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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 May 2005

Vol. 180 No. 14

Sea Pollution (Hazardous Substances) (Compensation) Bill 2000 changed from Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 29, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

On the Order of Business this morning, it was stated that rushed legislation is bad legislation. One might think that Members are rushing this legislation through, but this is not the case. As the Minister of State is aware, it has been bandied about for four years. I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Gallagher, on expediting the legislation and getting it onto the Statute Book. This important legislation will copperfasten the international compensation fund, with maximum payouts of €350 million with respect to environmental damage and caps of €140 million to be paid out by ships' insurance companies. We are a maritime country with approximately 240,000 square miles of sea and it is important to finalise the Bill. Intermittently, as the Minister of State is aware, nuclear toxic waste passes through our waters from Japan on both legs of the journey. It is important to have measures to counteract this and protect our shores, because the potential risk to our waters cannot be underestimated. I reiterate that we must protect 240,000 square miles of sea. We possess 17% of European waters and it is important to implement protective measures against oil-carrying bulk tankers, because the environmental consequences can be devastating.

Members are in agreement on this Bill. I will turn to another pollution-related issue. I want to raise a small issue concerning bonamia while the Minister of State is present in the House. The Minister of State is familiar with this disease, which wipes out flat oysters. The first case occurred in Cork Harbour in 1987, where the native Irish oysters were wiped out. The disease is also evident in Belmullet, Galway Bay, Ballinakill Harbour and Clew Bay. As the House is discussing pollution, perhaps the Minister of State and I can examine preventative solutions for our own neck of the woods in Moville, where fears exist. We should discuss the development of a management plan to allay the fears of many oyster fishermen on the Foyle. They feel that bonamia is a possibility if preventive measures are not put in place in the short term.

I am aware that this issue is unrelated to the legislation, but as the House is discussing the general topic and the Minister of State is present, it should be put on the record. A group has contacted the Minister of State which wants a consultation with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, in order to allay fears and work out preventative measures to avoid the complete elimination of native Irish oysters. We must be careful about this matter. The Galway oyster festival is famous, but it has been some time since it used oysters from Galway Bay. As far as I am aware, the oysters come from Donegal.

Members are happy with this legislation and that it has finally been concluded after four years. I congratulate the Minister on being to the forefront in this regard.

I do not have much to add as I spoke extensively some weeks ago on Second Stage. I am glad the Bill has had such a speedy passage. We have been waiting some time for it but there has been general agreement on the legislation. Over the past 12 to 18 months, we have dealt with a large amount of this kind of legislation in the House, dealing with pollution, compensation at sea and the implementation of various conventions. This is another step on the way. I thank everyone who contributed to the debate a couple of weeks ago as well as the Minister of State and his officials for the assistance given to the Seanad to bring this Bill through so speedily.

I thank the Senators who participated in the debate on Second Stage and today. It is a measure of the quality of the debate that a number of amendments were introduced in the Dáil and that there were no amendments in the Seanad. This is indicative of how meticulously both sides of the House scrutinised this Bill. It is also to the credit of Opposition Members that they did not table amendments for the sake of it.

The Bill's purpose was to give effect to the international convention on liability and compensation for damage in connection with the carriage of hazardous and noxious substances by sea. We wish to give effect to the 1996 protocol to the international convention. The legislation has been before the House for some time; one might say for too long. It was published just over five years ago and the Second Stage debate in the Dáil took place over four years ago. The Bill was restored to the Dáil Order Paper after the election in 2002. Since then, it has passed through its various Stages and I am pleased we have now arrived at this point. Hopefully, the Bill will be enacted shortly when the President signs it.

I come from a maritime county — although no county is too far from the sea — and we are conscious of the effects of any pollution, in this case sea pollution, from hazardous or noxious substances. It is important to be prepared at all times. The way to ensure that it does not happen is to maintain the highest standards in our vessels. We are working with our colleagues in the IMO and in Europe in respect of the single-hull tankers. This matter is being dealt with.

The transport of nuclear materials by sea is of continuing concern to the Department, both Houses and the Government. Our policy is to oppose such facilities. As far the Sellafield facility is concerned, we have been co-operating with other governments and agencies regarding the proceedings taken in recent years in respect of the MOX facility. We are an island nation. Any pollution at sea could have devastating effects too horrendous to contemplate. Hence, it is important that we have the necessary legislation in place and that compensation will be available in the event of any serious pollution.

I thank the House for its co-operation this morning. I also thank Senator Kenneally and Senator McHugh who contributed to this debate. I appreciate their kind words with regard to both myself and, more importantly, to the Government and the officials who have worked with me on this legislation, particularly since my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in October 2004.

I am aware of the seriousness of the situation regarding bonamia. My Department works with officials, the industry and stakeholders to ensure any risks to our marine life are minimised, be it fin fish, shellfish or farm fish. I thank Senator McHugh for raising the issue.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.40 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.