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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Oct 2000

Vol. 164 No. 3

Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Senator Norris is in possession and he has five minutes remaining.

That will be quite ample because I have only one point to make. I am quite glad of the opportunity given to me by the break in the discussion because I took up the suggestion from the Minister's helpful advisers and telephoned Dublin Corporation about a particular matter related to dumping at sea. Traditionally, over many years, it dumped many thousands of tonnes of sewage sludge in Dublin Bay. The boat was the notorious Sir John Bazelgette. I asked an adviser last week about this and I was very happy to be told that, despite the fact that the career of the Sir John Bazelgette had been a little prolonged beyond what had been expected, it had ceased this noxious operation.

I telephoned the corporation and had a useful discussion. I am told that not only has the Sir John Bazelgette gone and that particularly nasty kind of official dumping at sea has finished, but it has now commenced at the Ringsend sewage treatment works the recovery of solids after partial treatment. These are turned into pellets and used for agricultural purposes. I welcome this. It is something I have talked about for years.

It is not a terribly savoury subject but for the past 20 years I have been saying that it is mad for us to dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of untreated human sewage straight into the sea from a sewage effluent treatment plant right next door to a generating station. I asked why we could not recover the solids and use them for burning in the Pigeon House station at Ringsend. I understand that the method of turning it into satisfactory, fully treated pellets will not be fully in place until April 2002. Would it be possible for the authorities to look at the possibility of using this fuel, hygienically and economically, in the generating station?

Another curious point emerged as a result of this Bill. This is a technical Bill to amend the main Act and there is not much point talking about the Act. At present, Dublin Corporation is constructing a pipeline across Dublin Bay. I was told by corporation officials that they must apply for permission to relocate the materials that they dredge from the bottom of Dublin Bay. They must apply for a licence because it is a statutory requirement under this Bill.

This is a useful Bill and I am happy to support it. It has given me the opportunity to raise one of my pet hobby horses and to have a useful, positive discussion with the corporation to discover something that has happened in the city of Dublin that is important.

I raised the issue of sewage in this debate because Dublin city was dumping through shipping enormous amounts of solids in the bay. This is a serious problem. Consider what was said on the Order of Business about e.coli contamination of drinking water. I know it is not dumping at sea but, coincidentally, in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times Pól Ó Muirí, in An Irishman's Diary, wrote about the massive contamination of Lough Neagh – the largest body of inland water on these islands – by similar agencies. According to him sewage is dumped in its waters. He wrote:

But with human usage comes the problem of human waste. Phosphates and nitrates from agricultural, domestic and industrial users are a major cause of pollution. Sewage is dumped in its waters. In the 1960s, sewage effluent from 60,000 people was pumped into the lough; now it's from 300,000.

Even though the matter is only marginally relevant to the Bill it was useful, from my point of view at least, to raise this issue as it affected the city of Dublin. I support the Bill.

I welcome the introduction of this important Bill. It is time the Government and the relevant authorities took action to ensure that the dumping of untreated waste at sea will not be permitted in the future as it was in the past. One hears many reports and rumours that waste is being discharged into the world's oceans. Indeed, waste is being dumped approximately 200 miles off the Irish coast by people operating without licences. It is time proper legislation was put in place to prevent such behaviour.

I am concerned about the amount of nuclear waste that is dumped at sea. During last week's debate Members referred to the fact that waste from Sellafield is removed by Japanese companies, encased in concrete and dumped in the ocean. The problem with this is that no one can say for sure whether emissions from such waste escape into the marine environment. There was a time when everything was dumped at sea and no one thought any more about it. However, as a result of reports on water quality, etc., there is a need to monitor everything dumped at sea.

I recall that fish was not as popular a foodstuff as it is today. However, its use has increased dramatically in Ireland and in other countries. People feel the need to be careful about what they eat and it is for this reason we must be vigilant about the amount and type of waste dumped at sea.

A system of awarding blue flags to beaches throughout the country was put in place some years ago. One of the factors considered when awarding such flags is the quality of the water at a particular beach location. The number of beaches awarded blue flags in all coastal counties has increased over the years, particularly in my county which was awarded a record number of blue flags last year. However, a number of years ago blue flags were not awarded because of the discharge of raw sewage into our waters. Problems of this sort must be tackled and the money is available to allow us to do so through the construction of new treatment plants.

I listened with interest to Senator Norris's comments about the discharge of effluent into Dublin Bay. However, there are new programmes in place which allow such effluent to be disposed of by the use of wormeries similar to those which have become prevalent throughout Europe. One of these facilities is in operation adjacent to a treatment plant in County Kerry at present and it is responsible for eliminating all of the sludge produced by the plant. What is left over when the process is complete can be used as compost in people's gardens. We must give consideration to this matter and try to introduce this type of system in every town and village in order to make our treatment plants more efficient and improve water quality.

I am concerned about those who dump at sea without being licensed to do so. We must be vigilant in this regard. I do not refer to Irish operators; I am more concerned about people from other European countries and beyond who merely want to get rid of their waste products. These people have no regard for the environment or our seas and they tend to dump their waste at night and state that it happened by accident.

During a storm some years ago a ship ran aground near Dingle and it remained stranded on the rocks for a long period. Local representatives contacted the Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources and the Environment and Local Government and other Departments but no one took responsibility for this eyesore or for the pollution it caused. It remained for years until it was broken up by the sea. There were similar eyesores in Castletownbere and elsewhere.

I compliment this and previous Governments on dealing effectively with oil spillages around the coast and on the new action plan for emergencies, which is working well. We must be vigilant. The issue of Sellafield has been debated again and again. If the reports of emissions into the Irish Sea from Sellafield are correct this matter should be examined vigorously. It has been proved that unlicensed waste from the plant has been dumped into the sea. The sooner the plant is closed down the better for the people of both islands.

I welcome the Bill and I compliment the Minister on the work he has done since he took responsibility for this Department. I ask him to keep a vigilant eye on oil and gas exploration projects and to make sure that fish life and the marine environment are not damaged. I support dredging near ports and I accept the necessity of dumping dredged material at sea. However, much of the sludge which is taken out of the sea could be used to restore land lost through coastal erosion.

I also welcome this short but important Bill. My purpose in intervening is to make it even better.

I share the experience of Senator Kiely and other Senators of seeing pollution taking place. Some years ago on a car ferry I watched the crew dumping waste bins overboard into the Irish Sea. This no longer happens but the practice continued until a year or two ago. It displayed a lack of recognition of the damage being done. I live on the east coast and I am aware of Sellafield and of the dangers occurring there. However I will not dwell on that subject today. In walking the beaches and rocks around Howth Head one sees the amount of pollution which is occurring because of a lack of interest on the part of those who create it, often at sea. I welcome everything the Minister is trying to do in this Bill.

I compliment the Minister on his proactive approach to the issuing of licences under the existing Act. In his speech last week the Minister made it clear that he and his Department are not content merely to dole out licences when that is permitted by the legislation. In every case he insists that all the alternatives to dumping at sea have been properly pursued and dumping is permitted only as a last resort when there is clearly no alternative. I welcome that approach and I look forward to the day when any kind of dumping at sea will be a thing of the past.

In suggesting ways to improve the Bill I follow the theme mentioned by the Minister when he described a new regulation requiring that an applicant for a licence advertise his intention as being "in the interest of openness and fairness". It is a step forward to require applicants for a dumping licence to place an advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the affected area, but with a little extra trouble we could go much further along this road of openness and accountability.

Since the passing of the 1996 Act we have witnessed the spread, impact and coverage of the worldwide web on the Internet. In 1996 the web was only getting under way. Its use has since grown exponentially and its value as a disseminator of information, particularly in the field of government, is beginning to be appreciated. It is now Government policy to bring about a situation in which all of a citizen's interactions with the State can take place electronically. I applaud this trend and I am anxious to see this ambition reflected in the legislation passed by both Houses. In the case of this Bill, this can be done in two ways. We now have the means to strengthen considerably the provisions of the principal Act for maintaining and publishing a public register of all dumping licences issued by the Minister. Section 5(9) of the 1996 Act provides:

(a) the Minister shall cause to be established and kept a register and shall cause to be entered in the register particulars of all permits granted under this section;

(b) the register kept under this section shall be open to inspection by the public free of charge at all reasonable times; and

(c) the Minister shall, as soon as may be after the end of each year, cause to be published in Iris Oifigiúil particulars of all permits granted under the section in that year.

That is excellent in so far as it goes, but let us be frank and admit that it serves the concept of open access in principle rather than in practice. For instance, if I was living in Tralee and the register of licences was kept in the Minister's office in Dublin, my access to the information contained therein would be somewhat theoretical. Similarly, with all due respect to those responsible for its production, Iris Oifigiúil is not the most widely read or easily accessible publication in the State. I have not seen it on bookstands anywhere. It is certainly not available in my newsagents. Its publication is more a formality, a genuflection to openness. It is not what I would call an act of communication.

Such publication arrangements were the best we could provide for ten years ago, prior to the worldwide web, but they are not the only arrangements at our disposal today. Like all other Departments, the Minister's Department now maintains a website which is regularly updated. This is the ideal place in which to make available the register of dumping licences. It can be instantly accessed anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. If we are serious about bringing the work of the Government into the light of day, we should make full use of all the new possibilities opened up to us by the worldwide web.

On Committee Stage we should insert an amendment requiring the Minister to make available the register of dumping licences on the departmental website. This would present no difficulty. Taking this a stage further, we should also provide for publication on the Department's website of every application for a dumping licence. This would be in addition to the requirement to publish an advertisement. Publishing each licence application on the Department's website would have an advantage over and above the placing of an advertisement in a newspaper in that it would place the information in the public domain nationally, thus allowing someone living in Tralee or Killybegs in County Donegal access. It is essential that this information is made available and easily accessible and this would be a simple way of doing it.

It is also desirable because while most of the interest generated by a specific act of dumping will be at local level, there will also be a national interest. Our seas are a common national heritage and they are not exclusively a local concern. I hope the Minister accepts that my concern is to improve the Bill and that on Committee Stage he will accept my suggestions on the information dimension as being appropriate to the 21st century.

In recent weeks there have been some very serious accidents at sea, not only in Ireland but elsewhere, such as around the Greek islands. I raised this matter on the Order of Business. We inherited the British system of 70 or 80 years ago for dealing with what happens to the marine. I am not satisfied we have looked at this clearly enough to ensure that the various agencies involved are controlled and centred in the one area. For example, in the US there is one coast guard agency responsible for everything on the coastline. We have a proliferation of agencies, including the Commissioners for Irish Lights and the Irish Coastguard. Are we doing enough to ensure that the different agencies accountable for what happens in marine areas are centred around a method of operation that is the ideal for this century? I ask the Minister to address this aspect either today or in the future.

I welcome the Bill. It is a good addition to the 1996 Act. Let us ensure that when it leaves the House it will have been improved.

Like the Minister I was not present for the start of this debate last week. I was attending a conference in Europe, the Committee of Peripheral and Marginal Regions, CPMR. One of our sessions was devoted to this subject.

The Bill strengthens the Dumping at Sea Act, 1996, which considerably strengthened earlier legislation for the control of dumping at sea in line with the State's international obligations. I welcome the involvement of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, especially with regard to archaeological areas around the coast. While we may not discover the remains of ancient cities, as have been discovered in Israel, Egypt and North Africa, other matters of our heritage, such as rock formations and sea wrecks, may be found and require protection. I was especially enthused with Senator Fitzgerald's contribution. I felt he was about to announce that another Roman city, such as Caesarla, had been found in Dingle Harbour.

I trust the proposed amendments to sections 2, 3 and 4 will not delay the many improvements under way to ports and harbours. The Department has become heavily involved in these during the lifetime of the Government. Over two years ago the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Woods, allocated substantial funding for the dredging of Burtonport Harbour but due to complications, including the weather, the contractors are still not on site. What would happen if a problem arose involving Dúchas?

I compliment the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for its special interest in marine activities. I especially compliment the Minister's constituency colleague, the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Ó Cuív, on the funding he has provided for Gaeltacht harbours and piers in west County Donegal. Many of them were neglected for years.

County Donegal is the only coastal county in Ireland affiliated to the conference I attended in Florence organised by the CPMR. It is a good organisation because it enables coastal countries in Europe to discuss international matters. One issue we addressed was the importance of fighting operational pollution or dumping at sea.

Entire sections of the economies of maritime regions which depend mainly on tourism and fishing are under constant threat from ecological disasters, deliberate dumping and accidents. The CPMR welcomes with satisfaction the commitments and actions by the European Commission and national Governments to introduce regulations that strengthen maritime safety and avoid pollution. They include the 1996 Act. This Bill will enable this country to overcome the problems involved.

The CPMR discussed marine litter in detail. It is an international problem. Although the dumping of waste at sea is illegal, waste coming from the sea and entering the shoreline – marine litter – is a common concern of many European regions. In some areas it places an immense economic and practical burden on local and regional authorities. Last June we attended a political bureau meeting of the CPMR. Those involved in the area we visited gave us a presentation which showed that along their coastline each year, 40,125 litre sacks of marine litter are collected by up to 100 people at a cost of 1.5 million. Unfortunately, this country does not address the litter on beaches in the same way.

A study of marine litter collected in Sweden has shown that it comes from a variety of international sources, including fishing fleets, the off-shore oil industry, ferries in regular traffic, pleasure craft and rivers. A substantial quantity of the marine litter on the shores of western Sweden originates in other countries, primarily those around the North Sea, and is carried there by currents.

Marine litter causes great damage to natural resources and protected areas. It is also a great threat to the development of tourism, not only in the coastal areas around Sweden but in this country, which is one of the most important sources of income. The CPMR wants to draw the attention of the international organ of the EU and Government to the problem of marine litter. It is unreasonable that the local and regional authorities should have to bear the burden of a problem which affects the whole society. Without clean coasts and waters the potential for sustainable development and healthy living is destroyed for every coastal nation, and even for other countries depending on the coast for recreation, wildlife, etc. It is also an international issue.

At its meeting last week, the political bureau of the CPMR called on the European Commission to without delay adopt a strategy for coastal zone management and address the problem of marine litter and other serious issues affecting the coastal areas of Europe. It also called for financial support for the efforts of local regional authorities to keep their shores clean.

Reference was made to blue flag beaches. County Donegal has a record number of them where the water quality is very high. We are fortunate we do not have many of the difficulties encountered by other coastal regions. While we do not have the sun we have magnificent beaches. This year especially, with the good weather, huge crowds have visited them. Unfortunately, one of them, Rossnowlagh Beach, had to be closed for a short period, not because of water quality or pollution but because of traffic management in response to the demand for access. By contrast, in Mediterranean waters, along the coast of Spain where most of us holiday, it is possible to see the effect of dumping and sewage. Given the poor quality of the water, it is difficult to swim in the sea along the Spanish coastline.

Unfortunately, we have nothing to crow about in terms of sewage discharges by local authorities into the many bays and harbours along our coast. Despite much funding in the past three years from the Department of the Environment and Local Government, many coastal towns do not have proper treatment plants. Many local authorities, such as that in County Donegal, have prioritised water schemes ahead of sewerage schemes.

When I was elected to Donegal County Council over a year ago the sewage treatment plant for Dungloe, where I live, was eleventh on the council's priority list. An official from the Department has since corresponded with Donegal County Council in this regard and we have managed, after a long fight, to move it up to fourth place. Unfortunately, however, only two sewerage schemes were included in the three year programme announced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, in May. I welcome the fact that Greencastle was included because it did not have a primary treatment plant or a septic tank for sewage, which was flowing directly into the Foyle.

When I contacted the Department about the treatment plant for Dungloe I was told it was nineteenth on a priority list which included water schemes. The problem was that the previous council made water rather than sewage a priority. The cost of the treatment plant for Dungloe is only £2.5 million, yet the Department was able to give £30 million for a scheme to take water from Lough Mourne outside Ballybofey to Letterkenny because of huge industrial investment there. I have nothing against the people of Letterkenny but there is also much development in Dungloe Bay.

I have seen the correspondence between an official from the Department and the local authority during the summer. I have the support of the local authority but we are still second on the list for future schemes. I want the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources to put more pressure on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to provide the £2.5 million funding.

The local development association carried out tests over the summer on an old swimming pool I used when I was young. However, the water quality was so poor it had to abandon the idea of reopening it. The Northern Regional Fisheries Board published a report due to the number of aquaculture licences being sought in the bay. The latest problem is that e.coli is moving up the river into the Rosses anglers' lake. This is one of a variety of reasons the treatment plant is important.

Other speakers referred to Sellafield and the Russian submarine. Many of us were ignorant of the facts until Sky television did a comprehensive report on the level of nuclear waste in international waters.

The fish processing industry in Killybegs is seriously affected by the poor supply of fish. I act as an accountant for a number of the fish processing factories and I assure the Minister the facts this year are stark. The supply of fish is insufficient. I am not worried about the jobs on the fishing boats but about the 3,000 people employed on the mainland in the fish processing factories and service industries. I know the Minister raised at European Council level the fact that fish were being discarded at sea by other trawlers. They catch the fish, use up the stocks and then dump it. What is the possibility of putting observers on these boats? It is discouraging for the fish processing industry in Killybegs to see the number of fishery officers employed in our ports, while the people in west Donegal could lose their jobs as a result of draconian fish quota measures. I know the Minister is aware of that. We must renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy to restore our traditional fishing rights.

The Bill is designed to improve the 1996 Act. It will protect our land and seas and is an integral part of preserving our waters, which are one of our most important natural resources. Because the 1996 legislation changed the status of some ports and harbours, amendments are needed to bring these changes into effect. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate and their support for the Bill. The Bill is designed to copperfasten current arrangements regarding heritage protection and public consultation in relation to all applications for dumping at sea permits. Early enactment of the Bill is therefore desirable. I hope we can conclude the remaining Stages at an early date.

I assure Senator Caffrey that the remit of Dúchas, the Heritage Service, as regards both the natural and archaeological heritage extends offshore as it does on the mainland. Section 4 of the Bill makes it clear that the protection of important natural and archaeological heritage must be one of the specific issues to be considered by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources before any application for dumping at sea permits can be decided.

The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is not here today because he is on EU business but I appreciate that he stood in for me on Committee Stage.

Senator O'Donovan expressed concern about the threat of oil pollution in Bantry Bay. He has highlighted problems caused by shipwrecks in the area and the threat of pollution from them. I share his concerns. The harbourmaster in Bantry is endeavouring to get all parties involved in the necessary arrangements to ensure there are no oil spills in Bantry Bay and no hazards caused to aquaculture or fishing operations by oil tankers entering or leaving the bay. I hope all parties can work together to keep Bantry in a proper state for all users.

Senator Chambers asked for details of the dumping at sea permits granted in 1998. All 13 permits granted in 1998 and all 16 permits granted in 1999 were for port and harbour dredging for maintenance and development purposes only. Details of the permits were published in Iris Oifigúil on 22 January 1999 and on 8 February 2000, respectively.

I am glad to advise Senators O'Donovan and Ryan that permission has been refused for the dumping at sea of toxic materials found at a number of ports, for example, mercury and PCBs. Non-dumping at sea treatment will be insisted on in both cases in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency. Scientific advice governs what may be dredged and dumped and where exactly dredged material may be dumped. Dumping is not allowed where fisheries or important heritage would be damaged.

Senator Lydon expressed concern at the risk from the dumping at sea of chemical weapons and munitions. Ireland raised this issue at the ministerial meeting of the OSPAR Commission in July 1998 after a total of 29 phosphorous devices were washed up on the east coast of Ireland. Much greater numbers were reported to have been washed up in recent years on the west coast of Scotland. A work programme prepared and presented by Ireland for the management of dump sites was approved by the OSPAR Commission in June 2000. The objective of the work programme is to agree common procedures for the management of the risk associated with dumped chemical weapons and munitions. It is envisaged that once the appropriate OSPAR expert group is convened two years will be required to complete the task.

Senators Chambers, Lydon, Fitzgerald and Norris highlighted concerns about radioactive waste discharges from Sellafield. The Government is opposed to the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and has actively sought the closure of the Sellafield plant. The Government campaign to close Sellafield is being spearheaded by the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, to whom we have forwarded Senator Fitzgerald's interesting suggestion for the declaration of a nuclear free zone around our coast, something with which I concur.

The Attorney General is currently examining the prospects for legal action by Ireland against Sellafield following the publication in February 2000 of the reports of the UK nuclear installations inspectorate which indicated that Sellafield had serious safety culture problems.

An important objective for Ireland in ratifying the OSPAR Convention was to open the way for the possibility of initiating arbitration between Ireland and the UK arising from the increased discharges from Sellafield since the start-up of THORP.

Senators Caffrey and O'Donovan urged that every effort be made to maximise the benefits of the Corrib gas field for the west and the north-west. My Department has the necessary fast-track arrangements in place to deal with detailed plans for the development of the Corrib gas field as soon as they are available from the developers. Preparation of the necessary environmental impact statement is under way and public consultation will follow its publication. All going well, development approval could be finalised by 31 December this year.

Senators O'Donovan and Lydon drew attention to dumping from ships of garbage and other matter and the need for greater vigilance to protect our seas and coasts. The Sea Pollution Act, 1991, the principal Act, enabled Ireland to ratify MARPOL 73/78 – the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships. The Act also gives effect in the State to the protocol relating to intervention on the high seas in cases of pollution by substances other than oil. The Act enables the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to prohibit or regulate the operational discharge of oil or oily mixtures from Irish registered ships anywhere at sea or from other ships in the territorial waters of the State. It further enables the Minister to require Irish registered ships to be constructed, fitted or operated in such a way as to prevent, control or reduce discharges into the sea, or to intervene on a vessel if considered appropriate following a casualty.

Regulations to give effect to MARPOL were introduced in 1994 and updated in 1997 as follows: the Sea Pollution (Prevention of Oil Pollution) Regulations, 1994, amended by the Sea Pollution (Prevention of Oil Pollution) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997; the Sea Pollution (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships) Regulations, 1994, amended by the Sea Pollution (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997 and the Sea Pollution (Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk) Regulations, 1994, amended by the Sea Pollution (Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997.

In respect of the other points made by various Senators, I will certainly consider Senator Quinn's suggestion to put the dumping at sea permits and the applications for permits on the Department's website. It is right that we move on with technology and while we have been behind the times in our Department in that respect, we are catching up fast and we hope to have an excellent web service before long.

The Coast Guard service is the key co-ordinator of all rescue services at sea, including the voluntary and other services, but I take the point the Deputy made and we will keep that in mind. The last number of weeks have proven what an excellent search and rescue service we have in the Coast Guard. We hail those brave men who go far out into the Atlantic in such difficult conditions and we very much appreciate their efforts in terms of the successes they had in the recent tragedies. Those tragedies are terrible for everybody, particularly for the families of the fishermen who have been lost, but if it had not been for the fact that some people were saved in both tragedies, it would have been even worse because we would have been left with the mystery of what happened. The Carrickatine is an example of a terrible tragedy about which we have been unable to determine what happened, or even find the ship or any survivors. The fact that some survivors, and some bodies, were found in the recent tragedy was a major achievement. One would hope that we can avoid such disasters but accidents will happen.

I take this opportunity to thank the people living in the coastal communities in Connemara for the intensive search that is ongoing each day since that tragedy. I understand a major search is planned for next weekend. I thank also the Coast Guard, the fisheries officers, the RNLI and indeed the Garda diving team, which has been on the Connemara coast on a number of occasions in the past few weeks. It is significant that a community would put in the amount of voluntary effort that the Connemara community has put in to try to find the bodies of those Spanish fishermen. I brought that to the attention of my Spanish colleague, and it augurs well to see a community being so keen to help, especially where a foreign nation is concerned.

In response to Senator Bonner, we fully support the improvement of sewage treatment facilities so as to protect our marine resources, our aquaculture and our fisheries. The Senator has been proactive in respect of the maritime regions and I welcome his continued interest in that respect. We are anxious that the local authorities, together with the Department of the Environment and Local Government, should continue to correct the flow of raw sewage that is being dumped along our coastline. I know my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, is proceeding at a great pace to put in place sewage treatment plants around the coast. We are involved with the local authorities in targeting the prime aquaculture and fishery sites in the areas for priority improvement of sewage treatment, and a number of major projects are at a fairly advanced stage of planning and construction.

Negotiation on the Common Fisheries Policy will include measures to prevent catches of undersized fish, which is a terrible waste. We intend to take a very proactive approach to net sizes, the discarding of small fish and the fishing of the vitally important spawning areas in the coming round of negotiations at the European Council.

Other aspects such as proper surveillance and enforcement will be re-examined and Ireland will be putting forward important proposals in that respect in the future because it is in our interest to sustain our fisheries and to build up our stocks from the current precarious nature to which they have been reduced.

I thank everybody for their contributions to this Stage of the debate. I met with my Canadian counterpart some months ago. He is an expert on the quality of waters in our oceans, an area in which he has taken a particular interest over the past number of years. As a professional expert, aside from being a politician, he is concerned about the declining quality of our oceans which he sees as a world problem that has not had much significance in terms of the world debate on the environment. It is an area in which we will try to make our contribution as positively as possible to highlight, in the first instance, the wonderful resource that is around our coastline and to ensure that we protect and nourish it in the best possible way. This legislation is a contribution to that.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 25 October 2000.