Private Members' Business. - Environment Protection Agency Bill, 1989: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Concern for the environment has now become both an international and a domestic priority. Not so long ago those committed to environmental protection and articulating concern about man's destruction of his natural habitat were treated as cranks and ridiculed by international governments. Now they have been vindicated and are seen to have had a prophetic vision.

The urgent need to find solutions to global environmental problems has attracted widespread public attention. Problems such as the depletion of the ozone layer, the rise in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere giving rise to the so-called greenhouse effect, the destruction of the Amazon rain-forests, acid rain, the pollution of the Rhine, the release of dioxin gas at Seveso, the nuclear fall-out from Chernobyl, the appalling tragedy at Bhopal, the oil spillage in Prince William Sound in Alaska, have all heightened public awareness of the importance of the environment.

A significant number of recent events in Ireland have also served to heighten public awareness of environmental issues and illustrated the lack of any coherent environmental policy.

In the agricultural area the increasing use of chemical fertilisers and the largescale production of silage and animal slurry has led in recent years to eutrophication of inland waters and to substantial fish kills. Industry, and to a lesser extent local authorities, have also been responsible for a number of serious water pollution incidents. In the first nine months of this year alone there have been 108 fish kills resulting in the death of 35,000 fish.

With regard to some industries, there have been problems of siting and pollution control which have resulted in a reluctance among local communities to accept new industries within their area with a resultant loss of potential jobs and economic growth. In the aquacultural area problems are now apparent with the siting of cage based fin-fish farms which has resulted in opposition to such development arising in a number of coastal communities.

With regard to waste disposal, uncertainty about the fate and effects of toxic wastes produced by industry and the apparent inability of local authorities to effectively monitor and control such wastes have contributed also to a growing reluctance among local communities to accept industries which may use or produce hazardous or toxic materials.

In the context of particular industrial plants, the court proceedings brought by John Hanrahan against Merck Sharpe and Dohme considerably added to public scepticism as to the ability of both State bodies and local authorities to properly monitor industry and helped to fuel and exacerbate the Merrel Dow controversy which clearly illustrated the folly of government agencies promoting the siting of pharmaceutical or chemical plants at inappropriate locations.

The Fianna Fáil Government who took office in 1987 and the new Coalition Government of July 1989 share a substantial responsibility for undermining the public's confidence in the ability and willingness of government to deal properly with environmental matters. At a time of heightened international and domestic concern about the environment, the Fianna Fáil Government of 1987 abolished both An Foras Forbartha and the Water Pollution Advisory Council. Following the horrific fish kills of 1987 it was not until January of 1989 that that Government published new water pollution legislation which only finally commenced a Second Reading debate in the Dáil last week due to the Bill containing, when published, a number of serious defects.

Both this Government's and the previous Fianna Fáil Government's approach to the smog problem is nothing short of a shambles. Over 12 months ago Dubliners were choking on smog and the present Minister for the Environment was asked by Fine Gael to extend conversion grants to all those areas of Dublin that had suffered smog above EC limits and to introduce essential amendments to the Air Pollution Act. Nothing was done by the present Minister to tackle the problem and upon the formation of the new Government in July of this year, Fine Gael again asked the Government to take a series of specific measures prior to the onset of this winter. Nothing happened and during the last four weeks Dubliners have again choked on smog which in many parts of Dublin was substantially above EC limits with all the dangers that poses for both the young and the elderly who have respiratory difficulties. It is with some incredulity that Dubliners view the Government's response to their problems.

The Government's response has been twofold: first, the wasting of public money in an expensive public relations exercise in which people are urged to be "smog busters". When the smog descends most people cannot read the Government erected posters through the grey haze that envelopes the city as they pass them while many of those who received the smog buster leaflets through their front doors thought them to be an offbeat advertisement for the "Ghost-busters II" movie on in town at present; and second the appointment of yet another committee to consider what should be done. This latter so called initiative guarantees, of course, that nothing of substance will happen this winter and that again next winter breathing in Dublin will damage your health.

The environmental negligence of the current coalition Government, who are largely a continuation with some minor modifications of the Fianna Fáil Government who took office in 1987, extends to a variety of other environmental areas and a number of these were referred to by me in a speech on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment on Thursday, 30 November last. I do not intend to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that whereas in recent weeks the Minister for the Environment and his Minister of State have been heavy on environmental rhetoric, they have been weak on environmental action. Governmental lip service to environmental concerns is not good enough. What is required is legislative and administrative action.

Fine Gael in their policy document A Clean Environment published last May recognised the need for a national environmental plan to provide a coherent framework for all the components of our environment and stated the need to establish an independent environment protection agency. The Fine Gael proposal for such an agency became part of the joint Fine Gael — Progressive Democrat election programme and subsequently became part of the Fianna Fáil — Progressive Democrat Programme for Government.

In the months of September and October of this year various Government Ministers spoke publicly of the need without delay to provide by legislation for the establishment of an environment protection agency to restore confidence to our environmental processes and to tackle the problem of the apparent conflict that had arisen between the need for environmental protection and the need to create new industry and provide new jobs. It became apparent that despite all the rhetoric there was no prospect of the Government publishing the legislation required to establish the agency during 1989 and the possibility of them enacting the necessary legislation to bring it into force during 1990 seems remote. It also became clear that different Ministers had different views as to the functions such an agency should perform and how they should be structured. In the circumstances Fine Gael determined to resolve the Government's difficulties by bringing before the Dáil the necessary legislation which is now contained in the Environment Protection Agency Bill, 1989.

I intend now to give a summary of the main provisions in the Bill. The environment protection agency provided for under the Bill will be independent of Government and local authorities. The head of the agency will be the environment commissioner who is to be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Dáil and the Seanad. The appointment mechanism provided for is the same as that applicable by Statute to the appointment of the Ombudsman. The Bill also makes provision for the appointment of a deputy environment commissioner. It is envisaged that the environment commissioner will hold office for a period of five years and will receive the same remuneration and allowances as are paid to a judge of the High Court. Upon the completion of a five year period the commissioner may be reappointed for a further term.

The Bill provides for the setting up of the environment council who are to act as an advisory body to the environment commissioner and will have a general role in advising the environment commissioner on the carrying out by the commissioner and the agency of their functions. It is to be composed of ten persons "competent and knowledgeable in matters relating to the environment and the general functions that fall within the competence of the agency."

The Bill also envisages the establishment of an Oireachtas Joint environment committee to which the commissioner is obliged to make an annual report. The Oireachtas joint committee will play a role in formulating political policy and examining matters relating to the environment across a broad range of Ministeries. They will not only provide a political focal point for the work undertaken by the agency so as to ensure the report they produce does not gather dust on ministerial shelves, but they will take an overview of all matters relating to the environment which fall within the ambit of Government. It is intended that this committee will give a political impetus to ensuring that environmental policy proposed by the agency and any legislative or administrative changes seen to be necessary are taken on board by Government. They will also provide an essential link between the independent workings of the agency and the Oireachtas and will for the first time establish a body within the Oireachtas who can take a comprehensive overview of the impact on the environment of a broad range of policies implemented by Government Departments and State bodies as well as the private sector. They will also have a role in ensuring that adequate resources are made available to the agency to enable them to carry out their statutory functions as annually the environment commissioner under the Bill has to report to the Oireachtas joint committee on "the adequacy or otherwise of the moneys made available to the agency by the Minister for Finance for the performance of their functions".

As is required by the procedures of this House, if this Bill successfully passes through the Dáil, Fine Gael intend to engage in detailed discussions with the other parties so that agreement can be reached on the exact terms of reference to be given to the environment committee so that the necessary motion to provide for their establishment can be placed on the Dáil and Seanad Order Papers.

Extensive provisions are contained in the Bill to provide for the agency to have their own full time professional staff to carry out their functions and the Bill envisages that staff currently in the environment research unit and in the Nuclear Energy Board will, upon its enactment, transfer to the agency.

Sections 5 and 6 of the Bill set out a series of general and specific functions the agency are to perform. Broadly, the agency will be required to take a comprehensive overview of environmental matters and to work towards ensuring that we properly manage our natural and physical resources for the benefit of this and future generations. They are obliged to promote the conservation of natural, physical and historical resources generally and to ensure that proper environmental monitoring is carried out and that objective information for the formulation and implementation of sound and effective environmental policy is published. They are obliged to provide guidelines and codes of practice for the carrying out of environmental impact assessments and monitoring and required to ensure such assessments and monitoring are carried out to the highest professional standard. They are also required to ensure that a fully integrated approach is taken to environmental matters and that action, where necessary, is taken to protect and improve the environment, having particular regard to the quality of the environment, the sensitivity of the environment and the pressures imposed on it. In this context the functions of the environment protection agency reflect specific functions to be conferred on the European Environment Protection Agency under the draft EC Directive relating to the establishment of the agency which it is anticipated, will be set up early next year.

The legislation recognises that environmental policy cannot be developed and applied in an economic vacuum. It recognises that if we are to tackle the twin evils of unemployment and emigration we must have industrial growth while at the same time ensuring effective environmental protection and development. In line with the thinking in the Brundtaland report, for the first time in Irish law the concept of sustainable development is given statutory recognition.

The agency must in the performance of their functions have regard to the need for sustainable economic development capable of meeting the needs of the present generation without endangering the living conditions of future generations. The Bill recognises the desirability of integrating environmental considerations in all sectors of the economy and the community so that they automatically form part of sectoral planning and decision making at all levels. If such an approach had been adopted in the past some of the more recent environmental controversies we have experienced would not have arisen. Also for the first time in Irish law the Bill gives statutory force to the precautionary approach which requires that action be taken to safeguard the environment where there is reason to believe that damage or harmful effects are likely to be caused in specific circumstances although no definitive scientific proof of such effects is established. If a precautionary approach had been adopted in the early seventies action would have been taken much earlier at an international level to confront the problems posed by the breakup of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. If a precautionary approach had been part of the Air Pollution Act, 1987, swifter and more immediate action could have been taken by Government to resolve the smog problem in Dublin.

The agency have a variety of specific functions conferred on them by the Bill which include: monitoring the performance of local authorities and government bodies on environmental matters; reviewing the system of agencies and processes established by the State to manage the allocation, use, conservation, preservation and protection of natural, physical and historical resources; advising on the application, operation, adequacy and effectiveness of existing legislation to protect the environment; providing assistance to local authorities and other State bodies in the fulfilment of their statutory functions with regard to the protection and improvement of the environment; the compilation and dissemination of reliable and objective environmental data and information; the establishment of national criteria for water and air quality and for discharge standards; undertaking and sponsoring research in environmental matters; carrying out investigations and inquiries into matters that have had or may have a substantial or damaging effect on the environment and advising on necessary preventive or remedial action required to be taken; publicising provisions of both domestic and European environmental legislation; monitoring the extent of this State's compliance with European Communities environmental legislation and the effectiveness of the State in obtaining funding from the European Communities for environmental matters where such funding is available to tackle particular problems.

Too frequently the general public are unaware of the environmental protections available and too often the Government have failed to comply with European Community directives with regard to environmental matters. For example, persistently for the last 12 months Deputies in the Dáil have highlighted the failure of the Government to implement the EC Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment, 18 months after the coming into force of that directive.

Further functions given to the agency by the Bill include the provision of advice with regard to the control and disposal of hazardous substances and with regard to the management, recycling and disposal of waste products. The agency is also required to liase with other bodies both within and outside the State and will clearly provide a linkage to the new European Environment Agency that is to be established in 1990. The agency will also have specific powers to take legal action in a number of circumstances which I will refer to later.

The Bill recognises it is important that the agency be not simply a centralised body and that for it to carry out its functions properly it is important that it has a regional presence. In this context it is envisaged that the agency could harness resources currently available, for example, in the regional laboratories at Castlebar, Monaghan and Kilkenny as well as in other public sector bodies.

Section 8 of the Bill provides for the establishment of regional environmental units which would be involved in the general work of the agency and which would carry out a number of specific functions. The regional units would: carry out spot checks on environmental monitoring equipment and procedures in use by local authorities and industry; assess the results of monitoring carried out by local authorities to fulfil their statutory functions; assess the results of monitoring carried out in compliance with licence and planning requirements by industrial, agricultural, aquacultural, mining and such other appropriate activities as are determined by the Commissioner; carry out such monitoring as is deemed necessary to ensure that licensing and planning requirements are being complied with; advise local authorities and other State bodies, including the Industrial Development Authority, on the suitability of industrial locations for environmentally sensitive projects; advise local authorities and An Bord Pleanála on the contents of environmental impact assessments and on the environmental implications of any projects in respect of which an environmental impact assessment is prepared; prepare an environmental impact assessment where requested to do so by a local authority or other State body in respect of any proposed project which gives rise to justifiable public concern as to its environmental implications; prepare an environmental impact assessment, where the Environment Commissioner deems it appropriate to do so with regard to significant environmental impacts of proposed or anticipated public or private sector developments or projects.

In addition, the regional units would have to be consulted by each local authority within the area of the unit with regard to matters that fall within the competence of the agency in regard to the preparation of a development plan by such local authority as required by the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963.

It is generally recognised that many local authorities do not have the technical expertise to check the validity of environmental impact surveys submitted to them. In this context the regional units would provide the necessary back-up services, not just to the local authorities but also to An Bord Pleanála. The conferring of a power on the agency to carry out environmental impact assessments on proposed projects prior to their reaching the planning application stage would also be of particular benefit. For example, advance work could be carried out by the agency on the likely environmental impact of gold mining in the west of Ireland so that an informed public debate and discusion could take place well in advance of any possible planning application being made.

The agency's role in providing advice on the suitability of industrial locations for environmentally sensitive projects to both the IDA and to local authorities and in making an input into the preparation of development plans by local authorities could ensure that we avoid in the future controversies such as that which arose over Merrell Dow in Cork.

In the context of legal proceedings the agency can avail of a variety of statutory functions not available at present. Power is conferred by the Bill on the Environment Commissioner to serve a stop order upon, for example, an industrial plant where the Commissioner believes, "upon reasonable and probable grounds" that a contaminant is being discharged into the natural environment which constitutes an immediate danger to human life, the natural environment, the health of any person or to property. This provision will enable swift and immediate action to be taken to prevent substantial damage resulting from a pollution incident.

The power to serve a control order to limit or control emissions or discharges of contaminants and to stop such discharges permanently or for a specified period will also provide a new and essential protection. Moreover, under the Bill the Commissioner is empowered to bring court proceedings to ensure that the polluter truly pays for any damage caused and provides whatever moneys are necessary to mitigate or remedy the effects of pollution. This civil remedy is also backed up by a power conferred on the commissioner to initiate criminal proceedings where necessary against those who obstruct or interfere with the agency in the carrying out of its functions or who fail to comply with control or stop orders.

In the event of a serious incident being caused, for example, by a major multinational pharmaceutical or chemical company, the Commissioner can institute proceedings which could result in a fine of up to £1 million being levied and terms of imprisonment of up to five years being imposed. Hence this agency will not only provide for the development of a comprehensive environmental policy, engage in monitoring, research and the publication of essential information and provide support, back-up and advisory services where required but will, in addition, be an agency with real teeth, able to take specific action where necessary in the interests of the environment and of the community.

Moreover, in specific circumstances provided for in the legislation the agency will also be able to institute proceedings under the Air Pollution Act, 1987, the Fishery Acts, 1959 to 1987, the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act, 1962 and the Dangerous Substances Acts, 1972 to 1979.

Last week the Government published particulars of the proposed Environmental Protection Agency they envisage establishing. Deputy Harney, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, stated that the Government envisaged the agency broadly having the following four groups of functions: Control and regulation of developments likely to pose a major risk to environmental quality; general monitoring of environmental quality; support, back-up and advisory services, and environmental research.

The Environment Protection Agency Bill effectively provides for all of these functions to be undertaken, together with a wide variety of essential additional functions. The only difference between this Bill and the Government's proposal is that the Bill envisages the agency establishing and publishing national criteria for water and air quality and for discharge standards with regard to environmental licensing, whereas the Government now apparently propose that some licensing functions be carried on directly by the agency. This minor difference in approach is something obviously that could be teased out on Committee Stage.

Fine Gael have no fundamental argument with the idea that the agency should, in specific instances, have a licensing function. We believe, however, that a coherent and consistent approach is necessary and that either the agency should be the general licensing body or the local authorities should be the general licensing body, applying uniform standards and approach with the agency playing a role in monitoring the performance of the local authorities. It seems a somewhat misplaced approach to give the agency some licensing functions and leave others with the local authorities. In the context of preserving local democracy and the functions of local authorities we would question the need to deprive them of their licensing functions. What is needed is a uniformity of approach, and what the local authorities need are the necessary back-up services. What is required to ensure public confidence in the performance of local authorities is that an overview be taken of their performance by the agency. However, this matter could be quite easily teased out on Committee Stage.

The Government's proposed agency is basically a substantially watered down version of what is required. For example, the Government's agency would play no role in monitoring our compliance with EC environmental Directives. Is that surprising having regard to the record of this Government in this area? I have already referred to the Government's failure to implement the EC Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment.

The Government's agency has no right of access to departmental documentation relating to the environment and will not be free to investigate the manner in which bodies, including both Government Departments and local authorities, deal with environmental matters.

The Government's agency will have no function in the carrying out of advance environmental impact assessment on proposed projects such as gold mining, as I mentioned earlier in the west. The Government's agency will have no role in highlighting defects in our existing legislation and in administrative practices and proposing changes.

The Government's agency will play no role in the area of radiological safety, whereas the Bill provides for the establishment of a radiological protection division to take over the current functions of the Nuclear Energy Board. Detailed reference to this function of the agency will be made by my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, Fine Gael spokesperson on Energy tomorrow.

The Government's agency will have no power to serve stop orders or control orders or to initiate proceedings of the nature described by me earlier.

Moreover, the Government's press release makes it clear that the agency, which to date is only the subject of a press release and is not referred to in any published Government legislation, will not truly be independent in the carrying out of its work in that it will be subject to "general policy directives issued by the Minister for the Environment", which means presumably that the Government's so-called "independent agency" can under the Government's proposals be ordered to refrain from examining particular environmental problems that might embarrass the Government. For example, it was reported from the Government's press conference that it was envisaged that the agency it talked of would have no remit to deal with the smog problem in Dublin. It is also clear that the Government do not envisage the establishment of an Oireachtas environmental committee, the setting up of which is now long overdue. Clearly, if the Government's agency is put in place, in the manner in which the Government envisage, it will simply be a watered down version of what is required. It will produce reports which will quietly go to Minister to gather dust on ministerial shelves with no real political impetus or no mechanism, such as an Oireachtas environmental committee would have, to ensure that what it proposes is actually implemented.

The Government's press release makes it clear that they have not yet fully worked out the structure of the agency they propose to establish. Confronted by the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill published a month ago, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, is quoted as saying, however, that "pending the enactment of the legislation we are proposing to put interim arrangements into place so that some aspects of the work of the agency can be got under way on a non-statutory basis as soon as possible". No truly independent agency can properly undertake any of the necessary work in this area without being established by statute. The Government should be warned that no credibility will be attached to any announcement they may intend to make appointing a few people to a so-called interim board pending the enactment of legislation. It is almost two and a half years since the Government appointed interim members to a roads authority, promising the enactment of the necessary legislation to establish such an authority. The necessary legislation has still not been published and is awaited by this House.

The general public are sceptical of the Government's true commitment to tackling environmental problems. The derisory allocation of £500,000 in the 1990 Estimates for the setting up of an Environment Protection Agency has done nothing to create any real public confidence in the Government's intentions. The Taoiseach's talk over the weekend of espousing a "green agenda" in the environmental context during his EC Presidency is seen by most people at present as nothing but a public relations facade to cover up the lamentable failure of his Government, not only to comply with essential EC Directives but to tackle our own domestic environmental problems.

If the Taoiseach wants to lend some credibility to his Government's rhetoric and to give some substance to this State's interest in the siting of the new European Environment Agency here, he should provide Government support for this Bill on Second Stage. If he does not do so, his expressions of environmental concern will be seen as nothing but political cosmetics. It is our hope that Government support will be forthcoming for this Bill and that it will be welcomed and supported by all on both the Government and Opposition sides of the House. For our part, Fine Gael are happy to incorporate into the Bill any constructive amendments that may be proposed on Committee Stage to ensure the proper workings of this agency. It is quite clear in the context of what the Government have been saying in recent days that no Government Bill will become operative during 1990. Having regard to the Government's record in the context of the roads authority it is highly unlikely we will see the required Government legislation this side of 1992. Support by the Dáil for the measure which Fine Gael have brought before the House would guarantee that we have this badly needed legislation put in place and enacted, and an Environmental Protection Agency established early in the new year.

I commend the Bill to the House. I hope it will have support from all sides and that it will pass through Second, Committee and Final Stages speedily and then find its way into the Seanad so that by Easter the agency will be in place, the legislation will be in force and the environmental protection measures that are required will be seen to be there and an agency will have been established in which the public have confidence.

I am disappointed that Deputy Shatter has chosen to push ahead with his Bill at present. The Deputy is well aware that one of the environmental initiatives in the present Government's programme provided for the establishment of an independent environmental agency.

At the outset I would like to put the record straight. Deputy Shatter is on record as saying in recent times that Fine Gael were the first party to propose such an agency, that they convinced the Progressive Democrats of that during the course of negotiations before the last election, and that it was then taken on board during negotiations with Fianna Fáil. I have here a copy of the Progressive Democrats' environmental policy published in January 1987 and rather than going through all the sections I will give a brief synopsis. The commitment to establish such an agency was given and its role and powers are outlined in great detail in that document which was published in advance of the 1987 election. I simply put that on the record so that the inaccurate statements that are being made are withdrawn or at least that Deputy Shatter is aware that he was not the first to think of the idea.

He was the first to take action.

I do not think it really matters in the context of this issue who was the first to think about the idea; the important thing is that the agency is established as quickly as possible.

I am committed to bring a more open approach to policy formulation. I have indicated in a number of public statements since taking office four and a half months ago that the establishment of this agency is a major priority of mine and the Government. Work on the preparation of the necessary legislation is proceeding with great haste. As someone committed to more open Government I was anxious to get the widest possible consensus from concerned interests on the most appropriate way to establish the agency and I held extensive discussion with a variety of groups during the past few months.

It was in the interests of the widest possible consultation that the Government's approval to proposals relating to the functions, Constitution, organisation etc., of the agency were published last week. Deputies will appreciate that this is not standard practice in such matters. I am anxious to have greater public access to information and to involve the public as much as possible in policy formulation. This is going to be mere public relations agency but rather one that will have the necessary power and authority to restore public confidence in the monitoring and enforcement of environmental standards. It is vital that we get it right from the outset. I see Deputy Shatter's decision to press on with this Bill as opportunistic and an effort to jump on the band wagon of the Government's proposals to establish the agency. The Bill shows all the hallmarks of having been rushed and the details have not been adequately thought through. I will be returning to these points later on. Nevertheless, I can welcome the principle behind the Bill from the viewpoint that it indicates a measure of agreement from the Opposition on the need for an agency of the kind proposed in the Programme for Government.

The environment in Ireland is coming under increasing pressure from development of all kinds, whether it be from industry or agriculture, from the growth of urban areas or infrastructural development, or from increasing tourist numbers which bring their own stresses, often to sensitive areas. Despite these pressures, the physical environment is in a reasonably good condition and most problems, whether they relate to air, water, waste, noise or whatever, affect a relatively small proportion of our environmental resources. But we cannot afford to take chances with the environment or to run the risk that environmental degradation will follow the economic and social development to which we all aspire. That is why there is now a growing public demand for the application and strict enforcement of environmental protection standards based on the use of the best available technology. Indeed, it is clear that unless local communities can be assured that such standards will prevail, the establishment in Ireland of modern industrial plant will become increasingly difficult. In this situation, I am convinced there would be advantages for industry, as well as for the environment, in the application of standards on a uniform and consistent basis around the country. The need for a mechanism, in which there would be full public confidence, for monitoring and enforcing compliance with environmental standards is obvious.

We must have a high level of expertise, coupled with sophisticated equipment, for the environmental monitoring of modern industry. I do not believe this need can be fully met within the local government system, given that only a few major industrial plants may be located in any one county. There is a case on these grounds alone for a change in the existing system.

However, I see advantages, too, in separating the pollution control and regulatory functions of local authorities in relation to complex developments, from their role in promoting the economic development of their areas and the function of providing infrastructural services. In line with the experience of many other countries, it is evident that a national agency could more readily develop the necessary expertise and provide the sophisticated monitoring equipment required to deal with modern industry and complex pollution issues; such an agency would be best placed to ensure that there is full public confidence in monitoring and enforcement arrangements.

I do not, of course, wish to give the impression that I see industry as the only problem or that the agency we propose will be concerned only with pollution from industrial sources; far from it in fact, as I will make clear later on. There is no reason why industry and the environment cannot co-exist. New industry is an important element in our programme for job cration. With the co-operation of all involved and the right structures in place we can create employment and still maintain a good environment.

I would like to turn now to an outline of the kind of agency I think is needed and, in particular, to set out the role and functions approved by the Government for the agency. They will, initially, have the following groups of functions: control and regulation of development likely to pose a major risk to environmental quality, general monitoring of environmental quality, support, back-up and advisory services and environmental research.

In explaining these functions, the first important point I would like to stress here is that the agency will be given direct responsibility for the licensing, monitoring and enforcement functions in relation to specified classes of new development with potential for serious pollution, including problems related to air, water, noise and waste. It is the intention also to give the agency power to review the licences for existing developments of this kind. The legislation establishing the agency will include a schedule of the classes of development for which it will be directly responsible and I propose that the schedule will be capable of amendment by Ministerial Order to cater for changed circumstances, including the development of new technologies or new information or facts related to pollution and hazards. The initial schedule will include all industrial plant licensable under the Air Pollution Act, 1987, and most of the development that comes within the scope of the European Communities Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment. These lists are extensive and cover a wide range of different activities. I might add that final decisions have not yet been taken on the full range of development to be included in the agency's brief. Deputies may wish to give views on this aspect.

The proposal to give the agency direct responsibility for specified development is, I believe, fundamentally important to the success of the agency and goes well beyond what is proposed in Deputy Shatter's Bill. I recognise that this proposal will impinge on existing local authority functions but, as I have previously stated, it is in an area where many local authorities are finding difficulties in meeting their responsibilities. Many of them, for example, have not been able to gear up to deal with the new air pollution licensing system introduced last year and it is difficult to expect them to do so in cases where only a few licensable plants may be located in their administrative area.

Local authorities will, of course, continue to play a major role in the regulation and control of development. In fact, they will continue to be responsible for licensing and monitoring most development and for the granting of planning permission for all development. However, in order to ensure that the system will work smoothly I envisage that there will be a linkage between the agency and the local authority structure. For example, I would see as a minimum that the local authorities would be required to have regard to the agency's views on the environmental aspects of particular development proposals. In effect, they would have to ascertain whether the agency would be satisfied that there would be no unacceptable environmental impact from the particular development if the developer complied with the specific licence conditions which the agency would impose. Environmental considerations will, therefore, be given specialist examiniation in considering future development projects.

I am considering also the whole question of appeals in relation to air and water pollution licences in cases where the agency will be directly responsible. At present, these appeals are made to An Bord Pleanála which was established primarily to deal with land-use planning matters. I would see it as somewhat paradoxical, if decisions by the agency, which will possess some of the best expertise in these matters in the country, were to be appealed on their merits to another organisation which could not hope to possess the same degree of expertise. There must be a better way which would allow all sides to be heard, and public participation to be ensured, while also facilitating more speedy processing of licence applications. I am, therefore, considering the possibility of providing for the conduct by the agency of a public consultation process on draft licences with oral hearings by the agency where these are necessary in the light of the complexity or importance of the issues. This is an issue on which I would be glad to hear the views of Deputies and, indeed, the public and interested bodies.

Another matter which I am considering is the possibility of introducing a system of environmental operating permits rather than the present system of separate air and water licences and waste permits. It may not be possible to introduce such a system initially as we do not wish to delay the transition from the local authority control system, but it is clear that an integrated control system of this kind would have major advantages.

Other matters of a specific nature where the agency could play a major role would include the operation of the environmental impact assessment system, particularly with regard to effects on water, air or soil. I also envisage a role in relation to the regulation of hazardous wastes, including its movement and disposal, as well as hazardous waste planning generally.

A matter with which I am particularly concerned is the question of overall environmental reporting and information. We need to do much better in this respect. Specifically we need some means of gathering together and publishing the information that is currently available in a wide variety of sources. In addition, we must improve the quality of information on some aspects of the environment. Some years ago, An Foras Forbartha, at the request of the Department of the Environment, published a very useful first report on the state of the environment. Such reports need to be produced on a regular basis — perhaps every five years or so — so that we can see trends emerging and ensure that our policies are geared to deal with existing and potential problems. I see the agency playing a significant role in providing increased access for the public to such information. This should help to ensure that future debates on environmental issues can be based on accurate and unbiased data.

The agency will be responsible for general monitoring of environmental quality, with particular emphasis initially on air and water quality monitoring (including monitoring of estuarial and coastal waters) and such monitoring as is required by European Community Directives and international conventions. I envisage that much of this monitoring would continue to be done on an agency basis by local authorities and other existing organisations but subject to general co-ordination, validation and other arrangements made by the agency to ensure that comparable and comprehensive data are produced. I might mention here that, despite the fact that there has been some criticism of the environmental control activities of local authorities, it is only fair to say that there has been a significant increase in recent times in anti-pollution activities undertaken by them. they have deployed additional staff on environmental control functions in many cases and the expertise they have built up should continue to be used when the agency are established. It makes economic sense also that a lot of the high volume monitoring should be done by local bodies rather than by a national organisation. What is essential, however, is that the agency should set up procedures which will enable them to establish, update and maintain comprehensive data-bases on environmental quality and publish regular reports on the current position and trends. The agency will be the national focal point for the European Environment Agency which was agreed at the recent Environment Council in Brussels.

The third group of functions for which the agency will be responsible will relate to the provision of support, back-up and advisory services for local authorities, including regional support and laboratory facilities. Clearly the agency will make use of the existing network of three regional water laboratories and add to them to cover those areas of the country outside the present network. I envisage also that the staff and equipment will progressively be expanded to cover all water problems as well as air, waste and noise issues. The agency will need to arrange for national laboratory facilities to cater for specialised needs.

The role of the agency should not be confined, of course, purely to monitoring pollution and related matters and so I want them to have a wider remit which they can develop over time, while maintaining the necessary distinction between policy formulation, which must remain a matter for Ministers and the Government, and other matters which can properly be developed. In particular, I will be giving power to the agency to provide services for the Department, and to advise the Minister and the Government on environmental policy issues and on strategy for the protection and improvement of the environment. An overall strategy or plan, with a cross sectoral approach, will be essential in the future in order to ensure, not alone the preservation, but also the improvement of environmental resources and I believe that an agency of the kind envisaged by the Government could make a major input to the formulation of such a strategy.

The fourth group of functions of the agency will be related to research. They will be responsible for co-ordinating environmental research by public and other bodies and for attracting and maximising funding from European Community sources. Where necessary, they will carry out environmental research directly, or arrange for research to be carried out through consultancy and commissions.

I think Deputies will agree that the functions we propose to assign to the agency are wide ranging and extensive. It would be unreasonable to expect any new organisation to undertake work programmes immediately for all of these matters. What I have in mind, therefore, is a build up of activity over a period of three to five years. The functions assigned initially to the agency will cover the most pressing environmental problems, involving aspects of air and water pollution control and hazardous waste management. I intend, however, that the legislation will allow for the assignment of additional functions to the agency on a phased basis. The legislation will, therefore, be in the nature of a framework Act, flexible enough to allow such transfers or assignment of functions to be effected as the agency develop. I will be giving particular consideration to the early assignment of functions in relation to major agricultural development and the monitoring of local authority operations in the waste disposal and sewerage treatment areas. I know these are issues of considerable public concern.

The agency will be a fully independent body and because of the type of functions they will perform they are likely to have a small full time executive board, rather than a part time representational board of the kind traditionally provided for in the case of semi-State bodies. The board will have to be appointed through procedures which will be seen to guarantee their independence and competence. Possible models for this are the systems for appointing the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Planning Appeals Board. However, I accept the need for the input to the agency of ideas and views from a broad range of interests. Accordingly, I will be providing for an advisory council representing the various environmental, development, professional and other interests. The council would maintain a general oversight of the board's activities and could make recommendations to the board or to the Minister, as might be appropriate.

There is a need to ensure that the agency will operate within a broad public policy context and take a balanced view on the issues coming before them. Provision will be made, therefore, for a system of general policy directives by the Minister, or for some other procedure which would not compromise the independence of the agency in dealing with specific issues or cases. I would expect that such a power would need to be invoked only very rarely.

It is clear that there will be heavy demands on the resources of the new agency. In the early stages, therefore, the agency will have to concentrate on the most pressing environmental problems but I would not like them to get an image of a fire fighting organisation as far as environmental problems are concerned. I see the agency developing over a period of years. In addition to dealing with current issues, they must have an anticipatory approach, identify future problems and propose measures to ensure they are avoided or ameliorated. The agency will also have a role to play in suggesting measures for the improvement or enhancement of environmental resources. In their work programmes, therefore, I see the agency making maximum use of consultants, of staff seconded temporarily for particular assignments, and of staff and facilities available at universities and other higher level institutions.

It is too early at this stage to talk about a definite budget for the agency but necessary funds will be provided. An initial start-up provision of £500,000 has been included in the 1990 Estimates but I must stress this is to provide for the initial start up costs and is not to be seen as the budget for the agency. In addition, there will be transfers of funds from other subheads where staff and activity are transferred to the agency. The agency will be expected to charge for services on a full cost-recovery basis and will impose contribution conditions when granting licences so as to recover the costs involved in monitoring compliance with the standards established.

Deputy Shatter's Bill fails to provide in a rational way for many of the matters I have outlined and which are provided for in the Government's proposals.

In preparing legislation to establish an agency of the kind that is in mind, we must remember that we already have complex codes of law on planning, water pollution, air pollution, waste, etc. What we need are better arrangements for administering and enforcing these codes, but we cannot simply impose new structures on top of what exists and set-up a system where responsibilities overlap. That is what this Bill would do. I am convinced that it would lead to confusion about who does what in any particular situation and create problems on the enforcement side and for those in industry and elsewhere who would be subject to the new arrangements. If we are to have a more effective environmental control system we need to work out a rational division of functions as between: the Minister who would deal with policy matters, etc; the new agency, and the local authorities. Deputy Shatter's Bill fails to do this. The Bill fails to give the agency any direct functions in regard to the licensing or control of individual industrial plants or other development which could cause major pollution.


We need an agency with front-line powers to control major development, and not just some form of back-up system which only comes into play when the other bodies involved refuse or fail to act. The failure to provide powers of this kind for the agency is, in my view, a fatal flaw in the present Bill.

I accept that the Bill has its good points — especially when it deals with general environmental quality monitoring, including the need for data bases. However, it does not really address the immediate problem effectively, that is, how we ensure that there is consistent, uniform application of high standards to all potentially polluting development, right across the country.

There are, of course, numerous other points which could be made in support of the case for rejecting this Bill. The Bill is unworkable in many respects. Let me give a few illustrations.

Section 5(1)(a)(ii) requires the agency to work towards ensuring "that full and balanced account is taken of the values which are placed by individuals and groups on the quality of the environment." How is this to be done in practice? How would the agency know if they had adequate information on the values of individuals or groups and how would they balance one set of values against another? Would the values of a group be superior to those of an individual? I see this requirement as the basis for endless litigation, particularly by persons who could argue that their individual values had not been given adequate consideration by the agency in particular cases.

Another example occurs in section 5 (1) (c) which requires the agency "to ensure greater environmental monitoring." I think Solomon himself might have problems in determining what "greater" means in this context. Think of the possibilities, not alone when the agency are established but in five, or even ten, years time.

The Bill proposes the transfer of all environmental research unit functions and staff to the new agency, but this would be totally inappropriate, given that the ERU have functions — and staff — dealing with roads, traffic, construction matters and the like. What I envisage is the transfer to the agency of the environmental functions only of the ERU.

The detailed provisions in the Second Schedule about the appointment of the commissioner, the environment council and the environment committee have not been fully thought out with clear contradictions in relation to appointments and dismissals, membership of the council, etc. An Oireachtas committee should not be involved in determining numbers of staff, duties and salaries as is proposed in paragraph 24 (b) of the Schedule.

I do not wish to appear to be nit-picking on the Bill but I feel it necessary to point to the fact that there are numerous defects in the drafting, as well as the major flaws I have identified earlier. There is no possibility, therefore, that the Bill could be acceptable to the Government on the understanding that necessary changes would be made at Committee Stage. As I said earlier, I welcome the general principle but I cannot support the proposal that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.

I hope that the outline I have given of the proposed role and functions of the environmental protection agency, as approved by the Government, will convince the House of the Government's intention to establish a fully independent and effective agency which will be vested with significant powers.

It is my intention to have the necessary legislation prepared as early as possible in the New Year to give effect to the Government's proposals and to have the agency up and running in 1990.

I am saddened by the response of the Minister of State to this Bill. Listening to her one would think that the Custom House was the fountainhead of all wisdom in the drafting of legislation, that they could, with equanimity and a lily white record in terms of drafting excellence, nit-pick at the provisions of other Bills. I should not, but cannot resist, the temptation to engage in the bad grace of referring to the Building Control Bill which has been virtually rewritten twice by the same technical people who help the Ministers of the day in relation to this matter.

We are not discussing the technical provisions of this Bill. The Minister of State has done hereself, her Government and the legislative process of this House a great disservice by the note she struck in her concluding remarks. In fairness to Deputy Shatter — whose technical expertise in this matter is certainly above the norm obtaining in this House — he was the first to invite the House to offer amendments and declared a willingness on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, who sponsored this Bill, to be open to wide ranging amendments on Committee Stage without preconditions.

Therefore, we should confine ourselves exclusively on Second Stage to the provisions of this Bill to establish an Environment Protection Agency. Without wishing to nit-pick, I suggest that the title should be amended to read "Environment Management Agency Bill, 1989" rather than the "Environment Protection Agency Bill, 1989", because part of the task ahead of us is to learn how to manage our environment. However, I would not for a moment suggest that that constituted sufficient grounds for our not accepting this Bill at this stage.

I commend the Fine Gael Party and Deputy Shatter on the service they have done this House and the Government — if only they had the wit to recognise it — in having provided them with an opportunity to jump the clogged queue to the parliamentary draftsman's office in providing the Minister of State and her senior Minister access on the floor of the House to a Bill which, broadly speaking, is in line with most of the provisions Government policy enunciates in terms of the type of legislation they would like to see enacted.

Bearing in mind our forthcoming EC Presidency — which we have been told from Strasbourg will be a green one — I would suggest that some credibility would be afforded that Presidency had we a Bill on the establishment of an environmental protection agency at least in course of passage through this House. The Minister was unable to give the House a clear indication that a Bill would be circulated when we return after Christmas. I share Deputy Shatter's pessimism in regard to the delivery mechanisms of Government to produce the type of legislation about which we are speaking within the term of our so-called EC Presidency.

The Labour Party will be supporting this Bill on Second Stage. Furthermore, because, on Second Stage, we do not believe it is necessarily divisive, we would seriously ask the Government to reconsider their position. After all, it is the season of goodwill, the Berlin Wall is tumbling, right across Europe all sorts of people are changing their minds, and perhaps the conventional legislative cuture that pervades all Government Departments might be altered in this instance so that the Government and Minister of State — with direct responsibility for such an agency — would examine the possibility of accepting this Bill in principle on Second Stage without preconditions or being hostages to fortune. The spirit of Deputy Shatter's remarks are on the record. Once accepted on Second Stage the Bill would be open to amendments from all sides with the majority carrying those amendments through.

I do not believe there will be significant disagreement about the main objectives of such an agency. By way of anecdote I might introduce some substance to the suggestions I have just offered the Minister of State. I suggest that she examine the Private Members' Homeless Persons' Bill introduced by Senator Brendan Ryan, a Bill full of defects which was placed on my desk when I held the position now held by the Minister of State. I recommended precisely the course of action I am now recommending to her, but I was overruled. I regret that I was overruled but I was not at the Cabinet table to argue my point. The prevailing political, administrative, bureaucratic, political culture of the Department of the Environment — not peculiar to that Department, it pervades all Government Departments — is that one does not give the Opposition any kind of concession whatsoever. We could have accepted that Homeless Persons' Bill proposed by Senator Brandan Ryan in 1983-84 without having compromised ourselves in any way. We could have tabled the type of amendments subsequently tabled after an awful lot of unnecessary hassle.

We are this evening talking about an attitude to a Bill on Second Reading. I will not go into the merits or demerits of its contents which I broadly support. I want to talk to the Minister of State — who is renowned for her courage and spirited advocacy of political decisions in which she believes — and tell her that the Department of the Environment is not renowned for speedy delivery on a number of fronts in relation to certain kinds of legislation. That Department are not masters of their destiny in relation to responses from other Government Departments, including the parliamentary draftsman and the Office of the Attorney General. Their track record, not alone in relation to the Building Control Bill in terms of sheer quality of drafting which should render them very hesitant to criticise anybody else's drafting of legislation — can be compared only with the total political failure of that Department to circulate the Bill for the establishment of a national roads authority. I say this despite the fact that it was repeatedly enunciated as being a matter of priority as far as the Government were concerned. I would suggest to the Minister of State that, over the next three to four weeks, time be taken to reflect on the opportunity the House is offering the Government in relation to this Bill. It would be a mistake to simply oppose it, as we have done on all sides so many times in the past. Indeed I have been party to majority votes in this House which blindly followed the same kind of legislative logic, which is simply that if the other side was proposing something, we had to oppose it.

There is no fundamental or principle opposition to this Bill. In essence we are all agreed on the need for the establishment of such an agency. Had we been doing our job properly Second Stage should have concluded by now. I do not want to run away with myself but I was going to say we should by now have adjourned to a select committee of the House, away from the full Press or public gallery, and gone into the business of arguing its various sections, examining the pros and cons of what type of agency, what type of authority, we want, what should be their terms of reference and so on. There is no principled argument on Second Stage that basically divides us. Yet what is going to happen? The prevailing political culture that has dominated so many administrations in this country will be: Do not give in; you have to hold the line; we will bring in our own Bill sometime in the new year, maybe before St. Patrick's Day but certainly not later than Easter. The Irish green Presidency will look precisely that — very green and very bereft — because the Government will not have delivered.

The Minister should seriously seek advice from her senior colleagues in the Coalition Government of the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil and look at the tactics of how the agency are to be established by way of legislation between now and June. That is the first point I want to make and I want to underline it. I am not trying to make some cheap debating point. I appreciate the Minister's difficulties and I understand the kind of advice she will be getting from all quarters but at the end of the day the Minister of State has exclusive political responsibility for the establishment of this agency. She is the person who will be identified as the person who did or did not deliver on this measure.

The Minister is not necessarily being helped, objectively speaking, by the fact that she has to climb over the rubble of destruction that has been left behind by the current incumbent Minister for the Environment whose executioner hands at the throat of An Foras Forbartha are still covered with the blood of that inane decision. I am speaking metaphorically in response to the kind of rhetorical style to which Deputy Flynn frequently has recourse. I thought I would match measure. The Minister, in the course of her speech, talked about hiring specialist consultant staff. We used to have them once upon a time. They used to be on the public payroll but they have been paid to leave. Some of them are no longer in the country. Some of them are so disgusted at the way in which they learned, through the public media, of the termination of their employment that they will never again trust a public authority as a prospective employer.

We are a small nation with a small bank of skills. Holding on to those skills and developing them and keeping professional people in the public sector at levels of remuneration which in some cases are less than they could earn in the private sector — acting for the poacher rather than for the gamekeeper — has always been a difficult task of management. That task has now been made immensely more difficult because of the rubble of destruction to which I referred earlier. Yet the person who is responsible for that destruction is not in the House tonight and I presume will not participate in this debate. At some stage the senior Minister will take this Bill through the Cabinet. I understand that the heads of the alternative Bill have not yet been circulated to the Cabinet but the Minister who will argue his corner at the Cabinet table should at least respond to the debate or participate in it on Second Stage. Untold damage has been done to the core skills of environmental research and monitoring to which the Minister's speech refers and to which Deputy Shatter's speech refers also.

Because of the ludicrous way in which An Foras Forbartha had their terms of engagement terminated we have messed up the careers and the professional perception of a number of people who have worked in this area. As a consequence of that bungling and I agree entirely with what Deputy Shatter has said, public confidence in the objectivity of the State's system at national and local level to dispassionately evaluate development proposals, the environmental impact of which may be damaging or dangerous has been shattered. We have damaged that rare and precious ingredient of public confidence which over the years was built up on foot of trust in An Foras Forbartha. The task the Government of the day have now in relation to the establishment of a new agency has been made all the more difficult as a consequence of the actions that this coalition Government, and to a far greater extent their predecessor, the minority Fianna Fáil Government, have undertaken.

Let me give a specific example. The Leader of the party to which Deputy Harney, the Minister of State present in the House tonight, belongs, certainly undermined public confidence in the objectivity of the planning process when he gave the impression to the ordinary public in the greater Cork region that planning permission had been prematurely granted to a Swiss chemical plant. This, after the fiasco of the Merrell Dow incident, undermined the confidence that a significant section of the public have in this process. It was the compounding of an error on top of a series of errors which made the establishment of this agency absolutely urgent.

The Minister's speech is a good speech. A competent official was told to go off and do a demolition job on Deputy Shatter's Bill and it is not a bad demolition job. Some points have been picked out which, on reflection, Deputy Shatter might consider again on Committee Stage. If the demolition job was coming from a Government who at all times introduced legislation that was so perfect that they would not even bother introducing any Minister's amendments, we would accept that the demolition job had some intellectual clout and credibility for which we would have some respect but that is not the case. The reality is that Department sponsoring legislation through their Ministers frequently have second thoughts on Committee Stage and frequently bring in ministerial amendments, some simply to correct the grammar, some simply to remove internal linguistic contradictions and provide clarifications of meaning which might otherwise produce ambiguity and others indicating that they are not happy with what they wanted to do originally and had found a better way of doing it.

There is no shame attached to that process. There is no declaration of intellectual feebleness in indicating that you had second thoughts and you wanted to make something a little better by way of amendment. Why is such a process acceptable from a Government point of view and totally unacceptable from an Opposition point of view? The sort of criticisms contained towards the end of the Minister's speech in relation to some of the points raised are nit picking in their most extreme and frankly are beneath the standard of political participation that the Minister has set for herself in the past.

I want to refer to the perception of the independence of the authority. In this respect there is a fundamental difference between what the Fine Gael Bill proposes on the one hand and what the Government's hastily convened press conference, held in the middle of the smog to provide cover of a different kind, tried to indicate last week. I would like Government spokespersons or other Deputies to clarify this during the course of the Second Stage debate. I have the distinct impression that the agency as proposed by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition will be an agency as subservient to ministerial dictat as were An Foras Forbartha and as is the environmental research unit. This needs to be clarified if this is the kind of agency the Government have in mind — it may very well be the kind of agency the Department of Finance are insisting is the only one they will give clearance to — it will not meet the requirements the rest of us in this House seek and will do untold damage to the Government's bid for the establishment and location on this island of the proposed European environmental protection agency, which I think we all support. It would be an absolute disaster if the meanness of spirit which has frequently characterised some of the spirits in Merrion Street was to prevail and come through in the formulation of this legislation so such an extent that the opportunity to achieve the objectives of a green island and a green Irish presidency would be thwarted by such a measure.

Debate adjourned.