Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 24 Oct 2002

Vol. 556 No. 2

Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I will continue from where I finished last Wednesday.

The Bill extends Irish civil law jurisdiction to the matters covered by the convention and protocol so that parties here, including the State, can invoke the convention in Irish courts in claiming compensation under it, in the first instance, from the ship owner and, in the final analysis, from an international fund operated by IMO and funded by a levy on imports of the materials in question into states which are party to the convention.

A ship owner may limit his or her liability to the amount prescribed in the convention and fire-proof his or her vessel against arrest by lodging security for that amount with the court. This amount varies according to the tonnage of the vessel but is in any event limited to about €140 million. Up to €350 million compensation is available in all under the proposed arrangements in respect of any one incident.

The two-tier compensation arrangement mirrors that which applies to oil pollution. As with oil, contributions to the international fund are to be made by those who import the substances in question. On the basis of available information it is not expected that contributions from Irish importers to the fund will be significant.

The Bill is essentially technical in nature. The definitions and descriptions set out in the convention were agreed and adopted following consideration by experts at the International Maritime Organisation.

Deputies will note that for ease of reference a copy of the HNS convention is set out in Schedule 1 and the LLMC in Schedule 2 of the Bill. It must be viewed, however, in the context of the legislative and other measures which have been introduced in the past 15 or so years and in particular since 1997.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has adopted as a strategic goal the protection and preservation of the marine environment. Central to this strategy is the protection of the overall marine ecosystem, the maintenance of the highest standards in the quality of our marine waters, the prevention of pollution at sea around our coasts and the provision of a rapid response to pollution incidents to minimise damage.

The Government is anxious that our legislation complies with accepted EU and international standards while addressing specific Irish concerns. The Government accordingly recognises that action at EU and international level is an essential element of any strategy for the protection of the marine environment and to that end continues to participate fully in the activities of relevant organisations, including the International Maritime Organisation, the OSPAR Commission and the Bonn Convention.

In December 1997 four sets of regulations were made under the Sea Pollution Act, 1991 to give effect to provisions of the IMO convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. Work is under way to adopt further provisions of MARPOL concerning the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships and the prevention of air pollution from ships.

The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Act, 1998, was enacted in May 1998. The Act – one of those to which I referred earlier – strengthens the law in relation to oil pollution by bringing it in line with current international conventions. As with many other instruments relating to maritime safety and the marine environment, these conventions are currently the subject of discussion and assessment at EU and international level in the wake of the Erika incident which occurred off the coast of Brittany in December 1999.

Measures have been agreed or are under consideration in relation to the regulation of ship classification societies, the accelerated phasing-out of single-hull oil tankers, the strengthening of port state control measures and ship reporting arrangements. Work on preparing a Bill to give effect to internationally agreed compensation levels for victims of oil pollution incidents is well advanced.

Building on the arrangements adopted in respect of oil tankers and vessels carrying hazardous substances, a convention was adopted at international level in relation to civil liability in respect of pollution from spills of bunker oil – oil carried other than as cargo. Work on a Bill to give effect to this convention is proceeding.

The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act, 1999 was enacted in June 1999. The Act gives effect in Irish law to the International Maritime Organisation's Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention. Arrangements are in train to formally accede to the convention. The Act provides for the preparation of oil pollution emergency plans by harbour authorities, operators of offshore installations and oil handling facilities and for their submission to the Minister for approval. It also provides that the Minister may direct a local authority to prepare and submit such a plan for approval.

The IMO in March 2000 adopted a protocol to OPRC providing for response measures similar to those for oil pollution to apply in respect of HNS. Work on a Bill which includes giving effect to the protocol is also at an advanced stage. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic, came into force internationally in March 1998 following ratification by all of the contracting parties. A major assessment of the status of the marine environment of the whole north-east Atlantic was carried out by OSPAR and published in December 2000. The quality status report – QSR – describes the main impacts of human activities on the marine environment and evaluates the effectiveness of measures that have already been implemented to tackle those impacts. The publication of the report follows assessments which were carried out at national and regional levels in the past two years. For this purpose the OSPAR area was divided into five regions. Ireland and the UK were responsible in respect of preparing assessment for region III, known as the Celtic Seas region. In the first instance Ireland prepared its own QSR. This involved several Departments and agencies and was published by the Marine Institute in 1999. The second stage involved a joint UK - Ireland QSR for the region. The final stage of the process involved fusion of all five regional reports into a single QSR for the entire area.

The assessment found that the Irish marine environment was generally in a healthy state but that there was no room for complacency; that particular attention would need to be paid to the scale of coastal development, pollution from rivers, sewage disposal and the atmosphere. My colleagues in Government and I share the concerns of many of our citizens at the continued operation of the nuclear facility at Sellafield in the north-west of England. These concerns were most recently brought into focus by the recent shipment of materials from Japan to Sellafield.

My opinion, and that of Government on this issue is clear – we oppose the very existence of the Sellafield facility and the transportation of its radioactive material through the Irish sea. The continued existence of Sellafield and the use of the Irish Sea by BNFL as a nuclear fuel highway is a threat to the well being of the Irish people. It must be shut because of its safety history and because of the historic lack of transparency with regard to accidents and operations at the complex. Regarding the recent shipment of MOX fuel pellets from Japan, my main concerns, which were brought to the attention of the UK Authorities by my Department were to ensure that the vessels did not pass through Irish waters, to ensure that the highest possible levels of safety were applied both in terms of the vessels employed and the operational requirements applied to them. Arrangements are in place with both the UK and France that Ireland will be notified in advance of shipment dates, of the nature of cargoes and all other relevant details. My Department was notified in accordance with these arrangements in advance of the recent shipment.

The Government has the capability to respond to any incident and was aware of the vessels' location once they entered the Irish Sea. I am pleased to confirm that the vessels did not enter waters under Ireland's jurisdiction. With regard to future shipments, the question of imposing a ban on the passage of ships carrying nuclear materials remains very difficult, given the right of passage enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, the Government will continue to pursue all legal routes to address a number of concerns with regard to Sellafield and shipments, will press in all international fora, for the application of the highest possible standards to the vessels and casks used in the shipments, and ensure that all necessary protections of preparedness, response and co-operation are in place should an accident or incident occur.

In respect of the MOX plant, we are currently suing the United Kingdom under both the OSPAR convention and the UNCLOS convention. The case under the OSPAR convention is before an international arbitration tribunal sitting in The Hague this week. We expect the case to last for the rest of the week. The judgment is expected in a few months time. We are attempting to obtain reports from the British concerning the economic justification of the MOX plant. The UK authorities have deleted important information from the publicly released versions of these reports. We want the unabridged versions so that we can gauge the impact or likely impact of the MOX facility on the Irish Sea and objectively assess the UK justification of the MOX facility. The bottom line is that, if MOX is justifiable, why will the UK not provide this information? Of what is it scared?

The other case – which is being brought under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, concerns alleged UK breaches of the Convention in relation to MOX. The Government is using every forum and means open to it to shut MOX and the reprocessing facility at Sellafield. We will continue to do so until the nuclear complex is made safe, permanently.

The report of the task force on the dumping of radioactive materials in the maritime area was published in January 2000. The key conclusion of the report was that the risk to human health and to marine life from past radioactive dumping is extremely low and does not constitute a health hazard. The Government shares the concerns of many members of the public in this regard and is anxious that they should be allayed as far as possible. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, together with the universities, is continuing monitoring and other work in this sphere. In December 2000, the European Union adopted a directive on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues. The purpose of the directive is to improve the availability and use of port reception facilities for such waste. Regulations are being prepared as required by the EU to give effect to the directive in Irish law by December 2002 and to have arrangements made for implementation.

Returning to the Bill now before us, a diplomatic conference, convened by the IMO, adopted the HNS convention in May 1996. The Convention has not yet entered into force. It will not enter into force until 18 months after both of the following criteria have been fulfilled. First, at least 12 states must have expressed their consent to be bound by the convention, typically through ratification or accession – this must include four states, each with a registered fleet of at least two million units of gross tonnage – more than ten times the size of the Irish fleet. Second, contributors in the states that have ratified or acceded to the convention must, between them, receive a minimum of 40 million tonnes of contributing cargo covered by the general account.

Periodically, informal meetings have been held to discuss the implementation of the HNS convention. States attending these meetings agreed that it would be desirable to co-ordinate their ratification of the convention. EU member states at the transport council in December 2000 undertook to prepare the necessary legislation in this regard as soon as possible. I am committed to meeting this undertaking, not least to ensure, in view of the importance of our marine resource, that Ireland is in a position to benefit from the terms of the convention as soon as it comes into force. As has been emphasised in the recent studies to which I have referred, there is no room for complacency as far as the protection of the marine environment is concerned. We must continue to build on our achievements in order to get the full benefit of the measures we have introduced.

The Bill now before us is an important part of the process of advancement undertaken at national, EU and international level in order to protect the quality of the marine environment. I know that Deputies from all parties share this objective and I accordingly look forward to your comments. In the meantime I will conclude by strongly recommending this Bill to the House.

With the permission of the House, I wish to share my time with Deputy Paul Keogh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 2000 is a mouthful in itself to say and it is technical legislation, as the Minister of State has pointed out, but it is also important for the Irish maritime sector and for the shipping industry. The Bill gives effect to the 1996 international convention on liability and compensation for damage associated with the carriage of hazardous and noxious substances by sea – more easily referred to as the HNS convention. The Bill also allows the taking of effect of the 1996 protocol to the 1976 international convention on the limitation of liability for maritime claims – LLMC. The HNS convention complements existing arrangements, in place since 1969, regarding civil liability and compensation in relation to oil pollution. The Oil Pollution of the Sea Acts, 1988-1998 gave effect in Irish law to those international arrangements whereby limits were established for ship owners' liability and an international compensation fund was set up to pay the costs of damages caused by oil pollution from bulk tankers. The basic terms were that the ship owner would pay up to a certain limit, depending on the tonnage of the ship concerned, and the balance would be met by the compensation fund – made up from the contributions from importers of substantial quantities of oil. The HNS convention we are seeking to put into Irish law will do roughly the same for hazardous and noxious substances being transported by sea as the Oil Pollution of the Sea Bill has achieved in the past.

At first glance this looks like long and complicated legislation but much of the Bill's content is taken up by the printing of the international convention itself. Only the first 18 pages of the Bill deal with implementation under Irish law. We will have the opportunity to go into detail on Committee Stage so I will discuss its importance in more general terms. However, before we move to Committee Stage, the Minister's title needs to be changed to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Ireland is an island nation heavily dependent on trade for its existence. Many of the bulk imports and exports of the country are transported by sea. This trade includes hazardous and noxious substances. I come from one of the largest ports in the country, one which deals with these substances on a regular basis, as Cork is the home of one of Europe's largest chemical industries. In the HNS convention, as outlined, hazardous and noxious substances are defined under clear headings, for example, oil carried in bulk, noxious liquid substances, dangerous liquids, liquified gases, liquid substances with a flash point exceeding 60º Celsius, solid bulk materials possessing chemical hazards, residues from previously carried substances, etc. It does not include radioactive materials and I will return to that issue later. For those concerned about radioactive materials, they are covered under the Sea Pollution Acts, 1991 to 1999, as the Minister pointed out.

Let us be clear about the issue of hazardous and noxious substances. Ireland has responsibility for 240,000 square miles of sea. That is roughly 17% of European waters. We are responsible for more waters than any other European country. We are an island close to commercial traffic and shipping lanes. Irish waters are used on a daily basis by merchant shipping, the majority of which merely passes through. Along with ships coming and going from Irish ports this makes up a significant number of vessels and the potential risk of spillage or accident is always there.

Although many people do not realise it, we are a maritime nation. The sea around us is the most valuable resource we have. This Bill is an opportunity to give some protection to that resource by putting in place a legislative framework to pay the necessary compensation should an incident occur involving loss of life or personal injury, loss or damage to property or environmental damage, which involve significant costs. Under the legislation the level of compensation to be paid can be decided by conventional action through the High Court only.

The amount of compensation and the arrangements for payment will be as follows. The ship owner will have some liability which will depend on the size of his or her vessel. A maximum figure of approximately €140 million can be paid by the ship owner's insurance cover. The remainder of the compensation, if required, will come from a compensation fund set up internationally and financed by the annual contributions from individual companies trading in materials covered under the HNS convention. I am glad the Minister confirmed that Irish companies will not have to pay substantial amounts although they may have to make some contribution towards the fund. This fund can be called upon to pay out up to a maximum of €350 million, a substantial sum. In some tragic cases no sum could make up for the environmental damage caused by certain spillages.

I have real concerns regarding enforcement of the legislation. It is right that the legislation gives Irish authorities the ability to stop and board vessels if there is reasonable concern. The Minister will have the right to appoint suitable inspectors to do that job. At present those inspectors are the Naval Service and, if a ship is in port, the Garda could be involved. I have expressed my concern on many occasions in regard to the range of services the Naval Service is asked to provide. I am concerned about the capacity of a fleet of eight naval vessels, only four or five of which are at sea at any one time, to do the work required for this as well as the work that has to be done in regard to fisheries, illegal drug trafficking and basic sea safety legislation. I am not aware that any inspection of basic sea safety legislation compliance in respect of the wearing of life-jackets by fishermen has been made or that the Naval Service is even aware of its responsibility. I ask the Minister to talk to the Minister for Defence and to the Naval Service to ensure that what we enshrine in legislation can be enforced in practice. Considering some of the substances moving through Irish waters, we need to take the enforcement of this legislation seriously.

I welcome the severity of fines in regard to enforcement of the law once inspection has taken place. I also welcome the fact that ship owners can be imprisoned for up to ten years when their ships do not comply with basic legislation such as that all ships carrying hazardous and noxious substances must have a compulsory insurance certificate, must keep up-to-date logs and must provide samples of the substances they carry, etc.

This legislation is necessary for practical reasons. The liability for the shipping of noxious and hazardous substances needs to be limited because insurance would not be affordable if it was not for the creation of an international fund to pay the potentially high compensation. The commercial viability of shipping also needs to be balanced with environmental protection. That is important and it is in Ireland's interest that we ensure this legislation is put in place not just here, but in other European countries. I appeal to the Minister to do what he can to encourage other European countries to put this legislation into their own domestic legal structures. This convention cannot come into practice until, as the Minister pointed out, at least 12 countries have signed up to it. Europe should be leading the way as it has done with other international environmental concerns. I appeal to the Minister of State to raise this issue at European meetings to ensure other countries do what we have done in terms of implementing the convention in domestic law.

I welcome what the Minister of State had to say about Sellafield and the MOX plant. My party will do everything it can to assist the Government in putting not only legal but also political pressure on the British Government to close Sellafield. I accept what the Minister is doing in taking a legal case against the existence of the MOX plant and we will see what comes of that. I do not accept that we have applied the necessary political pressure to achieve the end goal, namely, the closure of Sellafield.

I had the privilege of visiting Belarus, a neighbouring country of the Ukraine which has experienced the fall-out and the catastrophe which occurs when the generation of nuclear power goes wrong and there is an accident. I do not wish to describe what I experienced there because everyone in the House and everyone in the debate has a fair idea what I am talking about. Many will have met children from Belarus and the Ukraine who stay here during the summer months. I know the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is familiar with these projects.

The Minister of State and his senior Minister have an opportunity to act on behalf of the people. Sellafield is one of those issues on which almost the entire nation is united. We are aware of and see the dangers for Ireland and its people of the existence of a nuclear processing plant which is out of date and which has a dubious record in telling the truth and keeping accurate records. While it is not possible to close the plant overnight, we should maintain a sustained effort to make life as difficult as possible for the British Government in its defence of Sellafield.

In the marine sector, we should also make life as difficult as possible when shipments of nuclear waste come through the Irish Sea. The term "nuclear fuel highway" is one which will alarm many Irish people who are concerned about the nuclear issue. We need to do everything we can to frustrate and make life as difficult as possible for those who promote the idea of the Irish Sea becoming a highway for nuclear fuel, even if it is only on a rare occasion. There is an irony in the fact that the pellets containing the radioactive material which were recently transported through the Irish Sea had been sent to Japan and then sent back. This means they had travelled through the Irish Sea needlessly on two occasions. The irony of that should not be lost on the Government and legislators. The Minister of State should do what he can on that and we will support him where possible and will be critical where we believe he is not applying sufficient political pressure.

The sea surrounding our island is the greatest resource we have. It is not utilised enough, although its use is increasing. Resources under and in the sea can be used to much greater benefit but they must also be treasured and cared for. The legislation is a small step towards doing that. For that reason I welcome it and look forward to discussing the detail on Committee Stage.

As spokesperson on communications, the marine and natural resources I welcome the Bill and the Minister's comments on improving and protecting the marine environment. We all agree that many incidents have occurred off our coast which have not been helpful to the marine environment. It is important that as many countries as possible sign up to the convention because it will be worthwhile for the long-term effects it will have. We know how important the water surrounding our island is to us. The Bill should be able to protect the fishing industry, tourism interests, local authorities and other affected parties.

The Bill is complicated but I wish to raise a few points to which I hope the Minister of State will reply. Does the Bill allow enforcement between the Garda, Defence Forces and harbourmasters and what will this cost the State? Where the polluting source cannot be found, will redress be available from the carriers of dangerous substances? Will there be a contribution from those who have ships transporting hazardous waste or material which could cause serious damage?

The increased severity of Atlantic storms and the cost-cutting trends within the highly competitive shipping industry mean that accidents will continue to occur in spite of improved safety at sea. Pressure on shipping operators to maximise cargo capacity and reduce turnaround times has led to potentially unsafe shipping designs in bulk carriers and roll-on/roll-off ships. Ireland is on the doorstep of a major shipping disaster. The coastal authorities must be better informed on preparing themselves for managing serious oil spills or other shipping disasters. The Irish coastline is slowly but surely being destroyed by lack of commitment on the part of and co-ordination between State agencies on issues such as pollution. It is important that the Bill be implemented as soon as possible.

Regarding the strategy adopted to protect the environment and given the ongoing discussions, can improvements be made on a continuous basis above what is in place at present? Is the Minister of State happy with the current guarantees and proposals regarding protection and prevention? The Minister and his predecessor have repeatedly said that further work is required in this area and more improvements are needed, including additional care and control to ensure marine life in Ireland and throughout the world is protected.

When was funding allocated to implement the convention and will it be shared among the 12 countries party to the substantial Europe-wide allocation of funds to assist in ensuring the protection required is provided? There is a provision for substantial fines to be imposed for breaking the law. How many companies have breached the rules and regulations laid down by the convention? Is every vessel checked before it leaves or arrives at a port? What is the mechanism for ensuring the regulations in place are adhered to? Is it done before or after the ships come in?

As a member of the Fine Gael Party and like my colleague, Deputy Coveney, I will assist the Government in its attempts to apply whatever political pressure is possible to have Sellafield closed. I welcome the Minister of State's concern, something he shares with many Irish people who favour the closure of Sellafield. I agree with the Minister that the continued use of the Irish Sea by BNFL as a nuclear fuel highway is a threat to the well-being of the Irish people. It should be shut down on the basis of its safety history alone and I will help Deputy Coveney and the Minister in ensuring that all safety procedures are adhered to within Sellafield.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important if somewhat technical Bill. The issue of sea pollution has been raised in the House on many occasions in the past. The most notable major debate on the issue was held during the last Dáil when the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Bill was discussed.

As an island, the spectre of sea pollution is a very real threat to Ireland. Thousands of livelihoods and our unique marine and coastal habitats could be destroyed by a single spillage or accident at sea. It is essential that Ireland adopts the best international practice in relation to this threat. It is also imperative that we are to the forefront of international efforts to make our seas and the ships that use them as safe as possible.

The Bill before the House, which I welcome in broad terms, incorporates two important international agreements into Irish law. The aim of both agreements, the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 1996, and the 1996 protocol to the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, is to set in place an international regulatory framework requiring specific insurance for the transport of hazardous substances by sea. It also establishes a framework for calculating compensation claimed after an accident.

Both conventions were agreed at the International Maritime Organisation in 1996. Why has it taken the Government six years to bring forward legislation to give effect to these important international conventions? This Bill was published in April 2000. It is a measure of the low priority the Government gives to the issue of marine pollution that these important conventions have not been legislated for until six years after they were made and that the legislation giving effect to them, albeit introduced two and a half years ago, is only now being debated in the House.

Both agreements which are annexed to the Bill are of a technical nature, but their importance cannot be understated. The Minister referred to the Erica incident off Brittany in 1999. We also remember the incident that took place in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador when the Jessica ran aground in a tiny harbour in the islands and threatened to engulf this unique ecosystem with its 240,000 tonne cargo of oil. On that occasion it was only through good luck that the leaked cargo went out to sea, causing minimum pollution to the islands. In the past few days a film was shown on television about the Exxon Valdez case in Alaska which caused enormous damage to the marine environment.

While the Bill before us does not relate directly to oil cargoes, previous experience reminds us just how fragile and vulnerable are our shorelines and islands. As I stated, I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. However, there are some matters to which I want to draw attention. The first is that the Bill refers to the maritime area of the country. It will, in effect, require vessels travelling up to 200 miles out from our coastline to be insured and to carry a certificate of insurance on board. It will give the State power to carry out inspections of these vessels, to seek the certificate of insurance and to prosecute for breaches of the legislation and, depending on the nature of the offence and where it is committed, to impose fines of up to £1 million or five years in prison. It would be helpful if, along with the explanatory memorandum, a map identifying the exact jurisdiction to which the Bill will apply was circulated to Members. If such a map was supplied we would be able to see that what is intended in this legislation is to extend the jurisdiction of the Bill to an area of water which is ten times the size of the land area of this island.

I join Deputy Coveney in raising the issue of enforcement. There is a huge contradiction in the Bill. The Bill provides that vessels carrying hazardous and noxious substances such as oil, chemicals and so on within an area which is 200 miles out from our coast must carry insurance, that the Minister will have the power to appoint inspectors who may board vessels to see whether they have insurance and the power to prosecute them if they do not. The Bill then goes into great detail on the kinds of offences that could be committed, how big a fine may be imposed, what type of civil liability may result and so on. However, under the heading "financial implications", the final paragraph of the explanatory memorandum states:

It is anticipated that no additional Exchequer costs will be incurred in implementing this Bill when it is enacted. It is also anticipated that there will be no staffing implications for Departments of State, State Bodies and local authorities.

Will the Minister explain how he will be able to appoint inspectors to police this area of water, which is ten times the size of our land area, if no money will be spent and no staff will be appointed?

The Naval Service will be expected to do it all again. It is not realistic.

The Bill is a lie. It is a grandiose statement that we are belatedly – six years after the event – signing up to important international conventions because, presumably, some of the officers of the IMO in London are making inquiries about what has happened in regard to Ireland's ratification of them. The Minister, when he goes to the next IMO conference, wants to be in a position to state that Ireland's Legislature has approved the legislation and that the conventions are ratified. However, there is no intention of doing anything about it. There is no point saying we are going to have a regime that requires ships to carry insurance if they are carrying dangerous substances, or that we are going to appoint inspectors to go on board and demand to see their insurance and if they do not have it we will take them to court and prosecute them and impose fines of £1 million or five years in prison and so on, if there is no intention of doing anything about it. How can the Minister appoint inspectors if there is no extra staff and no extra money? Will people be taken off other functions in the Department? Will the Minister appoint fishery officers as inspectors? Will he take people from the Inland Fisheries Board who go up the estuaries in dinghies to check if salmon fishermen are fishing at the right time of night or weekend and appoint them as inspectors?

As Deputy Coveney says, given the range of responsibilities that exist for the Naval Service and the important work it has to do in fishery protection, protection of our coastline against drugs, arms smuggling and terrorist activity, it does not have the resources to take on this role. We are creating the idea that our seas will be policed like our roads by the maritime equivalent of the "Kitkat" man, stopping vessels to ask them for their dangerous substances insurance. It will not happen and the Minister needs to explain how this Bill will be enforced. It is nonsense for the Legislature to implement legislation as we have done in many other areas when no resources are provided and there is no serious intent on behalf of the Department to implement it.

I draw attention to section 4 of the Bill, which relates to the power of the Minister to introduce regulations to cover difficulties arising in respect of the operation of this legislation. I fully recognise the need for such a section, however, I am somewhat concerned at the freedom the section gives to the Minister. The section states: "the Minister may by regulations do anything which appears to him or her to be necessary or expedient for removing that difficulty". As a parliamentarian, I am anxious about ceding complete power to Ministers to do anything which appears to him or her to be necessary. While I acknowledge the following section outlines the procedure for laying of regulations before the House, the language and freedom of action, untrammelled by democratic control contained in the section, goes too far. As regulations contemplated by section 4 cannot be introduced until three years after the passage of this legislation, the Minister should consider producing a report to an Oireachtas committee after a period of approximately 18 months. That report would outline difficulties which have arisen in the operation of the legislation and contain the proposed regulations designed to overcome these difficulties. This would be a much more accountable and democratic way to introduce regulations than the carte blanche contained in section 4.

Section 7 refers to offences and penalties under this legislation. I was particularly struck by section 7(3) which states: "Where an offence under this Act is committed by a body corporate and is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to, any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other officer of such body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, that officer or person shall be guilty of an offence". I welcome the inclusion of this section. I hope the principle behind this section will become a regular feature of Irish law. The Labour Party has produced a Private Members' Bill to deal with corporate manslaughter, a principle that is echoed in this legislation. We are all aware of the tragedies that have occurred in Irish building sites, for example, in recent years. If it is proved that the management of a company has neglected and ignored our health and safety laws and that this neglect has been proven to contribute to the death or serious injury of a worker, the management of that company should be made accountable for the neglect in court.

On section 13 of the Bill, the Minister should explain why some cargoes and ships are being made exempt from the legislation. In particular I find the provision in article 5 of the convention, which excludes hazardous and noxious substances that are carried in a packaged form, strange to say the least. Anyone familiar with the sea knows that the forces of corrosion and erosion in the sea are powerful enough to tear asunder any form of packaging. The Minister should explain the inclusion of this exemption. Has the Government made any efforts to amend the convention or will it make any efforts in future to close this loophole that makes no sense?

I have referred to the implementation of this Bill and some of the exemptions contained in it. I draw attention to another exemption that I would like the Minister to explain. It arises in section 9 of the Bill which states: "Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Convention (other than Article 48) shall have the force of law in the State and judicial notice shall be taken thereof."Article 48 is the article that provides for raising the limits of the amount of insurance which a vessel is required to carry. Article 49, which comes after it, provides for a means for amending those limits. It appears that the way in which this is being implemented in Irish law will prevent the State, at some stage in the future, from increasing the limits of insurance which vessels would be required to carry. I do not understand why that is the case and the Minister should explain this in his reply.

In his remarks, the Minister referred to the issue of MOX and the fact that radioactive materials are not covered by this legislation because they are covered by a separate convention. Since this legislation is mainly about the issue of insurance, are vessels carrying radioactive materials required to be insured? If so what is the level of insurance required? I understand there is a separate code governing the carriage of radioactive materials, but the issue that arises in this legislation and the primary issue that arises in these conventions is that of insurance. Since we have had recent examples of vessels carrying radioactive materials travelling close to our coastline, we need some clarification on whether these vessels are required to have insurance and, if so, what is the insurance regime that applies. Has this State enacted in its own legislation the requirements of those conventions?

In his statement the Minister referred to the MOX shipment that took place and in particular the shipment from Japan that returned the MOX pellets, the safety records of which had been falsified in Sellafield. He stated that the Government took a particular course of action on that. I am conscious we are discussing this in the week when the Government, through the OSPAR Convention, is taking the UK before the courts in The Hague. I support the Government action on that and I am sure the Government has the full support of the House in that effort. I do not wish to take away from that action which we all hope will succeed by the critical remarks I wish to make in relation to the MOX shipment.

The action that was taken by the Government in relation to the MOX shipment, which occurred last summer, could not have been weaker. The Minister says here that the position his Department took was to draw to the attention of the UK authorities his concerns to ensure that the vessels did not pass through Irish waters and that the highest possible levels of safety were applied both in terms of the vessels employed and the operational requirements applied to them. That effectively says we have no objection to the vessels going through the Irish Sea. As I stated at the time, the Government should have taken a strong stand by stating that that vessel should not have come through the Irish Sea. I know the Minister of State will say we cannot do so because, as he said, the question of imposing a ban on the passage of ships carrying nuclear materials remains difficult given the right of passage enshrined in the UN convention on the law of the sea. That may be the case if it were ever tested in an international court but there is no justification for the politically lily-livered approach the Government took on this issue last summer. It hid behind what amounts to an international legal nicety.

Every state has the right to protect its coastline and to protect its people from vessels travelling on the high seas when those vessels pose a danger to the people, the environment and the security of the state. Any state and Government worth its salt would assert that right politically and put it up to the neighbouring state, which is primarily responsible, not to allow that shipment into the Irish Sea. That position was never taken up by our Government which, to my knowledge, did not state to its UK counterparts that the MOX shipment should not travel through the Irish Sea. When the ship passed close to the coasts of states on the other side of the globe, those states took the position that it should not travel close to them. The Minister of State knows well that the shipment of MOX fuel was re-routed a number of times and took the most circuitous route.

The Government did not take a position which would refuse permission for that shipment to travel through the Irish Sea and it should have done so. Had it done so and asserted its right politically and strongly, the shipment could have been stopped.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Morgan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I do not have the time to go into as much detail as I would like but I want to send a message to the Minister of State, who is unfortunately on his own and outnumbered significantly by Opposition Members. If his colleagues are listening on their monitors I send a message to them and to Labour Members, if they think the unruliness and small difficulties which have arisen in the Opposition parties are a problem, they should wait until we really get stuck into the Government and show what real Opposition is about.

Part of our work in Opposition will be to look at Bills like this and ask the Government hard questions about what it plans to do. It says it has a lot done and more to do, and this Bill is a clear example of where very little has been done and there is everything to do.

I have no great difficulty with the detail and content of the Bill. As Deputy Gilmore said, it is incredible that we are taking so long to bring it to the Dáil to get it ratified but I am pleased we are doing so as it will be helpful in protecting our maritime environment. Asking the Government what it has yet to do relates to more than just passing legislation and what it will do in reality to protect our environment. This is not a hypothetical risk or something that could happen in the future – hazardous journeys and accidents at sea happen on a regular basis. I read a useful report from the Minister of State's Department which dealt with the need for an Irish emergency towing vessel which was issued in 1999. It makes excellent and succinct reading.

As we speak, approximately 29 shipping vessels and 100 fishing vessels of various sizes are in Irish waters. The report examines the history of accidents and risks at sea, which are very significant. We had a spillage in Dublin Bay recently where oil, which may not be covered by this legislation, spilled from a vessel loading in Dublin Port and serious damage was done to the lugworm beach ecosystem in Dublin. There was also a spillage in the Galway docks area but there are so many examples that one could spend the day listing them. Recently a 50,000 ton vessel was stranded off Greystones, County Wicklow. It was carrying 154,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil, which is probably covered by the Bill. The Irish Coastguard requested the vessel's owners to organise a salvage operation to be overseen by Coastguard staff. We could not do it ourselves and we had to wait for tugs and other equipment to come from Britain.

There are two clear lessons as to what needs to be done. First, the highest risk of accidents is close to shore and it seems clear from our accident history that that is where we have the greatest problem. It does not necessarily come under the aegis of this Bill but I urge the Government to ensure greater co-ordination in relation to pier and port accidents in terms of responsibility for and authority in dealing with them. That may come up in the impending foreshore licence legislation but it is crucial. There is no point in us passing legislation which means we are safe from maritime accidents if we do not look after what happens in our ports. There is a lack of co-ordination and clear designation of who has responsibility.

Previous speakers mentioned the Naval Service but the primary body for implementing this legislation is the Coastguard as the interesting point about the need for a towing vessel is that the Naval Service is not necessarily the right agency to tow vessels in distress. The Coastguard is the agency and it is important to resource it properly. I could not agree more with Deputy Gilmore when he says it is incredible that the Bill states that there are no financial implications. We cannot just pass legislation with the right aspirations. We must back them up with the financial resources for avoidance.

The report has three laudable suggestions but like many of the reports the Government issued in the past five years, there is much the Government said it would do but it has done nothing. There have been numerous recent press references to €10 million being allocated to the Coastguard to implement the recommendations of the report but there is no sign of that happening. The report recommends that we designate the coasts of Counties Mayo, Galway and Donegal as buffer zones where shipping is not allowed too close to shore. We have failed to achieve that in the International Marine Organisation and if there is an accident which destroys the incredible resources of those coasts, the Government will have questions to answer.

The Government has not yet brought in the monitoring system the report recommends which would monitor every ship in Irish waters to determine the current status of shipping at any one time. The technology is now available to put a transponder in every ship so that in addition to having insurance they can be charted as they come through Irish waters. Again, we do not see the Department acting on this.

The report also mentions towing vessels. We should do more than talk about Sellafield, we should set up a joint arrangement with our British neighbours for a towing vessel, which either we or they could provide, to cover both sides of the Irish Sea. Drawing a line down the middle of that sea is useless if oil pollution drifts to either side. We should also have our own vessel in the Shannon area to cover the western coast. There is no indication in this Bill or in anything the Minister of State said that that is what he intends to do. The Government has done nothing and there is a lot to do. It will be the job of the Opposition to push them in that direction.

Debate adjourned.