Like other speakers, I have great pleasure in welcoming the Minister to this House and complimenting her on having introduced this highly complex, lengthy Bill. I am pleased it has been introduced in the Seanad and that we are being given an opportunity to give it the consideration it deserves. It must be heartening for the Minister to hear the compliments from all sides of the House. There are no Members who do not believe that its introduction was the result of the Minister's input, tenacity and determination. I should like also to compliment the Progressive Democrats on their input, in having made it a plank of their participation in Government that there would be a commitment on their part to an environmental protection agency.
Having said that I would add that the Bill is somewhat overdue. When the Government opposed the Fine Gael Bill brought forward by Deputy Shatter, the Government promised that the agency would be in place before the end of 1990. I notice that the same promise was contained in the environment action programme — that as a matter of urgency the agency would be established with a view to having it in operation in 1990. I regret the delay because we cannot afford to be complacent.
I am sure the Minister was assisted in her endeavours by the fact that at the time of the last election the electorate made it clear they were concerned about the environment and about pollution. We saw the election of the first Green Party Deputy to the Dáil, Deputy Roger Garland. Indeed many of the other Green candidates did extremely well, which showed the determination of the public to bring home to Government, to the powers that be, their wish to have clean air, water and soil in this country. Ireland has had a very clean, green environment. I suppose one could say it has been the envy of our European partners. Sadly, in recent years that image has rapidly changed in that in some quarters we have destroyed our image as a very green country. Indeed in her introductory remarks the Minister made the point that the situation in Ireland was different from that of many of our EC partners because, luckily, we had avoided heavy industry; it had passed us by, leaving us almost alone in Europe with a relatively unspoiled environment. I suppose the word "relatively" could mean anything, but because heavy industry did pass us by to a large extent, we should examine what are the factors that have led to our rapidly deteriorating environment. Later in her remarks the Minister said that recently difficulties had begun to arise, the Minister having given a little pat on the head to local authorities on their having performed well. I do not suppose everybody would agree with that but I will come to that matter later. It is some time since those difficulties began to appear.
I always take the view that a clear environment primarily is something we want to have for our wellbeing, selfrespect and health. Of course there are other factors, one being tourism and the image of our country with regard to tourism. The number of tourists who visit this country is a major economic factor, and we must ensure that they continue to perceive Ireland as — somebody described it — the daylight playground of Europe. That is what we could be but I have heard it said that the nearer tourists get to Ireland the less they perceive the green image; the further away they are from it the more Ireland is thought of as green. I suppose we have done quite a bit to foster that image ourselves by way of the good policies and advertising of Bord Fáilte. But very often when people spend a holiday here they go away with a rather different picture. In many instances they see a great deal of litter and environmental pollution.
We cannot ignore the fact that, on many occasions recently, we have breached EC environmental directives on air pollution, on bathing water and on toxic waste disposal. I will not give the relevant figures but merely say that we have breached those directives regularly.
One serious problem of concern to myself as a Dublin city councillor as well as a Senator was the question of smog in the city. Once again the Minister present played a significant role in getting to terms with the smog problem. Personally I regret that the Minister did not forbid the burning of bituminous coal. However, I am hopeful that the measures introduced will be effective and that the smog problem in the city will be eliminated in the not too distant future. Not long before that the Taoiseach said that the whole question of smog in the city was an awful lot of rubbish, contending that it was part of the modern, industrial world. Happily the Minister's contribution prevailed and hopefully we will solve that problem in the near future.
Another matter of extreme importance to me was that of the pollution of Dublin Bay. We were constantly reassured by city officials that there was no cause for alarm, that the sea was able to absorb vast quantities of sewage, industrial discharges and effluent of one kind or another and that there was no hazard to health. On both sides of the Irish Sea there are huge amounts of discharges into the sea and we have done much less to counteract that than has been done in, say, the Mediterranean or in the North Sea. I hope that problem will be tackled in the not too distant future. I read recently that it was estimated that no less than 1,200 million cubic metres of sewage was dumped annually into the Irish Sea. That is a horrendous figure which I am sure will be looked at.
Our rivers are extremely important for fishing and amenity purposes in tourism terms. Here, we have no cause for complacency. Senator Naughten mentioned the Shannon, but one could mention many other rivers. The Boyne Estuary is in a very sorry state. The collecting of mussels there has been banned because of pollution. The Avoca River is also in a very unsavoury condition, because of mining and the fish and plant life has virtually gone. In the west — I go there regularly — I heard last year of a horrendous incident where a lorry load of cement was dumped into the Ballinahinch River. It is horrendous to think that these things are still happening in our beautiful green Ireland. We all remember the fish kills in 1987 which alarmed everybody, and we do not want a repetition. It is estimated that approximately a quarter of our rivers and a third of our lakes are polluted, some of them heavily polluted. That is not a situation any of us can allow to continue. The Central Fisheries Board were doing very good work but I heard there were considerable cutbacks which made it more difficult for them to bring polluters to court — it is a fact that in many instances the polluters were the local authorities.
Toxic waste is another area where we simply have not got to grips with the problem. We do not have toxic waste incineration for the chemical industries. It is estimated that over 50,000 tonnes of toxic waste are produced yearly. One has to ask how much of that is disposed of. The same applies to the CFCs. There is little or no control of CFCs in Ireland. There is not an adequate recycling service for old fridges, etc.
Another area which concerns me greatly is the pollution of our seas as a result of fish farming. I am pleased to see in this Bill that some of the powers of the Department of the Marine with regard to the issuing of licences will be taken over by the agency. I know that fish farming has been developed in a very haphazard manner, with very little control over the undoubted pollution which is subsequently caused.
Having given the Minister a litany of some of the ills, it is fair to say that last year was in many ways a good year for environmental management. At the beginning of the year, the Environment Action Programme was launched with a great fanfare of trumpets setting out the policy of the Department of the Environment to be implemented over the next ten years. We also had Ireland's Presidency of the EC. The Taoiseach declared that that was to be a Green Presidency. That was a very enlightened move on his part. I only hope that it is backed up by solid policies with solid progress flowing from it. I endeavoured to encourage Dublin Corporation to support the activities put forward by the Government, by declaring a Green week. They did so in a halfhearted manner, but as other speakers have said, there was always the problem of shortage of money.
The EC's environmental impact assessment directives were very important. Last June the Environmental Information Service, ENFO, was established and I must compliment those involved. I have heard very loud words of support for the service they provide — for the efficiency of the service and their whole approach. I understand that service is working extremely well. In July we had the amendment to the Water Pollution Act which increased the fines that could be imposed on offenders. We hope that the implementation of that measure will help to reduce some of the problems.
The EPA Bill, in conjunction with the Environment Action Programme, to a large extent shows a co-ordinated approach to environmental pollution. I welcome that approach. The most important thing the EPA need to do is to help restore confidence among the public in the ability of Government, both local government and national Government, to get the environmental problems sorted out.
In Cork we saw what happened with Sandoz, Merrell Dow etc. These and other incidents caused great but genuine fear among the local population. It is not right for Senator Ryan to speak about scaremongering and hysteria. The public have genuine fears about the chemical industry. Since Ireland is, I understand, the twelfth largest exporter of chemicals in the world, the public have genuine cause for concern. They were very much aware of the conflict between the IDA, whose primary job is to bring industries into this country, and environmentalists. There were occasions when the IDA gave assurances or guarantees to local communities that a particular industry was "state of the art" but that was subsequently shown to be very far from the reality. This caused people to lose confidence in what they were being told and to reach a stage where they were inclined to question everything. I hope that the setting up of this agency will sort out that problem and that we will be able to achieve a balance between the requirements of a clean environment on the one hand and the obvious need to attract industry on the other. The setting up of the EPA should not be seen as anti-industry. I know that in the United States there is a very powerful and very independent environmental protection agency and it has not been seen as inimical to industry.
As many speakers have said today, we have to try to find a balance between the environment on the one hand and social and economic progress on the other. We have to consider attracting jobs, particularly jobs needed in those parts of the country where emigration has been a festering sore for so long. In many instances, these are the parts of the country which are the most environmentally sensitive. The Minister put it well in the last paragraph of her speech when she said:
It is no longer an issue of jobs or the environment. In the 1990s it is an issue of jobs because of the environment.
That sums up a great deal. If we went forward on that basis we could make a lot of progress. There are sound reasons companies and industries should pursue, or try to pursue, environmental excellence. They should welcome this Bill. It has been shown that the public want to purchase environmentally friendly products and they are switched off by the dirty image of some industries. Indeed, we had a classic example of that in what I mentioned earlier, the whole question of the smog in Dublin, CDL's role in it, how the public felt towards CDL's for the pollution and their severe reluctance to take effective steps themselves until the Minister virtually forced them to do so. There is a growing market for clean products.
It is important for industry to remember that legislation, here and internationally, is tightening all the time. Industry needs to achieve higher environmental standards. These standards will have to be met in the future and when industries are researching new products, they need to bear in mind what the legislation will be like in five or ten years time. There is also the question of law suits for damages to the environment and these are growing and are expensive. We have had one or two of them here, but there has been a great number of them in the United States and in Europe. Insurance costs are growing and there is a great number of reasons why industry should get the message that pollution prevention pays in the long term.
The more modern attitude or approach to pollution is to try to prevent it at source rather than adding on equipment such as better waste disposal or better stack filters. That is the old-fashioned approach of cleaning up the mess. The more modern, far-reaching attitude is to try to prevent pollution. If we can eliminate the negative aspects at source, we will, in the long run, go a long way towards sorting out our problems.
The attitude which was farily prevalent, say, 15 years ago when I was first in politics, was "a job at any price" mentality. Communities welcomed multinationals because they brought jobs and they did not, in those days, think of what the downstream impact would be. That mentality has changed very dramatically now and industries that damage the environment are simply unacceptable. The cavalier attitude of many of these large firms both to their workforce, firing them with impunity, not considering the health of their workforce and their attitudes to toxic waste are simply not acceptable any longer. We had an instance only last week of a planning application from a company to set up in Ringsend. Indeed, the company was to make an environmentally friendly coal product creating 40 jobs or more but the local people simply did not want to consider the proposal unless they could be given absolute guarantees that there would not be smuts and pollution into the air. This change is very good.
There needs to be a positive relationship between the community and good business. Another factor which is worth mentioning is the anxiety of many firms nowadays to be sponsors of various environmental projects. Many firms are looking for environmental projects to sponsor because they know it is good for their image. Having said that about industry, and pollution from industry, we must recognise that we all, each and every one of us, contribute to pollution. It is not alone industry, but agriculture, intensive farming or the local authority sewerage systems. A whole range of issues are involved and each and every one of us is responsible.
I mentioned aquaculture and there are problems also with forestry and domestic waste disposal. One which has not been mentioned today, and I do not think there is anything in the Bill to cover it, is the whole question of pollution from transport, emissions from private cars in the city and from trucks; the whole problem of noxious air, lead and catalytic convertors. I urge the Minister to turn her attentions to that area and to make both lead and catalytic convertors compulsory as soon as possible. The other side of it, of course, is that we could have more environmentally friendly public transport and such things as cycling, which I indulge in myself for both environmental and many other reasons.
Another matter I would like to mention — it is one we should not lose sight of — is the importance of, so to speak, cashing-in on the enthusiasm of young people for the environment. That is something which is very obvious and which I am sure many of us are aware of. The young are extremely concerned about the environment and they want to take their responsibility seriously. Perhaps the Minister would ask her colleague in the Department of Education, to emphasise to schools the importance of civics in the school curriculum. In many instances if something else has to be pushed in, the civics class can be squeezed out. We need to encourage in young people an individual sense of responsibility.
I speak very often to schools on the question of the environment and I often notice that they seem to be more interested and concerned about environmental problems which seem a long way away, things like acid rain or global warming, but when you talk to them about something as simple as the litter in the school grounds they are not always as enthusiastic to get involved. It is important to make them realise the contribution which each and every one of us can make.
I do not think new laws alone will suffice. We have a plethora of new laws. We have had anti-litter laws and, indeed, somebody mentioned this afternoon the £800 fine we heard about when the Litter Act was introduced. It would be interesting to know how many times the £800 fine has been imposed. We also have the laws, I mentioned earlier, under the water pollution and air pollution Acts. However, all the laws in the world will not protect us from undisciplined, careless, unscrupulous and ruthless materialistic people who are simply on the make. It was mentioned that environmental awareness, information programmes and promotional campaigns were being intensified in the environmental action programme so that we will all know individually how we can help to protect and enhance the environment. I would like to hear from the Minister what exactly is being done on that score because we need to change people's attitudes. We need to change their hearts and their minds if we are going to solve this problem. We need to be positive towards the environment.
One of the provisions in the Bill which I will be coming back to at a later stage is that on public involvement and public discussion. It is something that should be welcomed. Earlier Senator John A. Murphy said that self-appointed environmentalists would be out of a job after the Bill is passed. I do not believe that for one moment and it would be very tragic if they were.
We all know that no matter how far we go we will not go far enough and the job of the many excellent environmental groups is to be the conscience of the country and to aspire to achieve a better and a cleaner environment I know the Minister is very highly thought of in environmental circles and does not see environmentalists as weirdos, cranks or wayouts. The Minister listens to them and got as many of them as she could together in Kilmainham for a day long seminar before putting this Bill together. This was greatly appreciated and there has been widespread support, with reservations, for the Bill. We need to emphasise that a clean environment is in everyone's long term interest because we share this planet and share a common fate, and the more we encourage public involvement the better. We should be aiming higher because we should live up to the very high perception people from other countries have of Ireland. We should see if Ireland can be a model in ecological and environmental terms. I was in Switzerland recently and I hear that in 1988 workshops were introduced in each of the 14 districts of Basle to see how they could make Basle a model, ecological city. We need to do that and not rest on our laurels. We need to encourage local authorities, towns, cities and villages to get involved in that debate so that they can understand the positive benefits of being an ecologically and environmentally good city or town.
The reform of local government and the need for genuine local democracy are important. I will speak about that when that Bill comes before this House, soon I hope.
This Bill will be a major tool in our fight against pollution, provided the public have confidence in it and in its ability to control pollution. There is an important role for the IDA in the Bill because they have one of the six members of the committee who will put forward names for the director and members of the board. The Government obviously support the Bill and the trade unions and the Council for the Status of Women are accommodated.
With regard to the environmental groups, I am glad to see that An Taisce is one of those represented on this committee, but would it have been advisable to include some of the other excellent environmental groups such as Green-peace and Earthwatch? They have all made important contributions to our understanding of the importance of the environment. This is in no way to denigrate An Taisce — I have been a member of it for a very long time — but it might be seen by some of the other organisations to be more conservative, solid, respectable and responsible. Those are all good things but I do not think we should leave out the other environmental groups.
I welcome the fact that the agency appears to be relatively independent and free of political involvement; it is separate from the Department of the Environment and the Government. The Bill secures as far as possible the ability of the agency to make independent decisions on licensing, research, monitoring and the various areas of responsibility, but a great deal depends on the calibre of the members of the board and the staff. To this end salaries will be extremely important. Under the provisions of the Bill I note there can be a transfer of staff from Government Departments and An Foras Forbartha. I thought An Foras Forbartha had been abolished two or three years ago and that the staff had been redeployed, but I see from this Bill that they are to be abolished yet again.
I caution taking on too many staff from existing Government organisations, not because they are not excellent people who have done a very good job but, in my view, this agency would benefit from outside fresh young thinking. That is what is required. This is in no way to denigrate the very talented and dedicated personnel in the Department and in An Foras Forbartha. The funding of the agency is vital. It must be adequate and it must be guaranteed so that the agency will not be dependent on industry or anybody else to carry out their functions. An Foras Forbartha was an excellent body and did very good work but I do not think anybody seriously believed they were independent of government. To that extent they did not have the same clout I hope this agency will have.
As mentioned by Senator Kennedy, there are a great number of sections in the Bill and there are at least 14 sections where we will be relying on the Minister to make regulations or to do various things. As long as the present Minister is there we will be very happy with that, but she may not be there forever. She may be transferred to higher office or there is the possibility that the Government may fall or there may be a Minister from the Opposition.