I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill was amended and passed by Seanad Éireann on 25 October 2000. It is designed to clarify the law enshrined in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 in a number of important respects so as to copperfasten long-standing practices. Early enactment is, therefore, most desirable.
As Deputies will be aware, the Government has delegated to me certain functions of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources under the Act. I should emphasise that the Act is an important regulatory measure which ensures only material adjudged on scientific advice as suitable for disposal at sea, mainly arising from port dredging, is disposed of at sea in an appropriate location and manner. In so far as it concerns the protection of important natural and archaeological heritage, the Bill, as passed by Seanad Éireann, specifically included the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in the list of Ministers to be consulted by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in relation to all applications for dumping at sea permits. The Bill now requires amendment to reflect the changes last year, as a result of which natural heritage and archaeolog ical heritage functions were assigned to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who is already specified in the 1996 Act among Ministers who must be consulted regarding all such applications.
The Bill also specifically included any likelihood of interference with important natural or archaeological heritage in the particular matters to be considered by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources before making a decision on any application for a dumping at sea permit. Sections 2 and 4 of the Bill were designed to remove any doubt about the proper protection of important natural and archaeological heritage in the context of the operations covered by the Dumping at Sea Act 1996.
Ministers already specifically listed in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 for consultation are the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government – regarding water quality, natural heritage, archaeological heritage and radiological protection following the Government changes in departmental responsibilities that I mentioned – and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment – regarding any implications for industry. The reference in the 1996 Act to the Minister for Public Enterprise will also have to be removed by way of Dáil amendment to take account of those Government changes. Other Ministers of the Government shall also be consulted by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources where considered appropriate.
The remit of the heritage and planning division of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as regards both the natural heritage and the archaeological heritage applies offshore as it does on the mainland. Applicants for dumping at sea permits are encouraged by my Department to consult that division at the earliest possible stage of planning any dredging or dumping to identify any important heritage areas to be avoided or to be approached with caution and expertly surveyed before any dredging or dumping goes ahead.
Section 2 was amended by Seanad Éireann – by the addition of paragraph (e) – to require the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to have the public register of dumping at sea permits published by electronic means from 1 January 2001 on the Department's website at www.dcmnr.gov.ie That has been done for all permits granted since then under the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 and particulars of all further permits will be published as they are granted. This does not affect the statutory public register of dumping at sea permits already kept in book form and available for inspection free of charge at the Department's headquarters. It does not affect either the statutory requirement on the Minister to publish annually in Iris Oifigiúil particulars of all dumping at sea permits granted. In 2002, a total of 14 dumping at sea permits were granted, eight of which were for port and harbour dredging for maintenance and development purposes, as were 11 of the permits granted in 2001. Details of all of these permits are available on the Department's website.
In the interests of transparency and fairness of procedures, the Bill imposes a statutory requirement – in place of the present non-statutory one – on applicants for dumping at sea permits to advertise their applications in a local newspaper. Interested parties will have 21 days after publication of the newspaper advertisement in which to comment to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the proposals in the applications, except in urgent cases involving navigational safety, where public advertisement only is being provided for. Those comments will be referred to the applicants for their response within a reasonable time, which will depend on the particular circumstances of the case. Both those comments and the response of the applicants will be carefully considered by me, under powers delegated from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, before I make a decision on the application.
Section 3 of the Bill, which adds a new section 5A to the 1996 Act, makes specific provision for this. Section 3 of the Bill was amended by Seanad Éireann by the addition of subsection (7) to section 5A of the 1996 Act, requiring the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to publish by electronic means all applications for dumping at sea permits received on or after 1 January 2001 and all submissions or observations from the public in relation to such applications. The necessary arrangements were put in place and are working satisfactorily.
The present non-statutory public consultation arrangements regarding port and harbour dredging and dumping at sea operations have not caused any delays in permitting any such operations, and I do not expect any delays to arise from enactment of this Bill. That goes for regular maintenance dredging as well as for dredging for development purposes. It is important that ports and harbours plan necessary dredging and dumping at sea operations well in advance, in consultation with customers and the public, so that the business of the ports and harbours can continue to develop without unnecessary disruptions.
The lack of such consultation could generate challenges to the proposed dredging and dumping and put at risk the business of the port or harbour in question. Any local concerns should clearly be identified at the earliest possible stage by all of the parties concerned and be appropriately addressed. At my Department's insistence, five year dredging and dumping plans for ports are being prepared and will be published as part of the necessary consultation with the public and statutory consultees regarding dumping at sea permit applications by the ports in question.
Already, five year dredging and dumping permits have been granted to the Dublin Port Company, Drogheda Port Company and Port of Cork Company. The Port of Waterford Company sub mitted a five year dredging and dumping plan for consideration but is currently in the process of carrying out a detailed monitoring programme in connection with its proposal. Shannon Foynes Port Company is expected to submit its five year plan soon for approval.
The preparation and publication of such five year plans makes sound business sense as well as appropriately informing the public of proposed significant activities on State-owned foreshore which could be of particular interest to them. Following the granting of a dumping at sea permit to a port for a period of up to five years, covering several dredging and dumping operations as detailed in the port's five year plan, it will suffice for the port in question to publish a notice of intention to dredge and dump within specific areas as needs arise. Such a notice of specific dredging and dumping is a timely reminder to any persons who may be affected to allow the approved and necessary dredging and dumping operations to go ahead without interference or delay.
Of the remaining sections, section 1 updates the definition of "harbour authority" in the 1996 Act, for enforcement and related purposes, to take account of later legislation including the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2000. Section 5 is a standard provision for the short title for the Bill when enacted and for its construction and referencing with the 1996 Act.
For the benefit of the House, I now propose to deal with the 1996 Act and policy developments to control dumping at sea. The Dumping at Sea Act 1996 has stood the test of time, a tribute to its sponsors. I pay particular tribute to Deputy Gilmore who piloted the Bill through this House to enactment. The Act strengthened considerably and replaced earlier legislation for the control of dumping at sea, in line with updated international obligations of the State as set out in the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. The Act bans incineration at sea and the dumping of any radioactive substance or material or any toxic, harmful or noxious substances. It also extended the limit of Irish jurisdiction regarding dumping at sea, from 12 nautical miles offshore up to 200 nautical miles and beyond that to coincide with the continental shelf of the State.
The Act enables the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to grant permits for certain dumping, as specified in the permits and subject to such conditions as the Minister may specify in them. It also empowers the courts to impose such monetary penalty and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, as they may decide, on conviction on indictment of any person for illegal dumping as defined by the Act. So far, those essential penal provisions have deterred illegal dumping at sea.
All applications for dumping at sea permits are carefully considered by my Department with the assistance of specialist advisers who form the marine licence vetting committee, which meets as frequently as business demands. Detailed guidelines have been published by my Department to assist applicants and copies of those guidelines are available in the Oireachtas Library. Those guidelines will be updated as soon as this Bill is enacted and will be published on the Department's website together with a consolidated text of the 1996 Act as amended by this Bill.
Applicants are obliged to consider thoroughly all non-dumping at sea options and, in particular, other beneficial uses such as beach nourishment and land reclamation. Non-dumping solutions have been successfully pursued in a number of cases already and more will be pursued in the context of the five year dredging and dumping plans being prepared by the ports I mentioned. Scientific advice governs what material may be dredged and dumped at sea and where exactly dredged material may be dumped.
Dumping is not allowed where fisheries or important resources or natural heritage or archaeological heritage would be damaged. Dump sites are monitored before and after dumping takes place, as the Department requires, to ensure that any dumping is properly carried out. Permission has been refused, and will continue to be refused, for the dumping at sea of any harmful materials found on the seabed of any port or harbour. Non-dumping at sea treatment is and will be insisted upon in such cases in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is not policy to permit the dumping of ships or aircraft at sea. Such dumping could have an adverse impact on the marine environment not to mention the obvious navigational safety considerations. According to the 1992 OSPAR Convention and as provided for in the Second Schedule to the 1996 Act, the dumping of ships or aircraft will be formally banned from 31 December 2004 at the latest. The dumping of offshore installations could only be permitted under the Act if both Houses of the Oireachtas were to approve the making of a Government order for that purpose under section 5(13) of the 1996 Act. I have no proposals for any such order. Indeed, as a contracting party to the 1992 OSPAR Convention, Ireland has been proactive in ensuring that other contracting parties address seriously the dumping at sea of chemical weapons and munitions.
Ireland has also sought to ensure that radioactive discharges into the sea from the nuclear reprocessing at the Sellafield and other nuclear reprocessing plants is addressed also. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Attorney General are spearheading Ireland's legal actions against the MOX fuel fabrication plant at Sellafield. A special OSPAR expert group has begun work to develop within three years procedures for the proper management of the risk associated with dumped chemical weapons and munitions.
I wish to signal to the House that I will propose a number of amendments to the Bill on Commit tee Stage. The amendments will be required to reflect changes in the titles and functions of relevant Ministers since the Bill was passed by the Seanad in 2000. Amendments to the Bill are also needed to give effect to a number of policies which have been developed in the interim. Biodiversity within and between species and ecosystems must be protected to reflect the Government-approved national biodiversity plan which was published in 2002. There must be an end to any exemption in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 from the prohibition on the disposal at sea of fish waste from industrial fish processing operations to bring the Act into line with Regulation (EC) No. 1774/2002 and SI 248 of 2003.
Penalties must be increased for summary offences generally under the 1996 Act and provision must be made to include the hirers of vessels involved in offences under that Act among the persons chargeable with such offences to enhance deterrence against illegal disposals at sea and to provide flexibility, via ministerial regulations which either House of the Oireachtas could annul if it saw fit, for charging appropriate fees for dumping at sea permit applications by reference to different kinds of permits and circumstances to better reflect the costs of processing such applications. Charging provisions on those lines for other fees were included on 13 May 2003 on Committee Stage of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 which became law on 1 July 2003 on its signature by the President.
I will arrange for the text of the proposed amendments to be tabled immediately after Second Stage of the Bill is agreed and for explanatory notes to be supplied to the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.