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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Jun 2019

Vol. 984 No. 1

Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to present the Bill to the Dáil. As with the publication of our climate strategy earlier this week, it represents our determination to be at the vanguard of safeguarding our environment and, thus, protecting the future for the coming generations. Ireland has previously led the charge with measures such as the plastic bag levy and the smoking ban. Some other states have already introduced restrictions on the sale of "rinse down the drain" cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads. However, our Bill goes further than most by restricting their manufacture and export, as well as sale. More significantly, its scope extends to cover household and industrial cleaning products containing plastic microbeads, which no other EU member state has done to date. This reflects our national position, held since 2015, seeking for all such products to be phased out across the EU at the earliest opportunity.

I know my concern about microbeads is shared across all parties and throughout broader society. I commend Senator Grace O'Sullivan and Deputy Sherlock, who both introduced Private Members' Bills on this topic. We have responded to those Bills and I look forward to working with colleagues in the Oireachtas in order that we can have this Bill enacted and in operation before the end of the year. I thank the members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for their contribution in developing this Bill and supporting its progress. I will be referring to their recommendations at several points.

The purpose of this Bill is to make it an offence to manufacture, or place on the market for sale or supply, certain products containing plastic microbeads. This is due to their potential for environmental harm as microplastic litter in marine and freshwater environments. Under the provisions of the Bill, placing on the market means selling, offering or exposing for sale, advertising, distributing for free, importing, exporting or supplying. The Bill will also prohibit the disposal of substances containing plastic microbeads down the drain or directly into freshwater or marine environments.

Society is becoming acutely aware of the problem that plastic poses to the world's oceans. It is a problem we must address urgently. The Bill is one of a range of measures to reduce the impact of marine litter being brought forward nationally, across the EU and through international conventions, such as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, more commonly knows as the OSPAR Convention. Due to its buoyancy, plastic is easily carried by currents or blown by winds from landward or seaborne sources. It persists in the environment for an extremely long time and cannot be easily recovered. Larger items break down into secondary microplastic particles and there is a growing body of evidence to indicate that plastics and microplastics may be affecting marine habitats and fauna negatively.

I am sure everyone is aware of the vast islands of plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre. A similar garbage patch also exists in the north Atlantic Gyre. We have all seen dreadful images of sea creatures tangled in plastic debris or having ingested huge amounts of plastic waste. National and international research continues to confirm that microplastics are also being ingested by all forms of marine life, from the smallest plankton up to the largest filter feeding whales. This is happening in every part of the marine environment. Microplastics are found in freshwater too. An EPA-funded study published in 2017 found that not only were microplastics to be found throughout Irish freshwater environments, but traces could even be found in our drinking water. Indeed, the group of chief scientific advisers to the European Commission recently reported that microplastic pollution has been found throughout the entire environment, including air and soil, as well as water. This is not merely just a marine or freshwater issue or concern.

Microplastics are small non-biodegradable solid plastic particles less than 5 mm wide in their largest dimension. They are entering the marine environment directly in a variety of forms. These include fibres shed from clothes, lost raw material pellets or microbeads used in cosmetics, cleansing products and detergents. Microbeads are a small fraction of the overall microplastic problem. However, they are still entering the environment in their trillions. This Bill will address one source of microplastic pollution and help reinforce public and industry awareness of the problem. It also prepares society for more challenging measures to be introduced in the coming years. The most effective solution to tackling microplastic pollution is to tackle it at source. This Bill covers products that are likely to end up in watercourses and wastewater systems. These are water-soluble products designed to be rinsed or washed off down the drain.

I do not intend to target products known in the industry as "leave-on" or "wear-off" products at this time. These are not designed to be washed off with water. While many people wipe off such products and then discard the wipes down the drain, they are not supposed to do this. Nothing other than washing water, human waste or toilet paper should be flushed down toilets or disposed of down the drain. Although there are readily available alternative ingredients to replace plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetic products, manufacturers cannot currently reformulate leave-on cosmetic products as easily. The impact to the cosmetics industry and to consumers would be enormous if such a blanket ban was introduced at this time. However, these products will be addressed in time. Irish officials, including my own, are working at EU level to develop EU-wide REACH - registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals - regulations to address this, along with a range of other measures relating to microplastic pollution. Once these are passed, a six-year lead-in time for restricting leave-on cosmetic products has been recommended to allow time for product reformulation.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government requested that I also consider legislation to prohibit the impact of secondary microplastics polluting the natural environment. Given that secondary microplastics are created by the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic, this would be an extremely complex and difficult task. However, we are researching and developing measures nationally, with the EU and under OSPAR to reduce the amount of secondary microplastics entering the environment.

I will now outline the purpose and operation of each section of the Bill. Section 1 sets out the definitions of key terms used in the Bill. Section 2 makes it an offence to manufacture or place on the market rinse-off cosmetic and cleaning products containing plastic microbeads.

Section 3 provides for exemptions for medical products, sunscreen products and materials being used to research offences set out in section 2. It provides that regulations can be made exempting certain essential industrial cleaning agents where no microbead-free substitutes exist.

Section 4 makes it an offence to dispose of substances containing plastic microbeads down the drain or directly into any body of water. Section 5 sets out the powers of authorised persons. Section 6 provides for the prosecution of company officers or members of a body corporate for offences under this Bill. Section 7 provides for the fining, imprisonment or both of persons found guilty of an offence.

Section 8 provides that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, may bring summary proceedings for an offence and for the court to have the power to order the persons found guilty of committing an offence under this Act to pay the agency's costs. Section 9 provides for the Minister to request enforcement activity reports from the agency. Section 10 provides for administrative costs for the proposed legislation to be paid out of voted expenditure. Section 11 sets out the Short Title and commencement of the Bill.

Appropriate technical definitions of "microplastic", "microbead", "cosmetics" and "plastic" are central to the success of this legislation. This Bill incorporates definitions that are robust, enforceable, future-proofed and in line with current scientific research. As per the joint committee's recommendations that industry be notified of legislative changes in good time, industry representatives were specifically consulted regarding these provisions. As requested by the joint Oireachtas committee, my officials reviewed the decision to provide a specific exemption to sun-screening products. They wrote to the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, seeking assurances. However, the HPRA was unable guarantee that no sun-screening products containing plastic microbeads exist. Thus, it is expedient to retain this exemption for the time being.

The Bill gives responsibility to the EPA for its implementation. EPA officers and customs officers are made authorised persons and the Bill lays out their enforcement powers. It is proposed that a person summarily convicted would receive a class A fine, a prison sentence of up to six months or both. Conviction on indictment may mean a fine of up to €3 million, a prison sentence of up to five years or both.

The Bill is not expected to have a significant impact on Irish businesses. Industry is fully aware that the international opinion has turned against plastic microbeads. Banning them is a key feature of the EU's 2018 European strategy for plastics in a circular economy - the plastics strategy. Restrictions on the sale of rinse-off cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads have been introduced in France, Sweden and the UK, among other countries. Manufacturers are already turning to alternatives. Plastic microbeads can be cheaply replaced by natural substitutes and, indeed, many Irish cosmetic manufacturers already focus on producing products with natural ingredients. Nor is the proposed prohibition expected to have much impact on consumer choice. Products without plastic microbeads are already widely available and preferred by consumers.

As has been highlighted in previous Oireachtas debates, the Bill has implications for the principle of free movement under the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Ireland has to obtain a derogation from the EU before final enactment of this legislation. We will seek to justify this on environmental grounds under Article 36 of the treaty, arguing that plastic microbeads may cause harm to the environment and citing the precautionary principle. Ireland will need to submit a justification document containing scientific evidence along with the derogation request. To support this, my Department engaged Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, to draw up a paper on the potential impact of microplastics on the environment, focusing on Ireland. GMIT is an acknowledged centre of excellence in this area.

A minimum three-month standstill period applies from the date the derogation request is submitted. This may be extended further by an additional three months if concerns are expressed by the Commission or a member state. The Bill may need to be amended on Committee Stage or Report Stage in order to take on board amendments required by the EU arising from this process. It should be noted that once the derogation request is submitted to the EU, any Oireachtas amendments that affect the Single Market will mean that a resubmission will be required. This could significantly delay the Bill. A request for a World Trade Organization exemption must be submitted once the EU derogation process has been completed.

In light of internal advice, the responses to the second public consultation and the recommendations from the joint committee, the following changes were made since the publication of the general scheme. The Bill now defines microbeads as "plastic particles" rather than as being made of "polymers". A definition of "plastic" has also been added to the Bill.

The prison term for convictions on indictment has been increased from two years to five on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel. Fixed charge notices in lieu of summary offences and compliance notices have been removed from the Bill on the basis of non-constitutionality.

I again thank my colleagues in this House, the Seanad and the joint committee for supporting the principle behind this legislation. The Bill is an important measure to reduce the levels of microplastic pollution generated in Ireland. There are many more steps to come in terms of microplastics and marine litter generally. Some of these will be challenging and will require a societal response. However, I am encouraged by the level of cross-party support to date for the prohibitions on certain products containing microbeads as set out in this Bill. I am hopeful that this will translate into further support for future measures that we have to undertake.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill but we are disappointed about the length of time it has taken for it to come before the House. There have been repeated attempts in the lifetime of this Dáil to have this legislation enacted, by the Green Party in the first instance, followed by the Labour Party and then Fianna Fáil, all of which were prevented from progressing by the Government. While we support the Bill, it must be stated that it is a curate's egg in that it is a little bit spoiled. Nevertheless, it is before us now. We will take it and run with it.

I hope lessons can be learned from some of the experiences in terms of the missed opportunity of new politics, a matter about which I have spoken on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, we have not managed to engage and progress measures of this nature in respect of which there is cross-party agreement. One of the reasons that was put forward initially in an effort to block legislation in this area was that it allegedly breached EU law. In a recent debate on the smoky coal ban being extended on an all-island basis, the Government similarly made the argument that there might be complications on foot of EU law. The leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, Deputy Micheál Martin, introduced the smoking ban, a point acknowledged by Deputy Sherlock previously. The argument was made that said ban might have been incompatible with EU law. As we have seen from the Brexiteers, EU law is blamed for a lot of things and not always rightly or accurately so. That was the case with the smoking ban. With the resurrection of the Bill before us, and given the new political climate, EU law is often interpreted in different ways, depending on the outcome one wants to find.

The Bill is before the Dáil and Fianna Fáil supports it. I hope that, with all-party support, it will progress quickly. This is an important Bill. It is also a relatively simple measure in many ways in that, technicalities aside, the fundamental principle of it is one with which we are all familiar, namely, to reduce, reuse, recycle. This Bill deals with the reduction aspect in that it seeks to facilitate a reduction in the number of microplastics in materials, in their use in products and in their presence in the environment, particularly the oceans and sewerage systems. This is because, as we know to our detriment, they are non-degradable and remain in the environment far beyond their useful shelf life causing multiple issues.

A recent article in The Irish Times indicated that the average human, probably and accidentally, consumes 5 g - which is about the size of a credit card - worth of plastic per week through the food they ingest. This could happen where, for example, a fish that has eaten microplastics is consumed by a human. Microplastics move through the food chain. Some pretty scary statistics were provided in the article to which I refer. They were taken from a report compiled by Australia's University of Newcastle, which also mentions that drinking water is a significant source of microplastics. The same is true of seafood. While the average amount of microplastics consumed per person per week is estimated to be approximately 5 g, it could be much higher because microplastics may also be found in secondary sources such as honey, sugar and bread. This is very worrying for multiple reasons.

Some 80% of marine litter is attributed to plastics. It is not all microplastics. Large plastic is bad as well. There is no pass for it. However, today we are seeking to tackle microplastics. As stated, plastic comprises 80% of marine litter and it is a difficult substance to dispose of. Disposal is almost impossible in many ways. Microbeads do not get caught in traditional wastewater systems in the same way as other pollutants. Given their size, nature and texture, they are difficult to pick up and so they pass through into the general drinking water system and other systems. I mentioned fish, shellfish and seafood earlier. A study conducted by NUI Galway found that 73% of 233 deep water fish caught in the north Atlantic Ocean, waters which are familiar to Irish fishermen, had ingested microplastics. That study was conducted in 2018, so it is very recent. If this trend continues unchecked, by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastics than fish. It is pretty damning that we are heading in the direction of our oceans containing more plastics than marine life. Hopefully, this can be addressed. It requires urgent action. This Bill is one of many measures that will be required in this regard.

The other issue that can arise in the context of wastewater is sludge build-up. Microbeads can pool together, congeal and become a sludge, which can then spread to agricultural land and enter the food chain. I recall the many horror stories that were told about what lurked in the sewers in Victorian times in London, New York and many other great cities that have significant underground sewerage systems. There are even more horrific things lurking in our sewers now, including what are known as fatbergs. These are congealed masses of fat, wipes and all kinds of horrendous waste, including plastics, matted together. A fatberg the size of six double-decker buses was recently discovered in the UK. Unfortunately, such discoveries are not unusual.

This legislation is timely and much need. As already stated, Fianna Fáil supports it. I would like to reflect briefly on other measures that could be advanced in parallel with the Bill. Despite the fact that people might say that it is a little too late arriving, we will run with it. There are many other things that could and should be done. The climate action plan was discussed earlier and measures such as microgeneration, which is being touted by Government as an important new initiative to be launched as part of the plan, were highlighted. This development arises, perhaps, out of recent elections and awareness of green issues, in some quarters anyway. Microgeneration is an obvious, much-need, common-sense measure that was first introduced by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government over ten years ago. Inexplicably, it was cast aside by the Fine Gael-Labour Government when it came to power. Microgeneration requires the installation of a solar panel on a roof. This panel is then plugged into the grid and if more energy than is required is produced, the remainder is returned to the grid. This measure was already in place but discontinued and now the Government is hailing its being brought back as a big announcement. However, we have lost seven or eight years of microgeneration in the interim.

Another example comes to mind. We have talked a lot about renewable energy. The targets in the climate action plan in this regard are welcome. However, the REFIT system for renewable sources excluded offshore wind for the past number of years. Offshore wind has many advantages. It has huge potential for energy generation and it does not have community backlash in terms of the concerns that often arise in the context of onshore wind projects. Understandably, communities have concerns about the proximity of turbines to homes, etc. Offshore wind is a win for everybody in that sense. It is highly productive in terms of high-volume outputs of energy generation. There are number of resources off our west coast in terms of wind and wave but the REFIT scheme did not include offshore wind. Again, this was a missed opportunity.

On public transport, as a commuter and representative for Kildare north, I am familiar with transport issues. There has been much talk about the Government buying diesel buses. The Taoiseach recently travelled on a hybrid bus, which was followed by approximately 200 diesel buses. There is a serious lack of investment in public transport. I represent a constituency where commuters cannot access parking at the railway station and cannot get a seat on a train. They are also lucky if following their train journey they get a seat on the Luas. There has been a lack of investment in transport over the lifetime of this Government. There was a very good transport strategy on the table when Fianna Fáil was last in office, namely, Transport 21, which had multiple benefits, including interconnectors, metro west, metro north and DART underground. It provided for the type of network one would expect in a modern European city to enable people to travel to work, to study or to visit family, without the trials and tribulations they would be put through by the current system, which is creaking at the seams due to lack of both investment and imagination.

We hope that the Bill can tackle the various issues to which I refer. We raise those issues in the House every day. They are well-known to the Government and I appeal to it to take them on board. We support and welcome the Bill.

I acknowledge the significant work done by Senator Grace O'Sullivan and Deputy Sherlock and I echo the comments the Minister made in that regard. I have I have little doubt that if that work had not been done, we would not be here with legislation which, on the basis of what we have heard so far, will be passed by the House. That is positive and has to be acknowledged. I also acknowledge the significant shift in the Government's position on this issue in the past year or 18 months. Not that long ago we were discussing Deputy Sherlock's Bill and the Government's position was that it was not possible to do what he proposed under EU law. I thank both the Minister and his officials for what has been a very constructive engagement with the committee and the sponsors of the two previous Bills. Notwithstanding people's initial positions at the start of any dialogue, it is always possible to come to a much better position at the end.

It is important to also acknowledge that this Bill deals with what is a very small piece of a much larger problem. While I was not expecting secondary microplastics to be dealt with in the Bill before us, that is where the bigger problem lies, along with single-use plastics more generally. There is significant resistance at an industry level across the European Union, not necessarily to tackling the smaller part of the problem but to dealing with the broader issue of single-use plastics in a more definitive way. The industry spends almost €2 billion annually in lobbying to try to resist some of the moves being made in respect of such plastics. While there is no doubt that we should pass this Bill and implement it as a matter of urgency, I look forward to working with the Minister and the Government on those broader issues. Ultimately, the Bill will only remove a very small amount of the damaging substances that have entered our seas and water systems. It must be followed by much more significant action at a later date. If the Minister takes the same approach to those issues as he has taken to this Bill, he will have the support of our party.

We fully support the Bill, although I have a few questions to which we may come back on Committee Stage. I will not spend long detaining other Members. I am still concerned about some of the exemptions, specifically that relating to sun cream. The joint committee asked if officials were aware of any sun creams that contain microbeads and they indicated that they were not. I acknowledge the Minister's comment to the effect that they contacted the relevant agency. Regardless of whether there are sun creams that contain microbeads, the point is that they should not. Microbeads offer no benefit in the context of the valuable role that sun cream plays in protecting people against skin cancer. It makes no sense to allow them to continue to be used in such creams. I urge the Minister and his officials to re-examine this matter in order to see if there is a way to proceed.

I am not clear about the merits of excluding leave-on or wear-off products. Will the Minister provide more information about the logic of that? Even if it is not the designer's intention for those products to be washed off, the fact that the Minister acknowledged that they end up in the sewerage system and, ultimately, the water system as a result of the fact that people misuse wipes shows that there is a problem. As he knows, some of us who have had to deal with the negative impact of wipes on our sewerage system are aware that there is a large volume of them going into our water system. If those wipes contain a significant volume of wash-off products with microbeads, then that is an issue. I would like to hear more about that from the Minister and I would like him to reconsider the position between now and Committee Stage.

While I appreciate the ongoing work on the revised registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, REACH, directive - I accept that this is not directly relevant to the Bill - I want to put on the record the fact that there will be a six-year lead-in time once the negotiations on directive have been concluded. That period seems far too protracted. Since he did not refer to it earlier, perhaps the Minister will clarify, subject to both this Bill passing all Stages and the completion of the request for derogation from the Commission, at what point the impact of this legislation will become actionable. Is there a lead-in time proposed for industry, etc?

Our party supports the Bill. My initial comments were intended in the spirit of this being a good example of how things should be done. It would be better if it happened more quickly. Perhaps that is the lesson for the next stage in the process, whether that involves dealing with secondary microplastics or single-use plastics, in order that we might work together in a collective and much more co-ordinated fashion. We are where we are and it is a decent enough place. I would like the Minister to address the exemptions and the lead-in period that will apply after the passing of the legislation.

I am delighted to wholeheartedly welcome the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for bringing it before the House. We have been through quite a process since 2016 in seeking to have this placed firmly on the agenda and I am delighted to be part of a process where we are in agreement with the Government's Bill on the important issue of banning microbeads. I acknowledge Senator Grace O'Sullivan's role in this because she started the ball rolling. When her Bill was rejected by the Government on the basis of Single Market issues and certain articles in the EU treaty, we took up the cudgels. As has been stated, we used the precedent of the smoking ban as a mechanism to progress the issue through the introduction of our own Bill. I recall speaking on Second Stage of that legislation on 4 May 2017 and acknowledging that it was not being opposed at that juncture and that I would gladly withdraw it if I saw the colour of the Government's money. I am glad that the Minister has delivered on the promise that was made. While I am possibly in uncharted territory in that I may be the only member of the Opposition to withdraw a Private Members' Bill, which I am not sure there is precedent for, on the basis of a commitment the Government gave to introduce its own legislation, I did so on trust. I am glad to state that my trust was repaid with the publication of the Bill before us.

The passing of this legislation could be the Minister's greatest legacy. Future generations will thank this House for legislating in respect of this very important issue. Notwithstanding that, we all know what microplastics and microbeads are. I do not need to speak about their effect on the environment. We are all well-educated on the effect that they have for marine and other life in our watercourses and the oceans.

I have a question on a matter to which Deputy Ó Broin referred. I refer to the lack of intention on the part of the Government to target leave-on or wear-off products at this time. I know it is not possible for the Minister, his officials or any of the agencies of State to police the daily ablutions of citizens regarding what they do in their own bathrooms but we have to acknowledge that, even when the Bill is enacted, the risk that microplastics will still enter our watercourses and the oceans. I want the Minister and his officials to clarify the position in respect of the leave-on products.

The Minister stated:

Although there are readily available alternative ingredients to replace plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetic products, manufacturers cannot currently reformulate leave-on cosmetic products as easily. The impact to the cosmetics industry and to consumers would be enormous if such a blanket ban was introduced at this time.

The primary purpose of the legislation is not to take on the cosmetics industry, its modus operandi is for an environmental good, to ensure future marine life and human health so that we are not ingesting this plastic back into our systems. We already have an evidence base which shows us that sea life is already consuming plastics and it is inherent within it and humans as well. I am worried if we are not going the whole hog in terms of banning microbeads outright and if we are introducing an exception. I hope the Minister will allay my fears when he replies. If we have to wait for a six-year lead-in time for restricting leave-on cosmetic products on the basis that he is allowing for product reformulation, then I am fearful that we may be in a position where we will not have tackled the problem fully. I accept the Minister's bona fides in respect of the Irish position but I am concerned because, as Deputy Ó Broin indicated, the cosmetics lobby has more direct access to the European Commission than any member state in terms of the efficacy of its lobbying. It could seek to put a stay on any legislative proposals coming from the Commission in respect of wiping out the use of microbeads in cosmetics altogether. I hope my concerns in this regard will be addressed.

I have a question on the maximum size of microbeads, which is referred to as being 5 mm. Does any industry standard specify 5 mm? Was the figure determined on the basis of advice received from particular entities or scientific advisers? It is not that I doubt the 5 mm specification in any way but I am interested in the logic behind it.

I welcome the legislation and thank the Minister for bringing it before the House. I acknowledge that he delivered on the commitment he gave that he would legislate in respect of this issue. I also acknowledge that all Members of this House, in a non-partisan way and through the interventions they have made, are very clear regarding their intention to seek to have this matter legislated for.

I thank Deputies for their contributions in respect of this very important legislation. I apologise for the delay in getting to this point. I recognise the frustrations of people such as Deputy Sherlock, Senator Grace O'Sullivan and others, who wanted to know why it was taking so long. Part of the reason was because once there was a bit of a shift in the Government position, there was a realisation that there was an opportunity to go further and to be a leader in the EU context. That was on the understanding that we want to move together in the EU in terms of the Single Market and in the context of everything we are trying to do regarding the environment. We felt that if we could set an example which others could meet, we should do so. We have done that with this legislation. We are going further than our EU counterparts but they have made a commitment to catch up with us. That was part of the reason for the delay.

Deputy Ó Broin referred to a shift in the Government position. There has certainly been a shift in my position because, in my work as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I am also responsible for aspects of the marine environment. As a result of that work, I am involved in the British-Irish Council, BIC. Its committee deals with the OSPAR Convention and other works, which has meant I have been very deeply involved in the issue of microplastics since I began this job. I have been very well educated by my colleagues in the BIC on the issue. Deputy Lawless spoke about us all eating a credit card worth of plastic each week, which is a terrifying way to think about it. When one adds in all the debt as well, it must be quite bad for the digestive system.

Two points struck me early on. One is that in a recent study, 78% of all deepwater fish were found to have ingested microplastics. Another issue that was brought to my attention by colleagues abroad is that of the large continents of plastic making their way around the globe in different environments, which is terrifying. For some time in Irish society we have been having a very important reflection on the environment. "Blue Planet II" was seen to have been quite important in the debate in England, Scotland and Wales in terms of there being a collective moment where everyone happened to be watching the TV programme in which a baby whale suffocated and died from ingesting plastic. That had an effect on children and adults and it brought microplastics and plastics to the fore in the political debate there. All of those types of interventions that have been made by academics and people in popular culture to try to bring people like me to a more sensible and progressive position on the issue have worked. In the context of what Deputy Eamon Ryan stated in the earlier debate on the climate action plan regarding the responsibility we, as Members of this House, have to act as leaders in terms of trying to bring with us those members of the public who might still be sceptical on the need for some of these measures, I am of the view that we have a duty in this regard. As we take action in this regard, we should do so in responsible way and seek to constantly educate and inform the people and ourselves.

In the context of sunscreen lotions, I must be very careful, particularly in view of the purpose they serve. However, we are looking at the exemption in advance of Committee Stage. We have done some exploratory work to see whether it would be safe to remove the exemption but we will do a bit more work on it given the nature of sunscreen lotions. I assure Deputy Ó Broin that we are looking at the issue, as per his request.

On the question of how we define the size of microbeads and microplastics, 5 mm is the internationally recognised standard. We will do it to that standard in order to provide coherence in EU law, both the law that has already been adopted by some of our partner countries and the EU law that will follow as a result of the work we are doing here.

On the question about leave-on products, this is a more complicated aspect of the debate. First, we must recognise that such products do not have a direct pathway into drains and watercourses and, subsequently, into the oceans. Even though some can follow such a pathway, that is not meant to be a way for them to enter watercourses. Some make their way, but not all do. It is also my understanding that certain leave-on cosmetic products, while not having a medical role, do not currently have a ready replacement available and that we cannot move to ban them overnight. It is also the case with some leave-on products that the polymer in question is a liquid polymer and so it is treated differently from what solid plastic particles, nodes or, more correctly, nurdles. It is not the same as the microbead as we understand it in terms of what we are trying to address in this Bill. There is a new single-use plastics directive which includes provisions on labelling and directions for disposal. That requirement will be coming into law in all EU countries. We are looking at leave-on products. That is something we have committed to examine with our EU partners, particularly in light of some of the further complications that exist. Rather than waiting to resolve those complications, we know there is an immediate challenge in respect of microbeads. We know that they are doing damage. We have plenty of evidence for this and we now know how we can move very quickly to prohibit their use, ban them and, hopefully, eradicate them from the environment altogether.

In response to the question on when this will become law, once the Bill is passed by the Oireachtas I will not wait around because the industry does not need a lead-in time. Both the industry and the consumer are far ahead of us on this, so we can move to implement the law directly.

The derogation process is important. We have a three-month standstill derogation process to engaging with the European Commission whereby we show them what we are planning to do and it comes back with feedback on it. I will commence the derogation process now. When Second Stage is completed, we will go to the EU and state that this is what we plan to do.

If it has any major concerns, which we do not anticipate, it can come back to us and that will allow us to address them in time for Committee Stage, so we are not waiting to pass the Bill in its entirety and then seeking a derogation. I do not believe we would get it in place by the end of the year if we do that.

That also means that if a Member comes forward with a significant amendment it might risk us having to go back to the Commission to seek the derogation a second time. This is not to try to prevent a Member from getting into the weeds on this matter. I shared detailed copies of the legislation before it was finalised and brought to the Cabinet with Deputies who have shown leadership in this area so they would be well aware of what we are trying to do. I hope, therefore, there will not be amendments that might delay things unnecessarily. I believe it is probably prudent to seek the derogation now so we can meet the timelines as envisaged. With regard to the suntan issue, I said we are examining how we might address that on Committee Stage.

If I allow a question, will it give rise to a lengthy response? It probably depends on the question. The Deputy can put his question.

If I am not mistaken, when the Minister was referring to leave-on products I believe he could have been referring to what might loosely be termed "cosmeceuticals", where there is marketing of a cosmetic that claims to have a medical benefit. I am not sure if that is where he was going with this but there must be clarity on Committee Stage, notwithstanding the points he made about delaying the legislation. If we do not fully legislate for the abolition of microbeads or if there is any doubt about that in terms of passing legislation in the House in which there is a massive amount of exceptions, it defeats the purpose of the Bill.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak again, a Cheann Comhairle. It is important to point out that there is not a massive amount of exceptions in the Bill. What we are proposing to do with this legislation is more far-reaching than what any other member state has done. We are going further than others. We have that commitment and it is important to do that.

With regard to leave-on products, the composition of their plastic material in some instances is liquid polymer. There is a complication there. It is not as easily addressed as the microbead as we understand it. They also do not have the direct pathway as envisaged by the creation of the product in the first instance, so it is more complicated. What I was referring to was not cosmeceuticals, products claiming to have a medical benefit. It is more that I am trying to grapple with an understanding after speaking to some people about this who might use a certain product. Would that be banned when they depend on it for certain things? They are not medicinal and do not pretend to be medicinal. I do not wish to name the products, but that was the purpose of that. There is time to address this, but I will be seeking the derogation at this point and we will give as much information as we can to help the speedy passing of the Bill. Again, I thank colleagues for their engagement.

Question put and agreed to.