in due course. On behalf of the Government, my Department will continue to engage proactively with the committee to articulate clearly the views and concerns of Ireland about the development of long-term radioactive waste management options in the UK to ensure that such options do not compromise the health or environment of Irish people.

At a meeting last week, the representative of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland said that it was decision time on the long-term storage of radioactive waste not just in the UK but also in Ireland. That gave rise to concern because, as the Minister said, successive governments have already made that decision. We are absolutely and implacably opposed to the long-term underground storage of radioactive waste. Will the Minister confirm that? He said it is his policy to make representations but is it his policy absolutely to oppose it?

The Deputy need have no concern about this. There is no change in my or the Government's view. We are opposed to it. We are engaged in this process because it is the process that was established by the UK. We are making a strong case there. A primary consideration in addressing waste issues, of any origin or type, is waste reduction. This is particularly relevant given all that has been said and what we hear about that industry at present and given the nature and toxicity of the waste it produces. The role of reprocessing in the industry requires particular consideration. The remit of the UK committee does not extend to this and, on that basis, the issues raised and currently being addressed by the committee must be considered less than complete. I share the Deputy's concern about the remit of the committee.

There is no change in policy. I am as implacably opposed, in this regard, to this industry as any of my predecessors.

I welcome that. Will the Minister clarify his position with the RPII, lest an untoward misunderstanding arise? I do not know why that comment was made at the committee meeting but it worries me. The Minister has clarified the position but I urge him to make it clear to the RPII.

I welcome the Minister's statement that his position has not changed from that of previous governments because it was not entirely clear until now. Is the Minister aware of the newspaper reports today concerning the massive spillage of nuclear waste at THORP, which will directly impact on the storage of waste? A total of 20 tonnes of plutonium were spilt. The Minister, in response to that crisis, said there was no danger to the environment or to the Irish people. I disagree with him. If that type of accident can occur in a relatively new plant, other accidents could occur.

Today's reports suggest that the THORP plant will never reopen as a result of the near impossibility of clearing up the 20 tonnes of spillage. Will the Minister comment on that? Given that he was aware of this in April, will he explain what he was told then and will he now urgently seek clarification from the British authorities about what happened? The RPII was given some information but not all of it, as it told the committee last week. Will the Minister find out what happened and tell the Irish people? Obviously, the British authorities are telling lies again, and I use the word "lies" advisedly, to their own people and authorities and to the Irish Government.

On a point of order, I have no difficulty with the Deputy's question but it is exactly the same as my Question No. 88. Can I respond after the Minister replies? Otherwise, there is no point putting it down.

We may or may not reach Question No. 88.

Deputy O'Dowd can be certain that I will clarify the position. If the Deputy wishes to send me the clipping, because I am not familiar with it, I will ensure he gets a written response to it.

So the Minister's press statement is wrong.

My press statement is a different matter.

It is wrong.

No, it is not and that point was adverted to in Deputy Stagg's question. Deputy Stagg is correct that there has been a significant problem in THORP. We issued two press statements. The initial one made clear what information we had received and put it on the record for all Members and for the public. However, following investigation and analysis of the problem, there was a second set of data which we have received. It is interesting to observe that at least one other EU member state has been in touch with the British and has complained that we get higher levels of information than anybody else. That is true, to be fair to the British.

The point raised by Deputy Stagg is valid. This incident has been reassessed and has now gone to level three. When an incident occurs it must be reported and assessed. The assessment resulted in it being ratcheted up to level three. I am not sure if the Deputy is correct that it might close the plant down, although that might be a solution.

I am not saying that. I am referring to today's British newspapers.

I have learned how to take British newspapers.

Can I ask the Minister about a critical issue mentioned in my question?

The Deputy must be very brief.

A representative of BNFL was quoted in The Irish Times as saying the danger was zero out of seven while the RPII, which did not have all the information, responded that it was one out of seven. However, the Minister correctly stated it was a serious incident. The key issue is that it took 25 days for that information to be made public. The Minister’s statement quoted the board of BNFL on this, not the RPII, which is the authoritative body in this regard. The information did not get out and that is not acceptable. BNFL has told a pack of untruths at all times on this issue.

This is an important issue. The regrading of the leak from level 1 to level 3 is the end of the assessment process.

When did that happen? That is not good enough.

It took 25 days for the information to be made public.

That is what has been happening for the past 20 days.

If an accident happened, we would not know about it, we would all be dead.

We knew on day one.

Somebody is hiding information, either the Minister or BNFL.

The Minister is being manipulated by BNFL.

The idea that BNFL is manipulating me is ludicrous beyond belief.

The company is manipulating the media and the information stream. The Minister is being conned into believing there is no problem.

The Minister is cosying up to the Brits again.

Waste Disposal.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

80 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps which have been taken to put in place controls to prevent foul odours from the Ringsend waste water treatment plant since the Commission’s statement of April 2005 of its intention to take the Government to the European Court over breaches in EU environmental law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16349/05]

Odour incidents at Dublin City Council's Ringsend waste water treatment plant, which is operated on the city council's behalf under a public private partnership contract, have originated from the on-site sludge treatment facility. A programme of works has been implemented by the city council, which has greatly improved the overall situation since summer 2004. Regrettably, the odour problem re-emerged for short periods earlier this year due to maintenance procedures and equipment failure in the sludge process that have since been addressed. There was also a fire in the plant.

The council is continuing to work closely with the consortium that operates the plant to achieve a resolution of any outstanding odour issues. In that context, the council has appointed international engineering consultants, who recently commenced a comprehensive review of all aspects of the plant, including the design and ongoing operation and management performance.

The recent announcement by the European Commission of the initiation of proceedings in the European Court of Justice on odours from waste water treatment plants arose originally from a complaint about the Greystones sewerage scheme, which has, thankfully, been resolved, and not the Ringsend plant. The EU action does not relate to Ringsend per se, but to the Commission’s concern that there should be legally binding general odour control rules for all such plants in Ireland. Draft regulations to amend the binding rules on sanitary authorities relating to the design, construction, operation and management of urban waste water treatment plants to address odours such as that in Ringsend are in process. They have been sent to the Commission for its views. On the basis of our initial contacts, I am confident they will be accepted and the issue will be resolved.

Will the Minister explain why a plant, which is only three years old, is emitting such foul odours? When it was opened, we were informed it was the most modern sewage treatment plant. What has gone wrong? Was it not built properly? Were safeguards not included? Who will bear the cost of the consultants engaged to examine the problem and the remedial works that will result? Will the costs be borne by the public purse or the private operator in this PPP arrangement?

I accept the general point made by the Deputy. It is not good enough that people in Ringsend or Greystones should have to tolerate foul odours from the plant and it is fundamentally odd that a new plant should operate in this way. I have expressed this view on behalf of my constituents. I have visited Ringsend and experienced the odour at first hand and sympathy is due to the local community. However, there were mitigating circumstances in this case given that there was a number of breakdowns. The site comprises two plants, the sludge plant, which was commissioned earlier and where the initial difficulty occurred, and the new plant. It is not good enough that there should have been a problem. However, there was also a fire in the sludge treatment plant. With regard to who will bear the cost ultimately, I am not sure where the fault lies. However, I am anxious that the taxpayer will not pick up the costs for faulty design or other errors of that nature.

The Minister has not answered my question but I thank him, nevertheless, for replying to a question I did not ask. What is the explanation for the odour, given that is a new plant? Has the Minister or his officials asked what is wrong? If somebody constructed a new building and it malfunctioned to this extent, he or she would want to find out why. The sludge treatment facility is not working, there has been a fire in it and the plant is emitting foul odours. Was the plant badly built? Who got it wrong? The people are entitled to an explanation, particularly those who must endure the stink.

It is regrettable that there has been a problem.

The people do not want tea and sympathy.

What is the reason for the problem?

The Minister is off on another soliloquy.

I am not off on another soliloquy — the Deputy is being unfair — I am trying to answer his question in as comprehensive and open a way as possible and I will continue that practice unless I am advised otherwise. There has been a problem in the plant. There was a fire, which nobody had planned on, and that was a problem. There are issues relating to processing and questions arise about the plant's design. These issues are being resolved.

Did the Minister ask the question?

Yes, if the Deputy was willing to listen——

I listen all the time.

International engineering consultants have been appointed and they have commenced a comprehensive review of all aspects of the plant. I am as anxious as anybody that we should understand what happened, including in regard to the design and the ongoing operation and management performance. When the assessment is concluded, we will know where the fault lies. There is no point jumping the gun until we have the report. The council is addressing and resolving the outstanding issues with my encouragement and that of my Department.

I will come back to this issue.

Is the Minister aware the people of Clontarf, Fairview and Marino have had to put up with the foul odours from the Ringsend plant and that when I raised this issue months ago, the authorities denied there was an odour on the north side of the city? Is he aware of complaints from residents on the north side of the city? The bottom line is there was a major problem in the design, construction and effectiveness of the plant. The Minister must do something about this. He should clean up his act.

I am grateful for the Deputy's comments.

International experts are assessing where the problems were and where the breakdowns occurred. I am absolutely certain the odour was not confined to Ringsend because odours have a peculiar way of travelling. On the other hand, the waste water treatment plant has resulted in considerable benefits for residents on Dublin Bay, including residents in Clontarf and recreational users of the fine facilities there. It is regrettable that this has happened but it is not the first plant in which such a breakdown has happened. It happened previously in Greystones and I was one of the complainants at the time. I assure the Deputy I will continue to keep a close eye on this issue.

Local Government Act.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

81 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when it is intended to enact the sections of the Local Government Act 2001 which would allow towns to apply for town council status. [16257/05]

I compliment Deputy Murphy on her first oral question, which addresses an issue in which I am greatly interested.

Part 17 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides that qualified electors of a town having a population of at least 7,500 as ascertained at the last preceding census and not having a town council may make a proposal for the establishment of such a council. Under the relevant provisions of the Act, a proposal to establish a town council is a matter for the local community in the first instance. It is one of the finer democratic provisions that we have on our Statute Book. Thereafter a decision on such a proposal is a reserved function of the relevant county council, following a public consultation process.

Following these local steps, the proposal must then be submitted to the local government commission for preparation of a report and recommendations to the Minister. I am considering the steps necessary to commence the relevant provisions of the 2001 Act, including regarding the establishment of the local government commission and will be pursuing consultations with local government interests, including the various local government bodies, in this regard.

I thank Deputy Murphy for raising this question because it is an area in which I have a particular interest, having helped to create one local authority in Greystones.

The Minister and I have something in common in this area. I am a member of the last created town council, in Leixlip, which was established in 1988. The town council in Greystones preceded the one in Leixlip by four years. Only four town councils have been created in the history of the State.

I ask the Minister to indicate when he believes communities could begin the process of seeking town council status. We are becoming a more urban society. I am an advocate of town councils because they can give focus to towns and benefit communities greatly. Towns such as Maynooth and Celbridge are very keen to initiate the process of seeking town council status but they would like to know when that process can begin. There was no indication of a target date in the Minister's reply, though he did express support for progressing the issue further.

Perhaps the Minister could explain what has delayed the process to date. There was a large number of comprehensive reviews of local government in the middle of the 1990s, which led to the recent local government Act. However, it is extraordinary that the last town council was established in 1988, approximately 17 years ago.

What role does the Minister see for county managers in the town council process and has he consulted them on the matter? My experience of seeking town council status for Leixlip would indicate that battles may have to be fought with county councils before agreement can be reached.

The Deputy's time has expired.

How many towns does the Minister perceive would be interested in or would be eligible for, seeking town council status?

Regarding the last point, I am not sure of the exact numbers, but I agree with the general tenor of Deputy Murphy's comments. Town councils, and indeed the older town commissions, are a positive force in local democracy and I am interested in facilitating them wherever I can.

There is an issue around the differentiation between town councils that were once town commissions and town councils that were previously urban councils. By using the powers that exist creatively, services can be shared between town and county councils. There are some examples of very good practice in town councils in that regard. Deputy Murphy is correct in her assertion that in some cases there has been a less proactive role taken by county councils and by county management.

I remember the birth traumas of Leixlip Town Council. I assisted the local group at the time and was delighted to do so. I have been speaking to some local authority representative associations and am anxious to progress the matter further.

I reiterate the point that within our small local authorities, particularly those that have made the transition across from town council status, I wish to see more activity taking place regarding service provision in planning, housing and so on, whereby offices are shared across town and county councils. There are one or two cases where this is happening, on an informal basis, to good effect.

The fundamental issue here is the allocation of powers to local government. Does the Minister have further plans to significantly devolve powers to local government? It would appear that the trend has been in the opposite direction, whether that be through the Waste Management Acts, legislation on housing etc. The trend has been to consolidate power in central Government.

The Deputy is widening considerably the scope of the question.

Does the Minister have plans to further devolve power to local government?

If Deputy Murphy wishes to discuss the matter of town councils further, I would be delighted to do so outside the House.

To answer Deputy Cuffe's question, if one looks at comments I have made since becoming Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, one will see that I am anxious to stop the trend to which he referred, namely the movement of power away from local government and towards central Government. The issue, in the context of the criticisms made by Deputy Gilmore earlier, has been the movement of power away from councillors to the management of local authorities. I am not in favour of that trend developing any further and, in the Waste Services Bill that we are processing in the House, I have reversed that process.

End-of-Life Vehicles.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

82 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason for the long delay in introducing regulations on end-of-life vehicles; the communications he has had with the EU Commission regarding the proposed regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16340/05]

Necessary enabling provisions to facilitate implementation of Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles were incorporated in the Protection of the Environment Act 2003. Part 5 (a) of the Waste Management Act 1996, as inserted by section 44 of the Protection of the Environment Act 2003, explicitly provides for the following: producer responsibility for the free deposit of ELVs at authorised treatment facilities by their last owners; the appropriate treatment and recovery of ELVs deposited at authorised treatment facilities in line with the directive's requirements, the mandatory deposit of ELVs by their registered owners at authorised treatment facilities for appropriate treatment and recovery, and the issuing of certificates of destruction in respect of ELVs deposited at authorised treatment facilities for scrapping.

The delay in fully transposing and implementing the directive principally reflects difficulties in reaching agreement with the relevant sectors on the detailed mechanisms for the operation of the free ELV take-back arrangements required by the directive, including how such arrangements will be funded.

My Department has had correspondence and discussions with the European Commission on various aspects of the transposition and implementation of the directive in Ireland. Legal proceedings were initiated against Ireland in the European Court of Justice by the European Commission in October 2003 on the grounds that as the regulations on the detailed arrangements for the implementation of the directive in Ireland had not been made, the directive was only partially transposed. On 28 October 2004, the European Court of Justice issued a reasoned opinion in this case and found that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations to fully transpose and implement Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles.

On foot of the European Court of Justice ruling, I have held a number of meetings with the relevant sectors with a view to developing an effective and pragmatic approach to implement the directive. I intend to announce my proposals shortly and to draw up regulations later this year to transpose fully the directive's provisions and facilitate its early implementation.

The European Court of Justice made a judgment on 28 October last that Ireland has failed to fulfil its obligations on this directive. The Minister of State has stated that the delay in implementing the directive is a result of a failure to reach agreement with various interests in the industry.

Is it true that agreement was reached between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the SIMI, the Motor Vehicle Recycling Association and the Metal Recyclers Association in December 2001? Is it also true that the Department, at the instruction of the then Minister, then made a separate agreement with the SIMI, behind the back of the other two organisations? It is the difficulty of reconciling those agreements which has caused the delay in the implementation of the end-of-life vehicles regulations and directive that has landed us in the European Court. This has resulted in burnt-out cars and old vehicles being dumped inappropriately in many parts of the country.

It is important to state that meetings were held over the years with the previous Minister and that the current Minister, Deputy Roche, has been particularly active in bringing this to a conclusion. He met the SIMI in November 2004 and met the metal recyclers association and the motor vehicle recyclers a week after the SIMI meeting. He met the SIMI again last week. The meetings are ongoing and the Minister is intent on reaching an agreement.

The Minister is using a sensible approach. It is far better for us to reach agreement with those involved in the business to ensure we have comprehensive coverage and their accord. The negotiations have been protracted and difficult. The Minister has indicated that if no decision is reached within a short period — I understand the SIMI has until 27 May to respond to the outcome of the most recent meeting — he will make the decision and put the regulations in place before the end of the year.

I want to discuss the number of vehicles. We have a fair level ——

Will I have time to raise a supplementary question?

We are at the end of the time. The Minister is aware that he is limited to one minute.

He has gone well over the minute. I would like to put a supplementary question.

It would be wrong to say that we do not have a high level of recovery of end-of-life vehicles. Currently the recovery level is 70% to 75%. We have targets to meet by 2006 and by 2015.

Was an agreement reached at the end of 2001 between the three organisations representing the different interests relating to this directive and will the Minister of State publish the text of that agreement? Second, was a separate agreement reached between his Department and the SIMI to the exclusion of the other two organisations in 2002 and will he publish the text of that agreement?

Is the Minister of State embarrassed by the stream of judgments from the European Court of Justice against Ireland with regard to the waste directive, the environmental impact assessment directive and the end-of-life vehicles directive? What costs must the State pay for non-compliance with European directives? Must we pay costs associated with this judgment?

No costs arise at this point. The Minister has clearly indicated that the regulations will be in place to ensure no costs will apply. With regard to 2001, I understand there was no finality to an agreement between the three parties.

I have it here.

I understand there was no finality to that.

I have the text of an agreement here.

I can check my records as I do not have the information to hand, but my understanding is that there was no finality in terms of any agreement in 2001. With regard to the SIMI, there were tentative arrangements at some stage which, obviously, were not agreed to by the other groups involved, but negotiations have continued. The dismantlers group took an action to the European Court. We have the interim report and will act on it. The Minister will have the regulations in place in time before the end of the year.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.