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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 May 2017

Vol. 949 No. 2

Prohibition of Micro-Plastics Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

The purpose of the Bill is to prohibit the use of micro-plastics, particularly for particles that are less than 5 mm in diameter. Micro-plastics are used in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products such as scrubs, soaps, lotions and toothpastes. They are added to these products to make the product more abrasive or for decoration. These particles of plastic enter the environment when consumers rinse them down the drain. The plastics are not caught in water treatment systems and, instead, are subsequently released into rivers and the sea with wastewater outflows.

Micro-plastics are an entirely unnecessary source of micro-plastic pollution and are likely to have environmental impacts. Studies have shown they can be ingested by marine animals, leading to physical harm and reproductive or toxic effects. There is evidence to suggest that they are entering the human food chain, although micro-plastics in seafood are not currently thought to represent a human health risk. Micro-plastic debris in marine environments is growing in volume. It comes from a number of sources apart from cosmetics sources, such as the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic over time and industrial scrubbers used to blast-clean surfaces.

A number of companies are voluntarily phasing out some types of micro-plastic in cosmetic products in the EU. In the USA, a ban on micro-beads in cosmetic and personal care products will be phased in over the next few years. A call for a similar ban in the UK has been accepted by the UK Government. In December 2014, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden issued a joint statement to EU environment Ministers calling for an EU ban on micro-plastics in cosmetics and detergents. However, a January 2016 research report commissioned by the European Commission, entitled "Study to support the development of measures to combat a range of marine litter sources", looked at what EU mechanisms were available to reduce micro-bead pollution from cosmetics. It concluded that introducing a ban on micro-beads in the EU would be more complicated than the laws “used in the US and Canada”. It said that it was “unclear as to whether any of the [existing] Directives and Regulations” that had been identified “would be suitable”. The option of unilateral action by member states remains.

To turn to the detail of the Bill, section 1 provides in standard form for the Short Title of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the prohibition of micro-plastics. It provides that a person who manufactures, sells or exposes, offers, advertises or keeps for sale, or imports or attempts to import into the State for sale any cosmetic containing micro-plastics is guilty of an offence.

"Cosmetic" is defined as "any cosmetic or personal care product including but not limited to a facial scrub, soap, lotion, shower gel, sunscreen, make-up, deodorant or toothpaste". "Micro-plastics" is defined as "plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in diameter". The section provides:

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to a class A fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both,

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both.

Provision is made for the liability of directors, managers, secretaries etc. of corporate bodies where they consent to or connive in the commission of an offence by the corporate body. The section provides that it is a defence for an accused person to prove that he or she did not know and had no reason to suspect that the cosmetic in respect of which the offence is alleged to have been committed contained micro-plastics.

I wish to acknowledge the role of the Green Party in first raising this matter in the Houses of the Oireachtas and to acknowledge the role of Senator Grace O'Sullivan, who has led the way on this issue. I note that the Minister responded to Senator O'Sullivan in the Seanad while not accepting her Bill on the basis that the Government has said it will put forward its own legislative proposal in this regard. I accept the bona fides of the Minister when he says the Government is committed to legislating on this issue. The Minister said in his speech to the Seanad:

I see advantages in Ireland leading by example on microbeads. With this in mind, the Government will develop proposals to ban microbeads nationally in the context of a wider marine environmental Bill to be published [this] year [that is, 2017], which will also provide the legislative basis for a network of marine protected areas [and so on].

I suppose the Minister will provide some rebuttal to the Labour Party Bill. The Labour Party Bill seeks to build on the aims of the Green Party Bill. We do not seek to be partisan in any way. We believe this is an issue that affects us all and we hope there is a non-partisan solution. I am hopeful today that we will move to a position whereby our Bill, at least, is accepted and will stay on the Order Paper. Perhaps the Minister will accept our Bill. I doubt that will be the case but I hope we will be able to leave it on the Order Paper at least until such time as the Government comes up with a set of proposals.

The Minister will tell us there is an issue of EU law at play here, particularly in respect of the Single Market. The Minister will tell us that Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty have a bearing on whether or not this legislative proposal can bear fruit. We have carefully considered the question on EU law and whether or not that would prevent member states from taking action on the issue. Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union set out the principle that, as the Single Market is an area without internal borders, restrictions on the movement of goods are not allowed and that the free movement of goods should be guaranteed. We accept this. Undoubtedly, an Irish ban on the sale of products containing microbeads would have the effect of restricting certain imports. However, Article 36 of the treaty goes on to state that Articles 34 and 35 do not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports that are justified on grounds of the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants. In other words, the EU treaty directly acknowledges that national measures can be taken to protect the environment. Microbeads, as we know, enter the environment, are not caught in water treatment systems and instead are released into rivers and the sea with wastewater outflows. Micro-plastics are an entirely unnecessary source of pollution and are likely to have environmental impacts. Studies have shown they are ingested by marine animals, leading to physical harm and toxic effects, and there is evidence to suggest they are entering the human food chain.

In December 2014, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden issued a joint statement calling for an EU ban on micro-plastics in cosmetics and detergents to EU Ministers with responsibility for environmental matters. In January 2016 - I have already referred to this research report - they examined what EU mechanisms were available to reduce microbead pollutants from cosmetics. In light of the hesitancy at EU level, we believe domestic action - that is, action within our own Parliament - is both necessary and appropriate.

It is true that our proposed legislation amounts, on the face of it, to a trade barrier, but there is a well-established procedure for dealing with this. The EU transparency directive sets up a procedure obliging the member states to notify the Commission of all draft regulations on products before they are adopted into national law. The notification triggers a standstill period of three months. The Commission and other member states can use this time to examine the notified draft regulation to determine whether it complies with the EU treaty and the principles of free movement of goods and services. If there is no reaction, the draft can be adopted after the three-month standstill period has expired. This is exactly the procedure that the then Minister for Health, Deputy Micheál Martin, had to follow when he introduced the ban on smoking in the workplace. There was a standstill period for the new rules and then they came into full force and effect. The European Commission can block the proposal if the draft legislation concerns a matter on which the EU itself proposes to act, but this is clearly not the case at this time regarding micro-plastics. We therefore firmly believe that the option of unilateral action by Ireland on this issue is a valid one under the European Union treaty.

It is timely that we would legislate for this very important public health and environmental issue. I am hopeful that the Minister will accept the legislative proposal before the House. I anticipate that he will tell us there will be a Government legislative proposal on this very issue in the not-too-distant future. I am conscious that we have an opportunity here to collaborate now on a non-partisan issue, an issue of what I would call grave concern regarding public health. As I said, I am hopeful that the Minister will accept our bona fides on this and that we can get cross-party support on the issue and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on this matter. If it is the case that the Minister proposes to bring forward his own legislative proposal, I am hopeful that will not be tacked onto or attached to another piece of legislation. I am hopeful it would be a bespoke, stand-alone legislation because I believe Ireland should take leadership on this issue. It is something that affects us all. Again, I note that the Minister has stated he is intent on legislating for this issue. I will quote again from the Minister's speech to the Seanad:

There are approximately 6.2 trillion particles of litter in our oceans. That is 1,000 particles for every person on the planet.

The Bill is therefore tied in and allied to many other issues related to the marine environment. I stand before the House as a former Minister of State for research and innovation and someone who was committed during the lifetime of the previous Government, along with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, to ensuring taxpayers' money was used in a way that recognised the value of our maritime environment and the potential of that environment to deliver marine renewable energy. We want to see clean oceans and clean seas and, as an island nation, we need to take a global leadership position on this.

I want to acknowledge Deputy Sherlock's intentions and the motivation behind this.

The Minister is not moving an amendment.

I am not moving an amendment.

I also want to acknowledge the role of Senator Grace O’Sullivan in raising these issues. I share the concerns of both Deputy Sherlock and Senator Grace O’Sullivan and many others from various parties who have spoken in this debate. I share the same vision as the Deputy in the outcome which we want. There are some problems with the legislation he is proposing. Having spoken to him earlier, I propose that the Government will not oppose this legislation but I want to signal clearly that the Government will bring forward its own legislation and I will outline why that is necessary. I gave a signal that we would legislate for this but could not support the legislation proposed in the Seanad. It is important to recognise that by not opposing this legislation, we will probably abstain and, hopefully, allow it to proceed on the understanding that if and when we produce the Government’s legislative response to this, whether in the foreshore Bill or in a separate piece of legislation, after the work that needs to be done first, that Deputy Sherlock will work with us to get the job done and make sure that it is a robust response to what most of us want, which is to ban the production and use of microbeads and micro-plastics where appropriate because it is a significant contributor to marine litter and is unjustifiable and unnecessary.

As I am sure the Deputy is aware, I gave a commitment in the Seanad last November to legislate to prohibit the sale and manufacture of certain products containing microbeads, including cosmetics, body care and cleansing products and detergents and abrasive surface cleaning products. This is a much wider scope than envisaged by the Bill the Deputy proposes. It is intended to include these provisions in legislation which will also provide the legislative basis for a network of marine protected areas as required by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and make necessary amendments to the Dumping at Sea Acts.

At that time, I committed to writing to Commissioner Vella to inform him we would be drawing up such legislation and that we would be seeking a formal derogation from EU market rules in order to do this. This letter has been sent and Commissioner Vella has responded. My officials are currently working on this legislation. Any legislation relating to microbead prohibition will stand or fall on the strength of the definitions of microbeads, plastics and the identification of the ranges of products to be covered by the legislation. At this time, there is much highly technical debate nationally and internationally as to how exactly to define microbeads and also what constitutes plastic. My Department is working both with national experts and has consulted with international experts to help us develop a water-tight and workable definition to reduce, as far as practicable, the possibility of unintended consequences and to ensure that our legislation is comprehensive, robust and future-proofed for the purposes of a robust and future-proofed marine environmental programme. Departmental officials have met with the OSPAR Commission, EU member states, including the UK, Germany and Belgium, with NGOs, such as Seas at Risk, and with industry representatives, such as Plastics Europe and Cosmetics Europe, and are examining other technical approaches being undertaken internationally by the USA, Canada, the UK and France on this matter. The Department is trying to provide a comprehensive response.

What is emerging is that there is little consensus on the definition of microbeads and the definition of "plastic" is also an issue, so whatever legislation is put in place will require very considered work with technical expert input on its definitions to ensure it is fit for purpose, including such matters as the important difference between the technical terms “microbeads” and “micro-plastics". Otherwise, any legislation brought forward could have a myriad of unintended consequences. I have no doubt that the Deputy can understand my concern about these definitions.

It is also important the scope of the legislation relates to products where there is an identified pathway by which microbeads contained in them may enter rivers or other marine environments. At this time, the only clearly identified pathway relates to products that are rinse-off. The microbeads they contain are washed into wastewater systems and may reach the environment through them. Not all cosmetic products containing microbeads are considered as having such pathways at this time. Given the scale of the technical work involved, and the importance of achieving the correct outcomes, I consider the Bill before the House to be somewhat problematic but it is a signal of intent that this House should allow it to proceed, which is what my party intends to do.

In particular, the definitions contained in the Bill are not adequate or appropriate for legislation of this type and no provision is made for powers of investigation or enforcement, which would make the proposed approach unworkable and unenforceable. We can amend that. I am not saying we are ruling these things out but the legislation we bring forward will be a big improvement.

Most importantly, it is my belief, based on preliminary legal advice, that the enactment of this Bill would place Ireland in breach of Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, which relates to the principle of free movement of goods, and Directive (EU) 2015/1535, laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical regulations and of rules on information society services. The EU’s analysis, consultation and notification requirements of member states which wish to seek an exception to this principle on environmental grounds have not been met yet. European Court of Justice rulings and Commission guidance place a burden of proof on member states to justify any restriction on the free movement of goods. They require that a proper formal justification be made with evidentiary support rather than simply informing the Commission. We are in the process of putting together a very strong case around that justification. Indeed, Commissioner Vella in his response to my letter specifically stated that he looks forward to seeing Ireland's evidence justifying such a ban. In my experience, Commissioner Vella is passionate about marine litter and micro-plastics. I do not believe we will get resistance from him but he will insist on our being legally consistent with the requirements as set out in the treaties. Commmissioner Vella is almost on a personal crusade to establish a much more comprehensive response to marine litter and that is why I think the Commission will help but we need to do this properly.

I recently undertook a public consultation process in regard to the legislation I am drawing up to prohibit the manufacture and sale of certain products which contain microbeads. I was impressed by the volume of over 3,000 submissions received in the process which my officials are currently assessing. This follows on from the useful debate in the Seanad last November, and I am sure the debate in this House will add to the evolving policy. Following this public consultation process, further dialogue with stakeholders and experts will be necessary in advance of our lodging of our justification for a derogation under Single Market rules and formally notifying the EU Commission of our intentions, as required. However, the results of the public consultation will streamline this dialogue which I hope will advance quickly.

I wish to reassure the House that both I, as the Minister responsible for the marine environmental protection, and the Government generally, recognise that microbeads used in cosmetics, body care products generally, and also other products, such as detergents and scouring agents, are potentially harmful to our rivers, transitional marine areas and marine environments at sea. Indeed, Ireland holds a formal position that we wish to see microbeads banned throughout the European Union.

Even though we are working on our own national legislation, I intend to continue to actively campaign for an EU-wide ban on microbeads and work collaboratively with the European Commission and other member states to achieve it. Earlier this week I responded positively to a request from the Swedish Minister for the Environment to join a commitment by a number of countries to ban microbeads.

In recent years, scientists, experts and policy makers have become increasingly concerned about the levels of waste, or marine litter, ending up in the seas. Deputy Sean Sherlock has mentioned that there are over 6 trillion plastic particles in the seas, which is an extraordinary number. The weight of the combined marine litter across the oceans is staggering. It equates to there being an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as big as some countries. It is a huge issue, in respect of which, as an island nation surrounded by a very important marine environment, we have a moral obligation to do a lot more. As Deputies are aware, it can be found in every aspect of the marine environment and ranges in size from large objects such as fishing nets or shipping containers to micro and nano-litter particles, that is, particles smaller than 1 mm in diameter. However, the extent of the marine litter problem and the harm it causes to the environment is not yet fully understood and subject to ongoing extensive research. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that it is an issue we need to address in a much more comprehensive way than we have in the past. We should take a precautionary approach in terms of how we approach it from a policy perspective. Marine litter also causes socioeconomic harm. It affects tourism and consumer confidence in seafood. More importantly, it affects the marine ecosystems that we have a responsibility to protect into the future.

Plastic is a particular problem for the marine environment. Owing to its buoyancy, it can be easily washed down rivers, blown offshore or collected by the tide from the shore, as well as being dumped or lost directly into the seas from ships and fishing boats. It does not biodegrade and persists in the environment for a very long time. It can break down into secondary micro-plastic particles through erosion and there is evidence to suggest both large plastic items and micro-plastics are being ingested by marine fauna, with undetermined consequences for them and creatures higher up the food chain who eat them, including ourselves.

While much of the marine micro-plastic litter is created through the erosion of larger pieces, micro-plastics are also entering the marine environment in other forms such as micro-fibres from artificial materials that come off clothes by washing, for example. However, a certain amount of marine micro-plastic litter is caused by plastic microbeads which are used in cosmetics, including body care products, cleansing products and detergents and surface cleaning agents entering the marine environment via wastewater discharges into rivers and estuaries. Such microbeads cannot be easily removed by the treatment of wastewater.

While I acknowledge that microbeads represent a fraction of the micro-plastic litter entering the marine environment, they are a particularly pernicious product as they are ready-made micro-plastics and cannot be removed once they reach the marine environment. Microbeads could not be regarded as a major human necessity. They are often present merely for decorative purposes. Also, where microbeads are used as exfoliating or scouring agents, a wide array of established safe and biodegradable organic particles or natural mineral alternatives are readily available. The relevant industries are fully aware that the tide of international opinion is turning against the use of microbeads on account of their potential to cause harm to marine ecosystems. They are already banned in Canada and the United States. The UK and French prohibitions are due to come into effect later this year and I hope a prohibition will come into effect here too. A number of other EU member states, of which Ireland is one, have formally stated they will seek a similar microbeads prohibition across the European Union. Thus, industry is already turning to other alternatives.

Research on the harm caused by marine litter is at an early stage of development. My Department is actively participating in studies both at national and international level to identity the level of waste in the marine environment, the harm it does and what we can do about it. It will advance the science knowledge base in this area and inform future public policy on the matter.

Is it agreed to allow the Minister an additional one minute to allow him to conclude his remarks? Agreed.

Would it be possible to have a copy of the Minister's speech circulated?

I will ensure everybody will receive a copy.

In addition, my Department invests significant resources in world-leading citizen activation and awareness raising programmes such as Clean Coasts and related programmes, as well as the green schools marine environment module which has been developed recently. We will continue to attempt to have a positive influence on societal behaviour on matters concerning the marine environment. We intend to address this issue, but we must ensure we do so properly. There are rules with which we must be consistent, including legislation and EU treaties. What I do not want to do is rush this, only to have it challenged in the courts by the industry and thus delayed for months or years. I am with Deputies on this issue. I recognise, in particular, the role played by the Green Party and the Labour Party in pushing this agenda. We are responding and propose to introduce comprehensive legislation to deal with the issue, either by way of a Committee Stage amendment to the Foreshore Act or in separate legislation. We will do whatever is appropriate. The new foreshore legislation which should be published in June will present an obvious opportunity to do that. Deputies are aware of the Seafest seminar which will take place in Galway later in the summer, by which time we will have the new foreshore legislation published. It will be a useful vehicle, from a legislative point of view, to address the matter properly. However, there is further research to be carried out before we can do that.

I understand Deputy Timmy Dooley is sharing time with Deputy Declan Breathnach.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. Fianna Fáil wholeheartedly supports the principle behind the Bill, which is to address a significant source of pollution and environmental degradation. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Sean Sherlock and the Labour Party on the issue, as well as of the Green Party, with reference to the Bill recently brought before the Seanad by Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Fianna Fáil will, however, be abstaining in the vote on the Bill as it is too narrow and fails to address the issue adequately. It has prepared its own Bill which is working its way through the Bills Office and is to be published shortly. It will seek to adopt a more comprehensive and thorough approach to address plastic pollution. This legislation addresses one category of microbeads, namely, those found in cosmetic products. However, despite the motivations of Deputy Sean Sherlock, it overlooks the other major source of microbeads - household cleaning products. The Deputy may have chosen not to address that source because of the complexities involved in dealing with certain aspects of the industry, which I understand. I support what the Minister has promised to do. I hope the Bill which Fianna Fáil hopes to publish shortly will be of further assistance to the Minister in his thinking on this issue.

As a result of the omission of household cleaning products from the Bill, millions of microbeads would continue to enter rivers and seas. We need to address the issue comprehensively. Microbeads from cleaning products have the same impact on the environment and marine life as microbeads from cosmetic products, possibly a greater impact when everything is taken into account. This is an important issue that must be addressed. Furthermore, the Bill would do nothing to address other forms of plastic pollution such as that stemming from single-use tableware. While much of this plastic which ultimately ends up in the sea is reduced and broken down over time, it has the same harmful effects as microbeads.

While it would never be possible to address all forms of environmental degradation at the same time, we need to use a joined-up approach when it comes to addressing environmental issues. What the Minister is offering here gives me confidence that this will ultimately be the case if the Minister takes into account the work of the Green Party and the Labour Party and the work we have undertaken. Hopefully, we can achieve a consensus at a later stage. I am not entirely concerned about where the legislation ultimately resides. I would advise against having it as a section of the foreshore area the Minister is talking about. We need to make a very clear statement here. It does warrant a stand-alone Bill. I am not entirely concerned about what it is called but if it addresses the primary issue we are talking about, particularly pollution from microbeads regardless of the products or the area from which they emanate, and also looks at additional plastics that have the same harmful effect on sea life, it will certainly get our support.

In addition to microbeads, many waterways and bodies of water in Ireland are blighted by so-called "micro-plastics", which are eroded pieces of other plastic materials. While they do not start out as microbeads, the impact on marine life is exactly the same. This Bill does not seek to look at that. Another area we have worked on looks at a ban on certain disposable tableware, particularly tableware that has an alternative in other biodegradable products. Those of us who walk and use roadways and parkways as a leisure pursuit are all too keenly aware of the way our roadsides are active dumping grounds for non-biodegradable material, specifically plastic material, from fast food outlets. Unfortunately, in many cases, this material finds its way into waterways and rivers and has the same effect.

Microbeads have a very significant impact on the environment. The term "microbead" is used to refer to small spherical-shaped micro-plastics in cosmetic and personal care products. They are used as an abrasive in rinse-off products such as facial scrubs, soaps and toothpastes. While they were initially made of natural materials, microbeads are now typically made of plastics. While they started out as natural products, the active agent is now a plastic. Given that one person using microbeads in a facial or body scrub can wash in the region of between 5,000 and 10,000 beads down the sink, one can imagine how many can end up in the sea or rivers. Washed down the drain, microbeads make their way into rivers and seas. It is estimated that about 2,400 to 8,400 tonnes of plastics enter the marine environment in Europe every year. That is a phenomenal amount of plastics finding their way into our waterways. When one considers that this is happening on an exponential level year after year, one can come to understand the impact it is having on marine life. This type of pollution can have a hugely detrimental impact on marine life. While it has an impact on our shoreline, because of the nature of currents, plastics coming from Ireland have an impact on a much wider field. Microbeads present a huge issue for all forms of marine life, which accidentally ingests them leading to a very significant impact on it and the wider marine environment.

As one can imagine, ingesting large quantities of plastic is extremely harmful to fish and other marine life and the ingestion of microbeads by fish and other sea creatures can poison them and also impact on their movement, breeding and growth potential. According to Ireland's leading marine biologists, microbeads are already negatively impacting on marine life in Ireland. Ireland's marine life is essential to us. Fishing and related activities are central to our lives and economy. The fishing industry provides about 11,000 jobs in Ireland and contributes hundreds of millions of euro to the Irish economy. This does not even account for related activities, such as tourism spending by anglers from overseas. Given that humans may consume fish that have ingested microbeads, microbeads can also have a negative impact on human health. This is often lost in the debate and because our rivers and seas have been fertile for generations, they are seen as appropriate places for dumping. In many cases, people do not seem to understand the cycle of the sea and the impact it has on human life. This can pose a serious health risk. Microbeads contain plastics and toxins that are not recommended for consumption and their mechanical effects on the human body are unknown

While we entirely support the principle of the Bill, we believe it does not take a sufficiently comprehensive approach to the issue of microbeads and waterways pollution. First, the Bill accounts for only a narrow portion of microbeads. Given that it only concentrates on cosmetic and personal care products containing microbeads, such as facial washes, toothpastes, make-up, etc., other products containing microbeads will continue to pollute our waterways and seas. For example, what about household cleaning products which contain microbeads? We can all acknowledge that microbeads are immensely damaging and undesirable so what is the point in only half-heartedly banning them? While I understand what the Deputy is saying, I hope the approach we take at a later stage will have a much more beneficial effect. If we ban cosmetic products containing microbeads but not cleaning products, this loophole will continue to allow thousands of microbeads to pollute our water. I was very much taken by Deputy Sherlock's statement that he sees this Bill as a contribution, and a very significant one, to the overall legislative framework that will, hopefully, come to pass and deal with this issue. In doing so, one would recognise the role of the Labour Party. I will be publishing a Bill shortly and it is my intention that our Bill will add further to that. Hopefully, we will receive the same support and recognition.

I am a little confused about the Department in which this resides. I note that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has taken the Bill. It was my understanding that this was an issue for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment but I am open to clarification on that. I know that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will also have a role. I do not want the Bill to fall between the cracks or crevices of the Departments. We already have an issue around the roll-out of broadband and whether this resides in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs or the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In respect of the post office network, there were some issues about one Minister throwing in the towel and the other accepting the challenge and that was played out on the airways. I would like clarification from the Government about whether it is treating this as an environmental issue, whether it is being connected to planning and housing, something I would have difficulty understanding, or whether it is part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which, in my view, it should not be. It should reside with the area of waste, which I understand is in another Department, but I will take clarification on that

Sinn Féin welcomes and will support this Bill. I commend Deputy Sherlock for bringing the Bill forward. I also want to mention Senator Grace O'Sullivan who brought forward a Bill in the Seanad in October. Unfortunately, this latter Bill was defeated. I welcome the news from the Government and Fianna Fáil that they will abstain so, hopefully, this Bill will have the numbers to go forward to another Stage. We are supporting the Bill because we believe it is an initiative that will reduce the huge amount of plastic entering our oceans.

Microbeads are so small they cannot be filtered out during water treatment and end up in our rivers and oceans. These tiny pieces of plastic are then eaten by marine life and can end up in the food chain. Their effects on human health are still not known but it does not take a scientist to recognise that their effect would not be positive. It is estimated that if someone eats six oysters, it is likely that they will have eaten 50 particles of micro-plastics. The Environmental Audit Committee in the UK, which examined microbeads, heard that each shower taken using products containing microbeads can result in 100,000 pieces of plastic entering the ocean.

Micro-plastics from cosmetic products are estimated to constitute up to 4.1% of the total micro-plastics entering the marine environment. The fact that this accounts for a small percentage of total micro-plastic pollution in the sea does not stop it being significant, as it is an avoidable environmental problem.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's rejection of the previous Bill brought forward by the Green Party in November 2016 in the Seanad was disappointing. There is no reason this area should not be legislated for, as other countries have already introduced similar legislation. This is a growing international trend in this area and Ireland should not be left behind this progressive move towards removing these harmful pieces of plastic that cannot degrade in the environment.

In December 2015, then US President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 to phase out the use of micro-plastics in personal care products. In Canada, microbeads have been added to its list of toxic substances and, in the UK, the government announced plans to ban micro-beads in cosmetic products also. The ban is also attractive as it would not have a major impact on industry, as alternatives exist to replace microbeads. Many cosmetic companies have already begun voluntary removal of the plastic. Evidence given to the UK environment committee outlined alternatives, such as ground walnut shells, cocoa beans, ground almonds, ground apricot pits, sea salt and silica.

In rejecting the previous Green Party Bill on this issue, European rules on the free movement of goods were cited as a possible obstacle in legislating in this area. This has proven to be totally false, as the UK has received approval from the European Commission stating that a ban on certain substances on environmental grounds could also be compatible with the Internal Market. My colleague in the European parliament, Ms Lynn Boylan, MEP, who has been working on this and related issues, has been critical of the overall Government response to the issue. Reflecting on the failure to act on this in a national manner and to look to Europe to take a line they can hide behind, she stated that Irish Governments were as usual trying to export their excuses for inaction to Europe when the simple truth is that they do not want to take any action. Ms Boylan stated:

If the government had bothered to do their homework, they would know that the European Commission has already said to the British government as recently as August that it can proceed to introduce a ban on micro-beads, explicitly stating that "a ban on certain substances on environmental grounds could also be compatible with the internal market". ... On top of this, France has already passed a law that will ban the sale of exfoliating cosmetic products containing solid waste particles from January 2018 whilst Sweden and Denmark are also in the process of preparing to move on this issue as well.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, made some interesting comments. I hope he will act on what he said soon and not kick the can down the road.

I support this Bill, as I stated earlier, but I also want to register a concern my party has on a small part of the Bill. Section 2(1)(b) states that a person who "sells, or exposes, offers, advertises, or keeps for sale," any cosmetic containing micro-plastics is guilty of an offence. The inclusion of "advertises" would pose problems, as how would this be adequately policed? Due to the global nature of advertising, legal compliance with this would be a huge problem for many companies. Prohibiting the sale and importation of cosmetics containing microbeads should suffice and I am not sure whether the inclusion of advertises would be realistic, but we can talk about that when the Bill goes to Committee. Hopefully, it will go through to Committee.

Sinn Féin very much welcomes the Bill. It provides a simple solution to an avoidable environment problem. It will not have a major impact on the cosmetic industry as alternatives are available. Sinn Féin is happy to support this piece of legislation. It is estimated that between 15 trillion and 51 trillion micro-plastic particles have accumulated in the ocean, with between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of micro-plastics entering the sea from Europe every year. The quicker this is addressed, the better. Ireland should be included in the group of countries leading from the front on the problem.

I commend Deputy Sherlock for bringing this forward and the Green Party for trying to do that in the past.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill.

Was Deputy Quinlivan sharing his time?

Deputy Stanley has four minutes.

Essentially, what we are doing here is addressing the issue that everything is cyclical. Gone are the days when one could wash things down the sink and hope that they disappear without any consequences. Gone are the days when one could pump out pollution into the atmosphere and hope that it disappears in outer space without any consequences. Gone are the days where one could produce tonnes of waste and hope that it would be taken away on the back of a truck to God knows where. Everything we do has consequences. I compliment Deputy Seán Sherlock for bringing forward this Bill.

On the product we are talking about here, we are dealing with a problem that we should not have to deal with. It is totally avoidable. These micro-plastics are being put into everyday products, such as soaps, gels, cosmetics, deodorant and toothpaste. It is basically to glamorise products in what is the most profitable sector of the lot, but what is the end result from this waste? It is having a detrimental effect on our environment, particularly our waters and fish life. Tens of thousands of them go into the waste stream and thousands of tonnes of it into the oceans.

It is a product that is consumed by fish, particularly shellfish. It is reported in some areas that up to a quarter of fish contain these plastics. If this was not bad enough, we must remember that these microplastics can then enter the human food chain. If we are not too concerned about fish, we should start thinking about human beings. The UN has reported that it is a growing threat to human health, causing physical damage and having a toxic effect and, among other things, causing reproductive problems. We must remember that, behind the potential damage to human and wildlife health, the logic of the inclusion of this product is simply as a supposed beauty enhancer. Everybody is supposed to look like they do in Hollywood, but, of course, we can just be ourselves.

America, strangely enough, has been phasing out this product since July of last year. In Canada, microbeads have been added to the list of toxic substances since June 2016. In Tory Britain, there was the announcement of plans to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by 2017. There is a growing number of countries that want to ban them. Holland, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden all have called for an EU-wide ban.

This is about protection of the environment around us to enhance and project our green image. There is the question about Ireland. Ireland should be taking a lead here. We go on a lot about our green image and how environmentally friendly we are. There are areas such as this where we can lead out and be ahead of the curve, but we are actually behind the curve. We are not yet even off the starting blocks.

As my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, has referred to, there was a Bill from the Green Party which the Government opposed. We should be well ahead with this. It is a pity the Green Party Bill was not supported at the time. The Bill we have here is clear at any rate and if there are problems with it, we can amend it on Committee Stage.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, launched a public consultation process on the prohibition, sale, and manufacturing or importing of products such as microbeads. As with so many other matters, it is merely consultation. We know this is harmful. It is unnecessary. What is the point in it? All one has to do is leave it on the supermarket shelves. That is what I started doing since I became aware of this problem. Like many others, up to a couple of years ago I was picking it up, then I twigged when I read an article about it that this was harmful and now I leave it on the supermarket shelf.

It is harmful, totally unnecessary and we should take action on it. This House has it within its powers to do that. We should not wait for the EU. We should not wait for any other country. We should start here, protect fish life, protect our environment and protect human health. We are supporting the Bill.

Cinnte go bhfuil an Comhaontas Glas fíor-shásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo. I welcome this Bill and warmly commend Deputy Sherlock for bringing it before the House. The Green Party will, of course, be wholeheartedly supporting it.

As many Members have said, the issue of microbead and micro-plastic pollution was first raised in the Oireachtas by my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, in the Seanad last November . The Senator brought before the Seanad a Bill which Deputy Sherlock's Labour colleagues in the Seanad were vocal in supporting, along with Sinn Féin and many Independents, including Senator O'Sullivan's colleagues in the Civil Engagement Group. Regrettably, however, the Government and Fianna Fáil, instead of progressing the Bill and looking to amend it at a later Stage, declined to give the Bill a Second Reading.

I appreciate that the Minister has since taken steps on this issue, including having facilitated an extensive public consultation process and committed to notify the EU Commission and World Trade Organization formally of the State's intention to introduce a ban. These are positive steps, and this Bill is another positive step and one which the Green Party believes should be fully supported by this House.

The Labour Party’s Bill seeks to do many of the things the Green Party's Bill sought to do. I welcome its introduction in this House and hope that it will see better fortune than our Bill did last November. The attention, focus and conversation which Senator Grace O’Sullivan started in her capacity as a legislator should not be underestimated and it clearly was an effective catalyst.

It has always been the Green Party’s view that to make long-term successful inroads in a multifaceted approach to protecting the environment, it requires the active support of the majority of political parties and the same applies globally. No one political party has ownership of environmental issues, but for as long as that is the perception, the environment and, ultimately, the people will lose. That is why we must work together and this Bill presents an opportunity to do so.

However, I would like to see provisions in this Bill for the monitoring of microbeads and micro-plastics by the Environmental Protection Agency, and for a differentiation to be drawn between microbeads and micro-plastics. Both of these provisions were present in Senator Grace O’Sullivan’s Bill and their inclusion would greatly strengthen Deputy Sherlock’s Bill. Deputy Eamon Ryan and I intend to bring forward amendments to that effect on Committee Stage.

The arguments for the ban on microbeads have been outlined by Senator Grace O’Sullivan in the Seanad, and again by Deputy Sherlock and others today in this House, so I need not restate them. The central purpose of the Green Party moving its Bill in the Seanad, and the value of this conversation around microbeads and micro-plastics in the first place, was to highlight the much larger issue of plastic marine litter in general. Microbeads are just the tip of the iceberg.

Some 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans and we continue to add up to 12 million tonnes every year. Not alone is this litter causing serious damage to our fish and other marine life but there are also considerable economic losses in tourism and fishing which the European Commission has said is estimated to cost up to €630 million a year for coastal and beach cleaning. This Bill is about the health of our seas. The banning of microbeads and micro-plastics is a first important and beneficial step, but we must be aware of the many other challenges facing us if we are to clean up our seas and sea beds.

As an island country it is essential that we are a leading voice in Europe and on the world stage in calling for co-operation and coherent action in tackling marine litter. This is not any one country’s responsibility, but rather it is every country’s responsibility. I call on the Government to make our voice heard loudly and clearly. I urge every Member of this House to support the Bill, and take the first practical step in moving this Bill to the next Stage in order to tackle an aspect of one of the biggest issues facing our seas. With the support of this House, the process of beginning to tackle this problem becomes realistic and achievable.

I wish to join with those who have acknowledged the work of various Members of both Houses in introducing this legislation. I also wish to acknowledge the work of various environmental groups, including tidy towns organisations and green schools. School children, both at primary and secondary level, are acutely aware of difficulties arising from pollution.

The environmentalist, Robert Swan OBE, said the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it. I personally do not care who that someone is, once we in this Parliament give a lead in dealing with the wider issues of pollution, which are of great concern to me and all other Members of this House.

There are five main ocean gyres created by a large whirlpool caused by currents with plastic floating in them. This is caused by the rotation of the earth known as the Coriolis effect. One such gyre, the North Atlantic garbage patch, is estimated to cover hundreds of kilometres with over 200,000 pieces per square kilometre. This debris zone alone among the five, shifts as much as 1,600 km seasonally. This has been known since 1972.

If we compare the earth’s 45 billion year evolution in a 24-hour timeline, we will see that dinosaurs made their appearance at 10.56 p.m., mammals at 11.39 p.m. and humans at 11.58 p.m. That is two minutes to midnight and in that short period of mankind’s arrival and custodianship of the earth we have turned the planet into a rubbish tip.

Microbeads were once a must-have ingredient in the pursuit of flawless skin and cleaner surfaces, but have now become a scourge of the environment and are hated by all who care for our planet. The US, Canada and the Netherlands have banned them from cosmetics because of their potential impact on the environment, and the UK is preparing to ban them from the end of this year.

A detailed report published by the House of Commons library has warned that any attempt to impose a unilateral ban could break EU free trade laws. The Minister referred to that earlier. It also advises that the proposed legislation could be open to legal challenge by cosmetics companies affected by the ban. However, a large proportion of cosmetic companies are thankfully already switching to natural alternatives. By legislating to ban micro-plastics, more cosmetic and cleaning product manufacturers will hopefully cease to use them.

According to the Ocean Clean-up Project, over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean. A total of 4,360 tonnes of micro-plastic beads were used in 2012 across all European Union countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, according to a survey by Cosmetics Europe. The survey focused on the use of micro-plastic beads, with polyethylene beads representing 93% of the total amount equalling 4,037 tonnes.

Plastic ingredients that are poured down the drain after use cannot be collected for recycling, unlike the packaging which can be recycled. Plastic ingredients do not decompose in wastewater treatment systems. The ingredients are emitted via raw sewage, treated effluents or with sewage sludge applied as fertiliser biosolids on agricultural land, as landfill or dumped at sea.

This plastic pollution is having a major detrimental effect on marine life, as others have said. Micro-plastics are of huge environmental concern because their size means that they are accessible to a wide range of organisms, including seabirds, fish, mussels, lugworms and zooplankton.

Micro-plastic pollution has been a big issue for many years in the marine research field. Recent scientific investigations in Europe have also revealed the presence of micro-plastic residues in freshwater systems, including drinking water and wastewater treatment.

The issue of micro-plastics in cosmetics is also coming up on the environmental agenda right across the world. It needs to be dealt with. Micro-plastic particles which are found in personal care products, such as exfoliants or cleansers, are reaching the marine environment via wastewater from consumers' baths and showers at a rapid rate.

As Deputy Dooley said, Fianna Fáil wholeheartedly supports the principle of this Bill. Like the Minister, however, we believe it is too narrow and fails to address the issue of plastic microbeads in household cleaning products, as well as other plastic produce such as disposable tableware. We will be introducing our own legislation which will be more comprehensive in its approach to eliminating plastic pollution.

The rectification of the anomalies highlighted by the Minister and previous speakers should be speedily facilitated.

Other important sources of plastic pollution must also be addressed, including single use tableware. France is leading the way in legislating to stop plastic pollution by introducing a complete ban on disposable plastic dishes, plates and cutlery. While I realise it would not be possible in one Bill to address all forms of plastic pollution, this legislation does not go far enough. The Bill must address other plastic products which break down over time in our oceans and inland waters forming micro-plastics. Much of the litter found in the ocean is from larger plastics eroding to form micro-plastics. The legislation planned by Fianna Fáil will address these issues. We hope to give the Minister power to ban single use tableware and fast food plastic eating containers. These products are too often found littering our streets and countryside and are the scourge of Tidy Towns groups which are making valiant efforts to keep communities clean. As someone who is involved in this area, I note that tinfoil and similar products also cause problems in the environment. Brown Thomas and Arnotts stopped selling products containing micro-plastic beads in August last year and many local shops in towns and villages, encouraged by Tidy Towns organisations, are starting to use biodegradable alternatives.

While the European Union is also examining this issue, we must move swiftly by introducing legislation and leading by example, as previous speakers noted. We need to get serious about cleaning up our wastewater systems and setting cleaner, environmentally sound standards. A single shower by a person using a product containing microbeads can result in more than 100,000 of these beads entering the wastewater system.

The Dutch have created an app, Beat the Microbead, to combat plastic microbeads. The aim is to achieve grassroots change via the consumer. Launched in 2012, the app is now backed by the United Nations environment programme and is available in seven languages. It enables the consumer to scan a product's barcode to check whether it contains microbeads. The app has proved very popular, convincing a number of large multinationals such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and the Body Shop to announce their intent to stop using microbeads. It can be downloaded free of charge and I urge those with a keen interest in this issue to use it.

I thank Deputy Sean Sherlock for introducing this Bill and raising this extremely important issue. I also thank other Members who have raised the issue, including Senator Grace O'Sullivan. I only became aware of the problems caused by micro-plastics when I watched the film "Trashed" by Jeremy Irons. I was shocked by the film, which I screened for Deputies and Senators in the House several years ago. It covered the general issue of trash and specifically highlighted the terrifying consequences of dumping rubbish, particularly plastics which break down into micro-plastics, in the oceans.

While public awareness of this issue is growing, it is probably not great enough. It is important, therefore, that the House debates the issue, sounds the alarm about it and gets across the message that our oceans are vital for human existence and survival. Approximately 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, 97% of the earth's water supply is contained in the ocean and 30% of the CO2 emissions produced by humans are absorbed by the oceans. Coastal ecosystems store ten times more carbon than terrestrial forests and the degradation of marine ecosystems accounts for 19% of carbon emissions from global deforestation. Deforestation, in turn, accounts for between 20% and 25% of the impacts of global warming. In poisoning and polluting the oceans, we are destroying the means to sustain human existence.

Against this background, the extent of the damage that has been done is extraordinary. In 2010, some 215 million metric tonnes of plastics found their way into the sea. In 2007, a total of 2.12 billion tonnes of waste was dumped into the planet's oceans. As a result of pollution, a 5,000 sq. m. area in the Gulf of Mexico is almost completely devoid of life and nitrification has completely destroyed the oxygen in the water in 405 similar dead zones in the world's oceans. Plastics, including micro-plastics, make the largest contribution to this problem. We must take urgent action to address these terrifying developments.

I welcome the Bill and the call for Ireland to take unilateral action. We should take the lead, rather than waiting around for the European Union to get its act together. We will see whether the confidence the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, expressed in the EU and Commissioner Vella is justified but we should not wait around to find out.

It is important to emphasise, as previous speakers have noted, that microbeads contained in cosmetics account for a very small part of the problem. While their small size means they can get through filters and get into and poison animal and marine life in a particularly pernicious way, studies suggest they are a very small part of the problem. One Norwegian study, for example, showed that of 8,000 tonnes of micro-plastics, as opposed to microbeads alone, produced annually in Norway, half of which end up in the oceans, microbeads accounted for only 0.1%, whereas the tyre industry accounted for 55%, with various other activities, including washing textiles, marine leisure and construction, accounting for the remainder.

The Bill would take an important step but there is a much wider problem that must be addressed as a matter of urgency. This must not be used as an excuse for not passing this legislation, however. The argument that more studies are needed or that we must learn more about the issue, of which there was a hint in the Minister's contribution, is not acceptable as it would only delay action in this area. Let us move on those issues on which we can move and do so as urgently as possible.

We need to look at and address the wider problem and face down any resistance from corporate interests to legislation and bans on these materials or other measures that need to be taken to prevent the pollution of water sources and oceans by these products, whatever their source.

I welcome the Bill and hope the Government will agree to its passage and not delay on it. If the Minister is serious about legislation to cover the wider problem, it has to be brought forward as a matter of urgency. It will also have to be comprehensive in dealing with the multiplicity of sources of rubbish, trash, pollutants, micro-plastics and all the rest from all sorts of industry. It is being dumped into rivers and filtering through the soil, ultimately ending up in the oceans and killing marine life and, as a consequence, potentially killing something that helps to sustain human existence on the planet. I hope these issues can be further highlighted in today's debate.

I wish to make a brief contribution to the debate and thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me a few minutes to speak.

Immense praise is due to Deputy Sean Sherlock for bringing this matter to the floor of the House. I am stating this publicly because it is something we all need to discuss. In fairness, listening to the debate, we can all come together and formulate a policy on it. I have been watching some of the debate in my office and listening to some of it in the Chamber and a lot of valid points have been made about the damage caused by plastic microbeads. I wish to introduce a few other things.

Deputies have spoken about the problem in our own country, but we probably have all been watching the reports on Sky News on the cleaning up of the oceans by volunteers. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and others also referred to this matter. In dealing with community and Tidy Towns groups, etc. we all know about the scourge of plastics. Such groups constantly bring the matter to our attention. There is another dreadful aspect to the problem - the amount of plastic in the ground that is causing flooding issues and doing a lot of damage. In some parts of my constituency of Roscommon-Galway where we were trying to alleviate the effects of flooding and some drainage and dredging works were carried out the amount of plastic in the ground was shocking. It is something we should encompass in further Bills and discussions we will have on the issue.

As has been stated, there are billions of tonnes of plastic in the oceans, lakes and rivers and it is becoming an absolute scourge. There is absolutely no doubt that it is detrimental to the environment and marine life. It is notable that many of the Nordic countries have banned the use of plastic microbeads in recognition of how dangerous they are. We need to move forward with legislation and address the issue in the coming months so as not to push it down the road. We need to take definite decisions.

The plastic business employs millions of people throughout the world, but there is no reason it cannot operate and have its place. However, this matter concerns the dumping of much of the material it produces. It is shocking to watch the special reports, particularly on Sky News, on what is happening. We know that it is happening in our own country and can see it everywhere we go. Many lakes and rivers are full of this material which has been dumped into them.

Even though we are abstaining in the vote on the Bill, I support what the Deputy is trying to do. It is a very good discussion of an issue we must address. I again thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me a few minutes to express my opinions on it.

I am very happy to have a few minutes to contribute to the debate. I commend my party colleague, Deputy Sean Sherlock, for tabling this important legislation and allowing us to address what is an important issue. As others have stated, it is not the most important environmental issue with which the House will grapple and the legislation will not bring climate change to an end. However, passing it would be an important incremental step. We will not address the degradation of the environment in one item of legislation. Looking at all of the component parts and the actions of humans that impact adversely on the sustainability of the environment and the future of humans, animals and fauna, taking action incrementally, step by step, is the way forward. This is an issue which has been clearly identified and to which the solution is straightforward. For that reason, there is no discernible argument there should not be consensus across the House, which consensus should migrate into direct action.

I also congratulate Senator Grace O'Sullivan who tabled a similar Bill in Seanad Éireann. It is important that we do not let go of these things and that we push and argue until such time as we make a difference.

I welcome the contribution of the Minister for Housing, Planing, Community and Local Govenrment because I was a little dismayed when I read the Order Paper and saw that there was amendment to deny the Bill a Second Reading. I am glad the amendment was not moved.

I am a tad confused. Since the next speaker is the Minister of State, he might tell me exactly who is responsible for dealing with these issues. The initial critique and rebuttal of the Bill were made by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, who referenced it at the Environment Council in Malta in recent times. Deputy Simon Coveney is not the Minister with responsibility for the environment or the marine. I am not quite sure where the Minister with responsibility for housing comes into it.

I will clarify the position for the Deputy.

He declared that he was the Minister with responsibility for marine protection. Having worked with Deputy Simon Coveney for a number of years, I know about his passion for marine issues. In fact, he put up his hand when I was looking for a volunteer to take on the task of refurbishment of Great Island. A lot of work - €60 million worth - has been done to tackle environmental degradation. However, I do not think someone can, Charlie Haughey-esque, bring his or her pet projects with him or her as he or she marches across Departments. There is a need for clear lines of demarcation. I understand the EPA, which has statutory responsibility in this area, is within the remit of the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. A little clarity would be helpful. Nonetheless, having read the commentary of the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, I am glad that it is the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is responding to this debate.

There are a number of things we need to do. One of the things we could do is take an incremental approach as issues arise. The argument is we cannot act until there is an EU consensus. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has indicated to the House that both the United Kingdom and France, having notified the European Union of their intention to do so, will be instituting such a ban before the end of the year. He has also indicated that a similar ban will be extant in Ireland by the end of the year. Perhaps that is his objective, but I wonder if it is achievable as we have not seen the legislation. It has been indicated that it might be an addendum to the foreshore Bill which is due to be published next month. The Dáil will go into recess early in July. Will the Bill be, as the Minister indicated, enacted and implemented by the end of the year? I am very interested in hearing specifically what the Minister of State has to say on that point.

Deputy Sean Sherlock has been very honest in saying this is a really important issue but that it is part of a suite of issues that need to be addressed. We have all seen the analysis in recent times that, within the foreseeable future, the total weight of plastics in the oceans will be the equivalent of, if not greater than, the total weight of fish and marine life.

That is a shocking thought. Remote islands in the Pacific Ocean that are thousands of miles away from significant habitation are subject to massive landfalls of plastics, which are non-degradable and permanent and have an enormous impact on ecosystems, such as the turtles which come onshore to nest and lay their eggs. We really need to have a global response to the problem and I certainly welcome the building of an international consensus within the EU. This does not, however, stop us from taking an initiative and being at the vanguard of change.

I hope the Bill, which will now pass Second Stage, will not simply be parked. The Labour Party has no proprietorial claims over the Bill if there are better ways of doing this but it will be overtaken by better legislation or we will seek to bring this Bill forward and have the Government amend Deputy Sherlock's Bill on Committee Stage. Either way, we are setting down a very clear view today that the Labour Party wants these measures enacted, with the objective of ensuring that this form of marine pollution is no longer happening on the island of Ireland. We can do this by taking the unilateral action as set out in the Bill or by working in consort with others but it is important that we do it as early as possible.

I want to clarify some points to alleviate concerns. I thank Deputy Sean Sherlock for bringing forward the Bill. I hope it is our Department's remit because I spent time in the Seanad dealing with Senator Grace O'Sullivan's Bill. If it is not my Department, then we are all wasting our time. I am fairly confident it is within our remit. I want to clarify that marine environmental policy rests in our Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. I am conscious that the name of the Department has changed over the years.

Marine environmental policy rests within our Department, but I will clarify this for Deputies. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is responsible for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and marine spatial planning.

Because he is. That is how I understand it.

The Environmental Protection Agency has statutory responsibility also.

And the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed.

Deputy Howlin has been in government, so he knows how it works. Government decides and allocates duties to Departments. These issues were, and still are, under our Department. Functions have been delegated to all the Ministers.

Such as urban planning?

Tell us who has which functions.

I was not asked why but was asked who and I am saying who. I am giving the facts. I agree with Deputies that it is great Deputy Coveney is the Minister. The Minister is charged with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, marine spatial planning and the regulation of the foreshore under the Foreshore Acts. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, also has a range of marine planning and environmental responsibilities, including around the freshwater area. These are from a planning perspective because most of the proposed legislation is planning Bills. This clarifies "the who"; we can tease out "the what" afterwards.

The Minister consults the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and his Department because there is a lot of crossover there. We accept that. I understand there is confusion but I do not want to take away from Deputy Sherlock's work on this Bill. Great work has been put into the Bill in order for it to be put to the Dáil. I took the debate in the Seanad where we had this discussion. It is not that the Government is against the Bill - we were not against Senator Grace O'Sullivan's Bill - but I believe all my colleagues understand there is a process we must follow. We must go through a certain process or we will not be successful in this. We all want it to be successful, we want it to progress and we must do it the right way or it will not work. I believe that Deputy Sherlock understands this from his discussions with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and from the debate in the Chamber this morning.

On the issue of broadband, I want to put Deputy Timmy Dooley's fears to bed. Unlike previous Governments which had money and did not fix or tackle the issue - I am not referring to the last Fine Gael-Labour Party Government because we did not have the money at that time - this Government now has the resources and is intent on fixing it. The plan is being led by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. It will happen. We will finally have the broadband we deserve in the State. Tenders will, hopefully, be processed within the year and work will commence in 2018. The roll-out will happen quite quickly after that. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government would have liked to have done it but we did not have the resources because of what we were left with when we came into government during 2011. Trust me on this. For many years, this issue should have been tackled but previous Governments did not do so. Deputy Dooley knows that and should be ashamed of himself raising the issue. It was so important and it held the State back. This Government is going to deal with it. It will be put to bed once and for all, and rightly so. I hope this allays any concerns.

Tell us about the microbeads.

I will now turn to all the other issues raised, including one raised by the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy. Ireland's Clean Coast groups, which are led by An Taisce and supported by the Department, do great work and are viewed as world leaders in that respect. Some issues were raised around that. We welcome and want to have an input into legislation such as this Bill but we must take a comprehensive approach. The Minister and the Department will consider a bespoke marine environmental Bill covering this and linking all the issues, such as dumping at sea and marine protection areas.

Deputy Howlin asked about the process but either way we will try to find the quickest way to do it. I cannot give a timeline because we know the way this works. We are committed to doing it and we will make it happen. There is, however, a process to go through. It is not enough to just notify the Commission. According to Commission guidelines and rulings, Ireland is required to present a robust justification and this is what we are doing. We are doing it the right way to make sure it will stand the test of legislation.

On the problem of plastic disposable tableware, we understand the French are looking at the issue. It is worth noting the EU is trying to put together a comprehensive plastic strategy to address many such issues and we will honour it. We are part of the discussion and are monitoring it. We will certainly be part of the leadership and will not be sitting on the fence.

In regard to the issues raised by Sinn Féin, the UK will only achieve approval after making a robust justification, as we must do. France has submitted its views to the Commission and we will deal with that also. We never said we cannot do this. We agree with the intention and the sentiment and we want to do this but we must follow the procedure to make sure we have the robust justifications that are required. Consultation has already taken place in that regard. We are making progress. Senator Grace O'Sullivan's Bill would also have followed this process. We are committed to doing that. To be fair, when the Minister, Deputy Coveney, commits to doing something in the Dáil or the Seanad, he follows through and makes it happen. I believe Deputy Sherlock knows this. I want the House to believe us when we say we are intent on doing this. This is not to fob Deputies off today; we are intent on doing this and we will follow it through.

Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke on the marine litter problem and we all agree it is horrendous. We are supporting groundbreaking research to commodify green litter and turn it into a resource that would have great application in the developing world as well as in Ireland. I was a former Minister of State with a research portfolio, as was Deputy Sean Sherlock, and we are well aware of the great work being done in the research community in the commercial and education arenas and in bringing the two together through Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and other agencies. The Irish Research Council is doing great work. A lot is happening with our research people who are doing much good work around climate change and marine and environmental issues. Research is being carried out in University College Dublin, the National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork and in the Marine Institute in Galway. We need to build on that research and recognise it.

Deputy Catherine Martin spoke of monitoring. The EPA is currently funding research with a view to informing a micro-plastics monitoring programme. The Department, the Marine Institute and others are working nationally and with other states to develop an effective monitoring programme. It goes back to investing in research. We have committed to this as a country and we need to do more of it. I know many Deputies would not agree with me because of previous experience, but it is important and there are key areas in which we are doing this. If we invest in research it will future-proof our economy and help to future-proof our environment. This is important for people who live in Ireland as climate change is key. It is key in our agenda and it is certainly high up on the Minister's agenda also.

Deputy Sherlock's Bill has generated quite a lot of interesting debate. The Deputy has ten minutes in which to sum up, if he so wishes.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I thank colleagues who have welcomed the principle of the Bill. It is very clear there is an intention on the part of the House, on a cross-party basis, to legislate for the issue and to ensure that we can put in place a robust mechanism that will offset the dire economic costs of the presence of microbeads and micro-plastics in our environment.

I thank Members for their support in the first instance when the legislation was introduced. The Green Party Deputies were the originators of the Bill and I acknowledge their role. We hope to bring this legislation a step further in seeking to deal with the legal issues pertaining to the European Union and the specific treaty provisions. I reiterate that I accept the bona fides of the Minister, Deputy Coveney and Minister of State, Deputy English on the Government's intention to legislate on this issue. Since proposals will come before the Government in June, if I understand the Ministers correctly, I would hope that we could be in some space to have this before us again by autumn of this year. Am I correct in understanding that there may be a proposal to bring it before the Government in June? The officials are not saying that.

It will not be specifically on this. It is the other Bill, it will not be a bespoke Bill.

The foreshore Bill will be brought before Government in June, as I understand it, and this matter could be attached to it. That was the intention.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is prepared to consider that. There also seems to be a demand for a bespoke Bill, however.

I raised the issue of having a bespoke Bill. The Fianna Fáil Deputies also sought to have one. I am hopeful that we could deal with this in a bespoke fashion. That would be the best way.

That is what I am saying. It will not be possible to have a bespoke Bill in June. As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said in his opening remarks, there is the option to add it in to the foreshore Bill or to have a bespoke Bill. That is something on which we can consult.

It should be possible to sort it out through consultation.

I cannot say today that there could be a June timeline for that.

I want absolute clarity about this. If the foreshore Bill is to come before us, which I imagine will be robust and detailed legislation, I am fearful that legislation dealing with micro-plastics or microbeads could get lost in the larger piece.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney said he would consider it. To be clear, he is not saying he can bring forward a bespoke Bill in June.

That is fair enough.

We could probably agree to consultation in the lead-up to that. Is that acceptable to everybody?

I accept what the Minister is saying about the June deadline. In any event, I am hopeful that by autumn 2017 when we come back from the summer recess we will at least be in a position to have a Bill or the heads of a Bill before us. I take the Minister of State at his word when he says there will be a consultation period with all interested parties in the House, as per the Acting Chairman's suggestion, so that we can proceed in a non-partisan way to give effect to a good and robust piece of legislation.

I am not the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on this matter but I suggest the Whips and spokespersons get together with the Minister with a view to having an agreement.

I am open to any mechanism that can be used to-----

We have accepted that consultation will take place. Deputy Sherlock may continue.

I will conclude by saying that there were 3,000 submissions. There is a huge demand outside of these Houses for this issue to be dealt with. I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their openness. I am appreciative of the fact that they are not opposing the Bill in typical partisan fashion. Our Bill will remain on the agenda. I will be happy to take it off the agenda as soon as we see a set of proposals coming from the Government side. Fianna Fáil has also said it intends to bring forward a set of proposals. We will keep an open mind.

Question put and agreed to.