Radiological Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage

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

I welcome the opportunity to introduce Second Stage of the Radiological Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. The Bill has two main objectives: first, to provide for the dissolution of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, and transfer its functions to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and, second, to introduce the necessary statutory provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

The Bill also provides for the updating of certain fines under the Radiological Protection Acts, updates the definition of "ionising radiation" to the latest international standard and makes provisions to enable the RPII and the EPA to hold radioactive substances or irradiating apparatus necessary for the fulfilment of their functions without requiring a licence.

As part of the comprehensive spending review of all areas of public expenditure, the programme for Government includes a policy of reducing the number of State agencies. A decision of November 2011 provided for the rationalisation of 48 State bodies and agencies and the critical review of another 46 by the end of June 2012. The merger of the EPA and the RPII was considered as part of this critical review process. Following completion of the critical review in October 2012, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announced that the EPA and the RPII were to merge, with a target date for the merger of summer of 2014. In order to meet this target, enabling legislation must be in place before the summer recess, but I want to place on the record that there will be no diminution in the functions of either agency, or of the levels of service provided by them, arising from this merger. The synergies and greater linkages between environmental and radiological functions will enhance the capacity of both organisations.

The aim of the agency rationalisation programme is, ultimately, to reduce the number of State bodies. While the savings may not be significant, the policy is to follow through on mergers and rationalisations unless there are strong evidence-based reasons for not doing so.

However, efficiencies following the merger of the EPA and the RPII should give rise to reduction in certain costs over time.

It was concluded that the most efficient and economic means of merging the two bodies was dissolution of one and transfer of all of its functions, staff and assets to the other rather than dissolution of both and the creation of a new entity. This approach requires significantly simpler legislation, costs less and ensures the least potential disruption to service delivery. It also makes it easier to ensure ongoing maintenance of the functions of both agencies. Accordingly, it was decided to dissolve the RPII and transfer its functions, powers, staff and assets to the EPA, it being the larger of the two organisations.

As well as drafting the requisite enabling legislation, extensive preparations and structures have been put in place to ensure a smooth and efficient merger process. These structures include a project management group and a project working group, comprising representatives of both organisations and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Both groups have met on a monthly basis to ensure the merger is progressing on all fronts, including administration, human resources, financial, accommodation, corporate and the environmental functions and operations of both agencies. All efforts have been geared towards amalgamation of the operations of the two agencies this summer, which adds further impetus to the necessity to enact this Bill prior to the recess.

The merger will take the following approach, as reflected in the Bill. First, on a day appointed by ministerial order, the RPII will be dissolved and its functions, powers and staff will transfer to the EPA. It will become a radiological protection office within the agency, headed up by a director, taking the number of offices in the agency to five. The other four offices are environmental enforcement; climate, licensing, research and resource use; environmental assessment and communications and corporate services. This Bill will make the necessary repeals and amendments to all relevant enactments and statutory instruments to ensure that the EPA on behalf of the public has the requisite powers to assume the radiological protection role. In this regard, all current functions of the RPII become functions of the EPA from the date of transfer.

Second, this Bill is to enable Ireland to ratify the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, CPPNM. The initial CPPNM was signed in March 1980 and included all EU member states as signatories. Ireland ratified the convention in September 1991, the terms of the treaty being provided for through the Radiological Protection Act 1991. The original CPPNM required that the international community afford certain levels of physical protection to nuclear materials, including during international transportation. It established a framework for co­operation among states that are party to it for the protection, recovery and return of stolen nuclear material and also set out a range of serious criminal offences for the misappropriation or harmful use of nuclear material, which participating States were to make punishable under national law or in respect of which offenders could be subject to extradition.

In July 2005, the states party to the CPPNM agreed the text of an amending treaty to strengthen its provisions, primarily by extending the provisions to require ratifying states to protect nuclear facilities and materials in peaceful domestic use, storage and transport. It also provides for extended co-operation between and among states to enable rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material and to mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage. The original CPPNM required that states introduce a series of offences relating to nuclear materials. These included unlawfully obtaining or demanding nuclear materials or using, or threatening to use, such materials in a manner that would cause death or serious injury to a person or substantial damage to property. The 2005 amendment to the CPPNM extends the range of criminal offences to include also offences relating to the sabotage of nuclear facilities, the smuggling of nuclear materials or facilitating, conspiring or directing offences that could lead to deliberate, malicious and dangerous dispersal of nuclear materials or release of radiation from a nuclear facility. It also requires ratifying states to make it an offence to engage in any deliberate activity that releases radioactive materials, or radiation through the sabotage of a nuclear facility, in a manner that causes significant harm to the environment.

This amending treaty, when ratified, will create the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities, CPPNMNF. It is an important milestone in international efforts to improve the physical protection of nuclear material and facilities. It is regarded internationally as being significant for nuclear security and is expected to have a major impact in reducing the vulnerability of states to nuclear terrorism. It also increases nuclear security internationally by requiring common high standards of physical protection of nuclear material and facilities and that parties to the convention introduce a range of offences to prevent acts of terrorism involving nuclear material or against nuclear facilities and allows for international co-operation to meet such threats. The strategic importance of the CPPNMNF to international efforts to combat nuclear terrorism and increase nuclear security was emphasised to me recently when I met Dr. Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. Dr. Amano expressed the strong hope that Ireland would ratify the treaty soon as ratification of it by 96 nations is required to enable it to come into force. As of 29 May this year, 76 states had ratified it. I assured him that Ireland, as a signatory to the amendment and a nation with a strong track record and interest in promoting nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation, takes its responsibilities in relation to the CPPNMNF very seriously and would endeavour to ratify the amendment as soon as possible.

Ireland has been a key driver of non-proliferation since the 1960s. The then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, was the first minister to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, Review Conference called on all states party to the CPPNM to ratify the amendment to the convention as soon as possible. It is important that Ireland does so in order to maintain its good standing. I know that my colleague, the Tánaiste, would very much like his Department to be in a position to announce Ireland's ratification of the CPPNMNF at the 2014 meeting of the IAEA's general conference in September 2014. Following this conference, Ireland will take its turn in joining the IAEA's board of governors for a period of two years. Ratification of the CPPNMNF is also regarded by the EU as a key element of Europe's nuclear security policy. Currently, 26 of the 28 EU states have ratified the treaty, with Italy close to doing so. However, the EU, through the Euratom Treaty, cannot ratify the treaty until all 28 member states have first ratified it. In this context, the EU and our EU partners have communicated their desire that Ireland ratify the amendment at the earliest possible juncture. To do so, we must first enact primary legislation. It is hoped the legislation will be enacted soon and that we can ratify the treaty prior to the summer recess.

I will now give a more detailed overview of the Bill. The Bill is divided into five parts and one schedule. Part 1 is a general part and contains three sections. Section 1 sets out the Short Title of the Bill on enactment and allows that this Bill and the Radiological Protection Acts 1991 to 2002 may be cited together as the Radiological Protection Acts 1991 to 2014. Section 2 defines the use of key terms and phrases upon enactment. Section 3 allows for the repeal of those sections of the Radiological Protection Act 1991 which enable the RPII to exist and function.

Part 2 contains 12 sections and provides for the dissolution of the RPII and the transfer of its functions, powers, staff and assets to the EPA. These are, in the main, standard legal provisions necessary to ensure the smooth transition of the merger. Sections 4 and 5 provide for the setting, by order, of the date of the dissolution of the RPII and that the RPII will be formally dissolved on that day. Section 6 transfers all functions of the RPII to the EPA and provides that from the date of dissolution and transfer all references to the RPII in legislation will be construed as references to the EPA. Section 7 allows for the transfer of lands and properties to the EPA. Sections 8 and 9 allow for legal continuity, transferring all rights, liabilities, and continuation of leases, licences and permissions granted by the RPII and liability for any legal matters occurring before the dissolution day to the EPA. Section 10 covers the transfer of functions, assets and liabilities to the EPA, puts in place transitional measures for actions not completed and allows for transfers of moneys and other financial assets from the RPII to the EPA. Section 11 allows for the preparation of the final RPII annual report and accounts by the EPA for presentation to the Minister. It requires that the final accounts are audited and that the Minister present the final accounts and final report to the House.

Sections 12 and 13 make provision for staff transferring from the RPII to the EPA. Section 12 allows for the transfer of staff to the EPA, preserving their conditions of employment as they relate to remuneration. That is an important point. Section 13 ensures that the terms and conditions of employment of RPII staff relating to superannuation are preserved after transfer to the EPA. It protects the pensions of former staff of the RPII and of An Bord Fuinnimh Núicléigh, which preceded the RPII.

Section 14 provides for a smooth operational transition by appointing the chief executive officer of the RPII as a director of the EPA for a transitional period up to 30 April 2016. Section 15 makes several technical provisions to ensure that licences, authorisations, approvals, certificates, codes of practice, etc., remain in effect after the dissolution day.

Part 3 of the Bill makes various technical amendments to ensure that the EPA can continue to carry out all of the functions of the RPII without interruption after the RPII is dissolved, and to provide the EPA with the necessary functional authority to do so. It consists of 16 sections and is divided into three chapters. The first chapter makes the necessary amendments to the Radiological Protection Act 1991, the second chapter amends the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, and the third chapter amends other relevant legislation and statutory instruments.

With regard to Chapter 1, section 16 amends section 8 of the 1991 Act to ensure that codes of practice concerning radiological protection matters which are completed after the dissolution day comply with the standards laid out in the EPA Act. Section 17 amends section 9 of the 1991 Act to ensure that it refers only to radiological functions and not all of the functions of the EPA upon transfer as a consequence of the provisions of section 6 of this Act. Section 18 amends section 36 of the 1991 Act to remove a potential conflicting duplication between the confidentiality requirements laid out in the 1991 Act and the EPA Act.

In Chapter 2, section 19 amends section 3 of the EPA Act by inserting definitions of "ionising radiation", "radioactive substance" and "radiological protection" for the purposes of that Act. Section 20 amends section 16 of the EPA Act to ensure that RPII staff and radiological inspectors are indemnified while undertaking bona fide duties of the EPA upon their transfer. Section 21 amends of section 19 of the EPA Act to provide for a fifth director to be appointed to the EPA. Sections 22 and 23 amend sections 21 and 24 of the EPA Act, respectively, to allow the Minister to appoint a person with radiological protection expertise to the selection committee that appoints directors to the EPA and that such radiological protection expertise may be a consideration in the appointment of EPA directors by the selection committee. Section 24 amends section 25 of the EPA Act to ensure that the determination of licences issued under Acts or orders dealing with radiological protection may be delegated to staff below director level after the RPII functions transfer to the EPA. Sections 25 and 26 amend sections 27 and 28 of the EPA Act to allow that radiological protection expertise may be a basis for appointments to be made to the EPA advisory committee and that the advisory committee may provide advice on radiological protection matters.

Section 27 amends section 45 of the EPA Act to disallow the transfer of radiological protection functions from the EPA to other public sector bodies, such as local authorities, using general devolutionary powers under this section available to the EPA in regard to its other functions. Section 28 is a technical amendment to section 53 of the EPA Act to ensure there is no duplication between the principles and policies laid out in this section, and similar provisions relating to radiological protection functions in the 1991 Act concerning the ability of the Minister to confer additional functions upon the EPA. Section 29 is a technical amendment to section 55 of the EPA Act to allow the Minister, other Ministers and the Government to seek advice or recommendations from the EPA in relation to radiological protection functions transferring from the RPII, as well as advice on environmental protection functions as currently provided for within that section. Section 30 amends section 66 of the EPA Act to extend the entitlement of the EPA to undertake, or seek, quality assurance exercises or guarantees from laboratories undertaking radiological protection work, as well as from those engaging in environmental work as currently allowed by that section. Section 31 amends of section 76 of the EPA Act to ensure that the standards for production of EPA codes of practice apply to codes of practice produced in regard to radiological protection matters after the transfer of functions to the EPA. This does not affect or negate any codes of practice drawn up prior to the transfer and still in operation. Section 32 amends section 79 of the EPA Act so that the Minister can give general directives on radiological protection matters in addition to environmental matters, as currently provided for by that section.

In Chapter 3, section 33 is a technical amendment of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996, as amended by the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Act 2009, to resolve a legal technicality relating to the setting of minimum radiation levels of waste dumped at sea. Section 34 amends various regulations issued pursuant to the European Communities Act 1972 to transpose various EU directives and regulations to remove the RPII as a "public authority" from a number of European regulations under which the EPA is already a designated competent authority, following the dissolution of the RPII.

Part 4 of the Bill makes the necessary statutory provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM. Section 35 amends section 2 of 1991 Act by inserting a series of definitions relevant to the provisions which are necessary to meet the requirements of the amendment to the CPPNM. Section 36 amends section 8 of the 1991 Act to provide the RPII, and subsequently the EPA, with responsibility for the exchange of information internationally regarding the protection of nuclear facilities as well as nuclear materials. Section 37 amends section 27 of the 1991 Act to make the RPII or EPA the competent authority for the CPPNM, as amended. Section 38 amends section 29 of the 1991 Act to provide the RPII or EPA with the authority to seek Garda Síochána assistance when making inspections pertaining to quality assurance schemes that relate to the physical security of nuclear materials and facilities.

Section 39 amends section 30 of the 1991 Act, inserting new subsections, (4B) to (4E), to require that conditions relating to security measures for nuclear materials and facilities are incorporated into the licences issued in respect of them. Section 40 inserts two new sections, 34A and 34B, into the Act of 1991. The new section 34A introduces a requirement to prepare contingency plans, setting out the procedures to be implemented in the event of any theft or loss of any nuclear materials in or over the State, or an accident relating to such material. The new section 34B establishes a quality assurance scheme with a view to providing confidence that specified arrangements necessary for the physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities are put in place.

Section 41 amends section 36 of the 1991 Act to require that individuals maintain the confidentiality of information received from another State under the CPPNMNF, unless duly authorised otherwise by that State. It also requires that any person with knowledge of security arrangements relating to nuclear facilities or nuclear materials should keep it confidential unless duly authorised. A breach of these confidentiality requirements will be an offence.

Section 42 amends section 38 of the 1991 Act to incorporate new offences relating to criminal use of nuclear materials or sabotage of nuclear facilities. In particular, it makes criminal deliberate activities intended to cause significant damage to the environment. The new offences set out include: extending offences relating to nuclear material to include offences relating to the receipt, discharge or emitting of nuclear materials in order to harm people, property or the environment; being reckless as to whether the receipt, possession, use, transfer, alteration, disposal, dispersal, discharge, emission or introduction of nuclear material would harm people, property or the environment; the illegal import or export of nuclear material; sabotage of a nuclear facility in order to release ionising radiation or radioactive substances to cause harm to people, property or the environment; being reckless as to whether sabotage of a nuclear facility could cause such harm; threatening to use nuclear material to damage the environment; or threatening to sabotage a nuclear facility to compel any person, international body or the State to undertake any action.

Section 42 amends section 38 of the 1991 Act to update the legal definition of the word "steal" to accord with that of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. Section 43 amends section 40 of the 1991 Act to increase the maximum level of fine payable in respect of serious offences, reflecting the provisions of the Fines Act 2010.

Finally, Part 5 of the Bill outlines a number of miscellaneous provisions. Section 44 amends section 2 of the 1991 Act to update the definition of "ionising radiation" to reflect standard international legal scientific definitions. Section 45 amends section 7 of Act of the 1991 Act to provide a general function to the RPII to hold, use and dispose of nuclear devices without needing a licence. Section 46 amends section 3 of the EPA Act to insert a definition of radioactive substances the same as that in the 1991 Act. Section 47 amends section 52 of the EPA Act to provide a general function to the EPA to hold, use and dispose of nuclear devices without needing a licence. The Schedule to the Bill incorporates the text of the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM.

In conclusion, this is a very important Bill which should be enacted without undue delay. In part, it is a technical Bill that allows for the merger of the RPII and the EPA as required to meet Government policy. It also makes a number of small technical amendments to facilitate the radiological protection functions of the RPII and the EPA when it takes over these functions. This Bill also seeks to put in place the necessary legal provisions for Ireland to be able to ratify the amendment to the CPPNM. This is an important convention in terms of international nuclear security and to mitigate the potential for nuclear terrorist acts. It is important that we live up to the standards that we have always held in regard to nuclear materials by meeting our responsibilities regarding this convention. If not, we risk undermining our position and the reputation we have developed over the last 40 years as champions of international nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation. The sooner this Bill is passed, the sooner we can ratify the convention. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Bill, which Fianna Fáil strongly supports. We need a strong and sound framework to deal with dangerously volatile nuclear material, which is of paramount importance to any state.

The legislation also gives us a chance to discuss the broader Government approach to reshaping our public service. Prior to the 2011 election, the public was promised a dramatic reduction in the number of quasi-governmental organisations. This promise, like so many others, has been thrown by the wayside. Fine Gael, in its pre-election promises, stated: "One of the essential measures in Fine Gael's five point plan is to abolish or rationalise 145 State agencies, boards, committees, task forces and public bodies, often referred to as quangos, to help us hit the deficit reduction target without affecting frontline services". The cameras were rolled out for a photo shoot and it was said the face of public service would be radically changed by Fine Gael, with quangos a thing of the past. We are now into the Government's fourth year and the reality of that promise is very different from the bold numbers outlined by the Government. The fact is Ireland now has a grand total of 12 quangos fewer than when the Government took office. This is a far cry from the promised 145 quangos to be abolished before the election. In fact, the Government has set up 33 new quangos and merged 45 to date. On top of all that, it set up the bonus-driven super-quango of Irish Water. In the legal services industry, it intends to set up two further quangos to help regulate the area.

If this is the "Reinventing Government" promise made by Fine Gael, maybe it does actually believe it achieved a "democratic revolution". However, instead of streamlining public services it has attempted to present its failures to live up to pre-election promises as radical change. It is the typical spin-obsessed policy by the Government, where spin triumphs over actual substance.

The Government has not clarified how much it has actually saved from the 45 mergers that have taken place to date. I am interested in finding out how much these savings have been offset or completely overwhelmed by the establishment of the additional 33 new quangos. Does the taxpayer really pay less now or is the Government desperately trying to hoodwink them? In his speech, the Minister of State said "the savings may not be significant". I hope that when he replies he will outline the savings involved in this legislation. At the current rate of progress achieved, by 2016, the end of the Government's term, the net reduction in quango numbers may be fewer than 20, or one fifth of the original target. This is nothing less than a damning indictment of the Government's "spin over substance" obsession and adds to the growing list of broken promises. The Minister of State's claims of progress in the quango cull is firmly rejected by these facts.

The original promise to abolish 145 quangos was born from a knee-jerk populist response by Fine Gael rather than a rational approach to how we can improve our public services. It failed to look at how best to reintegrate unnecessary bodies back into Departments, what additional bodies, if any, would be needed and the merit of retaining certain existing boards. Making sweeping promises without substance and then failing to deliver upon them when in power has been the hallmark of this Government. It is deepening public cynicism about the political process and underlining the disconnect between people and their politicians. This is all to evident in the huge anti-establishment vote in last month's elections.

I have some comments in regard to the specific proposal put forward in the Bill. The proposed merger makes sense and I support the legislation. The EPA has the capacity and experience to undertake the work currently under the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. The RPII was originally established in 1992 under the 1991 Radiological Protection Act, which conferred on the RPII a broad remit in regard to radiological protection in Ireland. The advisory, research, licensing and educational role of the institute can be adequately performed within the framework of the EPA.

It is vital that the newly merged body retains its commitment to the goals and objectives of the institute and its work to date. The threat of nuclear fallout and ensuing radiological positioning is a dreadful vista for the country. We must continue to guard against such a possibility and adequately prepare to deal with it. While Ireland has no nuclear power plants, nor should it, we do have radiological materials, in particular in medical facilities, and we need to be enabled to adequately deal with this.

It also underlines the need to recommit to our efforts to shut down Sellafield nuclear power station, which remains a potential danger to the safety of the country. The impact of the plant on the east coast has been the subject of considerable debate and public anxiety. The newly merged body should have a role in undertaking research into this area and strengthening our case. The watching brief that the RPII has had in regard to Sellafield and its ongoing activities must be maintained within the newly merged body. The possible impact of the plant on Ireland demands ongoing supervision to back up our case with the UK.

This Bill also enables Ireland to ratify the 2005 amendment to the International Atomic Energy Agency Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. This is an important convention in establishing high standards of care in handling these extremely hazardous materials. All EU member states are among the signatories, with Ireland ratifying on 6 September 1991. The convention required that the international community afford certain levels of physical protection during the international transport of nuclear material. It also established a framework for co-operation among member states for the protection, recovery and return of stolen material.

I have long been a great admirer of the work of the RPII and I would like to particularly mention a brochure sent to Members in recent days, with the very helpful title of "Who we are and what we do". The leaflet sets out clearly the situation as regards radiation in the environment, in the home and in the workplace, as well as nuclear safety and emergency response. In particular, the issue of radiation in the home is one that should be further debated in this House. The leaflet states that exposure from radon, particularly in the home, accounts for 56% of the total radiation dose received by the Irish population. It states that exposure to radon represents the greatest health risk from exposure to radiation and it is linked to up to 250 cases of lung cancer each year.

In a letter, the chairman of the RPII, Professor William Reville, refers to the significant problem with the naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon. He states that radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and refers to the 250 radon-linked lung cancer figure, which is greater than the statistic for deaths on the road in Ireland, which was 190 road fatalities in 2013. He suggests that reducing exposure of the Irish population to radon is obviously a matter of great importance, and that the RPII plays a key role in the national radon control strategy launched by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, in February 2014.

Professor Reville also refers to the national radon survey and the preparation of a radon map of Ireland which divided the country into 10 km grids. In each of those squares, a percentage of houses predicted to exceed the national radon reference level were surveyed. This is the level at which house owners are strongly advised to take steps to reduce radon levels. The RPII offers a home radon measurement to all domestic householders and places of work in Ireland and strongly encourages those with indoor radon levels above the radon reference level to have remediation work carried out to reduce the radon concentration.

I very much welcome what Professor Reville has said. I think the RPII has an excellent reputation at home and abroad. It is trusted by the Irish public and seen as an independent body whose regulations, guidelines and advice are solidly based on the best scientific evidence. This legislation underpins the work it is undertaking, strengthens the protection of nuclear waste and material and deserves to be supported.

I will start with the role of the RPII. People's main awareness of that relates to the role of the RPII in monitoring Sellafield and the threat posed by releases of radioactive material into the Irish Sea from that nuclear facility on the west coast of England. I know the Minister of State will take an interest in this because clusters of cancers in the Louth area, which is in his constituency, have been highlighted over the years by local doctors. This would lend weight to the case that some of these are caused by material leaking from Sellafield into the Irish Sea and the atmosphere. In 2009, the RPII issued a report following a survey of over 500 people which concluded that levels of radioactivity in the Irish Sea were low and did not present a significant level of threat. That would conflict with many people's perception that radiation from Sellafield was indeed dangerous and was responsible for cancer. A report by the RPII in 2002 was far more critical of Sellafield. The RPII was given access to the plant and was able to conduct its own examinations. It concluded that the quantity of radioactive material held in storage tanks was so high that it would represent a severe risk even to people at a far distance from the plant if there was to be an accident there.

Despite its acceptance of a study that found no link between the occurrence of Down's syndrome in the Louth area and emissions from Sellafield, in 2001, the RPII insisted that Sellafield remained a danger due to the levels of radioactivity in the Irish Sea and the risk of an accident. It is clear that there is still a need for this state to have the capacity to monitor levels of radioactivity emanating from Sellafield and I hope that this remains the case when the merger of the RPII and the EPA takes place.

That is the key concern. Of course, quangos need to be cut and that was referred to earlier on. However, there is a concern that the role and work of the RPII would not diminished or lessened and that the vigilant role it plays would not be in any way dissipated by the merger. The need for such capacity was illustrated earlier this year when Sellafield claimed that higher levels of radioactivity around the plant were caused by naturally occurring background radon rather than anything concerning the operation of the nuclear facility. It is clear from the past that we cannot rely on such self-monitoring and that, therefore, we need our own agency. We know that Sellafield and the nuclear industry in Great Britain have issued their reports but we know from the past that we cannot rely on them.

The RPII has also conducted other research into both artificial and naturally occurring radioactivity and in 2008 found that levels of exposure in Irish people were much higher than the global average. While some of that was due to the accident at Chernobyl and Sellafield, much of it was connected to high levels of radon in the atmosphere here. The RPII stresses that radon continues to be an important concern and that its current work must continue when it is merged with the EPA. I also note that the RPII opposed amalgamation with the EPA so perhaps the Minister might address that point. The RPII's chief concern appears to be the concern that radiological protection will not have the same priority. I believe it is requesting that some reference to its functions be included in the title of the EPA. It also wants the radiological protection office within the EPA to have statutory footing. Could the Minister of State clarify whether it will have statutory footing within the EPA?

I note that section 12 of the Bill provides that all of the staff of the RPII will be transferred over to the EPA with the same pay and terms of employment. That is to be welcomed and I would also hope that the RPII's concerns regarding the continued focus on the importance of monitoring any radiological threat will be maintained. Section 23 states that "radiological protection expertise" will be a consideration in the appointment of EPA directors. Perhaps that ought to be amended so that at least one of the five directors of the EPA, as expanded by section 21, would be someone with the necessary expertise and background. The same applies to the provision in section 25 for appointments to the EPA advisory committee, which should also contain someone with that expertise.

Apparently an office of radiological protection is to be established within the EPA but the RPII has concerns that its functions might change over the course of time and that there might be a drift. This is why it thinks there is a need to establish it on a statutory footing. It would like to see the office established under this Bill to ensure that it will in fact concentrate solely on the issues which up until now have been the responsibility of the RPII.

One of the priorities for the RPII has been the monitoring of natural radioactivity caused by radon. It is vital that this work continues given the high levels of radiation detected here. As referred to previously, they are well above the international average and it is believed that this is in large part as a consequence of radon. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer in this country after smoking tobacco. It causes 250 deaths per year, which as the RPII has pointed out is higher than the average number of road fatalities, and yet nowhere near the same level of importance or preventative programming is devoted to it. While the issue of radon in the home is not dealt with in this Bill, it is something at which we need to look given the fact that we are losing 250 people per year. It is safe to assume that a high number of those deaths are caused by radon in the home.

The mapping exercise has highlighted areas of the State that have high levels of radon. Perhaps that is something that the Department might look at and highlight. There may be no better way of doing it than through the local authorities to get the message out there that this is a factor. I am not an engineer but I do know that a radon barrier can be fitted. When new houses are being built, we can highlight the need for people to fit radon barriers in their homes. Perhaps the Government might look at a tax incentive programme similar to what it has done with the home improvement scheme. It could be a tax incentive or small grant scheme in areas with very high levels of radon so that people could take out floors and fit radon barriers. It is something that needs to be done.

We need to let people know. There was a good deal of information on it six or seven years ago, but issues such as this have been put on the back burner because of the economic crisis and so on. We should give attention to it. If people are building a new house or an extension in an area in which there is a high level of radon, they should be made aware of this in order that they can install radon barriers during construction.

The RPII has conducted excellent research on radon levels and published a map showing where radon contamination is significantly in excess of acceptable levels. It tends to be in clusters around the State, with notable incidences in parts of Connacht and the south east. People can also assess the levels in their own area through a facility on the institute's website. This could be publicised through the media and local authorities. On the basis of this research, the institute advises homes and businesses on the level of risk and measures which can be taken to reduce and ameliorate the risk. It is vital that this research and work continue, which bolsters the argument in favour of strengthening the references in the Bill to an office within the EPA dedicated to radiological protection work. The research is important, but maps are available. The Department should examine publicising their availability again through the media and local authorities and should consider incentives to help people to carry out remedial works. A version of the tax incentive provided under the home improvements scheme could be considered to help people in areas in which there are clusters of radon sources. They could be drinking tea and sleeping on top of a radon source without knowing it.

Seven years ago a report was commissioned by the British and Irish Governments on the Sellafield plant and the Irish Government footed the bill for it. A heavily edited and short version saw the light of day. If the Government had commissioned and paid for it, the entire report should have been made public. It is important that we remain vigilant. The nuclear industry in Britain has huge resources available to it and significant resources are put into the use of propaganda which the industry would describe as publicity and public relations. We have a nuclear free island, given that the North has declared itself nuclear free; therefore, it is important that the Government continue to state our opposition to the plant and monitor what is happening in it.

The key message is that the good work carried out by the RPII should continue and that it should be not be diminished in the merger with the EPA.

The produce of nuclear power plants, nuclear waste and the nuclear industry generally in how it relates to the production of nuclear weaponry make source of nuclear energy the most dangerous substance in the world. Nothing could be more serious than how we deal with it. It may be one of the great indictments of society that human beings have produced the most dangerous and lethal substance imaginable for military purposes because that is where it all began. Alongside the Nazi Holocaust, probably the most obscene crime committed by one group of human beings against another was the dropping of nuclear weapons on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, not by so-called terrorists but by the most advanced and self-proclaimed civilised society in the world. Over two days approximately 200,000 people were incinerated. Two cities were destroyed, with virtually every living thing in them, using this new technology. One would have thought this event would have been enough for our society to say collectively, "Never again," just as most sane and sentient human beings say, "Never again," to the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. One would have thought that would have been the immediate reaction to the horrors of what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, particularly when one considers the cold, calculated geopolitical logic that drove it. A cursory examination of what happened at the end of the Second World War and the history of that period makes it clear that there was no military necessity for these bombs to be dropped. They were dropped not as the final action of the Second World War but as the first action of the Cold War. It was essentially a move by the United States to ensure Russia would not gain influence in Japan. That set the scene for the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. The other day I tried to explain the Cold War to my ten-year old son. There is a young generation growing up who do not understand that in 1962 the world came close to the abyss during the Cuban missile crisis when we were on the edge of nuclear annihilation. The two largest super powers in the world shaped up to one another in an effort to secure their strategic interests in their geopolitical-military struggle and seriously contemplated unleashing nuclear weapons in an action that could well have spelled the end of civilised society and, potentially, humanity. The arms race continued, which is from where the nuclear industry derived.

Some suggest nuclear power is benign and might help us to solve the energy crisis in an environmentally friendly way. This is utter nonsense. It fails to acknowledge the fact that nuclear power was developed as a by-product of the production of nuclear weapons and that is the only reason for it. The claim that it is an efficient or a relatively cheap way of producing power is utter nonsense. During the great miners' strike in 1984 and 1985 the National Union of Mineworkers produced a report which showed that if British Coal had received the same subsidy as British Nuclear Fuels Limited and the nuclear industry, it would have been able to give away every bag of coal that Britain produced at the time free, with a £10 voucher. Nuclear power production is not cheap or cost effective. It requires enormous subsidies from states and is a constant environmental threat, as well as a threat to the health and lives of people living in the vicinity of nuclear plants.

Why is this energy produced? It is produced as a by-product of the nuclear arms industry. For that reason alone, there is a huge irony in respect of some of the states that are signatories to the conventions we are seeking to ratify. We should ratify them, but there is a huge irony that they seek to put in place legislation, protections and so forth to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants from terrorist attack when, in fact, it is the plants that are the problem.

Every nuclear plant is a potential nuclear bomb that could explode at any stage. There would be no necessity to protect ourselves against a threat to nuclear plants if we did not have the plants in the first place. They are the danger, along with the people who produce and operate them and the governments that sanction that and put enormous amounts of taxpayers' money into them in places such as the UK, France, the United States, China and the other nuclear power generating countries. We would not have to worry about these things or be obliged to pass these laws and conventions if we did not have this insane technology which provides no benefit to society and simply represents a threat. It only exists to produce the material that is used to make nuclear weapons, the most obscene military technology in the history of humanity. It is important to register those points. We are obliged to worry about a threat that we, as a society, have created.

Ireland is against nuclear proliferation and does not have nuclear power stations. The only reason it does not have them is the huge movement that arose against an attempt to develop a nuclear power station in Carnsore. Due to the mass popular movement against that attempt, Ireland is a nuclear-free zone in terms of producing nuclear power. As the Minister said, we have historically taken a progressive position in opposing nuclear proliferation. However, one cannot repeat too often the point about the lunacy of nuclear power and nuclear weaponry and the urgency of decommissioning the nuclear power and nuclear arms industries.

We do not experience now the same Cold War fears that hung over a generation in the post-war period about the possibility of nuclear annihilation. That existed through to the 1980s. One of influences that first led me into politics as a youngster was becoming aware of Nagasaki, Hiroshima and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND, movement. That was a big movement at the time because there were real fears up to the end of the Cold War about the potential use of these weapons and the awesome destructive potential of the nuclear arsenals of the big powers, notably the United States, Russia, China and Britain. In fact, while there has been a small amount of decommissioning, these weapons are still being produced. There is still an enormous arsenal of them. Nuclear material is being transported across the seas close to us, while nuclear power is still being produced. Britain now intends to build eight new next-generation nuclear power stations in the UK.

If one thinks about it, the threat is as real and terrifying now as it ever was. Consider the geopolitical manoeuvrings of Russia and the United States in Ukraine and Europe's involvement in that. War is breaking out essentially because of the manipulations of the big powers in Ukraine. One begins to get a sense of the re-emergence of the logic that drove the Cold War and the quite terrifying possibilities that went with it with regard to the potential for war on a bigger scale and the use of nuclear weapons when things get out of control. It has been done before. The United States did it previously for cold, calculated geopolitical advantage.

One could also consider Israel, a state increasingly normalised by the European Union even though it is a renegade state in terms of its attitude towards nuclear power and nuclear weapons and its refusal to sign up to international treaties. Europe and the United States continue to treat Israel as if it is a normal state when, in fact, it is an incredibly dangerous entity that has these weapons and a huge nuclear industry. It does massive trade with Europe. Indeed, the technology industry in this country produces components for some of the weapons. Raytheon in the North, which thankfully closed down due to local protests over many years, was producing components for depleted uranium missiles used by the United States and Israel. In the South a number of companies are producing components for such weapons and exporting to Israel and so forth.

It is important to remind people what we are dealing with, how terrifying it is and how very real the threat is. The threat has not gone away. Indeed, with the development of new plants in the UK, it is increasing. Against that background, the idea is to get rid of a dedicated institute whose responsibilities are to monitor the nuclear industry internationally and the impact nuclear power plants and the transport of nuclear waste could potentially have on this country, to prepare plans in case of a nuclear accident and to deal with the naturally occurring problem of radioactivity in the form of radon, which leads to more deaths than road accidents. These are very serious matters, although not ones most of us think about on a daily or weekly basis. To have an entity that is dedicated to monitoring this area, making sure we have plans in place to deal with a serious accident should one occur and essentially fighting our corner on the international stage as a nuclear-free state and a state that might be endangered by the nuclear activities of other states is very important.

Given the importance of what we are dealing with and the importance of the role of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, I do not understand why the Minister is doing this. The single explanation given is that there might be some savings, although the Minister cannot identify them. That is not a very strong argument for getting rid of an institute that has such an important function and has developed an important international reputation.

Why is the Government getting rid of it? I do not understand. In any event, all staff currently working there will be transferred to the EPA, which means there is no saving in that regard.
Where are the savings coming from? So far, the only thing that has happened as a result of the plan is that more costs will be incurred. I heard that €800,000 had been set aside to progress the merger. It may actually cost us more to dissolve the RPII than to maintain it as it currently functions. I understand that the board which will be dissolved costs virtually nothing at €60,000 a year. Any committee established within the EPA is going to cost the same anyway. As such, I do not see where the savings are coming from. It seems like more cosmetic politics from the Government to suggest that we are getting rid of quangos. We are not in many cases getting rid of the quangos that really matter, the ones which really cost us or which have no justification. In the case of Irish Water we are establishing a new quango that will drain the pockets of citizens. It is already costing us an absolute fortune in the tens of millions of euro for consultants and billing systems. Here, we have an institute which actually does something useful and is dealing with an important issue but we are planning to dissolve it.
I would like to hear from the Minister of State why we should endorse this. It is unfortunate that the Government has mingled the plan to dissolve the RPII with the need to ratify the treaty, which we should do. It is ironic that we must ratify these things as the nuclear industry is so insane. We will be ratifying the treaty along with the states and powers which have created the threat in the first place. It is laughable. If they were serious about dealing with the problem, they would decommission the whole industry. However, given that the industry exists, we must ratify the treaty. That treaty matter should be separated from the issue of whether we dissolve the RPII into the EPA. I would like to hear why these things are being rolled up when they should not be. Frankly, my inclination is to vote against the Bill on the basis that we should not do this. The Minister of State has failed to provide any serious justification for getting rid of the Radiological Protection Institute. However, I do not want to vote against the other measure and should not be forced to. I put that out there for the consideration of the Minister of State and for the consideration of other Deputies who may not have had a chance to look at the issue yet. There are many things happening and preoccupying people which may seem more immediate, but this is quite an important issue. These two things should not be rolled into one.
I do not expect that the Government will rework the Bill or separate it into two Bills, which is what should happen. However, there is an opportunity for it to consider the comments that have been made and to respond now or on the next Stage of the Bill. Unless I hear very convincing arguments which respond to the questions I have raised and provide serious justification for what is being done here, I will vote against the Bill and encourage others to do the same. I realise the Government's majority means that will probably not make a difference. However, it should not be the case that a potentially controversial issue is rolled in with something which is not controversial. Most people would endorse the view that we should ratify an international treaty to ensure the safety of nuclear energy plants and materials. I hope the Minister of State will come back with convincing arguments. On the face of it, we should retain the RPII.
If the Government is insistent on going ahead with this, it must ensure that whatever committee is established within the EPA to deal with the very important areas covered by the RPII is placed on a statutory footing. If it is not, things may chop and change within the EPA on an administrative basis. Skills and expertise could be diluted and a dedicated focus on the extremely important matter of protection from radioactivity and nuclear waste could be lost over time. They might be diluted in a way that seems relatively unimportant to people now, but which comes back to haunt us in the event of an accident at Sellafield or Hinkley Point or where a nuclear powered ship dropped a load or sank in the Irish Sea. Suddenly, we would all go running to ask "Who has the plan? Who knows what the hell to do in this extremely dangerous situation?" only to find that we had diluted or weakened the body whose responsibility it is to monitor those things.
I await the Government's response to those points. I hope it will take them seriously.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have listened carefully to many of the contributions. While I may not have the same cynical approach as Deputy Boyd Barrett, I understand that he has genuine concerns which he has the right to voice here.

Radon and radiological issues have always been of concern to the Irish people. We have addressed them in a very responsible manner to date. We must continue, however, to treat them with the utmost attention. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland must be commended. It has provided a valuable service to citizens. That it is being merged with the Environmental Protection Agency, which seems to me to be its natural home, does not mean reduced resources will be applied to radiological protection issues. I urge the Minister and officials to ensure that resources are maintained.

I acknowledge the work and expertise of the staff of the institute and commend them on what they have been doing in the many years since the RPII was formed to protect citizens from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. They have many other responsibilities. Radiation can occur in the environment, our homes, educational facilities, industry and commercial areas. Radiation can be utilised in positive ways, as we know from X-rays and other medical applications which are essential to medical practitioners and specialists who use them in the best interests of their patients. At the same time, it is important that we know and recognise the risks of radiation to the general population and human health. That is why there is an important role for State agencies to licence and monitor the use of radiation in the health sector, industry and commerce and education.

Deputy Boyd Barrett and others have spoken in detail about concerns regarding nuclear energy and radioactivity from artificial sources. Many views are on the record on that. We have had a great deal of public discourse on threats and risks from Sellafield. I note that last year or the year before, a detailed report was published on behalf of the State which showed that there was little or no risk from Sellafield should a crisis occur there.

I acknowledge the departmental officials, the scientists and the Minister who produced the report to reassure the Irish people. It is important that we do not have misinformation and scaremongering. The report was important to reassure people in that regard.

My main focus in the debate is on naturally occurring radioactivity in the form of radon gas. I come from Waterford in the south east, which has high levels of radon in the ground. My colleague, Deputy John Paul Phelan, probably has similar concerns. Radon is a silent killer and although the RPII has done tremendous work on education and awareness, I still fear many members of the public do not fully comprehend the risks when radon is present in the home or workplace. Exposure to radon, mainly in homes, accounts for 50% of the total radiation dose received by Irish people. We must not lose sight of that statistic. Exposure to radon gas poses the greatest radiation-related health risk in Ireland and is linked to almost 250,000 deaths per year in Ireland from lung cancer. It is a serious concern and an issue that we continually need to address. The RPII engaged in roadshows and information seminars in the past, and this should continue under the new arrangement with the EPA. The organisation should continue to engage with local authorities, which have the potential and capacity to play a greater role in creating awareness and managing radon issues on the ground in our constituencies. Much information is available in respect of mapping and it is simply understood if the public is made aware of it. There are high-risk areas in the country, of which Waterford in the south east is one.

We can do more, and the following is an example. For a house to be sold or rented, a building energy rating, BER, certificate must be produced. This requirement is justified because it informs the purchaser or the tenant of the kind of house the person is moving into and how efficient it is. Given the statistics we know about radon and its threat to public health, any house sold, rented or passed on to other people should have a radon test certificate. The amount of money involved for the test is similar to that for the mandatory BER certificate. I call on the Government to introduce mandatory testing for radon gas in houses in areas where there are high risks to public health. This would create awareness among the important stakeholders dealing with property management. Providing that houses cannot be sold or rented unless the test is done puts responsibility on people before tenants or new purchasers move into the area without realising the risks in the ground.

There are ways of addressing this that are not too expensive. Many new houses are being dealt with in this way under building regulations through the provision of radon barriers. I hope that system is regulated and monitored properly by local authorities and other professionals in the construction field. A school in my area with high radon levels had to carry out remediation work. A pump system was installed in the school to draw out the air and circulate it to ensure radon levels were not high. Simple measures can be introduced to address problems where they arise. We need to address why a BER certificate is mandatory but a radon certificate is not, and I ask the Minister of State and his officials to do so.

In 2010, when I was a Member of Seanad Éireann and spokesperson on the environment, I called for a national radon strategy. I welcome that the strategy was published in February under this Government. It contains a number of recommendations that I do not have the time to go through in detail. The strategy contains recommendations that I hope will be adequately resourced. Radon gas is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas and we can breathe it in day in and day out without realising it. It is the second biggest contributor to lung cancer after smoking. It is not something we can afford to dismiss and we cannot lessen the resources provided for dealing with it. There are concerns on the Opposition benches that, because a merger is taking place, there might be fewer resources available for the managing and monitoring of radioactivity levels in natural and non-natural areas. I urge the Minister of State, his officials and the EPA to ensure resources continue to be put into radiological protection issues, monitoring and licensing.

Another area must be addressed. During recent debates on the EirGrid transmission lines, which were controversial, it was discovered that there is no independent State agency dealing with non-ionising radiation, the electromagnetic field that can come from transmission lines. In the interest of public assurance and confidence, we should look at extending the remit of the EPA so that it carries out a State examination of non-ionising radiation. This is a deficit in our current system and perhaps the Minister of State can address its introduction, which is welcome move.

I echo the comments of Deputy Coffey on non-ionising radiation and EMF. Now that we are re-establishing the EPA, incorporating the role of the RPII, perhaps its remit can be broadened to include that area. I echo the points made in respect of radon. As someone from the south east, our area of the country seems to have the highest levels of radon measured. I commend the work of the RPII and I hope the work will be continued in the new format as part of the EPA.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett raised a number of issues concerning the roles carried out by the RPII, and the Minister of State may have the opportunity to reassure the Deputy that those functions will be carried out and perhaps extended, as suggested by me and Deputy Paudie Coffey.

Deputy Boyd Barrett also referred to the ratification of the CPPNM and changes made therein. The dualist Irish legal system requires incorporation into statute as well as ratification of the treaty. That is why this aspect of the legislation is necessitated. Perhaps the Minister of State can confirm this point.

I express my full support for this particular item of legislation and the reasons it is being introduced. I like Deputy Michael Kitt, but one can always tell when people are uncomfortable speaking on something because they race through it. He raced through his speech giving a lecture on how the Government had not abolished half enough quangos. He was a Member of this House and the Upper House for the past 14 years, when quangos were created at a rate of knots. There was a quango every day of the week and it is a bit rich to be lectured by someone from Fianna Fáil on the point that the Government is not abolishing half enough quangos. The programme for Government gave a commitment that 48 agencies would be rationalised and I understand 45 have been rationalised at this stage, with another 46 being examined. The RPII and the EPA were part of the group of 46. There is natural synergy between the role of the EPA and that of the RPII.

It makes sense for the two roles to be merged. I am confident from what I have read and heard that the role of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland will be fully incorporated into the new unit within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Debate adjourned.