I thank the very many Senators who took time to prepare very worthwhile contributions to this most important Bill. I am glad Senator Dooge feels that the Bill was worth waiting 24 years for. I welcome his comments in relation to it as I do all the others.
Air pollution is an extremely wide subject and there has been a growing understanding in recent decades of its causes and effects. The main causes lie in the very ordinary activities by which we produce goods, rely on transport for commerce or leisure, provide ourselves with heating, lighting and cooking, and generally use the energy needed to maintain our 20th century standard of living. Directly or indirectly, through the demand they place on energy production, all of these activities result in some polluting emission into the air.
The effects of air pollution have also become better documented. Localised effects include injury to health, buildings and vegetation. The longer range effects include the process of acidification, with its damage to lakes, forests and soil.
The present Bill can be said very broadly to achieve two things. The first is to harmonize Irish legislation with a tendency in most industrialised countries towards a specific statutory code for control of air quality. The UK Clean Air Acts, starting from 1956, were the pioneers in this area and supported measures which proved highly effective in abating problems of smoke. The US Clean Air Act, 1970 together with major amendments of 1977, have given a lead to the next generation of legislation, formulated in greater awareness of the polluting effects of sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
The second broad achievement of the new Bill is as a further important step, following on the Planning and Water Pollution Acts, towards completing the body of Irish law on environmental protection. Up to now air pollution control in Ireland has had to rely on a patchwork of dated legislation and, more effectively, on general powers under the Planning Acts. While this ad hoc approach has served us reasonably well, the increasing complexity of air pollution, both in its technical and international dimensions, supports the case for a separate statutory system.
This brief background to the Bill should make it clear that it is not, as Senator Fitzsimons has alleged, a reaction to EC pressure. The Bill's provisions are designed first and foremost to protect and enhance the Irish environment. But air pollution has a real international dimension and the EC Environment Action Programme, and similar programmes of other international bodies, are validly concerned about this. We should not begrudge co-operation in these programmes but realise that they are fully in Ireland's interests.
Many important points have been made by Senators and I will now try to reply to the main ones briefly. I will refer to every point on Committee Stage. Senators O'Toole and Fallon spoke about the need for increased resources, both financial and staffing, to implement the extended powers which the Bill will give to local authorities. I accept that these are important concerns, but Senator Fallon in particular seemed to acknowledge that they must be addressed on a much wider basis than would be possible under this Bill. Senators familiar with the local government system know well that the main sources of revenue financing for local authorities, such as the rate support grant and rates, are non-specific in character and are designed to cater for much of the range of local government services. This non-assigned character of local authority finances is what gives individual local authorities discretion to order priorities differently between different services. It would be inconsistent with this principle to provide separately in this Bill for matters proper to general local government legislation. It would also be inconsistent with the view, which I support fully, of increasing the autonomy of local government in this country.'
However, I fully accept that the entire area of the financing of local government and the structure and functions and role of local government is an area we must debate and debate urgently. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with it at the moment but I did find rather interesting the line coming through several of the contributions to this Second Stage from Senators which gave an indication of their attitude towards local government and the role they feel it should play. Apparently, when there is something rather distasteful to be done or where we have to face up to duties rather than just wallow in our rights as local councillors it should be a managerial function only and when there are some laurels or some kudos it should be a reserved function of the members. We have to be very honest in this area and really decide what we want from local government. Will it continue to be a rubber stamp system or do we really want proper powers for local councillors. If we do they must accept the duties that go with those rights. This is one of the many areas in which this type of legislation would have to be considered.
Having said that, the Bill does, of course, make certain financial provisions. Section 35 enables the Minister to prescribe fees for licences under the Bill, which would accrue to local authorities. Section 32 envisages local authorities being able to recover from industry the costs of certain air monitoring operations. I emphasise the costs of certain air monitoring operations. A couple of Senators were concerned that some local authorities might use this provision as an excuse to add on service charges of a certain type in certain areas. We can recover costs of air monitoring operations.
Section 22 would also enable local authorities to derive an income from charges to be levied on emitters. Finally, section 45 provides a statutory basis for a scheme of grants from the Minister for the Environment towards the costs of adapting premises to the requirements of a special control area order. Senators can be assured that the new role which the Bill confers on local authorities will be very much part of our evaluation of local government financial needs during the annual estimates process. In other words, we will be acutely aware of any extra costs this legislation may impose on local authorities and hopefully they will be catered for in the forthcoming estimates.
Senators McGuinness, FitzGerald and Fitzsimons and a number of other Senators were concerned that the Bill does not deal sufficiently with emissions from vehicles. It is true that the Bill has been designed principally to deal with emissions from stationary sources and that it does not take over the powers which exist under the Road Traffic Acts to control emissions from vehicles. A number of points must be made, however, to put this matter into perspective.
First, it is a fact that neither in Ireland nor in many other parts of the motorised world have road traffic controls by themselves been especially effective in achieving environmental objectives such as better air quality. This is why at EC level, and within other international environmental bodies, the emphasis is now on vehicle emission controls which will not principally depend on driver behaviour.
Limitation of vehicle emissions is now being approached primarily through controls on fuel inputs and on vehicle design. The present Bill, through Section 53, will be fully competent to provide environmental regulation of all vehicle fuels. Already, the permitted lead content of leaded petrol has been reduced this year in Ireland from 0.4 to 0.15 grammes per litre and unleaded petrol has recently been introduced on the Irish market. I welcome it wholeheartedly. Both measures will be of major benefit to public health and the environment.
Measures are also being negotiated at EC level to require cleaner vehicle engine technologies. These would be implemented in Ireland through the type approval system. Proposals for petrol engines, on which substantial agreement has been reached, provide for large reductions in emissions of CO (Carbon Monoxide), NOx and hydrocarbons. New proposals to reduce smoke emissions from diesel engines are likely to be agreed at the next EC Environment Council in November. These diesel engine improvements will have a major impact in Dublin where vehicle emissions, principally from the CIE and other diesel fleet, account for approximately 14 per cent of smoke levels.
I do not think, then, that we lack for powers to exercise proper control of vehicle emissions. The division of legislative responsibility for them may not present the appearance of tidiness, but it should not inhibit effective action.
I am confident that under the impetus of this Bill and of impending EC requirements, the relevant provisions of the Road Traffic Acts will be used more vigorously in future to control emissions from moving vehicles. If certain proposals at EC level are followed through, we may well see an extension of mandatory vehicle testing to certain private vehicles. This measure would, in my view, be entirely appropriate for implementation under the Road Traffic Acts and I see no reason to duplicate powers or to transplant them to the Air Pollution Bill.
A number of Senators were inclined to doubt that a serious smoke problem exists in Dublin. They regard traffic fumes, particularly those caused by CIE buses, as the prime contributor to air pollution in Dublin.
I have already attempted, in my opening contribution, to show the complexity of sources contributing to air pollution in Ireland. Industry and power generation, through their contribution to SO2 and NOx, vehicles, through their contribution to NOx and smoke, and domestic premises, through their contribution to smoke, all play a significant part in polluting our atmosphere.
I have no wish at this stage to be dogmatic about what is the single greatest pollutant or where remedial action should be most immediately directed. What is important is that the Bill provides a framework for dealing with all of these matters and for combining different evaluations of our problems into one coherent strategy.
Having said this, it is relevant to point out that, by the external test of EC air quality standards, smoke pollution is the area in which Ireland currently has its greatest air pollution problem. Air quality standards, designed both to protect human health and the environment, have been prescribed by the EC in respect of lead, smoke and SO2 and NO2. Ireland has neither approached nor exceeded the relevant limit values for lead and SO2 and while the NO2 directive is not yet formally in force, we expect to observe all of its limit values also.
The same is not true of EC limit values for smoke. At various times since the Directive came into force in 1982, we have had exceedances in parts of Dublin of the three day limit, the 98 percentile limit, and the winter mean limit. We are obliged to bring about a situation in Dublin, by 1993 at least, where no such exceedances will occur at any time.
Some Senators, have mentioned a generally lower level of smoke pollution experienced in Dublin in 1985-1986. The facts are, however, that despite lower median smoke levels than last year and the notably windy weather which helped the dispersal of smoke, there were five breaches of EC smoke limit values in the Dublin area in the 1985-86 winter. Three separate values were breached at Ballyfermot, the 98 percentile of daily means for the year, the limit for more than 3 consecutive days and the median of daily winter mean values. Crumlin and Rathmines also breached the 98 percentile value of daily means for the year. Clondalkin, in the County Dublin monitoring network also exceeded this value, although because of gaps in the monitoring performance at that station, we do not regard it formally as a breach of the EC limit value. This is the first time, incidentally, that smoke in Dublin County has reached problem levels in relation to the EC Directive.
Senators McMahon, Belton and Howard were concerned that the Bill might be giving local authorities powers which they could exercise unnecessarily. They mentioned the possible influence of pressure groups in the air pollution area and with this in mind, they called for a tightening of the discretion of local authorities, or at least for close supervision by the Minister.
I do not accept that the likelihood of pressure groups, or other political interests, being involved in air pollution issues should be a reason for limiting the competence of local authorities in this area. In fact, to assume as much says more about local councillors and local authorities than it does about the pressure groups, which brings me back to my earlier remark that we must decide what we want of local government in the future. I am for strengthening it. In fact, in my opening contribution to this debate, I made the opposite argument. The whole premise for local government is to allow suitable issues having a local impact to be dealt with by democratically elected bodies at local rather than central level.
In practice, we rely on local authorities to reach sensible decisions in the matters entrusted to them, having regard to all the interests involved. As regards the present Bill, the same kind of consultative and deliberative procedures which are found in much of our planning and environmental legislation have been built into it. It is no less respectful of all interests in the community — domestic, industrial and environmental, than other local government and environmental legislation.
Senator FitzGerald regarded it as important that local authorities should have some scientific basis for their actions under this Bill. Senator Hourigan and Belton made similar points. As far as relevant EC standards are concerned, these are distilled from comprehensive international research, including work carried out by the World Health Organisation. It would be wasteful of resources if local authorities were to attempt to duplicate such research. However, where a local authority propose to introduce a special control area order under Part IV of the Bill they will invariably have to justify their proposals at an oral hearing, in the same way as with other proposals affecting private interests. The Minister, in considering whether to confirm a local authority proposal, will have to be satisfied that this justification has been rigorously provided by the local authority.
Senator Fitzsimons mentioned that the housing grant schemes do not encourage the use of closed stoves which burn fuel more efficiently and was concerned that chimneys could be banned under this Bill. In my opening speech, I accepted that the harmonisation of housing and air pollution policies in certain areas may have to be considered more fully. The Bill does provide for the concept of "approved fireplaces" and "approved fuels" thus recognising that ordinary or bituminous coal can be burned in enclosed stoves with reduced smoke emissions and that chimneys are necessary in such cases. Under the new house grants scheme, a chimney can be used with a gas heater taking the place of a normal fire grate.
Senators Ryan, Hourigan, Howlin and others dealt at some length with the other subject matter of this debate — the Joint Committee Report on Acid Rain and the general question of Ireland's position on the draft EC Directive on Large Combustion Plant. My main comments on this issue have been set out in my opening speech, but in deference to the interest which has been evident in this debate, I feel that I should return to it again.
The first point to be made is that the draft Directive on Large Combustion Plant is an extension of an already adopted Parent Directive on Industrial Plant which Ireland will be implementing in full through Part III of this Bill. The existing Industrial Plant Directive will require the licensing of all new plant in accordance with standards based on the best available technology not involving excessive costs. Initially licensing will apply only to new industrial plant, but the intention is gradually to bring in existing plant also.
Any new ESB generating plant (other than hydro or nuclear) exceeding 50 MW in output will be subject to this licensing requirement.
In practice, this will mean ESB proposals having to pass through a procedure much more explicitly geared to the requirements of air pollution control and of new technology than the planning system under which Moneypoint and other power stations were approved.
The draft Directive on Large Combustion Plant is an attempt to develop even more specific Community controls, involving emission limit standards on new plant and aggregate emission limitations on existing plant, in relation to power plant only. In Ireland, such controls would almost exclusively affect the ESB, with probably only one existing private plant being covered by them.
I should say at this stage that the exact nature of the limitations envisaged for the draft directive is not now clear. A proposal involving considerable changes from that studied in the joint committee report was made by the Dutch Presidency to the June Environment Council, but failed. The way forward on the draft directive is now unclear.
Ireland's general attitude on the draft directive has been to reserve our position because of the onerous economic implications, while acknowledging the genuine environmental concerns of those countries favouring the proposal. When a definite new Community proposal emerges, we will review the Irish position as appropriate.
At this point I want to say a few words about existing plant and how this Bill may or may not apply to it. Many Senators expressed concern in this area. Most of them had Moneypoint in mind and I know Senator Ferris had a particular factory in his own constituency in mind, which has caused some discussion over the months and years. The licensing system under Part III will automatically apply to new plant only. However, section 30 (2) enables the Minister by regulation to apply the licensing system to existing plant as and when this is desirable. We will, in fact be considering from day one which categories of existing plants should be brought within the licensing system immediately. There is every likelihood that large plant like Moneypoint and the kind of plant which Senator Ferris referred to will be licensable from a very early stage. Pending the coming into operation of the licensing system for existing plant such plant will be covered by important sections of the Bill, for example, Part II of the Bill places a general obligation on the occupiers of all premises other than private dwellings to use the best practicable means to limit and if possible to prevent air pollution. Additionally, section 26 enables the local authority where they are concerned about air pollution to serve a notice requiring the occupier of a premises to take certain measures to prevent or limit air pollution.
Where urgent measures are required the local authority are enabled to take the necessary action themselves. All of these provisions will have full force in relation to existing plant from their commencement. Quite frankly, the answer to whether there will be retrospection in relation to existing plant is yes, there are provisions for retrospection on all of the existing plant where it might be deemed necessary.
A number of other points were made. Senator Ryan's contribution was a well articulated philosophy of environmental protection, and as such it ranged much more widely than the present Bill. I was impressed with much of what he had to say. I believe the Department of the Environment, despite their re-naming and more explicit environmental role since 1977 still have a long road to travel in promoting higher standards of environmental protection.
Senator Howlin and, indeed, Senator Deenihan also spoke about the importance of Ireland's unpolluted image. We will increasingly need these higher standards as we continue to urbanise and industrialise. I believe that the present Bill is an important step on this road.
Senator Hillery referred to the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Energy Board who are responsible for the safety and control of radioactive emissions, appliances or installations. Local authority involvement in an instance such as the Chernobyl accident would relate solely to their emergency planning functions. The Nuclear Energy Act, 1971, makes the Department of Energy responsible for nuclear energy and safety. I agree fully with Senator Lanigan and others that co-operation at international level is essential to protect us against the damages of the nuclear industry and trans-boundary pollution generally. I pressed this view very strongly at the last Council of Environment Ministers in June. I would like to quote directly from what I said at the time, to put it on record in response to the Senators who have referred to this area. I said:
Public sensitivity in all our countries to the environmental hazard posed by nuclear installations has become more acute since the March Council. Indeed, I cannot stress too much the level of Irish public concern in relation to nuclear safety.
I went on to say:
This concern is not just confined to the issue of radioactive discharges to water but also embraces the possibility of radioactive emissions to the atmosphere. Accordingly, while the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant has been foremost in the public mind in Ireland, other nuclear plants have not escaped attention.
There is now increased awareness of the transnational nature of nuclear safety, in a way which would lend support to Ireland's proposal for the introduction of an international dimension into supervisory arrangements. If, as we now clearly know, the effects of certain incidents at nuclear installations cannot be confined within national boundaries, then it is difficult to dispute a valid international interest in supervising measures to prevent such incidents.
This Bill does not alter that and it expressly precludes the situation in relation to the Nuclear Energy Board having the prime responsibility in this country. This Bill does not alter that and it expressly precludes any concern with radioactive emissions into the air. Local authorities do not have the expertise to deal with radioactive substances and the provisions of the Nuclear Energy Act, 1971, remain the relevant ones.
This country's position is similar to that of other countries who have no nuclear installations themselves but are at risk from accidents in other countries. Our safety, therefore, depends on internationally agreed operational standards, information requirements and international inspection forces. The Government are continuing to demand the establishment of a Euratom backed inspection force to determine independently the safety of nuclear installations.
Senator Hillery asked that the results of the study being carried out by An Foras Forbartha in the Burren should be made available to the public. As I understand it, An Foras are actually checking the validity of the on-going monitoring being conducted by the ESB in co-operation with the local county council. At all events, I see no difficulty about making relevant results available as soon as the system is properly established.
Senator McGuiness made an interesting contribution which touched, among other things, on damage to buildings from air pollution and the need for prompt implementation and enforcement of the Bill. I agree with the concerns which she expressed on both of these counts and I intend to approach implementation of the Bill accordingly.
Several other Senators referred to the damage being done to our historic buildings and, indeed, to all buildings in Dublin city. Tragically much of it is irreversible. Notwithstanding the delay, it is time we took action now to prevent any further damage and to prevent any of the lovely new modern structures being built meeting the same fate in years to come.
Senator McGuinness was also concerned at the exclusion of domestic premises from the otherwise general obligation of section 24 to use the best practicable means to limit air pollution. This exclusion is on grounds of practicality rather than of principle. Indeed, similar considerations are behind the exclusion of single dwelling houses from the general duty on property holders of fire prevention under section 19 of the Fire Services Act, 1981. It would just be excessively complex to enforce the use of the best practicable means in relation to the 900,000 houses in the country.
None of this means, however, that the Bill cannot control smoke or other emissions from domestic premises. This is likely to be the main purpose of Part IV of the Bill, which provides for the creation of special control areas. Within these areas, an intensive regime of air pollution controls will be possible in relation to houses or any other premises specified in the relevant order.
Senator Fitzsimons was anxious that the Bill should cover other areas; he mentioned smells and noise. My understanding is that smell is fully comprehended in the definition of "air pollution" as well as by the nuisance provisions of the Bill and, therefore, subject to the various controls of the Bill. This is something we can look at more closely on Committee Stage.
Noise, of course, is not covered by the present Bill. As far as I am aware, most modern environmental codes deal with noise separately from air and water pollution, or from waste issues. I agree fully with Senator Fitzsimons about the desirability of more explicit controls on noise, but I feel we should take one step at a time. It would not be practical to combine detailed and specialised noise provisions with the present Air Pollution Bill.
Senator Hourigan, Senator Deenihan, Senator Howard and others had strongly held views about the inclusion of the provision on straw burning. Senator Howard and I had a little cross talk during his contribution about what I had said in my opening speech on Second Stage. For the record I will repeat that sentence lest there is any ambiguity. I said:
It provides a range of powers which can be used by the Minister for the Environment and local authorities to deal with a variety of situations — emission of dark smoke, wind blown dust arising from land used for mining or industrial purposes, smoke arising from straw burning, or any other emissions of pollutants which may give rise to air pollution or to nuisance.
We are only concerned about those aspects if they give rise to air pollution. I would like to draw the Senator's attention to our definition of air pollution. If straw burning gives rise to air pollution it would have to — and I quote from the first page of the Bill, Part I, the definition section:
"Air pollution" in this Act means a condition of the atmosphere in which a pollutant is present in such a quantity as to be liable to —
(iii) impair or interfere with amenities or with the environment.
It must be present in the atmosphere in such quantity as to be liable to cause air pollution and damage. I should like to assure the farming community and Senators who have so vigorously represented the views of the farming community that I believe they have little to fear. However, the whole issue of straw burning being in the Bill at all is not one on which I have any particularly fixed idea and I will be quite happy to debate that aspect again on Committee Stage. As it is now, I would have absolutely no fears and I assure those Senators who expressed fears that I hope they are without foundation.
With regard to Senator Fitzsimon's view in relation to section 14 impinging on domestic privacy, a thorough discussion would be very appropriate on Committee Stage on this whole area. Many Senators subsequently mentioned this aspect. I am glad these points have been brought to my notice so that we can have a good look at them between now and Committee Stage. The whole area of impinging on domestic privacy is an aspect I was reluctant to introduce. It is very difficult to see how else a special control area order applying to domestic dwellings could have been enforced.
We also had some difficulty — I think it was Senator Durcan — in relation to the definition of "private dwelling". We have a very restrictive definition of "private dwelling" in the Bill. This definition is required because private dwellings are excluded from the obligations under section 24 (1) on the occupier of a premises to use the best practical means to limit and, if possible, to prevent an emission from the premises. It would be unreasonable in the normal way to require such equipment, appliances etc. to be used in private dwellings of which there are now close to one million in the country.
In the interest of protecting air quality it is essential therefore that the exclusion relates only to bona fide private dwellings and that it does not extend to any type of operation being carried out in the back garden or shed which could give rise to air pollution, for example, the recovery of metal from scrap. Therefore, the curtilage of the garden of a private dwelling is excluded from the definition as is a multi-dwelling building e.g. an apartment block. However, a boiler house containing a central heating boiler for the dwelling is included in the definition of a dwelling house. Again, from an information point of view, it is an area that I would be quite happy to return to on Committee Stage if further clarification is deemed necessary in terms of what we are trying to provide for in the Bill.
There are many other individual contributions. I just want to refer to them briefly. Senator Fitzsimons spoke in favour of extending the electrified rail network in Dublin on the basis of reduced emission from traffic. I am sure the Senator appreciates this is somewhat out of my province, being a matter primarily for the Minister for Communications, the new Dublin Transport Authority and CIE. I agree with Senator Fitzsimons's assessment of the likely environmental benefits but these of course would be only one factor in a very complex assessment.
Senators Higgins and Durcan considered that the penalties provided for summary conviction were inadequate in the case of a large company, for example. However I understand and indeed I am prepared to discuss this with the Parliamentary Draftsman in the interim, that as they are set out they are at the maximum level applying to summary offences. Apparently, the Constitution does not allow higher penalties to be imposed in the District Court.
A number of Senators referred to the need for environmental education and I support fully the value of such education. In recognition of this, the Bill will enable local authorities to support educational programmes and to publish results of surveys, investigations and research. In this context the forthcoming Year of the Environment which is to take place from March 1987 to March 1988 will increase public awareness of air quality and environmental matters generally.
The local authorities to which we are extending the provisions of this Bill were questioned also. Senator Durcan in particular wanted urban councils to be included in our definition. Generally speaking, it is not anticipated that the non-county boroughs and urban districts would have the resources, financial, manpower or technical fully to carry out functions under this Bill. However, should the situation arise where it was desirable that such functions should be carried out by an urban authority this could be arranged by transfer of functions under regulations made under section 21. In any event it may be expected that local authorities will consult fully with the urban councils within their area.
Senator Durcan made a number of other interesting points with regard to the appropriate court at which matters arising under this Bill should be heard. In particular, I refer to his view that under section 28 a local authority should be able to apply to the Circuit Court rather than the High Court for an order prohibiting or restricting an emission. I note that there are similar provisions in the Water Pollution Act, the Fire Services Acts, and the Planning Acts and they all relate to the High Court so between now and Committee Stage I will have the matter examined. His other point regarding certain offences under this Bill being tried by a jury will also be considered.
Senator McDonald was concerned that confidential information acquired by local authorities under section 16 in relation to industrial processes could be given to competitors. To decide on a licence application, in a local authority we need detailed information in order to set appropriate conditions for the protection of the environment and public health. Local authorities will respect the confidentiality of such information as they do acquire from the details required under the Planning Acts and the Water Pollution Act.
I think I have replied to the main points, particularly to the points that arose several times. As I said at the outset, I will deal on Committee Stage with any points I have inadvertently omitted and I shall welcome a thorough discussion of the different aspects then. I hope we shall have a very interesting debate as there has been such a broad interest in this Bill before us. I have been very impressed generally with the interest shown in the Bill not alone by the Senators but by the various groups on all sides, from Coal Information Services right across the spectrum to the earth watchers and all of those that are somehow in between in their views in relation to it. I think receiving information and indeed aides mémoire, as the Senator referred to them, from the interested parties and the various different interested groups is a very true part of the democratic system provided of course that sensible and due consideration is given to all aspects and that the result is a balanced view and one that achieves what we set out to achieve.
I would like to commend all those groups who obviously, regardless of their particular standpoint have the best interest of our environment particularly in this case air quality, at heart. I look forward very much to Committee Stage and to continuing this debate. Before I conclude I would like to quote again a sentence from my Second Stage contribution some months ago and I think it particularly relates to the references by many Senators to balance and to having the proper attitude to this most important area. I emphasise that the environment cannot be sacrificed to development and neither should development be seen as the enemy of the environment. Both are essential ingredients in our efforts towards economic growth and improving the quality of Irish life which after all is what we are all trying to do.