That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to institute sufficient measures to ensure that the Irish environment is adequately protected and enhanced, particularly in relation to:
the early enactment of climate change legislation promised by the Government but not yet delivered;
the quality of our rivers and our water supply;
the maintenance and improvement of our public beaches; and
remedial measures to address hazardous waste sites, including at Haulbowline, County Cork.
I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I note the Government has tabled an amendment to our motion which broadly welcomes the progress it claims to have made. However, we cannot accept the amendment for the reasons that I will outline presently.
Our environment is one of our most precious assets. Whenever people speak about why they like to live here they describe the wonderful scenery, the beauty of our countryside and the quality of our air. One of our biggest industries is tourism. Research into why people come here and keep returning suggests that it is because of the quality of our environment.
Like the environment in other countries, however, our environment is under threat from a number of sources. In the course of this debate my colleagues and I will discuss some of the reasons for this threat. Senator Bacik will outline how climate change is impacting on our environment and why the failure of the Government to enact legislation is making it difficult to ensure our country is adequately protected from climate change. Senator Ryan will speak about water and beach quality in Ireland, focusing on north County Dublin and Fingal. Our spokesperson on the marine, Senator McCarthy, will speak about the protection of our coast and islands and the problem of hazardous waste sites such as Haulbowline, County Cork. I do not doubt the Minister will respond that he is doing his part and that the programme for Government will deal with the challenges ahead. We do not accept this contention for several reasons.
Nearly three years ago Senator Bacik published the Climate Protection Bill 2007, No. 13 on today's Order Paper. The Labour Party also published a similar Bill in the other House but there has been no action from the Government on this issue, despite repeated promises from the Minister and his colleagues in this House, including Senator Boyle. Last year I attended the climate change summit in Copenhagen. When I asked people what their governments were doing to combat the impact of climate change, I was embarrassed that our Government had failed to act. I left Copenhagen disappointed, like many others, at the inaction on the part of the world's governments.
The amendment advises us that the Government intends to publish the heads of a climate change Bill. Given that such a Bill has been repeatedly promised in the past three years, I do not know if this is sufficient guarantee that we will see legislation this side of the summer recess. Like the legislation for a mayor of Dublin, perhaps Senator Boyle wants the measure but has failed to convince his Government partners. This is an area where Ireland could have led the way but all we have seen is inaction even though Senator Boyle's party is in government. A perfectly good Bill sits on the Order Paper but rather than agree to introduce it, the Government chose to wait for more greenhouse gases to be released and for climate change to get worse. All that has been produced by this Government in regard to climate change is hot air.
We have seen further inaction in the area of beach management and coastal erosion. I am lucky to come from the east coast of the country, which is blessed with fine beaches such as Mornington, Bettystown, Stamullen and Gormanston. I play pitch and putt at Laytown Pitch and Putt Club which is clearly suffering the effects of climate change and the increasing incidence of severe storms. Unfortunately, the Government's failure to introduce legislation on climate change is accompanied by the absence of a strategy to mitigate the impact of coastal erosion. The policy seems to be to let it happen even if people lose their businesses or their homes. This is unacceptable and the Minister knows he and his party will be held to account for their inaction.
There is further inaction in regard to the management of our beaches and the achievement of blue flag status. This is a voluntary eco-label awarded to thousands of beaches in 40 countries across Europe and the world. The Blue Flag Programme contributes to sustainable development of beaches with strict criteria for with water quality and environmental management. As someone who uses the beaches of Gormanstown and Bettystown on a regular basis, I can see the need for additional funds if our beaches are to achieve and maintain blue flag status. We cannot expect local authorities to find the resources for this without support from central government which, after all, benefits from VAT and general tax revenue. It is up to central government to ensure local authorities have the resources required to ensure beaches are properly managed and tourists are attracted to the relevant areas as a result.
This applies equally to water quality and supply. Last week, while canvassing in the village of Stamullen in County Meath, I met a man who was at his wits' end as a result of regular outages of water supply, poor quality water and low water pressure. These problems have arisen because the Government is not taking sufficient measures to ensure an adequate water supply to our towns and villages. The problem is particularly acute in areas with growing populations. Measures must be taken to ensure water pressure and quality are adequate in these areas.
Measures are also required to address the issue of sites contaminated by hazardous waste. Senator McCarthy will speak in detail on this issue and I suspect Senator Boyle will also have a contribution to make on it, particularly on the issue of Haulbowline in County Cork where many residents are concerned about the level of hazardous waste. Fears were raised after a subcontractor involved in surface clearance at the Haulbowline site had claimed to have uncovered levels of a toxin, chromium six, which is said to come from the former Irish ISPAT steel plant at the site.