Before the debate was adjourned last night I had commented in a general way on our attitude to the environment over the years. We have been almost schizophrenic in our attitude to environmental matters. During the sixties and seventies we marketed Ireland as an industrial centre while at the same time we did not take the necessary decisions to provide industries with the kind of back up facilities they required. I referred to an industry which had set up in Ireland and had indicated they would have a product which could not be disposed of in domestic tipheads. Even now, nine years later, we have not provided suitable dumping facilities for that industry. For many years that industry had to get trucks to bring its waste over the Border and dump it there. In recent years the British said they did not want any more of this waste to be dumped in the North as they had enough waste of their own to dispose of and an alternative arrangement has had to be made with Dublin County Council for this firm.
I want to refer to the irony in regard to some of our environmental policies. We spend a certain percentage of our GNP — I do not believe we spend enough — and many voluntary agencies spend a great deal of money, sending experts to the Third World where serious efforts are being made to ensure that deforestation is stopped and to encourage the people there to plant trees again. When I was in Tanzania a few years ago a young man of about 25 years of age told me, as we looked out on what appeared to be endless desert, he could remember that area being covered with trees when he was a child. It is ironic that we are helping Third World countries to replant, provide a clean water supply and cut down on the use of chemical fertilisers in the agricultural sector while at the same time we have not been minding our own backyard. Maybe we should bring back some of those experts and get them to sit down with the Minister for the Environment and his officials to teach them some of the lessons we are trying to teach people in the Third World.
I want to refer to some of the incredible decisions which have been taken by this Government and the Government who were in power from 1987 to 1989. I cannot blame the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, for any of the decisions taken between 1987 and 1989. I know that both at council level and in the Dáil she was one of the most vociferous critics of the Government's decision to abolish An Foras Forbartha in 1987. At a time when the rest of the world was beginning to wake up to the need to respect and protect our natural environment and ensure that any industrial and agricultural policies did not further erode our natural environment, our Government abolished the one independent agency to which members of the public, members of local authorities and business people could go for independent advice, knowing they would not be getting the advice of somebody who had a vested interest. The Government gave all sorts of reasons for abolishing this agency and said they were setting up an environmental unit within the Department. That unit was not as independent as An Foras Forbartha.
The Minister has again promised to set up an environment protection agency. However, this is still only a promise; Deputy Shatter's Bill is the only one we have. We do not yet have the Bill the Government keep promising. We are endeavouring, probably at great expense and certainly with great delay, to get the Government to introduce a Bill which will establish an environment protection agency. There would have been no need for Deputy Shatter's Bill if An Foras Forbartha had not been abolished. We might have had to extend the role and powers of An Foras Forbartha but we would not have had to go to the expense, both in terms of time and money, of introducing a new Bill. The abolition of An Foras Forbartha must go down as one of the most foolish mistakes of the 1987-89 Administration.
I want to refer to some areas of the environment in which I have had a particular interest for many years. The time has gone when we could regard our seas and rivers as one large septic tank. Other countries gradually came to believe that what they were doing for too long created dead seas and rivers, but we still continue to blithely believe we can create septic tanks out of our rivers and seas. We still have the scandal of raw sewage being dumped into the sea and in some instances there are very short sea outfalls which means that the raw sewage is being washed back onto the shore. I think Deputy Bruton referred to the major investment in the new Ringsend primary sewage treatment plant. The Minister said in his glossy publication that he intends to introduce secondary treatment for sewage as quickly as possible. We should be past the stage of introducing secondary treatment plants; we should be providing tertiary facilities. We should go straight from primary to tertiary facilities as quickly as possible to ensure that our seas are no longer treated as dumping grounds.
If one walks along the beach in Portmarnock in my constituency very often one will see a long line of rubbish, condoms and toilet paper. I am sorry to have to say this but if it is not spelt out the engineers seem to say you are not telling the truth. I have walked the beach and seen this rubbish. When I said the rubbish must be coming from the Howth or Ringsend outfall I was told it was coming from ships who empty their bilges and throw their rubbish overboard when passing our shores. They must have been very active ships judging by the number of condoms, etc., I saw on the beach. I do not believe for one minute that the raw sewage and rubbish on the beaches in north County Dublin come from the ships which pass our shores. The outfall from Howth and Ringsend seems to come up on the beaches in north County Dublin. These are some of the finest beaches in our country and I will continue to press for the removal of all untreated outfall on our beaches. That is the direction in which we should be moving.
I want to refer to the issue of smog and the Minister's big glossy publication, which, no doubt, formed part of the expenditure on PR by the Department of the Environment which we heard about yesterday. I would liken the production of this booklet to asking a good student to do a project. It is full of lovely statements and catchy expressions, what they would call in America mom-and-apple-pie statements. It contains very few hard facts. The Minister has banned the sale of bituminous coal from next October and is going to make £3 million available in an effort to help those who cannot afford to buy smokeless fuel. We do not know who will qualify for this grant, when it will be paid and if it will only be made available to those people living in areas which are the subject of smoke control area orders and who received grants to convert their systems to enable them burn smokeless fuel.