I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister for bringing it in. Indeed, it was a long overdue Bill. Our environment is one of our more important assets and we need to guard it very carefully.
Earlier today Senator O'Toole talked about zealots among the environmentalists. I think he has a point. Some of us were environmentalist when it was neither popular nor profitable to be so. Indeed, I remember in the late sixties leading a campaign to prevent the establishment of a heavy smelter plant in Cork harbour. It was an action which was not very popular in Cork at the time.
Since then because of the high profile the environment has got we have many people jumping on the bandwagon and sometimes I get the impression that the environment will have to be saved from the environmentalists. There is nothing in this world that annoys me as much as converts who get over enthusiastic about issues and quite intolerant of any other person's point of view. I am afraid at times when they pick upon politically sensitive but environmentally unimportant issues they can do more harm than good by diverting resources to issues which are unimportant thereby leaving important issues unattended to.
I think, in particular, of my experience in the European Parliament when we had pressure from environmentalists, particularly the German Greens, on the question of animal growth promoters. Despite the evidence from every scientific body in the world, including the World Health Organisation, they bulldozed through a total ban on the use of these growth promoters. These were not only approved by the World Health Organisation but were actually recommended to be licensed for sale.
What have they achieved in the process? They have certainly increased the danger for the consumer. They have increased the cost to the producer. They have driven downwards the consumption of beef. They have got us into a trade war with the US and other countries. Most important of all, they have diverted resources from real issues like disease control, tuberculosis and the various other diseases, such as swine fever in Europe and very important ones but, particularly, tuberculosis in Ireland. They have diverted resources into trying to control now the use of illegal drugs and, of course, it is an impossible task. As the World Health Organisation had warned, there would be an explosion of illegal use of drugs but they were not interested in listening to experts. They were intolerant of any other point of view. They got their political kudos out of it and they left an unholy mess.
Beef production in Europe is in a mess at the moment and we have only got to look at the Irish scene where the Minister — and I wish to compliment him for his efforts in trying to control the use of illegal drugs — has an impossible task. The beef industry is now sitting on a time bomb. The control of these illegal drugs is not feasible because to control the use of these drugs you would literally have to have a policeman on every farm. What have these zealots achieved, I ask you? That is a good example but there are others.
Let us take an example nearer to home. Every environmentalist, and indeed most politicians, spend a fair bit of time criticising Sellafield. It is right that it should be criticised; we would all be happier if it was not there, and operating there, but there is a great deal of hypocrisy about it when you look at what we are not doing in our own backyard. My information is that between 100 and 160 people in Ireland die each year because of the exposure to radon gas in their own homes. What are we doing about it? We are sweeping it under the carpet because it would cost money to do something about it. It is far easier to shout our heads off at the British Government about Sellafield.
On the basis of a survey carried out by UCD and by the Nuclear Energy Board there are many people in this country living in homes and suffering radiation levels that are significantly higher than those for workers in the Sellafield plant. We close our eyes to it; we do not want to hear about it. There is no political capital in that and it would cost money. it is easier to kick the bricks. We want a little bit of honesty about these environmental problems. I am told by scientists that there is legislation which obliges companies to see that they do not exceed more than a certain level of radiation. There is no such legislation as far as offices, homes or buildings such as this are concerned. No, we must suffer the consequences in silence. Incidentally, if you want to have your home tested for radon gas you can get it tested at a cost of £15 and, for your information, the Minister, Deputy Molloy, had his home checked, was right to do so because the west of Ireland has a particularly large problem in relation to levels of radon gas in the homes.
I found this Bill very difficult reading. I do not know if the drafters of legislation could write such Bills in a way that would be easier for lay people to understand. It is not easy reading. One would imagine that it was drafted to confuse rather than enlighten. Perhaps that is not fair to those who drafted it, but I am sure most of you will agree with me that it is not easy going.
To speak about pollution in general, pollution of course arises from a number of different sources, industry, agriculture, individuals, local authorities, motorists, we are all responsible in one way or another for it. The Bill, however, seems very much to target industry and commercial enterprises, but what about local authorities? What about individuals dropping litter, or creating unacceptable noise, such as youngsters on motor bikes, which is quite intolerable? Pollution prevention need not always cost money. If we do not drop the litter it will not have to be picked up at a cost. Sometimes you can actually save money. For instance, if we insulate our homes and our buildings and prevent draughts, there will be considerable saving of energy. So there is enormous scope in the area of energy saving.
Something that many other cities in many parts of the world have considered and implemented is community central heating which is far more efficient and, in the longer term, far cheaper than individual heating of dwelling houses. Community central heating, for instance, might use surplus heat from power stations. Heat which, in going down the river, does environmental damage to the life on the river, to the fish and the various other forms of life. Or, it might use heat from an incinerator disposing of refuse, thereby reducing pollution in these landfills and tipheads and so on. It could solve a number of problems. Of course, in the final analysis the key to the solution of most of our pollution problems worldwide is a solution to the energy problem.
There is no easy solution in sight, I am afraid. We are living in a golden age, we are enjoying a standard of living that we are not really entitled to by using up the capital in the form of carboniferous fuels that have built up over millions of years and we are making no provision for generations yet unborn when the carboniferous fuels run out. I do not think that is a very responsible way to behave because at the rate at which we are using this fossil fuel we are damaging the environment. We should be making provision, in terms of research, to find alternative sources of energy. I know it is easy to talk about alternative sources of energy; I know it is not easy to achieve them, but I also know that there are billions and billions of pounds spent each day and each week on less worthy subjects. One has only to look at what is happening in the Gulf at the moment to realise what the billions of pounds being spend there might do in trying to develop wave energy, tidal energy, wind energy, renewable sources of energy and, perhaps the best prospect of all, nuclear fusion.
I know the word "nuclear" drives many people "bananas" and it is right that people should be worried about nuclear things, particularly since nuclear fission as opposed to fusion, has been so closely associated with the ultimate war weapon, the nuclear bomb. But nuclear fusion is quite a different matter. It is derived from a plentiful supply of hydrogen, the world is full of it. It would have very little waste product. It would have the advantage that if when in use an accident occurred you could shut down the process by turning off the supply of raw material. This is unlike nuclear fission, where all sources of energy are loaded into it on day one and cannot be extracted and cannot be shut off safely as nuclear fusion can be. However, the technological problems in trying to develop nuclear fusion are such that it will probably be 50 years or more before we get there. I do not think there is any one single answer to the energy problem. The solution will come in the form of several answers but, in the meantime, it would behove all of us to be more careful about how we use energy and to try to conserve it.
Getting back to other issues in relation to what I have mentioned already, there are other people with responsibilities, local authorities, for instance, who have a huge responsibility as far as pollution is concerned. Unfortunately, they are amongst the main offenders in relation to pollution. How many towns in this country are dumping raw sewage into rivers? I know that sitution is improving but it certainly was bad until recently. Even a town like Killarney had its problems in regard to damaging the Lakes of Killarney. Thankfully, that has now been resolved. I am afraid local authorities are not entirely free of blame. Of course the problem, as always, is a shortage of cash, but the cash has to be found and the problem can be solved if the effort is made.
One has to admire the efforts made by the British. If you recall the Thames was a dead river. Today, as a result of some efforts they made to clean up the pollution going into the Thames, salmon are again going up beyond the city of London, something that had not happened for 70 or 80 years. It can be done and it has to be done. It will cost money but we have found money for less worthy projects.
Local authorities, too, are, very often criticised, and rightly criticised, for the location and management of dumps. In Cork the dump for the city is now in the city and is being surrounded by dwellings. It is infested with rats; the emerging gas is being fired in order to get rid of it; there is seepage into the underground and into the local streams, and there are persistent smells which are intolerable to the locals. The corporation say that to move from it would cost a lot of money. My question is why did they move into it in the first place? I know the city was not as near the dump then as it is now, but surely the planners must have foreseen that the city was developing in that direction. I have the greatest sympathy for people who have their homes in that area and, through no fault of their own and through no choice of theirs, find themselves with this foul smelling dump, with rats and with seagulls dropping material all over the place and flies in summertime, all creating a possible health hazard. That sort of thing should not happen. However, it has happened and something must be done about it before too long.
Local authorities, too, are sometimes at fault in not enforcing the planning regulations. Again, I can think of the situation in Cork. It is well known that there were some problems with chemical industries, particularly in Ringaskiddy. Smells and occasionally noise offended the locals. It transpired that the regulations were not being enforced, that the local authorities did not have the resources to enforce them. If regulations are not enforced they are not worth having on paper. If you are going to make a law you ought to be in a position to enforce it. That kind of thing gives a bad name to all industry. Not all industries there were responsible, but those that were responsible gave a bad name to all industry, and that is a bad thing for the country in general.
As we saw in east Cork, when Merck, Sharpe and Dohme tried to get a plant built there, it had gone through all the processes. The county council had given approval, Bord Pleanála appealed to the High Court and so on, and they won every round. Yet, the resistance of people in east Cork terrified them so much, no doubt egged on by a few busybodies, that they resisted it to the point where Merck, Sharpe and Dohme, despite the massive amount of money they had already invested, walked away from the site. That kind of publicity outside Ireland, when we are trying to attract industry, is not very good for us.
That kind of lack of confidence among locals is to some extent, if not entirely, due to the fact that local authorities did not always enforce the regulations. Look at the mess that happened in south Tipperary, where a farmer took his case to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court and won against the industry there. Obviously, there was something wrong — I am not sure what was wrong — but it transpired during all of this that some of the testing by the local authority of discharges into the river and aerial discharges were not as careful as they should have been.
The court action by this farmer against the company was reported around the world, was known to every chemical company, I am sure, that ever had any interest in coming to Ireland, and even some who had no interest in coming to Ireland. Certainly it is the kind of bad publicity we could do without. That is the kind of thing that local authorities have to take more seriously; and it is only fair to say on behalf of local authorities that they may well be looking for more resources from the Department of the Environment.
Local authorities, too, I am afraid, have been negligent in respect of doing anything about recycling. If you go to other countries you will find that the refuse collection in some of them is divided into a number of parts. One day they collect the bottles, next day they collect the plastics and paper and next day the general refuse. It may cost a little more but, on the other hand, if we are serious about pollution control, there is an obvious one — recycling of paper, recycling of glass and plastic and minimising the amount that goes into the actual dump. I suggest that this be examined as a matter of urgency.
In some countries — and I am thinking particularly of Denmark — they have a tax on non-returnables; in fact, two or three years ago they prohibited the use of non-returnable containers. I am thinking of beer cans, soft drink cans, bottles and so on. Senator O'Toole remarked this evening about the difference between protectionism and protection. I am not quite sure if the Danish motive was entirely for protection of the environment. I may well have something to do with the protection of their own brewing industry and their own soft drinks industry and so on. Maybe it is not right to attribute that motive to them, but certainly we should do something more about recycling. In that league we are particularly far behind most of our Community partners and, indeed, most of the developed countries in the world. This is a pity.
Local authorities also fail to do anything about the population of dogs around our towns and cities that are soiling footpaths and leaving the place in a disgraceful condition. I suggested a solution last week in relation to dogs harassing sheep when we were talking about banning strychnine and so on. I was delighted that the Minister, Deputy Kirk, mentioned he was going to support the idea of banning strychnine. I suggested that every dog in the country should be tattooed, registered at the local police station and the offending dog could be identified and the owner held accountable.
That is particularly worth considering for protecting sheep flocks and, indeed, protecting children and adults from vicious dogs, but I think owners ought to be also held accountable for dogs making a toilet of the sidewalks. We are entitled to have these sidewalks in a reasonable state for walking on. Dog owners are not entitled to make toilets for their dogs of our sidewalks. If you go to a city like Paris or New York there are areas the dogs are allowed to use as a toilet. In Paris they have a fleet of men on motorbikes who go around with a brush and a container on the back of the motor bike which simply zones in on the spot that has been used as a toilet and the street is cleaned up. You would be literally ashamed of our streets at times to see the way they are soiled by these stray animals. They are stray in the sense that there seems to be nobody around with any responsibility for them.
There are other examples of where there are failures to enforce laws; for instance — and I do not know whether some of you consider this pollution, but I do; of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose — failure to enforce the Noxious Weeds Act. I see publicly owned land, and I am thinking for instance, of the land attached to the Munster Institute. Each summer and autumn it is an absolute disgrace with thistles, ragwort, docks, nettles and so on. Some people might like the flowers and the ragwort and so on, but these are a form of pollution because the seeds spread to surrounding land and so on. There is a Noxious Weeds Act but it is not being enforced and this, again, is bringing the law into disrepute. If you are not going to, or cannot enforce the law, then take it off the Statute Book.
We have other forms of legislation related to pollution which I would be concerned about — for instance, legislation in relation to slaughterhouses. An animal cannot be taken from a slaughterhouse; once you take it there it cannot be taken away live from a slaughterhouse. I agree with that, but there is something strange about not being allowed to take the animal whereas, if you kill the animal, the entrails, the blood, washings and everything can be taken out and spread on land. That leaves the possibility open to wildlife to pick up material and take it, if there is disease on it, to deposit it elsewhere and to spread disease. There is something wrong about that kind of legislation, apart altogether from the fact that it is not a very pleasant smell for people who have to put up with it in the vicinity of the slaughter houses.
This morning I was delighted to read that the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Hanlon, is considering banning smoking in the workplace. I have to confess I am a non-smoker and I am a bit anti-smoking, but, while I welcome the idea of banning smoking from the workplace, I would like first of all to see the legislation we have about smoking in public places enforced. I cannot see it enforced anywhere. I cannot get away from it. Everywhere I go that there is a meeting there is smoking. What happened to this legislation we had about banning smoking in public places? The Minister mentioned that up to 5,000 people in Ireland die each year from nicotine-related diseases. We have the legislation, yet, we just ignore it and we talk about bringing in extra legislation. That is bringing the law into disrepute. If we are not going to enforce the law I do not think we should put it on the Statute Book. At the same time it is encouraging that he is concerned about it. I wish he would be as concerned about enforcing it.
With regard to the Bill itself — it took me a long time to get round to it, but however — there are a number of things which I find a bit difficult and perhaps the Minister would like to enlighten me on them. Section 30 states:
The Minister may, from time to time, following consultation with the Agency and any other Minister of the Government concerned, request a public authority to designate for employment by the Agency employees of that authority whose principal duties relate to a function assigned or transferred to the Agency under this Act, or to be so assigned or transferred to the Agency, and the authority shall comply with such request.
That is a mouthful. Does that mean the Minister can take over the staff of a local authority? It looks very like it to me.
I go further on to page 31. I was very pleased with this. It is a matter which gave me a lot of concern when I was in the European Parliament. I was very concerned that we had a lot of very powerful businessmen in that Parliament and I do not think they were there for the MEP's salary. They were not obliged to disclose their interest. I therefore welcome in section 37 the obligation to disclose interest and that a person "shall neither influence nor seek to influence a decision in relation to the matter". That is perfectly right, Minister. I would be fully in favour of that. I do not mind people holding certain points of view — that is their business — but I do mind if they are holding that view for profit and it is solely related to their own self-interest. We should all be made aware of their self-interest before we hear their point of view on the subject. As I said, that was a matter which concerned me greatly in the European Parliament because I saw in the Economic, Monetary Affairs and Industrial Policy Committee some of the biggest companies in the Community represented by members of staff — I am not saying represented, but they were staff from these companies. I do not think, for instance, that the chairman of companies as big as Kloeckner Steel or Ferranti Electronics were there for an MEP's salary, but they were there and they influenced the legislation without declaring their interest.
I am a bit concerned about the question of duplication with the local authorities, with sanitary authorities and with the establishment of regional environmental units. As I understand it — I am talking now about section 42 — we already have 87 sanitary authorities and I will be surprised if there is not a great deal of overlap and confusion between all the various different interests.
Section 52 (1) says:
The Minister may, following consultation with the Agency and any other Minister of the Government concerned, by regulations assign to the Agency such additional functions in relation to environmental protection as from time to time he considers appropriate.
It seems to me that is giving a lot of power to the Minister. There should be more provision for consultation with the other agencies, such as local authorities.
Section 53 (4) says:
Regulations under this section may contain such incidental supplementary, consequential and transitional provisions (including provisions modifying any provision of this Act or any other enactment) as appear to the Minister to be necessary for the purposes or in consequence of, or to give full effect to, the regulations.
If we look at that one carefully it almost appears as if it could undermine the whole system, but perhaps the Minister can explain it to us in greater detail; or perhaps there is some way of understanding that legalistic type of language and putting it in simpler words for simple people like myself to understand.
In section 56, and indeed on page 43 in relation to local authorities, it would appear to me that there should be a right of appeal for the local authority — I do not see it mentioned in it — where the Agency is going to take local authorities to task. Local authorities are not perfect, but I get the impression they are trying to do their best most of the time. There should be a chance for them to appeal where the Agency is taking them to task.
Section 61 (4) says:
Where the Agency is not satisfied with the response of a local authority to a direction under subsection (3) (a), it shall consult with the local authority concerned, and if the Agency is still dissatisfied with the response following such consultation, the Agency shall carry out ... or arrange for, the monitoring concerned and the costs of the monitoring may be recovered by the Agency from the local authority as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction.
This will look rather silly: one public body suing another. That is the only reading I can put into it, that they would recover the money by a simple conract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction. I would hate to see that happen. I should imagine there would be better ways for public authorities to deal with the matter rather than resorting to the court. In my younger days I was shown a cartoon — two farmers, one hanging onto a cow by the horns and the other hanging onto a cow by the tail. In the middle was a solicitor, happy as could be, milking away. If we have the situation that we will have public bodies fighting each other in court, who is going to be laughing all the way to the bank? It will look very foolish indeed should that transpire, and I hope it will not.
In regards to section 64, I am delighted about the question of transparency. It is, with some qualifications, in this section Records shall be available for inspection by the public at all reasonable times, and, as the agency considers appropriate, such records shall be published.
I was in the USA on a number of occasions in regard to the question of food, food quality and confidence in food. One of the amazing things I found there was the operation of the Food and Drug Administration. That administration was enjoying the confidence, according to the latest opinion poll, of more than 75 per cent of American consumers. I ask you how many regulatory authorities in the Community enjoy the confidence of the consumer, or how many Ministeries of Agriculture are believed when they say food is OK? How many believed the Minister for Agriculture in Britain when Minister Currie said that most eggs were infected by salmonella? You had two Government Departments telling different stories — and of course you know who they believed. They actually believed the one who was wrong. That is because there is no confidence anymore. The worse the story is, the more likely they are to believe it.
I had a long discussion with the Director of the FDA, Dr. Lester Crawford about why the public in America had such confidence in the FDA. He had never been asked this question before; it had not occurred to him. He thought about it for a while and he said, "I am not quite sure, but I suspect it is because we are so open". Anybody can walk in off the street in Washington and look at the files of the FDA. Scientists can ask to see how the tests are carried out. You can photostat the material and take it away with you. Because people know it is so open, they are not actually all that interested in it anyway. If you try to make getting of information difficult, the first thing that will come to people's minds is, "Ah, they have something to hide". So, while I compliment the Minister for the transparency he is trying to bring about, I hope some busybodies will not be able to turn this paragraph around to make it as difficult as possible for ordinary interested and concerned citizens who want to find out what is going on.
I am sorry for detaining the Minister but I have a few other points I wish to raise. Section 82 (1) deals with the question of notifying the local authority as well as applying to the Environmental Protection Agency. Perhaps I am a bit naive, but it seems to me that, when two are involved and there is a dispute, we could end up having two public hearings, not one. If that transpires, I can assure you it will not be very attractive at all to intending investors in our economy. They might find it a lot easier to go somewhere where there would be just one public hearing. I would like to have that point clarified.
On page 70 my concern is that there seems to be no mention of withdrawing functions from the local authorities. Powers are being given to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there seems to be no question of withdrawing any of these powers from the local authorities. If that is the case — and perhaps it is not; perhaps I have not read the document particularly well — there is likely to be duplication and that is something we could well do without.
Finally, in regard to intensive agriculture, I agree entirely that there has to be adequate and strict control in relation to agriculture, food processing and so on. But I would remind the Minister that there is a great deal of pollution occurring on non-intensive farms, on smaller units, smaller beef units, smaller poultry units and so on, and that this should not be overlooked. I am thinking in particular of silage effluent, cattle slurry, washings from sprayers, sheep dips and a whole range of things. In that respect, may I say how delighted I was to hear what Minister Kirk had to say tonight about banning strychnine, as well as all the other good things he had to say about the control of pesticides and various other things on the farm. I do not want to go back over it again, but he did say that he was about to initiate the necessary action within the Department to ban the use by farmers of strychnine in poisoned bait. That would bring us into line with other civilised countries. I think it is an uncivilised way to control vermin. It is unselective, it is cruel and it should be banned. I hope we will have that legislation before us very soon.
The Minister also referred to the control of farmyard pollution, and I welcome that. He has mentioned that to date he has had 28,000 applications from farmers for grants for investment in the control of farm pollution, a total investment of £173 million, and a grant aid of £38 million has already been paid. However, having said that, I have to say that this is a particularly difficult time for farmers. They have to make this investment, and it is right that they should, but it is occurring at a time when farm incomes are falling dramatically. Very shortly they will be forced, in relation to milk production, to change the stanadards in the milking parlour, the cow accommodation, milk storage and so on, all of which will cost extra money. The net effect of that will be that milk will be forced onto the larger units. The attraction of being able to sell their quota, combined with the penalty of having to invest to come up to the new standards, will put thousands of our smaller dairy farmers out of business and the milk quota will just go to the larger ones.
Before I finish, I would again like to compliment the Minister. I sincerely hope the Bill will have a quick passage through both Houses. Of course, we will all be bringing in an abundance of amendments.