Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I would like to begin by saying how pleased I am that this Bill's parliamentary passage is beginning here in the Seanad and I look forward to a constructive debate on its provisions.

In just a little over five years the environment and its protection has risen from the position of "also ran" on the political agenda to the very top. Throughout the developed world, millions of people have come to accept the overriding importance of environmental issues. The sheer pace of environmental degradation in western industrialised society has taken many by surprise. In just a generation many countries have succeeded in turning clean rivers and green fields into industrial wastelands.

The full horror of unfettered and unregulated development became apparent when the Iron Curtain fell just over a year ago. In one province of Poland the number of cancer cases has nearly doubled in the past 12 years and over half of all children under ten years of age suffer from chronic illness.

Western Europe has been luckier. The EC in paritcular has been legislating to protect the environment since the seventies but much of this legislation is formulated in the context of ensuring that no further damage takes place in an already degraded environment.

The situation in Ireland is different from much of the EC. Luckily for us, heavy industry has passed us by and left us, almost alone in Europe, with a relatively unspoiled environment. Much has been achieved already in our efforts to protect and preserve this unspoiled environment. The Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, 1977 and 1990 and the Air Pollution Act, 1987, contain very wide-ranging controls for the protection of the environment. My Department are at present working on new legislation on waste to complete this legislative umbrella over land, air and water.

The 33 major local authorities in Ireland are charged with the implementation of this legislation and, by and large, they have performed this task well. Recently, however, difficulties have begun to arise.

Environmental protection in the area of licensing of new and existing development has become increasingly complex and specialised. It has become more and more difficult for each local authority to provide the expertise necessary to carry out their licensing functions. Problems of public confidence and the need for a more uniform decision-making process have made it clear that these functions should now be carried out by one expert body. The idea of an Environmental Protection Agency has been born out of the need for such a body.

When work on this Bill began, I had three priorities or essential characteristics which I knew the agency would have to have in order to be effective. They were: independence from Government, public authorities or any other interested bodies; power to carry out their functions effectively and transparency in all their decisions.

This Bill confers on the new agency all these characteristics and much more. What began as a simple idea for an agency to protect our environment has evolved, by necessity, into the most important and comprehensive legislation in the environmental area since the planning legislation of the early sixties.

Right from the very beginning it was obvious to me that this Bill was being formulated in an atmosphere of public disquiet about the impartiality of public authorities in their decision-making on often controversial developments. It, therefore, made little sense to retire into a vacuum to solve this problem, so I embarked on a process of wide-ranging consultations across both the public and private sectors. In addition to meetings with individual groups and receiving over 50 written submisions, a full day seminar was held this time last year at which I heard many different views on the role of the proposed agency.

The result of this admittedly long incubation period is a milestone in environmental legislation in this country. This Bill will allow the the establishment of a fully resourced, independent body with considerable powers to ensure the protection of the environment. The agency have a budget of approximately £8 million. Half of this annual budget will come from the redeployment of staff and from charges made by the agency. There will, therefore, be a net additional expenditure of about £4 million when the agency are fully operational.

The agency will be managed by a small executive board made up of a wholetime director general and four wholetime directors. The Environmental Protection Agency will have direct responsibility for the licensing, control and enforcement of specific classes of activities with potential for serious pollution. Examples of these would be chemical industries, mining or intensive agricultural activities.

The new licence will be integrated, encompassing controls on emissions to environmental media including air and water. Contrary to some public misconceptions in recent months, the licensing procedure provides for full public participation in the decision-making process, with provision for third party objections and oral hearings where necessary. However, instead of appealing to An Bord Pleanála, objections will be heard by the agency in recognition of the fact that no other organisation will have the same high level of environmental expertise which will be necessary to deal with the complex issues involved in particular cases.

The other main functions which the Bill assigns to the agency are those of: providing guidelines and back-up to local authorities and other public bodies concerned with the environment; co-ordinating environmental monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment, and co-ordinating environmental research.

The agency will also seek to promote the implementation of environmentally sound practices through a wide range of actions. These include involvement in the procedures for environmental impact assessment, promoting the conduct of environmental audits for existing development, the establishment of a labelling scheme for environmentally friendly products and services, issuing or approving codes of practice and specifying environmental quality objectives.

There is provision for a system whereby the Minister for the Marine will have to get the prior approval of the agency before issuing licences and other authorisations under marine legislation. The agency will also have an overseeing role in ensuring that drinking water quality, sewage treatment plant and landfill sites operated by local authorities meet the required standards.

If the new agency is to have the full confidence of the general public it must be tough, independent and fair in all its dealings and it must be seen to be so.

The independence of the agency is guaranteed by a number of important elements. First, the executive board is selected by an independent committee. The agency will also have an effective and expert staff and the freedom to act of its own volition. It will have sole and direct responsibility for licensing a wide range of activities and, lastly, it will be an offence under this Act to lobby any member of the board or employee of the agency with the intention of influencing improperly a matter to be decided by the agency.

The agency will have wide-ranging powers including the power to prosecute summary offences, the power to hold inquiries and publish reports on pollution incidents. It will have all the necessary powers and functions under the Air and Water Pollution Acts, for example, the power to seek a High Court injunction to prevent serious pollution. Finally, it will have supervisory power over the performance by local authorities of their functions relating to the environment. This includes power to direct local authorities to take specific remedial measures, or failing compliance to have these measures implemented and the costs recovered as a simple contract debt.

The public will be entitled under the Bill to access to all of the agency's monitoring data as well as monitoring data collected by local authorities on its behalf.

This provision on freedom of information is one of the most important. This agency belongs to the people. One of the main reasons for its existence is that the man or woman in the street can be happy that there is an independent watchdog, or guardian if you like, protecting the environment for all of us. The agency will only gain that level of confidence if it is independent and accessible to the public.

A detailed explanatory memorandum on the Bill has already been circulated to Senators. I intend for the remainder of this speech to highlight only the most important elements of the Bill. In my response to the debate I will be glad to clarify any other aspects of the Bill which Senators may wish to raise. Much of the detail of the Bill will of course be more appropriate to Committee Stage.

The text of the Bill, which has 109 sections and is in six Parts, can be summarised as follows:

Part I contains standard provisions of a general nature dealing with such matters as interpretation, regulations, offences, penalties and other housekeeping provisions.

Part II deals with the establishment, membership, staffing, financing and operational matters of the agency. It also provides for the formal dissolution of An Foras Forbartha and the transfer of its staff to the agency.

Part III deals with the functions of the agency.

Part IV provides for the establishment of an integrated licensing system to be operated by the agency for activities listed in the First Schedule to the Bill i.e. those activities with potential for major pollution.

Part V includes a number of general matters in relation to environmental protection including provision for powers under water and air pollution control legislation to be operated by the agency in addition to or in lieu of local authorities. It also provides for special reports and inquiries.

Part VI is a miscellaneous Part dealing with noise, improved access to information, control of genetically modified organisms and the increase of certain penalties under other legislation. These matters are not directly connected with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The First Schedule specifies the activities which are to be subject to licensing by the agency. The Second Schedule specifies existing enactments in respect of which functions can be transferred to the agency.

Both Schedules can be amended by ministerial order, subject to affirmative resolution of each House of the Oireachtas.

Section 19 provides that the agency will consist of a wholetime director general and for other wholetime directors. These will be appointed by the Government following selection by an independent committee for which provision is made in sections 21 and 24. This procedure is broadly similar to the appointment of the chairman of An Bord Pleanála and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The agency will be required to perform its functions as far as is practicable through a regional organisation and there is provision in section 27 for an advisory committee of 12 members. This committee will be empowered to advise both the Minister and the agency in relation to any matter, other than individual licensing decisions affecting the agency's function.

The agency will be funded by means of grants, by the imposition of fees for licences and by charges for services. A provision of £1 million has been included in the Department's Estimates for 1991 for the agency. This does not take into account whatever funds would be transferred to the agency in conjunction with the transfer of staff from other bodies for which budgetary provision has already been made.

The agency will be able to recruit its own staff under section 29 subject to whatever limits may apply as to overall numbers and grading. It is the intention to transfer to the agency the remaining hydrometric and regional staff of An Foras Forbartha, which will be formally dissolved under the provisions of section 32. Section 30 facilitates the transfer of staff of other bodies whose functions are transferred to the agency, subject to consultations between the bodies and the Ministers concerned. To enable the agency to become established and operational at an early stage the Minister may provide staff and services and there can be agreement for secondment of staff from other bodies to the agency under section 43. Finally, the agency may make arrangements under section 44 with other public authorities for the discharge of certain of its functions.

Overall, the agency will have a wide range of direct staffing and other options, for the discharge of its functions.

The agency will be independent from the Government, local authorities and vested interests in the performance of its functions. This independence is underwritten by the selection procedures for the appointment of members of the agency to which I have already referred, by the fact that it will be a corporate body separate from the Department and by its autonomous licensing role.

In the overall operation of the agency, it will also be essential that it should work within a broad public context and take a balanced view on the issues coming before it. Provision is made, therefore, for a system of general policy directives by the Minister; these will not compromise the independence of the agency in dealing with specific issues or cases. An example of the directive which could be given would be a directive, in accordance with Government policy, not to grant a licence for a nuclear power station. Directives must be published and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I will now deal with the functions of the agency in some more detail. With regard to its regulatory functions the agency will have direct responsibility under Part IV of the Bill for operating an integrated licensing system and for monitoring, control and enforcement of environmental criteria in relation to classes of activities with potential for serious pollution. The activities involved are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill which will be capable of amendment by ministerial order to cater for changed circumstances. The activities to be licensed by the agency are mainly those associated with heavy or largescale industrial processes but also include activities such as mining, peat extraction, the food industry and intensive pig and poultry rearing. The agency will have regard to the best available technologies not entailing excessive costs for preventing or reducing emissions and to the polluter pays principle when deciding on licence applications. The integrated licensing system will operate for the activities concerned instead of the system of separate licences and permits for air, water and waste as exists at present.

The concept of integrated pollution control is a relatively recent one and is, incidentally, also a central feature of the British Environmental Protection Act, 1990. It offers advantages both environmentally and administratively. Environmentally, it will improve on the previous system of separate air, water and waste licences by allowing all environmental impacts of a proposed activity to be considered in a balanced and integrated way when dealing with the licence application.

Administratively, integrated environmental licensing will offer developers the advantage of a one stop shop where all the environmental requirements of their proposal can be considered within a single statutory procedure. This simpler and more streamlined administrative arrangement also of course benefits.

Section 82 provides for a two stage public consultation process by the agency in relation to draft integrated licences, with provision for objections and, where necessary, oral hearings. This arrangement reflects the need for meaningful public participation while also facilitating the more speedy processing of licence applications. Any further appeal or application for review of a licence will be a matter for the courts.

Section 70 will enable the Minister to make regulations, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Marine, requiring the prior approval of the agency in relation to the environmental implications of activities coming before the Minister for the Marine for licences, permits or other authorisations. These could include aquaculture, dumping at sea and certain foreshore developments.

The agency will be empowered to investigate and publish reports on pollution incidents or other matters related to environmental protection if requested to do so by the Minister or on its own initiative. Formal inquiries by the agency, following consultation with the Minister or by direction of the Minister, into a pollution incident or any other matter related to environmental protection are also catered for.

Local authorities will continue to be extensively involved in environmental monitoring and control activities, and it is desirable that a mechanism should exist to guide standards of local authority performance and to encourage the consistent application of control procedures throughout the country.

Sections 55 and 56 give the agency general powers of advice and assistance in relation to local authorities. Section 60 provides for the taking of appropriate action by the agency if the environmental functions of a local authority are not being properly performed. Under sections 57 to 59, the agency will set criteria for the management of local authority sewage treatment plants and landfill sites and will have a general supervisory role in relation to local authority obligations for the quality of drinking water.

Under section 54, the agency will also have the right to provide advice or make recommendations to any Government Minister or public authority on environmental matters relative to their functions.

Under sections 69 to 75 the agency are empowered to influence and promote the use of environmentally sound practices in a wide variety of ways. The agency are given an extensive involvement in the operation of the environmental impact assessment procedure. In particular, this involves power for the agency to prepare guidelines on the information to be contained in environmental impact statements. Those preparing and assessing environmental impact statements must have regard to these guidelines.

Under section 71 the agency will be responsible for promoting environmental audits through the specification of guidelines and criteria for this purpose. Section 72 enables the agency to specify environmental quality objectives which must be taken into account by Ministers and other public authorities in formulating policy, setting standards or exercising their environmental protection functions.

The agency will be obliged under section 75 to establish an eco-labelling scheme involving the use of a special symbol on the labels of products or in connection with services which meet specified environmental criteria. Senators may be interested to know that the EC Commission has recently prepared draft proposals for a Community-wide eco-labelling scheme.

There is an increasing demand for reliable and authoritative environmental information and the Bill provides for a leading role for the agency in ensuring this demand is met. Sections 61 to 67 set out a range of relevant activities to be undertaken or co-ordinated by the agency.

The agency will prepare, publish and implement programmes for the monitoring of environmental quality including hydrometric data. Much of this monitoring will continue to be done on an agency basis by local authorities and other public bodies but will be subject to co-ordination by the agency to ensure that comparable and comprehensive data are produced. In order to provide a reliable supply of environmental information the agency will establish an analytical quality control programme and require laboratories which supply them with data to be properly accredited.

Open and accessible environmental information is the cornerstone of this Bill. The agency will be obliged under section 64 to facilitate public access to environmental monitoring results held by them. There is also provision for the agency to establish and maintain a data base on environmental quality. Finally, the agency will prepare state of the environment reports at least every five years and will be obliged to report regularly on their operations and activities.

The agency will have the role under section 68 of fostering and co-ordinating environmental research in Ireland. A well developed cohesive network of environmental research linked to environmental monitoring, both of which are to a large extent interdependent, will be critical to our ability to respond positively and efficiently to environmental problems in the future.

The agency will, therefore, co-ordinate environmental research and related programmes by public and other bodies and will prepare and publish registers of environmental research projects or operations. The agency will have power to carry out research directly, or through consultancy or commissioned work. The agency will, as a matter of priority, liaise with the EC Commission and other international organisations so as to secure maximum funding for, and participation in, environmental research work in Ireland.

Over and above provisions related to the new agency, the Bill deals with a number of environmental matters that are not adequately provided for by existing legislation such as noise, improved access to environmental information, the use of genetically modified organisms and the level of certain penalties in other legislation.

To effectively exercise such a wide range of functions the agency require strong powers. Offences under the Bill will carry the maximum penalties on summary conviction of £1,000 and/or imprisonment for six months, and on conviction on indictment of £10 million and/or imprisonment for ten years; fines on foot of summary convictions will be payable to the agency. These fines are of a magnitude sufficient to reflect the gravity of pollution as an offence and will act, I believe, as a deterrent to the enterprises or individuals who may be tempted to take the pollution option if it would result in a short term financial saving.

I am determined that the agency should not be seen as anti-industry. However, it will be pro-environment, and if that means anything it means that it will be anti-dirty industry, anti-dirty agriculture and anti-pollution of any kind.

This Government are committed to sustainable economic development. Essentially, that means that in the pursuit of economic development to meet the needs of the present generation we must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. I have no doubt that the greatest legacy we can leave to future generations is a clean, unspoiled environment because that is our single most important natural resource.

We do not have huge resources of oil or mineral wealth but we do have what is probably the cleanest environment in Europe, a natural resource which will never be exhausted if we take care of it. The decisions we make in future about what type of development we want in Ireland will have to take this into account. Much of our recent economic recovery can be attributed to industries which are dependent on a clean environment. Food and agriculture, electronics and tourism all depend for their survival and growth on a clean, green environment. Continued economic growth, I believe, will depend more and more on the perception abroad that Ireland is "environmentally friendly". It is no longer an issue of jobs or the environment. In the nineties it is going to be an issue of jobs because of the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency Bill is a radical and progressive step forward. It is truly legislation for the nineties. In safeguarding our environment, it will be in effect helping to safeguard our economic future. It is solid evidence to the wider world that Ireland and the Government are serious about preserving our unspoiled environment.

I look forward to a constructive debate in the Seanad and at a later stage to responding to many of the suggestions and queries which I am sure will come from all sides of this House. I look forward to a good debate and to the support of all the groups and Independents in this House on the general principles of the Bill now before us.

Where will the agency be located? There is no mention of Johnstown Castle. That is not mentioned in an otherwise excellent contribution.

(Interruptions.)

I agree totally with the Minister in that I have absolutely no doubt that the greatest legacy we can leave for future generations is a clean unspoiled environment because that is our single most important natural resource. Because of that I regret very much that this Bill did not come before the House much sooner. I regret that the Bill introduced in the other House by Deputy Shatter was not accepted by the Government. I contend the most effective way in which the Government might have proceeded at that time would have been to have amended that Bill if there were aspects of it with which they did not agree. I give this Bill a limited welcome. It is now 14 months since a similar Bill was introduced in the Dáil. I repeat, it was a pity that Bill was not accepted there. By and large, all of us agree in principle with the provisions of this Bill. However, we will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage which, hopefully, the Minister will be able to accept.

It is a matter of regret that a Bill such as this one was not introduced sooner. I understand that in Denmark the provisions of a similar Act have been in operation for over 20 years. Indeed we are lucky there has not been much more damage done to our environment because of the lack of a Bill such as this. We all recognise the damage done over the years by pollution of our fish stocks of one kind or another, some farm-oriented and some emanating from industrial sources. No democracy can tolerate such pollution.

This Bill is part and parcel of other legislation introduced in an endeavour to protect and improve our environment. One step was taken last year on the elimination or prohibition of the burning of bituminous coals in Dublin. That endeavour has been partly successful due to the weather we have had this winter. I should like to see us concentrate in all of our cities, towns and villages on the use of clean fuels whether peat, gas, or electricity. We must endeavour to encourage progress in that direction.

It is my hope that the provisions of this Bill will not be used by this or any future Minister in this or the other House as a shield of their failure to respond to environmental problems. It is important that responsibility for our environment should remain in the hands of the Minister who, in the final analysis, will be responsible for the implementation of such policy. For example, I would hate to see circumstances arise in which parliamentary questions would be refused on account of lack of ministerial responsibility. I would hate to see any Member of this House unable to extract such information for the same reason.

There has been quite an amount of pollution of our rivers, some perpetrated by semi-State and State bodies and local authorities. Very often this has occurred because local authorities were not allocated sufficient finance to carry out major sewerage schemes, build treatment works and plants. We must acknowledge that that position has not changed. I must cite the River Shannon which has been polluted to a very large extent by Bord na Móna allowing peat to drift in from their bogs, killing the fish life in large portions of the River Shannon, creating mud banks in certain parts of the river rendering it difficult for boating activities to be continued. Indeed, I have heard people in the boat business contend that some of their cruisers had run aground in such mud banks on the Shannon. A substantial amount of finance will have to be expended to redress this position, something with which the Government will have to grapple in the years ahead. I cite the example of the River Shannon, it being a river close to my constituency but I have no doubt that similar problems are encountered in other rivers.

Many of our rivers are polluted by untreated sewage being discharged directly into them or by sewerage works operated by local authorities because they have been allocated insufficient finance to come to grips with the problem. I have no doubt but that, as a result of the implementation of the provisions of this Bill, the Department of the Environment will be inundated by applications from every small town and village for sewerage schemes or treatment works of one kind or another simply to protect themselves from prosecution under its provisions. The only way in which local authorities can be assured of not being prosecuted will be to have an application lodged with the Department to update and modernise their treatment plants.

We have also witnessed our domestic water supplies being contaminated. Gigantic sums of money have been invested by this country in major water or group schemes subsidised by Departmental grants and funding from the EC in addition to a large contribution on the part of householders and taxpayers. It would be a tragedy if such water supplies were allowed to continue to be polluted. All necessary steps should be taken to prevent such recurrence.

I want to refer to a matter the Minister might address when replying. It has come to my knowledge that a sizeable amount of chemicals are used in many of our treatment works. Can the Minister tell us what, if any, adverse effect such chemicals can have on people's health. We know chemicals are used in dental care to improve the quality of children's teeth and for the removal of the discoloration of water.

After the Chernobyl disaster we became aware of the devastation it had caused all over Europe. Only at such times do we realise how vulnerable we can be in this country. I understand that tests are still being undertaken by the Department of Agriculture to monitor the effects of the fall-out from the Chernobyl disaster. Anything we do here in this direction is important but, unless it is part and parcel of an overall European package——

——we may well be defeated or frustrated in our aim to endeavour to improve our environment. In that respect it is my hope that the Minister and her Department would declare that over the next five years it will be their aim to have a common European environmental policy whether under the aegis of an environmental protection agency or whatever thereby ensuring that a disaster such as Chernobyl and its effects on Europe will not recur.

We are unfortunate in having almost on our doorstep the Sellafield plant which has caused much concern to many people here both on account of air pollution and pollution of the Irish Sea. We must maintain the fight to have the Sellafield plant closed down. It is located much too close to our shores. We should be mindful always of the dangers for us in the event of a repetition of the Chernobyl disaster.

What is needed is an overall environmental development policy rather than piecemeal planning, with one set of plans for one county and a different set for another. Public representatives travelling throughout the country over the past 18 months will have observed the different standards and practices being implemented from one local authority area to another. What is acceptable in one county might be classified as ribbon development in another. There are different attitudes among county councils, county managers and planning officers. There should be an overall plan in relation to our environment. The Minister should consider the possibility of trying to streamline planning between local authorities. The local authority of which I am a member have been very strict in relation to developments along national primary and secondary routes but the same stringent attitude is not applied by other local authorities. This is a great pity.

I do not for one moment suggest that we should identify one pocket of land for housing and herd everybody into it. Policy should be carefully planned and we should have a good mixture. We should try to retain as many rural houses as we can. Very often local authorities encourage people to leave rural areas to live in urban areas because it is easier to control urban local authority housing. That is a great mistake. If people want to live in rural areas, local authorities should be prepared to provide housing for them.

We hear a lot of talk from the Government about protecting our environment and the steps that have been taken. I regret that the Government have failed to introduce environmentally sensitive areas. We have them in the North but not here. It is a great pity that we missed the opportunity of getting assistance from the European Community by not having an area earmarked as environmentally sensitive. There are many areas throughout the country that would gain substantially from this classification. I know one area very close to me, Senator Fallon and Senator Finneran, the Shannon Valley, which should have been classified as an environmentally sensitive area some years ago and, unfortunately, it has not been. I appeal to the Minister, and the Department, to examine the possibility of defining environmentally sensitive areas throughout the country.

The Minister, dealing with finance, stated that it would cost £8 million to run the Environmental Protection Agency for a year and that it would only cost £1 million this year. That prompts the question: when does the Minister envisage this Bill becoming law? Will the Minister address that question when replying?

This agency will be as good as the people operating it. I would remind the House that four years ago we all became very conscious of a difficulty in Tipperary with regard to a major firm and landowner. The landowner, despite have appealed to all the State agencies, failed to get satisfaction although his stock were dying and his health was suffering. He went to the High Court and was defeated there and had to appeal to the Supreme Court before he won his case. We must ask, what great experts we have to monitor and control this legislation? We all know of the difficulties that family had trying to establish the problems this plant was causing to their farm enterprise and the health of the family. Had this family not won their case they would have gone bankrupt. Luckily they had the stamina to keep going and eventually justice was done. Perhaps the people who will be monitoring the work of this agency are the people in the Department of the Environment who were saying that there was no problem for this farmer and his family. That is a worry and the Minister when replying should detail what experts we have to monitor this.

I note that new matters have been brought under the control of the Environmental Protection Agency. One is peat extraction. What have the Government in mind with regard to peat extraction? Will this be a hindrance to the development of Bord na Móna? Will Bord na Móna have to go to the Environmental Protection Agency, or to some other private peat developer, to seek permission to utilise our bogs? I would like to hear the Minister's views on that. I find it difficult to understand why peat extraction should be included in the Bill.

We are talking about making £8 million available to put these provisions into operation. Over the past number of years legislation such as the Abattoirs Bill was passed, and the local authorities did not receive any finance to implement its provisions. That is farcical. One local authority spent £20,000 in excess of fees collected to fill a post last year. Local authorities cannot implement legislation where their finances are being reduced each year. We had a similar situation in relation to water pollution. Each year local authority funding is being reduced while additional legislation is being handed to them to be implemented.

Under this Bill certain functions will be given to local authorities but will they get the funding? If not, we are wasting our time. Local authorities will not be able to implement this Bill due to lack of funding. The Child Care Bill was introduced last year but the health boards do not have the money to implement its provisions. The nursing homes Bill was passed and health boards did not get a cent to implement its provisions. What is the point in putting through legislation if the money is not provided to implement its provisions? I hope the Minister can give an assurance that sufficient money will be provided to implement the provisions of the Bill.

Section 5 deals with the best available technology, not entailing excessive cost and the Minister referred to it in her speech. I would like to hear from the Minister how in God's name one decides on what is the best available technology, not entailing excessive cost. Who is going to decide that particular definition? I honestly think there will be a bonanza for lawyers deciding in the High Court what precisely that section of the Bill means. That is one section of the Bill that will have to be clarified on Committee Stage. It is wide open to various interpretations and I do not see how any legislation can go through this House with a section as vague as that. It will have to be clarified and made more specific.

In other sections of the Bill the Minister is referred to many times. Is it necessary to have the Minister referred to on so many occasions? What new legislation and what extension of powers is the Minister going to give? The Minister is referred to in section 6, again in sections 52, 58, 62, 69, 70, 76, 78, 79, 84, 90, 91, 98, 99 and 107. Is it intended that on a daily basis the Minister will be giving additional powers? Why is it so essential to have the Minister referred to in all of those sections? I find it difficult to understand and again I would appreciate if the Minister of State would deal with those particular sections.

Sections 19 and 21 deal with the establishment of the agency and the appointment of the director. Again it is a pity that the Minister did not follow the model laid down by Deputy Alan Shatter in his plan. It was much fairer and would have been along the lines of the appointment of the Ombudsman. There was a considerable reluctance on the part of the Government to establish this agency in the first place and certainly in my view there is a reluctance on their part to have it truly independent. I believe that our Private Members' Bill provided for the appointment of the director of the agency by way of Dáil resolution. We do not believe the procedure contained in section 21 relating to the appointment of the director general of the agency by the Government guarantees that the person appointed will be truly independent of the Government and we regret the removal of the role of the Oireachtas from the appointment procedures. It would be much better if the Oireachtas decided on the person to be appointed. We are particularly concerned by the provision contained in the Bill which allows the Minister for the Environment, by way of order, to change the personnel who can be appointed to the committee that it is proposed to establish to recommend to the Government names of the people who should be appointed either as director general or director of the agency. I appeal to the Minister to look at this section of the Bill again as I believe it would be much better if appointments were made under the procedure I suggested. Another aspect of the Bill is that nominating bodies must submit not less than four names for appointment. That is also a great pity because those bodies should be free to nominate the person, but nominating four really gives the Minister, whoever that Minister is, the power to select his friends or his people for membership of the agency.

Section 42 deals with the establishment of regional environmental units. Again I would like to know what is meant by a regional environmental unit. How many is it intended to appoint? Is it intended to appoint one for each county, one for each province, one, maybe, linked into each health board? What are the criteria for appointment? If we are going to have regional environmental units, we should spell out precisely what we have in mind. We should not again accept a section like that that does not clearly specify what is intended and I would appeal to the Minister to specify that when replying.

Control of water and sewerage is covered in sections 57 and 58. Of course, the control of drinking water is very important and should be continually monitored, but I know and I am sure the Minister knows of water schemes which are not up to standard either because of colour or because of contamination of one description or another. Yet the local authorities, many of whom have applied for funding to update and modernise the treatment plants or put in an additional plant, have not the funding from central Government to do it. Again it is ideal to express the wish and to set down the aims and targets, but we must be prepared to put the money behind it. I wish to point out examples where legislation some of which relates to the Minister's Department, and to other Departments was put through, although funding was not put through to back it up. The same story applies to section 58, with regard to non-treatment of sewage, thus creating major problems. My own local authority and others have had unfortunately at times, raw sewage making its way into rivers and into the Shannon.

Section 91 deals with fees. What precise level of fees are we talking about here? For example, what fees will have to be paid by a pig producer with 100 sows, which is not a very big unit? Again what fees will be paid in respect of a 100,000 poultry unit?

Section 103 deals with noise. How are we going to define noise? What are the criteria for it? After what length of time does noise become a nuisance under this section of the Bill so that a person can go to court or take whatever steps are necessary? The provision is very vague and to my mind has not been clearly set out. Peat development is also being brought in under this heading. Section 60 of the Bill deals with the performance and statutory functions of local authorities. That is getting back to a point I referred to earlier, that many of our local authorities have not got the necessary funding to redress the problems being created at present. Legislation was passed but no funding was provided for the local authority to carry out their functions under the provisions of that Act. We need clarification of what is meant in section 60.

I note in the First Schedule — in the paragraph dealing with intensive agriculture — that a broiler is deemed as a unit, a turkey is deemed as two units and a sow is deemed as ten units for the purpose of the Bill. I note also that under paragraph 7.4 of the First Schedule one could slaughter up to 300 cattle without having to get a licence — that is my interpretation of paragraph 7.4 — because each beast is deemed to be five units — and the Bill mentions 1,500 units. On the other hand, one could not have a 100 sow unit without getting a licence, or feed 100,000 broilers without getting a licence but one could slaughter 300 cattle. That is a contradiction. I would like the Minister to clarify that point.

I broadly welcome the Bill but regret that the Bill which was before the Dáil in December 1989 was not accepted or amended if the Government felt there were certain aspects of it with which they could not agree. I sincerely hope the Minister's, her Department's and the Government's aim and priority will be to ensure that in the years ahead there will be a single environmental policy for the whole of Europe because what we do here is simply one part of the whole picture, we must get all our European partners, in concert, to protect the environment.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this very important legislation. First, I congratulate the Minister on her personal input to this Bill. It provides for the establishment of a new agency and for improvements and additions to existing environmental controls on a number of activities. A part of the Bill also includes higher penalties in place of the present outdated penalties. I would also like to compliment Senator Naughten on his contribution. I think he was unfair to the Minister but time will tell. This legislation will go down in credit to the Minister because it is an outstanding Bill which provides a comprehensive legal framework for the establishment and operation of an independent agency. It will have a wide range of new powers and functions to improve the existing environmental protection arrangements.

I further welcome the statement from the Minister that the agency when established, will take over direct responsibility for licensing and controlling those developments listed in the Bill which can cause serious pollution. Most of us who are members of local authorities are aware of the serious situations that have developed over a period of years. We, in Kerry County Council, have a very serious dumping problem and no matter where it is proposed to site a dump, there are objections. We now find that we have to abide by certain EC regulations before we can decide on a particular dump. There is a great deal of money involved and as a local authority we are not in a position to expend such an amount at this time, but we have no choice in the matter.

The Bill also confirms that local authorities will remain responsible for issuing licences in the majority of cases, in particular those under water pollution legislation while planning control will continue to be a local authority responsibility. I would like the Minister to define "local authority". In the Bill it is defined as follows:

(a) in the case of the administrative county of Dublin, other than the borough of Dún Laoghaire, the council of the county of Dublin,

(b) in the case of the borough of Dún Laoghaire, the corporation of the borough,

(c) in the case of a county borough, the corporation of the county borough, and

(d) in the case of any other administrative county, the council of the county.

In my view it is unfair to exclude urban councils. I hope this can be clarified because, as a planning authority, they also should be included. The agency will co-ordinate the work of the many local authorities throughout the country dealing with environmental protection. They will ensure that the environmental protection action is cohesive and consistent and will encourage local authorities to continue to play a major role in relation to environmental protection.

I look forward to the agency establishing a good relationship with the local authorities. This is a must if the agency are to succeed, which I have no doubt they will. The agency will consist of a director general plus four full-time directors who will be appointed by the Government from candidates selected by an independent committee following public advertisements and formal applications. It is stated further that there will be a 12 person advisory committee to advise the agency and the Minister in relation to the functions and activities of the agency, and that these members will be appointed from representatives nominated by community, environmental, professional and other organisations. I would like to see the RTCs and many local authorities that have developed certain structures involved if at all possible. I have in mind Kerry County Council who have, over the past two years, developed a very successful laboratory which the Minister visited on 5 January 1990 when she attended a seminar in the regional college. That laboratory carries out basic tests on river water and drinking water for all forms of pollution. They can also measure the ambient air for sulphur dioxide, dust and other parameters. Tests include emissions from chimney stacks. They can also measure levels of sound. As I said at the outset, this has been done at considerable expense to Kerry County Council and they have a certain amount of expertise of which I would hope to see a new agency making use.

Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on the appointments and if possible specify the various groups involved. I would like to see cross country representation with regard to local authorities and RTCs. I would like to see committees based in each local authority area with representatives from the regional units, and availing of the expertise at local level.

As mentioned in the Bill, funding for the new agency will consist of Government grants plus fees and charges for other services. That is reasonable. The Minister has said very clearly that the overall cost would be in the region of £8 million, and I note in the Estimates for the current year for the Department of the Environment that a sum of £1 million is set aside. I would, however, hope that this would not lead to a further financial burden on the local authorities who are not in a position at this time to meet their present financial commitment. For this reason I hope the Government will guarantee sufficient funding for the efficient running of the agency as set out very clearly in the Bill. In the Bill there is provision for the agency to be given additional functions in the future. The agency will be fully responsible for regulations and control of activities which pose a high risk of pollution. It is also pointed out in the Bill that there are separate provisions for making certain authorisations granted by the Minister for the Marine, such as aquaculture and dumping at sea licences, subject to the approval of the agency.

Any conditions specified by the agency must be attached to the authorisation which finally issues where the Minister is concerned. I should like to point out to the Minister that planning applications, especially applications in regard to proposed industrial developments, will mean a further delay. Can a time limit be imposed? Could it happen that an intending developer would have to pull out?

The Minister stated that the new agency will be involved in every aspect of environmental protection and will have the independence and resources essential to ensure they retain public confidence. The agency's main function will be the protection of the environment and they will embody a specialised and centralised competence in environmental protection. I referred earlier to the fines which are substantially increased in the new Bill.

Part II of the Bill deals with the establishment of an independent Environmental Protection Agency, their organisation, structure, staffing and financial arrangements. The agency will have a full-time five member executive board appointed by the Government and there will be a separate advisory committee appointed by the Minister. I have referred to this point already.

Part III sets out the wide ranging functions of the proposed agency covering action functions, advisory and support functions, and overseeing and promotional functions. The Minister in his speech said the agency will be independent of the Government, local authorities and vested interests in the performance of their functions. I welcome this provision. No doubt this independence will be underwritten by the selection procedures for the members of the agency. If the agency are to retain the confidence of the general public they must be independent and fair in all their dealings, and must be seen to be so. With regard to decisions, I would hope they will be made available to the public, especially where appeals are concerned.

The agency are guaranteed to succeed as the executive board will be selected by an independent committee and, there is no doubt, there will be very effective and expert staff. The agency will have very wide powers, including the power to prosecute on summary offences, to hold inquiries and to publish reports on pollution incidents. These will be very important to local authorities, especially those who are very aware of pollution. Certain guidelines and back-up facilities will be available to local authorities and other public bodies concerned.

The Environmental Protection Agency Bill is a progressive step forward, It is good legislation which is long overdue. From a tourism point of view, our major boast has always been that our environment is clean and unspoiled. This Bill will guarantee the protection of the environment and the economic future of tourism. I again compliment the Minister on this excellent and comprehensive Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House; I think this is the first opportunity I have had to do so. This House is where she first drew parliamentary breath in a reasonably unpolluted atmosphere, and she is very welcome back here. I congratulate her on her commitment to the issue of environmental protection. I congratulate her on the Bill which, if it is not fair to describe it as a triumph for the Progressive Democrats over Fianna Fáil — I withdraw that as it is a bit naughty — is certainly a personal triumph for the Minister, and I am very glad that that is so.

The Bill will be widely welcomed, even if its emergence is somewhat belated as all legislation of this kind seems to be — más maith is mithid is the appropriate Irish seanfhocal. I am thinking, for example, of the Marine Institute Bill in which I had a particular interest and which went through this House a long time ago. That Bill took a very long time to reach the House and, as far as I am aware, it has not been fully processed yet and certainly is not being implemented. Therefore, I hope that speed will be of the essence in this case.

We are very glad that this issue has been forced on to the agenda in the front line of Government policy. One of the most important things to be said about the Bill is that when it is implemented it will no longer be left to fringe groups to promote environmental protection and it will no longer be the sole conscience of certain parties to promote the issue of the environment. That will be a very good thing. Indeed it will be the concern of all of us to make sure that this Bill works.

As the Minister said, there are obvious historical reasons that this country was slow in coming to terms with the general issue of pollution. We were fortunate in one respect, if not in other aspects of our history, that we really did not have to worry about pollution for a long time. We took it for granted that our rivers always sparkle, our fields would always be green, instead of, as we discovered to our horror in recent years it was our rivers that were becoming green — and that the air would always be pure. That perception or time lag of the hazards of modern life was understandable in historical terms and maybe it is understandable why we were rather slow in coming to grips with the issue.

The agency to be established must, above all, command respect. They must command respect for their powers, their scientific expertise and their political or, if you like, non-political credibility. That respect will be the essence of the agency. They must be seen to be above suspicion and any political pressure. As I said already, the agency when established, will cut out the role of the self-appointed moral guardians of the environment. On the one hand this will certainly reduce their importance and on the other will diminish the somewhat nefarious activities of the industrial cowboys.

Senator Naughten criticised the Bill in very great detail, in such detail that he, if I may say so anticipated the Committee Stage in many ways. I would like to confine myself to more general points about the Bill. The first thing to hope for is that this essentially enabling legislation will quickly take on the flesh of regulations and directives. Unless it does so, and does so soon, it will not have that credibility we all wish for. We are, as usual — and I think Senator Naughten implied this also — lagging behind other countries in this respect.

It seems that what I might call the board of directors will be the essence of the agency. The board comprises the director general and his fellow directors. They are the nub of the whole matter. Whatever resources are allocated to the agency, and no matter how expert the back-up advisory committee, they still are not as important as the core of the matter. The committee after all is just that, an advisory committee, but the essence will be the board, if I may call them that. I think Senator Naughten, and perhaps Senator Mullooly, already suggested that the great danger is that the director general and his fellow directors will not be able to deal expeditiously with applications. That is vitally important unless they can in some way delegate the applications. I hope that inner structure is good enough for the decisions that have to be made. What remains unexplained, and it was not made any clearer in the Minister's speech, is the general relationship between the agency and the local authorities. That relationship remains uneasy. On the one hand the agency are envisaged as the allies, co-operators and advisers of the local authorities. They are fellow-adventurers in monitoring pollution and so on. On the other hand they are envisaged in other parts of the Bill in a rather different role from the local authorities, as the policemen, the monitors, the watchdogs. Sections 58 to 60 make it clear that the agency are going to keep a very sharp eye on the local authorities and, we may echo, rightly so in view of the fact that the local authorities have been considerable transgressors in this whole matter.

The question remains: how is this uneasy relationship to be resolved and will it in practice give rise to conflict between the two areas? If there is an uneasy relationship in the matter of the general ratio of the two bodies, it seems in the particular matter of functions there is also an overlap or a duplication. Speaking purely as a lay person in these areas, I ask in all sincerity, are the processes of planning as we have known them up to now and licensing as we will experience it under the new agency to be dovetailed? Will their functions be simultaneous in time? Will they be planned so that one will not lag behind the other? If the agency work as intended, they may well undermine the local authority in the matter of planning.

The Minister has explained in her speech that in the matter of appeals the licensing procedure provides for full public participation, with provision for third party objections and oral hearings where necessary. She said: "However, instead of appealing to An Bord Pleanála, objections will be heard by the agency, in recognition of the fact that ...". I take that to mean that if a licence is refused or indeed granted, an appeal may come from either the environmentalists or the industrialists, and that appeal will go to the agency. Are the agency then their own appeals body? I am not quite sure about that. Are An Bord Pleanála still the appeals board for planning? Are the agency to supplant An Bord Pleanála where the licences are concerned and are An Bord Pleanála still to be the appeals board for planning? Perhaps there are very obvious answers to these questions but I would like to hear them. I would like to have the whole matter of the appeals system clarified and to hear what are the relevant functions of An Bord Pleanála and the agency.

Are the agency powerful enough — we all agree they should be — in the range of their brief? Instead of saying, if necessary the agency will be given further powers and further functions, I would like to see some of these functions spelled out in the Bill. For example, there is the matter of looking after the living environment, the flora and fauna. There is reference in section 4 (2) (c) (i) of the Bill to plants and animals, but it is only an incidental reference. I would like to see the agency to be given specific functions in the matter of protecting the living environment, the flora and fauna.

As I understand it, we in Ireland have entered into various conventions for the protection of plant and animal life, but they remain conventions and they are not part of the domestic law. They do not compel us to preserve the habitat in the way they should. As Senator Naughten very properly pointed out, the habitat and the whole environment transends national boundaries. We have sad experience of that from Sellafield, but it applies also to the wider European environment. Although I have never been known as a great European, there is certainly a case here for maximising co-operation between our environmental efforts and what is or what should be happening at European level.

There is reference in the Bill to a liaison between a particular European agency and this country, but I understand the agency in question do not really have any power. They are just a co-ordinating body, perhaps a talking shop rather than something corresponding to a federal environmental protection agency. I would be happier first if the agency had a more specific brief as far as flora and fauna is concerned and, secondly, if that brief had some real application which would transcend a purely national level. As I have said already, I would like the agency to be given more functions in that regard. Perhaps sections 52 and 53 provide for the extension of the powers and functions of the agency if that is seen to be the proper course.

To come back to the independence of the agency and of their officials, reference has been made already to the necessity to have a director general and fellow directors who would be seen to be above suspicion. I think it was Senator Naughten who referred to the selection process in this regard. We should make that process as water-tight as possible. Again, I congratulate the Minister in this connection in striving to ensure that the appointments are made in a very impartial manner, a manner which is not influenced by the prejudices of the selection committee who are a kind of assessors board.

Section 21 (2) deals with the composition of the board. I understand this provision is more or less taken from the way in which the officials of An Bord Pleanála are appointed. I notice there is a committee of six people, one of whom is Secretary to the Government and one Secretary of the Department of the Environment. There is also the Managing Director of the IDA and the General Secretary of the ICTU. They are four people out of six who, it is fair to say, could be described as conservatives in this regard, people who would not, environmentally, be very adventurous, and who would not be dying to preserve the environment as distinct from being very anxious to bring in industry and so on. The secretaries of the Government and the Department of the Environment would not be where they are today if they were not conservative people, that goes without saying. The managing director of the IDA, while he may not obviously be guilty of industrial pollution or anything of that kind, we know from the cases he has to make that he is on the other side, so to speak. He is the third person. Naturally the concern of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to maximise employment. I, personally, have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. If I had to state where I stood in the matter of the environment versus industry — though as the Minister very properly said, there should not be that kind of contradiction — I would have to say I am an employment man.

I understand that point of view but, at the same time, I am looking at the composition of the committee, and I suggest that there are four out of six there who will say that the man to be appointed must not be airy-fairy in these matters and that he must have a proper concern for industrial development and so on. We have two more — obviously by profession the chairperson of the council of An Taisce will be an environmentalist and I am not sure where the chief executive of the Council for the Status of Women will stand in this regard. Maybe I am invoking an imaginary scenario. Nonetheless, there should be a better way of composing this selection committee. I certainly would have that criticism of the Bill. I agree with Senator Naughten that I do not think it guarantees the kind of independence we are looking for that the final power of selection should be left to the Minister and the Government. It is not too fanciful or too outlandish to suggest that the name of this most important official in this most important Act should be brought before the Oireachtas, as I understand is the case in the nomination for Ombudsman. I support Senator Naughten that there should be ultimate Oireachtas approval for this kind of appointment. I am not too happy about that particular section of the Bill.

I very much welcome the dimension of public input and access to information. We must all be very happy about that, especially since it goes against the conservative grain, as it were, to put that kind of guarantee of access into a Bill of this kind. The Minister is perfectly right; the thing will not work unless that kind of participation by the public and knowledge by the public is built into the Bill because that is also part of the credibility of the agency. I welcome this open door approach to environmental information. It is a great step forward that we should have access to information, including results of environmental impact assessment and reports on specific incidents. All that strengthens the public right to know. I wonder if that is somewhat at odds with the provision on confidentiality in section 38. I may misunderstand that; it may be that confidentiality has a very narrow meaning here but it seems to extend to many people who have to keep their mouths shut about privileged and confidential information. Is putting that in really necessary? Is it the Official Secrets Act mentality, the censorship mentality, the closed doors mentality? Is it really necessary? At the back of our minds we have the suspicion about people closing up records and putting them under lock and key and so on but in the area of environmental control the maximum information is necessary. That may well conflict with the guarantee of public access.

Besides, there is a curiosity in the Bill — and I speak entirely as a layman — in section 9 which specifies these properly formidable fines. I only hope that they are serious, that they are not like the £800 fine that was supposed to be imposed for dropping litter in the streets. I hope that £10 million will not remain a dead letter. Section 9 (i) (b) says that a person guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £10 million. I am not being totally facetious, Minister, when I ask if this draconian provision is applicable to those who break secrecy under section 38 because they are persons guilty of an offence under this Bill? If that offers an opportunity for mischievous exploiters of this loophole, then it should be removed.

I welcome the introduction of licence and service charges as well as the payment of court fines to the Environmental Protection Agency. It is a move towards the principle of "polluter pays" which is very welcome. Of course, that policy reduces the financial burden on central and local Government at the same time and allows a greater percentage of budget allocations to be spent in environmental protection and monitoring, the purposes to which they should be devoted, which is a good thing.

The two previous Senators spoke about adequate resources. There is not much more to be said on that. The Minister has quoted a figure here, which I accept, and obviously Senator Naughten is right in saying that the agency will not work without adequate resources. It is an insult to the Minister's intelligence to labour that point any further. Staffing, as well as resources, is important and I hope the whole business of staffing will not be a long drawn out process. I greatly fear that this could be one area where the operation could be held up. I read somewhere — maybe not in the Minister's speech — that the summer of this year was mentioned as a date by which the agency could be up and running. That is very optimistic, but I hope there will not be any great delays in the staffing process.

Finally, I welcome the Bill's strong and wide ranging powers and would like to again emphasise that its effectiveness depends on the independence of the agency, particularly of its chief officer, the director general. Its effectiveness also depends on adequate budget allocation, staffing and resources and, of course, the fleshing out of the Bill itself, with the necessary guidelines and regulations.

I compliment the Minister on parts of her speech. Generally, speeches we are presented with in this House tend to be pretty predictable and rather boring, but I was struck by the Minister's philosophy of environmental protection in which she says it is no longer an issue of jobs or the environment in the nineties, it is an issue of jobs because of the environment. I wish I had thought of that first. That is a very good and striking way of putting it. I am glad the Minister said she is determined that the agency should not be seen as anti-industry. I fully subscribe to those statements of philosophy on the Minister of State's part.

As I have said already, I could hardly be described as an environmentalist. I remember getting into trouble on a "Questions and Answers" programme a couple of years ago, in the context of an argument about Sandoz in Cork Harbour — the Minister of State does not need to be informed that we in Cork are particularly pre-occupied with those arguments about the environment — when I confessed myself as satisfied with what I had heard up to then of the case being made for Sandoz. I went to the briefing they gave to the local authorities and was impressed by what they said. On the "Questions and Answers" programme I said: "Yes, I am for Sandoz coming to Cork Harbour". There was some talk from the audience about smells which they had endured — it is an area where I walk quite a lot, down around Passage and Monkstown — and I pointed out that life is not entirely odourless. I may say that I received at least two letters promising me that two votes were gone for that statement.

We should be prepared to put up with a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience, provided it is no more than that, if it does guarantee employment. That is where I still stand. As Members of this House may know, I have frequently advocated the benefits of developing tourism. I am particularly strong on the dimension of hill walking and that kind of thing which remains untapped as an aspect of tourism. Therefore, in the end I must be an environmentalist in that regard but the Minister of State's point is very well stated. I greatly and enthusiastically welcome the Bill and wish her well and the Bill great success.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, to the House. We all agree that the Environmental Protection Agency Bill represents the most important development in environmental protection the country has ever seen. It underlines the Progressive Democrats' unique record of achievement in the area of environmental protection——

As no one else is saying it, I might as well say, "hear, hear".

Following the ending of the planning compensation scandal and the smog problem, the introduction of this Bill marks a third decisive achievement on the environment by the Progressive Democrats in Government and we are only 18 months down the road. While others in the past talked about the need for action on the environment the Progressive Democrats have delivered.

The Bill should be welcomed as it marks the first comprehensive move away from environmentalad hoc-ery and strikes a balance between industry and the environment. I am happy that it has been warmly welcomed by organisations such as Earthwatch, on the one side, and by the Confederation of Irish Industry on the other. It has a wider significance than the structure being put in place. It is responsive legislation which is built on the real concerns of people. That should not be under-estimated.

Just a few years ago many people saw environmental damage as a juggernaut rolling over people which was unstoppable. The smog problem in Dublin was a very obvious example. People could not see one foot in front of them and there were people on trollies in casualty wards who could not breathe. It seemed as if there was no solution to the problem. We had smoke control zones but that did not lead to the problem being controlled as there were vested interests eager to explain that nothing much could be done in the short term. However, the Government, through the determination of the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, took clear and courageous action to ban bituminous coal and, in the process, gave us back the sky at night. As the Minister stated, this resulted in an improvement in air quality this winter of up to 80 per cent in some parts of Dublin. We now have air fit to breathe and a city fit to live in. The Minister of State has also stated that very few decisions made by the Government recently have had such a dramatic and positive effect. To put it another way, it is amazing what "a temporary little arrangement" can achieve if we put our minds to it.

The Bill, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, are a continuation of the direction set, perhaps in a small way at first, by the ban on bituminous coal and the beginning of a system to ensure that environmental justice is not just done but is seen to be done. That has not been the public's perception up to now.

We often talk about our educated young people but people of all ages are well informed and are sceptical. The protests which have been mounted to prevent the placement of chemical plants in particular areas have not been either ignorant or naive. Given that we live in a global village, aware lay people not only know the poisoning of the Rhine but many of them can name the companies who have caused the poisoning. The general public have experienced a total lack of faith in the forces of environmental law and order during the past few years. The rules and regulations might have been there but the will and the competence to enforce them was missing.

The general reaction was that any industry which used or generated toxic materials had to go somewhere else. That was called the NIMBY syndrome — not in my backyard, thank you. We have already seen this operated internationally. For instance, ships carrying questionable waste were shunted from port to port and people in Ireland began not to trust industry. They said, "we do not trust the methods used at present for monitoring and control and until something changes radically we will not have particular types of industry in our area". Nothing could be more dangerous to our industrial base than this progressive loss of faith in industry and in the semi-State bodies controlling the environmental behaviour of industry.

We need to make that clear. Indeed, the Minister of State stated this today. This is not an anti-industry Bill, it is proindustry and will create the framework for industrial development in the nineties and will give environmentally responsible industries a chance to prove that they are environmentally responsible. In recent times many industries have been concerned that they will find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion, not because of anything they have done but because of the practices or problems of other companies in the same or related industries. The Bill will change all that.

The new agency will identify rotten apples in the barrel and prevent the contamination by them of law-abiding companies with a commitment to excellence. Law-abiding companies with a commitment to excellence will welcome the Bill because it is structured to make more coherent and comprehensive the entire interpretation of environmentally related rules and regulations here. The EPA will be a unified, cohesive and effective agency with responsibilities in the areas of licensing, monitoring, control and enforcement. Furthermore, from my reading of the Bill, it will function in the real world of industry and business. Phrases like, "the best available technology" have been utilised to ensure that what will be required of industry is realistic at the time but flexible enough to allow for constant improvement.

One aspect of the Bill worries me a little. Some attention has been paid to the size of the fines which may be levied — Professor Murphy touched on this briefly — but these are and must be seen as indicators of just how serious we are about implementing controls. I feel a little like the apocryphal passerby who, when asked for street directions by motorists, has a problem in giving them and who eventually says, "if I was going there, I would not start from here." If we are to retain and enhance the marvellous environment we have in Ireland this will not be achieved by admiring the scale of punishment meted out to those who will not abide by the rules. That is starting at the wrong place. By that I mean that those whose operations fall within the EPA's ambit should not look at the agency only as a policing authority to be specified by minimal obedience to the rules, or, in other words, obeying the letter but not the spirit of the law. If industry, agriculture and local authorities were all just to keep out of trouble by obeying the rules and doing no more than that, we might just about be able to maintain our current situation, but we should be able to expect more than that. This Bill highlights the opportunity we have to take on more responsibility for ourselves.

I have spoken to this House previously about waste. We are running into a problem at the moment because, individually and collectively we are generating incredible amounts of waste. At the same time we are questioning — even opposing — the provision of further landfill sites to accommodate that waste. We are not only running out of space to cope with our waste but also running out of willingness to have such dumps near us. Ultimately this problem has to be solved. It is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. I look forward to the new legislation on waste on which the Department are working at the moment. The EPA will have an input on toxic waste and on waste improperly disposed of, but we have to have much more than that. Industry needs to save itself money by reducing the amount of waste it generates. Individual shoppers need to become more ruthless about the amount of packaging they are prepared to pay for, knowing that this packaging must at some later stage either be burned, using up energy and adding to greenhouse gases, or be disposed of in some other way that costs land and the energy to transport it to the disposal site. I hope, therefore, that industry in particular will not think the lowest common denominator is appropriate for this Bill. It is too important and has a far greater significance than that.

The EPA can help us to hold up our heads internationally. They can help us get a grip on the worst of our environmental problems and can change the time frame so that we are preventing disaster rather than mopping up after it. In that sense the EPA will give us a base line, a foundation. Environmentally friendly industry and environmentally concerned agriculture will build on that base line and go much further than meeting its bare specifications.

Let me refer to the make-up of the groups who will advise the director of this new agency. Senator Murphy has referred to this in a different context. The point has been made repeatedly that women are under-represented on our State boards. Therefore, I welcome particularly the appointment of the Chief Executive of the Council for the Status of Women to the committee for the new agency. Women have played a strong, assertive part in the environment movement and this is quite properly acknowledged at this time. I would like other Ministers to take the lead from this and to acknowledge women's contribution by appointing more of them to State boards.

We will have the opportunity on Committee Stage to go through the various aspects of the Bill. Once again I want to say how much I welcome this Bill. I congratulate the Minister on her pioneering work and her approach in inviting input from so many interested and disparate groups in the formulation of the Bill. It displays an openmindedness which should be appreciated, and I hope it will mean the workings of the agency will be understood and supported by not only all those groups but all sectors of this society. The Minister has given us a chance to get our act together environmentally speaking. I hope we use it to the full.

In general I welcome the Bill. It is good and has many desirable aspects. The idea behind it is excellent. I thank the Minister for facilitating the introduction of the Bill in the House and, of course, I thank Senator Fallon who did tremendous work in organising the introduction of the Bill here.

Regarding the organisational structure of the Bill, I share a good deal of the concerns expressed by Senator Naughten about the independence of the members of the board. I accept that the organisations nominated to select these people are independent but I see no great reason why those organisations simply would not be allowed to nominate one person rather than having to nominate four and continue, therefore, to give the Minister a choice as to who should be on the board. If independence is the first priority then I would have thought that the nomination of the people who are going on to the board would be left to the organisations just like that.

It is rumoured that the agency are to be located in County Wexford in Johnstown Castle. In many ways that is a worthwhile suggestion. Johnstown Castle has a long and very good tradition in agricultural research. Some of the finest agricultural scientists that the country produced made their names in Johnstown Castle, for example, the late Dr. Tom Walsh and the present Director of Teagasc, Dr. Pierce Ryan. A very large body of expertise is at present located in Johnstown Castle in County Wexford and it will be very appropriate if the agency is located there.

I agree with the Minister that the environment in Ireland is by international standards very clean. We also have an image of having a clean environment in Europe. That is a very valuable asset and it is vital that we leave no stone unturned in seeking to protect that reputation. That reputation is an accumulating asset and, I think that as the years unfold, it will be worth much more than at present. Many of the powers of the Bill relate to things like recommendations, producing codes of conduct and advising the Minister and local authorities. These things, while very desirable in many ways, have no legal force. The legally enforceable aspects which will have a direct impact on the environment seem to come in relation to the licensing powers defined in the Bill.

In relation to the environmental impact assessment I would like to see the Bill expanded considerably. The agency should have definite powers to make input into environmental impact assessments. They should have power to veto certain developments. They should have power to veto certain projects that the organisation itself consider to be deleterious and unacceptable for the environment. The agency should have a much greater role in planning. They can be reined in by the provisions of section 76 of the Bill wherein the Minister can give policy directives to the agency. The agency may not be absolutely obliged to accept those policy directives, but in the real world there is no doubt that those policy directives will determine what will and will not be done.

The powers of inspection are confined to offences committed under the Bill. I see no great reason why it would not be desirable that these powers of inspection be expanded to cover the whole range of problems with the environment, for example, problems under the planning code, the Wildlife Act and so on.

The cultural environment is not dealt with at all in the Bill. It has been completely left out of the picture. For example, the protection of historic monuments and listed buildings is not at all enhanced by what is contained in the Bill.

Of course, the provisions of the Bill will not apply to existing industries. That is a pity. I would like to see a transitional period whereby the provisions of the Bill would cover the activities of existing industries say, perhaps, over a transitional period of two or maybe even five years.

There are no provisions for appeal against the decisions the agency will reach. That is unacceptable to large numbers of the public. In Ireland we are very anxious to have the capacity to appeal against decisions of various planning organisations, and I would like the Minister to reconsider that so that people who feel aggrieved and dissatisfied on either side of the case can appeal. They should be accommodated in that regard.

I am disappointed there are no criteria laid down in respect of oral hearings and the circumstances in which such hearings will be held. Some guidelines should be established as to the circumstances in which oral hearings can or cannot be held.

The penalties outlined for offences committed are comprehensive: for example, a fine of £10 million is a large amount of money even to the biggest organisations but I would contend it is an unsophisticated way of dealing with the problem. I should like to see the Environmental Protection Agency having the capacity to order polluters to remedy the problems they have created and to clean up the damage done by their pollution. I should also like to see the agency play a role in the formation and development of environmental policy by them establishing clear criteria and standards rather than guidelines. The agency should have a wider role in ensuring the adequacy and acceptability of environmental monitoring.

Many of the provisions of the Bill will be dependent on Ministerial regulations and orders being made. For example, extra functions of the agency, including the adoption of international obligations, will be dependent on Ministerial orders as will the setting of effluent standards; general environmental monitoring programmes; information on environmental impact statements. There will be various regulations to be made, in conjunction with the Minister for the Marine in relation to aquaculture, dumping of waste at sea and so on. It is to be regretted that general policy directives will also be dependent on the making of Ministerial orders. The obligation on agencies to consult the Environmental Protection Agency will also be dependent on the making of Ministerial orders as will procedures for application of review of licences, changes in relation to emissions, standards and so on and the payment of fees to the agency. It will be seen that a large number of the provisions of this Bill are indeed dependent on the making of Ministerial orders.

That dependence raises a number of questions, the first of which is will the agency have the capacity to cope if all such orders are made rapidly? The second question that arises is whether there will be a temptation in certain circumstances for the Minister to refrain from making such orders when it may not be politically suitable for him to do so. There are also a number of matters of considerable concern in relation to the funding of the agency. First, it is desirable that the agency would have the capacity to generate their funds, allowing them to be independent of Government. One concern arises therefrom, which is that if in some circumstances the agency is run inefficiently, it could be contended that, in a way, we are giving them a licence to be inefficient because they can strike their own fees and then continue to perpetuate that inefficiency indefinitely. I do not know whether there is an easy answer. I suggest the costings of the agency should be compared with those of their internatonal counterparts and that some costings be undertaken on the basis of unit costs.

If the agency is to be effective we are talking about a very large investment in our environment. I have read through the environment programme published around this time last year. From a quick perusal I observe that that programme contained commitments to spend something of the order of £1,000 million over the next ten years or so. If that investment is not carried through the whole programme will be defeated.

With regard to the BATNEECs and so on, it would have been my wish that the Minister would have left it at that, in other words, that the agency would operate on the basis of the best available technology. There are a number of reasons for that, one of the most important being that, when things go wrong, when pollution problems arise, ultimately it is the public, the ordinary taxpayer, who must pick up the tab. Therefore it is a pity it was not left to the best available technology rather than BATNEEC. It would be my concern that this may well provide lawyers with a field day because the definition of "best available technology" is open to a wide range of interpretation. For example, one of the definitions talks in terms of the technology being suitable for the purpose. I wonder who will ultimately determine whether a given technology is suitable for the purpose? That will be very much a value judgment. It would be my fear that those types of value judgments will be made by the courts involving excessive legal costs and may also provide people with a means of delaying decisions and so on.

There is reason to be concerned about the matter of finance to be invested or expended which is the key issue here. I believe there are problems being encountered already in relation to the water and air pollution Acts because of inadequate finance having been made available to police the implementation of the provisions of those Acts. I predict problems arising in relation to how the new agency will relate to local authorities in that the latter may well find themselves being prosecuted or pursued by the new agency for not having fulfilled all their obligations in relation to environmental matters. Of course the reason such local authorities may be unable to fulfil those obligations may well be lack of finance from Government. That would appear to me to have the makings of a delightful environmental Catch-22 situation.

I would be anxious that the results of the monitoring of environmental activities, analyses and so on be made available to the public so that they would not be dependent on regulations and orders being made by the Minister. I would be anxious also that data relating to public organisations and private companies likewise be made available to the public. I should like there to be a mandatory waste audit to determine where waste emanated and where it should be disposed of. There should also be an obligation, where appropriate, on companies to carry out research on reducing the amount of waste they generate, obliging them to attempt to produce a cleaner environment by the investment of an appropriate amount of money in research and development.

The final point I want to make is in relation to the possible unconstitutionality of section 82 (8) in that it has been suggested to me that the two months time limit on seeking a judicial review of a licence may be unconstitutional. I believe there are precedents relating to an earlier judgment on the part of Mr. Justice Costello in relation to a case heard in 1987 which would give one reason to believe that that may be a possibility. I would request the Minister to have her legal advisers review the position in the context of that judgment to ensure that the provisions of that section are not deemed to be unconstitutional.

This Bill to establish the Environmental Protection Agency has been hailed by critics of official policies, groups like Earthwatch and An Taisce, as an important milestone in environmental protection. The fact that it contains 109 sections and two Schedules is evidence of the amount of work that has gone into its preparation over the past 15 months or so. It is clear that without the personal commitment and tenacity of the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, the legislation would not be as impressive as it is. This does not mean that it cannot be improved and I am sure the Minister will be the first to admit this. I know the Minister will welcome constructive debate on the provisions of the Bill and I am sure that worthwhile amendments will be taken on board.

I am impressed with the Minister's determination to ensure that from the outset the EPA will be independent of the Department of the Environment and of the Government. Without that independence we would have a revamped version of An Foras Forbartha. It is generally agreed that if the EPA are to be effective in restoring public confidence in the monitoring and control of pollution they must be independent. This independence has been assured in the Bill by the adoption of an arms-length approach, similar to the approach to An Bord Pleanála, by the Minister in the appointment of the EPA director general on the full-time board.

The EPA will have regard to the need for high environmental standards and sustainable development. The principle will be that the polluter will pay. They will have to achieve a balance between the need to protect the environment and the need for infrastructural, economic and social progress and development. This legislation is clearly marking the agency's cards in striking a balance between what could be seen as conflicting objectives. The argument as to jobs versus a clean environment will always follow in a debate on the environment. Jobs are vital but the question to be asked is, do we want jobs at any price? Do we want jobs at the price of air pollution and the pollution of rivers and lakes? We must move very slowly on this. Indeed, the Minister in her address this evening made the point that the Bill is not anti-industry, but pro-environment.

Apart from regulating pollution from a range of industries both existing and proposed, the EPA will have sweeping powers to supervise the environmental protection role of local authorities even to the extent in some cases of taking over their functions. In this respect it has become a sort of bureaucratic busy-body type of scheme, different to An Bord Pleanála who have performed in a relatively passive way. That will be one of the big differences between An Bord Pleanála and the EPA.

It is vital that good relations exist between local authorities and the agency for the success of the scheme. One of the problems we always run into where local authorities are pursuing polluters, is ensuring that local authorities are not polluters. In Athlone, and in many other parts of the country, we have had raw sewage going into the River Shannon while the council were suing polluters in other parts of the county. Local authorities have a very important role in the success of this Bill. The Bill which has a comprehensive range of proposals affecting public authorities, industry and so on, requires detailed examination.

The Bill can impose huge responsibilities, without control and unspecified costs on sanitary authorities. I would be very interested to hear from other Senators their interpretation of the liability of elected councils.

The new agency will be directly responsible for licensing and the control of activities in areas affecting a total range of economic activities and will significantly affect the current role of local authorities. On close examination of the wide powers and functions of the agency, and the ideals contained in the Bill for the protection of the environment, I find some difficulty in appreciating how a central body can effectively perform at arms length from the problem areas. That is one of the worries I have about the Bill. I am sure the provisions can be implemented; time will tell. I am sure the Minister will address that when replying. That is a reservation I have about the control over local authorities and the resultant costs to the agency in relation to many aspects of the proposed activities.

I will be asking questions on various sections in order to get clarification and information so that I can have a greater understanding of the role, functions and effectiveness of the agency as it affects our lives and activities.

Section 3 indicates that:

"local authority" means——

(a) in the case of the administrative county of Dublin, other than the borough of Dún Laoghaire, the council of the county of Dublin,

(b) in the case of the borough of Dún Laoghaire, the corporation of the borough,

(c) in the case of a county borough, the corporation of the county borough, and

(d) in the case of any other administrative county, the council of the county,

Why exclude urban district councils? It does not seem right that Westmeath County Council, for instance, should have to answer for Athlone Urban Council, when at the moment the urban council provide services of an environmental nature to approximately 10,000 people in the environs of the town.

Section 4 includes, in the definition of "environmental protection", the term "preservation of the quality of the environment". This latter aspiration should be defined to avoid some group seeking a direction in the courts at a later stage.

Section 5 speaks of not entailing excessive costs to acquire best suitable technology to prevent, limit or eliminate emissions. Who is the best gauge of excessive costs, the agency, the public, industry or the courts? I am aware in my county of a requirement of the council to have a local industry instal equipment which cost £1.5 million, to reduce emissions from a factory. It must be said that remedial work like this costs money. This reference should be further clarified.

Section 8 refers to offences by the body corporate and lays down that the guilt can extend to the director, manager, secretary and so on. This means that under section 9, a county manager or county secretary because of delays outside their control in dealing with this Bill could find themselves in very serious trouble if not in jail. If the neglect is a consequence of unwillingness by a council or its staff this can then reflect on its manager or secretary. Section 9 outlines pretty harsh penalties.

The proposed agency comprises of a director general with four full-time directors and an advisory committee of 11. It is recognised that the expertise of the director general of the EPA, and of his other full-time directors, will be crucial to the success of the new agency. It has been suggested to me that the person be head-hunted at home and abroad. If this is what has to be done to get the right person for the job, this is what should be done. As I have said, this will be the key person to this whole operation.

The advisory committee consists of 11, seven of whom will be nominated by community, environmental, professional and other organisations. I do not know what groups will be eligible to nominate to the advisory group. In so far as the other four are concerned I assume the Minister will have the power to appoint the balance. I suggest that local authorities, through the General Council of County Councils, should have some members on that advisory committee, perhaps two, three or four. I would make a very strong plea for members of the General Council of County Councils to be nominated to this important advisory committee which has a very important role to play. The functions of the advisory committee are listed in section 28, and are very impressive. It is their duty to make recommendations to the agency and to the Minister.

Section 29 deals with staffing. Redeployment will take place but will the transferred staff from other public agencies be on contract or what will the terms of employment be?

Section 40 refers to the appointment of committees and consultative groups. It can be said, however, the Bill is silent on the make-up of these groups. Section 42 establishes regional environmental units for the performance of functions handed down by the agency. No reference is made as to how these units are to be selected and what areas of the country they will cover.

Section 44 refers to agreements between the agency and public authorities and that entry into such an agreement by the local authority shall be a reserved function but the section does not mention who ultimately has the legal responsibility for delivering the service undertaken in the agreement. The functions of the agency are referred to in section 51 which states:

(1) (a) "the licensing, regulation and control of activities for the purposes of environmental protection;

(c) the provision of support and advisory services for the purposes of environmental protection to local authorities... in relation to the performance of any function of those authorities,

(2) (a) keep itself informed of the policies and objectives of public authorities whose functions have... a bearing on matters with which the Agency is concerned;

(d) ensure, in so far as is practicable, that a proper balance is achieved between the need to protect the environment and the need for infrastructural economic and social progress....

This is very important. The EPA should not be operating aloof from the political realities of life. It is vital that the agency at all times keep themselves fully informed of the policies and objectives of the relevant authorities notably the EC and the Government.

Section 55 states:

The Agency may, and shall when requested by the Minister, give information or advice or make recommendations for the purposes of environmental protection, to a local authority or to local authorities generally in relation to the performance of any of its or their functions.

It is noted that regard shall be paid to such information, advice or recommendations.

Section 57 states that the agency may require a sanitary authority to submit such information as required, "about the monitoring of the quality of water... pursuant to the European Communities (Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption) Regulations, 1988," and (b) "The agency shall carry out, cause to be carried out, or arrange for, such monitoring... to verify information" submitted by local authorities. It is encouraging that an annual report will be provided to the Minister and that each report in turn will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 58 (8) states:

The agency shall, from time to time, prepare and publish reports on the quality of effluents being discharged from plant, sewers or drainage pipes.

That is very important because we are not preparing enough reports to be made available to the public.

Section 59 refers to the landfill sites. I have a particular interest in this section. It refers to site selection and design. It goes on to make the point that local authorities shall carry out such monitoring in connection with the management or operation of the landfill site as the agency shall direct, and results must be sent to the agency who must verify the results. The agency from time to time shall publish reports on the management and operation of the landfill sites and include recommendations. The Minister knows that Westmeath County Council recently engineered a landfill site at Athlone to serve the town and the entire south Westmeath area. It was engineered in such a way to meet all known international and EC standards at a cost of £1.25 million. That is a huge cost to meet the environmental standards of today. While the State meets fully the capital costs for water and sewerage schemes it is strange that no grant is available for solid waste management. Consideration should be given to grant-aid landfill sites as constructed to the standards that are required by EC directives and now by legislation. The type of landfill site we have in Athlone should, I believe, have qualified for a grant. I know the Minister intends to look at this site. Should she get an opportunity to be in Athlone she should examine this because it is a very fine engineering feat.

Section 60 states: "Where the Agency is of opinion that a local authority has failed to perform a statutory function... in relation to environmental protection ...the Agency may request a report ...from the authority...". It states that having considered any report of the local authority the agency may issue such advice and recommendations to the local authority or provide assistance or support on terms to be agreed. It goes on to make the point that any of these directions shall not be given unless the local authority has the necessary funds to comply with the direction or those funds can reasonably be made available by it.

Section 60 (3) (c) states:

The agency shall not give a direction ...unless the local authority, with due regard to its other statutory functions, has the necessary funds to comply with the direction or those funds can reasonably be made available by it.

I ask the Minister to confirm that this exemption applies to all dealings of the agency with the local authorities, particularly under sections 58, 59 and 65. The question of the environmental impact assessment has taken on new importance in recent years. Section 69 refers to this item and goes on to indicate that the agency may and shall, if directed by the Minister, prepare guidelines on information to be contained in the environmental impact statement and the local authority must have regard to the guidelines in considering any environmental impact statement submitted. The Minister may require a copy of an environmental impact statement to be sent to the agency. The agency may make a submission to the local authority on statements submitted and the local authority must have regard to such observations or submissions. The agency shall, subject to terms being agreed, provide assistance to a local authority in relation to the assessment of an environmental impact statement. The local authority must consult the agency and regard must be had to their views on the different points and particularly in relation to the environmental impact assessment regulations under the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act. The agency can exercise general supervision over the monitoring carried out by local authorities in this area but what effect will this have on the role of sanitary authorities? How can a centrally located agency effectively police the workings of so many authorities?

Section 71 is important in that it seeks to implement environmental audits and this is to be commended. The intention to organise to promote, to assist by conferences, seminars and lectures will highlight the importance of such an audit and help to minimise the impact of any project on the quality of life. Under the provisions of section 72 the intention to prepare guidelines setting out environmental quality objectives will assist all development bodies to undertake their function in the light of the best information.

Sections 101 and 102 cover special reports and investigations into circumstances surrounding any incident of environmental pollution and can arrange for an inquiry. What role, if any, will the sanitary authorities play in the future management and control of its functional areas and, more importantly, from whom will the public and the elected members seek information and satisfaction?

Obviously much of this Bill is more suited to Committee Stage during which I anticipate a very lively debate because there are many queries which will obviously be answered by the Minister. I appreciate the importance of our environment and the necessity to maintain our high standing all over the world. The provisions of this Bill set the standards to be maintained. I will listen carefully to other contributions and particularly, I would be interested to hear the contributions of local authority members who are members of the Seanad and would like to be assured that there will not be any overlap between the duties and responsibilities of sanitary authorities and the role and function of the new agency.

As in so many other countries the environment in Ireland is coming under increased pressure. This has led to growing public demand for the application and the strict enforcement of environmental protection standards based on the best available technology. It is clear that unless local groupings and local communities can be assured that such standards will prevail, the attraction to Ireland of industry and modern industrial plant in particular localities will become increasingly difficult. It is clear also that there would be advantages for industry, as well as for the environment, in the application of standards on a uniform and consistent basis across country and in the existence of a mechanism in which there would be full public confidence in monitoring and enforcing compliance with standards.

I welcome the Bill. As I indicated there have been queries which will be answered by the Minister on Committee Stage. A good environment is an incentive to attracting good industry; it is good for tourism and it is good for our way of life. As the Minister said, it is evidence that we are very serious about preserving our unspoilt environment. Other speakers have suggested locations where the agency might be situated. I come from Athlone, a most progressive town in the centre of Ireland, a town that this year celebrates its third centenary year and it would be a major boost for the town if it were selected as the venue for the agency.

I think it is true to say that environmental issues will play a prominent part in national and international political debate in the last decade of this century. It is therefore particularly appropriate for us in Ireland to begin the decade with this Bill. Whatever the arguments about the relative merits of the various proposals, this Bill will provide us with a basic framework for much pollution control well into the next century. The Bill has six Parts, 109 sections and two Schedules covering much territory but they are united in one goal, a safer and cleaner environment.

The Bill provides,inter alia, for the establishment of an environmental protection agency and an integrated pollution control licensing system in respect of a very wide range of activities contained in the First Schedule to the Bill. Tying together these provisions are common threads. There is encouragement for individual citizens to act to protect their environment not least through improved access to environmental information. There are greater powers of enforcement and tougher penalties for lawbreakers. This Bill must be seen in the context of the adoption by the European Community in 1987 of the Fourth Environmental Action Programme, a programme which is to run for the six year period 1987-1992. That programme emphasises that environmental protection has a central role to play in the whole corpus of community policies and that environmental protection needs to be taken into account as a fundamental and basic factor when economic decisions are taken.

In putting forward the fourth programme the European Commission expressed the view that the establishment of strict standards for environmental protection was no longer just an option but had indeed become essential, thus the need for high standards of environmental protection has become an imperative and an economic imperative at that. The fourth programme of 1987 was pre-dated by two events of considerable significance in the development of the community environmental policy. The first was the recognition by the European Council of Ministers in March of 1985 that environmental protection policy can contribute to improved economic growth and job creation. The second event was the decision of the European Council of Ministers, on the recommendation of the Inter-Governmental Conference, to propose the inclusion in the amended Treaty of Rome of a charter on the environment. That decision was a plain recognition of the need for a developed Community environmental policy at the heart of the Community's other policies.

Articles 130r, 130s and 130t of the Single European Act are, of course, particularly and immediately relevant to the environment. In addition, the Treaty recognises that environmental protection actions may be important for the achievement of the Internal Market. The thinking and approach of the European Community to environmental policy is well summarised in the following statement contained in the Fourth Programme of the Community, and I quote:

Community environment policy is entering a new and crucially important phase. With the agreement of the Governments of the Member States to the amendments to the Treaty of Rome contained in the Single European Act, the Community has given a new status and impetus to its environmental policy.

The European Council has underlined that environmental protection can contribute to improved economic growth and job creation; and it has called in stronger terms than ever before for the integration of environmental requirements into the economic, industrial, agricultural and social policies implemented by both the Community and its Member States.

It was Lord Clinton Davies, European Commissioner charged with responsibility for transport, the environment and nuclear safety for four years, who said during the passage of the British Environmental Protection Act, legislation similar to that which we are now considering, and I quote:

Environmental policies go to the heart of what today's European Community is all about. It is not only about market refining; it is about society improving.

It is, of course, only recently that we have seen most important and indeed one could say utterly remarkable changes affecting the development of environmental policies throughout the world. Until recently the environment was regarded as largely the interest of the slightly eccentric. Happily, that view has changed very drastically. I believe there has been a massive change in the perception of the environment and its importance.

The driving force for this change, however, has not been Governments but the public throughout the European Community and indeed the world at large, a public who have become more aware, more concerned and more determined that the environment should be defended and protected. That public is much more sceptical of experts, some of whom had been very patronising over the years. Yet, on so many occasions these experts have been proved wrong. Unfortunately, Chernobyl illustrates tragically and vividly that pollution does not stop at frontiers and that international and global action is required on an increasing scale to deal with regional and global environmental problems.

The environment is today at the very top of the political agenda in most civilised countries. It is right that that should be so and that it is the case in this country also. A very useful check list for all environmental legislation is the Fourth Environmental Action Programme adopted by the Council of Ministers in 1987, together with the principles as set out and adumbrated in the Single European Act. The first guiding principle is designed to prevent irreversible damage to the environmental heritage of the 330 million people in the European Community. That principle involves tackling pollution at source, underlines how much more desirable is the anticipation of problems rather than crisis management and appreciates how costly crisis management can be. Of course, there is the principle enshrined in the Single European Act that environmental requirments must be an essential component of all other policies, particularly transport and energy policies and such vital issues as vehicle emissions and emissions of sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.

As other speakers have said 1990 will certainly rank as a milestone year for environmental management here in Ireland. In January 1990 an environment action programme, EAP, was published by the Department of the Environment and all those associated with the publication of that document deserve credit and congratulations. I think it is also true to say that Ireland's Presidency of the European Community provided an opportunity and a stimulus to secure support both in this country and internationally for such a programme. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill was published in December 1990.

With regard to the EAP, I welcome in particular the decision of the Government to ensure that stringent standards for drinking water which are set by EC directives will be fully and consistently met in all areas in the country and that in the ten year period from 1990 to the year 2000 up to £300 million will be spent on new improved water supply schemes. I would also like to warmly welcome the decision by the Government to eliminate by the year 2000 all pollution of inland waters by sewage discharges and also the decision to eliminate untreated discharges of sewage from major coastal towns in this country. These decisions will involve, respectively, the investment of some £230 million and £400 million over the coming decade.

The environmental impact assessment system is mandatory in this country since 1 February 1990. Requiring formal studies of the environmental effects of major categories of development and requiring that such studies should be publicly available, the EIA system will ensure the fullest consideration of environmental issues in the making of decisions about major industrial proposals. The new environmental protection agency will have an important role to play in this process.

The basic purposes of the Bill are set out in the long Title. These are to make further and better provision for the protection of the environment and the control of pollution; to establish, as has already been said, an environment protection agency, and to increase certain existing monetary penalties. The Bill is divided into six Parts and two Schedules. I should like to join with the other Senators in paying tribute to the Minister of State for the enthusiasm and dedication she has shown in ensuring that this Bill is, first, so comprehensive and, secondly, that she has facilitated, in conjunction with the Leader of the House its introduction in the Seanad.

Part I deals with the question of interpretation and definitions and it introduces the concept of BATNEEC which requires the application of the best available technology not involving excessive costs, as is indicated in section 5. However, the problem with BATNEEC is that it could too readily be interpreted as putting cost above environmental protection. When this concept, which is not new, was discussed in the House of Commons and the House of Lords a much more simple and clear concept, the idea of the best practical environmental option, BPEO, was suggested by Lord McIntosh in the House of Lords. This phrase was also used by the Minister who introduced the Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Hesketh, when he introduced similar legislation there in May 1990. Section 9 of Part I gives a strong warning to polluters who mess up the environment.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.