Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 8 Apr 1981

Vol. 95 No. 15

Dumping at Sea Bill, 1980: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages.


I move amendment No. 2:

In subsection (1) (b), page 4, to substitute ", and" for the full stop in line 38 and, between lines 38 and 39, to add:

"(iii) the objections and representations of interested members of the public, of scientific or other expert bodies, of the prescribed bodies and of any person whose interests might be affected by a decision to grant a permit."

We had last week a protracted discussion about the first amendment in which I was trying to make it quite clear exactly the reasons why I felt it necessary to put down a series of amendments to the Dumping at Sea Bill. This amendment obviously falls into exactly the same category. In keeping with international legislation which ratified the London and Oslo Conventions, I want to see opportunities given to as wide a range as possible of expert citizens to have an input in decisions about what gets dumped off our coastline. This section asks for the Minister to take into account, when he is making decisions about giving permits for substances to be dumped at sea, not only the undoubted experise in all the Government Departments but to allow for the fact that there probably are interested and expert citizens who do not work in a Government Department and whose objections and representations might be extremely valid and helpful. When we were discussing the concept of certain prescribed bodies which appears again in this amendment, the Minister seemed to be under the impression that I did not think there were many good experts in those Departments. Of course I do, and I am sure there are equally good experts in the Government Departments of the other countries who have had this kind of legislation on their Statute Books.

What I want to know, and what I am in the process of trying to find out, is why we have decided not to invite the kind of citizen participation in the permits for dumping at sea that other countries invite. The justification for the amendment is quite simple. It enables the Minister to make better decisions in the light of the maximum available information.

I want to mention another section of the population under this amendment as well. It would enable fishermen, and a group of other people, who might be contemplating applying for permits to know what is going on in advance, to know what the objections are, in other words, to have a clear view of what the whole picture is in the light of the best representations from different sections of society. So my amendment No. 2 is there for exactly the same reasons as was amendment No. 1. But I have not had what I would consider a satisfactory discussion on this at all and I most reluctantly withdrew amendment No. 1. I would like to discuss with the Minister why apparently there seems to be a definite effort to exclude citizen participation in this process of granting permits.

I agree with the Senator that this amendment falls into the same category as the one which was withdrawn by the Senator on the previous occasion we met here. Because I opposed the first amendment, it is logical to assume that I must oppose this one as well. It is not acceptable to me.

I am pleased as well to note that the Senator accepts that the Departments listed in the Bill have the experts available to deal with all matters related to the granting or otherwise of permits under this Bill. Perhaps we might consider one other aspect of it that might not have been referred to. It is the matter of the experience of these experts. I suggest that the necessary experience in dealing with matters as grave as dumping at sea is of paramount importance in the granting or otherwise of a permit. A great reservoir of this experience rests in the Departments and in the international bodies to which we are affiliated and to which all questions of dumping are referred. We are in consultation with the conventions and no dumping can take place without a permit being authorised by the Departments in consultation with all the various bodies.

Once again I would like to reiterate, because I think it is important for everyone to understand it, that this is not of serious proportions at this time and that the Bill is being promoted at this time to deal with any future difficulties that might arise in regard to dumping at sea.

On the question of fishermen, I would like everybody to accept the fact that the Department of Fisheries and Forestry are very conscious of the needs of fishermen and the need to protect the livelihood of fishermen and to protect marine environment. There is continuous consultation with that Department in all aspects of marine safety and marine pollution and all matters connected with the good protection of all marine life. For that reason I cannot see the reason for promoting this amendment at this time. Furthermore it is the practice of this administration to take due note of all representations made to it irrespective of where they come from and it is unnecessary to make it a statutory obligation. The Senator can rest assured that all due care will be taken and all experts in the field will be consulted before any licences or permits are granted. For that reason I am sorry I cannot accept the amendment.

I accept, if the Minister assures me, that it is the practice of this administration to take into consideration the views of all interested bodies. But we might not always have such a benevolent dictator or a benevolent system. It is not a very strong argument for not writing in legal safeguards and requirements. So I really feel that that argument is not worthy of the Minister on such an important topic.

I also accept, of course, that the Department of Fisheries and Forestry have done a magnificent job in protecting the seas against marine pollution for our fishermen. As I said last week, they have done a particularly outstanding job. What I do not accept is that there is always automatically a convergence between the views of Government and the views of what is good for fishermen. We have had many examples of that over the last few years and I do not think that that is really a very good argument either. I can see, on the whole question of marine pollution — and we discussed last week the problem about dumping at sea being very big business, being very expensive, being very difficult, complex and technical — that the needs of fishermen might just conceivably occasionally get lost in some other very important needs or some very strong pressures. This is why I want to write into legislation that these people must be regarded as important and interested parties at all times.

The Minister constantly refers to me as agreeing with him that all the expertise necessary is available in the Departments, I just want to make it quite clear that while I agree that there is wonderful expertise in the Departments, I do not agree that the Departments are the repository of all the wisdom in the country and that is the whole point of these amendments. There are experts in our universities and there are experts in various scientific associations who are not Government servants and who have very valid and relevant points of view.

Having made all those points, I still have not come to the principal point. Perhaps the Minister could satisfy me on the principal point as to why this legislation differs so dramatically from, say, the English Dumping at Sea Act, 1974, which purports to do exactly the same protection job for England as we are trying to do for Ireland in this legislation. Why is there no provision for citizen participation in this Bill? That is the major question and because I am not getting a straight answer to that I feel I have to persist in discussing the various amendments which are designed to achieve that.

Is the amendment withdrawn?

What Senator Hussey is seeking in this instance is quite reasonable. It seems to be the minimum requirement that one would expect in a serious matter like the dumping of toxic waste. I certainly would support the Senator's point.

When you ask is the amendment withdrawn am I to understand that the Minister will not answer that question as to why this Bill differs from other legislation? I asked a straight question last week and again this week as to why this legislation differs from, for example, the English Dumping at Sea Act and I am not getting an answer.

I have no idea what relevance the reference to dictatorship, benign or otherwise, has to this legislation. But if it refers to what I think it refers to I would be delighted to discuss that with the Senator on another occasion.

I want to express quite clearly that the Senator's fears are unfounded. There is no need for an alarmist attitude towards any of the provisions in this Bill. It is purely legislation to safeguard the future interests of our environment. I am not interested in arguing about whether or not all the wisdom reposes in any particular Department. All I am saying is that the principal point I want to make in this regard is that this legislation meets all the requirements and obligations of the two conventions which this Bill seeks to ratify. As far as I am concerned, because of the nature of the Bill and the nature of the dumping granted or refused a permit, I feel that the consultation should extend to the recognised experts and I believe that that experience is in the four Departments I referred to and in the conventions, in their commissions. I cannot see how anyone could ask us to go further than that.

Surely one must recognise that if we are ratifying two conventions and we are meeting all our obligations under those conventions that should be enough to guarantee that everything will be done in the best interests of the common good. We must remember that as far as the legislation in other countries is concerned, it is different in a significant way because of the amount of dumping that takes place in some of these more industrialised nations. It takes place on a very limited scale here. It is very seldom that we are asked to grant a licence or a permit and there certainly would be a grave breach of industrial confidentiality if it were open to all and sundry to know the extent and the composition of all dumping that might take place because of a permit granted by the Department. I have an obligation in that regard as well. Without dramatising it in any way, I would suggest that perhaps there would be a job loss situation that could result from over-extending the provisions as suggested by the Senator. For that reason I cannot see how it can be claimed that this Bill does not, in all aspects, conform to the conventions it seeks to ratify.

We might be getting somewhere now. I asked a question about why Ireland is different from other countries. Now I have had a list of announcements by the Minister starting off by telling us that we are here to safeguard the common good and he is very interested in it. Of course that is what I am trying to do here this afternoon; it is the job of all of us. I am also very much aware that the dumping that goes on around Irish shores is very limited and we are very lucky that we can sit down here today to discuss this Bill in a limited situation and not in a situation where we are in fact trying to undo some terrible damage that was done in the past or trying to plug loopholes. What we are doing is sitting down deciding what is right. We are still at the stage where there is limited dumping off our coasts, thank goodness. But now let us examine the legislation to make sure that, as the pressures mount and increase, as undoubtedly they will, we will have the kind of legislation on our Statute Book which will be genuinely protective of all interests.

Presumably the requirements of industrial secrecy apply to other countries just as they apply to Ireland. We had this discussion last week and I raised the question of which is more important, industrial secrecy or the knowledge by citizens of what is going on. I am not really very happy that, for the second time, the Minister is telling me that one of the reasons for this refusal to involve a wider group of our citizens in dumping of sea permits is that it might be detrimental to industrial secrecy.

In the area of job losses, job losses are very often trotted out when people are trying to discuss protecting the environment. Many people are accused of being sentimental or emotional or sensational and upsetting industrialists, thereby causing job losses. I reject any suggestion that my efforts here today to arrive at a Bill which would give full protection and opportunity for citizen participation would cause job losses. If we pass defective legislation, if in future years some terrible mistake is made in regard to the question of dumping at sea, job losses might be a minor element in what might result in large scale marine pollution off the Irish coasts.

Therefore, I do not accept for one minute that job losses and industrial secrecy are very good reasons for excluding Irish citizens from an input in their own legislation when other countries see fit to allow their citizens to have an input to similar legislation. I get a very strong impression that I am getting nowhere on this and this attitude raises an enormous question which has not been answered.

Five years ago this legislation would have been unheard of in the Irish context. We have the opportunity now to write into such legislation much of the experience of other countries. We all know that conventions which are signed by many countries contain what are basic and minimum criteria to be applied by the national states. We have an opportunity today to benefit from the experience of other countries in regard to dumping at sea and take into account in any legislation that we formulate something which will add to the safeguards involved. Not for one instance will I allow any consideration such as work content or job opportunities and so on to override the important basic matter of prevention of what could be a catastrophe for the environment. What Senator Hussey is seeking in this instance is an additional measure whereby we can safeguard our environment and the health of our people. What she is seeking is reasonable and I do not see what harm can be done by writing it into this legislation.

Is the amendment withdrawn?

The amendment is withdrawn with great reluctance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In subsection (2), page 4, line 40, after "shall" to insert "publish notice of his intention to do so in a national newspaper and".

I am getting up with a feeling of déja vu. We have, thank goodness, an increasingly educated and informed population who are more and more aware of environmental problems, of the conflicts between industrial progress and environmental preservation and the balance of ecology, which are delicate in many cases. We should pay our population, particularly our scientific section, the compliment of letting them know, if they are interested enough, if there is an intention to issue a permit by having such intention published in a national newspaper. It seems to me quite amazing that when we require people to publish planning permission applications in the newspaper for building something as small as an outhouse, we are not insisting that we should put in a notice when we are going to issue a permit for dumping something in our seas. That is a very minimal requirement. I do not understand why planning permissions and some Government notices have to be published while this particular intention to issue a permit has not to be published in the national newspapers.

This, of course, is a further extension of amendment No. 1 and is designed to invite representations from the general public and from individuals on any or all applications. I am sure Senator Hussey well knows that if I cannot accept the first one, I cannot accept this one. The reasons I cannot accept this amendment are similar. I believe that the interests of the general public are adequately safeguarded by the provisions of the Bill. We are all concerned about protecting the environment. That is what this Bill is aimed at. We can have general agreement on that aspect of it at least. I would like to point out that it is not defective legislation. How could it be when in effect all we are doing is ratifying the Oslo and London Conventions? We agree with all the provisions. We will comply with all the obligations imposed on us by those conventions and, as a result, the general public and the environment will be adequately protected.

The Minister is constantly giving me the same answers which are that he is quite happy that he and the various Government Departments are doing everything right and they neither want nor require any input from any other person in this country such as the expert committees of An Taisce and people who have the best interests of this country at heart. As we go down through these amendments it is quite obvious that the Minister has set his face completely against any participation in this area by anybody outside Government. I find that extremely retrograde, a very old fashioned approach, and it raises an enormous question mark over the opinion that the Minister seems to have of the value of citizen participation.

I suggest to the Minister that a casual visit to any local authority planning office will demonstrate to him that the planners in these local authorities maintain that, notwithstanding the safeguards that may be written into legislation and which the planning authorities have to enforce, ultimately they are convinced that the public are the final safeguard and that it is in the interests of the public to be always on the look-out for any contraventions of planning legislation. This amendment suggests that advertising the intention to grant a permit in a national newspaper would focus in the public mind what is being undertaken and would give the public the opportunity to bring to light any serious concern they might have. This is what the planners want.

I do not know why the Minister has set his mind against accepting what to me are reasonable amendments which are only intended as a means of spotlighting loopholes in the legislation and designed to encourage the public to keep an eye on the safety of our environment.

The Minister is not setting his face against anybody or anything as far as this or any other legislation is concerned. Let us be clear about that. The widest possible consultation will take place before any application for a permit is granted or refused. That will have to be agreed by all. This Bill provides for that wide consultation, not just at national level, but at international level as well. If somebody can tell me that the Oslo and London Conventions are defective in some way and points out the areas of defect, then perhaps I might be forced to change my attitude. But everybody agrees that it is necessary and indeed praiseworthy to ratify those two conventions and that is what this legislation seeks to do. For that reason I think Senator Markey is not totally familiar with the scope and intent of the Bill. It is the last resort for anybody proposing to dump that it be dumped at sea. I would like to point that out once again. It is worth having this point reiterated because people imagine that permits are going to be sought for dumping all kinds of waste once this legislation is passed. On the contrary, people must adequately satisfy the Department that they can dispose of their waste in no other way except by dumping before the application will be entertained at all.

What loopholes are we talking about? If our Bill is in conformity with the best provisions of the two conventions, then how can it have these loopholes? I would like somebody to point that out to me because we are talking here, as far as I am concerned, about a very limited activity that would be engaged in by anybody who seeks to dump in our environment. It is to protect that environment that this Bill is being promoted at this time, and if it conforms with the London and Oslo Conventions then, to my mind, it protects adequately both the interests of the public and environmental interests as well.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 3a:
In subsection (7), page 5, line 18, to delete "of this Act".

This meets an administrative requirement of the parliamentary draftsman.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 3b and 4 are related and should be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 3b:

In page 5, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:

"(9) (a) The Minister shall cause to be established and kept a register and shall cause to be entered in the register particulars of all permits granted under this section.

(b) The register kept under this section shall be open to inspection by the public at all reasonable times."

This could be by way of dealing with the content of amendment No. 4 by Senator Hussey. It also meets the requirements of the parliamentary draftsman.

Whatever about meeting the requirements of the parliamentary draftsman, we must remember that on Second Stage the Minister made a very strong plea that this Bill should pass through all Stages that day. We on this side of the House had to strongly resist that. There was no question of a register on that day. I am very glad that, on second thoughts, my amendment No. 4 has basically been agreed to by the Government's amendment No. 3b. That is a step forward. I am happy that these discussions on citizen participation have resulted in some small glimmer of light through this apparently firmly closed door. I am sorry, though, that we have changed the wording from "public inspection during office hours" to "public inspection at all reasonable times". Again, it is leaving to the Minister's discretion the hours of inspection, which I would have preferred to have been actually laid down. I appreciate that there might be problems about what exactly office hours are, but since I am a great advocate of flexi-time, I am not going to fight about that wording. It is significant that this amendment has been tabled. I welcome it as some small acknowledgement of the justification for worry on the part of other Members on this side of the House and myself about this Bill. I am, therefore, happy to agree to this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 8, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

"4.—(1) Where the Minister proposes——

(a) to refuse a permit,

(b) to include conditions in a permit,

(c) to revoke or amend a permit, he shall notify the applicant or holder of a permit and inform him——

(i) of the reasons for his proposal,and

(ii) that objections or representations submitted within fourteen days will be considered.

(2) Where the Minister proposes to grant a permit he shall——

(i) publish notice of his decision in a national newspaper.

(ii) invite objections and representations from interested members of the public, and

(iii) state that objections and representations received within fourteen days will be considered."

There is a large omission in the Bill about which I am rather worried, which is why we have suggested the insertion of a new section. If the Minister has powers to refuse permits, include conditions in permits and revoke or amend permits, the people with whom he is dealing should be informed of all reasons for such actions, and representations about or objections to such decisions should be considered. To give arbitrary powers to a Minister in this respect might well be challengeable on constitutional grounds.

My new section 4 is intended to achieve a situation where the Minister will have to say quite clearly on what grounds he has decided to refuse a permit, or to include conditions in a permit, or to revoke or amend a permit. There will have to be some way for ensuring that applicants for permits know what the system is. Such a provision respects the constitutional rights of citizens who are applying for permits to be heard before decisions affecting their interests, and certainly where decisions to revoke or amend permits already issued, are taken. It is very serious to grant a permit and then decide to revoke or amend it. It is extremely important that the citizen should know and has a constitutional right to know, why a permit is being revoked or amended. Could a person holding a permit wake up one morning and find that this permit had been taken away from him or amended without his knowledge? What exactly will the situation be when the Minister decides, for reasons which no doubt all the experts we have been hearing about will tell him, that a permit which had been given to a particular firm must be withdrawn or seriously amended? We all have a constitutional right to be heard and to know what is going on.

Subsection (2) of my new section goes on to discuss other safeguards in the granting of permits, repeats the requirement of notice in the national newspaper, of inviting objections and representations and giving a 14-day period for the consideration of objections and representations. What I am asking for here is a system whereby people in the business of applying for permits shall know what rules and regulations are governing them and where they stand if such permits are revoked or amended. This is a very necessary provision and one that safeguards the constitutional rights of the citizens.

The Senator is quite right that the individual has a constitutional right, and that is recognised. Consequently, I suggest that her amendment is unnecessary. In an administrative way one would be informed anyway; it is normal practice and people have that long established, constitutional right. Therefore, there is no need for this section. If the revocation of a permit adversely affects an applicant, then he or she has that right, which will be honoured.

Regarding subsection (2) of the amendment, since I have granted that the register may be inspected, the Senator may rest assured that normal office hours will be regarded in a flexible way. Anyone who wishes can inspect it at normal times and the Senator may rest assured, also, that if people had an objection and wished to make that objection known and to make representations, as is always the practice in the Department to which I am attached due note will be taken of their representations. I feel that it would not be too much to ask that this amendment be withdrawn. The Senator's major concern about constitutionality is absolutely protected.

The Minister has made it quite clear that everybody whose permit is revoked or amended will have the constitutional right at all times to know the reason. As the Minister assures me that that is the case, I will withdraw my amendment. I still have an overall impression that we are very complacent about the experts and about the benevolent intentions of everybody concerned with this Bill. Having been through all the arguments on the last day and again today on the need for a much broader complexion to the Bill, I withdraw amendment No. 5.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 4 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I am sorry that this Bill is not going into law with my proposed amendments. There should have been a much broader citizen participation provision in this Bill and I hope that it will not be outside the bounds of possibility for this Bill to be amended at a future stage. We obviously needed this legislation for a great many years but it has taken nine years to get to this point. The Minister has repeatedly said that this is a very small problem at the moment but small problems have a way of becoming big problems and rearing up and hitting one in the face. For that reason, it was very important that this Bill should have been stopped and paused over and given thought to. I welcome it in its provisions as they stand. Of course, any large progress in this area is very welcome, with the reservations that I do not believe it is a good environmental law Bill by international standards. I hope it achieves as much as possible of what it sets out to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.