I welcome the Minister, Deputy Harney to the House and congratulate her on this legislation which I welcome although I have reservations with regard to certain aspects of it.
The Minister in her address to this House some weeks ago, made it very clear, and it is worth emphasising, that the environment has been brought in the last four or five years from the position of being an unknown quantity to a position where it is now regarded as top of the league in relation to importance, relevance, the need for attention and so on. We all can recall a time when we did not have a Minister for the Environment. We had a Minister for Local Government who dealt with environmental matters. The establishment of the office of Minister for the Environment and Minister of State with responsibility for the Environment indicates the importance that has been attached to the environmental area in recent times. With the collapse of the Iron Curtain we have seen the terrible devastation of certain East European countries and the loss of life as a result of disease and so on. In Ireland we can be justly proud of our position vis-á-vis the environment.
There are certain reservations I have about the Bill but generally I welcome it and I compliment the Minister on her endeavours. One of my major reservations relates to the appeals procedure. This matter was raised by a number of different interest groups and has been raised by the Minister and by my colleagues in the House. The position with regard to appeals is not what it should be from a psychological or practical point of view. As I understand it, when the agency proposes to grant a licence it shall first indicate its proposals and interested parties will then have an opportunity to comment on them. These comments will be taken into account by the agency in making its final decision. Therefore, the agency would appear to be the final arbiter in the matter. Now while I have every confidence in the calibre and expertise of the persons who will handle this operation, I would have grave reservations about the acceptability of that procedure which, to my mind, does not conform to the average person's idea of an appeals mechanism, which people regard as something separate and different.
I appreciate that the Minister has already stated that the best possible expertise will be available within the agency and the agency will, from a practical point of view, cover the area quite effectively. However, I stress that a system of appeal to another board or body which would also, of course, have expertise would be desirable.
With respect, the Minister is not having sufficient regard to what I referred to earlier, that is the psychological benefit to an objector in having his or her appeal heard by an independent third party. This could lead to a lack of confidence and to a certain degree of mistrust which could undermine what would otherwise be an excellent body, doing excellent work in protecting our environment. I do not wish to stress that point, but it is important. As I said earlier, it has as much to do with the perception of people of the situation as it has with its practical application.
It has been stated already that one of the prime reasons for introducing this legislation is to ensure that public confidence and independence will be to the fore. The lack of a proper appeals procedure, to which I have referred, will affect this perception by the ordinary people. I want to stress again the mental and psychological effect on an objector who has recourse to a third party. It will be a great pity if we are again to witness scenes where potential industry, which may be very badly needed, is lost to an area because of protracted disputes and protests. I agree that nobody should accept or want industry at any cost but it would be very much regretted if such protests were to continue for a protracted period simply because people were crying out for a proper appeals procedure. If public opinion is to be satisfied that there is an adequate appeals procedure built into this legislation, then it must be through an independent third party organisation or body. Public confidence, can only be enhanced if we have such an appeals procedure. I know the Minister will take cognisance of that point with regard to appeals which I have emphasised at some length.
Some of the financial implications proposed in the Bill will cause concern, in particular where they relate to local authorities. I fully appreciate it is not intended that this Bill should remove local authorities from the entire scene as regards environmental protection. In fact, it is envisaged that they will continue to play a very important role in the whole area. In other words, in conjunction with this Environmental Protection Agency, the efforts of local authorities and other bodies will be synchronised or co-ordinated. I have no fear about that.
What concerns me about the Bill is that we could have further erosion of the financial base of local authorities. Members here who sit on local authority bodies will appreciate the serious problems that could cause. Large industries which currently contribute towards local authorities by way of monitoring and treatment of discharges as conditions of their licences will now become licensed under the agency, thus removing this source of revenue from local authorities. It is essential that they are provided with adequate finance from the State to ensure they can continue to play the important role envisaged for them in environmental protection.
While many aspects of the Bill are very much to the point, the provisions must be implemented fully if the agency and the local authorities are to adequately police and protect our environment and this will be dependent to a great extent on the finance made available to them. It is absolutely imperative, therefore, that the whole question of financing for the agency and local authorities in the context of environmental protection should be clarified by the Minister.
I referred last week to a number of points and I want to elaborate on some of them. I stressed how important the environment is now rated by all concerned with environmental matters; it is a very complex area. Very few people appreciate the number of areas of activity and the matters that come within the ambit of and under the control of, the Department of the Environment. Frankly, in a changing world the environment is a very important barometer of the well-being of our country and, more importantly the well-being of our people. We have seen examples throughout the world of the environment causing major problems with regard to the health of the population. We are fortunate here in having a clean environment and I believe those vested with the responsibility up to now have done a good job. I am certain the Minister and all the other people concerned in the future with the environment will continue that good work.
I referred earlier to the Environmental Protection Agency and the fact that they will have direct responsibility for licensing, control and other major functions. This speaks for itself, it puts the agency in a very special category, where it will be the apex of all activity with regard to environmental matters. We must take into account the vast amount of waste we have to dispose of annually here. For example, each year more than 28 million tonnes of solid waste are produced in this country and agriculture accounts for 22 million tonnes of that figure. I am talking about solid waste which is domestic refuse, industrial and commercial waste, litter, waste from mining, quarrying, construction, agriculture, sludges and semisolids that cannot be discharged in water or air. The figures I have given bring home to us very forcibly the problem we face and it will take a united effort on the part of everybody to ensure that we deal with it.
There are many different ways of disposing of waste at present. Almost all non-sludge waste goes to land fill sites in the various local authority areas. 46 per cent of sewage sludge is discharged at sea, 28 per cent is dried and spread on agricultural land, 18 per cent is disposed of in land fill sites and 8 per cent is disposed of otherwise. With regard to sludge and waste being discharged into the sea, there is an urgent need for a greatly increased number of treatment plants or processing units here to ensure that our seas and major rivers, like the Shannon, are not polluted to an extent that people cannot swim in them or fish cannot survive. We must ensure that leisure activities are not affected because of pollution of major and minor rivers and, indeed, the sea.
Various methods of waste disposal are carried out by private firms. Many firms adopt measures of a fairly sophisticated nature and are doing a good job. Others, it is true to say, leave a lot to be desired and are not disposing of waste in the proper way. There are certain dangerous wastes, such as toxic waste, which have to be treated very carefully. There are in all 27 categories of waste and those are defined under various EC Directives. In Ireland 52,000 tonnes per annum are produced and 19 of the 27 categories are toxic waste materials. Of that, 63 per cent is chlorinated and organic solvents, followed by biocides and other chemical materials, are used to make the material safe.
One could go on and on about waste, its volume, its disposal and so on. In many parts of the country, be it Clare, Limerick, Kerry or elsewhere there is a greater awareness of the problem of pollution but unfortunately our major rivers are very often dumping places for motor cars and other major objects. In the River Shannon, for example, many items such as cars, lorries and so on are discarded. That affects boating activities and leisure activities such as swimming and so forth, as well as causing serious pollution. We must be very mindful of that and ensure that it is not allowed to continue.
I referred already to the complexities of the problem confronting the Minister and other persons with responsibility for dealing with this issue. There is provision in this Bill for the appointment of a director general, four directors, an advisory committee, a certain number of staff, specialists and others who need not necessarily be in the specialist area. As I said already, it is essential that there is an independent appeals procedure. The Minister to an extent has taken care of that but not to the required extent.
With regard to the appointment of the board of directors, instead of appointing a director general and directors from a number of persons from nominating bodies, the directors should be nominated directly by the nominating bodies and no Minister or Government would hand pick from, say, four persons. In that way the agency will be more independent.
The whole area of the environment is vital if we are to maintain the flora which in parts of our country, such as the Burren in County Clare, is very special and many other places have special types of rare plants. There will be, and are, various international agreements which will be made with regard to environmental policy because at this stage — and I stress this — we must not attempt to legislate for pollution control in Ireland in isolation. We must attempt to take account of the position in Europe and further afield in so far as it is relevant to us. However, the most immediate and important point is that we tackle the pollution problem in our island. Following that we should monitor the position in other countries and reach agreement with regard to wind changes and so on. There are many different ways in which this can be done.
Essentially, as I see it — without going through the Bill line by line, which is a matter for a later Stage — the Bill is an updating of existing legislation and a centralisation of activities now being carried out by other agencies. I urge the Minister to insure that those other agencies, which by and large are local authorities, should continue to have a function, a very important function, in the whole area of environmental control in the future. Before I leave the position of the director general I should say that we must have the highest level of confidence in this area. The director general must be highly qualified, with good commonsense, capable of doing a good job, backed up by a good board of directors, working satisfactorily as independent as is necessary, to enable them to do a job without being told what to do or what not to do. Equally, an advisory committee have been talked about. It is essential that this advisory committee should consist of persons who are useful, appropriate, helpful and meaningful for the agency. Likewise it is of paramount importance that all the staff, particularly the specialist staff, engineers and scientists of various types are well trained and well suited for the particular function they will carry out.
We will need to have constant monitoring of the quality of the environment. The position as of today may be totally different in six or 12 months time. Therefore I would emphasise the importance of constant monitoring of the quality of the environment. We have a good environment and let us keep it that way. Of course, there are certain inadequate aspects also such as the many fish kills in our rivers. I have already referred to the many undesirable incidences of polluted rivers, lakes, and seashores, which the public cannot use in a pleasurable way. That must be resolved.
By and large, we must take account of these matters and embrace the other non-obvious environmental matters. One that strikes one very forcibly, and which is mentioned in the Bill as far as I can recollect, is that of noise. In regard to noise from discos and the like in residential areas, will the Minister outline what is envisaged for taking care of that problem? In many residential areas in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Galway and in major towns such as Ennis, Nenagh, Clonmel and so on, noise from discos is a big problem.
Those are the less obvious pollutants of the environment. There is also pollution from traffic and from the burning of certain coals and so on. There are problems with regard to paints and many other things. Will the Minister address what may seem the non-obvious areas of pollution in this regard? I mentioned, in particular, discos and how they can and are affecting the lives of many people in residential areas in our cities and towns throughout the country.
There must be access to information because many people can play their part, and play their part very meaningfully, provided they have access to information. Many persons, genuinely and through ignorance, are polluting the atmosphere and the country generally. Litter, to which I have not referred, is a major pollutant here. Monitoring reports should be examined, say, once in every two or three years. When there is a monitoring process on an ongoing basis one can decide how often these reports should be brought forward for a thorough and positive examination.
Fines and penalties are referred to in the Bill. Perhaps in some of these cases the fines and penalties should be greater than they are because, quite frankly, anybody who blatantly pollutes the environment deserves to be heavily fined. We do not have the sort of resources they have in other countries in Europe, for tackling environmental problems. Even though we are many years late compared to places like Denmark, Holland, Germany and other European countries with regard to what they have done over the last 20 years vis-á-vis pollution control, I am certain that we can now deal with the problem of pollution. I urge the Minister to ensure that at the end of the day this Bill does not contain too much ambiguity because if we have too high a level of ambiguity we will only provide a bonanza for those in the legal profession. While I have nothing personal against that profession, there is no point in creating situations that could be avoided by more commonsense legislation on day one.
We are in danger in this legislation, as in all other legislation of its type, of establishing a further layer of bureaucracy. This is something we must and should avoid. Agriculture has been a major factor with regard to pollution. I believe that in the context of this Bill we cannot leave the various pollutions that are now caused by agriculture to a peripheral group. We have lagged seriously behind many other European countries in the past 20 years.
We have now before us a set of regulations from the EC Commission which are due for implementation on 1 January 1993. They will have to go before the Council of Ministers but are unlikely to go through in the form in which they are now laid down. These apply to a number of areas in agriculture such as dairying, beef production and so on. I wish to refer to the position with regard to persons involved in milk production. We have dairy farmers who produce milk for processing or manufacture and we have dairy farmers who produce milk for liquid consumption in our large towns and cities and throughout the country. In 1993 there will be a major overhaul of many production units, especially at the assembly point of the dairy animals, at the milking area where the milk is cooled and where the milk is stored. Very stringent rules will be laid down concerning, for example, the storage of milk which will not then be permitted where milk is cooled and compressed. There will be very definite rules with regard to milking parlours, to the housing of stock and the collection of stock in the summer months which, effectively, will mean a major cost increase to many of our farmers. We are talking, in total, of figures of perhaps £25,000 or £30,000; these are the sort of costs with which many of our dairy farmers will be faced from 1 January 1993 if they want to continue in dairying.
High levels of hygiene will be required. I do not disagree with the hygiene standards that have been passed. Perhaps certain modifications here and there could be questioned but a high level of hygiene is generally essential. That is going to be a major cost factor and our Government should take cognisance of this. A system of grants would enable farmers to meet the requirements demanded of them when the time comes if in the first instance we do not succeed in getting the required moneys from Europe.
We also have a major regulation which is part of the 1993 regulations. Under this regulation milk from a restricted herd cannot be used for any form of human consumption either in milk form or in processed form. In other words, milk from a restricted herd cannot be used directly as milk, it cannot be used as cheese or skim milk powder, as butter or in any other form. That would mean, in practice, that a dairy farmer could not supply milk to the creamery for a period of at least four months. If a person found himself in the month of March being restricted from supplying milk to the local creamery for a period of four months, the entire season would virtually pass by. There may be some form of payment made but that is a development we must keep in mind.
There has to be an adequate supply of potable water; in simple terminology that is water fit for human consumption. That water must be available for all cleansing of milking machines and milking systems generally. In the milking parlour there also has to be a sink.
Another major area is that of abattoirs. We know now that meat and bone meal are banned for use as animal feed and this has created a major problem with regard to the disposal of offal. At the present time, relatively small operators are paying as much as £50 per tonne for offal disposal through incineration and so on. I know of one small operation where offal disposal is now costing £400 per week whereas before the BSE or the mad cow disease problem arose those persons were making a profit of perhaps £400 per week. There is a potential loss here of between £600 and £800 per week. On a pro rata basis of £50 per tonne losses in a larger operation would be greater; each tonne would not necessarily cost £50, but the loss would be significant.
I believe that this area is the concern of the Department of the Environment in close co-operation with the Department of Agriculture and Food. Similarly, when animals die on farms, the farm owner now has to pay as much as £10 for the removal of the dead animal. Death of an animal is a serious loss to farmers, which is compounded by having to pay for the removal of the animal. Smaller animals cost less than £10 to remove but £10 is now required instead of the small nominal payment which was sufficient up to now.
There is a very serious danger that unless we have a satisfactory means of disposing of dead animals from farms and of offal from abattoirs serious pollution of areas such as boglands, rivers and so forth will result. I am not suggesting that people would readily go out and dispose of their animals or their products in this way but there is a danger of which we should be mindful for the sake of efficiency and for the sake of the well-being of our community.
Fishing has been very seriously affected throughout the country. This is a great tragedy. One of the highlights we offer to visitors to this country is fishing. When fishing is affected in major rivers and elsewhere it is a very bad thing. I could take the Bill section by section but I do not propose to do so. Before I conclude, may I say to the Minister that this legislation is very welcome as far as I am concerned. I have pointed out certain areas that might need attention and this has been done in the spirit of absolute co-operation and in the interest of ensuring that this legislation will achieve optimum results for this country now and in the future.