When I spoke on Thursday last I said that the Bill was long awaited and that I hoped the provisions would be implemented as quickly as possible but that I had serious reservations about the accountability of the agency when put in place. I said that without accountability this agency would be open to a fair level of mistrust and I gave as an example the performance of An Bord Pleanála in recent times.
My confidence in An Bord Pleanála is very low. The label of being independent should not mean that it is not accountable. I hope there will be changes in this legislation on Committee Stage to ensure proper accountability on the part of the agency so that they will not be given a free rein to do what they like. We need an agency, but far more important, we need a comprehensive national environmental policy. We do not have one and we have seen recent examples where the lack of such a policy has caused considerable problems for industry here.
The most recent was in Cork yesterday where a multi-national pound extension is being delayed at the possible cost of jobs because of objections from local groups. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of that issue at present because it is a matter of appeal. The point I am trying to make is that groups throughout the length and breadth of this country have no confidence in the authorities' ability to protect their rights, their livelihoods and their health. They have no confidence in the local authorities and the other bodies that I outlined last week because these bodies have not the powers, the resources or the manpower to safeguard the rights of the people.
It is important that a proper agency be set up as quickly as possible. Jobs are being lost because of the lack of a comprehensive environmental policy. There is the example of the total lack of a national waste management policy. We have a problem as to how we dispose of our toxic and chemical waste and our low level and high level nuclear waste from research institutions and hospitals. We do not have a policy; we do not have a mechanism to dispose of this waste within our own territorial limits. We are dependent on Britain to dispose of that waste and that dependency compromises us seriously in our attitude to Britain in relation to her nuclear disposal policy, be it on her own shores, or in the Irish Sea or the Atlantic. We are totally compromised and much of the bravado and shooting from the hip of Ministers of the present Government when they were in opposition has been neutralised and stifled because they now see they are totally compromised when they approach Britain in relation to her nuclear policy.
It is about time we got our act together and had a policy. The most recent copout and the most recent example of an Irish solution to an Irish problem was the outrageous attitude of the Minister for the Environment, who is now hoping that the people of Derry and Du Pont will take care of our problems in relation to chemical and toxic waste. It is a short-sighted, narrowcul-de-sac policy which is getting us nowhere. It is about time that the relevant Ministers had the political guts to put a policy before this House and the people which would eliminate and resolve our problems. What I am saying is that jobs are being lost daily because industrialists are refusing to come to this country because they are being left in the dark and are not being informed what they would be able to do with their chemical and toxic waste if they set up operations here. This is costing us jobs daily.
I hope that once the agency are set up not only will they have the legislative powers but the resources to implement many of these provisions. We are a great country for making laws but we are very bad at implementing them. I hope the resources will be made available to the local authorities and the agency to implement many of the provisions contained in the Bill. Without the ability to implement and enforce the law it will become only a mockery and will be ignored.
The state of the environment is extremely serious. In spite of some improvements in certain areas the situation as a whole is continuing to deteriorate. It would be totally irresponsible of all of us to delay drastic action any longer. Radical decisions which will affect everyone are unavoidable. The improvement of environmental quality and the very survival of mankind, long term, are at stake. In recent times we have seen worrying statements in relation to the ozone layer. Far reaching decisions which will affect everyone will have to be made. Even our behaviour in our own homes will have to be re-examined. Unless we set a different course quickly and resolutely we are heading towards an environmental catastrophe. The only way to avoid this is to lay a basis now for sustainable development, not only on a global basis but nationally.
We must set out what resources we intend to apply to this struggle to give us a clean and safe environment. It is no longer enough for the Government to make laws and regulations. As I said already, we must have the resources to implement these laws and ensure that the people who would be affected by these laws comply with them. There must be implementation of these laws and a positive active attitude on the part of everybody in this country in order to realise the objective of a clean environment. No matter how well a policy is thought out and written down it must be implemented or else nothing will happen. Here again I question the commitment of the Government in view of the inadequate allocations of resources made to date to the agencies in place to implement the law as it stands.
All the hype about the Green Presidency, about which we heard so much some months ago and again during this debate, will come to nothing if financial resources are not made available to the agencies in place at present to implement the law. I want to repeat again that I am amazed at the number of agencies dealing with the environment in place at present. There is an overlap, a disjointed effort, but major gaps and gross inefficiency also. It is about time we got our act together. Not only must there be a policy, there must be implementation of that policy as well as co-operation from all sectors of the community. As I said already, there must be a national environmental policy, which we do not have to date. Along with a policy there must be a will on the part of everybody to tackle the environmental issues affecting this country and the planet. I would like to set out a number of the issues which must be tackled in the near future.
There must be a target group policy to target different sectors of the community. For example, the agricultural sector, the personnel who deal with traffic control and transport, industry, the energy sector, the building trade and the local authorities must be targeted individually to ensure everyone is doing their bit and duty in relation to environmental control. We must get our research and educational institutions working even more efficiently on this issue. They have made a major contribution so far to the small amount that has been done; but encouragement, especially financial encouragement, must be given to the research and educational institutions to tackle the problems which face us.
The consumers, by which I mean all of us, are now an extremely important group. We must, as consumers, take up the fight. All aspects of society must be asked to make large efforts. The environmental problems which face us today warrant this. I would like to set out some of the goals which I would like to see met in the years ahead.
In the agricultural community at present major improvments have been made in farm management despite the difficulties in Europe. The use of agricultural fertilisers, new techniques and technology and pesticides has improved the output from our farmers; but the improvements have brought about an inherent risk. We have seen during the past few years fish kills and pollution of our waterways. In 1982, when I focused in on this issue I was accused by a local authority environmental officer of being alarmist. I said the day would come when water supplies would be polluted seriously and lives would be put at risk, but I was told I was being alarmist. That day has come. We have seen serious pollution of our waterways in the months that have gone by and in recent weeks not too far away from here. This is something we must tackle.
The farming community have been very responsible and responsive to the challenge of the use of new technology in farming, but a greater effort must be made by Government agencies and everybody in the farming community to eliminate the risks which remain. We must therefore set targets for the agricultural community to reduce ammonia emissions, there must be a balanced programme of fertilisation, a drop in the use of pesticides, encouragement for the agricultural community to set up environmentally friendly projects, an improvement in slurry management and, as I said, an intensification of research into sustainable natural agricultural methods.
We must also focus in on this area in the transport sector because, with the growth in the urban sprawl which is so evident throughout our cities at present, the questions of travelling to work, mobility and the transportation of people and goods must be looked at and managed. The level of mobility has increased dramatically with the growth in the urban sprawl. We must encourage the regeneration of our inner cities and encourage people to develop them even more. This has happened in a small way. On the one hand we are encouraging people to come back into our inner cities, but on the other we are driving them out with stupid, narrow short term policy decisions. That is a matter for another day, but I ask the Government to focus in on the question of our inner cities and the environmental standards of our inner cities.
There must be a major drive to make our inner cities more attractive for our people not only to work in but to live in. We must look at the impact of road developments and infrastructure on the living conditions of people in our cities. The most recent example, which became a national issue, was the proposed road through the Middle Parish in Cork city. As in every dispute there are rights and wrongs on both sides but the most important consideration for any development such as that should be the people living there and, too often, those living in an area are thought of last.
Another example is a local one in Cork, the major proposed project in the Blackpool area, a fly-over across a residential and shopping area, which will deface it. In theory environmental impact studies are done but the mechanisms available for ordinary people to respond to these studies are almost nil. They are given one month to respond to a technical complex document and, if they do not respond within that time, they have lost their chance. Ordinary communities do not have the resources or the ability to get together a response to environmental impact studies in one month. I ask for more flexibility for communities so that they can respond in a proper way, feel involved in decision-making and not just affected by it. In Blackpool a study was done on the environmental impact which the project would have but, when the people in the area sought an extension of the time to submit a considered response, they were refused it which is very sad. Those people, at their own expense, had to get legal and technical advice and, to their credit, they did so. The result of all this will mean delays, disputes recriminations and bitterness because, eventually, there will be a public inquiry involving greater costs to the Exchequer and greater trauma for everybody. This could be avoided if there was a little bit of thought, consideration and flexibility and more important structures should be in place to deal with the needs of ordinary people.
We had the issues of Blackpool, the Middle Parish and, yesterday, the matter of Schering Plough. I am not saying who is right or wrong but the lack of structures is undermining the confidence of people in the authorities. When confidence goes disputes arise. That is the lesson of Merrell Dow and the lesson of many lost projects involving the loss of many jobs. I hope that this agency will bring confidence back to our community by protecting the people's interest and creating a balance between industrial development and environmental protection because, at present, that balance and confidence does not exist. When dealing with the construction of roadways, we must take the landscape, the natural environment and the environment of the people living in the area into consideration.
Traffic and transportation also account for an increasingly large share of consumption of energy and raw materials. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the following issues to be attended to. People must be advised, not only nationwide, but globally, to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from cars, especially from commercial vehicles, over the next number of years. We must control the increase in the emission of carbon monoxides and, as well as concentrating on the level of smog in Dublin, we must look at the levels of carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide in our cities and towns throughout the country. I detect an air of complacency about the problem of smog in areas outside Dublin. There is an increasing problem in that regard in Cork and other cities and we must tackle the issue before it becomes a major problem. I hope that the Government will initiate a policy which will encourage people to transfer from solid fuels to natural gas and other fuels which cause less pollution. It has been done in Dublin to an extent, I know that the Minister of State has a genuine interest in this matter which may not be matched by the resources at her disposal, but I ask her to consider that there is an increasing problem throughout the country and that local authorities do not have the financial resources or the technology to deal with it adequately.
All passenger cars — this is not just a national issue but one for car manufacturers — should have a catalytic converter to reduce the level of emissions. Raw materials used by car manufacturers should be recyclable so that abandoned cars are not strewn all over the country. Structural decisions must be taken to reduce the need for mobility and issues in relation to urban renewal and inner city living must be tied in directly to environmental protection and control. There must be more encouragement for the use of bicycles; the small number of bicycle lanes show that people are actively discouraged, by the structure of our roads, from using bicycles. Bicycle lanes must be set up in our towns and cities throughout the country and we must expand and improve bicycle routes.
We made a major mistake many decades ago when we ran down the quality of our train services and closed many of our rail lines. We are still doing it. It was a short-sighted policy which drove articulated vehicles on to our roadways where as, if the railways had been kept open, they would have taken much of the pressure off the roads at present. Unfortunately, we have not learnt a lesson from the mistakes made in the fifties and sixties, we are still continuing to run down our rail lines. For example, in relation to the Cork-Cobh line, one project says that it should be part of a major project for Cobh but, on the other hand, another agency is running down the train service there. What will happen? We will have more buses, trucks, cars and lorries choking our roads and polluting our environment when an efficient train service would help to reduce the problem. There are many other examples, indeed our main line services are at present being run down. The whole policy of public transportation should be an environmental issue instead of being purely a transport problem. Efforts should be made to improve transportation, stimulate its use and get people more involved. There should be a major campaign to encourage people to use public transport. Tied in with that there should be development of our rail transport, but that is not happening.
The whole industrial sector is the most important target group. However, it is difficult to describe in a few words precisely what is expected from this group since numerous different companies are involved. In broad outline what should be expected of each of them is that they thoroughly investigate the environmental aspects of their operations. I appeal to industry to increase the level of internal inspection and examination of their operations from an environmental point of view. Internal environmental concern should become an important pillar of industrial policy. I suggest that the industries look at their levels of sulphur dioxide emissions. There must be a reduction in emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Our State companies are no angels in this regard. I shall refer briefly to Moneypoint, the emissions from Moneypoint and environmental damage being done as a result.
The emissions of phosphorus and nitrogen into surface water must be reduced. As I said waste production must be reduced substantially by recycling and chemical treatment. The waste management problem at present is the most important and vital issue that faces industry here. What are we going to do with our industrial waste? We do not have a policy to deal with it. I am labouring the point, but we are hoping for an easy copout, that somebody else will take our waste.
I mentioned previously the embarrassment I felt when I visited Sellafield three years ago. Like Deputy Gerard Brady, I was critical of Windscale, now Sellafield, from the early eighties when it was not a political issue here. When I visited that plant I was highly embarrassed when the management who took us to a treatment area some distance from the plant posed the question, if it were not for their operation what would we do with the nuclear waste from our hospitals, universities and research institutes? He said that they were taking it because we did not have a facility to deal with it. As a backbench Deputy, I felt very embarrassed and compromised when dealing with British Nuclear Fuels and the British Government on that visit. I wonder how embarrassed and compromised Government Ministers must be when dealing with that issue. It is time we got our act together, behaved responsibly and courageously and set out a policy of waste management that will not allow cop-outs such as sending our waste to Derry or to areas outside the jurisdiction. We should deal with the issue within our own territorial limits, something that is not being done at present.
Last week the Minister for the Environment on the one hand said — I could not believe what I heard — that waste management and the treatment of waste was being actively considered and options were being looked at — the usual departmental waffle — while on the other hand he said that Du Pont in Derry was an option. It is an option but a cowardly one. Let us be realistic and realise that in a few years' time we will be told by the European Community to solve our own waste management problems. We will not be allowed export our waste to places outside our territorial limits. It is time we set out our policies and made decisions so that we will not be running around like headless chickens in a few years' time when the European Community will force us to make decisions.
The industrial sector, particularly the chemical industry, can play a major part in achieving many of these objectives. Not only is this a very large part of our industrial sector but it uses large quantities of hazardous substances. I know that the Federation of Irish Chemical Industries, whether through the pharmaceutical or chemical sectors, are doing their utmost to improve their operations on a daily basis, but their efforts are being undermined by a lack of structures and regulations. We saw an example of that yesterday with the objection to the Schering Plough extension in Cork, a multimillion pound extension. That company are beginning to lose heart, and their parent company will look elsewhere in future when considering developments or extensions of units in Europe.
We must consider the whole question of industrial accidents involving hazardous chemicals. I hope there will be greater emphasis on this matter. In the energy sector we must achieve a further reduction in pollution as well as promoting energy conservation. Important objectives should include a substantial reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions by power plants, such as Moneypoint, as well as a substantial reduction in nitrogen oxides. There must be greater concern for environmental issues among our semi-State companies. There must be a more intensive public relations campaign by these companies to distribute public information and give incentives to consumers to stimulate more energy consumption.
The construction industry has a role to play in this regard because the building trade uses large quantities of raw materials, the reserves of which are inexhaustible. These raw materials are taken from the ground at a cost to the environment. How often do we see our countryside defaced by sandpits and quarrypits? This has a major impact on nature and the landscape. Therefore, the construction industry has a major impact on our environment by its choice of raw materials. Greater research should be carried out in this regard. The demolition of abandoned buildings generates waste which contributes to pollution of the environment. For these reasons we need to focus more on the construction industry.
We should attempt to double the recycling of construction and demolition waste. We should replace materials whose recovery or use have serious environmental impacts. There must be a greater increase in energy conservation in heating systems and construction quality must be improved by producing environmentally friendly products. The Government have a major part to play because some State buildings are impositions on our landscape. I refer to a building erected in Cork in recent years, the Government buildings on Sullivan's Quay. This building is totally out of character with the surrounding area. Consultation took place with the local authority and the building was erected without planning permission. That building is a disgrace to any Government Department because it is totally out of character with the surrounding area. That came about because of a defect in our planning laws which gives a free hand to Government projects. The Government therefore have a responsibility to ensure that new buildings blend in with and complement the surrounding areas.
I have dealt adequately with the whole question of waste management, but I would ask the Minister — I acknowledge she has made an investment in recycling in certain areas — to put greater emphasis on the collection of recyclable waste and that greater encouragement, particularly financial incentives, be given to local authorities to upgrade their recycling programmes. The recycling programme at local authority level is in its infancy. It is not being developed because the local authorities do not have the resources even to collect and dispose of waste in landfill sites, so how can we then expect them to develop a recycling policy?
The landfill sites throughout the country are a blot on our landscape. The Cork landfill site, which has been in the news in recent times, is a terrible imposition on the surrounding area and is considered a serious health hazard and imposition on the quality of life of residents in the area. There must be a greater emphasis on the management of sanitary landfills and there must be a shift from the policy of filling holes in the ground to a policy of recycling and of incinerating waste. We must look again at incineration. I know that incineration of waste has its down side — I would have to question many of the incinerator operations, especially hospital incinerators — but I believe that properly controlled incineration can achieve a great deal. In addition to disposing of the waste, the heat generated can be used. Some years ago I visited Malmo in Sweden where they disposed of their waste by incineration and the heat generated by incineration was used to heat houses in the surrounding area. It can have a twofold benefit.
The dumping of domestic and commercial waste must decrease considerably and greater emphasis must be placed on the disposal of waste by recycling, incineration and chemical treatments. In the long term all dumping sites must satisfy stringent environmental standards. That is not being done at present because the local authorities do not have the resources to dispose of waste in a manner that will satisfy residents in these areas. In fact the local authority in Cork are spending a great deal of money employing consultants to find a solution to bring the sanitary landfill site at Kinsale Road up to a standard that the residents wish and it is an uphill task.
Structures must be improved in order to achieve our goal for the disposal of waste and therefore all local authorities must be involved in a big way in waste policy. Research institutions such as our universities and colleges will have to pay more attention to projects aimed at environmentally friendly sustainable developments. The development of systems of environmental concern will be an important part and, to be fair, our research and educational institutions are making a valiant effort to get involved in environmental projects. They have to date made an important contribution to the environmental issue. However, as I have said before, they are hindered by the lack of a waste management policy; indeed, waste has to be exported.
Consumers are the biggest group and, in addition to the other target groups, we as consumers have a special role to play. Whoever acts in an environmentally friendly way at home is more likely to do so at work and in other areas. For example, the public is expected to store all chemical waste, tin, glass, paper separately for waste collection and this must be done in conjunction with the local authorities. Not only should the local authorities and recycling firms be involved but we must co-operate with them at a personal level.
The consumption of electricity will have to decrease and we will have to drive our cars less and make greater use of public transport. If we do not start to do this now we will be forced to do so in the years ahead. Therefore it would be better to make a start now. It will be a major challenge to get all sections of the community to work together. The Government will have to face up to this task; otherwise we will be like the barbarians of old and will plunder the earth and our children and grandchildren will inherit this dreadful legacy.
The message that this earth is not our property must be put across clearly. We have a loan of this earth and we have the responsibility not only to pass it on as good as we got it but to face the challenge of improving it. There are abundant opportunities for sustainable development. The Government must give the lead, so we must have daring creativity and the will to take advantage of the goodwill that exists for the environment at present.
I welcome the Bill in broad outline, but I have serious reservations about the lack of accountability of the proposed agency. I would compare it with An Bord Pleanála, an independent body, who are not held accountable for their actions. We have seen too much of what this lack of accountability can lead to in recent times. My party will be tabling amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage so that the elected Members and those who elected them will have a say in the management of our environment.