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.