Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Jul 1990

Vol. 401 No. 2

Sea Pollution Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

When the House comes to order, Deputy Gilmore may resume the debate.

This Bill will enable the Minister to make regulations about the operation and construction of vessels but there is a matter which is omitted and which is an omission in the whole MARPOL process, and it has to do with the problem of ships flying flags of convenience using badly trained, badly paid crews. The IMO have already expressed concern about many of the ships on the seas and about the problem of badly trained and badly paid crews. This problem has already contributed to accidents on the seas and the indications are that the tragedy of the Scandinavian Star, for example, was caused because it was crewed by——

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but an element of conversation can be heard in the Chamber.

The indications are that the tragedy on the Scandinavian Star was caused because the vessel's crew appeared to have difficulty in understanding the basic safety instructions and procedures on board that vessel. The problem of ships flying flags of convenience and exploiting crews from Third World countries will have to be faced. What is now happening is that shipping magnates by using the flag of convenience and the badly trained crew, are avoiding the use of properly trained seamen who might be organised into trade unions and require proper conditions of employment. Ships operating under the flag of convenience can avoid their responsibilities under MARPOL.

It is interesting to note that it is perhaps the more responsible states who have ratified MARPOL and that the big difficulty in relation to shipping and the problem of pollution from ships is likely to arise from ships operating under flags of convenience whose crews are badly trained. There must be an EC initiative on this. There is a case for member states of the Community to come together to try to ensure that as far as possible vessels operating in the waters of the European Community are properly crewed by trained seamen so that the danger to our coastline from badly equipped, badly designed and badly crewed ships is reduced or eliminated.

Nuclear waste has been mentioned and Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan and Deputy Taylor-Quinn mentioned vessels which will be carrying nuclear waste to Sellafield. The Minister would need to clarify this, because with the opening of the THORP plant at Sellafield in 1992 and the increasing volume of nuclear waste which is to be transported to sellafield, a lot of the waste, particularly that coming from Japan, will be transported by sea. The ships will travel through the Irish Sea. The Minister should clarify what powers, if any, the ratification of MARPOL will give to the Irish Government to control that transportation. What would happen, for example, if one of these vessels got into trouble and had to come into our territorial waters? Would such a vessel be exempted under section 4 of this Bill? We also need clarification about the position of nuclear submarines operating in the Irish Sea. We now know that the Irish Sea is a highway for nuclear submarines. A number of incidents have already occurred which have not been satisfactorily explained and there is a great threat to our safety from these vessels. What is the position if one of those submarines, or any of the naval vessels which travel the Irish Sea, get into difficulties and want to come into Irish waters?

That brings me to my main reservations about this Bill, my reservations about section 4. I am alarmed by section 4 which states that:

This Act shall not apply to any warship or to any ship for the time being used by the government of any country for purposes other than commercial purposes.

We must ask why such an exemption is being made. Ireland does not have any warships so it is clear that this section is intended to exempt warships of other countries from the provisions of this Bill. As a result the Government will not be able to make inquiries about the cargoes being carried by naval vessels entering our waters. Recently in reply to a question put by me the Taoiseach gave the House an assurance that the governments of visiting naval vessels were informed of Ireland's neutral, non-nuclear position and that these governments were then expected to honour this by ensuring that their naval vessels visiting our ports were not carrying nuclear weapons. The Minister, in the course of his address this evening, repeated this assurance.

In relation to the right of naval vessels to transit our territorial waters, the Minister stated that specific authorisation to exercise this right or to give notification that it has been exercised is not necessary, but where a foreign naval vessel wishes to visit an Irish port the permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs is necessary before the visit can take place. He also pointed out that section 23 permits a harbour master to refuse entry into a harbour if he believes a ship not to be in compliance with certificate requirements or to be a serious threat to the environment, the harbour or other ships. The section also enables the Minister to require the owners or masters of all ships, or any classes of ship, to give notice of entry or intended entry into Irish territorial waters.

Section 17 enables the Minister to have surveyors of ships or inspectors, appointed by him under warrant, to carry out surveys, inspections and tests to ensure compliance with MARPOL standards. The provisions of section 4 do not apply to warships. Up to now the Minister for Foreign Affairs contacted the government of a visiting naval vessel and expected to get some kind of gentleman's agreement whereby, for example, nuclear or chemical weapons would not be carried on board a vessel entering an Irish port. However, the provisions of this legislation will not apply to any warship with the result that no such inquiries may be made. Therefore it will not be possible under this Bill to exercise control over naval vessels entering our waters. Warships, perhaps carrying nuclear or chemical weapons, will be able to enter our territorial waters and ports without being the subject of an inquiry by the Government.

As I understand it, MARPOL provides for an exemption of warships on the high seas but does not place an obligation on individual states to provide for an exemption in domestic legislation which is intended primarily to cover territorial waters. The question which must be asked is, what would warships be doing inside our 12 mile limit in the first place. It seems the reason for providing for an exemption in what otherwise is excellent legislation is that following the enactment of the Single European Act the Government are determined to gradually dismantle our neutrality. It would be too risky politically to formally abandon neutrality. Therefore, it appears to be their strategy to gradually legislate it away. This is the first legislative measure to be brought before this House aimed at the abandonment of Irish neutrality. It is cynical——

Pure rubbish.

It is not. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reasons for providing for an exemption of warships. Why is this Sea Pollution Bill providing for an exemption of warships in our territorial waters? Given that we do not have any warships the Government are being cynical in using the Sea Pollution Bill, which is good legislation and has the support of this House, to camouflage what I consider to be the most serious legislative threat to Irish neutrality during the past 40 years. I do not think——

Pure nonsense.

It is there in black and white in the Bill which provides for an exemption of warships entering our waters. Many people and organisations during the years have expressed concern about naval vessels entering our ports and are wondering if they are carrying chemical or nuclear weapons. Up to now at least we had the assurance, regardless of what credence could be attached to it, that the Government were exercising some control and were encouraging the governments of the vessels entering our ports to ensure that they were not carrying nuclear or chemical weapons.

This Bill provides for a blanket exemption of such vessels. This is both dangerous and unacceptable. Therefore I intend tabling an amendment on Committee Stage to have that section deleted from the Bill. I regret that it has been included in what otherwise is good and non-controversial legislation.

While on this occasion we are ratifying a global international convention on the sea, we should consider the position in relation to the Irish Sea. It has been found that the existing agreements between individual states very often are effective in tackling the problems of sea pollution and other maritime problems but the time has come to consider whether an Irish Sea Conference should be established given the dangers posed by Sellafield, nuclear vessels and pollution.

I join with previous speakers in welcoming the Bill. As Deputy Gilmore said, the Bill has been widely welcomed. It would be impossible for us to exaggerate the importance of the Bill to our tourism industry, mariculture and commercial fishing, all of which have been referred to, and in terms of the use of our beaches and the seas around us for recreational purposes by the people. Coming as I do from an area down south which can boast of a number of natural amenities, such as Cork Harbour which we loosely describe as probably the best natural harbour in the world and Bantry Bay, the best deep water facility in Europe, I am acutely aware of the dangers we have faced in the past and the potential of these areas.

This Bill is timely and I use the word deliberately, as Deputy Gilmore asked why it has taken so long to introduce the Bill. It is fair to say we were not ready to introduce it. We first had to await the announcement of the environment action programme, which is to be implemented during the next ten years. Quite frankly, it would have amounted to hypocrisy to demand that shippers use facilities which were not available in ports. The Bill is timely because these facilities will now be provided. The Minister is to be congratulated in that regard. There were many instances in the past of the horrors of major disasters such as the Kowloon Bridge and others. We are all aware from these instances of what can happen on a specific occasion but we are less aware of the on-going damage that has been done, intentionally or otherwise, over the years involving small amounts of oil when emptying ballast tanks. This Bill will enable us to look at this problem and to control it. I am not suggesting that it will be the answer to all our problems but it will put in place controls which may be implemented.

One of the arguments advanced is that we are a small island race and are dependent on the sea around us. We should welcome every piece of legislation that is geared towards protecting those seas. I have given a few examples of places, Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay, but around the coast there are dozens of fishing harbours, inlets and areas which are used for commercial purposes related to the sea which have to be protected and we must have the means of protecting them. How we do that is not totally up to ourselves because we are now in an international context and we have, under the MARPOL Convention, the method of dealing with this problem. This convention will not just deal with our own situation; it will deal with foreign shipping and also our ships which are using international ports. For all those reasons I welcome the Bill.

Questions have been asked about the Bill and obviously replies will be forthcoming from the Minister. Some people brought up the question of nuclear substances or radioactive substances. Listening to the first Opposition speaker today it struck me that there was a question mark over the ability of inspectors to carry out normal monitoring of substances on board ship, the facilities on board ship and the standards on board ship. We were also questioned as to whether these people would not be available. I suggest they will be available to do the normal run of the mill testing and checking but they would not be available for the highly technical testing in regard to nuclear or radioactive substances. For highly technical testing one would be seeking out a physicist or the equivalent. When people asked me about this, that was the answer I gave because I felt it was a highly specialised section and it was correct that it should be under the aegis of the Nuclear Energy Board. I agree with the Nuclear Energy Board being in charge of that area. Having said that, obviously, other points were raised which are open to question and with which, I am sure, the Minister will deal. We have all heard the arguments about warships etc., coming into Cork Harbour and elsewhere. I am sure the Minister will deal with that too and will probably outline for us the existing routine, the future position and the possible banning of these substances.

We are all aware of the threat from oil leakage, deliberate or otherwise. There are many other areas referred to in the Bill. Garbage — it is probable that most of us would not have used the term — is the greatest pollutant we come across nowadays. For those of us who use harbour areas, especially in the south coast, it is frightening to walk those beaches because of garbage. One of the new blights appears to be Spanish wine bottles. I do not know whether that has anything to do with the fishing fleets coming in or visitors returning from the World Cup, etc.


I hope it will be included along with plastics and other garbage. I do not know whether we should keep out the Spanish trawlers or the bottles. The control of garbage has become very important. It rivals the small discharge of oil and diesel oil which may be emitted from ships. We have very efficient staff in most of the port areas but I am sure I will be forgiven for singling out Cork Harbour with which I am au fait. I pay tribute to the people involved in these areas, the harbour commissioners and the management in the harbours. In the Cork area they have been seeking legislation such as this. They have done a magnificent job over the past five years in revitalising Cork Harbour, but they need the back up legislation. Likewise, in regard to the Kowloon Bridge, we saw how the staff were able to deal with a major accident of international significance. There was no panic and they dealt with it, but the legislation is needed to enable them to make the decisions and to enforce those decision. In the legislation and in the Minister's thinking there is a difference between the international pollution of the marine environment and the accidental discharge, both of which must be dealt with differently. Accidents must be dealt with in a different way to the deliberate polluting of the area. Deputy G. O'Sullivan referred to the person in the small vessel throwing a bag of garbage over the side. That is as much of a criminal act as throwing large amounts of garbage from a bigger ship. A different approach is needed in these two areas.

This legislation is part of an overall programme. One of the important aspects of our beaches and seas is that they would be available for recreational purposes for our own people. We have to deal with sewage being dumped and pumped from the land into the seas. Now that we have begun, it is appropriate that we would also do the opposite and take care of the shipping side. We need to control pollution from the land. A massive amount of money is being set aside for that purpose. This proves we are not only becoming aware of the hazards to the environment but we are acting on them. The people involved must be congratulated.

During the term of the Irish Presidency we used the term "A Green Presidency", and many people scoffed at us. When we look at the legislation which is being debated and the massive financial commitment we can be happy that this programme is beginning to be put in place. The list of polluting materials is endless. There is a need to broaden the definition considerably. The present legislation is drafted in such a way that it will help us in the future because it is sufficiently flexible to identify many more polluting materials and to include them.

Countries that deviate from the various conventions or international agreements were mentioned by Deputy Gilmore. That is something over which we have no control. I do not think the enactment of this Bill would mean that general legislation would be any less binding on any country. We should do our own thing in this area.

Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan mentioned the design of ships. I have no doubt that the overall MARPOL Convention provisions will cover this aspect, that it will not be something which will be left to our Minister. Generally, it is now common knowledge that short cuts were taken in the design of ships heretofore, probably through lack of knowledge. For example bays or container sections of giant oil tankers were much too large.

Many design changes could be effected without enormous costs being incurred. It is simply a matter of being aware of the hazards involved and acting thereon. In many cases it would involve simple buttressing or partitioning of areas into smaller sections, which would not be very costly. I would not want to be party to a scare about oil companies being unwilling to incur such cost. It is my belief that they will accept the requisite cost. The consequences of any accident at sea are so severe they would be involved in compensating for any damage caused in the event of leakage.

Therefore it will be seen that one of the main factors of these standards is the design of vessels. Obviously, mistakes were made in the design of ore and oil carriers which needed to be rectified. Its rectification involved prudent thinking as much as incurring the cost involved. This is all about guiding people down the right path. I would not be too worried about it. Nonetheless, it would be essential that we be party to ensuring that ships are properly designed for trading in our waters. The two or three accidents which occurred worldwide — not in Irish waters — arose because the ships involved had not been properly designed, bad design features being the main cause. Hopefully, that aspect will be rectified.

There are five or six other issues involved and there is the danger of somebody with a little knowledge endeavouring to describe any one of them. The MARPOL Convention deals with the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged forms or in freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons and so on. Such pollution potential needed to be addressed. In the case of Cork Harbour, which is becoming one of the fastest movers of container traffic, it was important that this type of legislation be introduced. One hears reports of portable tanks being washed overboard vessels and so on. If there is not legislation in existance to cover such contingency one is helpless to do anything about it; it will be contended that such contingency is not covered by legislation. We can worry about the policing of the legislation later. I welcome all of the five annexes to the MARPOL Convention; they are indeed timely.

In dealing with this Bill the importance of tourism should be highlighted, because economically we will become more and more dependent on tourism. Unfortunately, one isolated oil leakage can receive attention worldwide, as was the case in Alaska recently, and can do untold damage internationally. It is essential that we strengthen our legislative hand in this respect, which can only be to our mutual benefit. We must strive to keep oil and garbage off our beaches not alone for our sake but for the benefit of tourists generally. It is generally recognised now that our beaches are not as clean as heretofore. One only has to walk along them at low tide when it is frightening to note the variety and extent of garbage strewn about.

The questions of badly trained crews, ships flying flags of convenience and so on were mentioned earlier. Perhaps the Minister would reply to the points raised in that connection. I note that there is reference to the equipping of ships, but I wonder if the training of crews would be included. Payment of any crew is a matter for an individual company or country but the standard of and facilities for their adequate training is a matter of international importance and should be covered, as also should safety equipment and so on.

The question of the contamination of the Irish Sea was raised. Nobody has a monopoly when it comes to worrying about that or in seeking solutions thereto. The Nuclear Energy Board would be the appropriate body to deal with that problem. People involved in mariculture and related industries have been worried about pollution caused by oil, particularly diesel oil, probably arising from cleaning of bilges and that type of thing. I was asked to raise this issue because diesel oils in particular have a disastrous effect on mariculture.

It was my understanding that there was a register of all vessels carrying passengers no matter how few. Perhaps the Minister would confirm that I am correct in this assumption. I understood they had to undergo an annual surveillance test and be registered to carry passengers.

Gas and oil exploration at sea were raised also. There is a number of service vessels involved in this exploration which I would presume would be covered by the provisions of this Bill. I know they are registered in a somewhat different fashion from other vessels, I am thinking of those that serve oil rigs and so on. Perhaps the Minister would confirm that they would be covered by the provisions of this Bill or, if not, whether they would fall within the ambit of legislation in the energy area. There appears to be a difficulty in collecting the charges for the clean-up in relation to the Kowloon Bridge. Will this be taken care of in the new legislation? If it will be, I would welcome that also.

Again I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. It is right that this should be brought forward when we are capable of implementing the requirements in it. One of the annexes concerns the facilities for disposing of sewage and garbage in port. It is high time this was introduced. I welcome the fact that there is a clear distinction made between intentional pollution and accidental discharge, because there is a world of difference between these two happenings. I welcome the legislation and I appreciate that we will have more time to discuss it on Committee and remaining Stages.

I welcome the Bill and I compliment the Minister for bringing it forward. One of my memories of the quays of Cork in my younger days was the sight of the deckhands emptying the buckets of waste over the side of the ships. Thankfully that is now a thing of the past.

Employment creation and environmental protection are burning political issues at present and they are interlinked. Back in 1982 or 1983, if one attempted to raise the question of environmental pollution it was a non-event because it was not a political issue and very few took the growing problem seriously. It is now a major political issue. In fact we have a political party built around the whole environmental protection issue.

We have a reputation abroad as being environmentally clean. We are on the western approaches to Europe and we are the envy of Europe because of our good record in relation to environmental protection. The big challenge facing us is to maintain that reputation. Our tourism industry depends on it. Our employment creation depends on it. There is a huge potential, unfortunately not yet tapped, in our marine resources. If we do not get our act together in relation to marine pollution we will be unable to develop that untapped potential in the years ahead.

The problem of pollution is not only a transnational one but, since Chernobyl, a trans-continental one, and must be treated as such. I hope we as a nation will carry out our responsibilities under this enabling legislation and that the Minister will introduce the necessary regulations as quickly as possible so that we can protect the environment around our coast and ensure that others do likewise in regard to their coasts. I wonder if we are capable of ensuring that people abide by the laws of this country? Has our Navy the ability to protect our environment against the irresponsible acts that can take place in our territorial waters? Our Navy has the onerous duty of protecting our fisheries and there is an ongoing battle between them and what I call the Spanish marauders on the south coast who are taking up most of the time and facilities that the Navy have. I would, therefore, question the ability of the Navy and of our Air Corps to carry out the work that will be necessary to protect our coast.

I would, therefore, propose that this country should take things a step further within the European theatre. The European Community has a number of landlocked nations that still have a responsibility to us as an island nation. We should be putting forward a proposal for a European marine corps which would protect the resources around its island nations. What is an Irish resource is also a European resource, and the responsibility to protect it should not fall on us alone. That is why I suggest the concept of a European marine corps involving ships and aircraft. Light spotter planes could go out and pinpoint the whereabouts of the culprits who are breaking the law just off our coast, in our territorial waters. There are factory ships off our coast at present, not alone chasing our fishing stock but processing the fish off our coast and thousands of tons of offal are being dumped from these ships every year. Action should be taken on that because that is a major source of pollution.

Since 1982 I have been raising the nuclear issue in this House. Things have not got better but worse. With the coming into commission in Britain of the new nuclear reprocessing plant, in 1992, the problem will be even more serious. We will have the nuclear waste of Japan, West Germany, and other nations that have nuclear installations, shipping spent, out-of-date nuclear waste to the new reprocessing plant for regeneration and reprocessing. The level of traffic coming through the Irish Sea will increase with a resulting increase in the risk and the danger. I do not want to exaggerate the risk or make the kind of alarmist statements that were made in the past. There is, however, a risk which I do not think has been considered and I regret that there is no reference whatever in this Bill to the transportation of nuclear waste through the Irish Sea to the west coast of Britain.

I have visited Sellafield on a number of occasions. I raised this issue with British Nuclear Fuels and with senior officials in the Department of Energy in London who met a group of us in Sellafield just two-and-a-half years ago. The assurances we got from these people at the time did not satisfy me. I would ask that more consideration be given to this growing problem.

Aside from the transportation of spent nuclear fuels to the west coast of Britain via the Irish Sea, there is the question of low level nuclear waste being dumped by Britain. Just three years ago they proposed to dump low level nuclear waste off the south-west coast of Ireland. Could the Minister tell us how he proposes to deal with that under legislation? Nuclear discharges from land and the dumping of nuclear waste from ships are dealt with in the Paris and London Conventions, but these are only conventions which are not binding on the member states. There should be some legislation to deal with this matter. I would ask the Minister to give us some of his thoughts on this serious problem.

Britain has not disposed of this waste. It is storing it on land at present but that arrangement cannot last indefinitely. In the foreseeable future they will either dig caverns under the Irish Sea or proceed to dump off the south-west coast. I would ask the Minister to deal with this matter. We are very much confined in our stance against Britain and other nations because of our lack of success in bringing forward legislation to deal with the disposal of our waste substances. We do not have legislation dealing with toxic waste or low-level nuclear waste that comes from our universities and health institutions. British Nuclear Fuels pointed out to me two years ago that we are quick to criticise their modus operandi but we have not got our own act together. We must face up to our responsibilities before we can insist that other countries behave responsibly.

I do not want to deal with matters that have been already mentioned but I would like to refer to the question of the incineration of toxic chemicals. This is covered in the legislation but only where it occurs within our territorial waters. I would like to know how the International Maritime Organisation deal with incineration by chemical incinerator ships in mid-Atlantic? Ultimately the dioxons and other chemicals which are incinerated into the atmosphere will eventually fall into the sea by rainfall. I would like to know what monitoring or surveillance is carried out of these incinerator ships in isolated locations such as the mid-Atlantic. This is a matter that has not been addressed in the Bill — perhaps I am wrong — and I would like the Minister's views on it.

The exemption of warships from the Bill is a serious flaw. The Fine Gael spokesperson on the marine, Deputy Taylor-Quinn, has already referred to this matter, and I understand she will be putting down an amendment to this section. We would like the Minister to say why he has excluded warships from the legislation. Deputy Gilmore raised the question of neutrality, which is a wider issue to be debated some other time, but it raises doubts about the Government's attitude to visiting warships and the guarantees from other Governments regarding nuclear weapons on board. We deserve an explanation why this matter is excluded from the legislation.

The registration of small craft was mentioned by a number of Deputies. Deputy Taylor-Quinn raised this matter during Question Time and in the Estimates debates last year, and the Minister said he would make a decision in the near future. The time has come for the registration of small craft. We need to know where they are operating and if they are breaking the law. As regards the safety aspect, there should be a set of standards for these small craft.

A disjointed effort has been made by all Governments in relation to environment protection. On one occasion I counted ten State agencies dealing with this matter. In some areas there is duplication while in others there are serious gaps, resulting in a very disjointed effort to protect our environment. One arm of Government is introducing legislation to protect our marine environment while at the same time other arms of Government are involved in pumping sewage into our harbours, rivers and seas. In other words, one arm of Government is in the act of prevention while another arm of Government is in the act of pollution. I hope that in the months ahead the long-awaited Environment Protection Agency Bill will address that chaotic situation. Each Government Department do their own thing, with very little evidence of co-operation and exchange of views. Despite the reservations I have expressed, I welcome the principle of the Bill. It is another small step towards protecting our environment.

Like other Deputies, I would give a guarded welcome to this Bill. What we are dealing with here is the ratification of the MARPOL Convention of 1973. What has happened in the 17 years since that convention was signed?

All parties in Government since — Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party — should examine their consciences and ask themselves why it has taken 17 years to bring this very urgent legislation before the House.

It may not be generally known just how serious the problem of sea pollution is. There is nothing new about sea pollution. Marine craft of all sizes and nationalities have continuously dumped rubbish, fishing nets and other debris into the ocean since the beginning of time. However, the biodegradable nature of rubbish in earlier times made it almost invisible. Fishing nets were once made of natural materials which would fall to the seabed and quickly decompose, but unfortunately today's rubbish does not usually sink when thrown overboard. Most of these materials float. They are buoyant materials and are not invisible. Discarded plastic materials are beginning to fill the world's oceans, some of them remaining there for up to 400 years.

No-one is without blame. We cannot point our finger at the plastics industry. The real problem is that people use the oceans like bins. Furthermore, plastic is not the only problem. Marine debris also includes items such as tyres, rope, glass, cans, rubber and so on. Marine plastic debris is classified according to its source and nature, land-based or ocean-sourced, industrial or domestic. Land-based waste can be discarded by careless beach visitors or discharged from sewerage systems and manufacturing. Ocean-sourced waste comes from recreational boats, offshore oil and gas rigs, merchant vessels, commercial fishing boats, cruise ships and military and research vessels. Industrial plastics include fishing materials, large sheets of plastic, polypropylene strapping, hard hats from oil rigs and so on. Domestic plastic ranges from bottles, bags, cups, egg cartons, toys, utensils, syringes and balloons to six-pack wrappers. Polystyrene, which can be of domestic or industrial origin, is regarded as a major contributor to the plastic debris problem. Some of this debris ends up in the sea by accident and some deliberately. Although almost impossible to trace the exact source of a particular piece of floating rubbish, the general origin of certain types of debris, such as fishing material, is obvious.

The effect of this waste is devastating to marine life and to our wellbeing. A six-pack wrapper left on the beach attracts the attention of a scavenging seabird whose head gets stuck in one of the loops; it cannot feed, so it slowly starves to death. In heavy seas large sheets of plastic are swept overboard which later get stuck in the propellers of a fishing trawler. Due to heavy storms an urban sewerage system is unable to cope with its load and large quantities of untreated waste are delivered straight into coastal waters. This is not something unusual for this country since that is the way we deal with most of our sewage anyway. Nearby beaches become littered with plastic tampon applicators, disposable nappies, syringes and condoms — a bit like Dollymount Strand, really.

It is discouraging that green hype has reached this House from the consumer shelves. The Minister, fresh from a disappointing green Presidency, hallows the EC Council Declaration which is no more than waffle. He also wishes to praise his own Government's Environmental Action Programme which merely treats every type of environmental ill with a different type of sticking plaster. As a green representative it is hard to get excited about any of this hype and it is useful to have a chance to say so.

The Bill is well-intentioned in seeking to formalise these international conventions on the sea. In certain respects it should be possible for a country such as ours to improve on the conditions of such conventions in our legislation.

I wish to comment on one disgraceful aspect of this Bill which is set out in section 4. The Minister referred to this matter in his contribution and we find his attitude quite unacceptable. The convention, which we must accept in full or not at all, allows military ships to come and go as they please while not being subject to these pollution laws. Why should we, a neutral and peaceful nation, accept such nonsense from these international terrorists with their weapons of destruction? We should deny them access to our waters if they will not be bound by our pollution laws. If this is not so, they should certainly be kept out of our ports. The Minister stated that permission for port visits is normally granted to foreign naval vessels, provided the visit does not form part of a naval exercise and that nuclear weapons are not being carried. We know this to be absolutely false. The response to the visit to Cork last March by the nuclear-armed Yorktown was, “ask no questions and you will be told no lies”.

Another aspect of this legislation which is disturbing is that it is full of references to legislation. When it all boils down, is there anything in this legislation at all? It will need teeth and I hope the Minister will get stuck into the regulations as soon as possible. The matter is extremely urgent and certainly we will be pressing very strongly to see that he deals with these regulations.

One very simple matter which still has not been dealt with, although the Minister stated some months ago that it could be dealt with without this legislation, is the provision of refuse skips in the main ports. A very small number of ports here have refuse skips. Even in that simple way the Minister could improve matters. Ships are coming into our ports looking for somewhere to dump rubbish and because of lack of facilities they are taking it out again and dumping it at sea. The crews of visiting ships are appalled when they come here for the first time to find that many of our ports do not have such skips. They cannot believe it. They have to dispose of this waste and most do so by dumping it into the sea as soon as they leave port. The provision of skips is a simple and relatively cheap method of solving this problem and I would ask the Minister to cut through the red tape and get skips in place. We will certainly put down amendments on Committee Stage.

I express my gratitude to Deputies for a long and detailed analysis of the provisions of the Bill. Deputy Taylor-Quinn indicated that the Bill was worthwhile and I am grateful for her remarks. She emphasised, as I did, that all five annexes are brought into action by this Bill. We are not excluding, as we might have done, any of the five. I take her point that even younger ships must be properly monitored. There have been some worries about the quality of steel in some ships and we have seen the huge gashes made by the waves in the Atlantic, the results of which we had to deal with when the ships reached our shores.

A number of Deputies referred to warships and nuclear power. The exemptions are simply in accordance with the MARPOL Convention. I do not think Deputies listened very carefully to what I said in my speech. Parts I and IV deal with the more standard provisions of a Bill. Section 4 of Part I provides for the exemption of warships from the Act. This is in keeping with the MARPOL Convention which we are bringing into effect. We are en rapport with the MARPOL provisions. It is also in keeping with our Oil Pollution of the Sea Act, 1956. Deputy Gilmore indicated that there had been some change in this regard. I repeat that foreign naval vessels are entitled under international law to transit the territorial waters of another state in exercise of a right of innocent passage. Specific authorisation is not needed to exercise this right, nor is it necessary even to give notification. However, when a foreign naval vessel wishes to visit an Irish port the permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs is and will continue to be necessary, even after the enactment of this legislation. Permission is normally granted provided the visit does not form part of a naval exercise and nuclear weapons are not being carried. It is important to emphasise that point, lest there be any wrong interpretation of this Bill or any attempt to sensationalise it.

We will never know because Governments like the Government of the United States will never disclose whether they are carrying nuclear weapons anyway.

All Governments are more than jealous about giving information about submarines and so on, but surely for good international relations, if a Minister for Foreign Affairs in this country gets an assurance from another government we are entitled to expect that a conscientious government when so doing will be telling the truth.

We do not get such an assurance because they refuse to disclose whether or not they are carrying nuclear weapons.

It is the policy of this Government not to grant permission to nuclear-powered vessels or to vessels carrying nuclear weapons to enter Irish ports. That is Government policy. When an application for a visit is received in the Department of Foreign Affairs, all necessary consultations take place with the appropriate authorities to ensure that the conditions I have just mentioned to the Deputy are complied with. It is a matter of honour between governments and I accept that when the Department of Foreign Affairs are dealing with this situation, they get assurances and they satisfy themselves before they permit this to happen.

I will now continue to reply to Deputy Taylor-Quinn's contribution. The Deputy asked how many marine surveyors and engineers are employed and the answer is that there are 18 staff in all, between surveyors and engineers in my Department, who are highly qualified and very competent. I have already mentioned the incident with the Tribulus in Bantry Bay. Our surveyors and engineers handled a very difficult situation with great competence and firmness and therefore they also succeeded in getting great co-operation from the company concerned. Deputy Taylor-Quinn among others made a point about the European Community during the course of the debate. Naturally, I indicated to the House that all the member states, with the exception of Luxembourg, which does not have a sea coast subscribe to the MARPOL Convention, which in itself imposes a certain uniformity of action on those member states. I am grateful to Deputy Taylor-Quinn for her support with regard to the disposal of plastics and non-biodegradable detritus thrown into the sea. The Deputy went into this point in some detail and I am grateful to her for making that point. She asked that I take up with the Minister for the Environment the problem of plastics and sewage, and I will do that. I think the Minister for the Environment is very much aware of the whole problem.

The Deputy, among others, raised the question of implementation of the legislation and I might as well let the House know at this stage that a regulation was passed in the Council of Ministers last December indicating that further moneys would be available for surveillance. We have made an application under that regulation for extra funding for surveillance. Another contributor mentioned — I think it was Deputy Gilmore — that air surveillance was very important in the circumstances, and perhaps Deputy Allen also mentioned that point, and this has not been neglected in the application. I think that Members will find that the Departments of Defence, Marine, the Environment and Energy will co-operate in this regard.

A Deputy expressed concern about the exploitation of energy resources in the seabed. I draw Deputies' attention to section 36, where this point is covered, but on Committee Stage I intend to revamp and strengthen the provisions of section 36 in consultation with the Department of Energy. The whole question of Sellafield is rightly exercising the minds of Deputies. It is uppermost in the minds of many Deputies and I could run down through a list of Deputies who have applied themselves with special assiduity to this problem over a number of years. The problem is, in fact, being pursued by individual Deputies in this House, by Ministers of all Governments over a number of years, and by the Government. As the House knows this problem has been brought to the attention of the European Community and we have been pushing for a European inspectorate. If a strong European inspectorate were put in place, this would be a great help.

Deputy Allen mentioned British Nuclear Fuels. They have a bad record and there is no doubt about that and any ordinary citizen who is observing the situation knows that their record is bad and that eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay. People are worried about Sellafield but internally, and on a bilateral basis with members of the United Kingdom Government or in a bilateral arrangement with visitors, this issue has been pressed. I would like the House to know that a group of scientists from Ireland and the United Kingdom are studying the Irish Sea on a bilateral basis. The report of this study group will be published and discussed at a conference scheduled for the Isle of Man next October. I am referring to this because a number of Deputies mentioned how important it was to treat the Irish Sea as an individual subject, taken out of the global context and dealt with separately. That is precisely what these scientists are doing. The future management of the Irish Sea will be the subject of discussion between the relevant authorities and this should be a very helpful study. Deputy O'Sullivan made a long and detailed contribution and emphasised for us the importance of the seas while also emphasising Sellafield. The Deputy thought that the Irish Sea was the most irradiated sea. I think I have already said what I want to say about Sellafield and the Irish Sea and it has to be dealt with at a different level and by different ministerial colleagues, as the House very well knows.

Deputy O'Sullivan referred to dumping. So far as industrial waste is concerned only three large industries get permits to dump industrial waste. All three companies are on notice about making provision for the discontinuance of this dumping. I think the three companies involved are John Wyeth and Brother Limited, the Pfizer Chemical Company and the Irish National Petroleum Company. All three companies are seeing to it that they will be able to comply with the regulation to cease the dumping of industrial waste at sea.

Deputy O'Sullivan also emphasised the dangers from big tankers, particularly the chemical dangers of crude oil. He mentioned to his credit that apparently research has shown that those who clean up the crude oil and heavy oils are exposed to carcinogens. This is something we should take cognisance of, particularly as the south and south west coasts are the areas where there is a danger from large ships and spillages.

Both Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Gilmore referred to flags of convenience. These constitute a very difficult problem in the European Community and against the general background in the Community are a cause of much worry because the percentage of the world's fleet constituted by the fleets of the Community dropped disastrously between 1980 and 1990. The Council of Ministers is pre-occupied with this issue at present and is putting in place what they can to see to it that the fleets are maintained in the Community and young people are trained properly for service at sea. There is a proposal to have a EUROS register of ships of the Community. Certain privileges and advantages will attach to ships which are registered in that way. Such a register is in the process of discussion and debate as of now.

The problems mentioned by Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Gilmore about crews who are inadequately trained, have language difficulties, etc. are very much exercising the minds of the Council of Ministers at present, particularly in view of some recent disasters. Various suggestions are being made with regard to the taxation of Euro crews being lowered and the abolition of contributions without abolishing the rights which attach to such contributions through the various social welfare systems. This whole area is being studied from a number of angles and I am sure that something firm by way of Council regulation will emerge from it.

The quick turn-around syndrome is also important, although I would contend that one can develop the quick turn-around type ship without having inadequate ships, inadequate crews or inadequate attention to the environment. Deputy O'Sullivan referred to the design of ships and said large companies may be reluctant to pay for the extra strength needed for tankers. I could not make any statement on that issue. All I know is that I was rather shocked at the size of the gashes in the huge tankers, for example, the Tribulus which was the most recent one, as a result of being battered by the waves of the north Atlantic. I have no scientific or technical evidence to show that this happened because of a weakness in the design but it is something which will come under what we are doing here and will have to be attended to.

There is now a move to design ships which will be highly electronically equipped and controlled. This will also reduce crewing but the crews employed will have to have a very high degree of sophistication and education in technology. There is a trend towards this already. As the House knows, the shipping business goes up and down very quickly and a number of years ago was at a disastrously low level. However, it has picked up now and is showing some evidence of levelling off or even declining. The cost of crewing in Western Europe has caused our ships to be uncompetitive. The solution seen by some people to this problem is to have ships specially designed for the use of electronics by a highly qualified and smaller crew.

I have already read into the record of the House my response to the question of warships.

I hesitate to interrupt the Minister in the course of his reply but I am bound to say that in accordance with an Order of the House of last Friday, 15 minutes was provided for him to reply. However, if the House wishes to hear the Minister out——

How many minutes have I left?

I was a bit on the generous side; your time is exhausted.

We will allow extra time and, if necessary, go to penalties.

I will speed up my remarks. Licences are required for boats which carry 12 passengers or more. I have already prepared legislation to cater for boats which carry 12 or fewer passengers. There is a law — strangely enough, a Health Act of the early part of the century — which can apply to boats which carry 12 or fewer passengers but it is hardly applied now so I am tightening up the law in that regard.

I have already referred to the provision of extra surveillance both at sea and on land. Deputy O'Sullivan referred to North Sea dumping. This again is exercising very much the Council of Ministers because it has almost destroyed haddock fishing in the North Sea. The pollution in the North Sea is the worst in this area and we have to cut down on our quotas for haddock there, otherwise all the haddock will be wiped out. The stocks of cod are also being affected by the pollution. Deputy O'Sullivan paid tribute to the work done by Mr. John de Courcy Ireland, a friend of mine, and Mr. Murphy.

Deputy Gilmore concentrated very heavily on the exemption under section 4 and read into it some kind of sinister move on the part of the Government. It sounded like a thriller novel to abandon neutrality. I can assure the House that there is no such intention, implication or insinuation and nobody could read that into the provisions of the Bill.

I already dealt with Deputy Gilmore's suggestion that the Irish Sea is a special case. He is right and I believe that the bilateral study to which I referred, in which scientists are engaged, and the forthcoming Isle of Man conference will address that problem.

Deputy Dennehy made the important point that, from business, commerce, and tourism points of view, and in relation to the recreational amenities for our citizens, we have a very serious obligation in regard to pollution at sea. The port facilities which he and other Deputies mentioned will have to be provided under this law and the relevant harbour authorities will have to make that provision. They can do it whatever way they like — I cannot interfere with them — but the facilities must be provided. I agree with Deputy Dennehy that Cork Harbour Commissioners have done a magnificent job although they are always nervous about what will happen on the south-western route, the route from the Atlantic which I mentioned in my opening speech.

Deputy Dennehy also mentioned the design of ships but I dealt with that in another context. He said that the hatches were too large on some of the ships involved in this kind of trouble and those problems of design are exercising the minds of the people involved with large tankers. He also referred to flags of convenience. I dealt with that and said how the Council of Ministers are trying to cope with the problem.

Worries in relation to mariculture were very real, especially in the Bantry Bay area, when the Tribulus was in trouble but, luckily, we were able to confine the spillages, have the ship repaired and moved out of the harbour. Deputy Allen said that our reputation as a clean country is a big boon to us. We will have to be very strong to maintain that and to remove anything which, in any way, attacks that position. I was in Europe with a group selling Atlantic salmon, the name “Atlantic” worked like a magic charm on the Continent. On the other side of the Atlantic, in the New England states, “Atlantic” has the direct opposite meaning because of pollution in the area. There is a warning in that for us and I agree with Deputy Allen that it is important to maintain our position. As he said, pollution is trans-continental and he wants me to introduce regulations as quickly as possible. Deputy Garland also made that request and I assure the House that the regulations will be introduced with all possible speed.

I dealt with the matter of money for surveillance mentioned by Deputy Allen. I can assure him that it is not neglected. He also mentioned Sellafield and the problems associated with it. Incinerator ships are covered by the Oslo Convention but I do not know if it stretches to the mid-Atlantic. At any rate, I gather that these ships have abandoned the incinerator process in mid-Atlantic. Each Department is fulfilling its international obligations in regard to MARPOL and we will not be at cross purposes when we ratify the international conventions.

Deputy Garland gave a long list of offensive material on land and ar dhroim na mbóithre. He is right in saying that stuff has been dumped in the sea throughout the centuries but it was biodegradable, which was the big difference. Much of the ordure now being dumped is not biodegradable which creates the problem. I reject his contention that our Presidency was not a success. Deputy Garland makes the mistake of thinking that his genuine and sincer concern for nature and the environment is exclusive to him. It is not exclusive to him, it is not exclusive to any specific person or party, it is the concern of all thinking citizens and there are more of them now than ever before. All Members expressed their appreciation of the poster and it proves that education and training are very important with regard to the maintenance of the quality of our environment.

I have already dealt with the regulations. Refuse skips will have to be put in place in the ports and this legislation will ensure that this happens. I am not sure that all the visiting ships are as saintly as Deputy Garland implied.

Tá an Teach seo an-tábhachtach ó thaobh chúrsaí comhshaoil de. Tá mé buíoch de na Teachtaí a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht agus ar Chéim an Choiste beidh seans againn leanúint leis an macnamh.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday, subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 July 1990.