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

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

There has been some criticism of the Bill inasmuch as it is proposed that it would only have an advisory or supervisory role governing the activities of public and local authorities. I am sure there is a very good reason for this and it may well have to do with things like local autonomy. I am sure it is something we will debate on Committee Stage.

At this stage, I would like to say that I have some difficulty with that but there may well be a very good argument against it, to which I would be prepared to listen. I want to give an example of why that particular aspect of the legislation concerns me. I have been investigating the position of, let us say, the area of water, the quality of water and the way in which local authorities deal with effluent, for instance, in the Dublin area. I do not understand why we are not demanding that there will be tertiary stage treatment for all sewage effluent from every council and every local authority in the country. I just do not know why we do not do that. I am not saying this could be done under this Bill but under this Bill, again just quoting from memory, the authority will have control over effluent which has come into the waterways from the jurisdiction of local or public authorities, etc, and are responsible for them at that point. I do not quite know what that means. I hope it refers to the quality of the water coming from a local authority area or a local authority sewage treatment station into a waterway, a river, or a lake. If it is found not to comply with the requirement what authority do the environmental protection agency have? Do they have authority over, let us say, semi-State companies which could also be in this area? I would just like to have those matters teased out a bit. As far as I know in terms of sewage treatment the only local authority in the country which has a tertiary stage treatment is in Cavan. This may not be the case but that is my understanding. We have had over the years, a lot of difficulties arising from the lack of industrial and urban tertiary water treatment which has led to the putrification of rivers, waterways and lakes in many different parts of the country. It is also significant that the second greatest culprit in fish kills in the 1988-89 period, as far as I can recall — I have not got the reference to hand — came from local authorities. That point needs to be addressed at some stage.

Secondary treatment from what I have read about it, only removes approximately 25 per cent of the phosphates. Anybody with a septic tank has vivid experience of the need to have a tertiary stage treatment. Because of this lack of tertiary stage, the water retains substantial capacity to cause detrimental nutrient enrichment particularly in lakes. That occurred in Lough Lein in Killarney and it occurred in Lough Ennell in the Mullingar area. In both areas, steps have since been taken and certainly in Killamey they are doing an excellent job trying to clean up the lake. Nevertheless, these problems have been created. I want to know how we can address these under the Bill.

It is also important to know that compared to other EC counties we have quite a good record. It is not widely recognised and we do not very often give ourselves credit in this area. I would like to put it on record that certainly, from information I got in the EC library, in terms of the volumes of waste delivered, for instance, for disposal at sea by member states Ireland has by far the best record. That is something we should be proud of and it is also something we should protect. I think this is what the Minister intends in bringing in this legislation. That particular aspect of our Government — in the broadest sense — should be retained.

Our objective must be to protect the environment, to create a positive and progressive economy. In other words, the protection of the environment is something that should give a "buzz" to the economy rather than otherwise. One thing about this Bill which gives me some difficulty is that I would want to be absolutely certain that it will be implemented and that the penalties will be implemented properly and severely. I am not saying that in the context of hanging or flogging offenders. It is simply that all over the private sector those people who do not pay their taxes are more competitive than the employers who do. People who do not pay their PRSI are more competitive than employers who do. People who do not pay their VAT to the State are more competitive than employers who do. In other words, at the moment there can very often be a premium for those who do not keep the law of the land. The last thing I want to see happening here is good companies, good employers and concerned companies being made less competitive than the "cowboys" who will undoubtedly always be with us.

I would certainly like a reassurance from the Minister that in that area we will have a control, a system of imposing penalties and monitoring, etc., that will work, so that we can have confidence in and, also, that it will be given the resources needed to do the job it has to do. I wonder if it is all right to think that the payment of penalties will fund the agency.

I welcome the fact that all fines are paid to the agency. This is a very useful and practical way of dealing with things. I have no difficulty with that. I just want to make sure that this will not mean that there will be a low level of resouces, particularly at the starting off point. If we reach a situation where companies and people are concerned about the environment and keep all the regulations under this Bill, where then will the funding for the agency come from?

There is also the question of whether or not the environmental impact assessment goes far enough. Does it assess the risk factor, the externals down the line which will be created by the setting up of plant or any other proposed development, inasmuch as the second, down the line, impact on the environment, not perhaps the immediate impact, in some cases can have a beneficial impact? I am not saying this is always negative because very often developments can have a beneficial down the line impact on the environment. I would like to be clear about how the environmental impact assessment will operate. Are we going to make that connection between benefit and risk?

The danger about discussion on the Irish environment has, for a number of years, been left to a group of zealots. I say that with some sense of conviction, left to people who feel that the environment is their area. One of the great developments that have taken place in Irish politics over the last number of years is that the environment has become a matter of concern for all parties and for all groups. That is important. Since I first stood for election in 1982 I have always had it as a major issue in my election addresses. I am not saying that in an "I told you so" manner. I have always found that politicians of all parties have had a serious interest in the environment but it has not found expression, it has not been articulated, and we have had to wait until now to find a response from Government, a comprehensive response, it must be said. Nevertheless, it is a pity that we had to wait this long. I would like to assure those people who feel that it is their area that it is not anybody's area. It is everybody's responsibility, the responsibility of all parties and groups. There are no oppositions on this one.

I believe the Minister will listen to our views, that he will address any proposed amendments and will iron out any difficulties with a view to making this stronger legislation when it leaves this House. I want to make another point in relation to that. Some of these people who have made the environment their baby, as it were, have found themselves in a situation where they believe that what they say is right, that they are the resource person to make any statements on the environment. I do not accept that point of view. I do not accept that the so-called environmentalists know more about the environment than anybody else. I have seen them make many mistakes. I have no problem in saying that and I say it to them whenever I get the opportunity of saying it.

I also want to say that it is the essence of life and living that there always needs to be an element of compromise. It is a question of the balance of convenience, having the right balance. That is what the agency should set out to do. It does not mean that we can decide tomorrow moming to use recycled paper in Government offices. We just could not afford to do that. That is the reality at the moment. On the other hand, we also need to assess whether it is more energy-efficient to grow more trees to make more paper than it is to recycle existing paper. We need to address these issues in a pragmatic way. Views on the environment are being offered to us every day, many of which I feel are not beyond contradiction. We should listen to what people have to say, examine it, and not just accept proposals and viewpoints offered by people just because they present themselves as being the environmentalists.

That comes to mind when one thinks of those who say you should never cut down a tree. Trees are one of the most renewable energy resources at the moment. Trees will grow more quickly in this country than in any other part of Europe. We need to talk to these people and say, well, it depends on what you are cutting and on what you are sowing, and it depends on the balance. Recently people were saying that burning firewood was damaging trees and the environment. The fact is that you can grow timber almost as quickly as you can burn it.

It has been acknowledged by the OECD that the penalties will raise the revenue necessary to finance measures to protect the environment. I would like to hear the Minister respond as to how that is going to work in our situation, how it will be policed to the extent of the money being directed back towards the agency and how she would see that whole process taking place. It is covered in the Bill but I would like to hear the Minister's views. It nationalises some requirements about licences while leaving some control with the local authorities. Other past legislation where only particular developments were covered will now, I suppose, be modified and changed in some way.

It worries me that certain aspects have not been addressed. It would appear that the whole concept of the danger of radon gas — it may be a separate issue to talk about at the moment — is a factor and is a problem and it does not appear to be covered by the Bill as it is at present. I may be wrong about this but I wish to hear the Minister's viewpoint on the matter.

I am conscious that at the end of the day decisions on the environment will be made for political reasons rather than for objective scientific reasons. This is the reality and it is something we should accept. The area of where we make decisions and how we make decisions needs to be addressed. I want to talk in detail about some aspects of the Bill as we go along. I wish to refer again to the problem created where in some countries in Europe protecting the environment has led to an element of protectionism in the economy, in other words, if, for instance, a country chooses to put a tax on non-refillable bottles is it protecting the environment or is it protectionism of the economy? Have we addressed this issue? Can the Environmental Protection Agency make recommendations that could lead to new legislation or the initiation of legislation? Does it have that function in terms of the way it advises? I realise it will give an annual report to the Minister and I will have something to say about that when dealing with the Bill.

With regard to the different types of environment impact of various industrial sectors, whether it be emissions into the air from the chemcial industry or from the iron and steel industry inasmuch as we would have for instance a smelter in this country, would this be covered by the Environmental Protection Agency? If somebody seeks planning authority to set up a smelter, at what stage does the agency have an input into the granting of permission to go ahead? How does it actually work? Is it that the local authorities have been told beforehand that in certain circumstances permission has to be obtained from the agency or from somebody else or, is it just written down on a list of by-laws that have to be complied with by anybody seeking to go ahead with any kind of plant? How do we see that happening?

I referred earlier to section 4 which refers to the condition of waters after the entry of polluting waters within the meaning of the Local Government Act, 1977 and where that ties into the responsibility of the local authority. I wish to make a number of comments on subsection (3) and the setting up of the agency. It states the agency shall consist of a director general and four other directors. It seems a small number to me and I would like to know if that is a sufficiently large number to carry out the business.

In terms of the legislation as it is framed, I have difficulty with regard to the sequence of the provisions. I think the cart comes before the horse in a number of places. Section 21 states that the director general shall be appointed by the Govenment. We need to state at that point, "subject to the following procedures" or something on those lines. It then goes on to set out the way in which it can be done. I welcome the areas and the interests represented on the committee. It makes interesting reading for us.

On section 21 of the Bill there is a confusion in that it says the Minister can make a request under subsection (7) or (9). I do not see any provision for a request under subsection (9). It is subsection (7) and only (7). I am also concerned that the Minister may appoint a person to be a member of the committee and that such person shall remain a member of the committee until such time as a selection by the committee pursuant to the request is made. I have some difficulty about the Minister being able to make an appointment without putting a time constraint on the period of time. There is potential for interference there which we should not allow. It is unnecessary.

The Minister may, by order, amend subsection (2) which refers to the makeup of the committee. The committee will consist of the Secretary to the Government, the Secretary to the Department of the Environment, the chairperson of An Taisce, the Managing Director of the IDA, General Secretary of ICTU and the Chief Executive of the Council for the Status of Women. It is stated that the Minister may amend subsection (2) or is that subsection (2) of section 6? That would appear to refer to those named people. I am not sure what is intended by that and how it would be operated.

In terms of the appointment of the director general I find it very confusing and I would like if the Minister could clarify the matter. Subsection (8) states that except in the case of a reappointment etc. the Government shall not appoint a person to be the director general unless the person was among those or was the candidate selected by the committee pursuant to a request under subsection (7) in relation to that appointment. It goes on to say that the Government shall appoint a person to be the director general who was among those or, as the case may be, was the candidate selected by the committee pursuant to a previous request in relation to that appointment.

The second provision is in the event of the committee being unable to select a suitable candidate. I do not understand how that is going to work. It appears that this refers to a second request if the first one has failed. In subsection (9) it refers at one stage to a request. It states "If the committee is unable to select any suitable candidate pursuant to a previous request" and it then refers to "a previous request". There is a confusion there. Perhaps it is logical but in terms of trying to understand the process it may well be that it is an attempt to cover all the problems that might arise. Subsection (9) (b) (ii) states:

the Minister may make a further such request.

this again is in the event of no suitable candidate

to the committee and the Government shall appoint to be Director General a person who was among the candidates or, as the case may be, was the candidate selected by the committee pursuant to that request or pursuant to another such request, made in relation to that appointment:

In other words, it is either the first or second request made regarding the same appointment. In that situation, does that lead to a full re-run of the appointment procedure, or do they just go back over and say. "We gave those names in the first time. They did not seem to work. We will give another couple of names this time," or do they start again from scratch? I think there is a genuine attempt here to cover the problems that might arise. Perhaps I am misreading it. I do not want to be profound about the thing. It is just there. I feel, reading through it, that I am having difficulty making logic of it.

I also feel that the section which says the Government may appoint the Director General should more correctly come later or at least should be tied into that in some other way.

Subsection (15), on page 19, says that:

The Director General may be removed from office by the Government if, in their opinion, he has become incapable through ill-health of effectively performing his duties, or for stated misbehaviour...

I do not know what that means. Coming from a teaching background, I know there were certain "misbehaviours" in which teachers were not permitted to join. I do not know who is stating the misbehaviour. Is this to be stated in the Schedule to the Bill? Is this a list of particular misbehaviours, or is this a decision that is made by the agency at some stage afterwards?

That reference runs right through it. That reference runs through it referring to the Deputy Director General and also in reference to the directors. The change in language is interesting. The Director General may be removed from office if in their opinion he or she has become incapable for stated misbehaviour. But the Deputy Director General has to go a step further. He or she may be removed from office if he or she has become incapable through ill-health or if he or she has committed stated misbehaviour. First of all, I have a language problem about committing behaviour. That is just the syntax. Then we come to the Advisory Committee. On page 25 of the Bill we read that the Minister may remove from office a member of the advisory committee if he has "committed stated misbehaviour". I feel we should not be over-prudish with this kind of thing. I just want to know what we are talking about here. It is simply that, no more. Are we talking about sex? Are we talking about bribery? What are the morals we are talking about here? I would prefer to define or delete it.

Only if it interferes with the job. That depends on your perspective. It should be defined or deleted. I have no difficulty about an acceptance of states of misbehaviour which would make a person ineligible to continue. I just want to draw our attention to it.

Section 22 (3) states:

The Deputy Director General may, in addition to his remuneration as a director, be paid such additional remuneration (if any) as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may determine.

Is this salary? I am not sure what this refers to. Is this person a salaried person and, if it is a salary, is this just simply allowing the person to be paid, or is it some sort of a premium? I am not just sure. Another part of the Bill goes into details about ensuring that the person is not paid more or less, etc.

I would prefer that we dealt with the appointment of directors before we dealt with the appointment of a Director General and a Deputy Director General. I just feel it is going in the wrong order. That is just in terms of reading through it. One reason why my attention was drawn to this is that we say the Deputy Director General will be appointed "for such period as shall be specified in the appointment". That has to be subject to Section 24 (8) (a) where it says that a director "shall hold office for such a term (not exceeding five years) ...". Obviously, those matters seem to be reconciled somewhere in the legislation, that it would have to be subject to that. The point I am making is that somebody could be a director and could hope to be reappointed as a director. Let us say his or her term of office is going to finish in the next year and he or she is now being appointed Deputy Director General. I do not believe it would be proper to appoint that person for five years on the assumption that he or she would be reappointed as a director at the end of the next year. I do not think it is a conflict, but the thing needs to be put together there.

On section 26, I have some worries about the quorum for the meeting of the agency. I have never seen a quorum of two before. I am sure it does exist somewhere. Perhaps I have a dirty mind, but I feel it sets up problems. A quorum of two should not be allowed. I would prefer to be talking to myself — a quorum of one — particularly when it can be the Director General and the Deputy Director General. To me, that is one person. In any job or any operation I know of, if it is the boss and the assistant boss, there is only one person at that meeting. It is such a small group that I can see how we came up with the two. It makes a lot of sense. But I think the four should be five and the two should be three or something like that.

Section 26 (4) (a) states:

Where, owing to the illness of the Director General or a director, or for any other reason, a sufficient number of directors of the Agency is not available to enable the Agency effectively to perform its functions, the Minister may, as an interim measure, appoint from among the officers of the Minister who are established civil servants... one or more persons to be a director and, where necessary, one to be a Deputy Director General.

I can see the point of having to fill the directorships but I would feel that the position of Deputy Director General should be on the recommendation of the committee. It would not create a huge problem. Perhaps that does not fit in with the earlier method of appointment, in the sense that there must be an appointment from within the directors, but I feel that that is too open there.

I listened carefully to what Senator McKenna said about education and it was very much in line with what I was saying myself. I want to make a few points here. The Minister and I came from a generation of people who went to school and left school, I would venture to say, with knowing the names of birds and trees and without being able to identify trees, leaves, barks and that kind of thing. We came through a lost environmental generation in terms of nature study and the environment. The generation before us knew the names, in Irish and English, of every tree, of every leaf, of every bird — knew all about them. When I was in primary school in the sixties, it began: nature study had in a sense become less important. Perhaps it was because there was no threat to the environment then.

I believe strongly — and I am not plugging my own profession — that the new awareness, the re-awakening of an awareness of the environment, began in 1972. I was a teacher in the classroom at that time. I, myself, had to re-learn about nature. The generation ahead of me, the generation of my parents, etc., had learned, as part of their nature study at that time, all about the environment in a very practical and real way. My generation did not and those of us who became teachers had to re-learn it. We had to become retrained in understanding the environment. I must say I have enjoyed educating myself about the environment over the last 20 years.

The introduction of environmental studies in the primary school curriculum in 1972 has created a major impact. Young children nowadays, primary school children in the sixties and seventies, and now post-primary and third level people, began with an awareness of the environment which was second to none. I can see one development as a result of that.

I know a person who is a schools inspector at the moment. I knew that person as a school pupil and I know that, as a school pupil, that young person put considerable pressure on his or her teachers in the area of the environment just by wanting to know more. He generated an enthusiasm that had a very positive effect and there was a great learning effect and an awareness of the environment.

Young people nowadays have a great awareness of the environment. There were some horrendous films of the war on television over the past couple of weeks, but the memory that will live for most people will not be of the truck going across the bridge and the bomb landing behind it, but it will be the image of the oil-soaked cormorant pulled out of the water by the environmental protectors or the sight of the birds not able to get out of the water or into the water. Those are the images at which people cringed. Perhaps it is a reflection on our society but it is true. I was in a room with about 15 people when the news came through of a number of things that happened that day. It showed direct hits on buildings, but people did not blink. The next thing it showed this little bird in the water that was covered in oil, not able to move, and everybody was aghast at it. In a way it is a reflection on our society, but nevertheless people care about the environment and nature.

Why did I go into all that? I went into it because section 27, on the functions of the agency states:

The Minister may prescribe for the purposes of subsection (6) — (a) organisations which in his opinion are representative of persons whose professions or occupations relating to environmental protection etc....

I am not going down all the way through it; but it does say at paragraph (d):

...organisations which in his opinion are concerned with the promotion in relation to the community of social, economic or general interests.

It goes on in paragraph (e):

organisations which in his opinion are representative of persons concerned with environmental education or research.

I feel that one of the defects in this Bill is the lack of representation from the actual education area. I am speaking as an educationlist, but I believe that it is very important. I listened to what Senator McKenna — a teacher himself — said about a pack for schools. It is a very valid thing to say, except that I just turn off when I hear that the answer to every problem in society, whether it be AIDS or drugs or litter or delinquency or whatever, is to get it right at school. That is not going to happen. We would not have this legislation here before us today if the Minister did not agree with me on that point. But we do have to promote environmental studies, we have to promote that in a way that will work. It is all right to say set up a pack for schools. There is a lot of merit in that and I do not object to it. I think many teachers would welcome it — packs for schools and any other resources in order to raise the consciousness and awareness of the environment. But all I would say is that there is a lack of representation in that area. I believe we need to look at the role of education, that is, the education service as it stands at the moment in this general area.

I would like to compliment the parliamentary draftsman who came up with the word "effluxion" of time. It is a lovely use of the language. Section 28, on the functions of the advisory committee, says that in that area, without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the advisory committee may make recommendation to the agency in relation to, and it goes down through paragraphs (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), (v), (vi), (vii) — all of them very positive and progressive. I support the intention, but I think there should be another element added, and that is the one I was just talking about, the environmental education. I think it just needs to be brought into the main stream. It is different from the other demands that are made on the education service to solve the problems of society in this way. Environmental studies is on the curriculum at the moment. It is there; it is a matter of developing it and giving it direction. It is something that teachers are extraordinarily keen on, to develop an awareness of the environment. There is hardly an area in the country where the local school, with the parents and community and children, have not done a clean-up of some section of the river or of the local park and so on. There is an awareness there and this is a good opportunity to push that forward.

On section 31 (2) I am not quite clear on the part in parenthesis "(other than those relating to tenure)." This is the section that deals with the conditions relating to transfer of staff. I am delighted the rules of the trade unions are recognised there and also recognised throughout the Bill. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the unions are close to it. They have taken a very keen interest in it and have had long discussions with the Department on various aspects of this legislation as it has been going along and have made various contributions to it. I also recognise the fact that 18 months ago in this Chamber we had a very full discussion on a document produced by the Union of Public and Technical Civil Servants on the whole area of the environment. I do not want to go into those areas except to say that I want to give them recognition. I welcome the recognition that is there. I am not quite clear on what is meant by "other than those relating to tenure"— in other words, what we are saying there in subsection (2):

Save in accordance with a collective agreement a person referred to in subsection (1) shall not, while in the employment of the Agency, receive a lesser scale of pay or be made subject to less than official terms and conditions of service ... than the scale of pay to which he was entitled and terms and conditions of service (other than those relating to tenure)...

Maybe this just refers to tenure within the Agency — in other words that the person could be moved back to his or her Department. If it is that, I would ask it to be made a little bit clearer. If it is there I would like to have it explained to me.

I would like to make a few other points. I am raising issues which I would prefer to raise now rather than wait until Committee Stage. I will just bring them to the attention of the Minister and the Department. Section 37 is vitally important as far as I am concerned, the whole question of the disclosure of interests. To me this is very positive. Indeed, we on the Independent benches — and I think the Minister's party as well — have strong views about the whole area of the disclosure of interests for people in public life in general. I certainly feel that anybody elected to public life should make a full and comprehensive disclosure of interests so that there is no doubt about them. I am not saying that they should be available to every Tom, Dick or Harry, but I certainly feel that there should be somewhere where people would make a disclosure and that perhaps they should be retained by an honest broker.

What we are doing here is that we are protecting the work of the agency by demanding that certain requirements be implemented — for instance, that a person "shall disclose to the agency committee or consultative group, as the case may be, the nature of his interests in advance of any consideration of the matter" and that "he shall neither influence nor seek to influence a decision in relation to the matter." I think that is a most important subsection because it covers a multitude. That means whether inside or outside the committee rooms or the meeting place, that this is not allowed. That the person should take no part in any consideration of the matter gives me just a little bit of worry, and I will tell you the reason. Normally in situations like that the person would be required to absent himself or herself from the deliberations. "He shall take no part" is just open to a different interpretation. If somebody is sitting in the room he or she may not be physically taking part in the discussion but it could certainly create a difficulty if people were not allowed to speak freely. We should tighten that up a little and require a person to absent himself or herself as appropriate. I am not being simplistic about it. I am making the general point at the moment and I will come back again to it. What I am not clear about is this. Perhaps I missed it in my reading of the section. This is not allowed and, therefore, I am to assume that it is a penalty for a person to go ahead, that it would be a penalty to be in contravention of that section, that nondisclosure could mean that a person could be penalised. How does that process take place? Is that clarified in the legislation? How would we act against the director who would fail to comply with section 37?

Subsection (5) states:

Where a disclosure is made to the Agency, a committee or consultant group pursuant to subsection (1), particulars of the disclosure shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting concerned and for so long as the matter to which the disclosure relates is being considered by the meeting, the person by whom the disclosure is made shall not be counted in the quorum of the meeting.

That is where I think we should make the change. I think that the person to whom the disclosure relates should absent himself or herself from the meeting. That is the neatest way of dealing with that and that that is the place to deal with it. I have made the general points I wanted to make on the Bill. I am conscious of time and that we will have another opportunity of going through the Bill to deal with all those areas. In relation to section 50, I was flabbergasted to hear on the Order of Business today one of the Government Senators asking how he might raise the question of a paper laid before the House. I have been expending almost my total energy here at times on certain legislation quite simply to stop that happening, to put an end to the difficulty that Senator McGowan was having today of not being able to deal with an issue, one of the many papers laid before the House. I am raising that in the context of section 50 (1) which states:

As soon as may be after the end of each financial year, but not later than six months thereafter, the Agency shall cause a report on the performance of its functions during that year to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

I feel that that does not go far enough. There are three processes really. There is the process of laying a paper before the Oireachtas. There is the negative process of laying a proposal, a schedule or a ministerial order before the Houses of the Oireachtas and, provided it is not annulled, declared void, or rejected within a period of so many sitting days, then it becomes law, or variations of that — it becomes law and is law until such time as it is rejected. But I have always gone for the positive one. I feel that, particularly in the early years of this Bill, rather than having it just laid before the Houses which is, in polite language, saying dumped in the Library, it should be presented to the Minister who would present it to each House of the Oireachtas for adoption, discussion or whatever. I do not want to be too strong on that, but I feel that this should be addressed at this stage and I ask that it be done.

On the question of the functions of the agency, the promotion and co-ordination of environmental research — that is section 51 (1) (d) — that should also include environmental awareness, environmental studies and environmental education. That should be tied into that area. It is easy enough to go on through the Bill and to raise things here and there. I presume we will have a lot of time on Committee Stage of the Bill. Somebody had to write this legislation, consisting of 80 pages or so. In general terms, there are exclusions in it with which I do not agree. There is the question of sewage to which I referred, the question of the local government matter, the question of certain gases like radon gases, which I understand is probably in the radiation section rather than in this section. Those are minor things. I welcome this legislation. It is very easy for anybody to stand up and find flaws here and there. I relate to those points simply on the basis that they are issues I will be raising on Committee Stage and perhaps tabling amendments. But I would prefer if the Minister would take these points on board, look at some of the points I have made and perhaps consider them and come back on them.

It is too easy to make a long speech on the environment at this stage. I have confined myself as far as possible to the Bill and just made a few general points. At the end of the day we will probably get down to more detail when we come to talk about the other aspects of the legislation. I congratulate the Minister — I am not saying this in any patronising way — and the officials in the Department who put together this fine legislation which will certainly point the direction in which we all want to go. Whatever difference of opinon we might have on minor aspects of the legislation as we go along, this is positive, it is progressive, it is the way forward. It is a feather in the hat of the Department of the Environment, a Department who take a lot of hammering at different times. I certainly welcome the legislation and I still welcome the further and more detailed discussions as we go along.

Perhaps I could just continue on the theme which Senator O'Toole just ended his contribution by also saying that his legislation is to be welcomed and, indeed, is progressive. It is also rather sad that we need legislation of this nature. I could not but reflect on the attitude of our founding fathers in the early part of the century that, if a proposal were to come from an embyronic environmental lobby, if there were such an animal in existence at that time, for legislation as far-reaching as this, what the reaction would have been. Perhaps it would have been that our country was environmentally pure, that our waters and our air did not need the protection of legislation to ensure that they remained so. However, we are a rather filthy species,homo sapiens, according to a survey in the current edition of the OECD Observer— this is rather timely foi Senators on all sides of the House — which devotes most of its issue to the environment. I do not intend to quote at any great length from it other than one of the two stark statistics for the record of the House that “the OECD countries are still responsible for 45% of world CO2 emissions, 40% of SOx emissions and 50% of NOx emissions, all related to human activity”. We produce “60% of the world's industrial waste”. The report continues:

In the OECD area, 330 million people live in areas that are still not served by water treatment stations, and 130 million are subjected to unacceptable levels of noise.

These are two areas that are covered quite comprehensively in this legislation. To date, action has been concentrated on a limited number of traditional pollutants. Yet I was astonished to read that about 100,000 chemical compounds are in current commercial use and several thousand new chemicals are manufactured and marketed each year.

It is in the context of those type of frightening statistics that this legislation has been nurtured, encouraged and brought before the House. I would like to compliment the Minister personally, apart from her officials in the Department of the Environment, for having the foresight and the commitment to ensure that this legislation was not left to rot in some dusty cupboard somewhere in the Custom House for a further day or a further era, but that it has now been brought before this House and, hopefully, will become law.

The area of interest to me, coming from County Leitrim, is the impact of forestry and unplanned afforestation on the environment and the functions of the proposed agency to limit and reduce the dangers inherent in unplanned afforestation. It is a matter of fact that planning is not required for forestry plantations in this country, but I should put on record that there is in existence a number of checks and balances operated by the local authorities and more especially by the Department of Energy in this area. However, I am not so sure that, even with these checks and balances, the damage which is being done to our environment does not need the force of this legislation. While there is no mention of unplanned afforestation under section 70 one would hope that this is an area that may be taken on board. The only reference to another Minister other than the Minister for the Environment is to the Minister for the Marine. There are certain licences and regulations which the Minister for the Marine can make in section 70 under environmental approval. I was a little disappointed that the Department or Minister for Energy is not mentioned. Perhaps the legislation does not require it but, for the record, unplanned afforestation comes under the aegis of the Department of Energy.

The environmental impact of forestry on our lakes and rivers cannot be underestimated. The adverse effects of forestry on fresh waters are well documented in Europe and North America. Extensive research has linked coniferous forestry to a reduction in numbers or a total loss of salmon and trout stocks, changes in the fly life of rivers and lakes both in terms of the range of species and actual numbers present, and at higher levels there are effects on birds and amphibians. I come from Drumshanbo and behind it there is a mountain called Slieve Anierin, the Mountain of Iron, which has been planted progressively since I was a small boy. As a small boy, I remember scrambling along the rocks and the hillside as I made my way close to the top of the mountain which is about 1,900 feet above sea level. It is rather unique in that there is a lake at the top of the mountain. Although I was not the greatest fisherman in the world, I have very happy memories of attempting to catch brown mountain trout. The perceived wisdom was that if you tickled them under their stomach they would roll over and all you had to do was to pick them out. The reality was different. I am sad to report to the House that as a result of extensive afforestation in that area many of these small streams are now heavily polluted and there is a noticeable absence of the small brown trout which ultimately made its way down through the tributaries into Lough Allen and into the Shannon waterway. They provided sport for coarse fishermen and women and a staple diet in my part of the country. I raise the aspect of the impact that man can have on our environment in the context of this Bill.

Forestry is adversely affected by acid rain. There are now indications that trees may be involved in the acidification of fresh waters. Evaporation of water from the forest canopy concentrates these pollutants and during periods of heavy rainfall they make their way to our rivers and lakes as acids capable of affecting the whole ecology. I wish it were not so but unfortunately the environment in which I live tends to be rather damp — not something we like to say too much about. I am sure many parts of Ireland do not like to emphasise that they have more than the average rainfall. In fact, we have all gone to considerable lengths down the years to hide the fact. My late father often referred to rain as not being rain at all but a slight sensation of dampness. The reality is that we get a lot of rain perhaps because of the fact that we have the last mountain range before the central plain and when the rain clouds hit us we tend to get more rain. That has an effect on the ecological balance. The release of acids from the litter of needles that proliferate in plantations of Sitka spruce, the super tree, the cash crop, may also contribute to the acidification process. While there are many other theories, most evidence to date supports those I have just described.

In a report, "Environmentally Friendly Forestry?" in the autumn, 1990 edition ofThe Badger in relation to the small streams I referred to earlier, the writer of the article says: if these streams, which often appear to be no more than small drains, are destroyed then we simply will not have stocks of wild salmon and trout in our rivers and lakes. A book by Steve Tomkins called Forestry in Crisis: The Battle for the Hills which was published in 1989 and draws substantially on statistical research in the United Kingdom and especially on the Scottish experience so not all of Mr. Tomkins' argument would be relevant to Ireland. Nonetheless he makes some telling points, for example, that the process of afforestation comes as a shattering intrusion into a semi-natural environment.

Unenclosed land is first fenced, itself a violation of open landscapes that are cherished for their atmosphere of freedom, the site may then be ploughed and drained with forestry ploughs that can cut to a depth of two to three feet. He says that these trees when they are planted may be fertilised or sprayed with insecticide from the air before they are clear felled and replanted with similar crops. Professor Holmes in a report in 1979 stated:

In establishing forests and bare uplands it is hard to imagine a more dramatic change in the ecological conditions including the soil, the flora, the fauna and not least the introduction of trees for the first time in centuries.

Such is the devastation that can be caused by unplanned afforestation. The change in animal life is dramatic and some of the open country birds disappear at once, with others lingering for just a few years. Particularly worrying is the loss of open ground predatory birds caused by blanket afforestation. Wet ground vegetation tends to dry out through a lowering of the water table. Many plant species have declined in abundance through afforestation and wet ground species have been particularly adversely affected.

These dire consequences are seen in countries where unplanned and massive cheap afforestation, particularly that of the Sitka spruce, has been evidenced. What is of particular concern, as I said earlier, is the effect it would have on fish life in my own part of the country where there is an increased concentration on both public and private forestry. When I say my own part of the country I include the counties of Leitrim, Cavan, Roscommon, Sligo, south Donegal and north Mayo. Since the first of the heavy plantations in 1988 the Government have been particularly conscious of their obligations in this regard. I mentioned earlier about the Department of Energy who monitor closely all these particular——

I understand the Minister has to attend for a vote in the Dáil.

We are due to adjourn at 6 p.m. and, with the agreement of the House, may I propose that we adjourn now?

Acting Chairman

Does the House agree to adjourn now? Agreed.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 5.40 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.