All Deputies must welcome the Environmental Protection Agency Bill but as Mondale said to my namesake in the United States, where is the beef? What is the point in bringing in such a Bill if finance is not made available to protect our environment? I am reminded of the story of the farmyard helper who told the farmer that he had fed straw to the ducks. When the farmer asked if they were eating it, he said: "No, but the last time I was in the yard they were talking about it". That summarises this whole debate about environmental protection. If the Government do not see the need to provide adequate funds, local authorities in particular and, indeed, individuals, will not be able to play their part in eradicating existing pollution and making sure the environment is protected.
I do not think any Deputy could tell a different story from the one I am telling about the disposal of domestic waste at local authority level or the disposal of sewage. One of the big problems we have in Donegal is getting money from the Department of the Environment to carry out small and medium sized sewerage schemes and to instal proper sewerage systems and treatment plants. We get about one-tenth of the cost required. It is no credit to public representatives, be they Members of this House or of a local authority, to have to publicly admit that the greatest polluters in society are the local authorities and the semi-State agencies. All local authorities are guilty of tolerating sewerage systems that discharge into our rivers and lakes, from Dublin Corporation to Donegal County Council. There is no denying this. About four years ago a violent storm hit the north of the country and damaged pipes of the main sewerage system in Carndonagh which crossed an old railway bridge which was washed away in the storms. For the next three or four years sewage spilled into the Donagh River for all to see. The county council wanted to rectify the situation but did not get the money from the Department of the Environment to link up broken pipes. The Department of the Environment did no want to know, I doubt if it was the departmental officials but the Minister's office, who did not make the moneys available to Donegal County Council.
The constituency I have the honour to represent has two main loughs, Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. I grew up in the town of Lifford and, like every young boy and girl in the town, swam in the River Foyle. We got pleasure in the summer evenings enjoying the clean water of the river. Today, one can scarcely walk ankle deep in it because it is so polluted. Sewage is being discharged into it from the town of Strabane and further up from Omagh, Castlederg and from the Finn Valley where the Mourne and the Finn join to make the Foyle. Indeed, even sewage from Derry city pollutes it. In Lough Swilly, where there is not the same concentration of pollution discharge, the waters are totally different. This does not have to be explained to the people of Donegal because they realise what has happened.
I am not indicting the generations which went before us. Deputy Callely said we had inherited pollution from earlier generations. That is true but the earlier generations did not know what pollution was. They were trying to improve their standard of living. We have known for the past 25 years what causes pollution but we have done nothing about it. If any generation stands indicted on the question of pollution, it is our generation because we keep talking about the problem but we do very little to correct it.
It is not so many years ago that dry toilets were the norm in rural Ireland. Indeed, it is not that many years ago that it was upmarket to have an inside toilet and one was really middle class if one had two inside toilets. If we look back we see that our great-grandparents and our grandparents in trying to improve their standard of living introduced a new sanitary system, the WC. They were located outside the house and the sewer pipe emptied into the nearest large drain in the backyard or the farm. That seemed to solve the problem of the dry toilets and they were, as it were, very modern. That system met the needs of people until we had what were called open septic tanks. The drains became so polluted that someone came up with the answer of discharging into the nearest river by joining up with other pipes. That was the beginning of sewerage systems in rural Ireland. People thought they had solved the problem, the waters would wash away the discharge, and the fish would eat the solids discharged into the water. It was not until an outbreak of poliomyelitis was traced to bathing waters into which sewage was discharged that we began to realise there was something wrong with discharging untreated sewage into our rivers and lakes. It was not our anxiety to solve the problem of pollution but a threat to health that brought us to this way of thinking.
While Deputy Callely talks about us inheriting a pollution problem we should give credit to our ancestors who were trying only to improve their standard of living and did not see that what they were doing was wrong. That is not the case today. The present generation know precisely what is happening and Governments are not playing their part in trying to eradicate pollution. A parade of politicians have gone to Sellafield to examine the discharges from the nuclear power plant there into the Irish Sea. Ministers spent hours on both British and Irish television telling the world, the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish about how wrong it was to be discharging nuclear waste into the Irish Sea. I have been told by a reliable authority that when the Irish Government got around to sending inspectors to examine the Irish Sea they found pollution but it was not the discharges from Sellafield that alarmed them but the amount of sewage discharged into the Irish Sea. That seemed to be a greater threat to the environment than the discharges from Sellafield.
We do not have much control over the discharges from Sellafield except to protest about it to the British Government, but we can control the discharge of sewage into the Irish Sea. From Whitehead in Antrim to Rosslare in Wexford, we are all guilty. Every authority on this side of the Irish Sea is guilty of polluting the Irish Sea. Not one has said mea culpa but we play every political flute available and play the tunes that are nice to the ears of the Irish people and protest about Sellafield. It is total hyprocrisy for politicians to be condemning what is happening in Sellafield. I do not defend what is happening there; I think it is wrong but there is no point in singling out Sellafield and blaming the wrong reason for the pollution of the Irish Sea.
I hope the Minister, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment will take note of this. I am told that one cannot swim off some of the beaches around north and south Dublin which I used to frequent as a boy as it is not safe to be there any more. Again to refer back to the remarks made by Deputy Callely, if that is so then the indictment is not of the earlier generations but of this generation.
Modern industrial waste has become a major concern for everyone. Modern industrial waste finds its roots in coal and in oil. The world carried on without the use of coal or oil for many centuries; it is possibly only in the past two centuries that those elements have become major factors in the modernisation of the world. They have helped us to get to where we are now. There is a lot of good in the use of coal and in the use of oil. Coal was not a pollutant until railways began to develop, and oil followed shortly after. The amount of pollution that those two elements have caused is astronomical, and unless we come to terms with it we shall get nowhere. Sewerage we can deal with, but oil and coal and their by-products are a bigger challenge.
Before I go into that issue I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that in rural Ireland septic tanks were the solution to sewage disposal where sewerage systems did not exist. In many ways septic tanks did solve a problem, but where in rural Ireland do you go now to find a water well that is not polluted? In the Donegal that I grew up in wells were virtually all around and we took pride in the fact that we had good, clear healthy, clean water. That is not the case now, the underground wells and the water streams have been polluted by septic tanks. I do not find fault with the people who put in septic tanks to solve their own domestic sewage disposal problems because they do only what society tells them to do, and they do it out of necessity because local authorities either do not provide serviced sites on which they can build their houses or do not provide sewerage systems in which they can dispose of their sewage waste.
Septic tanks are tolerable until they become so numerous that they become a nuisance. We have reached that stage. I wonder how long we can continue to proceed along the road of building a house in rural Ireland and servicing that house with a septic tank. How long can we continue that policy? I am not authoritative enough to decide one way or the other, but I have grave doubts about continuing that policy. Something will have to be done about it. But, then, what is the difference in the present climate of putting in septic tanks and linking up to a sewerage system that does not have a sewerage treatment plant but discharges into a local river or a lake? I come back to my introductory remark: "Where is the beef?" What is the point in bringing in an Environmental Protection Agency Bill to deal with pollution if local authorities are not to be given the money to combat the threat? All local authorities — and I have been part of one for 31 years — can easily identify the things that cause pollution in their areas. If they were given sufficient moneys, even without bringing in the new Environmental Protection Agency, they could tackle the problem and they could be very successful in dealing with it. If they do not get money, then the position is the same as expecting ducks to eat straw — they have not had it but they are still talking about it.
Chemical scientists can be right in their advice for dealing with toxic waste dispoal. Many of them are very articulate, very communicative, very knowledgable and very persuasive. I have listened to their arguments in relation to toxic waste disposal. At times I felt that I was convinced by the force of their arguments, and who am I, an untrained person, to challenge the professionalism of a chemical scientist who has devoted his life to his profession? I cannot debate publicly whether a chemical scientist is correct or incorrect. However I can look around for examples. I cannot help but think of Bhopal, Chernobyl, Sellafield or, indeed, a list of other places where scientists proved that they were right; proved to the local authorities that in regard to controlled environmental pollution that they were right; proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were right; convinced local authorities that they were right. It was not until the birds began to fall out of the sky in Bhopal that people started to realise there was something wrong. We know what happened then. We knew then that the scientists who were so persuasive in their arguments, so professional in their debate and so correct in their assessment were wrong.
I have to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt when dealing with toxic waste disposal, and even when I am convinced beyond all reasonable doubt I would still say: "Let us see what is going to happen". I am referring, of course, to the Du Pont proposal to construct a toxic waste incinerator at Maydown in Derry, which is only three miles across the Border from Donegal. The proposal is causing much alarm on the peninsula of Inishowen, particularly along the east coast of Inishowen, namely the area along Lough Foyle. For many months we read in the local papers of the protest being made by environmentalists and local people in County Derry about that development. Trying to be good neighbours, we felt that to an extent we did not have much control over the matter, that it was a matter between Du Pont and Mr. Needham, who is in charge of the environment in Northern Ireland. However, we were concerned about the possible environmental pollution of the air and of the whole of County Donegal, particularly east Donegal, being in direct contact with it.
I am not convinced because of the arguments I have just put forward that toxic waste should be brought to a central position to be disposed of. Like everything else it should be disposed of at source which means that one is diluting it to the greatest possible extent. For example, if sewage is disposed of at source then it is being disposed of in a diluted way, if the House follows what I am saying. When one begins to bring it into big systems, a major problem is created. One creates a major problem when one begins to bring toxic waste from Cork to be incinerated at Maydown.
Let us examine what will be the outcome of all of this. All Members of the House know the Government must find some method of disposing of toxic waste within the jurisdiction of the State. That is a responsibility we cannot avoid but how we do it is our business. I share the view that, when industrialists come to Ireland, or an existing industrialist who is generating toxic waste, they should have to convince the Department of the Environment through their planning application — if coming in anew — or convince the Department of the Environment, through their application to dispose of their toxic waste, to remain in business.
It is wrong in the extreme and there is no argument that can support the case that one part of Ireland should reap the benefits of the jobs and dump their waste in some other part of Ireland. That is unfair, no matter what part of Ireland we are talking about. It is particularly unfair to do so in an area where strife already exists, an area which has experienced sufficient trouble over the past 20 years, indeed if not over the past 400 years. Governments in the South should be endeavouring to win the goodwill of both communities in Northern Ireland. The damage to public relations this is doing north of the Border is almost as bad as the attacks the IRA are perpetrating on those communities.
I am asking the Government to pull back from the position of supporting the development of the toxic waste incinerator at Maydown. Both communities in Northern Ireland are totally opposed to it. All the people of County Donegal who are concerned are totally against it. I am against it, I will continue to be against it and I will do everything in my power to prevent it.
In talking about it I do not give a lot of credit to the Minister for the Environment for the manner in which he has dealt with this. In the early stages when we became aware, by accident, that Du Pont were proposing to develop a toxic waste incinerator, there were mixed opinions and views as to what was happening. Early opinions were to the effect that Du Pont would dispose of their own toxic waste. Most people would live with that, even though many would argue that much of it could be recycled, improved. However, all environmentalists would have a particular concern even about disposing of their own toxic waste.
When it became known that the Government of the Republic of Ireland were going to work in tandem with Du Pont, that was a different kettle of fish; that was when people in Donegal began to concern themselves, people in both communities north of the Border began to concern themselves, because this issue was much larger than had been realised. People began taking positions against it and rightly so. I would tolerate circumstances in which Du Pont would dispose of their own toxic waste, but I am totally against the development of an incinerator at Maydown. I hope that Government Deputies and councillors in County Donegal who are against it are listened to by the Government because there is a feeling abroad, which I share, that the Government did not know whether to close the door and put out the dog when told it was their responsibility — there is a more crude way of putting that but I will restrain myself from doing so — to dispose of toxic waste, when we could no longer export it to Britain to be incinerated or disposed of there.
Rumour has it — I suspect it is stronger than rumour although I have little evidence to support it — and Government Deputies tell me that the first proposal to site an incinerator in Cork was objected to bitterly by Deputies Wyse and Quill. When the Government heard about Du Pont's proposal, all of their Santa Clauses and Christmases came together. They took the view that here was the way around their problem; they did not have to construct a toxic incinerator in the Republic of Ireland; because Du Pont had come to their rescue and they could dump all their waste in County Derry, have it incinerated there and our front door will remain clean. If that is the reason this Government have decided to support the development of the incineration of toxic waste in Derry, it is a sick one. Surely that must be the lowest reason in political life. It debases everything I think political responsibility should be about.
We might look for a moment at a potentially frightening scenario. If constitutional parties and democratic debate in this House and Westminster cannot stop the building of an incinerator at Du Pont, has anyone thought out loud — as I have thought privately for a long time but it has now reached the stage at which I may have to say it publicly — about a very frightening thought indeed, that is, that the one group of people who can stop the building of an incinerator at Maydown are the Provisional IRA or the extreme Loyalists in Northern Ireland? If we reach that stage — I say this with hesitancy, not to alarm people but rather to put down a marker of where we could be going in all of this — the ordinary people of the north-west, on both sides of the Border will be told that constitutional politicians talk and debate but a capitalist society will take its own decision at the end of the day and, the IRA, will say they or the paramilitaries on the Loyalist side, have stopped the building of this incinerator and will be given credit for it. I want the Government here to seriously ponder on what I am saying, not to dismiss it as being merely a frightening remark on the part of Deputy Harte from north-east Donegal. I have had conversations privately with people who are very knowledgeable about what is going on. We all share the same fears about this potentially very frightening scenario.
It was a bad exercise on the part of the Minister for the Environment to slip up to Du Pont behind the backs of both communities and to go away as if he had gone there to play a game of golf, leaving strong suspicions in the minds of the people. He should have gone there publicly and let everyone know what he was doing. He has been behaving in a similar manner ever since. I suppose it is to his credit that he was gracious enough to meet last week a number of people who came to this House, having left Donegal at 5 a.m., to make their protest outside Dáil Éireann. He met them but he did not tell them anything. He or the Minister of State should have gone to Donegal to meet concerned people and to reassure them that this Government will not pollute the environment in the north west.
The Government cannot afford to alienate the communities north of the Border. We cannot afford it for many reasons, one of the most important of which is that we have contributed either by inaction or by wrong policies to what has happened in Northern Ireland. Politicians in the South, and to an extent the community or at least part of it in the South, cannot wash their hands and say they have not been responsible for anything that has happened in the North of Ireland, that the concentrated violence of the past 20 years and the hatred and violence which has existed for four centuries has nothing to do with them. We have contributed in some way. We cannot clean our feet on the people of the north-west by saying that we want to get rid of our toxic waste in the North of Ireland. If it is the view of this Government or of any political party, including my own, that they do not want to alienate people in this country who vote for them but that it is all right to locate a toxic facility in the North, then I will have to consider where I stand. I will not remain silent if anything is done to exacerbate the situation in the North. Here is an opportunity for the Government to tell Du Pont that although their facility would solve our toxic waste problems in the Republic it is not part of our programme and does not fit in with our way of thinking.
I have great respect for the Minister of State, whose career I have followed since she was appointed. She has been tackling problems in a serious way and I would ask her to state in her concluding speech that the Government will not be part of the development at Maydown. There is no point in the Government's remaining silent and waiting to see what will happen. That would be injurious to good community relations which we should cherish and value. I have argued for many years that any Government or political party who see the unity of Ireland as a cornerstone of their political philosophy cannot follow policies, no matter how tempting, which obstruct that objective or are not consistent with that point of view. With the knowledge I have gained over 20 years of violence in Northern Ireland and claiming that I did as much as most and more than many to try to resolve the problem, I am asking the Minister not to go down that road and to declare as soon as possible that we are not interested in this facility. For the reasons I have given, it is wrong in the extreme and I hope the Minister will take note of it.
The recycling of domestic waste is a matter to which local authority members have not given enough time. We are paying domestic refuse collectors thousands of pounds to collect waste, yet 85 per cent of what we are dumping could be recycled. I refer to glass, plastic, paper and cans. The community structure in rural Ireland is such that this is not an insoluble problem. There is no reason why every village and town could not have a skip for glass and plastic which could be collected by the local authorities. Tidy-town organisations would willingly co-operate in this task. We could pay domestic refuse collectors to collect waste paper once a month, telling people to separate it. I am told it could cost too much money but if we are talking about the eradication of pollution, then money does not seem to be the problem. I have given a lot of thought to it and I do not believe it would cost too much. The environmental committee of Donegal County Council accepted a proposal of mine that the entire council should constitute the environmental committee. We have met a few times and are beginning to look at ways of eradicating domestic waste by recycling. I am certain that shopkeepers would play their part. I am thinking in terms of shopping centres to which people may go once a week to purchase goods. If people were properly informed, I am sure they would separate waste which could be recycled from the rest of their garbage. I am also sure that shopping centres would accommodate local communities, in a good public relations exercise, by providing skips near their premises where shoppers could dispose of paper, plastic or glass which can be recycled. People have to organise themselves to do these things. I should like the Minister to consider this point.
I said earlier that local authorities and semi-State bodies are guilty of causing pollution. In this context, CIE have probably been more guilty than any other organisation in the State. How often have we been suffocated by the fumes from CIE buses and trucks while driving through Dublin city? It is an absolute disgrace. This problem did not suddenly happen last week or last month; it has been going on for years. I have reported this problem to many Ministers for the Environment and asked what they were doing about it. If the vehicles owned by private hauliers emitted the same amount of fumes as the vehicles owned by CIE they would be prosecuted by the Garda.