Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 31 Oct 1991

Vol. 130 No. 4

Sea Pollution Bill 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister from my adjoining constituency; it is the first time I have had the opportunity of speaking to him although I see him within my own area frequently.

A night such as last night shows how vulnerable we are when we think of the difficulties which trawlers got into, situated as we are at the intersection of transatlantic sea routes, a tiny island with such a great stretch between us and neighbouring continents. We need a task force to complement the Minister for the Marine's task force and the new force would be drawn from local authorities, farming organisations and tourist organisations. This suggestion has not been taken up since it was first mooted following the Kowloon Bridge disaster in 1986, which, thankfully, did not damage our coastline greatly because of the tremendous work of local authorities and of the Department of the Marine. I hope this notion of a local task force will be developed because it is locals who will have the first intimation of any disaster that might occur.

Last week I referred to the definition of "ship" and in an amendment today, an Seanadóir Pól Ó Foighil will continue that debate on what constitutes a ship and on the area of classification. I referred also to flawed construction, particularly in newer vessels, it was not the old hardy annuals that were causing problems in our waters. I wondered if we had the necessary international expertise in relation to the construction of ships. I did not refer last week to the problem of dredging and there is no reference at all in the Bill to the pollutant aspect of dredging. Much dredging takes place in the estuary in Limerick and in Cork harbour. We are becoming aware that our harbours may be subject to a slow, insidious build-up over the years of noxious materials that accumulate from chemicals upstream and which may ultimately cause pollution. The area of dredging should have been included within the remit of the Minister.

I referred to resources last week, a most important aspect in relation to the implementation or enforcement of legislation. An inspector under this Bill may be a surveyor of ships, a person appointed to be an inspector by warrant of the Minister, under section 20, an officer holding a commissioned naval rank in the Defence Forces or a member of the Garda Síochána. I would like to dwell on the importance of the role of the Garda.

If a spillage occurred at Bere Island, for example, 220 miles south-west of us, at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. it is realistic to believe that the first person on the scene there would be the local garda. We could not expect immediate help from the experts of the Department of the Marine. It is essential, therefore, that gardaí, particularly in coastal areas, receive appropriate training because it is not enough for them to go on ship and use their ordinary powers, which is obviously why the Garda are referred to in that section of the Bill. Gardaí would need special training to deal with the intricacies of spillages or pollution of any kind. This refers again to the need to provide them with a certain level of expertise. I am not talking about intense training but basic training for the gardaí who are part of that inspection force.

When we come to basic measures of enforcement some very simple facts need stating. I spoke last week about the necessity to have the nuclear pollution aspect written into this Bill. If we were to start with our own civic responsibilities we might first take the local authorities under which we have the harbour boards. In order to get rid of basic waste — and Senators last week discussed the disastrous effects of plastic on fish life as well as the fact that it is not biodegradable — skips which cost £10 to £12 to hire must be located on the spot. In Limerick docks where two or three ships generally tie up together, instead of locating a ship within a local authority area which is inaccessible to the ships, the skips might be located 25 yards from the ship so that plastic could be disposed of.

My second point is in relation to recycling. All of these suggestions relate to environmental protection and if a bottle collection point could be established close to the skip for plastics then two problems might be solved. If something is accessible it will be used and the same thing may be said in relation to children and litter. If refuse bins are located nearby, a child will drop the litter into them if he or she has been trained in school or in the home to do so.

The onus here is on the harbour boards but I am afraid that something as basic and as simple as this may be overlooked. It is important that local harbour boards place those skips where they are going to be used. That refers not only to commercial vehicles but to marinas also. With the present emphasis on pleasure and leisure boats, it would be important to place a skip on marinas to receive plastic waste. Pat Lawless, the Limerick man who sailed from Limerick to the United States, recalled at an environmental conference in Clare over the weekend, the sea of plastic on which he was floating as he fought his lone battle across the major trade routes of the Atlantic. Nothing has changed since then. The problems of a sea of plastic and chutes spewing out this horrific substance will continue and it could be prevented if skips were provided where plastic could be disposed of. That is something over which we have control.

Walking on Fanore beach over the weekend I saw a united Europe, united in the sense that the plastics that spewed across the coast, came from every country within the EC. There were Spanish shampoo and French detergents containers; the contents of well-stocked supermarket shelves were spewed out on what is quite an unused area of Clare. It did not come from the locals; it was certainly EC refuse on our coasts. There was plastic there from as far away as Quebec, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, to be picked up. The labels on some anti-freeze bottles were in French showing their French origin in Quebec but it was extraordinary to find such a residue of plastic along a beach in the west of Ireland. It is within our capacity to do something about our plastic by providing skips to avoid its deleterious effects on marine life.

Regarding the prospect of nuclear pollution, there should be greater reference in this Bill to the development of an integrated approach between the Departments of Energy and the Environment. It is not enough to leave everything in the hands of the Department of the Marine on this issue.

Coming to education, I refer again to the emphasis that should be placed on the horrors of plastic in order to impress on our young people who will be the adults of tomorrow the need for more preventive action in relation to the problems associated with plastic and glass and other pollutants.

I welcomed the Bill last week and do so again today. Many of the points highlighted have been tabled in the form of amendments from our side of the House and we look forward to debating those later this morning with the Minister.

I welcome this Bill which is in line with the environmental action programme which has been brought in by the Government. It will also bring us into line with legislation in other countries. The Minister in his opening remarks on the Bill went into great detail about MARPOL, the international organisation monitoring all marine pollution. This Bill would not be much good to us here in such a small island if it were not being implemented in other countries throughout the world, especially in Europe. As a small nation on the most westerly point of Europe we are susceptible to deposits of refuse, sludge and waste on our shores. Two factors are responsible for this: the prevailing winds which are normally south, south-westerly or westerly and, secondly, the tides. We are rightly placed in the wrong position to collect everything out there in that big ocean.

It has been said that our young people have become very environmentally aware over the last number of years. We were all horrified when we saw the damage done to hundreds of square miles of sea during the Gulf War when oil wells in the gulf were bombed by Saddam Hussein. This brought home to us the possible consequences of pollution: a sea in which nothing could live. There is great credit due to all who went out there to help clear up the pollution.

Everybody is probably of the same mind with regard to pollution. Pollution is an unfortunate reality. War is a terrible thing and Saddam Hussein's deliberate blowing up of oil wells was equally bad. I, and probably some other Senators, remember seeing the film on RTE about seven or eight years ago entitled "The Seas Must Live." The point being put across, which was taken up by another film that came out shortly afterwards from the Central Fisheries Board connected with inland pollution and entitled "While Fishes Watch" was that if fish and marine life generally perish because of pollution, we will be next. The title of the film, "While Fishes Watch" brought home the fact that while fish survive our planer is safe but the minute that fish life starts to die and water is poisoned we will not be able to survive and our planet will be endangered.

This is a good Bill although there are a few things that I cannot figure out. One of the sections provides for the exemption from the Bills provisions of any warship or ship being used by the governement of any country. We are a neutral country and my view would be that these warships should not be allowed into our territorial water, let alone exempted from the provisions of this Bill. It is all right now but in ten or 15 years' time we do not know what position we will be in with regard to war in other countries. What could happen to those of us on the west coast of Ireland? People like Saddam Hussein could return and there could be war and pollution all over the place again. What we are saying here is that it is all right to bring in warships, that we will exempt them. Let them pollute away but stop everybody else.

Would the Minister like to explain how warships of any country could be used for non-commercial purposes? The only thing a warship will do, I suppose, is to go to war; that is its main function. Why are such ships exempt from the Bill?

What causes all this pollution? Over the years we have learnt that ships coming to Ireland from other countries and getting caught in storms have caused the greatest amount of pollution. Together with that source a great deal of pollution is caused right under our noses by foreign factory fishing boats who come into our inlets in winter time especially. I have often seen up to 30 boats in Brandon Bay and in Ventry harbour for months on end taking fish aboard from smaller boats and processing the fish night and day; offal must be produced by the processing of fish at sea. The factory ship uses oil and other waste is pumped into these inlets and harbours while these boats are docked there. The Minister could have seen some of these boats himself in Killybegs or down in Castle-townbere; they are called Klondikers because they sit there opportunistically waiting for the price of fish to drop. When the price of fish goes down they buy at a low price and wait.

The point I am making is that these boats are coming into places such as Ventry and Brandon Bay where there are no harbour masters or anybody who can inspect them and stop them. I welcome that part of the Bill which gives the Minister power to appoint inspectors in cases like this.

I would like to point out that these small harbours and inlets, in County Kerry at least, have harbour constables who are employed by the local authority. This provision was made under an old Act and in all these little places with a slipway or a small harbour it is the harbour constable's job to report back to the local authority if a light is out or a ladder broken, or something like that. These harbour constables or inspectors could be given more responsibilities; they are there anyway. I do not mean that these harbour constables should act but they should be able to report to the authorities who would then act. I think there are 14 or 15 of them already around the coast of Kerry and more than likely they exist in other counties as well. At the moment they are getting paid for doing nothing. I know that their remuneration is very little; it used be about £100 a year. They should be delegated to report back to the appropriate authorities about factory ships and other ships inside harbours where there are no harbour masters and where we have no way of knowing what is happening in them.

The other source of pollution is the raw sewage flowing into harbours and bays throughout the country. The sewage in my town flows straight into the harbour. I know now that steps are being taken to open a plant there to eliminate this problem. The trouble is that this is a totally enclosed harbour, almost landlocked but for a small opening, and whatever silt from the town goes into that harbour it remains there. The same applies to Tralee bay. There has been much discussion in recent years about the pollution of Tralee bay by the sewage from the town of Tralee.

Sewage is one thing, but industrial waste making its way through our sewerage system and eventually emerging into bays and harbours is another story. Nobody knows whether there are chemicals and detergents going through these sewers and ending up in our harbours and bays.

The Minister is aware that a major harbour development is taking place in Dingle. In accordance with the environmental action plan we are trying to stop fishing boats polluting the sea, but there are no onshore facilities for boats to get rid of their sludge when they arrive in the harbour. I am not sure which comes first in this case; the horse or the cart.

I know this Bill is necessary but if we are to stop boats, fishing boats and yachts from disposing of their waste at sea we have to provide the onshore facilities in the form of pumps and the sludge tanks which can take all the waste. There are about 25 or 30 fishing boats in Dingle and probably another 40 or 50 smaller boats. The same situation exists around the coast; I am just giving the example of Dingle. All these boats have to change the oil in their engines every couple of weeks. If you add it all up, it is a great deal of oil but that oil never comes off the boat. It is pumped directly into the sea causing continuing pollution, day after day. It is like the old saying, bailíonn brobh beart. A small amount at a time is involved but added up together, it becomes a massive amount. The Minister might keep in the back of his mind that he could provide some money in this new development in Dingle for the onshore facilities mentioned in this Bill. We are poor people down there and we would like a bit of help.

We can, of course, bring in the legislation for fishing boats but it is not much good unless the facilities are provided onshore. I know that in the environmental action plan all these facilities must be in place by 1998. Where there is a harbour authority, the onus would naturally be on them to provide the facilities but in a small place like Dingle, even though they have a harbour authority, the amount of finance coming in is not great, so Government help would be needed to provide a sludge tank and such facilities.

Yachts are another source of pollution although, not to the same extent as the bigger fishing boats. I do not know of any legislation making it compulsory to have a sludge or waste tank on a yacht. My information is that 90 per cent of the yachts in Ireland have no sludge or waste tanks or any such facility. If there is no such legislation then it should be brought in now.

About four years ago, I had to go to England to get an engine for my own boat and I asked for filters; they are the filters between the diesel tank and the engine. I specifically asked for a glass filter so that I would know just by looking at the filter whether the fuel was dirty or clean going through to the engine and I could clean it. The person behind the counter told me he could not sell that type of filter because they were illegal. He told me that in England there were stringent laws brought in for boats on sea, rivers, lakes, canals and so on. Glass filters were affected because they can get broken and cause oil to spill onto the bilge of the boat and make its way into the water. There is no such law here in Ireland and he showed me thousands of these illegal filters in his store. I told him they were not illegal in Ireland and that he might as well give me a couple of them which he did. These are matters we must consider. Each one is a contributing factor to polluting the sea, rivers and lakes.

Pollution of the sea is dreadful. Indeed, but for the quick action of the Minister and the Department of the Marine we could have had major disasters off the west and south-west coast in recent times. The seas must live. Now that the Taoiseach, in all his wisdom — and we thank him for it — has made our water the first safe haven in Europe for whales, dolphins and mammals, we should put more emphasis on educating people about pollution, teaching the younger people the dangers, what it can do to our harbours and our seas. We have a little watchdog for pollution in Dingle and that is Fungi the dolphin. According to an article in last week's paper, dolphins are one of the first to detect pollution at sea. The dolphin is there as a watchdog in our harbour and he also gives endless enjoyment to thousands of people. However, his value as a detector of pollution is limited. He does not come all the way into the inner harbour in Dingle. He stays outside and anybody watching his movements from overhead would clearly see the line where Fungi operates. He will not come within 200 or 300 hundred yards inside the mouth of the harbour because then the waters change. However, while he is there, hopefully he will continue to watch for it.

I would like to see more detailed legislation introduced. It is all right, in a broad sense, to say that there must be sludge and waste facilities on these boats but we must also deal with the problem. This Bill deals with what we should or should not do about pollution but it does not set out the type of sludge tank and onshore facilities which should be provided.

As the Minister pointed out in his speech, we live in changing times. Oil is the biggest pollutant of our waters but dangerous chemicals are now being transported in more modern ships, huge tankers three-quarters of a mile long. God forbid that anything would happen to any of them on the west coast of Ireland; we would be wiped out. I know the Minister and the Department of the Marine are very alert when it comes to taking action and I congratulate them. In his speech, the Minister referred to the very quick action taken to deal with an accident and I agree with him. He said: "The Minister used his powers of intervention early in 1989 when the 85,000 tonne bulk carrier Yarawonga having lost 300 square meters”— nearly the size of Croke Park gone off the side of a boat and it was still afloat —“of steel side plating in mid-Atlantic was abandoned by its crew”. He also mentioned the Tribulus which limped into Bantry and the Capitaine Pleven II incident at Ballyvaughan. The Department and the Minister were very alert in taking rapid action there and that is what we want.

The Minister could have more help. All the other small harbours and inlets all around our coast should have someone to report to the authorities on unusual activities by big boats which come into shelter from time to time. That is why they come to sheltered harbours such as Bantry harbour and Brandon.

I compliment the Minister and his Department on bringing this Bill before the House. I will ask some questions on Committee Stage. It is a major step forward and I support the Bill and commend it to the House.

It is a great pleasure to sit in this House and listen to somebody who has such an intimate professional knowledge of the sea as Senator Fitzgerald; it is quite an educational experience and I greatly enjoyed listening to his contribution. I recall enjoying an earlier contribution almost on my first day in the House. It is very useful for someone like myself who is a teacher, to come into the Seanad and learn something about life in the country from an expert. I was also very taken by the fact that Senator Fitzgerald raised certain queries I would have myself. In fact, I hope to have the opportunity to put down a couple of amendments on them.

Principally, the worry the Senator seemed to have, which many people will share, was about the deliberate omission, the exemption from the operation of this Bill of warships. I think this is unnecessary. It damages and limits the entire Bill. I am not entirely surprised. Although I welcome this Bill which represents some degree of advance, it is not a particularly forward looking, active or progressive Bill and I doubt very much if the Minister would have the gall to stand there and maintain that it does. Very disarmingly, in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, whoever concocted this makes it perfectly clear that this is another piece of facade legislation. It is a charade. It is simply intended to enable us to join a community of nations by becoming signatory to a protocol which we are 16 years behind in doing. It is a remarkable and regrettable fact that Ireland is the last of the European maritime states to become a signatory to these protocols. I do not believe there is much room here for satisfaction or self-congratulation. We are tardy. We are catching up and we are merely doing so because there is external pressure on us to ratify certain international conventions. This is on page one of the Explanatory Memorandum. It could not be clearer. It states:

The main purpose of the Bill is to enable the State—

(i) to ratify the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973;

(ii) to accede to the Protocol of 1978 modifying that Convention;

(iii) to accede to the Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in cases of Marine Pollution by Substances other than Oil, 1973,

by giving them the force of law in the State.

In other words, between 13 and 16 years later we are doing the minimum necessary to catch up with the rest of Europe.

It is very important that we look at the question of pollution of the sea. We are, after all, an island. We are surrounded by this element and we need to be very careful indeed about the way in which this important element in our lives is abused. For that reason I am concerned that there are what seems to me to be unnecessary and dangerous exemptions which require a considerable explanation.

The Bill does not really deal either with another matter that Senator Fitzgerald raised, the enormous impact of sewage in the sea. I do not think there is any section in this Bill that deals with that. Perhaps I am wrong. The Minister might be able to draw my attention to it if there is. It seems that this is both dangerous in ecological terms and also very wasteful. I want to ride a hobby horse of my own.

We have, for example, in Dublin, two facilities on the South Wall. We have an enormous electricity generating complex and right beside it a series of sewage outfall works and pumping stations. Here we are, expelling this partially treated matter into the sea right in the heart of the capital city of the country, polluting beaches as much as it possibly can. Yet, this material could be reclaimed, could be used hygienically and economically in order to help to generate electric power on the one hand and to provide fertilizer as well. It is economically viable. In the long term it is an attractive financial proposition but I suspect the reason this is never addressed is simply because it would take about ten or 15 years for the economic spin-off to really materialise and no Government are prepared to think in ten or 15 year terms. I would like to have the Minister's view on this question related specifically to Dublin. I am taking that as an example. We have the opportunity here not only to cease pollution of the sea but also to do something that is economically to the benefit of the community. It would be a classic example of recycling.

I am concerned also that there is very little about nuclear waste. We have, for example, a situation where we have a highly problematic plant — to put it at its mildest — in Sellafield. Gross nuclear pollution of the sea is occurring and this is going to escalate because many countries are either refusing to develop or are closing down facilities for re-treating and reprocessing nuclear waste. Where is it all going? It will be concentrated over the next few years at Sellafield and the pollution in the Irish Sea will increase.

On the nuclear level this is an additional reason why we should be worried about the exclusion from the operation of this Bill of warships, submarines and so on. Many of them at the moment are in Irish waters. They habitually use Irish waters. It is impossible to calculate the risk of a nuclear accident at sea, because of the secrecy surrounding the operations of nuclear submarines and the records of their activities. The Irish Sea contains up to one-fifth of the United States' nuclear arsenal at any one time. In addition, there are Warsaw Pact submarines at either end monitoring them. This is a highly dangerous situation, when one takes into account the fact that nuclear submarines, despite the secrecy surrounding them, have been demonstrated to be susceptible to accident. If there is a major accident in the reactor of a nuclear submarine the situation could equal the disaster we had in Sellafield. Yet, in a Bill that purports to deal with pollution in the sea, we neglect one of the most glaring obvious dangers, the danger of nuclear waste.

We have had a number of Bills — the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and so on — dealing with elements of pollution but, by and large, they tend to deal with "end of pipe" solutions to the problem of pollution. I would like to mention something that I think is relevant to the question of pollution of the sea. It is an interesting example because it comes from the Scandinavian countries, from Denmark where there is a high degree of consciousness with regard to pollution and attempts are made to deal with this problem.

This example, which I take from a Greenpeace report, indicates that, even in countries which are more alert than we are, there are considerable dangers of discharge from plants that employ reasonably effective end of pipe treatment process. I am quoting from this report:

A recent Greenpeace report on Kommunekeml. [it is obviously some kind of industrial plant] in Denmark — often acclaimed to be "the world's best incinerator"— revealed that at a DRE (destruction removal efficiency) of 99.99 per cent more than 10,000 kg of organic substances and 2,000 kg of heavy metals were blown from the incineration stack each year. Since 1975 when the plant first opened a total of 217,174 tonnes of fly and baghouse ash were deposited in a landfill by the sea the leachate from which has caused significant heavy metal contamination to nearby mussels. This, not to mention the approximate 700 gm of dioxins at the dumpsite and 70 gms per year emitted from the stack.

Over the last few days people from the North have almost camped outside the gates of Leinster House, they are a kind of cross-Border group, as I understand it. They are concerned at plans to develop an incinerator in the North of Ireland which will have a serious impact all over the island. This becomes very clear when in Denmark an almost 100 per cent efficient incinerator is causing massive impact into the surrounding sea which affects shellfish in the area.

I believe these questions have not been properly addressed by the Bill. I would like to hear if the Minister is prepared to address them and I hope there will be time to introduce amendments. I will oppose section 4 in which there is the exemption for warships. I intend to propose some other minor amendments and seek to introduce a new paragraph which regulates the entry into the Irish territorial waters of vessels carrying nuclear weapons. They are dangerous, because there is a risk of accident and also because the Government still accept on the part of the Irish people the absurd, ludicrous and insulting policy of the United States Government that they will neither confirm nor deny what all of us know to be the case, that is that warships and submarines carrying nuclear weapons regularly enter Irish waters and frequently visit Irish cities, including the city of Dublin. They dock right in the heart of the city where, if there was an accident, which is statistically quite a possibility, the very large population concentration in this area would be exposed to very significant danger indeed.

Like Senator Norris, I was fascinated to hear Senator Fitzgerald, who is an expert in the whole field of oceanfaring and all that entails. It is an education to listen to someone who is such an expert in that field and to hear his experiences at first hand.

Senator Norris mentioned the fact that this country is ten to 16 years behind the times in relation to some developments. There are many things in this country about which I am glad we are ten to 16 years behind, particularly in relation to pollution. We have a high quality of life in relation to pollution. Other countries have introduced legislation to try to deal with pollution which is way past the point of redemption as far as those countries are concerned. Pollution here, as compared with other countries, is relatively non-existent, which is extremely fortunate. While we may be ten to 16 years behind in terms of legislation, we are recognised as a country that has a very clean environment. People are very conscious of the environment and are becoming more so. It is appropriate that we should be introducing this type of legislation.

With Senators Fitzgerald and Norris, I am at a loss to understand why warships are excluded from this legislation. I do not know the reason for it. I would love to be told exactly what the specific reason is for excluding warships. All ships, irrespective of their cargo, be it freight, passenger, nuclear or whatever, should be subject to the same stringent regulations. The fact that a ship is built for a specific purpose does not for one moment mean it cannot just as easily cause pollution as any other ship. If two ships are sailing the seas and one of them happens to be a warship and if there is an accident the fact that it is a warship does not diminish the possibility of it causing just as much pollution as the other ship.

Having said that, I welcome the legislation. Its purpose is to update existing legislation in relation to prevention of pollution from ships and from the intervention of ships following upon a maritime casualty as enshrined in the Oil Pollution of the Sea Acts, 1956 to 1977. In order to prevent or control pollution that may be caused by ships the State's powers need to be strengthened. This is acknowledged on all sides.

The international treaty commonly known as MARPOL 73/78 is considered to be the most ambitious international treaty covering marine pollution ever adopted and it gives us scope to introduce this legislation. Part II of the Bill is the most important part. It deals with the prevention of pollution at sea. It will give statutory effect to the provisions of the five annexes of the MARPOL Convention. It deals with regulations relating to ships generally or, indeed, to any class of ship with the exception of warships.

I compliment the Minister and the Department on the campaign they carried out recently highlighting the type of damage that plastic can do to marine life. Plastic is a threat not alone to marine life but to human life at sea. For instance, if it gets caught in the propellers of ships and puts them out of action it could lead to loss of life. Plastic is a strong, durable, buoyant and lightweight material but it is immune to the natural process of decay. It is particularly dangerous to marine life, including fish, sea birds and all types of sea mammals. Birds or fish ingest it and it gets stuck in their throats and they are not able to eat.

I read somewhere recently about birds which swallowed plastic pellets and become so buoyant that they were not able to dive for food. As a result, they died of starvation. That is dreadful. The people who use plastic should be aware of the damage it can cause. The unsightly scenes of plastic and other waste being washed up on our shores should be the concern of everyone who has pride in this country. The unthinking individual can cause enormous problems by just not being aware of his or her responsibilities in this matter.

The tourist industry is now one of our greatest generators of jobs. Many groups both State and otherwise, sell this country as one having a healthy, clean environment and spend enormous amounts of money promoting the industry. All this will go for naught and will be put in jeopardy as a result of dirty beaches caused not by local people's negligence but, in general, by ships at sea. The waste from ships inevitably comes to shore and causes enormous problems. The strongest legislation possible should be introduced to ensure that pollution at sea is wiped out as far as humanly possible.

Senator Norris mentioned the Environmental Protection Agency Bill which was initiated in this House and which is now being taken in the other House. It is major legislation. It is important that we should concentrate our minds on the environment to such an extent at this time. Over the years people, for one reason or another, did not recognise the importance of a clean environment. One advantage we have is that, relatively speaking, we are pollution free. Our seas are relatively pollution free, particularly the waters of the south, south-west and the west coasts. As Senator Norris said, the Irish Sea is a completely different matter.

Although the Bill does not deal with pollution from sources other than ships, I do not think we can forget the situation in relation to Sellafield and the damage that is being done to the Irish Sea as a result of the emissions from that plant. It is of major concern to people in this country that Sellafield continues to operate. The dangers from it are absolutely enormous because of the fact that we are so close to the plant. That plant is being used more and more by international bodies because of the difficulty in getting places that allow the disposal of nuclear waste. It would appear that Sellafield is continuing to welcome all this waste disposal with open arms. There was a recent proposal to bury nuclear waste at the bottom of the Irish Sea in large tanks. They guaranteed that because of the type of protection they use it would be 100 per cent safe. Nobody can give that type of guarantee. How can they suggest that after 20, 30, 40 or 50 years their methods will hold up and there will not be any leakage or spillage given the force of the sea over the passage to time? No-one can give such a categorical assurance.

The Irish Sea is seen as one of the most radioactive seas in the world. That should be of major concern to everyone. I compliment the Government and all the relevant authorities who are at pains to persuade the British authorities to change their mind in relation to Sellafield. The campaign mounted a number of years ago to try to close the plant must be intensified. We must continue to use whatever opportunity is given to us to bring it home to the authorities there that it is just not good enough that we are put in danger on a daily basis.

There are statistics and reports which prove that people living in certain areas on the east coast of this country are affected in one way or another as a result of living so near to Sellafield. It is not a problem of our own making. The European Parliament should be extremely concerned about this and it should be highlighted on every occasion so that the British authorities are made quite aware of the way we feel. I am sure many people in Britain would feel exactly the same way as we do. I do not think the fact that Sellafield employs a large number of people is any just reason for it to remain open. We have a duty as public representatives to use every opportunity given to us to highlight the difficulties we have in relation to Sellafield.

While this Bill does not cover nuclear waste, it would be remiss of me if I did not draw attention to it. We are an island nation on the periphery of Europe with fishing grounds and an abundance of marine life. We have a quality of life in terms of our environment that is the envy of many countries that have huge environmental problems.

The threat of pollution from the gigantic tankers that Senator Fitzgerald mentioned earlier is enormous. Some factory ships are like towns. They are so big that some small towns in this country would not have the same type of facilities as they have. I happened to see one or two of them and I just could not believe that a ship of that size could float. It defies comprehension. Many of them sail our seas every day. As Senator Fitzgerald said, the pollution they cause goes somewhere. That is the problem. They are out to sea and they dump all sorts of waste and eventually it ends up on our shores.

As we depend so much on tourism it is extremely important that our shores be clean and free from waste. It is bad enough when we cause the problem but it is intolerable that we should have to clean up the mess created by others who do not give a damn about what they are doing. They just want to get rid of their waste, be it plastic, offal or whatever. They dump it and let other people, in this instance ourselves, suffer the consequences.

It is important that this legislation has been brought forward. I do not agree with Senator Norris when he said it is only a sham. It is very important legislation. It enables us to implement very stringent rules and regulations in relation to shipping on the high seas.

Senator Fitzgerald mentioned the consequences of disasters. Disasters like the Amoco Cadiz, the Torrey Canyon, the World Glory and the Exxon Valdez spring readily to mind as do the enormous problems caused by those disasters in relation to the oil that was spilled and came ashore. There was a massive loss of fish and bird life. The sight of birds caught with oil all over them was horrific. We know that when the feathers and wings of birds become polluted with oil, to all intents and purposes that is the end of the story as far as those birds are concerned. In spite of the efforts made to save them the majority die.

We have a responsibility to try to ensure that as far as possible those terrible disasters do not recur. The amount of money necessary to clean up an oil spillage is absolutely colossal. There is an old adage that prevention is better than the cure and if we can introduce legislation to limit problems in relation to oil spillage and other types of pollution then it behoves us to do that.

Senator Fitzgerald mentioned pumping facilities in relation to shipping and that is extremely important. I agree with him in relation to treatment plants. It is extremely important that we have proper treatment plants in our towns and cities.

I was fascinated to hear him talking about Fungi. Dolphins are very sensitive to pollution and Fungi would not come more than 200 or 300 yards in to shore which indicates that the waters around the shore are polluted. I imagine that is the case with all the water around our shore for a couple of hundred yards out.

Raw sewage is pumped into our seas every single day. I acknowledge that enormous amounts of money must be spent on treatment plants to ensure that we have pollution-free seas. We must have in place legislation to ensure that these ships have proper bulk tanks for waste disposal and we must have pumping facilities onshore. Local authorities must ensure that proper facilities are provided onshore to treat sewage from towns, villages and cities and also that proper pumping facilities are provided where ships could offload their waste when they come into port.

While this Bill deals specifically with seafaring, it is no less true in relation to inland waterways as well. There are difficulties in relation to the River Shannon. We have three of the finest inland lakes in Europe and there is a problem there as well. That has been recognised by the local authorities and they are now ensuring that the towns which are located adjacent to the lakes have proper sewerage facilities.

I welcome the legislation. I have a few question marks in relation to warships and other areas but by and large it is important that this legislation has come before the House at this time. I compliment the Minister and give the Bill my full support.

The Senator strayed a little into Tipperary towards the end of his contribution.

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.

Mr. Farrell

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Tá seanfhocal ann, "ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb". Anois tá an ghaoth ag séideadh agus táimid ag déanamh na scolb.

I am delighted this Bill is before the House. It is overdue but it is going through and it will solve many of our problems.

There is dreadful worry about pollution at sea. For generations we thought, the amount of waste that could be dumped into the sea was without limit but now we realise that vast as the sea is it is not able to deal with the waste being dumped in it at the present time. Unfortunately, what is dumped at sea eventually finds its way to our shores in many cases and even if only a small percentage of it finds its way to our shores it is too much. In addition, there is damage to fish and fish life.

I listened to Senator Costello speaking about factory ships. Most of the fish offal from the factory ships is devoured by fish. You have only to watch any factory ship off our shore and you will see the number of seagulls around. They are consuming that waste.

Debate adjourned.