Shannon River Council: Statements.

I am pleased to have the opportunity afforded by this debate to comment on the position in relation to water quality generally, and in particular in the River Shannon catchment. I propose to outline the measures in place and being developed to protect and improve water quality in this catchment. I am confident Members will agree that these measures are the most appropriate and effective arrangements for the purpose. Members will be aware that statutory responsibility for the protection and improvement of water quality lies with local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts. The Environmental Protection Agency is also responsible, in the context of activities licensable by the EPA and the general functions of the EPA in relation to environmental protection.

The Government fully recognises the importance of our inland waters to the economic and social well being of the country. The generally high environmental quality of Irish lakes, together with the absence of serious pollution from our rivers, are significant national assets. Unlike many EU countries, we depend very heavily on our surface waters for the production of drinking water. In the region of 75 per cent of our requirements are sourced in this way. This contrasts sharply with, say, Denmark which sources over 95 per cent of its requirements from groundwater. The success of the Irish agri-food sector in terms of international trade has been based, among other things, on our green image abroad. Our reputation for high quality water has played an important part in the promotion of this image. The general availability of plentiful supplies of high quality water has also been a factor in the attraction of significant levels of foreign industrial investment in recent years. In addition, our waterways play a key role in attracting visitors to Ireland. More than 250,000 visitors to Ireland annually are principally drawn by active water based pursuits, such as fishing, cruising and sailing. Angling alone accounts for more than 130,000 foreign tourists annually.

The bulk of Irish surface waters are of good quality and are suitable for the most sensitive uses. The latest available EPA report, covering the period 1991-4, showed that 71 per cent of river channel length and 77 per cent of lakes surveyed, came within the unpolluted category. Serious pollution had been reduced from about 6 per cent of river channel length over 20 years ago to less than 1 per cent. This major decrease in serious pollution results from our considerable success in dealing with point source discharges, primarily those from sewage and industry.

Regrettably, however, there has been an increasing tendency over recent decades towards the enrichment of waters beyond natural levels. The phenomenon, known as eutrophication, has primarily resulted from excessive phosphorous loadings from a range of sources. The main sources are agriculture, sewage and industry.

The increase in the levels of slight and moderate pollution to some 28 per cent of river channel length during the period 1991-4 represents the biggest challenge in terms of water quality management in Ireland. In its report, the EPA ascribed, for the first time, the proportion of slight and moderate pollution generated by different sectors. This information has been fundamental to the development of pollution prevention and control strategies. Agriculture was identified as the single biggest contributor to both slight and moderate pollution levels, with sewage and industry also significant contributors.

The Private Members' Bill on the River Shannon Council, in early 1997, quite rightly focused attention on the River Shannon catchment as an important national resource. This catchment drains the centre of the country, covering approximately one-fifth of its land mass. It is important in economic terms in that it supports a wide range of agricultural and agri-based activities: it is a valuable source of drinking water and has major income generating capacity from tourism and recreation. There is understandable concern, therefore, to ensure that the catchment is managed in a sustainable manner.

Shortly after the debate in this House on the Second Stage of the Shannon River Council Bill, 1997, my Department launched a national strategy to combat the eutrophication of rivers and lakes. Its primary objective is to redress the deterioration in water quality caused by excessive inputs of phosphorous. The strategy provides a clearer focus on, and a more systematic approach to, the problem of eutrophication. It emphasises the importance of good water quality to the sustainable development of river and lake catchments in terms of agriculture, tourism, industry and other economic activity.

The strategy provides for no further disimprovement in the quality of rivers and lakes, the setting of interim targets for phased improvements in the condition of rivers and lakes affected by pollution and pursuance of the overall objective of eliminating pollution from all rivers and lakes. The strategy identifies, for the first time, a framework for an integrated approach to water resource management. It endorsed the catchment as the most appropriate basis for the integrated planning and implementation of measures to improve freshwater quality. In addition, it emphasised the need for greater co-operation between local authorities and other interested parties in terms of overall management. The strategy also provided for a wide range of measures to address the various sectors which contribute to the eutrophication problem.

Within my Department, we are engaged in a major programme of investment to upgrade sewage infrastructural facilities throughout the country. Total investment under this programme is estimated at £1.3 billion up to 2005 and is substantially supported by EU Structural Funds. The Lough Derg and Lough Ree catchments, in effect the entire River Shannon catchment, are a particular focus of this investment programme. Both lakes have been identified as sensitive areas for the purposes of the urban waste water treatment directive, on the basis of being eutrophic. Overall investment in the Shannon catchment will be nearly £50 million and will entail substantial upgrading of facilities at 17 locations.

Turning to agriculture, the Government is committed to pursuing a wide range of measures designed to reduce nutrient losses to waters. These measures address issues such as farm practices, nutrient management and deficiencies in storage facilities.

A code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from pollution was launched jointly by my Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food in July 1996. The code is being actively promoted among the farming communities by local authorities, Teagasc and the main farming organisations.

Nutrient management planning has also been substantially developed in recent years and is an important element in our drive towards more sustainable agricultural practice. The objective is to achieve the correct balance between water quality protection and nutrient requirements for optimum crop production. This must take account of nutrients already in the soil, nutrients available from animal slurry as well as the recommended application rates and nutrient requirements for different crops.

Nutrient management planning is a requirement under REPS. Some 40,000 farmers currently participate in the REP scheme and it is hoped to extend the scheme to an additional 10,000 farmers by the end of 1999. Nutrient management planning is a requirement under the improved capital allowance scheme for pollution control investment which was introduced under the Finance Act, 1997. It is also obligatory in respect of IPC licensed intensive pig and poultry production.

The Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts were amended in 1996 to allow authorities require farmers to prepare nutrient management plans where this is considered necessary in the interests of water quality protection. In August this year I published guidelines for local authorities on how to maximise use of these new provisions in order to achieve maximum benefit for water quality. In December 1996 Teagasc revised downwards its recommended application rates for phosphorous fertilisers for grassland. These new rates are being promoted actively.

Under the control of farmyard pollution schemes operated by the Department of Agriculture and Food, it is estimated that over £500 million will have been invested by the end of 1999 in respect of new and improved waste storage and animal housing facilities. The Government recently announced that it is committed to reopening a more focused scheme in 1999.

All of the above measures are already beginning to show results. In the past two years it is estimated that there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the use of phosphorous chemical fertiliser, down from 62,000 tonnes per year to some 50,000 tonnes. I am confident that the combination of measures I have outlined will help to reinforce this downward trend.

As I mentioned earlier, the strategy against eutrophication set out targets for the reduction in phosphorous levels in rivers and lakes. These targets were given statutory effect in July this year when I made regulations prescribing national water quality standards for phosphorous. The regulations establish clear targets and a clear timeframe for implementation. First, as a minimum, specified levels of improvement in the condition of rivers and lakes must be achieved within a ten year timeframe. Benchmark conditions will be as recorded by the EPA. Second, local authorities and the EPA are required to take all such steps as may be appropriate to secure compliance with the quality standards. This includes a requirement to review all licences involving discharges into water. Third, the EPA will have an overall supervisory role in relation to the exercise by local authorities of their responsibilities under the regulations. By 31 July 1999 each local authority will be required to submit a report to the EPA on the measures to be taken to implement the standards. This will be followed by biannual progress reports by local authorities on implementation of these measures. The EPA will be required to prepare and publish biannual national progress reports on overall implementation.

My Department will monitor progress in implementing the regulations. Our intention will be to adopt new standards towards the end of the ten year period with a view to achieving still further improvements in water quality conditions.

One of the key concerns identified during the Second Stage debate on the Shannon River Council Bill, 1997, concerned the effectiveness of arrangements for water quality management in the Shannon catchment. This concern was understandable given the background of deteriorating water quality conditions in Lough Derg and Lough Ree. Equally, there was concern at the time at the extent of the remit proposed for the council. In particular, there was a need for further examination of the implications of the role envisaged for the council for existing statutory arrangements in areas such as pollution control, fishing development, habitat protection, environmental management in general and inland waterways management.

Recent developments in terms of the catchment based approach to water resource management have addressed a number of concerns in this area. Central to this has been the identification of the catchment as the appropriate focal area for integrated water quality management and protection. The catchment based approach has now been firmly established in Ireland with considerable success. The catchment based approach, for example, provides an effective framework for the delivery of investment in waste water treatment facilities. This approach has been the basis of applications for Cohesion Fund assistance. Already, applications have been approved in respect of seven catchments throughout the country, namely, Loughs Derg, Ree and Leane and the Rivers Liffey, Boyne, Suir and Barrow. Total investment in these catchments will be approximately £130 million.

The major programme of investment in the Shannon catchment involves the upgrading of facilities at 17 locations. Major improvements have already been completed at Athlone, Ballinasloe, Birr, Nenagh and Tullamore. In all cases, phosphate reduction facilities are in place. In addition, work is under way at Ballyjamesduff, Boyle, Moate, Monksland, Portumna, Roscrea and Roscommon. Again, phosphate reduction facilities are being provided in all cases. Schemes are at an advanced stage of planning in respect of Ballaghaderreen, Ballymahon, Granard and Longford.

The level of investment in the Shannon catchment is impressive by any standards and reflects the Government's commitment to tackling the phosphorous contribution from sewage in the catchment. It is estimated that this investment programme will reduce the phosphorus loading from sewage in the Shannon catchment by approximately 78,000 kilogrammes per annum, representing a reduction in the order of 80 per cent.

The results of this investment are already beginning to have a positive impact on water quality. The EPA review of water quality in the Shannon catchment for 1995-7 indicates that there has been a marked reduction in phosphorous concentrations in the River Shannon between Athlone and Shannonbridge and in the lower reaches of the Nenagh river. These improvements can be directly attributed to the phosphorous reduction facilities which have been installed in both the Athlone and Nenagh sewage treatment plants. In addition, monitoring of Lough Derg has indicated evidence of a considerable improvement in water quality, particularly in the middle and lower sections of the lake. The improvement in the overall quality rating for the lake from strongly eutrophic to moderately eutrophic is a positive sign that current strategies are taking effect.

The nationwide measures which are focusing on agriculture and which I referred to earlier are being extensively promoted throughout the Shannon catchment. In so far as industrial discharges are concerned, local authorities and the EPA are now required to review any licence in respect of a discharge to a water body affected by the requirements of the phosphorous regulations. Local authorities and the EPA have been advised of the need to identify at an early stage the measures required from licensees so that licensees can put in place the planning necessary to ensure the targeted reductions in phosphorous levels can be achieved over the timeframe allowed for compliance with the quality standards.

The question of the phosphorous contribution from detergents is also an area I am currently addressing. In this regard, I hope very shortly to finalise a voluntary agreement with the Irish Detergents and Allied Products Association. The agreement will provide for targeted reductions in the use of phosphate based detergents. It will involve a twin track approach which will have both a national and catchment based focus. The Lough Derg catchment is one of a number of catchments where actions under the agreement will be concentrated.

In terms of water quality monitoring, an extensive and co-ordinated programme is being developed. Some 15,000 river, lake and effluent samples will be collected throughout the Shannon catchment each year in order to measure the effectiveness of the catchment management programme. The project partners have established a single, centrally located laboratory based in Roscommon town to undertake the routine monitoring needs of the project. This collaborative approach will ensure the efficient use of personnel and the focusing of resources on sample collection and analysis.

A computerised management system has been developed for the overall catchment. This will provide water quality managers with a powerful facility for monitoring environmental change. It will provide baseline data with which to assess and respond to future developments. Four river sub-catchments have been selected for detailed monitoring. The catchments concerned are Nenagh, Hind, Camlin and Brosna. These were selected on the basis of having the highest export rates of phosphorous to Lough Derg and Lough Ree. The overall monitoring programme has been designed to deliver accurate estimates of the nutrient loading to the Shannon system and to establish baseline water quality conditions throughout. The monitoring and management project will extend over a three year period and consultants have been appointed to carry forward the work in association with all relevant interests.

The lead local authorities are Clare County Council and Roscommon County Council. Implementation of the project is being overseen by an operational management group which is representative of the statutory interests. The participants in this group include the nine relevant local authorities, Bord Na Móna, the Central Fisheries Board, my Department, the ESB, the EPA, the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board and Teagasc. Direct consultation has been taking place with a wide range of bodies and groups. Efforts are also being made to promote public awareness of and support for the project.

I wish to conclude by assuring Members that the catchment-based approach being adopted in respect of Loughs Derg and Ree provides a well-structured and co-ordinated approach to river catchment management. All of the concerns underlying the proposals for a River Shannon Council are addressed without the need for the cost, or separate formalised structure, of such a council. The catchment-based approach provides a well focused and balanced framework for water quality management. It involves a clear, lead role for the local authorities which have statutory responsibility for water management. It includes the direct involvement of the EPA, which has specific licensing functions in relation to discharges by industry, and it facilitates participation by all the relevant statutory authorities, voluntary groups and other local community groups. An extensive monitoring programme is in place and is being further developed, and a very substantial capital investment programme is under way in relation to water services.

I am satisfied that these arrangements represent the most effective response to the water quality management requirements of the River Shannon catchment in the interests of environmental protection and the legitimate economic aspirations of the local communities. For my own part I assure the House that I am fully committed to delivering on all the commitments in our catchment-based strategy, and I am confident that these initiatives will deliver on their objectives.

I welcome the Minister of State. I do not have the same experience and knowledge of this matter as some of my colleagues, particularly Senator O'Toole, who will speak after me. He has intimate knowledge of the river and over many years he has gained many insights into its resources.

This Bill seems to be a total contradiction of the Bill that was introduced in the Seanad early last year. I feel strongly that the Shannon is an entity and a resource in itself. If a local authority at the upper level breaks the regulations, that impinges on other local authorities further downstream. For that reason I support the Bill moved by Deputy Michael O'Kennedy when he was a Senator. He is now a Deputy, and though I am not saying his elevation to the Lower House was a result of that Bill——

——I am sure it had some effect on it. He did not introduce that Bill light-heartedly; it is very difficult for Opposition Members to get Bills through. He did so because he believed strongly in the concept of a single regulatory body looking after a single resource. This is a resource which is underutilised and undermarketed. It could bring in anglers, boat users and people interested in water sports. Nevertheless, it would be possible to market the river if one had a single organisation involved in development and marketing. Such a body should have resources to ensure that local authorities, farmers and industry could be taken to task and fined if they continued to pollute or if they did not reduce their pollutants over a particular period. However, based on what the Minister said, it is now left to individual local authorities to do this. I am a great supporter of local authorities, but I see the Shannon as a single resource to be managed singly. Local authorities can work for their own areas but they cannot guarantee that their neighbours will do their work.

There are other pollutants that the Minister of State did not mention. Bord na Móna owns 20,000 acres of peatland that is contributing to all sorts of polluted soils. In some areas one can barely touch the edge of the lake. The Minister of State did not say what is to be done about that. I commend the Minister of State on the REP scheme, in so far as 40,000 farmers participate in it and it demands that they reduce the nutrients they are spilling into the Shannon. The Minister of State hopes this scheme will be extended to 10,000 more farmers in coming years, but there are many farmers who are not touched by this.

I recently had a conversation with a person involved in the construction industry and he informed me that concrete in slurry pits deteriorates over time, which is something one would not think of. This means that existing slurry pits are a cause of pollution, and the Minister of State did not say what is to be done about that.

Senator O'Toole has a wealth of experience of boating on the Shannon and I asked him about the pumping stations. In the 1997 debate former Senator Howard said that there would be ten pumping stations installed within a short period of time. Senator O'Toole informed me that there are pumping stations installed, but none of them is working. It should be possible to introduce a system of licensing boats over a certain size, not with a heavy charge but a minimal sum. That licence would be provided only where a boat had its own holding tanks and did not allow effluents straight into the Shannon. The licence could be used by an inspectorate to ensure that any boat over a particular size had a holding tank.

During the debate on then Senator O'Kennedy's Bill, the then Minister, Deputy Burton, referred to the EPA, saying, as the Minister of State did today, that it had identified eutrophication which is caused by excessive enrichment of waters brought about by inputs of phosphorous from agriculture, the major polluter. She said that the EPA was developing an ecological early warning system at a cost of over £1 million which would alert water quality management to incipient eutrophication problems.

By chance, I came across an Internet article by Earthwatch recently. That body looked at all the counties in the country with reference to water pollutants and stated that the World Health Organisation's standards were much higher than those accepted by the EPA or the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The Minister of State should say if this is correct. The article claimed that we are not carrying out the number of examinations throughout the year that the WHO demands and that a substantial amount of the pollutants we test for are left over.

I am aware that Earthwatch wrote to the EU for a reaction, but I have not heard if they got a response. The allegation that we are not measuring enough or all pollutants would be a very dangerous one to make unless there was some substance to it, and I do not think Earthwatch would have made this allegation unless there was substance to it. Earthwatch is saying that the EPA is not doing its job.

I commend the Minister of State on some of the means he has for reducing pollutants, but this matter would not be debated if Senators Manning, O'Toole and Taylor-Quinn had not put forward a Bill on this matter.

And Senator O'Meara.

And Senator O'Meara. I am sorry; I could not think who the fourth person was. They did not introduce this Bill light-heartedly. They strongly believed that there should be an authority. I am not sure whether it should have responsibility for development and control — the Senators involved will outline their thoughts later in the debate. However, as this is a single unit, it is critical that a strong means is put in place for monitoring and ensuring that the pollutants in the water supply are reduced, if not eliminated, by a specified period.

During the debate on the Bill, former Senator Howard stated that, in regard to its functions, the Bill was limited. I am sure the Minister of State might agree given that he dismissed the Bill out of hand. Senator Howard's constituency, Clare, touches the Shannon as do 26 out of the 32 counties. He said that he was concerned that such a system were put in place there would be a certain amount of overlap. However, this overlap could be overcome by directing responsibility to the committee and not having self-monitoring. I am sorry the Minister of State decided to dismiss his party's Bill and I hope that when the new Bill comes before the House, the Minister will take the opportunity to review it and reconsider his position.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this important topic. Undoubtedly, our waterways are a great natural resource and the deterioration of many of them, particularly in the latter part of this century, is a matter of concern to everyone. It is important that the necessary initiatives to improve water quality are undertaken and I welcome the Minister of State's remarks in that regard.

Having read the debate of May 1997, I acknowledge the initiative taken at the time by Senators O'Kennedy and Daly, who are now Members of the Dáil. They showed tremendous innovation in suggesting that a Shannon river council should have been set up in order to tackle the continuing deterioration of the Shannon waterway. The Department has since taken initiatives with regard to this, which should be welcomed. The structure of how it is achieved is not nearly as important as improvement in water quality in the short term. The Minister set in train initiatives which will focus on that.

Other waterways are much in need of attention and I am more familiar with the River Barrow than the River Shannon. One hopes a similar focus will be concentrated on them in the years to come. The Bill illustrated that the primary function of the council would be to propose policies and priorities for protecting and enhancing the environment, water quality and the natural habitats for birds and fish within the catchment area. It was a commendable policy to co-ordinate local authority activities in this area. It was also to make regulations to control water pollution and that is particularly important because there are many areas of pollution along the Shannon which need to be addressed individually.

The Minister of State dealt at length with untreated sewage and the investment of £50 million that will result in significant improvements, as he illustrated. The phosphorous levels are to reduce by approximately 80 per cent. The EU, through Cohesion Funds, has made a considerable contribution to this, and the monitoring group set up by the Minister, which will obviously source much of that funding in order to improve the Shannon Estuary, should be acknowledged. Agricultural effluent is a major factor in the pollution of our waterways. It is much more difficult than other pollutants to control. The sources of untreated sewage are easily identified and, therefore, can be targeted for remedial action but because of the continuing use of artificial fertilisers, etc., in the agricultural sector it will be much more difficult to tackle that problem. That needs to be done if there is to be an improvement.

Industrial and chemical pollution is another source which can be identified. Domestic detergents and peat silt, to which Senator Coogan referred, are also significant pollutants. It must be ensured that each of these is addressed in an effective manner. There must be an all-encompassing and comprehensive approach to improving the environment of the Shannon and, indeed, our waterways in general.

Senator Coogan emphasised heavily — I imagine other Opposition speakers will also — the establishment of the Shannon river council. The Minister of State identified that a monitoring and management system is in place, which includes a steering group comprising representatives of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Clare and Roscommon County Councils and the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which have an interest in ensuring that the Shannon is restored to its previous condition.

It probably raises the question why other local authorities along the Shannon are not represented because local government has a specific responsibility in ensuring that the environment is protected. With regard to natural resources and amenities, such as the Shannon, the Barrow and the Slaney, it is obviously in our interest to ensure that they are protected, preserved and improved. Our waterways need to be protected not just for environmental reasons, but also for good commercial reasons. The Minister of State said that 75 per cent of our water abstraction comes from surface water supplies. Portable water is dependent on rivers and lakes being in a good, clean condition. If that is not the case, then there obviously is a danger to public health and there is also a huge cost involved in treating water.

It is essential, in terms of tourism and leisure activities, whether swimming, game course angling or pleasure cruising, which is a major contributor to the tourist industry in the Shannon hinterland, and for ecological and botanical reasons that the issue is addressed so that in future these activities will be sustained and we will have a river of which we will be proud.

The Minister has put in place, through the monitoring and management system, an alternative to the Shannon river council whose remit is very similar. I applaud my colleagues, Deputies O'Kennedy and Daly, for their efforts in placing greater emphasis on the improvement of the Shannon, which no doubt was a catalyst to accelerate such improvement. It has focused attention which was well merited. Their major concern is improvement of the waterway. How it is achieved is a secondary consideration.

I would like to think that given the efforts the Minister has made in establishing this body, it will be effective and successful. However, I suggest that he does not abandon the concept of the Shannon River Council but defer it for the present and instead monitor the success and effectiveness of the management system he has put in train. If in the future there is not an acceleration of the improvement we are seeking, the Minister could reintroduce the concept of the Shannon River Council and perhaps extend it to other important waterways.

The Shannon is probably one of the finest river catchment areas in Europe. Many people from all over Europe avail of the amenities it provides to enjoy their holidays. In the European context generally, Ireland has carved out a niche for itself as a green and environmentally friendly country. It is imperative that we protect that image. Not only should we protect the image, we should protect and improve the substance behind it so that in the future Europeans will look to Ireland as a country which has preserved not only its culture and heritage but also its environment.

Looking back over history and the part the River Shannon has played in the culture and heritage of the island over the years, with monastic settlements centuries ago and the development of the Celtic civilisation, it behoves us all to place emphasis on it and to periodically and regularly monitor the effectiveness of any system put in place to restore it to the quality it should be.

I welcome the words of the Minister of State. I have no difficulty with the points he made. I would describe his speech as pretty, but I would also describe it as being very reactive and it does not deal with the issues. Before the Minister leaves the House, he should state the Government's position on the Shannon River Council Bill. We are entitled to know and that has to be stated here. Even if it is a "maybe" position, that should be done. We have a duty to respond to needs as we see them. There is currently a Bill which has passed through Second Stage and those of us who have read and have spoken about it recently, need to decide whether we should re-enter it or if the Government should put forward a Bill.

I want to make my position on this clear. This is not about personal plaudits. I would prefer to see a Bill coming from a Minister than being pushed through in Private Members' time. A government's job is to govern. Legislation was put forward last year and I supported it. It was proposed by two members of the Minister of State's party and with our support on the Independent benches it managed to get through. We did that because we thought it was the right thing to do, not to take a cheap shot at Government. The same position exists now and all I have learned in the meantime is that there is greater need.

I know this river. I have travelled every foot of it from the furthest end of Lough Allen to Loop Head. It is clear to me that one cannot do business in this way. It is clear from the Minister of State's speech that he is speaking as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Everything he stated relates to that Department and reflects well on it. I will say nothing to rubbish his speech. It is important. The issues he brought forward are hugely important to the river, but they are only part of it.

I would like the Minister in his reply to state how any Government can justify a situation where, if someone wishes to build a marina on the Shannon, the required regulations depend on the side of the river it is built. If it is built on the Galway side there are one set of regulations and if it is built on the Offaly side there are a different set of regulations. It cannot be right that grants, encouragement and other matters change from one side of the river to the other. There is not a holistic plan. It is an absolute nonsense to take the view in the Bill that each county council or local authority is responsible for the water in its own area and to leave that without telling us what happens next.

What happens if those on the upper end of the river do not do their business? What can Limerick, Clare or Kerry County Councils do about that? Incidentally Kerry County Council also has an interest. I noticed the Minister of State mentioned nine county councils; I presume that excludes Cavan and Kerry. Cavan and Kerry also have an interest in this and that might be considered. My point is that there are so many different groups with an involvement. I ask the Minister of State to hammer the table on this and come to terms with it and what we are about as politicians.

One year ago, the Minister of State's colleagues in this House spoke passionately in favour of this legislation. They talked of the need for it and the need for an overall plan. It fuels a sense of cynicism about politicians if these issues die when these people go into Government. I do not think the Minister should be slavishly bound by the elements of the Bill put forward by his party and passed by this House last year. However, there is a moral and political responsibility for people to put forward that which they said they were committed to. That is not happening.

How many Departments are dealing with this? I do not know. There would certainly be the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Four Departments have a core and central interest in what happens in the Shannon area. I could name more Departments which have more involvement in various other ways. I could mention many statutory authorities. What is happening is a nonsense.

For example, if one travels through Limerick city by boat, in approximately 300 yards one passes through at least three areas of responsibility. I say "at least" because I could be wrong. First, one goes from the Limerick harbour authority, to Mallow Street bridge where one then moves into the area of Limerick Corporation. I do not know if Clare County Council has responsibility for the other side. Beyond that there is the area of the inland waterways. Three different groups have different responsibilities along those areas. That cannot be an efficient and effective way of doing business.

The Minister of State can throw away his script and tell us what he feels. We need political instinct to take over here. We need people to ask what is the sensible thing to do. I agree with the comments made about other waterways. A comment was made about the Slaney and, having looked at this legislation, I certainly agree if the Government decided more waterways were involved than the Shannon. It is connected to the two canals and the Barrow navigation and there is a much wider issue involved here for all our interconnected waterways. There is a great case for extending rather than reducing. This cannot be the case when those involved include ten or 11 county councils, four or more Departments, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and various harbour boards. I could not even mention all the harbour boards. Foynes Harbour and Limerick Harbour would have a strong involvement and there may also be some in County Clare. Who is putting all these together? Nobody is taking an overall view.

The Minster may reply that the Environmental Protection Agency has a responsibility for water quality. Yes it has, but who is going to stand on the bridge in Lanesboro and ask why all the development in the town is only on one side of the river? Who will go into Richmond Harbour and apply pressure to sort out the connection between it and the River Shannon and ensure those areas are developed?

The Minister did not mention two things which have left him in the lurch. His Department made a decision, the commencement date of which has passed, that every cruiser on the Shannon should have a sewage holding tank which should be emptied at pump-out stations, but I travelled the length of the Shannon and did not find even one of them working. They may be in operation now but they were not this summer, in Tipperary, Galway or Leitrim; and even if they were working, no one is insisting that cruisers should empty their tanks into them. This comes under the aegis of the Minister's Department and nothing is being done about it.

This year, I travelled through Ardnacrusha power station. In the upper, deeper lock, of some 60 to 65 feet, I was able to scoop zebra mussels by the handful off the wall. I thought the Minister would have mentioned this in his speech because it is a serious problem on the river. I am raising issues which would give force and strength to the Minister's argument for an overall authority.

In County Clare, the Kilrush marina has received the wrong sort of publicity over the last few years, but it is a vital tourism centre. However, for as long as one cannot get boats through Limerick city, because of the lack of planning and overall control, boats will not go down the Shannon to Kilrush. That deprives that town, as well as Foynes, Ballylongford and Tarbert, of a new industry. All it requires is for someone to examine the bridges in Limerick, to install a lock between Kemmy Bridge and Father Matthew Bridge, and dredge down about two feet. That would allow boats to travel through Limerick safely at almost all times, would bring a new industry to west Limerick, south Clare and north Kerry, and create a new tourism impetus in the area. The problem is, who will decide to do this? No one has the money, it is no one's responsibility, and therefore no one takes the overall view.

Neither is an overall view taken of water sports. On beaches in most parts of Ireland there are rules which prohibit the use of water skis and jet skis in certain areas, but no one is co-ordinating or developing those activities on the Shannon. To return to a matter of concern to the Minister's Department, the protection of the corncrake covers more than one county and I do not see why it should not also come under the Shannon River Council, nor do I see why tourism issues, such as enabling people to travel from Waterford to Belleek or Ballyshannon, should not be considered by the council.

It is unacceptable that the Minister's contribution did not cover the more negative developments we have read about recently. The Lough Derg group, among others, is issuing statements about the deterioration in water quality in certain areas and the extensive increase in zebra mussels on the river. These matters should have been dealt with in the speech.

The main point to consider is how to tackle the problem. The way to move things forward is not through projects or management ideas as outlined by the Minister, important though they may be. Those things should be happening but should be accountable to a Shannon River Council. We need an overall body which would be responsible for doing the positive tasks the Minister has outlined in the speech.

There will be a fundamental cynicism until people see politicians deliver what they are committed to. A clear understanding was given by the Minister's party that it was committed to having an overview of this. In recent times, the Leader of the House made clear it was still being considered by the Government. I ask the Minister to clarify the position. Has the Government decided not to do this, in which case we can go to war about it? Is it considering the matter and will it make up its mind in a few weeks or is it thinking of reintroducing the Bill as it stands? There are various approaches but a haphazard one is not acceptable.

The River Shannon has such potential for enriching our culture that we should examine this matter. The town of Banagher has great historic and cultural associations. O'Sullivan Beara, from the Minister's county, crossed the river near it; the town has one of only two inland Martello towers in Ireland; it is the centre of corncrake protection and river activities; it has connections with the Brontes, Trollope and others. That small town is one example of the enrichment we can gain from the river. We must approach the matter in a controlled, directed and holistic way. It cannot be left to individual county councils — that is not to put them down, but it is unfair to expect them to be responsible for something over which they have no control, such as the river.

I thank the Minister for coming here and ask him to take on board these issues. I hope he takes a firm line with people with whom he discusses these matters.

I also welcome the Minister and thank him for his speech. I took heart from some new initiatives he made known and measures which it is planned to enact. The Shannon is important but I am pleased we have an opportunity to discuss water pollution in its own right. Good reasons have been put forward for taking a stronger and more integrated approach to correcting the deterioration of the water quality in the Shannon and its hinterland — Members have spoken of commercial, recreational and other reasons — but the most overriding reason for seeking to protect our water quality is that of human health. Every other reason is valid and ought to be taken into account but from the human health viewpoint it is fundamental that we seek to preserve and improve water quality in all inland rivers and lakes. This country calls itself the Emerald Isle and promotes itself as a place of clean air and health soil. No one wants hotels, in future years, to be obliged to have signs stating that the water is not fit for drinking. This will happen unless strong corrective measures are taken because that is the direction in which we are going. We can ill afford to be complacent about water quality. Similarly, we cannot be complacent about the quality of the soil in which the food we eat is grown. We must devote a great deal of energy, time and expertise to protecting these two important factors in the years ahead.

I acknowledge the points the Minister made. However, I am not as optimistic that the pace of progress is as rapid as it should be considering the degree of deterioration that is well established at this stage. I refer in particular to a report published recently by the Lough Derg and Lough Ree catchment monitoring and management committee. It represents nine counties along a strip of the Shannon, the longest strip of inland waterway in the country. The committee is far from complacent and optimistic and states in its report that the quality of the water is getting worse rather than better.

The report underlines and emphasises that the water course there is under a severe and growing threat from sewage discharges, agricultural run-off and industrial effluent. I welcome the measures outlined by the Minister to tackle sewage discharges and the additional investment in that direction. However, the measures taken have not been strong enough to deal with phosphate and nitrate enrichment of the soil and slurry spills. It is fanciful to think that only the water areas along the Shannon are being badly affected. The Minister is aware that for many years there were fish kills every summer on the River Lee. This is unacceptable.

Long stretches of tributaries of the River Lee have been poisoned because of slurry spills; they will continue to be poisoned for years to come. They are dead rivers which will not support fish life. These rivers are at our back door and I am not certain that the degrees of surveillance and enforcement or the penalties imposed are sufficiently strong to act as a deterrent or a preventative measure. If they were strong enough, this practice would not be repeated year after year.

The Shannon area is not the only one that is very vulnerable to these influences. The River Lee and the great limestone lakes in the west, including the Corrib and the Cullen, are very sensitive and vulnerable to this type of pollution. The internationally acclaimed Lakes of Killarney are also affected. Lough Leane, which the Minister visited, is grievously and seriously polluted. This is a sad testimony to historic neglect on the part of local authorities and local people who have failed to appreciate the importance of these waters at every level and to take preventative measures to protect them.

The Lough Derg and Lough Ree management committee stated that we still have inadequate baseline information. Despite all the research carried out and the activities of the EPA, we continue to have inadequate baseline information regarding the exact sources of river pollution. This issue must be examined and, if that argument is sustained, remedied. I ask the Minister to consider this matter.

The committee also pointed out that a number of the penalties are unworkable. Some of the penalties are national lottery type figures which will be imposed on farmers if they are found by the EPA to have polluted or to be in breach of a licence. However, those penalties will not be enforced. People in Ireland are too decent to put a farmer and his family out of business overnight on foot of one transgression. This does not happen in Ireland. Pubs are not closed down even when they are in breach of the licensing laws. It is not in our tradition. Therefore, the penalties are fanciful and unlikely to be enforced. There should be more workable penalties which would be sufficiently strong to hurt people and ensure they would not reoffend, but not to deny a family their livelihood.

The committee also mentioned the failure to reduce phosphate enrichment from farm sources. The Minister made a big play about phosphates. However, I am as concerned about the presence of nitrates in the soil in which the food I eat, such as root vegetables, is grown as I am about phosphates in the waters from which I take my fish. I am very worried about nitrates and I am not sure that there is enough information about their source and effect.

I was reared on the land when times were bad and money was scarce and I do not understand why clever farmers apply more fertiliser to their land than is necessary to achieve the required result. As the Minister is aware, a survey of the River Lee catchment area found that the amount of phosphate used on the land is 50 per cent more than is required to achieve the optimum yield of grass. I do not understand why farmers waste that money. Taxation measures should be introduced as an incentive to farmers to apply only the recommended amount of fertiliser. I do not understand why we cannot use our taxation system to achieve that result.

Since she took office the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, has sought to use the budget, which was traditionally a fiscal instrument, as a measure to achieve her objective of generating employment by making it attractive for unemployed people to take up work and rewarding them for doing so. I do not understand why our taxation system cannot be used in a more sophisticated way to achieve better environmental results, particularly in terms of the surplus of fertiliser we are told is being used.

There are also phosphates from domestic sources such as detergents. The taxation system should be used to reduce the amount of phosphate based detergents used by housewives at present, many of them in total innocence. It is not as if there is not an alternative. Phosphate free detergents are available in Ireland. As a further bonus, they are manufactured in the constituency shared by the Minister of State and I by Henkel in Littleisland. I recommend to the Minister that we bring to the attention of the public that alternatives are available. Additional taxes should be imposed to wean housewives away from the bad old practice of using phosphate based detergents which are a major contributor to pollution of our water.

It is in the best interest of farmers to ensure we have good healthy soil and clean water. The farmers are the custodians of the land. A survey carried out in the Shannon/Nenagh area revealed that two-thirds of farmers had inadequate storage facilities. That is not acceptable in light of the emphasis on fish kills. The REP schemes offer some incentives to farmers but farmers must seek advice from Teagasc and other bodies and must be encouraged to seal slurry in order to avoid detrimental run-off into lakes and inland waterways. Stronger measures are required. It is one thing to outline measures on paper but it is another thing to put them into practice.

I am not convinced sufficiently strong resources are available to police and monitor the measures we put in place. Unless strong and radical action is taken quickly, some of the most beautiful and magical lakes in this country will be beyond salvation. I am unclear whether the objectives of those who drafted the Shannon River Council Bill will be met in the measures outlined by the Minister here today. I hope they will but I suspect they may not. I have been long enough in politics to know that what is everybody's business eventually becomes nobody's business. I invite the Minister to return to this House in a year's time and demonstrate to us how the system is operating in practice and whether it is achieving its desired objectives. If it is, we will be very pleased and if it is not, we will have to reconsider it.

I am not convinced that Government thinking on this problem is fully reflected in the Minister's speech. I am concerned that the Shannon River Council Bill is too limited in its focus. Many waterways and catchment areas are experiencing similar problems to those experienced in the Shannon catchment area.

Mayo County Council is the monitoring agency for the River Moy and Lough Conn catchment area. There are natural indicators of eutrophication in Lough Conn. The disappearance of a species of fish native to Lough Conn for thousands of years was the first indication of eutrophication. A further dire consequence of eutrophication is that trout do not come to the surface; they are dying of old age at the bottom of the lake. That has a detrimental spin-off effect on our tourist industry. The number of fish caught in Lough Conn this year was disastrously low. If fishermen do not catch fish in a particular lake, they will not return to that area. The enrichment in the lakes is so great that trout will not rise for the mayfly.

I would like the Minister to focus his attention on pollution in our lakes and rivers. I would like him to draft a Bill which addresses the range of problems currently affecting our waterways and rivers, of which pollution is a major one. The causes of pollution have been outlined here today. We pay a price for progress and that price seems to be pollution. Industrial pollution causes major problems in our rivers and there is a lack of enforcement of penalties. A recent survey carried out on people's attitudes to being caught for offences — including speeding — revealed that 85 per cent of the population believe they will never be caught. Senator Quill referred to farmers allowing effluent flow into rivers and having faulty silage pits. Occasionally farmers are caught and fined heavily but they are in the minority. The majority of people get away with committing offences. The Minister must address the issue of enforcement. It is no good having a plethora of legislation if it is not enforced.

Farmers have a great deal to answer for in regard to the pollution of our lakes and rivers. They often spread more fertiliser than they need and fail to consult their local Teagasc offices which would advise them on the correct quantities. Fertiliser is sometimes spread the day before a major downpour and 90 per cent of it is washed into the nearest stream, subsequently finding its way into our lakes and waterways. Those problems must be tackled. REPS is contributing to the solution of some problems but only a fraction of farmers are involved in these schemes and some do not comply with the regulations. The Minister should focus on the wider issues.

The Minister referred to water quality. Much of our drinking water comes from lakes and rivers. We have a great deal of good underground water and aquifers, especially in limestone areas. They are not being tapped although there may not be any need to tap them at the moment. A few years ago almost every farmer had his own well. The water quality of these wells was excellent because it came from the natural limestone and was unpolluted. Grants were given to farmers to enable them to have a natural source of water in their own farmyard. The Minister should take the issue of incentives on board. We can solve many problems by offering people incentives to change their ways. We should also direct more attention at the control of pollution. We should give incentives to farmers to do things that will improve the quality of our waterways which is an ongoing problem.

With the current level of industrial and economic activity or the Celtic tiger economy we will have to pay the price in pollution. Pollution has to be tackled more seriously and on a wider plane if we want to achieve the results that will satisfy the entire country. Dealing with it on a piecemeal and localised basis will not solve the issue. It will solve the problem in one area but it will not cater for the needs of the entire country.

I compliment Deputies Daly and O'Kennedy for initiating this Bill.

There is no doubt the Shannon is the most important river in this country and it has to be protected. It is a river of enormous interest from many points of view, particularly for people in the fishing, boating and other water based businesses. It is widely used. However, there are vast problems as far as pollution is concerned with fish kills, etc. A lot of work has been done to protect the Shannon and other waterways but a lot more work needs to be done.

Water quality is the most important issue we have to get right, particularly with regard to water consumption and water treatment in every town and village. A target date should be set whereby a treatment system will be installed in every town and village that is connected to our waterways. We have to improve our own facilities before we criticise other people. At the same time we should impose severe restrictions on people who produce industrial waste. This has been an enormous polluter of our waterways. I remember when one industry in my county started up the workers were instructed to allow untreated water run into the waterway and it would run into the sea. This resulted in numerous fish kills That industry has since installed a water treatment facility.

We must go a step further. A section of the Shannon runs from Limerick to Tarbert and Kerry Head and the sewage from all the towns and villages situated along its banks is allowed flow into the river untreated. There is not one treatment plant on its banks in this area. I welcome the new treatment plants that are being installed upland. We have to look at this issue in the future because if we are to protect our habitat and wildlife we will have to ensure that water quality is protected.

The Minister of State mentioned Denmark where more than 75 per cent of their water supply comes from wells. I visited Denmark as a member of a delegation from Kerry County Council and we met various groups who were concerned about the quality of their water supply due to the amount of nitrogen and phosphates that had been used on lands for agricultural purposes. They are afraid that these chemicals will seep down into the water system and that their wells will be polluted in the future. I am glad to see there is a reduction in the amount of phosphates and nutrients allowed for use on lands. Further restrictions should be introduced.

Many Senators referred to the agricultural sector and said that farmers should install proper slurry pits, etc. Farmers should receive more grant aid to install these facilities. All farmers should not be tarnished with the same brush. There is a small number of farmers who pollute the water supply and they should be identified and prosecuted. When these farmers are emptying their slurry tanks they take the easy route. If a river is flooded they will empty their slurry tanks into the river under the guise of darkness which solves their disposal problem until the following year. But there are law abiding farmers who dispose of all the effluent from their farms in a proper manner.

Extra money should be made available to farmers to install proper controls. There should also be more rigorous conditions placed on any industries that are being set up here, particularly if they are setting up along the Shannon and any other major rivers. These measures should be part of the overall environmental impact study that is being presented to the local authority.

I do not agree with Senator O'Toole that there should be one overall body in charge of the Shannon. The local authorities should play their role in each of the authorities because they are the governing bodies and they are responsible if there is a pollution incident in their county. They will be the ones to suffer and they will pay the price at the end of the day. It would not be suitable to have an agency based as far away as Cavan or Roscommon if a problem occurs in Clare or Kerry.

With regard the upgrading of sewerage facilities, I am delighted that the Minister will spend £1.3 billion on these facilities up to the year 2005. I would like this scheme to continue after the year 2005 because there should be an ongoing programme to upgrade our sewerage treatment plants. One of the biggest problems facing my local authority is the cost of servicing the treatment plants. The capital costs is one thing, but the running costs are becoming a problem and a deterrent. A way will have to found around that. If people want proper water facilities they will have to pay part of the cost. They cannot be looking to central government all the time. It is one thing to provide services but thereafter it is for the local authorities or the people living in the area to pay.

I welcome the numbers in the REPS and the announcement by the Minister of State of an additional 10,000 people coming into it. That is a move in the right direction. I also welcome his announcement that improvements in the condition of rivers and lakes must be achieved within a ten year time frame. That is very important.

Last year we encountered a very serious problem with one of the lakes in Killarney. We addressed the matter and are monitoring it very closely. The lakes of Killarney are very important to my county. They are used for drinking water and for fishing and tourism. I compliment my local authority for the work it has done.

Killarney is some distance from the River Shannon.

I am aware of that. There are problems with many of the waterways in the country. I only mentioned it for the record.

I welcome the announcements made by the Minister of State. If they are followed through in a proper fashion, there will be good drinking water and there will be proper facilities on the River Shannon. It will then be a clean river — it was always known as one — and one of which all living along it can be proud, whether it be in respect of sporting activities or the quality of drinking water. I welcome any money spent in this area and the Government should allocate any extra funding at its disposal to ensure that the quality of water in our waterways, especially in the River Shannon, is of the highest level.

I thank the Minister of State for comprehensively setting out the initiatives undertaken by his Department in the area of water quality, monitoring and management in the River Shannon catchment area.

I join with Senator Dan Kiely in thanking Deputy O'Kennedy and Deputy Daly for their initiative in bringing forward the Shannon River Council Bill when they were Members of this House. I was not a Member when the Bill was introduced. However, I have, to an extent, succeeded Deputy O'Kennedy in representing the constituency of Tipperary North in this House. It was at my initiative that Second Stage of the Bill was reintroduced. In this I have the support of Senator Taylor-Quinn on behalf of Fine Gael and Senator O'Toole on behalf of the Independent group. There is, therefore, support for the Bill on all sides of the House.

I do not believe the Minister of State is engaging in a cynical exercise in attending this debate. However, is the Government serious about this Bill and this council? I and other Members have concluded it is not. Will the Minister of State put us out of our misery and let us know if the Government is serious about the Bill? It is time the Government stopped engaging in a cynical exercise of pretending that it will at, some stage, introduce this or similar legislation to establish a river council, authority or some body which will have a proactive, developmental and monitoring role on water quality on the River Shannon.

The Shannon River Council Bill is a fine Bill. It reminds me of the Western Development Commission Bill, which the House passed last week. The Western Development Commission also establishes the role of a chief executive and gives the commission power to co-ordinate strategy with regard to development, promotion and integration of that strategy in relation to the west.

The point was made — it has also been made with regard to the Shannon River Council Bill — that in establishing the Western Development Commission under a legislative framework the House was duplicating a range of responsibilities already present under law in a number of agencies, including the local authorities. That argument is made in reverse with regard to the Shannon River Council Bill, that there is no need for the proposed Shannon River Council because of the existence of local authorities, the EPA and regional authorities, although the latter has no teeth or authority thanks to the lack of enterprise by Fianna Fáil in the past. If that is the case, there is no need for the Western Development Commission because it is performing a similar function with regard to a different issue.

However, a Shannon River Council Bill is required. Indeed, I have suggested to my colleagues on this side of the House that we meet to consider publishing a new Bill, a Shannon Authority Bill, because something more than a water quality monitoring agency is needed. What is required is an authority with powers that will be proactive, not only on water quality, but on tourism, agriculture and other matters, and will also have a co-ordinating role. Given that a number of agencies, Departments and existing authorities have functions on water quality, tourism and agriculture as it affects the River Shannon, there is a need for a central body to co-ordinate and ensure that all elements of strategy, development and activity are carried out. That is not happening at the moment.

There is a political issue here. It was political pressure and support by all the political parties which led to the establishment of the Western Development Commission. It was political lobbying by those involved in western development, including Marion Harkin, that ensured the introduction of the Western Development Commission Bill. Ultimately, it will be political will that decides if we have an authority for the proposed Shannon River Council. It is lacking at present. A Bill has been published by two senior members of the Minister of State's party, yet the Government has paid lip service to the notion of an authority throughout the life time of this Seanad. I have raised the matter on more than one occasion but the Government has prevaricated and has tested our patience. It is time that came to an end; perhaps we should publish our own Bill. It is time the Government declared that the Shannon River Council Bill, as published initially by Deputy O'Kennedy and subsequently republished by me and other colleagues, is effectively dead.

There are a number of issues regarding environmental matters on the River Shannon to which the Minister of State referred. Two weeks ago I raised an Adjournment matter on phosphates. This had been publicised on a number of occasions by SOLD — the Save Our Lough Derg group — based in Dromineer and with whom I work closely. The group has been campaigning for a ban on phosphates in household detergents. The current Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, gave a clear undertaking when in Opposition that he would ban the use of phosphates in household detergents. Now he is in Government that, like many other issues, has been forgotten.

We hear once again from the Minister about a voluntary code. The voluntary code is useless because it lets the industry off the hook. This is a multinational industry which is able to sell phosphate-free household detergent in Germany but appears to be unable to sell it in this country. Phosphate-free detergent is widely available in other parts of Europe but a voluntary code has not made it available to householders here. A ban is necessary and the Minister should fulfil the promise he made.

Judging from the Minister's speech, one would imagine that Lough Derg, the lake with which I am familiar, is in pristine condition, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lough Derg is still seriously polluted. I ask the Minister to respond to Senator Quill's comments about the report of the monitoring and management committee of Lough Derg and Lough Ree which states that the pollution problem is worsening. The impression he gives is that nutrification is on the decrease. From the evidence of fishermen and the people who live on Lough Derg, this year was no better than any other.

The Minister was correct when he said that a number of sewage treatment plants are improving the water quality of Lough Derg. There is still, however, a considerable number missing. Kerry-glass, which is situated on Lough Derg and was the winner on a number of occasions of Tidy Towns Village of the Year, still has not been approved for a sewage treatment plant.

There is a voluntary approach to reducing the amount of phosphates and nutrients being put into the lake and the catchment river area of Lough Derg by farmers. We have been told that Teagasc, in conjunction with the farming population, is reducing the amount used. There is a voluntary code, but what happens if the amount is not reduced? I do not understand why farms overspend on nitrogen. Senator Kiely said that grants should be available to encourage reductions in its use. He asked for grants to be given in order to spend less. That is a contradiction. I ask the Minister to return to that issue. The Department of the Environment and Local Government, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Food should put forward serious proposals to deal with the single biggest cause of nutrification in our lakes.

Zebra mussels were not referred to once in the Minister's speech. This issue is a major problem in Lough Derg and the surrounding area. I have raised this in the Seanad and the attitude of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources is to ignore the problem. These mussels are clearly causing a problem.

The Minister said, on his strategy against nutrification, that he made regulations in July prescribing national water quality standards for phosphorous. In that context he said that local authorities and the EPA are required to take all such steps as may be appropriate to secure compliance with the quality standards. This includes a requirement to review all licences involving discharges into water. I have a specific question about this. Currently there is an application before North Tipperary County Council by a group called Waste Management Ireland, part of a global company called Waste Management Incorporated, for a licence to discharge 1.8 million cubic litres of poisoned water from a pit in Silvermines, six kilometres from Nenagh and within the water catchment area of Lough Derg and the Shannon. As part of the licence application it is proposed to discharge this water into a stream which would flow into the Kilmastullagh River which flows directly into the Shannon and into Lough Derg.

I have queried why this licence application has not been sent to the EPA and I have been told that the EPA has no interest in it. I find that extraordinary. The elements contained in the water in Silvermines are left over from open cast mining — not only lead and zinc but phosphorous I would like to know the statutory levels above which the EPA must be involved in issuing that licence. I have attempted to get an answer but it has not been satisfactory. This licence application should be dealt with by the EPA in an open and transparent manner. We face a situation where the decision is being made in an executive manner by North Tipperary County Council. This is an issue related to water quality in the Shannon and Lough Derg catchment area which is not being dealt with by the EPA, contrary to what the Minister said. I would like the Minister to respond to that question.

I welcome the presence of the Minister in the House but it is disappointing that the Government is taking such a cynical approach to such fine legislation which a senior member of its own parliamentary party took the time to initiate. I look forward in the near future to a River Shannon authority, commission or council to match the Western Development Commission.

I wish to share my time with Senator Dardis. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dan Wallace to the House for this discussion. I compliment Deputies O'Kennedy and Daly for their work on the Shannon River Council Bill. I live very close to the Shannon and there are many problems in that area. The main provisions in the Bill are the co-ordination of the environment, water quality, habitats, water management and the activities of public authorities.

Local authorities are the right bodies to be charged with water monitoring in their areas. The making of recommendations to regulate and control water pollution, the provision of an inspection and supervisory service and the preparation of water management and pollution control for the entire Shannon catchment area are very important. Companies are licensed and carefully monitored by local authorities. That is certainly the position in my county.

I welcome what the Minister said on improvements to sanitary services in many towns and villages within close proximity to the Shannon. Villages upstream on some of the smaller tributaries to the Shannon must also be given priority in relation to sewerage schemes. The Minister of State proposes to allocate money to improve the water quality in these areas. There is a lot of development in close proximity to towns and villages adjacent to the Shannon. Local authorities should ensure that large housing and ribbon developments are built closer to villages and towns where services are available.

We must ensure that developments take place adjacent to the River Shannon catchment area. We must get things right in this area because there has been a substantial drop in population in the lower, middle and upper Shannon regions in the past ten years. This can be redressed by developing services in the area and ensuring that the Shannon River Council Bill is more relevant, particularly in the area of water quality. Agencies with responsibility in this area include the ESB, the Board of Works and fishing, boating and farming interests. Boating interests include pleasure boats, row boats and canoeing. The water quality of the Shannon must be properly monitored. Fishing on the Shannon has suffered as a result of the pollution that has occurred in the past ten or 15 years. I welcome the sewerage development that has taken place in the town of Athlone. This will be of major benefit to the Shannon even though there may still be problems in smaller villages.

The Minister might consider licensing the spreading of fertilisers. This is taken into consideration in REPS but some farmers are not involved in REPS. Farmers can spread slurry if the weather is suitable but heavy rain can cause serious problems.

Pump-out facilities for boats must be considered. This is crucial because there are many boating enthusiasts with large numbers of boats on the Shannon. These boats cause serious pollution problems. This is not always evident because of the vast volume of water in the Shannon. Money should be allocated to local authorities to ensure that these facilities are provided.

If the situation is not improved in 12 or 18 months, perhaps the Minister will consider appointing one monitoring body to deal with all the organisations involved in this area. However, the amount of money being spent on schemes adjacent to the Shannon should improve matters.

I thank Senator Moylan for sharing his time with me. I am not sure a Bill is necessary to deal with this problem. However, there must be a determination to sort out the matter. This can only be done effectively by having one overall agency to deal with all the other agencies with responsibility in this area. There are far too many such agencies, some of which have contributed to the pollution problem. It is inconsistent to ask local authorities to monitor water quality when they have created the problem in many areas.

The difficulty with the Shannon is that one is dealing with a very large water course where there are large lakes with a slow turnover of water. I flew over Lough Derg recently and could see the pollution from the air. I began my angling career at the age of 12 in the town of Banagher from where one could row to Meelick weir and see the bottom of the river. Bord na Mona's activities put paid to that when silt came down the river to Lough Derg. I visited Lough Sheelin where piggeries have been erected. I met a farmer who told me he would put enough slurry in the lake in five years to reclaim it. Lough Sheelin is one of the premier trout lakes in Europe. I also visited Lough Ennel which is being polluted by phosphates from the sewage treatment plant in Mullingar. The same thing happened in Lough Derg.

The State has been negligent over a long period and is only now beginning to come to its senses. The agencies did not bring us to our senses, the angling clubs, sailing clubs and users of Lough Derg did so, but for them the indifference would have continued. The EPA, local authorities and fishery boards all have responsibility in this area. The ESB has responsibility for salmon. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands is responsible for the wetlands. This is a nonsense because there is no coherent plan or degree of protection.

The Minister made a point about the 130,000 people who come to this country to fish. I remember a time when many Americans came to Lough Corrib for weeks. They would fly to Shannon, hire a car and hire a ghillie for a fortnight. They were wealthy people who spent large amounts of money. Such people will go to the Falkland Islands, Russia, New Zealand or wherever the sport is. They have the money to travel and we should be attracting them here.

Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.