Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I see this Bill as of the greatest importance at this time. Just how much do environmental measures cost? It is often difficult to say; but whatever that cost may be we must face up to it and clear our nation's air. I hope this Bill will go a long way towards doing just that. In most Industrial countries noise is considered one of the main causes of the declining quality of life, and at times it may be the main cause. Indeed, we have a lot of other problems.

The initiative in this legislation is for everybody to make sure the Bill does work for this country of ours. We can bring any Bill into this House and into the Dáil, but if our people do not make it work outside, working with us as the elected people, then we will hand down to our children a much poorer environment. On 6 December 1990 the Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, said he had always had a deep personal concern about our natural environment and that the ten year environmental action programme launched last January represented a major advance. He continued:

As the Director of the Environmental Institute at UCD, Professor Frank Convery recently said, the programme represents a very important milestone in the evolution of environmental policy. We have set the environmental agenda for the next ten years and are determined to see it through successfully. A clean, healthy and attractive environment is something we can all enjoy and a high quality environment enhances economic progress.

I made reference to cost and in the final sheet of the Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill it is said:

The main cost of the Agency will relate to staff but there will be initial costs arising from the establishment of the agency headquarters and the development of regional facilities, including laboratories. It is intended to make maximum use of existing facilities including local, regional and national laboratories. The overall cost of the Agency will be offset by the transfer of funds in conjunction with the assignment and transfer to the Agency of staff for whom separate budgetary provisions have already been made. In addition, as the Agency becomes operational its cost will increasingly be offset by licence fees and charges for service.

A sum of £1 million has been provided in the 1991 Estimates, but we have seen figures varying from £1 million to £7 million or £8 million. This is very big money. Everything I am saying here will require comment from Minister Harney. I compliment her on her absolute determination, along with her colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, in bringing this Bill before us. The comments I make now are in no way derogatory or critical, but I must have a clear-cut reply to my remarks. There certainly is scope in this legislation for confusion, so now is the time to make sure that the lines are cleared.

Some of the major provisions of the Bill are as follows. A Director General and Directors will be appointed by the Government from candidates nominated by a top level selection committee following public advertisement. The agency will be staffed by the transfer of staff from An Foras Forbartha, the environmental research unit and other public bodies and by recruitment. The new system of an integrated pollution control licensing will be one of the principle functions of the agency and one which gives it teeth to ensure there is a proper balance between major developments and the environment and to prevent and minimise pollution. It provides for a system of licensing, monitoring and enforcement in respect of a wide range of specified activities, including large industrial plants, etc.

I want to make reference to areas where I would have worries. As senior politicians we will have to be careful. We are in a crisis situation so far as job creation is concerned. We must ensure that we do not bring in a massive piece of legislation with so much bureaucracy attached to it that it would prevent job creation. Senator Farrell and other Senators on all sides of the House have made this point.

I am quite clear in my mind about supporting this Bill, but we must keep a balance. Those of us who have served in public life down through the years have seen people being turned off by paper work and bureaucracy — you cannot do this, you cannot do that and you cannot do the other. We must watch that we are not bringing in more such legislation. Those of us who still have our feet on the ground and commonsense know that the nation needs jobs and that in no way should any agency be put in place that might interfere with our responsibility to create them. I say that knowing the responsibility on all of us to have everything environmentally proper and correct in this nation.

I worry when I see before me a Bill with so many sections referring to the making of Ministerial regulations. Why have we 15 sections where the Minister may legislate by regulation? Section 76, for example, empowers the Minister to make regulations on general policy directives to the agency. Section 79 says: "More detailed procedures will be specified in regulations to be made by the Minister." Section 90 provides that the agency may change standards for emissions to the environment in accordance with regulations to be made by the Minister, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Section 91 refers to the making of regulations by the Minister, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce. There are at least 14 different sections here. I do not think in my 14 years in this House I ever saw that in a Bill before, but the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. She came into the House with me in 1977. She did a bit better than I did, but however I am glad to be here.

I can see here also confusion with regard to the local authorities. I want it clearly spelt out here as to who will have control; how much control will be with the new agency, with Bord Pleanála, with the local authorities and with the General Council of County Councils. I want to see who has the responsibility for what in the reply by the Minister to the House at the end of the Second Stage debate.

Somebody made reference yesterday to the delay in appeals by Bord Pleanála. Last night I listened with interest to Minister Flynn on "Dáil Report" where he said he was going to launch new legislation very soon to change the appeal system. There has been criticism of the delays in An Bord Pleanála and I concur with my colleagues that at times the delay is unduly long and unfair. I say this as a tough politician on the ground. If some of the boys in An Bord Pleanála were trying to create jobs on the ground as some of us are, the might let the results of appeals be known. The Minister said in the Dáil that he was bringing in some type of new appeals legislation and I presume that is what he is going to deal with. I hope it is.

I do not think anybody has referred to the soil. Our soil is a natural, non-renewal resource of vital importance. We spoke about pollution but too often we forget to talk about our soil or land. We talk about water being polluted by industry and so on, but we do not refer to land pollution. I put this on record because as legislators we have to solve all problems. It is serious in an agricultural nation if the soil is polluted. Oddly enough, although soil is an easily identifiable resource, but the environmental protection programme for the past 20 years has been developed without soil having a specific place in it. Maybe there is much less drama about land being destroyed compared to oil slicks, poisonous air and clouds and so on, but it would be wrong if I, coming from an agricultural background, did not put on record my concern about land and soil.

I understand this was discussed at a meeting of the Council of Ministers — the Sixth Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which took place in Brussels in October 1990. At that environmental meeting participants called for the establishment of a Euro-environmental agency and asked that measures be taken to monitor standards in each country. I presume that when this Bill is passed we will be in line with the EC regulation. Will this Bill fulfil the requirements sought at the conference in Vienna?

I do not intend to go through the Bill section by section. I was in the Chair and I know some of the rules so I do not intend going down that road, but there are certain sections I would like the Minister to come back on. Section 21 deals with the director general. How many people are we talking about? Section 30 deals with the transfer of staff of public authorities. We should be familiar with that. Fair play to Senator Rory Kiely, he spelled it out. The Minister should clarify what is in those sections.

The more I read through this Bill and the more we talk about it, the more I fear we might be setting up another layer of bureaucracy. I and my late husband fought against setting up the health boards. The local authorities were in charge of health and they were doing an excellent job given their finances. The health boards were set up and I fought against them. My late husband, Derry Honan, was in this House and he fought them at parliamentary party level and on the floor of this Chamber. It is a dreadful thing to say but I admit it: it was my party which put the health boards in place. They made a mistake. We all serve in the field of Health and we know the end result of the health boards being put in place. I hope I am proved wrong but this Bill is repeating the mistake of cutting across local government again and setting another massive agency in place at enormous cost. I had to make that comment because it needs to be said. I have total confidence in Ministers Connolly, Flynn and Harney, but I have fired the warning shot. It worries me. Nobody knows better than the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister present of my straight talking when things need to be said. I never went into a corridor to say what had to be said. I an not critical of the Bill but I am worried in case we repeat that mistake. I have absolute confidence in the three Ministers at the Department of the Environment but I have lived to see the result of a mistake we made before, and I do not want a Fianna Fáil Government to make a mistake again.

There are a number of people to be appointed to this agency and I hope they will appoint the chairperson of the General Council of County Councils as a member of the advisory committee. We must listen to the people on the ground no matter what legislation we are putting through. It worries me at times that there is a certain section in each of the big parties who have stopped listening to those of us who have a little bit of old commonsense left in us. They are away with these new ideas. I am just saying what has to be said.

Section 30 worries me. I would like the Minister to explain it to me. Section 40 deals with committees, consultants, advisers, the establishment of regional environmental units, and the transfer of staff. It is proposed that a public authority may supply to the agency any service required by the agency.

I have concerns about section 60 but perhaps the Minister will explain those provisions to me when she is replying. Also, I want parts of sections 108 (6) and 108 (e) explained to me. There are many other sections, too, which need clarification.

I welcome the attitude of An Taisce and their commonsense approach to this legislation. They have given it a warm welcome. They believe that the agency will succeed because it is guaranteed to be independent with the proposed appointment of a five member board by an independent committee representing a wide range of interests. An Taisce believe that the proposed openness and independence of the agency will help to restore public confidence in our environmental management structures.

The people in charge of our environment at the moment are the Department and local government. There is not as much need for the restoration of confidence as An Taisce seem to think. I am glad that they are happy about this legislation and think it is all good. Earth Watch had reservations about it but they also welcomed it. Earth Watch will be urging the Opposition parties to support the Bill. I do not think there will be any opposition to a Bill which is for the good of the nation. Listening to my colleagues and friends on the other side of the House I did not detect any sign of opposition. There is never opposition to something that is good for the country.

I welcome Minister Connolly to the House. While I welcome the Bill, I have reservations in regard to it as I have outlined. It is not because a particular Minister of another party who are in Government with my party at this moment is seen as the driving force behind this that I have these reservations. I would have exactly the same reservations if one of the Fianna Fáil Ministers was as strong on this Bill going through. The two lads in the Department had a bit of a say, too, I am sure, fair play to them.

Everybody will benefit from this legislation. Tourism will benefit and the quality of life will be improved generally. This legislation is essential for the protection of the environment. I welcome it and I will be speaking on Committee Stage. I thank the Government, they were not forced by anyone to act. I am sick of hearing that somebody made them do this or do that.

I appeal to the Ministers and to the Taoiseach not to make another mistake by putting in place an agency which will duplicate work that could well have been done by the local authorities if they were properly financed.

Reference was made earlier today to the need for sewerage plants in different counties. Senator Doyle had a record of what Wexford County Council did. Her contribution was beautifully typed for her. We do a bit in Clare as well as I am sure the Chair does, too, in Kerry. Did Senator Finneran and the Minister remember that there is the General Council of County Councils and there are people serving on the ground who know what is needed in this agency. A person I had a lot of regard for and was close to was the late Seán Lemass. I remember on a famous day in Shannon Airport during a lunch he said — I can still hear him say it and it is a nice line to finish on — God preserve me from consultants and experts. There are too many consultants and experts involved under this legislation and far from them were Minister Connolly and I reared. I ask him to convey that to the Government and also to convey my worries about this Bill. I am sure Senator Finneran, and the spokespersons on the environment, will deal with the Bill on Committee and Final Stages.

I take this opportunity to welcome Minister Connolly to the House. I also compliment Minister Harney, and all others concerned in the compilation of this legislation. I compliment them for bringing this legislation to the Seanad in the first instance. It is in accord with what we had years gone by when much legislation was initiated in the Seanad.

The Bill on the environment which Deputy Shatter introduced in the other House had a lot of merit in it and should have been taken on board with whatever modifications the Government of the day thought appropriate and fitting. However, that is another story. I would like to place on record that the area covered by this Bill was covered quite well by Deputy Shatter. A lot can be learned from the research he carried out and it is on Committee Stage that the nitty gritty aspects of this legislation will be tackled and, hopefully, amendments will be accepted by the Minister.

Over the last number of years the environment has become a real live issue. Those involved in industrial development, farming, and so on have become environmentally aware. It is in everybody's interest that we retain the good environment that we fortunately have at present relative to the environment that exists in many countries. We can be justifiably proud of the type of environment we have.

When we tackle the job of dealing with the environment let us do it well. This Bill essentially will co-ordinate the various activities that are necessary to ensure a good environment in the future. It is basically, as I understand it, centralising the operations of a number of different agencies.

I agree with the previous speaker, Senator Honan, who laid emphasis on the importance of the contribution made by the various local authorities over the years on environmental issues. The contributions they made, perhaps, were not adequate. Perhaps there was not as clear an awareness of the absolute necessity to deal with certain matters in the environment as there is now. We have seen in other countries the total devastation of the environment by non-adherence to good and corrective measures to protect the environment. Let us not go down that road and make that mistake.

We must start off well. The only way to do that is to ensure that this Bill receives the attention it deserves and that the Minister will not close her mind to realistic amendments which may be put forward on Committee Stage.

A number of points are very striking in the Bill. For example, we talk about world ecology and world economics and there is a close bond between the two. We must make sure that we do not develop economically at the expense of the environment. There are many international agreements being put in place concerning the environment and we must make certain that these are to the benefit of our country.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday, 13 February 1991.