I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this Bill and hope it will get adequate hearing in the time available to us. I sincerely hope that no effort is being made to rush this Bill through. I am glad the Minister took the trouble to go into detail in her presentation of the Bill here last week.
The danger of pollution occupies all our minds. In all areas of life today our great fear is that whatever product we are using will affect, to some extent, amenities or other products which are there for our use and enjoyment. I must comment on the efforts now being made by the Minister for the Environment to clean up the countryside. Many of us in this House and in the other House have been emphasising the need for such efforts for a number of years. Some local authorities made little effort while others made a great effort to clean up their areas and make them less objectionable for these who have to live in or pass through them.
The Minister's efforts will assist in some way with regard to lowering the amount of air pollution. This Bill is intended specifically to deal with the problem of air pollution which, thank God, we have had very little of to date, but who knows what the future holds in that regard? Here I would sound a note of warning for fear that the present Minister or indeed any future holder of the office would rush into measures unnecessarily. It is one matter to be prepared for something that might happen but it is another to jump ahead of the happening and take measures that might prove to be unnecessary and which might cause hardship. I will deal with that later.
First, I will deal with the built-up areas of Cork and Limerick, the larger towns and, of course, my own city of Dublin. Much can be done to reduce the amount of air pollution in and around Dublin which is probably the area most likely to have a rise in air pollution in the future. We have not paid sufficient attention over the years to this problem and I regret that Dublin has never examined the possibility of an underground system of transport. If we had an underground system it would make a major contribution to cleaner air around our streets and in and around our houses. The greatest problem with air pollution is not from our houses or from industry but from the traffic on the streets. If there was an underground transport system in the city, not only would it help improve the traffic problems but it would also help in having cleaner air.
I am reluctant to be too critical of a public body who give to the best of their ability, a public service. I refer to CIE but I have to fault them in their contribution to air pollution. I do not have to illustrate to anyone in this House the amount of pollution one can witness coming from the exhausts of buses when stopped at traffic lights or in traffic. Of course, other vehicles also make a contribution to this and steps have been taken in the recent past to reduce the amount of pollution from vehicles run on petrol. I had occasion last winter to leave this House at approximately 8 p.m. and go to St. Stephen's Green to wait for a bus to Terenure. I could not get away from St. Stephen's Green quickly enough. It is not the worst location in the city to be standing at a bus stop nor is 8 p.m. the worst time but it was as bad a polluting air as I would ever want to witness. If there were buildings on the other side of the street it would have been even worse.
I regret having to say that CIE have made very little effort to reduce the pollution coming from buses. A number of taxis also contribute to air pollution. While the majority of taxis are well run and serviced, some vehicles are run down to such an extent that they give off pollution into the air. The people of Dublin deserve better than that.
The rapid rail system from Bray to Howth has made a contribution to reducing air pollution. I regret that we have not made greater progress with regard to the provision of a similar rapid rail system from Tallaght to the city centre. If we are to have an extension of the rapid rail system, Tallaght has been ear marked. It has been investigated and CIE have issued a lengthy report. They have indicated that they would be prepared to go ahead with this development if the finance was made available. I urge the Minister to make this finance available. It has been pointed out in other reports that it would be uneconomic to extend the rapid rail system because the one now in operation operates through the most densely populated area. To extend the service to the county, where the density of population is far less than on the eastern side of the city, would be uneconomical. I am not saying that such a rail system should pay. If it is possible it should but are we to measure the economics of it in that way?
If it made a major contribution towards reducing air pollution, consideration should be given to providing such a system even if it meant subsidising it. If air pollution increases it will cost money to eliminate it. A recommendation has been made to make the polluter pay. I am in favour of that but it is not always possible. Where there is a combination of factors polluting the air, it would be very difficult to apportion the amount of money one should pay towards eliminating that pollution. I do not regard air pollution here as a serious problem because of our low density housing and the spread and nature of our industry. With a little care we will never reach the limits laid down by the EC.
No attention has been give to the development of open spaces or spaces available within built up areas where trees could be planted. Attention should be given to the type of trees planted in such areas. Other countries such as France and Germany, give particular attention not only to the quantity of trees planted and where they are planted, but also the type of tree they plant. Trees can reduce air pollution and indeed reduce noise. We do not pay enough attention to this kind of development.
It is interesting to note that in recent times air pollution in my own area, Tallaght, has decreased. I received a report today where the EC limit of 250 microgrammes per cubic metre for smoke is determined in two ways: if the returns show readings in excess of 250 microgrammes or more on more than three consecutive days or if the returns are in excess of 250 microgrammes on more than 2 per cent of the days sampled in any year ending 31 March, the year April to March being the standard year for the purpose of this calculation throughout the EC. It is worth noting that the annual average in the Tallaght area shows no pattern and, in fact, decreased in 1985-86, having increased in 1984-85 as against 1983-84. The factors contributing to this decrease should be examined. Is it as a result of the fall-off in industry? It cannot be said that the people in the area have burned less fuel as there are far more houses occupied in Tallaght this year than there was in the years when air pollution increased. Despite the increase in house occupation, the smoke volumes in the area have decreased.
I am fearful that the powers that would be given to local authorities would enable them to take unnecessary action. I cannot find anything in the Bill to prevent a local authority, on the advice of an engineer, from taking action where it is not necessary. The Minister should hold a rein at all times on the actions to be taken by the various local authorities. While we all have great faith in our professional staff and in the collective action of local authorities, it sometimes happens that a pressure group in an area would draw attention to a problem, in this instance air pollution, and could influence, say, an engineer or those who are responsible for monitoring air pollution. They in turn would report to the local authority and outline action that would be necessary, in their view, but which might prove to be totally unnecessary.
There is great fear among the manufacturers of fireplaces and the suppliers of fuels for open fires that action may be taken in the future. I hope that the Minister will ensure that whatever powers are given to local authorities, this kind of action will only be taken if necessary. There is a high labour content involved in the provision of fireplaces and fuels for open fires.
It has not been proved to any great extent that there has been an increase in air pollution. The reverse is the case especially in Tallaght where we have had an increase in population and in house occupancy. Despite this the air pollution for last year, when we had one of the worst winters as far as burning fuel is concerned, has decreased. If open fires make a significant contribution to the polluting of air that should have happened in Tallaght. As is outlined in the report, there has been a decrease in pollution in that area. The Minister should allay the fears of those engaged in house building and say, that no action will be taken irresponsibly. He should tighten up the regulations within the Bill to ensure that no crazy nut will put before a local authority a report which would be so convincing as to have that local authority take measures that are not necessary. It should be borne in mind that if such an action were taken, a lot of hardship would be caused to many families who rely for heat on open fires.
A few years ago we attempted to build houses without open fireplaces for whatever reason — perhaps to save the housewife from dirtying her hands, or indeed the husband for that matter, when cleaning out the fireplace — but that was a mistake. Hundreds of houses in the Dublin area were built without fireplaces. It was discovered later that the people could not live in them. An open fireplace is not only desirable but is necessary to give adequate ventilation.
There are bodies who lobby to try to convince people that air pollution is getting out of hand. Of course we all want to keep the air clean and ensure that the air we breathe does not contain pollutants. We want to have as healthy and as long a life as possible. Unfortunately we get pressure groups who are well intentioned but who, perhaps as a result of reading articles in newspapers — I do not have to elaborate on how newspapers can escalate these items in telling us that certain things are going certain ways and when the poll is taken it goes directly the other way — get hysterical about something that might never happen.
It is important that we do not take action to have a smoke-free zone where it is unnecessary. They are in existence in other countries where the density of population is far greater. I hope we never get to a stage where we have to ask a family to close up their fireplace or to buy a house that has not an open fireplace within it. As a public representative for Dublin south and Dublin south-west, I have had my fill so far as houses built without open fires are concerned. I do not want ever again to see houses being built like that. I say this because of the discomfort the lack of a fireplace causes to a family, in terms of dampness and so on. Many of these families living in the Dublin area, who are living from week to week, pay for their fuel as they have been paying for it for years, that is, on a weekly basis. If we force them to use other means of heating their homes, by oil or gas, for instance, where they would receive monthly or quarterly bills, they will never forgive us for it. Many of them could not rise to that. Every care should be taken to ensure, not only that the air of the country and city is pure, but that we do not come down on the housewife, the householder or the family living within the city or indeed in the sprawling suburbs in a way that would be unfair to them.
It can be suggested that there is a direct relationship between air quality and industrialisation. It might be no harm to go further into the monitoring of the air in my own area where, despite a reduction in industry, and an increase in the population we have had a reduction in air pollution.
I would like to see — and this has been suggested in the Bill — that there would be three year reviews. I hope that whatever regulations are laid down in this Bill will be reviewed from time to time by the Government because if we arrive at the situation where a local authority are being pressurised by some group, however well intentioned, there is a likelihood that action might be taken causing some severe hardship on some citizens that would be proved to be unnecessary.
I do not know if it is intended to finish this Bill in this session, but I hope not. I hope that many other Senators who are prepared to make a contribution will be given the opportunity to do so and that adequate consideration will be given to all aspects of the Bill. There are a number of other items which I would hope to deal with on Committee Stage.
I hope that when enacted this Bill will leave us prepared to meet any EC directive, though I do not believe that we will ever be at the stage where these directives can be called in. If we take reasonable action now pollution of the air here should not rise to such an extent that we would be looking at these EC directives. Hopefully, we will be looked upon as one of the cleaner air countries. We have a golden opportunity to take reasonable measures to ensure that our air remains as clean as it is. We do not have any near neighbours with heavy industries. There is no activity near our shores or our boundaries, as might be the case in other countries in Europe, that we might fear. We are in an adequate position to protect our air, to ensure that we never have a serious problem and that consequently there will be no need to get excited about the whole matter of air cleanliness.
There has been reference to the acid rain problem. We have a report in that regard before us. Again I do not see any reason for getting excited about this problem either because to date we have not had acid rain to any great extent. If it was there at all, it was scarcely noticeable. Unlike other continental countries, we need not have any great fear on that score. However, I am glad to see the report and to note its warnings so that we can give some attention to this question and be prepared for acid rain should it ever come our way.
There are other aspects of the Bill which I hope to deal with at a later stage but I will and on the note of thanking God for the clear air we have and by urging all concerned to approach this problem with a reasonable attitude to ensure that should the unforeseen happen, we will be prepared for it. In the meantime, let us not lose our cool or cause any unnecessary hardship to any section of the community.
I hope the Minister will give some attention to the hard words I have had to say about CIE because I will be repeating them on another appropriate occasion. I hope that some corrective action will be taken by CIE in this matter of pollution because I believe they are today the greatest polluters in the city of Dublin. I regret to have to say that but it is my honest opinion and it is a conclusion that I have not reached lightly.
I hope that the Minister for the Environment will give some consideration to providing an extension to the rapid rail system and give us that line to Tallaght which would help in giving us clearer air. I hope the Minister will give some attention also to giving us an underground. Many people may say that Dublin is too small for an underground, but there are smaller cities in Europe with undergrounds. Oslo is one that comes to mind. An underground system has been recently installed there. I would see an underground here as making a major contribution. If we can sort out the traffic problem then it will be easy enough to deal with pollution from domestic sources and from industry.
Having said all that I would be prepared to admit that there are some people in the industrial area — some cowboys whom I am not going to mention here, but they are quite well known to those who are interested — who have been moving from one site to another salvaging material which has been encased in plastic or rubber. These people work indiscriminately from one area to another. As the local authorities make chase or threaten to take them to court they pretend they have gone out of the business but merely move on, mostly to the mountain areas, to burn the plastic or rubber off other materials that are encased therein. They are causing great pollution of the air.
This kind of operation should be stopped and should be stopped pretty quickly. The Minister may, of course, say there are regulations whereby it can be stopped but I say they are inoperable. When these people are threatened with prosecution they move on and in a few weeks time they start burning this material in another area. Ninety-nine per cent of industrialists are responsible people who would be prepared to meet local authority requirements with regard to reducing pollution of the air. People engaged in the building industry and in the manufacture of fireplaces are reasonable people and would be prepared to meet the local authority or anybody authorised by the Minister to investigate ways and means of reducing pollution caused by smoke, which, in my estimation, is not polluting the air to the extent that some sources have claimed in the past.
I ask the Minister to take note of my remarks regarding the Tallaght figures and to get those figures from the local authority so that my point can be proved. The vast majority of people engaged in any industry where there may be a risk of pollution are reasonable people and are prepared to take some measures and go to some expense to ensure that the air is kept clear. Those people are living here and they want clean air just like the rest of us. I ask that there be full consultation with all interested parties, manufacturers and indeed with the building industry to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to reduce the pollution in the air. Without this consultation no severe action would be taken by the Department of the Environment to ensure that a local authority would not take unreasonable action.