I have similar observations to make on sections 98, 99 and 100 and I propose to make them now in order to save time.
Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990 [ Seanad ]: Committee Stage (Resumed).
We must proceedseriatim, section by section.
I will confine my remarks then to section 98. This section provides that the Minister may make an order whereby any of the provisions of the Water Pollution Act, 1977, shall apply to the agency. I would like the Minister to explain therationale for this move. On previous sections we debated the extent to which powers are being transferred from local authorities to the agency and it appears that this is happening here again.
I would like to know whether this measure will apply to the more recent Water Pollution Act as well as to the Water Pollution Act, 1977. Under those Acts local authorities have power to make water quality management plans and to prohibit certain activities within the areas of rivers or lakes, agricultural activities and so on. In that sense local authorities have a certain degree of power and control over their own area. However, I am concerned about the proposals in this Bill to transfer that power from local authorities to the agency. As well as undermining local authorities as organisations and institutions it will also undermine the principle of local democracy. The people elected at local level to local authorities should have power to make water quality management plans. For example, if they find that a river or lake is in danger of pollution they could prescribe certain activities. I would like the Minister to explain the reason for the transfer of that power to the agency.
Section 98 is indicative of the general thrust of the Bill, with which I disagree, that is to divest local authorities of some of their remaining roles. It certainly runs counter to the provisions in the Local Government Reform Act of last year. We argued this matter earlier in this debate in relation to the licensing role. I argued very strongly that local authorities, in the first instance, should be responsible for licensing.
I agree with Deputy Gilmore that we are undermining and eroding local democracy. We should ensure that every local authority operate as an active determined agent for the environment. The more we centralise powers the more we clog up the entire system. This applies not only to local government law but to almost every aspect of law. I would ask the Minister to consider amending this section on Report Stage to ensure that prime responsibility for implementing the Water Pollution Act remains with local authorities except in exceptional circumstances. I suggest that responsibility be transferred to the agency from a specific local authority not as a general practice but only if that local authority are not doing their job. The thrust of the Bill should be recast in order to make it clear that not only is there a national Environmental Protection Agency but that every local authority be considered as a local environmental protection agency.
I agree in general with Deputy Mitchell and Deputy Gilmore in that the local authority should have prime responsibility for pollution problems in their own area. I am a member of a local authority who are starved of money and have no hope of raising additional funds. That local authority have to implement pollution laws in spite of the cutbacks they have endured over the last four or five years. Unless the Government in the future increase the financing of local authorities these authorities will be unable to carry out their work. If they were properly financed they would be able to carry out the work that is proposed to be done by this agency. However, if the Minister does not make provision in the near future to ensure that local authorities are properly funded it is appropriate that some responsibility be transferred to the agency. I hope that sufficient funds will be provided for this purpose, but I do not envisage that happening. If every other local authority are as starved of cash as are the local authority in my area I doubt if they will be able to implement the pollution laws. At present there are pollution problems that could be solved by local authorities but without the manpower and the finance they cannot do so. Until there is proper reorganisation of local government this section will have to be accepted, but only for that reason.
It seems that we are having a rehash of yesterday's debate on the question of subsidiarity. It appears to me that the Minister's opponents, Deputies Gilmore and Mitchell, have not made their case any more than it was made yesterday. Commonsense indicates that when we are talking about the possible pollution of rivers, for example, we must remember that many of our rivers flow through as many as five or six counties. We have to guard against the possibility of one local authority breaking their back trying to get a river clean and then finding that a local authority above them do not have the resources or knowhow to clean up that river nor an interest in it. Certain decisions have to be made nationally. As I said yesterday, the Green Party are convinced of the need for subsidiarity. Decisions should be made at the lowest effective level. In many cases, unfortunately, that means national level. I support the general thrust of this section.
I am surprised at the debate on this issue. Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding. It is expected that, generally speaking, the powers to be transferred will be powers given to the agency and the local authorities rather than powers taken from local authorities and given exclusively to the agency. That action is necessary because of the agency's licensing role.
As Deputies will be aware, under legislation relating to air pollution and particularly water pollution, a local authority is able to serve a section 12 notice outlining action that needs to be taken to prevent pollution. I wish to extend that power to the agency in relation to activities in which they are involved. If an incident of pollution occurs a local authority is able to take action to abate or prevent pollution and reclaim the cost afterwards by simple contract debt. The authority is able to seek information, maps and drawings in relation to discharges to water and so on. I simply wish to give those powers to the agency also. If the agency are to license activities that can discharge into waters then it will obviously be necessary for the agency to have those powers. It is also desirable that the agency should have emergency powers to be able to take a case to the High Court in an emergency. Those powers are given to local authorities under the water pollution legislation.
In addition to giving powers to the agency to enable them to do their work in relation to activities that they can license, it may also be that it is desirable to transfer powers because powers are not being exercised. Deputy Gilmore referred to the making of by-laws. To the best of my knowledge no local authority has yet initiated the making of by-laws — certainly, no by-law has been presented for confirmation to me — yet the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act has been in place for two years. In the event of serious problems in certain areas and inaction on the part of a local authority, for whatever reason, it may be desirable to transfer power to the agency. If we did not give the agency that power then we would have an agency which had power in theory but would have their hands tied when it came to real and practical action. This measure is designed to provide for the best of all worlds.
In making regulations under these sections it is not my intention to transfer powers to the agency for the sake of it. I, too, share Deputies concern and interest in keeping as many powers as possible with local authorities. I fully subscribe to the subsidiarity rule, which means that matters should be dealt with at the lowest common level in accordance with whatever is efficient and effective. It is obvious that everything cannot be done efficiently and effectively at a very local level.
In order to make the work of the agency effective, particularly in relation to their own licensing role, and to give them the same powers enjoyed by local authorities the provision of this measure is necessary. In so far as local authorities will keep most licensing functions under their control, local authorities will continue to exercise those powers. Certainly when the agency are the licensing authority they should have the same powers as given to local authorities under water pollution and air pollution legislation in order to deal with problems, to make good damage and to get maps and information to serve section 12 notices and so forth.
There are two issues at stake in this debate. One is the principle of subsidiarity, referred to by Deputy Garland. It seems to me that Deputy Garland is having some difficulty in understanding this issue. One cannot on the one hand say that decisions should be made at the lowest possible level and then on the other hand provide in legislation to have those functions transferred to a central agency.
The second issue is the question of effectiveness. Presumably, the whole purpose of the Bill is to provide a more effective vehicle for the protection of the environment. Frankly, it is my view that what we are providing for in the Bill is a mush. Nobody will know precisely who is responsible for what. Deputy Kavanagh has already said that local authorities do not now have the resources to do the job they have been given. In recent years legislation has provided local authorities with additional functions, but because their staff numbers and resources are reducing they simply have not been in a position to carry out those functions. On top of that, some functions will be transferred — not completely perhaps, but as an alternative — to the Environmental Protection Agency. When an incident of water pollution occurs who will be responsible? In practice it may be that the local authority involved will say that the incident is the responsibility of the agency, the agency will say that it is the responsibility of the local authority and someone else will say that it is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.
The Minister has just used the example of the making of by-laws in relation to water pollution. It is my understanding that the Minister has the power to direct a local authority to make by-laws. If a problem arose in connection with a particular river and the local authority involved said that they did not have the resources to take the necessary actions, that at any rate the Minister had by order transferred those functions partially to the agency, and the Environmental Protection Agency said that the problem was still the responsibility of the local authority, the Minister for the Environment is able to give directions. The problem is that many people will have responsibility for incidents that might occur yet none of them will have the resources or the wherewithal to deal with them, so action simply will not be taken. One authority will pass the buck to another.
It would be much better to have a clear definition that local authorities are responsible at ground level for the protection of the environment and for the implementation of legislation relating to water pollution, air pollution or whatever. If there was a problem of resources, which there is, it would be better to provide that the role of the Environmental Protection Agency was to back up the local authorities. For example, if it is that local authorities are not making by-laws in relation to water or air because they do not have the staff or resources to do that, then it would be simpler to give the agency the role of promoting standard by-laws and providing technical and resource backup to local authorities to enable the authorities to do the job. To take the functions away from the local authorities or, worse still, to create an ambiguity whereby both the agency and local authorities will have the same functions and the result is that no one takes responsibility for action is the wrong approach. What the Minister is doing here is creating an ambiguity. I remember when the Dublin Transport Authority were established, when one could not even ask to have yellow lines marked on a road without the matter having to be referred to them. On issues relating to water or air pollution arising on a day to day basis in local authorities, if the provisions of these sections are implemented and if the Minister transfers functions, the standard answer members of local authorities will get from their county or city managers will be: these functions have been transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency; it is now their responsibility and anyway this local authority do not have the resources to do it. With this formula I predict we will end up in a position even worse than that obtaining, because nobody will carry the can.
I feel very strongly along the lines Deputy Gilmore has just been expressing. The more we debate this Bill the more I realise the Minister may be making a very grave mistake, which in reality could harm the environment. I am absolutely astonished at Deputy Garland's contention that because rivers flow through more than one county there must be some super body, not local authorities, responsible for them. For example, the elimination of water pollution from the River Liffey was achieved by Dublin Corporation. We all remember when the River Liffey stank, when some days it was almost like an open sewer, when the smell prevailed frequently. That has been eliminated because of action taken by Dublin Corporation by the provision of new drainage systems and other water pollution preventive measures.
Were we to follow Deputy Garland's arguments to their logical conclusion there would have to be a super Government for Europe. For example, what about the Danube, the Rhine, rivers flowing through many countries never mind counties? I contend Deputy Garland is making a grave mistake, one that often happens, in that those who parade themselves as great environmentalists often in their zeal damage the environment. Here is a case in point. We must impress on local authorities that theirs is the primary role in protecting the environment, whether it be water, air, landscape, the visual environment or whatever. I contend that the type of provision included in this section will be a cop-out for local authorities in that they will be able to advance the double excuse of (a) lack of resources and (b) it is a matter for the Environmental Protection Agency anyway. From my experience in this House I am deeply apprehensive about anything that is centralised. That applies right through legislation when decisions are taken at national level without regard to local factors or local knowledge. I see this as relevant in many areas, but particularly in relation to the environment.
I was very surprised to hear the Minister say that no local authority had made any by-laws in relation to water under the relevant legislation. What has the Minister done about that? What pressure has she brought to bear on local authorities to produce such by-laws? If she has not brought any pressure to bear on them, has she not been negligent in her duty? If she really sees herself as Minister of State responsible for the protection of the environment, what has she been doing to improve the quality of water and to ensure that local authorities do their job?
I perceive the role of the Environmental Protection Agency as being, in the first place, to ensure that local authorities do their job whether it be in relation to water, air pollution or any other aspect of environmental protection. If they do not do their job then there should be power reserved for the Environmental Protection Agency to take over that task and push aside any local authority who have been remiss in their duties. But there is a real danger, under the type of provision in this section, that the environment will fall between two stools.
I revert to the matter of control of water pollution at county level, it being contended that control at county level is impossible because rivers flow through more than one county. For example, air passes through all counties. Is one to contend therefore that local authorities should have no function in relation to the control of air pollution? That is absurd and nonsensical. We must remember that the environment has the greatest impact on people themselves, that what goes wrong most frequently is at local level and should be controlled at local level. Conversely, opinion in favour of the environment should be mobilised on the ground to suit local factors at local level. I contend this type of provision compounds the error in the earlier parts of the Bill concerning licensing.
First, may I assure my Dublin colleagues that when the River Liffey leaves Wicklow it is in pristine condition. I hope they will look after it, as we do in Wicklow. Of course, it also flows into County Kildare.
If the Minister allows an option between the new agency and local authorities, I predict that whenever there is a cost involved, the relevant county manager will instruct his county councillors that this matter should be pushed on to the agency. There will be no doubt about that. This is the fault I perceive in this section, in addition to the points I made earlier. If the provisions of this Bill mean that local authorities can renege on their responsibilities under this section, pushing them over to the new agency, that will be done. In one way the provisions of this section, consitute a belt and braces job in that a local authority can attend to problems, but if they fail the agency can be asked to undertake the relevant task. In such circumstances I predict the agency will be asked to assume responsibility, whereas that should be the task of the local authority. That will arise because when estimates time comes around a county manager will say; we can save money in this area because the agency have ultimate responsibility. That is a problem that will be created by the provisions of this section.
This debate is turning into an attack on the Green Party position on decentralisation. I am amazed at Deputy Gilmore; he must not listen to what I say. Of course, we can do everything at the lowest possible level; that is a recipe for anarchism. Deputy Jim Mitchell appears to have outflanked me in this area. The Green Party always prided themselves on having an anarchistic streak, but it appears that Fine Gael have now joined the club. I am sorry Deputy Mitchell has left and is not here to listen to this. I will have to speak to him afterwards.
The key word here is "effective". I think the Minister used that word as well, although she did refer to the "common level". The key phrase is "effective level". We are all here, I hope, in an endeavour to improve our environment, to find the most effective way to do so through the provisions of this Bill. In so deciding we must examine the various bodies responsible for enforcing, monitoring and licensing.
While the Bill has many defects, its structure is very good. In so far as the word "may" is used in this section, it gives a certain degree of flexibility — another matter about which we must be careful. While we must endeavour to render all legislation as specific as possible, there has to be a degree of flexibility in this case to allow the agency decide what they and, in turn, what a local authority will do. Of course local authorities will play an extremely important role in the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. It is essential that their efforts are not devalued in any way and that they do not adopt the attitude: "Ah, well, the agency will look after this", because that will not do at all and, hopefully, will not happen.
I might revert to some of Deputy Jim Mitchell's remarks, which I can only describe as bizarre. In fact he made my case when he spoke about even the air we breathe not respecting county boundaries. That is the very point I am making — all decisions should be made at local level. Yesterday Deputy Howlin referred to the plans which had been submitted by the ESB to Wexford County Council for building a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point. Deputy Gilmore and the Fine Gael Party seem to think that that decision should be made solely by Wexford County Council. This is arrant nonsense.
Deputy Howlin also referred to the centralisation of power in Europe. My party are very opposed to centralisation in Europe of decision-making powers on issues which could be decided here by us. It is for that reason that we opposed the Single European Act and are opposing the Maastricht Treaty. Are Fine Gael saying that there should be no more international treaties similar to MARPOL, which deals with sea pollution, and that we should all do our own thing? That is clearly nonsensical. I want to repeat that decisions have to be made at the lowest effective level whether it is at parish, community, county, regional, national, continental or global level. That is what I am saying. This is a very good debate because it raises the question of where decisions should be made, an issue which should be debated much more in the House.
As we get into the meat of the Bill I become more surprised at the contributions being made. It seems that some Deputies want an advisory and consultative Environmental Protection Agency. When I try to give the agency real teeth so that they can carry out their work there seems to be substantial opposition from some Deputies.
I wish first to respond to the points made by Deputy Mitchell. I am sorry he is not present in the House, but I understand he will be back later. He seemed to take credit for the condition of the Liffey. Yet on Second Stage Deputy Dukes chastised me about the state of the Liffey. He referred to the pollution in the river at Kilcullen and said this was causing enormous problems in the river all the way into Dublin. We need to be clear on what we are talking about here.
I am not suggesting that we willy-nilly take powers away from local authorities and hand them over to the agency. I could not support such a proposal. I am saying that the agency should have the same powers in relation to the activities they will license, as a local authority have — for example, to seek a High Court injunction to serve a section 12 notice and to specify what work should be done to prevent pollution. There will be no confusion. It will be made clear in the regulations to be made under this section that the agency will have the same powers in relation to the activities they license as a local authority have in relation to the activities that they will continue to license. We are talking about the activities in the First Schedule. It is important that the national Environmental Protection Agency, an independent environmental police force, should not in any way be hamstrung by a lack of power to act in certain circumstances. It may well be desirable in the interests of preventing pollution and ensuring that the appropriate controls are put in place to give the agency specific powers under either the Water Pollution Act or the Air Pollution Act. Certain powers will have to be transferred to the agency.
Many Deputies seem to hold the view that if a local authority do not act it is simply due to a lack of resources. I cannot accept that point of view. I accept that local authorities have had to work under the strain of financial difficulties over the past number of years. I fully accept that they have a problem with resources. However, I cannot accept that only a lack of resources has resulted in many things which should have been done not being done. Sometimes things are not done because of a lack of will and the need to realign priorities. There are 30,000 local authority workers and officials in the country. That is a substantial number of people for the size of the country. There are about 10,000 local authority personnel employed in the Dublin city and county and Dún Laoghaire areas. This is a large number of people. I cannot accept that things are not done because of a lack of personnel or resources. Sometimes it is a question of reassigning people to different jobs when priorities change, and priorities have changed enormously over the past number of years.
If the agency are to have teeth it is essential that they have these powers. They need these powers if they are to put into effect the licensing powers they are being given under Part IV of the Bill. If somebody does not comply with a licensing condition the agency should be able to get a High Court injunction. I do not think anyone could justifiably argue that the agency should not be in a position to get a High Court injunction in such circumstances. Is it being suggested that the agency should not be able to serve a section 12 notice in relation to a particular activity and that they should not be able to get information in the same way as local authority can from a licensee in regard to maps, detailed drawings etc? These are the kind of powers I am talking about. There is no point misrepresenting what is in the legislation. It is not my intention to create confusion. It will be made quite clear in the regulations that in the main local authorities will be the people responsible on the ground for environmental protection. The agency will be given very specific functions. They will have a licensing role in relation to all the activities set out in the First Schedule and for the established activities which will be transferred to them over a period of time. The agency will be given the same powers in relation to those activities as local authorities have in relation to the activities they license.
I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to have the agency operating totally separate from the local authorities. I see the agency and the local authorities working very much hand in glove, they will fit in together and complement each other to a large extent. The agency are being given very specific powers to advise, help and assist local authorities in the carrying out of their duties. I know that many local authorities very often cannot enforce some of the environmental protection measures which are required of them because they may not have the particular expertise required. Such local authorities need help from a body who will have the necessary resources, expertise, equipment, etc. They need help from a body who are organised on a national basis.
In some cases local authorities need to reconsider their priorities. Deputy Mitchell asked what I had done about local authorities who had not initiated by-laws. There seems to be a contradiction in Deputy Mitchell's attitude. In the first instance he thinks that the agency and Minister should not have power over local authorities, that there should be a totally separate local authority structure which virtually operates on its own. Yet when there is a problem he thinks that the Minister should intervene. When the agency are in place no doubt he will believe that they should intervene. If particular pollution problems arise when the agency are in place and they do not have the power to act or fail to act, I have no doubt that Deputy Mitchell and people like him will be the first to say "We thought this agency were going to solve all the problems. Why do they not have the power to deal with this problem or, if they have the power, why are they not taking action?" We cannot have it every way. We all know that the present organisational system is very unsatisfactory.
With regard to the making of by-laws, my Department have asked local authorities to initiate the making of by-laws where they are essential. This was done shortly after the publication of the Bill. I believe that in some cases — I will pursue this matter personally as I have done in the case of some members of local authorities and county managers — the making of by-laws will be essential if we are to control and regulate agricultural activities in particular regions so that water resources do not become a source of pollution and there is no recurrence of the problems which arose in the past in relation to, for example, Lough Sheelin. When a water resource of that kind is polluted and destroyed it takes years of work and much money to restore it — sometimes this may not be possible — to its original quality.
I accept Deputy Gilmore's desire not to have confusion so that when a problem arises the buck cannot be passed by a local authority who may opt out by saying "We will stand back because this is a matter for the agency". It will be made clear in the regulations who has responsibility for what. The local authorities will have responsibility for virtually everything except the activities licensed by the agency. This will remain the position unless an emergency arises and particular power has to be transferred. It is not my intention to create confusion. On the contrary, it is the intention to streamline and improve the organisational way we deal with environmental protection. Because of our size, the dispersement of our population and our low level of industrial development, we need a national central body organised on a local and regional basis but, nonetheless, a central body with the expertise and resources to do the kind of difficult job now required if environmental pollution is to be prevented.
In relation to subsidiarity — to some extent it does not relate to the issue and I would prefer to concentrate on the Bill — we all wish that every family on a street could decide everything that happened in it and that every community could be the sole decision-making body in relation to what happened in it but we all know that would not be possible, we must be practical. We have the lowest density of population in Western Europe — I think it is 55 people per square kilometre — and it is not possible to devolve to very low levels, decisions of this kind because it would not be efficient or practical, it would be extremely costly, cumbersome and bureaucratic.
I know that we are debating section 98 but Deputy Gilmore referred to three sections. He is right because, to some extent, they are similar. However, in relation to the making of air or water quality management plans, a specific function of a local authority at the moment, these powers will only be transferred with the positive approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas which gives a guarantee that it is not the intention, under the provision of these three sections of the Bill, to lightly transfer powers if they have been exercised in a satisfactory way or unless it is necessary to do so for the efficient operation of this agency in their licensing role to have such powers.
I am slightly at a disadvantage because this is the first time I have been in the House to hear the debate on this Bill. I do not really know what it intends to do but I am a little cynical in regard to the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency because I see it as another layer of bureaucracy. However, I am not cynical about the Minister's commitment to the environment which is almost on a par with that of the Green Party. The Minister strongly defended the Bill and what she intends to do.
Perhaps we could have done without this agency and instead forced local authorities to act in a more responsible manner. Our waterways have been neglected because they have a low priority. The Minister is right in stating that local authorities have neglected this area but their neglect has been because they have been starved of money and because so many other priorities take precedence over waterways. If the Minister wants to implement the provisions in this Bill she should call in every county manager in the country and tell them of the need to enforce the regulations in regard to the maintenance of waterways and rivers. She would also need to have discussions with the Office of Public Works.
Deputy Jim Mitchell said that the River Liffey is now free of pollution; there are rivers in every county which have probably been neglected since the foundation of the State. More money should be made available to local authorities to enable them to do this work. The Minister spoke about enforcing laws and bringing people to court. The people who will be brought to court more frequently will be local authorities and unless they are provided with more money there will be no improvement, despite the creation of this agency. Perhaps the Minister has already announced what funds she will make available to local authorities, I do not know. There is no point either in prosecuting private bodies if the local authorities — the chief polluters of the rivers — are left alone. Unless the Minister gets a commitment from the county managers that they will enforce by-laws, the work will not be done.
When I spoke initially I simply wanted to find out the Minister'srationale for these sections and to draw attention to practical difficulties in regard to them. I do not have any problem with the Environmental Protection Agency having the powers to serve notices, take people to court and so on, which the Minister indicated will be contained in the regulations. However, it is a pity she did not state that clearly in the Bill, which would have avoided the kind of ambiguity we now have.
In this debate we have been trying to mobilise local communities and local authorities in a collective effort to protect the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency were to put in place, as I understand it, a national specialised agency which would have overall and specific responsibilities for the protection of the environment. Perhaps the Minister will take account of this when she is drawing up the regulations; any citizen who has had the experience of ringing a local authority with a complaint in relation to sewage, water, roads or footpaths knows that he or she will be subjected to a "pass the buck" syndrome. A person who telephones is told that the matter is the responsibility of another body. My concern is that if an individual citizen sees a diesel slick or something of that nature in a river and telephones the local authority he or she will be told it is an industrial matter which must be the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency. If the Minister creates ambiguity in the regulations and ends up with more than one body having responsibility for a particular function, there is a risk of the buck being passed and the public will end up by feeling frustrated and suffering as a result.
We now come to amendment No. 258a in the name of Deputy Garland. Amendment No. 258b is related and, accordingly, amendments Nos. 258a and 258b will be taken together.
I move amendment No. 258a:
In page 74, subsection (1), lines 32 and 33, to delete "may, at any time, and shall when requested by the Minister to do so," and substitute "shall".
This section deals with emission limit values and quality standards. It is a very important section.
The Agency may, at any time, and shall when requested by the Minister to do so, make recommendations to the Minister in relation to—
It then lists the various Acts that have to be complied with. In my amendment, I seek to get to the core of the agency's functions. I expect the agency will have a great deal to say about emission limit values and quality standards. I suspect that the words "may at any time, and shall when requested by the Minister to do so," is just civil servicese. Hopefully the agency will do this all the time but, so that it can be made absolutely clear to the agency what their duties are, it would be better if the subsection stated that the agency shall make recommendations to the Minister in relation to air quality standards under the Air Pollution Act, 1987; emission limit values under the Air Pollution Act, 1987 and quality standards for waters, trade effluents and so on under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977.
I hope the Minister will accept this amendment which clarifies beyond any doubt the work the agency should be doing.
Whatever about the Deputy's views on some sections it is acknowledged that extensive powers are being given to this agency in respect of a host of matters. The word "may" was used because I was keen to ensure the agency would have some flexibility in relation to those issues we believe they are the best body to decide. If we use the word "shall" it compels the agency to prepare emission limit values and quality standards even if this is not necessary. The Deputy's amendment does not make it clear the basis or frequency of the emission limit values and quality standards. If we use the word "shall" the agency may on a once off basis make recommendations, but that would be the end of it.
It is better to leave this matter to the discretion of the agency so that they can as they see fit make recommendations in relation to emission limit values and quality standards but, obviously, they will have to do so if they are so requested by the Minister. The reason the power has been given to the Minister to request the agency to make recommendations on these matters is that it would relate to something the Minister wished to do.
The setting of standards, whether for a sewage treatment plant or anything else is a political decision at the end of the day and is not a matter for an independent body. It is for the Minister of the day to decide the level of and to what the standards apply. It is desirable that the Minister consult with the agency and consider their recommendations because they have the expertise but at the end of the day putting the standard in place involves the expenditure of money. Whether we decide to have a teritary or secondary sewage treatment is a political decision and is not one that can be made by a body removed from the political arena, much as many people would like to give an independent body rather than a political body such powers. These powers are vested in Ministers and Governments because political decisions have to be made.
I am not keen to give a mandatory power to the agency when I do not believe it is necessary. If we give the agency unnecessary mandatory powers the agency will be forced to do things for the sake of doing them and this will not allow them to organise their priorities. Given that they will be an independent body with the support of a very comprehensive advisory committee representative of environmental organisations I believe the board of the agency, together with their advisory committee, are the best people to decide on the exercise of their duties.
I had not intended to speak on his section but, when the Minister said she has responsibilities in his area, I felt I should inquire whether there is a responsibility on the Minister to implement the relevant EC directives. When I was Minister for the Environment long outfalls into the sea were allowed in certain areas but that has been changed by an EC directive. I would have thought the Minister would have to insist on those changes being made rather than she having any discretion in the matter.
The answer is both yes and no. Of course, the Minister is obliged to comply with EC directives but the EC set the minimum standard. It may well be a political decision will be taken to go beyond the EC directive in relation to certain standards. If there are no European directives in relation to standards, any Minister has to be free to introduce them if it is felt necessary and desirable. In doing so the Minister would take the advise and consider the recommendations of the agency. Deputy Kavanagh is right that we are obliged to put into place the directive on municipal waste which took effect last March. Member states have a number of years to put that directive into effect. Effectively this means that in large coastal towns with a population equivalent of 10,000, we cannot dispose of raw sewage into the sea and in certain more sensitive areas further treatment will be required. Obviously it is the intention to comply with such directives and put in place the facilities required to ensure that our seas and water resources do not become polluted as a result of inappropriate sewage disposal. In addition a Minister may go beyond EC directives in introducing standards. Although it is expensive and difficult to comply with EC directives due to our limited resources, in many instances we must view them as the minimum and seek to go beyond them.
I omitted to refer to amendment No. 258b. I do not understand why it is being taken with amendment No. 258a because they do not seen to be connected. Amendment No. 258b deals with subsection (2) which states:
Before making regulations for any of the purposes referred to in subsection (1) the Minister shall have regard to any relevant recommendations made by the Agency pursuant to that subsection.
I am seeking to delete the word "relevant" because in my view all recommendations by the agency would be relevant. It is hard to understand why the agency would recommend measures that are irrelevant. This seems to be an extraordinary provision and I would like the Minister to explain what purpose the word "relevant" serves.
In response to the Minister's reply to amendment No. 258a, I am not convinced by her reply. Perhaps, rather than looking at the alternative words "may" and "shall" we should concentrate on the words, "when requested by the Minister to do so" which I sought to delete. My concern is that, as soon as the agency is established a request could come from the Minister to do something, which they do, and before they have time to draw their breath they get another request from the Minister to do something else. Thus the agency could get to a stage where they would say, we will wait until the Minister tells us to do something. I know there is a temptation to interfere and that the lines of communication will be difficult from time to time. The Minister could be sitting in her office fuming and asking what the agency are doing — that is if my amendment is accepted — because they are required to make recommendations and they are not doing anything about them. That is all very well but I can see a situation where the agency could become totally dependent and not do anything until such time as the Minister asks them. The agency are prime movers and substantial and wide-ranging tasks are being given to them. Highly qualified staff are being employed at enormous expense — justifiably, I am sure — to the taxpayer and they should have the initiative to get on with the job. If the Minister has to ask the agency to do something unless it is something totally unreasonable, then the agency are not fulfilling their job and the director general and the directors of the agency should be removed and a new director general and new directors should be appointed. That could be a great copout, to use Deputy Mitchells expression, and a great excuse for lethargy and inaction by the agency.
I am happy to accept amendment No. 258b in the name of Deputy Garland. In regard to the Deputy's further comments on mandatory requirements I should say that in relation to standards generally this country, because of our resource problem, particularly in relation to sewage treatment, will find it enormously difficult to meet the European requirements demanded of us. We would be doing well by the end of the decade to have implemented the very imaginative and comprehensive environmental action plan to which the Government have committed themselves and which will take a considerable amount of resources — higher than many of us might have imagined — for the provision of certain facilities.
In addition, it is desirable when we have an environmental protection agency, which is effectively an environmental police force, that they should have the option of being able to make recommendations in relation to certain standards. I am opposed to giving them the mandatory power to do so. As I said earlier the power to implement standards, at whatever level, is a political decision and one that is made on the basis of the need, as perceived by the Government of the day and on the basis of the resources available to the Government of the day. It is very much a political decision. Politicians are answerable for what they do or do not do.
Giving the agency the mandatory power does not mean anything else happens. It would be satisfactory if the agency, on a once off basis, made recommendations in relation to emission standards. They are not required to do so every year or every two years or to revise them. If a body with comprehensive powers are given some mandatory powers, which they can choose to exercise whenever they wish, the word "shall" does not mean they have to do it immediately or that they must do it on a regular basis. If we leave it "may" they could choose, on a frequent basis, to specify limits under subsection (1) (a) of that section; or they might choose to do so on a less frequent basis in relation to paragraph (b) or they might choose frequently to make recommendations in relation to paragraph (c) because they perceive a particular need.
We have got to have faith and trust in this agency and I have said that on many occasions during the debate on this Bill. I am aware that to some extent we are putting faith in people we have not yet seen. I am satisfied that the procedures in place for the selection of the chairman, the director general and the board of directors are such that we will have outstandingly well qualified, suitable people as director general and directors of this agency. We must give them some flexibility; we must place some trust in them and give them the option to do things as they think necessary. The standards will not become effective until they are introduced by a Minister of the Government. Therefore, it is desirable when introducing such standards that the Minister for the Environment would consult with and have the recommendations and advice of the agency.
I think the Minister of State has made what may well turn out to be one of the most interesting and historic contributions of this entire debate, particularly in her remarks relating to the environment action plan. I have heard the Minister of State acknowledge that the Government will not meet the target set down in the environment action plan. There are three phrases that stick in my memory from her contribution: first, she described it as an imaginative plan, which suggests to me that it is something more surreal than real; second, she said we would be very lucky if we achieve the objectives set down in the environment action plan; and, third, there was a passing reference to resources. Every time I hear a Government Minister making a reference to resources it means something will not be done, it is in some way qualified.
For the first time since the environment action plan was launched in early 1990 we have, at long last, got an acknowledgment of what many of us suspected, that the environment action plan was, indeed, a figment of somebody's imagination, that it will not be implemented, that the targets set down in it will not be achieved. We already know that the legislative targets set down in it, including the legislation before us, are already way behind time. We have now got an acknowledgement for the first time that the targets which were set down in the environment action plan regarding the treatment of sewage and other areas, all of which were laudatory, and which all Members of this House would support, will not be achieved.
I recall distinctly the launching of the £1,000 million plan to save the environment, at the beginning of the Green Presidency. It was hailed uncritically. On that occasion the media, in my opinion, did not give the kind of critical examination that was required of that plan at the time. I do not know whether it had to do with the way in which press relations were handled at the time of Ireland's Presidency of the EC — but I recall very disinctly on our national broadcasting services that the critical comments made about the environment action plan were not even covered at that time. Over two years later we have got a Government Minister who, albeit in a qualified and reserved way, is now acknowledging that the environment action plan was no more than a glossy PR booklet for the Green Presidency and that the targets set down in it will not be achieved. I thank the Minister of State for being honest and for putting that on the record; it should not be passed over as it is a historic acknowledgment that the environment action plan is beginning to run its course.
The Chair would encourage the Deputy to address the amendment.
As we near the end of the debate on Committee Stage the realm of politics is becoming more apparent. Deputy Gilmore knows perfectly well that I did not say that the action plan would not be implemented. I repeat that we will be put to the pin of our collars in meeting the imaginative and brave commitments made in the plan. A commitment has been given that by the year 2,000 we will have put to an end the continuing disposal of sewage into our inland waters and that appropriate sewage treatment facilities will be provided in our major coastal towns. This is going to be extremely expensive for the taxpayer and it will be a drain on our resources but the resources will be provided and the Minister and the Government are committed to implementing the plan.
In being honest and recognising the difficulties that will be encountered, in particular the financial difficulties, I do not want to see Deputy Gilmore jumping up like a vulture and trying to act as if he is in a court of law when I say that we will be lucky to be achieve this. Yes, we will be lucky and will be doing extremely well because, as time goes on, it will become far more expensive to provide these facilities. Substantial public resources will be required, along with a substantial commitment on the part of the Government of the day, each year to the year 2,000, to put the necessary resources aside to allow us meet the laudable and necessary commitments made in the action plan.
The action plan is not a sham and several things have happened on foot of it. I regret that the legislation has been delayed. I should say, however, to the handful of Deputies who have contributed to the debate in a comprehensive and thorough way that this has been a good and fair debate, that they have approached the legislation in a conscientious and open-minded fashion and have been prepared to listen to the views expressed by those who may hold a different opinion. As we near the end of the debate I ask them not to allow party politics enter into the discussion——
We are not playing party politics.
The Deputy is trying to score political points and is trying to say that he always knew that it was not going to be implemented, that it amounted to a PR exercise and that at long last a Government Minister is admitting this.
That is true.
He does not have a Government Minister admitting this; this is the action plan of my Department and the Government in relation to environmental matters and it is being and will continue to be implemented. However it will be expensive to implement it. In 1990 terms, it will cost £1 billion to provide water and sewage treatment facilities. That is a substantial amount of money but I have no doubt that this Government, and I hope successive Governments will give a commitment to implement the plan during the next seven years as we approach the year 2,000 so that by that year we will have put in place facilities to ensure that our seas and inland waters will not continue to be polluted in relation to the disposal of sewage.
So say all of us.
Could we stay within the limits and the quality standards of Committee Stage debate?
I am sorry if I sound a little over technical but I ask Deputy Garland to move amendment No. 258b. as the Minister of State has indicated that she is happy to accept it.
I move amendment No. 258b:
In page 74, subsection (2), line 44, to delete "relevant".
We now come to amendment No. 258c. Amendments Nos. 258d, 258e and 258j are related.
I move amendment No. 258c:
In page 74, after line 45, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) Any recommendations made under this section shall be made available for public inspection and copies of such recommendations shall be made available for purchase at a cost not exceeding the cost of making the copies.".
I should say that I regard these as separate matters as they range over three sections. However, the powers that be decide these matters and I have to accept their decision. This means that we are going to have four mini-debates at the one time but this cannot be helped.
Amendment No. 258c deals with the important question of providing information to the public. There does not appear to be any reference in section 101 of the need to make recommendations public. Section 65, which unfortunately was not debated because the debate was guillotined, contains a provision which would allow information to be made available to the public but because I did not think it was strong enough I put down an amendment.
Two important points need to be made in relation to the question of freedom of information. First, so far as possible, and bearing in mind the need for confidentiality, all records of Government Departments and agencies should be available to the public. There would not be much point however, in allowing the public to examine and read a long document as it is not feasible to read a report 30 to 40 pages long and make notes. We have to move with the times. Photocopying facilities ought to be available in Government offices for members of the public so that not only would they be able to inspect documents but photocopy them at a reasonable cost.
Amendment No. 258d to section 102 deals with special reports and investigations. Subsection (2) (a) reads "the agency may cause a special report, or part thereof, to be published". This amendment would substitute the word "may" with the word "shall", while amendment No. 258d seeks to remove the words "part thereof" from the same line. There is no reason the report should be published in full. I also propose that the words "subject to section 39" should be inserted and this may allow the Minister to accept the amendment. With some reluctance we agreed that section 39 was necessary as it will allow the Minister not to disclose certain confidential reports. This may be the reason the Minister of State is inserting the words "part thereof" to cover the reference made to the need for confidentiality in section 39. If that is the case, my amendment would fit the bill as it would exclude any report covered by that section.
It is unfortunate that amendment No. 258j is being discussed with amendment No. 258c because amendment 258j is to section 103 which deals with inquiries. Subsection (8) of that section states that "the agency may cause the report of a person who conducted an inquiry under the section to be made public". It deals with section 103 (8), which says that the agency may cause the report of a person who conducted an inquiry under this section to be made public. I feel very strongly that that word "may" should be changed to "shall". It is all rather complex and it is made more so by the fact that we are dealing with four different issues. I would appreciate the Minister's comments on these amendments.
I rise to support Deputy Garland's amendments because they hit on a very critical area of this Bill. It is unfortunate that because of the way time has been arranged for the discussion of this Bill we have not managed to debate some sections of the Bill which would have highlighted this issue in a clearer way. What we are talking about here is the whole question of access to information. It would have arisen in the context of section 39, 65 and also 108 which it is unlikely we will now reach. However, it does arise here. Deputy Garland's amendment makes it quite clear what he is trying to achieve, that is, that information is provided to the public. I would like the Minister to address the position regarding the EC Directive on access to environmental information. This directive was adopted in June 1990, but for some extraordinary reason it was not to be brought into force until 31 December 1992 by which stage all of the member states were to have introduced the necessary legislation and regulations providing for access to environmental information.
This Bill before us is defective in that area of making provision for access to environmental information. The directive itself is quite a minimal directive. There are all kinds of escape hatches in it. For example, member states may provide for the refusal of a request for information in a whole list of areas — for example, where matters aresub judice, or under inquiry, or under preliminary investigation and for reasons of commercial and industrial confidentiality, including intellectual property. There is a whole list of areas where information may be refused. On top of that we have provisions in this Bill which will even further restrict access to information. Section 108, for example, provides for regulations to be made which would define the conditions and restrictions which would apply to access to information. Section 39 defines confidential information which cannot be given out.
I would like the Minister to explain what is happening with regard to this State giving effect to the EC directive on access to information. Quite clearly the Bill before us and the provisions that are in it for access to information will not be sufficient to meet the minimal requirements set down in the directive. Does that mean that it will be necessary for regulations to be introduced to give the public access to environmental information? If that is the case, at what stage is the preparation of those regulations? Can the Minister give an assurance that the regulations will not be at some half way stage but will all be in place by 31 December? It would be a great embarrassment to this State if this directive, which was signed on behalf of the EC by Deputy Flynn on 7 June 1990, is not complied with within the two and a half year time extension given to member states to provide the necessary legislation and regulations to give the public access to information on the environment.
At the heart of many of the problems relating to the environment is this. Very often people do not know the quality of the water they are drinking. They cannot gain access to the tests that have been done on it. They have worries about emissions into the air and about noise. They cannot get basic information. I want to know when this State will put in place legislation or regulations which will entitle the public to get access to information held by public authorities about the environment.
Deputy Gilmore is making very telling points, but if we accept what is before us on Committee Stage——
This is on the amendment.
On the Committee Stage of this Bill we can only deal with what is proposed here. On Second Stage Deputies can indicate what they think is missing from it, but at this stage we have to apply ourselves to what is in the Bill, what is in the section and what is in the particular amendment.
This Bill is to allow us to give effect to the European Community Directive on access to information. The amendment I am tabling to section 108 makes it clear that we wish to give it full effect by 31 December. Obviously the Bill does not refer to 31 December and regulations will have to be made, but certainly it is the intention that Ireland will meet the requirements in relation to the implementation of that directive by 31 December.
I do not disagree with the spirit of what Deputy Garland is seeking to do in his amendment. I have some queries, and I know I may be storing up problems for myself on Report Stage. In relation to section 101, amendment No. 258c, if I accept Deputy Garland's amendment in its present form it would effectively mean that if a Minister for the Environment wished to get the agency's assistance in relation to some sensitive or controversial matter, he may not feel free to do so or may not get the assistance of the agency. It is desirable that the agency should be able to make recommendations and give advice to a Minister without that necessarily being made public in all cases. If we do not provide for that the Minister of the day may not use the agency but may use some other outside body to get information, advice and guidance. However, if we have an expert independent national body it is appropriate that that is the body that should be giving the information and advice to the Minister. If everything was to be made public it would inhibit a Minister who wanted to deal with a particularly sensitive or controversial matter where it would not be in the interests of solving the matter to have all the recommendations out in public in advance of the Minister implementing them or even at any stage thereafter. However, I have no problem with the agency making public any specifications it makes under that section. That would be desirable.
I too, am committed to and interested in the widest possible access by the public to information in relation to the environment. There is a lot of interest in this country in relation to environmental information, much of it in relation to environmental information of a general, or educational type. The ENFO office, which was opened in September 1990, has on average about 1,000 visitors a week and a further 300 or 400 postal and telephone queries; and that level of interest has, if anything, improved. It was felt that there would be an initial flush of interest which would diminish thereafter. That has not happened and that indicates the level of interest among the community at large in seeking and getting authoritive information in relation to the environment. That sort of information is more general or educational, but monitoring results and so on are available through the ENFO office.
I also believe it is desirable that the public should have as much access as possible, subject to certain industrial, trade, commercial or intellectual secrets being protected and matters that aresub judice or under investigation or inquiry or that relate to personal data or to something that is either before the courts or may be before the courts and not necessarily covered by the sub judice rule. Most people would accept that in matters relating to national security it would not be desirable that information would be made available. Subject to those restrictions, virtually all other information should be made as available as possible to members of the public.
That is why in 18 different sections in this Bill provision is made on an unprecedented scale to make information available. The provision to enable the public to inspect monitoring results, for example, is new and different. If we are to have informed debates in relation to environmental issues it is essential that the public should have access to the information. Where information is given, even where there are some risks involved, it is mainly wisely used and serves the needs of the environment and helps companies with an open door policy on giving information. Making information available has served companies more than withholding it. Where members of the public or environmental organisations are denied information there is an assumption that the denial is because there is something wrong. This would cause more problems for a company than it would solve.
With regard to amendment No. 258c, it is desirable for a Minister to seek the advice and recommendation of the agency without that necessarily being made public. That is why I do not accept that amendment. In relation to amendment No. 258d I do not have any problem with the agency putting in a mandatory requirement that the agency shall cause a special report or part thereof to be published in such manner as they think fit. The Deputy seeks to remove "or part thereof". We have to be realistic here. When I was in Norway, where they have a very accessible system of public information, I discussed with an authority there the effect of that and I concluded that the more rigid one makes the giving of information the more likely it becomes for things to be done at meetings or over the telephone or by way of not supplying certain information.
Yes. We have to be practical about this. If we put a mandatory obligation on this agency to publish in full a report of any investigation then sensitive elements might be left out. The agency may feel that if they say certain things in a certain way they could end up in court so they will minimise the risk of litigation and will therefore not be as frank as perhaps they should be. We must have confidence in the agency and give them some scope to be able to withhold some part of a special report in relation to an investigation or inquiry. To fail to do so would lead the agency into a situation where information, because it is mandatory, gets presented in a very bland or general form. That would not be in our interests and that is why "part thereof" is included in section 102. The same thing applies in relation to an inquiry.
In relation to all these sections I do not have problems in a general sense with a mandatory requirement. My intention was to have the greatest possible access to environmental information and to have it provided in a way that is practical and effective and which allows the agency to conduct their affairs as we would wish them to. Nobody would expect a business not to conduct business privately in lots of situations. Information in relation to monitoring results, the outcome of inquiries into the cause of pollution accidents or incidents and the giving of information or recommendations to the agency about emission values and quality standards should be public in a way that is effective and practical and which allows the Minister of the Government to be able to use the facility of the agency without having that necessarily in the public arena, which could prejudice any decisions made or place a Minister in a particularly difficult situation.
The Minister seems to be giving a little bit on amendment 258c so on that basis I will withdraw that amendment. I am disappointed with the Minister's response to my other three amendments. We already have a draconian clause in section 39 which gives considerable discretion to the Minister to have non-disclosure in certain cases. We do not want to be totally unreasonable and we realise that sometimes things cannot be published for a variety of reasons. It is a question of achieving a balance. The balance here is still very much on the side of secrecy. There is still far too much secrecy. Even a fairly innocuous report like the Zoo report, which was made about 18 months ago, is still not available to the public.
Amendments Nos. 258f and 258h are related and can be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 258f:
In page 75, subsection (3), line 10, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
This amendment relates to special reports on investigations and deals with section 102 (3) which says:
(3) The Minister may make regulations on any matter of procedure in relation to the operation of this section.
The word "may" should be substituted for "shall". Amendment No. 258g deals with section 103 (1) (a), which reads:
The Agency may, where after consultation with the Minister it considers it necessary to do so, arrange for an inquiry to be held into any incident of environmental pollution or any other matter related to environmental protection.
I feel very strongly that we should substitute the word "shall" for "may". Paragraph (b) of the subsection reads:
(b) The Minister may direct the Agency to arrange for an inquiry to be held into any specified incident of environmental pollution or any other matter related to environmental protection and the Agency shall comply with any such direction.
The mandatory "shall" should be substituted for the optional "may".
The second proposal by Deputy Garland would not be appropriate. The Bill as drafted gives the Minister power to direct if she thinks fit. My concern relates to the phrase in subsection (1) (a), "where after consultation with the Minister it considers it necessary to do so". Here the Minister is extracting the teeth of the agency or modifying their power by insisting on consultation with the Minister. That phrase is not necessary and should be deleted.
Deputy Garland seeks to make it mandatory to make regulations on any matter or procedure relating to the operation of the section. The matter would be satisfied if the Minister were to make a very loose regulation in relation to the holding of inquiries. It does not necessarily follow that the agency will then hold an inquiry. This legislation is phrased as loosely as possible to allow the Minister to frame regulations when it is necessary to hold an inquiry. The insertion of the word "shall" does not make anything happen.
Deputy Garland's amendment No. 258g to section 103 would compel the agency to hold a mandatory inquiry in every case. That is not necessary. Every act of pollution will not necessitate the holding of an inquiry. I do not see the need for a mandatory requirement. The amendment to subsection (1) (b) is also unnecessary because the cause of pollution might be obvious and an inquiry would be superfluous. Mandatory powers are not necessary either for the agency or for the Minister in relation to the holding of inquiries. An inquiry can of course, be held if the agency feel it is justified in respect of a particular incident.
I move amendment No. 258i:
In page 75, subsection (3) (b), line 31, to delete "reasonable".
My amendment seeks to delete the word "reasonable". I recall a debate on this matter on the Water Pollution (Amendment) Bill. The word "reasonable" could be used as an excuse for delay and prevarication by somebody who has something to hide. The rights of the community and of the country at large should override the rights of individuals. It may be inconvenient to allow an inspector to enter a premises. The factory may be working at full strength or somebody could be called upon at night to open up a factory. Nobody is suggesting that people should be submitted to a reign of terror, with inspectors harassing people at all hours of the day and night to inspect incidents. I am sure people in the agency will be reasonable and will not harass people who are trying to go about their business in a lawful manner. On the other hand, I want to ensure that staff of the agency will not be fobbed off with excuses. This is a serious point and I hope the Minister can accept this simple amendment.
I certainly cannot accept this amendment. To do so would give power to an officer which would not be found in a police state. If somebody wishes to enter a premises at a time that is not reasonable, say in the middle of the night, it is desirable that a warrant should be required. It would be very unreasonable to delete the word "reasonable" from this paragraph. We are seeking to ensure that officers of the agency can enter premises at a reasonable time, obviously during working hours. In some factories working hours are quite extensive, perhaps through the night. In other instances premises close at a particular time. Where the premises are closed, a warrant should be sought to enter. This would enable an officer to enter at times other than reasonable times. We want to provide that the work will be carried out at a time that is considered reasonable by most people. All of us would subscribe to that.
I would find it difficult to support this amendment. Inquiries usually occur after an event. The deletion of the word "reasonable" would mean that people would have to be available at all hours of the day and night after the person carrying out the inquiry had gone through the rigmarole of consultation between the agency and the Minister and securing the Minister's consent to the holding of an inquiry.
It seems that the purpose of entering a premises would be to inspect books, the condition of the premises and so on. Anybody who wished to cover up something would have sufficient time to do so between the time of instigation of the inquiry and the time permission is granted to carry out the inquiry. A number of inquiries has been carried out recently and in these cases they have been held sometime after the event. One would expect the inspector to carry out his duties within the normal timescale when people are available in premises. I agree with the Minister that people should not be harassed and should not have to attend an inquiry at unusual hours of the night.
I would ask the Minister to consider the point I have made. Under subsection (1) (b) of this section the Minister may direct that an inquiry be held. Under subsection (1) (a) the agency may hold an inquiry where, after consultation with the Minister, they consider it necessary to do so. Given that the Minister has power to direct the holding of an inquiry the only purpose of consultation would be for the Minister to persuade the agency not to hold an inquiry. On the one hand the Minister is giving the agency power to hold an inquiry while on the other hand she is taking back that power. There is no necessity for the clause "where after consultation with the Minister it considers it necessary to do so". The agency should be trusted and should be given the power to hold inquiries if they believe that is necessary. I would ask the Minister to accept that proposal, and I will be putting down an amendment on Report Stage to that effect.
Deputy Mitchell is right in that the agency may be directed by the Minister to hold an inquiry. The agency may hold an inquiry but only after consulting the Minister for the Environment. We are talking here about setting up a formalised inquiry procedure, and we all know how cumbersome, expensive and difficult it is to set up such a procedure. It is desirable, for a number of reasons, that the agency consult with the Minister before holding an inquiry. First, finance would have to be forthcoming to fund the inquiry. Second, some other body may be carrying out a similar inquiry or the Government may be in the process of deciding that some other body should carry out the inquiry. Therefore, it is desirable that the agency do not act in a vacuum without consultation. It is clear from subsection (1) (a) that the agency do not necessarily have to take on board the Minister's views. They will be free to hold an inquiry, but it is desirable that they do so only after consultation with the Minister and when they are aware of what may be happening in other areas. A number of Ministers or agencies may be involved in an environmental pollution incident. For example, the Minister for the Marine could be involved or if the pollution relates to agriculture the Minister for Agriculture and Food could be involved. It is important that the agency do not establish a formalised inquiry without consulting with the Minister. For that reason it is desirable to leave the provision as it stands.
I do not know if Deputy Garland is pursuing his amendment, but this would be a draconian power to give to an officer of the agency or some other person carrying out an inquiry. If premises have to be entered it is desirable that it be done at a reasonable time. If an unreasonable time must be chosen when nobody is available in the premises, the protection of the court should be forthcoming. Without that protection it is not desirable to give a power such as this to somebody involved in an inquiry.
I was distracted for a moment because Deputy Mitchell strayed from the subject matter of the amendment. I am not at all mollified by the Minister's reply. Deputy Kavanagh referred to such matters as inspecting books. Obviously, if a mere inspection of books or documents was involved it would be reasonable that the inspection be carried out during normal office hours, but I am referring to incidents in continuous process industries, particularly in industries involving emissions. It is well known — this occurred very extensively in the Merck Sharp and Dohme case — that emissions from factories are deliberately made in the early hours of the morning when county council monitoring staff are not available. I would be glad if the Minister could facilitate me by putting down an amendment on Report Stage indicating that these powers be given only in exceptional circumstances. I am sure the Minister would agree that pollution occurs on a 24 hour basis and that it may be necessary to be on the premises at all times of the day to monitor serious pollution incidents. I would like the Minister to reconsider this matter because she has not grasped the enormity of what I am saying.
Deputy Garland misunderstood my reference to the inspector entering a premises only to inspect books. I would underline that my argument in this respect is about inquiries rather than about the general operation of inspectors investigating pollution incidents. We are talking about carrying out an inquiry following an incident of environmental pollution. I would imagine it would be well known to the owner of the premises involved that the inquiry was going to be held, and in those circumstances it is unlikely that the pollution would continue. I hope that puts Deputy Garland's mind at ease as regards my opposition to his amendment. It is appropriate that an inquiry be carried out within a reasonable time, and we should include a provision to that effect.
When discussing the question of authorised officers entering premises, at the suggestion of Deputy Gilmore I said I would come back with an amendment to that effect on Report Stage. The Bill as drafted provides that an authorised officer, if refused entry to a premises, must go to the court for a warrant. The Deputy pointed out that the inspector should be allowed seek a warrant in the first instance in anticipation of being refused rather than going to the premises and being refused, thus giving a warning that he will be back. I gave a commitment that I would bring in an amendment on Report Stage to deal with that matter. Such a provision would allow an authorised officer of the agency, in carrying out an inspection for the purposes of compliance with the licence, to enter a premises at virtually any time. They would have a warrant in their possession for the purposes of investigation or inspection, as was requested by Deputy Garland.
We are talking here about the holding of an inquiry into an incident of pollution. Substantial powers are being given to the person charged with the holding of that inquiry. We have to be reasonable. I do not want to introduce any measure that would deprive people of natural justice or that would not be fair or reasonable. For the purposes of inspection I believe it is reasonable for somebody to enter at any time a factory that operates all night. However, unless there is a very good reason to do otherwise, inspections should be carried out during the normal working hours of the premises but if there should be a very good reason for carrying out an inspection at any other time the person charged with holding an inquiry could get a warrant and enter the premises at any time.
I do not want to labour this point because the debate is becoming very convoluted. The Minister appears to have taken my point to some extent. I do recall now that a similar issue arose earlier in the debate. I am asking her by way of amendment on Report Stage, to ensure that whatever provision she makes in relation to warrants and so on should clearly cover an inquiry as well as an investigation of an incident.
There is perhaps a feeling that an inquiry is something that is carried out after an incident. Sometimes pollution is a continuing problem rather than a single incident. Unfortunately, the reason for incidents of pollution, particularly air pollution, is that some of our industrial plants are simply inadequate. One purpose of an inquiry would be to establish whether the incidence of pollution was continuing. Although there may be a perception that an inquiry is not as important as an inspection, the two are very closely related.
I shall withdraw my amendment if the Minister undertakes to reconsider the issue.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to an issue that I thought would be ruled out of order during discussion on the amendments, had I sought to raise it then.
We are all aware of the cost of several of the inquiries that have taken place in the past few years in other areas. It is my contention that the agency should consult with the Minister so that, in one area at least, the Minister would have a reasonable idea of what cost was to be involved. In respect of other inquiries the cost of calling witnesses and so on has proved quite expensive and, regardless of how important the matter may be, there is concern about the amount of money being paid to professionals such as lawyers.
In certain well publicised cases individuals who have been required to appear before boards carrying out inquiries have resisted such requests. I understand that there is a possibility that one of the sections of the Companies Act, 1990, is unconstitutional and that on those grounds individuals are refusing to appear before inquiries. I hope that this section will have the effect of remedying any weakness there may be in other legislation whereby individuals required to appear before the person charged with inquiring into an incident might refuse to attend an inquiry and give evidence, whether under oath or otherwise. It is because of recent experiences whereby people of wealth were able to take every opportunity to use the law in order to justify their refusal to appear before a properly constituted inquiry that I ask the Minister whether loopholes that may have been discovered in other legislation are being closed off in this provision in order to ensure that persons who may be responsible for causing an incident of pollution may not refuse to attend an inquiry.
This section does not necessarily provide for sworn inquiries or for the expensive kind of inquiries we have had recently. I was very surprised when Deputy Spring seemed to try to justify the enormous fees paid to lawyers and accountants taking part in recent inquiries. I consider the daily fees being charged and paid to these people to be outrageous and completely unjustified.
The Minister for the Marine for example has power to order an inquiry into marine incidents. Such inquiries, conducted by way of the Marine Survey Office do not cost a fortune. Likewise, the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications has power to order an inquiry into rail accidents. He can request the rail inspector to hold an inquiry and to report on his findings. When I was Minister for Transport I ordered a couple of such inquiries and they did not cost a fortune. They cost very little but they were very effective in elucidating the facts, making recommendations and, when necessary, censuring those at fault. The position in relation to air accidents is similar. Again, the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications has power to order inquiries into such accidents, as I did in relation to the Air India disaster. It is not necessary that these inquiries be judicial inquiries out of which lawyers and other fat cats make a fortune — some of the payments in values would make the Taoiseach's salary for his entire term of office look meagre. That will be another day's work, but we do have to do something about the cost of inquiries and the fees paid.
I should like the Minister to elaborate on the kind of inquiry she envisages under this section. Has she anticipated the possibility of frequent public sworn inquiries, which would cost a fortune, or has she in mind the kind of inquiries already provided for in relation to transport and marine matters?
Section 103 (1) needs some consideration. If the Minister is concerned that the agency might order an inquiry off their own bat, regardless of the possible cost and regardless of the Minister's views, why does she not just delete the clause? Why does she not be upfront and take away the independent power of the agency to hold an inquiry and reserve that as a role of the Minister? As it stands, the agency may hold an inquiry only after consultation with the Minister. Effectively that means that, if the Minister puts an arm on the agency — to use a colloquialism — and says: we do not want an inquiry, they will not hold one. On the other hand, if the Minister wants an inquiry, she has power, because of the following paragraph, to direct that one be held. This subsection, as drafted, gives the appearance of allowing the agency power to hold an inquiry whereas, in practice, they will not have that power, the power will rest with the Minister. Why do we not redraft the section to make that abundantly clear?
I want to make a couple of points on the section. It appears to me that the only growth industry in the country at present is that of establishing inquiries affording much lucrative employment to some of the legal profession.
While it is correct that the agency have power to establish an inquiry there are a couple of provisions in the section I should like the Minister to explain. The first has to do with the costs of conducting an inquiry. Some Members have referred already to the costs of some inquiries we have witnessed in recent times. There is provision in this section that part of the costs incurred by the agency themselves can be recouped from the person who, in the opinion of the agency, is responsible for any pollution caused. I am curious how that can be given effect. For example, would the agency, having established an inquiry, having found that somebody was at fault, then have to go to court to endeavour to recover their costs? In addition, would the costs concerned apply only to the costs of the agency themselves, of witnesses, or whatever would be necessary for the conduct of the inquiry?
The second aspect of this section that causes me some concern is subsection (5) which reads:
A statement or admission made by a person before a person conducting an inquiry under this section shall not be admissible in evidence against that person in any criminal proceedings other than proceedings in relation to an offence under subsection (4).
This would mean circumstances could arise in which an inquiry was established, the inquiry may find that somebody is responsible — probably it would be a serious act of pollution to have justified the establishment of an inquiry in the first place — but any statement or admission made by tha person to the inquiry is not admissible in evidence. It appears to me that that would create a very anomalous position, that an inquiry could establish who was responsible for an act of pollution but that responsibility would simply have to stop there, that the evidence assembled by the agency in the course of the inquiry would not be admissible in evidence if the case was brought to court. That may be a weakness in the provision for the establishment of an inquiry.
A number of very interesting issues have arisen here. First, in response to Deputy Jim Mitchell, may I say that on many occasions when we discussed various provisions of this Bill, whenever a Minister was required to consult the agency, Deputy Mitchell always felt that was very weak, contending that the Minister should be compelled to take on board the view of the agency. Now, when it is the other way round, when the agency must consult the Minister, he appears to think that is a very strong power and the agency must follow what the Minister says but the Minister does not have to follow what the agency say. The word "consultation" appears to have a different meaning in a different context as far as Deputy Jim Mitchell is concerned.
A load of rubbish.
There are two forms of inquiry provided for in this Bill. For example, in section 102 provision is made for a very informal, quick, inquiry the agency can conduct. I was keen to ensure that we would provide for a simple, less formal inquiry, which could solve many of the difficulties that might arise and provide the kind of information and report allowing action to follow. The second type of inquiry provided for in this section obviously is a more formal one, such as those we have had recently in relation to other matters.
Deputy Gilmore drew attention to the fact that the costs of conducting the inquiry in section 103 (9) can be recouped by the agency from the person, or persons, responsible for the pollution incident. Deputy Gilmore posed an interesting question: would that have to be decided in court? If there was a dispute, obviously it would have to be decided in court. For example, if the agency established that X was responsible but X disputed that, obviously that dispute would have to be resolved in the courts. While the cost of conducting an inquiry, of calling witnesses and so on, can be recouped from the person or persons responsible, that does not prejudice the agency, or some other body, from prosecuting the person, or persons, convicted under the normal prosecution powers of the Bill and have a fine of up to £10 million imposed. Therefore, the cost of the inquiry is borne and can be laid against the person charged with having committed the offence. Obviously a prosecution would follow if somebody was held to be responsible for a particular pollution incident.
In regard to whether there can be a sworn inquiry — Deputy Jim Mitchell posed this question — yes, an inquiry can be a sworn inquiry or otherwise; the power to hold a sworn inquiry is a "may" or possible power rather than a mandatory power.
Deputy Gilmore posed an interesting question in relation to the giving of evidence, asking why that would not be used subsequently in any court proceedings to prejudice the person who may have given such evidence. To be quite honest I do not know the answer to that. The Deputy has raised an interesting question which I will have clarified for Report Stage. It would appear to me to be reasonable that such evidence be admissible in court. Perhaps the reason for inclusion of a provision of this kind is to ensure that people are as forthcoming and helpful as possible to the agency in conducting an inquiry. If evidence was admissible, obviously it might prevent the court from having to go through the whole matter again, if it were a proper, formal inquiry in relation to a major matter so that it would not involve a total rehash of all of the proceedings and its attendant costs.
We have learned much in recent times about inquiries, the cost, structures and so on. Hopefully these costs can be awarded in the first instance against the people responsible for the holding of an inquiry and, second, those people found guilty or negligent as a result of the holding of such inquiries. I know provision is made in the Companies Act that a limit of, I think, £100,000 can be awarded against each company. When that Bill was being drafted many people felt that was an excessive cost for an inquiry. But, within a very short time of that Act being implemented, we have seen that a figure of £100,000 was not necessarily enormous. In the case of the Greencore inquiry, because there is a large number of companies involved, presumably, an amount of that kind can be awarded against each of the companies involved and, hopefully, all of the costs saved from the point of view of the taxpayer. I understand that matter is at present before the courts and therefore I do not wish to say any more about it. It would be my desire and intention, so far as environmental inquiries are concerned, that the costs of holding the inquiry, the summoning of witnesses and so on, would all be borne by the people responsible for the environmental pollution incident that had caused or led to the inquiry in the first place. That is why there is provision made therefor in this section. Obviously that would be on dispute, subject to resolution by the courts.
The Minister appears to assume that, in every case of serious environmental incident, the person concerned or responsible for that incident, will be either traceable or could afford to pay the costs of an inquiry. In practice that may not be the case. It might well be that such an incident would bankrupt a company that owned, say, a lorry, ship or whatever involved in the incident, or they may not be traceable or amenable to our jurisdiction. From time to time, environmental incidents will occur, inquiries into which will incur costs which will not be recoupable from the person who caused the incident. The Minister ought to face up to that reality because, in practice, that is likely to happen at least on a number of occasions.
I would urge the Minister to examine the railway inspectorate as a possible example of a way of monitoring or inquiring into environmental accidents, as constituting a very low cost but effective manner of so doing. For many years the railway inspector was an employee of the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications. He was not employed in the rail section and had this independent function. He was also independent of the Minister. He continued to act as a railway inspector even after he retired from the Civil Service.
Very effective inquiries have been held into serious railway accidents. As most of these inquiries are held in the City Hall in Dublin no costs have been incurred in hiring premises. These inquiries have been very effective in recommending improvements in standards, changing design, etc., to avoid such accidents recurring in the future. They have also been very effective in pointing out culpability. Therefore, inquiries do not have to be a high cost vehicle for establishing who is at fault, what caused an accident and how such accidents can be prevented in the future.
I should like the Minister to clarify a point which occurred to me when she was speaking. If there is a railway accident involving the Ballina train——
On a point of order, I appeal to the Chair to ask Deputies to stick to the point. We have many amendments to get through and we seem to be straying very far from the Bill.
I challenge Deputy Garland to say in what way I was straying from the Bill or this section. Obviously the Deputy was not listening.
I was listening.
The Deputy was not listening. I am talking about inquiries, the cost of inquiries and how inquiries should be conducted. This point is very pertinent to the section. While I am glad the Deputy woke up, he did so at the wrong time.
I am fully awake.
If there is a major pollution incident at sea, as happened in the case of theKowloon Bridge, will the inquiry be carried out under marine law or under this Bill? Is there a danger of conflict? As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, if there is a major train accident involving the Ballina train which brings the acrylonitrile to the Asahi plant, will the inquiry be carried out under rail legislation or under this Bill? Is there also a danger of conflict or has the matter been decided? I hope Deputy Garland accepts that that is a very pertinent point.
Deputy Mitchell has made some valid points about inquiries. He referred to the railway inspectorate. I am not too familiar with inquiries into rail matters, but I will examine the point made by the Deputy in this regard. The preliminary investigation into the Telecom affair last summer was carried out by public servants in a very effective and speedy manner. It has to be made clear that every inquiry does not have to be carried out by an accountant or lawyer. Some very effective inquiries can be conducted by public and civil servants. This is why I believe officers of the agency will be able to conduct inquiries in many cases.
With regard to marine pollution incidents, obviously the pollution at sea legislation, which was recently introduced and which imposes a similar fine of £10 million for an offence, will apply in such instances. Obviously consultation would have to be held to decide who will carry out the inquiry. I would envisage that in the case of accidents similar to theKowloon Bridge incident or a rail disaster, a combination of people would be involved in the inquiry — the agency may be given the responsibility for carrying out the inquiry and other people may become involved in it. Obviously this will depend on the circumstances and the consequences of the inquiry.
In so far as pollution or environmental damage is concerned, I imagine that any inquiry held after the establishment of the agency will be held with the co-operation and help of the agency and that some of these powers would be brought into effect, even if other bodies were responsible for the inquiry. I am sure the Environmental Protection Agency would wish an inquiry to be held into a rail disaster in so far as environmental matters are concerned. They may wish to join the two aspects of the inquiry together. The provisions in this section are flexible enough to allow this to happen. This is why provision is being made for consultation with the Minister who obviously will be in a position to inform the agency about what is happening and allow other people to become involved in the inquiry in extraordinary circumstances.
On that point, will the Minister look at the possibility of inserting an additional subsection or paragraph in this section which would allow for co-operation in other inquiries? This may not be necessary but I ask the Minister to look at this point.
I wish to raise a minor point with the Minister. Is there need for section 103 (11) in view of the fact that section 6 (1) provides that: "The Minister may make regulations prescribing any matter or thing which is referred to in this Act as prescribed or to be prescribed or in relation to any matter referred to in this Act as the subject of regulations or for the purpose of giving full effect to this Act"? Why is it necessary to give the Minister power to make regulations under this section?
This point was raised under other sections. While this provision may seem unnecessary as there is a general provision in section 6 I am advised that it is necessary to repeat the power to give effect to the regulations made under each section.
I move amendment No. 258k:
In page 77, subsection (1), line 3, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
The substitution of the word "shall" for the word "may" is necessary in this instance because we are dealing with the problem of noise which may damage people's health or constitute a danger to it. This problem may call for the making of regulations. There should be an obligation on the Minister to make regulations in such circumstances without any pressure having to be imposed by outside bodies. The word "may" does not make sense in these circumstances. I ask the Minister to accept that the substitution of the word "shall" for the word "may" is necessary in this instance.
The word "may" is used so that the Minister may make regulations when it is felt necessary. If the word "shall" were to be used it would mean that the Minister would be compelled to introduce regulations literally from the time the Bill is passed, even when they may not necessarily be required. The rest of the provisions in this section give the Minister sufficient powers in relation to the control of noise. For example, provision is made for the imposition of charges or the payment of fees for the purposes of regulations or for services performed thereunder; the measurement of noise; the investigation of noise, etc. The word "shall" would put an onus on the Minister from the time the Bill is passed to make specific regulations which may not be necessary. Obviously regulations will be made where they are necessary.
Would the Minister consider an amendment other than the amendment put down by Deputy Barrett and I myself which might cater for this point? The Minister seems to be willing to yield a little on this point.
The Minister should remember that in the context of noise emanating from roads it is the Department of the Environment who will have to eliminate that nuisance. Future Ministers may not make regulations because they will impose a responsibility on their Department. In the interests of the general public, people's health, etc., the Minister should be obliged to make regulations where it is clear that damage is being caused to people's health or property. There should be an obligation on the Minister to make regulations in such instances.
I support Deputy Barrett's remarks. I am thinking of a case at the moment — which I am sure Deputy Barrett had in mind in tabling his amendment. Currently a problem has arisen regarding noise levels emanating from the newly constructed Bray-Shankill bypass. Householders along the route are experiencing difficulties in regard to the noise on the road. Sometimes in the middle of the night heavy trucks travelling to and from Rosslare wake people who then cannot get back to sleep.
In another section of the Bill there is an exemption clause, that regulations relating to noise will not cover local authorities. It appears that the Minister has in mind being able to make regulations in regard to a private interest, a factory, disco or place of entertainment from which a lot of noise is emanating. However, under this legislation it appears that public authorities — in particular local authorities — are exempted. I know that when the issue relating to the Bray-Shankill bypass was raised with Dublin County Council they undertook a noise study impact, which established that they can carry out as many noise studies as they like but there is no standard to determine whether anything should be done about it. Regulations need to be introduced in this regard, and Deputy Barrett is quite right in saying that the Department of the Environment would have to bear the cost of any remedial works carried out. It would mean that the Minister might say that regulations could not be made dealing with roadways because it would involve cost but that perhaps regulations might be brought in to deal with something else. The legislation should oblige the Minister for the Environment to make regulations dealing with noise.
Deputy Gilmore's comments are the reason for my two amendments. It is a scandal that local authorities and other bodies who design roads do not have any obligation to adhere to certain standards, particularly in relation to noise. The Bray-Shankill bypass is a beautiful road and its users say it is very successful. However, if you live right beside it, as Deputy Gilmore said, you are woken up at all hours of the night and there is no obligation on the local authority or the Department to do anything about it because there are no standards in this regard.
My next amendment would have required the Minister to make regulations in relation to noise emanating from roads. I will give an other example. The Southern Cross route will now stop at Sandyford Industrial Estate and there is no obligation on the local authority to take into account the nuisance and the danger to the health and safety of the people who live near it. When the traffic reaches the Sandyford Industrial Estate it will then have to travel on Brewery Road and Leopardstown Road and the people living on those roads have no protection from the noise. There is no obligation on the local authority, in their overall development, to take these people into account. If noise emanating from a disco at 1 a.m. is a danger to health and causes a nuisance to everybody, there should be a similar attitude in regard to developing or building roads. The local authority should be required to adhere to certain standards in relation to noise and there should be clear regulations to protect the public.
Because Deputy Gilmore, other people and I threatened not to attend the opening of the Bray-Shankill bypass, the residents eventually succeeded in having a wall or noise barrier built. This matter is under the aegis of the Department of the Environment and there is a requirement to have regulations to protect the public from noise. There should also be clear standards in relation to road building.
I support the two amendments to which my name is appended. If the Minister cannot accept "the Minister shall" because of the time problem, perhaps she will come back on Report Stage with "the Minister shall, within a certain given period" to get over the point she made.
Something must be done about noisy roads. Deputies Barrett and Gilmore mentioned the Bray-Shankill bypass but the same applies to many other roads. People have been greatly inconvenienced by the noise on the new Navan road dual carriageway. Indeed the noise is right outside their doors and the county council have put on the long finger an application for assistance for installing double glazing. Residents on a section of that road are being treated as unreasonable although they can no longer use their front bedrooms. Their houses were destroyed by muck and dirt over the years when the road was being built and they had to repaint their houses; indeed some of the pillars were cracked. There must be provision for compensation in cases of this kind.
The more the debate goes on the more convinced I am that it is essential to have the word "shall", possibly with the addition of a time limit. The Minister seems to be saying that it may not be necessary to introduce regulations but she must realise that we do not need an inquiry or an Environmental Protection Agency to tell us that there is a serious noise pollution problem. Presumably, regulations will be made but they must be mandatory. We should do this before roads are built. Deputies mentioned the problems of the Navan Road, the Bray-Shankill bypass and the Southern Cross route. I know that residents of an estate in Sandyford are already agitating — and rightly so — about the Southern Cross route. They are demanding double glazing and proper screening from the noise. There is no point in costing a road unless these items are also taken into account. If not, the road goes ahead and afterwards people expect local authorities to help them with the cost of double glazing and so on. However, local authorities do not have the money to spend on items of this kind. Double glazing, reasonable noise screening with trees or walls are an integral cost of a large-scale road development and they should be built into the cost at the beginning.
As this section is headed "Miscellaneous", the opportunity was taken during the course of the Bill's preparation to make provision for a number of other matters, for example, provisions in relation to noise. I accept many points made by the Deputies in relation to the law as it stands. It is unsatisfactory and that is why sections 104, 105 and 106 provide, in the case of section 104, for new regulations, and in the case of the other two sections, for new powers for local authorities and others in relation to noise pollution problems. I do not deny that there is a need to make regulations. Deputy Garland seems to take the view that because "may" is in the section I do not accept the need to make regulations, but there is a need to make them as soon as possible.
Deputies have indicated the practical difficulties in relation to these issues but the "miscellaneous" section of the Bill deal with general provisions. Unfortunately, we will not reach section 108 dealing with the introduction of the access to information directive or sections 109 and 110 in relation to genetically modified organisms. This directive should have been introduced here some time ago but, because we did not have any legislation in that regard, we were not in a position to comply with the directive. That is why the opportunity was used in this legislation to do so.
I cannot give an undertaking to come back with an amendment on Report Stage but I will certainly reconsider some of the points made to see if I can strengthen the powers. Introducing the word "shall" means that something has to happen almost immediately. That is neither practical nor feasible but I will have further discussions with my officials on the provisions in section 104 in advance of Report Stage.
At this time I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, that the section, or as appropriate, the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to; that the First Schedule, as amended, the Second Schedule and the Third Schedule, as amended, and the Title are hereby agreed to and the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House".
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Next Tuesday, subject to agreement of the Whips.