Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dumping at Sea.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

10 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Marine the criteria for the permitting of dumping at sea following an application to his Department by the developers of the Malahide Marina, County Dublin.

My statutory powers in such cases derive from the Dumping at Sea Act, 1981, under which permits may be granted for the disposal at sea of substances or materials. This Act gives effect to the Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships and Aircraft, 1972. In accordance with Ireland's commitments under this convention, the dumping of industrial waste ceased last year and the dumping of sewage sludge will be phased out by 31 December 1998. The only other substance of any significance being disposed of at sea is dredge spoil from harbour development and maintenance operations. The Oslo Commission guidelines for the management of dredged material are taken into consideration in such cases.

Applications are examined by the Marine Licence Vetting Committee which is a multi-disciplinary committee composed of Department of the Marine and Central Fisheries Board officials with expertise in biology, oceanography, chemistry, navigation and engineering. The committee assesses each application to ensure that the proposed disposal site is suitable from a fisheries and navigational point of view; the quantity and constituents of the waste are such that it will not have an adverse impact on the marine environment; there are no suitable land-based alternatives and the disposal vessel is properly licensed and certificated.

Malahide Marina Village Limited has applied for a permit to dispose of dredge spoil from dredging operations in connection with the marina development. A detailed technical survey of the disposal site, which is some seven kilometres east of Malahide, was carried out as part of the assessment process.

Further assessment of the proposal is currently under way in light of concerns expressed by fishermen in recent weeks. A definitive decision in the matter will depend on the outcome of this assessment which is being undertaken in full consultation with all relevant parties.

Apart from his strenuous efforts in Europe to protect the fishing industry I am sure the Minister is keen to protect the breeding grounds of shellfish. If this is the case, how can he entertain an application from the Malahide Marina to dump material at sea in an area that is a shellfish bed?

The question also relates to the continued practice, albeit restricted, of using the marine environment as a dumping ground for matter that may not seem to be of risk, but there are downstream effects from dumping at sea that are not altogether understood and which give fishermen due cause to be worried.

Apart from dredged spoil from harbour developments and maintenance operations, it is horrifying that industrial or other types of waste should be dumped at sea but there are conventions where man decides that this can happen and the Oslo Commission guidelines for the management of dredged material are taken into consideration, as in the case of the Malahide Marine village.

In considering the Malahide application first lodged in 1992 the Marine Licence Vetting Committee concluded that (1) the site was suitable, subject to further examination of possible impact on fisheries; (2) pre and post dumping surveys of the site should be undertaken in line with Oslo Commission guidelines on the management of dredged material. In regard to (1), the local sea fishery officer advised that he was not aware of any major fishing activity in the area, apart from some potting for crab and a small amount of plaice. The Fisheries Research Centre indicated that while there were important spawning nursery grounds for flat fish all along the east coast, the disposal site proposed was unlikely to have a significant impact on the fisheries resource in the area.

With regard to No. (2), Aquafact of Galway carried out a technical survey of the proposed site at a cost to the developer of £3,500 and the survey showed that (i) materials to be dumped was relatively uncontaminated; and (ii) the site was dispersive rather than depositional, meaning that the material would not accumulate in one area. Based on all the technical advice available at the time, the committee approved the site in principle. In accordance with normal practice the permit would not issue until two or three weeks before the operation was due to commence. No permit has been issued to date.

The Minister referred to contaminants but the question is about silt spreading over a wide area which the fishermen have pointed out is a delicate spawning area. Whelks and shellfish in general are found in this area.

Is the fact that the application was made by the son of a former Taoiseach relevant to doubts about its merit? It is impossible to be conclusive about its effect on the marine environment. Should the principle of precaution not operate? It is impossible after the event to withdraw the material from the marine environment.

I totally reject the imputation that sons of former Taoisigh would get preferential treatment. I think they would require me to say that on behalf of their offspring. It is a rather mean observation.

There were recent objections from fishery sources and on 24 March 1994, an objection to the proposed disposal was received from the Irish Fishermen's Organisation. They considered that the disposal area was a very important shellfish ground. Since then a further complaint has been received from a local fisherman and from Deputy Trevor Sargent. Following receipt of these complaints the fishery officers were asked for a further view on the matter and they stated that the proposed area was not suitable as a disposal site due to the presence of a valuable whelk fishery on the site. Fishing for whelk has become more important in the past 12 months. The argument in relation to the presence of whelk does not accord with the results of the pre dump survey which did not indicate any significant potential for shellfish cultivation at the site. The Fisheries Research Centre is now to assess available data on the whelk resource in the area and consult with the local fishermen with a view to reaching a solution.

It might all come right in the end. I agree with the Deputy that it is a shame.

Members may have felt that I was particularly anxious to dispose of priority Question No. 10. That is because I could not in the present circumstances treat that last priority question as an ordinary question. The resolution of the Dáil of 2 February 1994 allowing for the last priority question to be treated as an ordinary question, if it was not reached during priority time, was in operation on an experimental basis up to the Easter recess but it was not extended. Therefore, the last priority question, if not reached, cannot be treated as an ordinary question until this resolution is re-enacted.