There is no polluted water in Tipperary, only good, clean Tipperary spring water. God help poor Fungi if he strayed into the Irish Sea as distinct from the Atlantic ocean. I do not think he would last too long.
I welcome the Minister and also the Bill. The presentation of the Bill before the House at this time reflects a new awareness of environmental concerns. It comes in tandem with the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, the Derelict Sites Bill and with the new civic charter the city council has put together for a better, healthier and cleaner environment for the city. In a sense what we are doing is extending the same concerns we have about pollution on land to the sea and the ocean surrounding the island. It is essential that we do it as an island nation and that it is done in an international context.
What we are doing really is putting into domestic legislation what is already an international convention, that is the international convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 and the amendment in the London Protocol of 1978, what is known as the MARPOL Convention of 1973 and 1978. I am disappointed that we are doing so at this late stage. We could have had this legislation on our Statute Book a decade ago. It seems extraordinary that it is now 1991 and we are implementing an international convention of 1973. We are almost 20 years down the road and that is not good enough. I would be delighted if the Minister could give me a satisfactory explanation for that.
My concern with the legislation is that it provides with one hand and it takes away with the other. I am delighted with the provisions it makes as specified in the interpretation section 3 (1) where "discharge" is referred to. It states:
oil, oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances, harmful substances, sewage or garbage or any effluent containing any of those substances, means any release, howsoever caused, from a ship and includes any escape, disposal, spilling, leaking, pumping, emitting or emptying of any substance from a ship, but does not include...
This is a refrain that goes through the legislation, not just in section 3 but in sections 4, 10, 12 and 13. Once you have a broad range of exclusions you weaken and undermine the legislation. What we are really looking for is strong, anti-sea pollution legislation. I presume in the definition of "ship", submersibles refers to all submarine activity under the water as well as over the water?
The second item that section 3 (1) does not include is the release of oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances or harmful substances directly arising from the exploration, exploitation and associated offshore processing of sea-bed mineral resources.
In other words, you can have the same emissions as are prohibited in the substance of the legislation provided they are for a particular type of accepted exploitation or development. Surely we need to put firm controls on the manner in which mineral resources are exploited in the sea.
In relation to scientific research the same exclusion or exception is allowed. The legislation could have been specific in terms of regulations that would apply in those areas. There is a lot of seabed exploration involving oil rigs and harmful toxic emissions can occur.
Section 4 contains the most serious flaw in the Bill. It states: "This Act shall not apply to any warship or to any ship for the time being used by the Government of any country for purposes other than commercial purposes." I cannot see why warships should be excluded. To use a phrase "for purposes other than commercial purposes" obviously gives carte blanche to military activity because military shipping is not used for commercial purposes. I would be concerned that it would apply to the nuclear area.
Submarines, nuclear-powered ships or ships where dumping may take place in the context of the proposal for the new dumping at Sellafield may not be covered. I am concerned to know why there should be such an exception. Why should emissions of these noxious matters from warships be permitted? Why should a warship be exempt? Why should any military ship be exempt? I cannot for the life of me see why we should make such exceptions. That is the area where there is most secrecy. We do not know their activities. We do not have a register of military ships in our seas and territorial waters. Is it because we are not prepared as a State to demand that all shipping that passes through or in our waters be registered so that we know its destination and purpose and that it be bound by strict anti-pollution legislation? That is the second exception which I regard as unacceptable.
In terms of section 10, while the Minister may make regulations requiring the notification in section 10 (5) —"notification... by the master or owner of a ship carrying any prescribed substance of any intent to load or unload any such substance in the State"— that is a very narrow definition or parameter to be providing for shipping in our waters. If we are simply concerned with shipping which is going to a destination in the State, and is going to load or unload any substance which is an undesirable or noxious substance, then that is not good enough.
All shipping, whatever we may think may or may not be the cargo, or whether it has sewage or garbage of any description of a toxic or non-toxic nature, irrespective of its cargo, or irrespective of whether it is going to load or unload in the State must be of concern to us. We should demand as of right a register of all shipping that comes within our territorial waters.
That should be as simple and natural a thing as ensuring that every aeroplane that passes in the air must be notified. It is the only way that we can keep tabs on shipping. It must be all-encompassing. One must make no exceptions and say that certain shipping must register and other shipping must not register. Whether it is coming into the sea space or whether it is a military ship, a nuclear-powered ship or a ship carrying nuclear material, or a warship, then all of that must be part and parcel of what we are trying to do to prevent pollution by this legislation. I cannot see why we should exempt any owner of any ship or any State that has shipping going through our shipping lanes. I do not know how strongly the Minister has stressed this in the other House, but I cannot expect that it would have gone through the other House without severe opposition to these exemptions in relation to the classes of ships, the types of ships and the cargoes and the destination of ships. Pollution is pollution. Once it takes place in the sea it does not matter how it happens or what the function or purpose of the ship is. If pollution takes place or if it is potentially likely to take place then it should be covered. I am not satisfied that this proposed legislation covers that.
Fourthly, I am dissatisfied with section 12. There is a very heavy burden of responsibility placed on harbour masters but there is no such burden of responsibility placed on the Minister to ensure adequate staffing and resources to meet the colossal demands that may arise from implementation of this legislation. If it is a situation whereby ships actually now obey the legislation and come in with cargoes which may have to be jettisoned if something goes wrong or the cargo has become toxic or noxious then there must be facilities to deal with that situation. Very large quantities may come into our country, not into any other country. They may come into our territorial waters and our ports. We must provide the facilities to ensure that they can be dealt with and that the cargoes can be made non-toxic. There should be a waste disposal area to deal with the matter so that we can eliminate it as a pollution threat. That is the function that is put on the local harbour master and, no doubt then passed onto the local authority in the vicinity.
At present we have a terrible situation in most of our towns and in our ports. We do not have secondary, not to talk about tertiary treatment for sewage or refuse coming from land, so how are we going to deal with a heavy demand if this legislation is effective? How are we going to deal with a heavy demand coming from the sea? If every ship now cleans its bilges and its tanks before going to sea, how will we manage? We all know what had been going on in ships in the past when there was very little concern for the sea environment. In between voyages when a cargo is left at a port of destination very often the ship sets sail again and on its passage to its next destination to pick up a cargo it cleans out its holds, its bilges and its tanks. That is done in the open sea. All that will now have to be done at the port at which the cargo has been unloaded. That will require extra facilities.
I do not see the Minister here taking on board the responsibility in terms of staffing and the facilities that will be required in all our ports to ensure the implementation of this legislation. It is always wishful thinking to draft legislation or to pass legislation and then to cop out without putting in adequate resources to ensure its implementation. That is why we have so much legislation on the Statute Book which is not being implemented. The resources are not there to do it. That, to my mind, is another exception that is not being covered sufficiently here.
The final area I would refer to is that I am particularly displeased that this really is a Bill for the Minister for the Marine. All powers are delegated to the Minister. There is very little actually here that is not saying that the Minister "may" or the Minister "shall". It is bad in a Bill. The Minister "may" make regulations; the Minister "may by regulations" require. It is bad to have legislation in which there is too much discretion given to the Minister. I know that the Bill is implementing an international convention, but nevertheless it gives the Minister far more discretion than I would think is proper. It gives him powers to prevent, mitigate or eliminate pollution. The extent to which it crops up there is certainly unacceptable. It is a bad sign in any legislation when virtually in every second section one has a reference to the "powers" or the "regulations" or the Minister "may" and the Minister "may do" this or the Minister "may do" that. Indeed, if it simply was the Minister "shall" I would be happier, but the very fact that it is delegated by and large to the Minister is a weakness in the legislation.
I am not happy with the question of penalties either. There is no distinction in relation to penalties. A penalty of £1,000 will be imposed or 12 months' imprisonment. That is a summary offence. The penalty of £10,000 or five years' imprisonment is for an offence on conviction. This refers to all types of ships and that includes small boats and large ocean going liners and factory ships. Obviously, £1,000 or 12 months' imprisonment is a very different thing to one type of corporate operation compared to a person who, in fact, is an owner or has leased a boat for whatever purpose. Such person could be subject on summary conviction to the same punishment. There is need for some grading or some differential in penalties to ensure that it is not simply the smaller operator who obviously would be responsible for a much smaller polluting effect who could be treated in the same way as somebody responsible for major pollution.
We know of the cases of the Torrey Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz, the Exxon Valdez and the Kowloon Bridge closer to home. These were colossal disasters and to deal with them would cost a fortune in the first instance. To think that somebody whose ship was responsible for such disasters would be subjected simply to a £1,000 fine certainly boggles the imagination. There should be greater flexibility in the penalties that are imposed.
I am not satisfied with section 31 in relation to dealing with a body corporate. How do you imprison a body corporate? Who, in fact, is responsible? Are all the directors, managers, secretaries and all of the others that make up the body responsible? Do they go to prison? Is that the intention of the legislation? How can that be achieved? What exactly is the body corporate? If the owner is a shareholder, how is the legislation going to deal with it? Are we suggesting that there can only be a prison offence for an individual who can be targeted, and then that there would be fines imposed on a body corporate? In terms of practical implementation of the penalties, I would like to know how that is going to operate?
To my mind the legislation has a fault in that it does not go far enough and that it allows exemptions. It does not provide sufficient resources. However, the legislation is extremely necessary even in the emasculated form that it is here before us because there is a huge problem of pollution. We see the condition of our beaches every summer and the amount of sewage that backs up on the beaches. We see the volume of plastic washed up with the high tide and left on the beaches. We know of the danger in swimming on any of our beaches. There is hardly anybody who will swim on an east coast beach facing the Irish Sea and Sellafield. That is just not on at present. They are afraid for their health.
The sea environment for us must remain a very major area of concern. There is a huge industry to be exploited and developed there. We were certainly very early in dealing with the fishing industry and, indeed, the tourist industry. Deep sea water angling has become a major industry in this country at present. It has enormous potential for development. We are a peripheral nation. That is one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses but as a peripheral nation we have the vast Atlantic beyond us. We are the first country of mainland Europe that faces that Atlantic. For us those seagoing liners and the factory ships are of particular concern.
Factory ships are something else. They are able to spend months at sea and obviously in that length of time spent at sea they gather an enormous amount of rubbish. It may not be fully toxic but some of it will be toxic. Certainly in the whole fish processing business that goes on in the factory ships, there is a lot of waste material. Some of it will not be toxic but some of it will be toxic. It will take some monitoring to ensure that that is policed and that these ships provide certain facilities, either of storage or of dealing with the waste created. Of course, eventually they will come to Irish harbours and then they will be looking for disposal facilities. That is where the resources will be required. The legislation puts an onus on the harbour master to ensure that facilities are available to deal with this type of situation.
We cannot emphasise sufficiently the importance of ensuring that pollution does not occur in the Atlantic Ocean. I am afraid it is almost too late for the Irish Sea. The Irish Sea is almost gone past the stage where we can do anything about it. There is now a major reprocessing plant in Sellafield where the majority of the British nuclear industry is based. We have all heard of the cases that have been linked with that in terms of cancer and leukaemia in our country and we have the largest centre of population in Dublin facing Sellafield. There is also the question of disease in the fish in the Irish Sea at present. That is one aspect.
There have been many leakages and radioactive emissions from Sellafield. We are always told, of course, that Sellafield is no threat and that the level of radioactivity emanating from it is within scientific acceptable standards. There is always a statement as though it were a positive thing that it is scientifically monitored and that it is within scientific and acceptable levels. But acceptable to whom? That is the point. It is not acceptable to the people who are living in the area. We know what happened with Chernobyl when there was not sufficient protection in place. The whole surrounding area, not just central Europe but as far away as this little island, which is literally thousands of miles away, was affected by it.
Now we have a further proposal. There is a proposal not only that there will be a continuation of the reprocessing plant in Sellafield but also that there be a new nuclear dump placed in Sellafield. That has been proposed by the British nuclear authority not on the grounds that it is the best place — because the evidence indicates that Sellafield is not a stable area — but because it is the most suitable in financial terms. It would have cost £1 billion extra to site this proposed nuclear graveyard in the original area it was designed for in Scotland because of the distance involved. Instead, they have gone for good old Sellafield because it was closer both to the British nuclear industry and handier for ships coming from Japan and elsewhere. We are talking about a colossal development which is estimated to be more or less along the same terms as the development of the Channel Tunnel. That is the type of major development that we are talking about and it is going to be in Sellafield. That means we are going to have ships sailing the Irish Sea with all sorts of waste radioactive material to this final graveyard where it is going to lie for how long? Who knows? Sellafield is not the most stable area in the British Isles. We can never tell in ten years, 100 years, 1,000 years or 10,000 years what will happen to the area. There could be an earthquake or leakage. How can you guarantee that all that material is not going to get into the sea? We should have all that covered by this legislation.
All the ships carrying the nuclear waste should have to notify the Irish authorities where they are coming from, where they are going and what they are carrying. It is time we made the Irish Sea a nuclear-free zone. That is the only way we can get rid of Sellafield. I do not see why we cannot make the surrounding territorial waters around this island nuclear-free. If we allow the development proposed by British Nuclear Fuels to continue at Sellafield, then we are going to have the greatest combined reprocessing plant for radioactive material and the greatest nuclear waste dump anywhere in the world.
The world's waste will be transported on the Irish Sea and we will be the recipients of all that that entails. Certainly, they are not likely to be beneficial but very detrimental. I ask the Minister to make sure that we avoid that pollution. We can avoid it. We all know it is not just potential pollution but probable pollution because of the existing fact that there have been a number of serious emissions from Sellafield to date despite all the assurances we have been given. If we increase and multiply enormously the amount of radioactive material coming into Sellafield then naturally we multiply the chance of nuclear disaster in the area. So, let us say that no shipping carrying toxic material or radioactive material can pass through Irish waters. Let us do that.
We are a nuclear free country. We were proposing at one time to introduce a nuclear plant for energy in this country. However, there was a tremendous explosion of opposition and we decided against it. I bet there is no Minister who was fighting for it at that time who would now stand up and say that he was right. Ireland became a nuclear free zone. We are not using it for domestic energy or for any domestic purposes. Let us now declare the surrounding waters a nuclear free zone. The only way we can do that is to ensure that no nuclear activity is brought into the area. The normal way for bringing it into the area is by sea. My plea to the Minister would be that he would amend the Bill to provide for a nuclear free zone in the Irish Sea and the surrounding territorial waters of the country.
The Bill will put responsibility on our local authorities and they should be made clearly aware of the impact of this legislation. If they are dealing with a town which is a port that is where the responsibility will rest eventually. They will find themselves in need for providing greater harbour facilities and greater waste disposal facilities. At the present time we do not have a toxic waste disposal facility in the Republic. We have to face up to that, but that would be for our own purposes. Now we find ourselves having to deal with international levels of toxic waste which we did not think would be required.
Every local authority would need to be informed about the situation. The first thing would be to provide resources so that each local authority would be able to update its own disposal of raw sewage and not pump it into the sea. It certainly is an anomalous and a contradictory situation that while we are pumping raw sewage into the sea we are telling those who are using the sea that they must not do that or discharge any other obnoxious material into it. They must bring it to shore. If they bring it to shore, what do we do with it? Where do we put it? That matter is not addressed in the Bill. We do not have the necessary facilities, nor have resources been put in place for it, so we are going around in circles. I am concerned that all of these exemptions will mean the Bill will lose much of its effectiveness and unless we can ensure effective implementation what is the sense of passing the legislation?
We discussed at length the Derelict Sites legislation in this House and I remember bringing up the same point. Was the Minister for the Environment going to provide the resources to ensure that a register of derelict sites was put together and also the staffing to ensure that the people responsible for such sites were identified, that penalties were imposed and so on. It did not happen. Now we have the local authorities complaining that they cannot implement the law. They have neither resources nor extra staffing to do it and the extra burden of work is considerable. How do you clean up the environment if you do not put in place the structures for doing so?
We have a situation where we have pollution caused very largely by oil. The major cases were referred to: the Exxon Valdez, the Torrey Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz. These large tankers carrying oil were obviously not working to required specifications to ensure that they were able to travel the seas in satisfactory fashion. We should shift the responsibility in such cases. Remember we are implementing domestic law and international conventions. We should shift most of the responsibility to those large companies. The “Seven Sisters” are getting away with murder. They have a monopoly of the oil distribution and most of its production also but what responsibilities are they accepting? Their actions pose the greatest danger to the flora, fauna, fish life and wildlife in the sea. They have caused most of the disasters. We must get back to them initially to ensure that all shipping is up to specified requirements and that it is written quite clearly into international law — and, indeed, it should be referred to specifically in our domestic law here — that they have the basic and the initial responsibility to prevent a disaster. Preventive action is for better than trying to deal with it and cure it later on.