Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (754)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

754. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his department received a formal request from Donegal county council to investigate the contents of potentially toxic materials dumped off the coast between 2015 and 2017 and to date in 2018; if there has been formal communication between the local authority and his department in relation to the 2010 OSPAR Commission report into past dumping at sea of chemical weapons and munitions in the OSPAR maritime area which gave details of chemical munition dump sites off the County Donegal coast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10054/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department has not received any request from Donegal county council to investigate the contents of potentially toxic materials dumped off the coast between 2015 and 2017 and to date in 2018, nor has Donegal County Council contacted the Department concerning the chemical and munitions dumpsites off the County Donegal coast.

The Department is aware of historical chemical and munitions dumpsites off the County Donegal coast. The UK Ministry of Defence undertook sea dumping of chemical weapons stocks and conventional munitions as a means of disposing of redundant and surplus stocks and dealing with the legacy of weapons produced in the World Wars.

Information on the precise location of the dump sites used by the UK for the dumping of chemical weapons between 1945 and 1957 in waters adjacent to Irish territorial waters and the volume and composition of the weapons has, in the past, been made available to the Government. Information in regard to the dumping off the Donegal coastline has been available since 1986 and in the public domain for a number of years.

The OSPAR convention provides the mechanism by which 15 countries in the Northeast Atlantic region and the EU cooperate to protect and sustainably use the environment of the Northeast Atlantic.

The OSPAR Commission adopts an ecosystem based approach to its work and has five sub-committees looking after biological diversity, human activities, off-shore industry, hazardous substances and eutrophication and radioactive substances. The Environmental Impact of Human Activities committee deals with dumped conventional and chemical munitions

The OSPAR Human Activity Committee coordinates the annual collection of information on encounters with all types of munitions from Contracting Parties (the countries) and publishes maps recording these encounters. Ireland carried out this co-ordination work on behalf of OSPAR until 2017.

Ireland currently holds the Vice Chair of OSPAR. Our engagement with OSPAR is headed up by my Department with committee and expert input from the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Marine Institute.

If the general public spots a suspicious item or possible munitions washed up on shore they should not approach it under any circumstance and immediately contact An Garda Síochána who will, in turn, contact the Defence Forces.

If fisherman and sea users encounter a suspicious item at sea the Marine Notice 16 of 2001 gives guidelines for dealing with “(i) Explosives Picked Up At Sea In Trawls Or Sighted And (ii)The Removal Of Explosive Items From Wrecks”. This notice covers chemical and conventional munitions and requires all encounters with such munitions to be reported to the Irish Navy and the Irish Coast Guard.