In accordance with Standing Order 82, this Bill is deemed to have passed First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and it is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. The Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil and this is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matter, therefore, that may be discussed is the amendments made by the Dáil. For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments.
Environment Protection Agency Bill, 1990 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.
The Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990, completed all Stages in the Seanad in July 1991 and in all 111 amendments were made in this House. The Bill was passed by Dáil Éireann last week. In all, 109 Dáil amendments have been made to the Bill. A total of 220 amendments have been made to the Bill in both Houses. These reflect both the keen interest shown by this House and the Dáil and my concern, which I clearly expressed here, to improve the Bill's provisions as much as possible.
The Dáil amendments fall into three categories. First, there are editorial or other drafting amendments such as the updating of citations. Secondly, there are amendments which made minor changes to the content of the Bill. Examples of these would be amendments Nos. 24 to 27, inclusive, which fix the size of the advisory committee at 12 members as opposed to the previous range from a minimum of five to a maximum of 12 members, or amendment No. 1 which removes the possibility of a lacuna arising in the law relating to noise.
The final category consists of amendments of substance to the Bill. It is on these amendments that I intend to concentrate in my opening comments to this debate. Should Senators, however, have any questions on the amendments dealing with drafting and minor issues I will try to deal with them in my reply.
The first significant amendment to the Bill in the chronological order of the list before the Seanad is amendment No. 2. This extends further the already large number of sections in the Bill which are to commence upon enactment. The amendment provides that Part III of the Bill, that is the 29 sections setting out the general functions of the agency will also now commence upon enactment.
Senators will remember the lengthy debates in this House on the strengthening of the preventive approach in relation to the functions of the agency. I gave this matter further consideration and the official amendments Nos. 5 and 66 now give primacy to the prevention and elimination of emissions in the definition of BATNEEC.
Amendment No. 7 provides that all orders made under the Act, other than those which must be approved by the Oireachtas, must be laid before it. This provision is not usual in legislation but is justified in the context of this Bill in which great stress is laid on access to information.
The maximum fine of £10 million on indictment under section 9 is a measure of the gravity with which the Government view damage to the environment. I was anxious however to ensure that some further indication be given of the need for strong measures to protect the environment. Amendment No. 9 provides that the courts are to have regard to the risk or extent of environmental damage when imposing fines. This provision will, I anticipate, ensure that realistic levels of fines are applied in respect of offences under this Act.
Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 84 enable the agency to prosecute summarily all offences under the Act and to initiate as of right complaints in respect of neighbourhood noise. Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 to section 13 strengthen the powers of authorised officers appointed under the Act by enabling them to obtain a warrant to enter any premises, including a domestic dwelling without notice where the removal or destruction of evidence is believed likely. These amendments widen considerably the agency's powers of prosecution and investigation.
The next block of amendments relates to the selection and appointments procedure for the director general and the other directors and the advisory committee under sections 21, 24, 26 and 27. The majority of these amendments are of a technical or drafting nature. Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 further reduce the maximum term of office for interim directors, which had previously been reduced in this House, to six months and limit the number of times a director may be reappointed to three.
Amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 44 widen and restructure the provisions of the former section 59 relating to sewage and trade effluents. The new section 59 restates the Minister's power to set standards for effluents from local authority sewage and water treatment plants but widens this power considerably. Regulations under the extended section may now expressly provide for the implementation of the EC Urban Waste Water Directive which must be brought into operation by 30 June 1993 and for the granting of authorisations by the agency in respect of sewage discharges. The new section 60 restates the agency's power to set criteria and procedures for the management, maintenance and supervision of sewage and water treatment plants. The new section 61 draws the monitoring provisions in relation to the new sections 59 and 60 together in one section. These amendments provide the framework for a comprehensive regulatory regime, not only for effluents from sewers but for all aspects of sewage and water treatment, an area where such a regime is urgently required if we are to get maximum benefit from the large capital investment planned under the environment action programme up to the year 2000.
The scope of the former section 60 which enables the agency to set criteria for the management of landfill sites has also been broadened. Amendment No. 45 places an obligation on the agency to draw up criteria as soon as practicable while amendment No. 46 provides that the criteria will apply to all landfill sites and not just those managed by local authorities as was the case before amendment.
Amendment No. 48 is a typical example of the minor amendments made to the Bill. It provides as a minimum requirement for five yearly reviews of the hydrometric programmes to be drawn up by the agency. Like many of the amendments made in the Dáil and in this House, this amendment arose from an Opposition amendment.
The former section 70 has been altered by amendments Nos. 52 to 56, inclusive, so as to provide that environmental impact assessments, other than those for licensable activities, must be forwarded to the agency. The exception for licensable activities is being made under amendment No. 54 because we now intend to make the agency the competent authority for the purposes of environmental impact assessment procedures in respect of the environmental pollution aspects of relevant activities licensed by it. In these cases, a copy of the EIS will have to be submitted with an application for a licence. Amendment No. 57 also clarifies this matter and ensures that the role of "competent authority" now intended for the agency will not lead to a conflict of interest.
Section 76 which deals with eco-labelling has been amended to ensure that the agency's functions in this area take account of recent developments at EC level. A community wide eco-label scheme was adopted at the Environmental Council in March 1992; this is to be implemented directly and on a Community wide basis by an EC regulation. Amendments Nos. 59 to 62, inclusive, will ensure that the agency are not obliged to do anything which duplicates the EC scheme. As it is expected that the agency will be given the responsibility of administering the EC scheme in Ireland, any obligation under this section must be supplementary or complementary to that scheme. Amendment No. 67 is an important one which confirms the agency's power to attach conditions to licences relating to the quality of the substances used in the activity.
Amendment Nos. 75 and 76 are designed to strengthen the agency's powers in relation to the verification of monitoring carried out by licensing activities and to improve the range of data on emissions which will be available to the public. Amendment No. 75 obliges the agency to take the measures necessary to verify results of monitoring carried out for it by licensed activities. Measures envisaged here would include random spot checks, unnotified inspections and so on. Such monitoring combined with the high levels of public access to information provided for in the Bill will ensure that high levels of public confidence in the agency's control on activities can be attained and maintained.
Amendment No. 76 provides for the keeping of records relating to the emission of certain substances from licensed activities and the making available or the publication of such records. When preparing this amendment I had in mind the Toxic Release Inventory compiled by the US Environmental Protection Agency which has proved most successful in drawing public and corporate attention to the quantity of emissions and in concentrating minds on emission prevention and reduction.
Amendment No. 77 which replaced section 96, now section 98, deals with the important question of the relationship between Environmental Protection Agency licensing and planning control. Much time was spend during the debate on the Bill in this House discussing the relationship between the licensing process to be operated by the agency and the planning process. I have given much attention since then to analysing the various options available in this matter and have in that process considered a wide range of reports, submissions and opinions.
The following are the conclusions which the Dáil amendment has drawn. First, the allocation of licensing functions under the Bill to the agency is basically sound. It is right that the agency, as a well resourced national expert body should operate the complex integrated licensing function. This should promote consistency in the imposition and implementation of environmental standards and public confidence in the regulatory process.
Secondly, the principles of natural and constitutional justice were adequately served by the "objection" procedures in relation to the preliminary decision by the agency on licences.
Thirdly, the agency should be the sole licensing or approval authority in respect of environmental pollution related matters. A clear demarcation between the functions of the agency and those of planning authorities was, therefore, necessary if costly and time consuming duplication of effort and possible conflict of decisions were to be avoided.
Fourthly, the Environmental Protection Agency should be the competent authority in respect of the environmental pollution related elements of environmental impact statements submitted by activities.
Amendment No. 77 is necessary in order to give effect to the third conclusion mentioned above. Section 96 already provides that any pollution control conditions attached to a planning permission and also a lease under the Minerals Development Acts will cease to have effect in a case once a licence is issued by the agency. This was in recognition of the fact that the agency will be the expert body on pollution control, and accordingly, where an agency licence is required, the planning authority, or An Bord Pleanála, should not be required to attach pollution control conditions. This is also in line with an existing instruction to planning authorities not to attach pollution control conditions to a planning permission if the conditions relate to matters for which a licence under air or water pollution legislation or a permit under waste regulations is required.
If pollution control conditions are going to be superseded by agency conditions, there is logic in the argument that the environmental pollution aspects should be left entirely for consideration by the agency and should not be considered in any circumstances by the planning authorities or An Bord Pleanála. This would avoid the necessity for presenting the arguments about pollution matters within the two separate procedures, which would clearly lead to duplication of effort, or indeed confusion, on all sides. In the light of this analysis the proposed new section 96 now clearly prohibits the refusal of a planning permission, or the attachment of conditions to a planning permission, on environmental pollution grounds. Accordingly planning authorities in future will not consider environmental pollution matters and An Bord Pleanála will not consider an appeal in so far as it relates to environmental pollution matters. On similar grounds a lease under the Minerals Development Acts will not in future contain environmental pollution conditions.
I consider the revised provisions will make it clear both to developers and the general public which body is responsible for dealing with the different aspects of a development. The opposite course— that of linking the planning and environmental licensing systems more closely — could have led to confusion of roles and even provided grounds for litigation in difficult cases.
In this House I undertook to look again at whether "shall" could be substituted for "may" in section 108 relating to access to information on the environment. Amendment No. 85 effects this change and also ensures that the Minister will be able to fully implement the EC Directive in this regard by regulations.
Amendments Nos. 87 to 100, inclusive, strengthen the provisions of section 109 and ensure that regulations made under that section will be able to fully implement the EC Genetically Modified Organism Directives. Amendment No. 91 was required in view of the range of responsibilities which the Directives impose on users, for example, notifications of intended uses, the keeping of records and the precautions to be taken.
Amendment No. 101 provides for additional provisions in relation to the keeping of registers in computer or other non-legible form and for the admissibility of these registers in court proceedings under the Act.
Advantage was taken of the time since the Bill left this House to review the contents of the First Schedule, and amendments Nos. 102 to 107 inclusive add a number of activities to the Schedule which, upon consideration, were found to be appropriate for integrated licensing by the agency.
The final amendment I wish to mention is amendment No. 108, which, Senators will be pleased to note, clarifies beyond any doubt that substances which give rise to odour are pollutants for the purposes of the Air Pollution Act, 1987. This point was made very forcefully in the House, by Senator Doyle in particular.
Before I conclude I would like to thank this House for the courteous and painstaking manner in which it considered this Bill. I would also like to thank it for facilitating the Bill's early passage by agreeing to conclude consideration of it today. This, of course, is only the very beginning in so far as the Environmental Protection Agency are concerned. Formidable challenges in terms of organisation and personnel deployment and recruitment now face us if we are to get the agency quickly up and running, as we all wish.
I certainly intend to keep the agency's performance under close scrutiny in the coming years and if this legislation should for whatever reason prove inadequate or ineffective, I will not shirk from bringing forward amending legislation.
One major flaw in our legislative process is the difficulty in changing legislation. This springs in part from laborious procedures but it springs to a very large extent from the innate resistance to change which is built into our political culture. In legislation of an innovative nature such as this there are bound to be flaws, large and small. These flaws will only become apparent over time when the dry words of legislative intent meet the realities of administrative practice and the tests of legal probing. The key to good legislation is not just clear and sensible drafting. The key is also regular and realistic reviews followed by speedy and sensible amendment where necessary. I believe we have used the first key and I intend to ensure that the second key is kept constantly in the lock so as to prevent the Act from becoming outdated, unhelpful or redundant.
I thank Senators for their time and consideration.
Initially, I should like to compliment the Minister on her presentation of the amendments to the Bill.
Perhaps you, a Chathaoirligh, could give me a little guidance. Will we be going through the amendments individually?
No. As I explained, the details at the outset, Senators will make just one contribution on the amendments in general.
That puts me at a distinct disadvantage, as my colleague, the environmental spokesman, is indisposed and I got notice at about 10.10 a.m. today that I would have to speak for him. I was under the impression that the House would go through individually the sections that were amended. As such, I would have been able to retrace my steps very quickly then. I may have to ask the House to bear with me in that respect.
Absolutely, we will always do that, Senator Doyle.
In this way we are bound to miss some of the very important issues that have come from the Dáil to this House. I consider that the Bill is of such importance — as the amount of time I devoted to it when it was last before the Seanad would indicate — that we should all examine very carefully the legislation before us today.
I should like to begin by complimenting the Minister on the excellent statement she made near the end of her speech. I applaud her frankness and honesty and her whole attitude towards this legislation. This Bill proved to be difficult when it came to dotting all of the "i's" and crossing all the "t's". I agree with the Minister fully that it is only when the Bill is up and running and the legislation has been tried and tested, and particularly after any legal probing, that we will really know whether some aspects in it defeat the Minister's intention because of some legal technicality that is not immediately obvious. I thank the Minister for her comment, which I shall quote, because it is important:
These flaws will only become apparent over time when the dry words of legislative intent meet the realities of administrative practice and the tests of legal probing.
The Minister's statement speaks volumes. If only that attitude could be applied to all new legislation, particularly innovative legislation such as this, perhaps there would not be as much suspicion and resistance from Opposition politicians to Government legislation nor would there be as much suspicion and resistance from concerned agencies, environmental agencies in this instance; agencies which have voluntarily dedicated time to the preservation of our environment.
Whether we agree or disagree with all of the emphases of environmental agencies, they all have one common aim, to ensure that we hand on to the next generation the environment as we inherited it, hopefully, having improved on it. The very bottom line of their aim is that we do not mortgage our children's future in any way in relation to the environment or destroy the environment.
Outside bodies and those of us in the House would be less suspicious if the attitude of Ministers towards this legislation could be more pervasive and if there was a feeling that if legal probing established difficulties with legislation it could quickly come back to the Oireachtas to be discussed again and amended. We have much legislation on the Statute Book that has been there for decades, legislation that we choose to ignore and that is not enforced because it is outdated. I think specifically of bookmakers' legislation and various other enactments. There is much legislation in existence that is just forgotten because it would be an embarrassment to try to enforce it. Because the legislative procedure for amending, reviewing and publishing new Bills is laboriously slow we choose to ignore a great deal of our legislation rather than to enforce it.
If the way forward proves to be the Minister's wishes and her intent that the key will stay in the door and that the legislation will be prevented from becoming outdated, unhelpful or redundant — to borrow her words — then an enormously important step will have been taken. I compliment the Minister on her attitude, her openness, her frankness and her willingness to take on board many of the important points made here in different contributions.
There are a couple of areas with which I am concerned. In this regard, I hope the Chair will pull me up if these issues have been completely addressed by the amendments that have come from the Dáil. I am being frank in saying that, because of the logistics of the situation that finds me standing here now, I have not had the time to give the Bill the detailed consideration I should have liked to give it.
One area in which I had grave concerns when the Bill was with the Dáil was the risk of duplication of responsibilities between the local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency. I see from the amendments and from the speech of the Minister that she has gone a long way towards unscrambling the different responsibilities. As I understand it, she has left strict planning considerations with the local authorities but any question of planning, whether it concerns a green fields site, extension or retrofitting of existing situations, that might have an impact on the environment or result in environmental pollution is left for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider. That is what I understand the Minister to have said and what I understand to be the intention of the amendments. Once it is crystal clear that the planning sections of local authorities have a clearly defined role that will not duplicate the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency, it behoves us all to get it up and running and assess it in two or three years' time or sooner if a major problem manifests itself. I am still not clear as to the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency and their role in environmental impact analysis generally. If the Environmental Protection Agency are the same body that will be issuing the licences, if there is environmental pollution from an industry that has been licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency and if an EIA says all is well and this will work out fine, is the poacher turned gamekeeper later? Who is responsible for bringing the industry to book? The Environmental Protection Agency will hardly want to make a liar of themselves having already granted the licence and accepted an environmental assessment on the likelihood of environmental implications from the plant. If the plant then, unfortunately, causes environmental problems, is it fair to ask the Enviromental Protection Agency, who originally granted the licence, to say they were wrong and that matters have not turned out the way they thought? Have they to turn and pursue that industry?
There is a slight difficulty in this area in that the independence of the Environmental Protection Agency is called into question if they have to be both gamekeeper and poacher in this regard. Can they be expected to be strictly independent in their assessment of any environmental impact of a proposed industry if they are the body who initially issued the licence for that industry to get up and running? There is a conflict of interest there. I am subject to correction if I am misinterpreting the present situation but that certainly was the situation when the Bill was last in the Seanad. Will the Minister explain how that has been resolved?
It is explained in the Minister's speech.
Thank you for your help, a Chathaoirleach, but that addresses my first point about my fear of the overlapping of functions between the local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency. In my understanding it does not address the second point, but I am subject to any correction the Minister may like to make on that, about the conflict of interest that could arise. An industry must apply for planning permission to construct on a greenfield site. The local authority grant the planning permission subject to health, traffic safety and other requirements they must consider. The industry is then licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps following an environmental impact analysis, depending on what they intend to do. They get the green light from those authorities. Five years down the road there may be environmental pollution — atmospheric emissions or emissions into the waterways, and so on, although the Environmental Protection Agency granted the licence following an environmental impact analysis.
I see a possible conflict of interest arising then if things go wrong and we are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to say they were wrong. It would mean the Environmental Protection Agency having to review the conditions on which the plant was operating and admitting they made a mistake on the licensing conditions five years previously. It is not that I would question the integrity of the officers of the board of the Environmental Protection Agency but, for the Environmental Protection Agency to be successful, they must have 100 per cent public credibility. This must be the agency that the public with all their fears, both real and indeed perceived in the environmental area, must be able to refer — or defer to — on any environmental questions. They must get an assurance from them and word from the Environmental Protection Agency must be akin to the gospel on the environment. There must be no question of the Environmental Protection Agency being compromised by a conflict of interest by granting licences and then having to justify why they granted those licences when things go wrong.
It is this area that concerns me because, above all, I want the Environmental Protection Agency to work. I am a 100 per cent supporter of the concept providing it is right. If it is not right from the first day, if there is any question of the public lacking credibility in the functioning, the scientific integrity and independence of the Environmental Protection Agency it is a dead duck, we are wasting our time because it is another quango. They must be the body to whom the concerned public can refer — and defer — with all their concerns, both real and perceived, and feel totally comfortable in the advice, knowledge and reassurances it will receive from them. They must feel assured that any knowledge and advice from that body will not be compromised, or even be perceived to be compromised, by a conflict of interest because of the structure in which the licences are operated and the EIAs are constructed. It is an area about which I have major concerns and I appreciate the Minister's words of wisdom. Maybe I am being unnecessarily concerned at this stage but I await assurances from the Minister on that.
The Minister's amendments have eased our concerns in relation to BATNEEC. In section 5, amendment No. 5, the Minister has inserted the expression "or where that is not practicable to a limit later reduced there". I have concerns about BATNEEC as distinct from BAT — best availing technology not entailing excessive costs as distinct from best available technology — or BPM, which has gone out the window now — best practical means. I am very concerned about the lack of uniformity in standards generally across the world because of the use of BATNEEC. What is practicable in Ireland or what is an excessive cost in Ireland would not be an excessive cost in the United States, Canada or Germany. What is not an excessive cost here and what is practical here may not be practical in parts of West Africa and parts of the Third World because their standard of living is much lower than ours. It is all relative to the GNP and per capita income in the country.
We are allowing different standards in different places. At the end of the day we must take a global perspective because environmental pollution knows no territorial bounds. It does not stop at the Irish border; it does not stop at our ports. It is a global issue. I do not understand how one can keep a uniformity right through in relation to standards, particularly regarding greenfield sites. I am not sure how we can measure an excessive cost or what is practicable here as distinct from what is practicable in mainland Europe, the United States or continental Africa. I raised this point at an Inter-parliamentary Union conference last week at the environmental section. I got great support for my point of view from the World Wildlife Fund, the IUC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, representatives of whom were on the platform responding to questions. The issue is causing major concern worldwide.
I suggest that BAT — best available technology — should be used in relation to greenfield sites. Frankly, it is only a matter of time before we are forced to use it anyway. Nothing less than the best available technology is acceptable now if we are sincere about protecting the environment, if all the cliches about sustainable development in environmental protection that trip off the tongues of so many mean anything and if we are to translate them into reality. There is a greater difficulty in retro-fitting existing industrial plants and power plants of one kind or another. It is not impossible but we are requesting the company or industry concerned to incur quite extreme costs in relation to their operating figures if we are now insisting on standards which were not required when the plant was constructed.
Having said that, we should give only a reasonable length of time to existing plants now breaching standards that we consider to be minimum; not optimum. Any plants breaching the minimum standards and not making efforts to get to the optimum standards must be encouraged by force of law to comply. We can no longer accept standards that are destroying our environment. By our environment we are talking about the global environment for the generations to come. A sustainable development must be a concept that is understood and involve cradle to grave legislation. I am sure the Minister will accept that.
I am not happy with the concept of BATNEEC, even if it is tied down more since the Bill came back from the Dáil, because we will soon be forced to take the full step. I would like to know the Minister's views on that and whether our concept of BATNEEC will be accepted internationally.
Why cannot we lead the way? We have been a full and equal member of the EC for many years. There are many areas in which we lead the field now; there are many areas where we cannot contribute as we would like. We are net beneficiaries in terms of European taxpayers' money; we have done well in that regard. However we could head the field in Europe in the environmental standards we demand. This will attract, not frighten, industry to this country because in the future the industries that subscribe to the notion of sustainable development will locate in countries where they feel standards will be uniformly applied and where they will get a green field situation that measures up to their own requirements. I do not see the implementation of standards and the insistence on sustainable development as a threat to industry. Likewise industries that are worthwhile do not feel that the insistence on standards is a threat to them.
Thankfully that concept is becoming more and more widely accepted and people are realising exactly what is required and what is in their best interests as well of the country in general. I am convinced at this stage that we have gone the whole way on the concept of least available technology not entailing excessive cost.
Many amendment were made to section 21. I felt there were a great many token measures in this section. I do not subscribe to quotas for any section of the community to ensure balance in representation, but I would insist on the best person do the job, be they male or female, be they IDA, the Department of the Environment or whoever we need in this regard. Knowing that nothing will be done because this is the end of the road this time round for this legislation. I ask the Minister to look again at this section and perhaps tell us why the IDA rather than the CII should be represented. The IDA are an industrial authority only, even though post-Culliton we may find some expansion of their brief, but the CII represent more than industrial development, and, in terms of industry generally, the narrow brief of the IDA is not what is needed. I made that point before.
I cannot understand why our National Heritage Council is not represented. The chairman of the National Heritage Council would have been an obvious person. Our built and natural heritage is very susceptible to environmental pollution and that council have a very important link of interest with environmental protection. If our National Heritage Council is what I think it is, and they are the body with the interest of our built and natural heritage at heart, I think they should be represented on any Environmental Protection Agency.
I agree with establishing the number on the advisory committee at 12. I understand that this is the number provided under section 27, would the Minister confirm that section 27 (6) (a) and 27 (7) has been improved? I had great difficulty understanding exactly what it means. Perhaps there has been a technical amendment by the insertion of a comma or something. To be frank, I have not had a chance to check the details, but I have spoken at length about my difficulties in relation to section 27 (6) (a) and 27 (7). It is parliamentary drafting gobbledegook of the worst order; perhaps the Minister will explain exactly what she is trying to do. Even the environmental and scientific community who looked at this Bill had great difficulty understanding exactly what was trying to be achieved there. The Minister may have resolved the matter but I am not so sure she has.
In relation to the labelling of products and services can the Minister confirm that pesticides are now included in the Schedule? On the Order of Business today one of my colleagues raised the problem of pesticides; it appears that traces of them have been found in great numbers in a protected species, the badger. This is not as big a problem here as in other countries and with extensification under the Common Agricultural Policy, we may actually avoid the problem. Intensification and increased agricultural production and technology brought it to a head in continental Europe and in the UK. In any case, we need to have the parameters laid down quite clearly. Pesticides and general risk of pollution of our waterways, particularly our aquifers from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, are a problem, if not a major problem, and, without having to check the amendment to the Second Schedule, I want to know if there is any reference to pesticide control as a function which may be transferred to the agency.
Would the Minister clarify the position of the Marine Institute legislation and the various responsibilities in relation to Environmental Protection Agency——
I have been advised that we may discuss only the amendments from the Dáil.
I asked for latitude because my colleague who should be taking this Bill is indisposed. I got about two minutes' notice that I had to take the Bill, so I am not aware of which amendments have come from the Dáil. The Cathaoirleach allowed me that latitude, and was so advised by the Clerk, who was present at the time.
Will the Minister confirm whether there is an amendment which clarifies the overlapping functions of the Marine Institude Act and the Environmental Protection Agency? At the moment, the local authorities have responsibility for estuarine waters to high level mark.
It is only on rare occasions that Deputy Doyle pleads ignorance.
I am honest about it. The local authority have function in this area. The Marine Institute were granted functions through legislation in this area, but we have not seen much evidence of them operating, and now the Environmental Protection Agency have environmental functions generally.
In relation to estuarine waters where does the responsibility of the local authority and responsibility under the Marine Institute Act and the Environmental Protection Agency legislation begin and end? I do think there are overlapping areas of responsibility here and I would like them clarified. I have asked for that before; I do not know whether the Department have managed to clarify them; but I have an awful feeling it is a tug of responsibilities between the Department of the Marine and the Department of the Environment, but it is a very important area. I do not want legal probing to be the mechanism through which we come back and amend any of the legislation I have just referred to because I think we need to know quite clearly who is responsible for what in that whole area.
We need to clarify the position of these pesticides, and to know if they are included in the Second Schedule.
Section 108 deals with genetically modified organisms and there are amendments to this section. I still do not understand — perhaps it was just expediency — why this section is in the Environmental Protection Agency Bill at all, as this has nothing to do with the Environmental Protection Agency whatsoever. This is such a vitally important area, with the whole question of bio-engineering and bio-technology generally offering such wonderful hope in so many respects but also being such a major threat if uncontrolled and unlicensed in other areas, that to tag it on almost as an also-ran section is only marginally acceptable. In fact I would go so far as to say it is not acceptable and should have legislation in its own right. Detailed consideration should be given in both Houses to the implications of this exciting but very risky area.
A specialised committee is needed within the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with bio-engineering and bio-technology generally. To add it in, to comply with some Euro directive that is hot on our heels, is expedient. I understand why it is done. This was perhaps the most suitable legislation, in the absence of legislation in its own right, but it has nothing to do with the Environmental Protection Agency and I am concerned that we have not given it the consideration that this vital area needs. I would ask, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that the Minister at the very least set up a specialised committee within the Environmental Protection Agency to handle this whole area. It is not an area in which we would be able to afford major investment but it is one in which we could develop specialities in some of our universities and medical institutions. If we had a specialised committee we could piggy back on work being done in other countries and we could learn from the mistakes in other countries and have in place the structures to control the exciting — if difficult and dangerous — area we are talking about. There is huge potential in this area but there is enormous potential for it to go wrong as well.
All handlers of genetically modified organisms, need to be recorded. Perhaps the Minister can explain the changes her amendment will make because the public need peace of mind in this regard. There must be a strict licensing system and recording of all handlers of these organisms.
Having been unable to give detailed consideration to the changes in the Bill from the Dáil, I have covered the main areas of concern that I expressed in my Second Stage contribution here in the Seanad. I apologise to the Minister, if because of the lack of notice to me, I have reiterated concerns which she has already taken care of. My concern in relation to the role of the local authority and the Environmental Protection Agency has been ironed out to a large extent by the Minister but I am afraid my concerns in regard to the independence and the conflict of interests in relation to the Environmental Protection Agency and their licensing role and their role in relation to environmental impact analysis still remain. I await ministerial assurance in that area.
In relation to section 60, can the Minister address my concerns as indicated at length previously in this House. Section 60 (3) (c) of the Bill as passed by the Seanad reads:
The Agency shall not give a direction under paragraph (a) unless the local authority, with due regard to its other statutory functions, has the necessary funds to comply with the direction or those funds can reasonably be made available to it.
Perhaps the Minister can inform us what she did with that paragraph in the Dáil because it is very important. The spectre of every local authority in this country not coming under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency is appalling, not because the local authorities and the executives or the members themselves are not responsible but because there is an enormously important structure of local government that must come under their direction. They will not be able to do everything the Environmental Protection Agency request but they must, at least, be directed as to what standards are acceptable and below which levels are not acceptable. If the local authority concerned have not got the finance — which is the case with most of them as they do not have autonomous funding — and if they are directed to carry out some work that has a serious capital cost implication they must immediately go the Minister for the Environment of the day who may allow a derogation for one, two or three years depending on the issue. The independence and integrity of the Environmental Protection Agency would be assured if every structure and institution, both public and private, in this country was to be directed by the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of the environmental standards and conditions required.
I appeal to the Minister not to exempt local authorities under this from the requirement to comply with the directions of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am not saying the Environmental Protection Agency could have the power to bankrupt local authorities. I am a member of a local authority for almost 20 years and I understand the logistics and the practicalities on the ground. The only way in which the local authority would not have to comply with Environmental Protection Agency directions would be on a derogation from the Minister. At least the message would be clear that whatever was causing the problem was totally unacceptable and the Government of the day would have to programme the resolution of that problem into its funding of the local authority in question over a reasonable number of years. Please do not compromise the scientific integrity and the independence of the Environmental Protection Agency because that would be compromising the public credibility of this organisation which we need to allay the real and perceived fears of the public and environmental concerns which are growing daily.
We need a body about whom there can be no question of doubt about their integrity in this country and it is unacceptable that local authorities would not have to comply with their directions. In the eyes of the public — and again it is often misconceived — local authorities are one of the greatest abusers of the environment. I do not accept that. The abusers of the environment have been successive Governments, my own included, who have not invested sufficiently in, say, sanitary services, water schemes or whatever to ensure there is no ongoing pollution of our environment. The local authority are only disposing of our waste, industrial waste and animal waste. If the Government of the day do not invest in different schemes in the different areas the local authority must get rid of the waste. They have depended for too long on the dilution abilities of our inland and marine waters. I am afraid we have saturated and abused our waterways in terms of the dilution factor and their capacity to carry waste. It is not the fault of the local authorities, but the fault of all of us in Government for decades because it was perceived that there were no votes in the environment. Perhaps, at long last the Government will take their environmental responsibilities seriously, particularly in terms of investing in the necessary capital schemes, in this area, and maybe they will get votes in the future. It may be for the wrong reasons but we are now getting investment in the schemes that will protect our environment. I plead with the Minister to ensure that local authorities are under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of environmental standards and conditions. Local authorities can then sort out their problem with the Minister of the day who can schedule the funding of that local authority to resolve the problem over whatever number of years may be reasonable in the case. That is a most important point because I want the Environmental Protection Agency to work.
I was shocked when the recent Cabinet reshuffle took place to read in The Cork Examiner that the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters was to be located in Cork, thanks to the new Minister for Agriculture and Food. I would ask the Minister to put on record in this House that the Environmental Protection Agency will be located in Johnstown Castle, County Wexford. The Minister has indicated support for the concept. I know the issue has not been finalised but I would invite any Senator, or any person in this House, to visit Johnstown Castle if they do not know it already.
I urge the Minister to do as I suggest. It would solve the problems in relation to Teagasc. Johnstown Castle is a beautiful building. The laboratories are there; the facilities are there and the experience is there. We would welcome with open arms the relocation of agencies from other areas, such as An Foras Forbartha, to Johnstown Castle where they would have a facility par excellence.
I ask the Minister to request that the European environment agency headquarters also be located in Johnstown Castle. Let us offer this to the European Community; let us lead the way in regard to the environment and offer a beautiful location for the environmental agency as well as our Environmental Protection Agency. I await confirmation from the Minister of the location of the agency in Wexford.
I am taken a little by surprise to be called, but nonetheless, welcome the opportunity. Broadly speaking, I welcome the amendments. The Minister has taken a sensible and open-minded attitude and there is much evidence of that in the 109 amendments before us. At the risk of blowing the Labour Party trumpet a bit, I would say that about 20 of those amendments are Labour Party amendments or alternative amendments tabled by the Government to amendments tabled by the Labour Party. That is welcome and I thank the Minister for doing that. It is good that the parliamentary process should work in such an effective way.
The way this Bill was introduced and debated in the Seanad is a good argument in support of the retention of the Seanad. The Bill was debated very fully here and it is now better because of the order in which it was introduced, and that is widely accepted. The way the Bill was taken here contrasts somewhat with what took place in the other House. In the Dáil the Bill was guillotined at all Stages. The debate there was nothing like as full as it was in the Seanad. It is a pity the debate did not go the full distance in the other House.
I particularly welcome amendment No. 85 which guarantees freedom of information. Amendment No. 70 is also welcome. It provides for a role of the agency in environmental impact assessments.
There are still some problems in regard to the way some of the EC directives are being dealt with. I understand that an EC directive of 1985 has not yet been implemented. I understand further that the European Commission are unhappy with this and have gone so far as to make a formal complaint to the Government. What was the Government's response and when can we expect some action to allay the concerns of our European partners?
A number of EC directives are covered in the Bill. I welcome that and particularly the incorporation of the EC directive on urban waste water in amendment No. 42.
I must express some degree of concern about the abuse of pesticides and how that is dealt with in the Bill. I understand the Bill provides for some interaction with the various agencies in relation to the use of pesticides, but it seems that the primary responsibility of pesticides control still rests with the Department of Agriculture and Food. On the Order of Business this morning I referred to a study just published that indicates that the level of pesticides in otters here is unacceptably high. That must be of considerable concern. I am disappointed that the control of pesticides is not covered to a greater extent in the Bill. Anybody can buy pesticides and there is no guarantee they will not abuse them. There is certainly a need for a considerable strengthening of the law in relation to them. It is particularly worrying that species such as the otter, which are a very good indicator of the health of the environment and particularly the condition of our waterways, have such high levels of pesticides.
I am also disappointed that the Minister did not see fit to integrate control of nuclear pollution into the functions of the agency. I understand that the control of nuclear pollution still rests with the Radiological Protection Institute. I would like to have seen more interaction between the agency and that institute.
There are also two directives on the modification and alteration of microorganisms through genetic engineering. Those directives have not been implemented here. Will the Minister tell us what Ireland's position is and when we can expect those directives to be implemented? I hope the Minister will not just tell us that a number of other European countries have not implemented these directives. That is no excuse. It is very important in matters relating to pollution that this country set the pace in Europe.
Amendment No. 2 brings into force the provisions of section 3 on the passage of the Bill through both Houses which is very desirable and much welcomed. Amendment No. 6 which requires the Minister to consult with the agency before making certain orders also represents a sensible approach. It is very important that people are not at cross purposes. The State agencies and the Minister should be in full accord in what they do. Amendment No. 7 requires certain orders to be laid before the House which is also desirable.
Amendment No. 8 arose from a Labour Party suggestion and states that the extent of the damage done to the environment should be an important factor in determining the amount of fine and sanctions against people who damage the environment. That is entirely appropriate. It is important that the punishment should fit the crime because if that is not the case then, in certain circumstances, people will find it profitable to ignore regulations. The amendment ensures that if people adopt that approach they will have to pay a fairly hefty fine.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are technical. In certain circumstances it is important that the Garda should be in a position to enter certain lands and buildings to carry out inspections in support of the people who work with the agency. In other words, the Garda should be able to provide back-up for the agency where necessary.
Amendment No. 23 puts a limit on the number of substitutions which can be made among the directors of the agency. That is also very welcome. Some people were substituted for a long time on the boards of agencies. That happened in the case of civil servants who were put on the boards of agencies. This amendment puts an end to the notion of the super-sub in State agencies and State boards. That is desirable. Some people seem to be permanently temporary and that is not a good way in which to conduct important business.
The provision for the availability of copies of registers at a reasonable price is welcome. It enhances the capacity of the public readily to obtain information which one would be very anxious that they would have available to them if they so desired.
Those are the main points that I want to make in relation to this Bill. In regard to section 76, it is useful and wise that the functions of the agency in relation to various other agencies should be clarified and that fairly clear lines of distinction should be drawn between the role of different agencies. This country has over the years been plagued with agencies fighting over which grounds and which areas they control. A lot of time and money has been wasted in those types of futile argument.
I welcome most of the amendments which the Minister has taken on board. Many of them were discussed in this House and were amendments which we felt at that time should have been included in the Bill. I stated on Second Stage that it was extremely important to get the right balance and many of the amendments will have that effect. None of us would want repetition of the situation which currently exists with An Bord Pleanála. I would appeal to the Minister that this should be the next question to which she addresses herself. Some of the decisions that have been taken require detailed examination and do not stand up to the principle of good planning. I again appeal to the Minister, at the earliest opportunity, to address herself to the problems in that body and to some of the decisions they have taken which I believe are disgraceful.
Many of the amendments to this Bill are technical, but I welcome others which I think will do nothing but strengthen the Bill. Some of the amendments clarify sections and give far more meaning to them. All the amendments to sections 7 and 9 are welcome. Section 9 (2) extends the range in assessing damage caused and strengthens the hands of the court in dealing with it. All the amendments here are welcome. My colleague, in her very detailed examination of those amendments and her statements in regard to them, has clearly outlined our position and I congratulate her on the excellent job she did. I sincerely hope that this agency will carry out the functions intended.
I thorougly welcome not only the Bill but the amendments and the improvements which have been made by the Minister, as well as the acknowledgement that some of them were introduced in this House and others were introduced in the Dáil. I commend the non-party and non-partisan way that these amendments have been accepted and that this non-contentious Bill has passed through both Houses, with all parties wishing to make improvements in the interests of the environment.
My first problem with this Bill is one which I brought before the House when I was less conversant with planning and environmental problems than I am now, but which I still think holds good. Although the improvements to this Bill are very worthy and should be welcomed, the Bill is inadequate in that it does not go far enough. While it is called an Environmental Protection Agency Bill and all the amendments are produced in that context, this Bill is not really an environmental protection Bill but rather a Bill about pollution control. We ought to recognise that the name of this Bill is probably wrong, and might even be misleading. Nearly all the amendments are about the control of pollution. They are not about the protection of the broader environment as we understand it.
Senator Doyle touched on this problem when she talked about a series of amendments before us today. She talked about the very delicate relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency as it develops and the local planning authority. The Minister acknowledged that in her speech when she said there will be difficulties in the future and we will not know how good this Bill is until it actually has been working for several years.
Down the line, I see serious problems in some of these amendments and in the general Bill about the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency and the planning authorities. There are certain areas where environmental standards are not being set by this Bill and where the environment is not being protected in any way.
I want to mention a specific instance of environmental protection where I do not believe this agency will have any power to intervene, that is the interpretative centre at Roundwood in County Wicklow. That is a situation where the environment is being destroyed.
Senator, I have to draw it to your attention that that is not in the Bill. We are talking about the amendments before the House. We have to be strict about this. We have allowed considerable latitude this morning and we will have to keep to the Bill in hand.
Yes, I could not agree more. Under the section dealing with the powers of intervention, it is a pity that in areas where the environment is undoubtedly under threat, particularly from interpretative centres, not just in Wicklow but in the Burren and in other areas, this agency will have no power to intervene. It would be better if the agency were given a wider remit and powers to protect the environment in a subjective way, rather than leave it to the planning authority or, in this case in Roundwood, to the Office of Public Works.
We ought to have seen — and I think it is unfortunate that we do not see this because it is misleading in its name — the Environmental Protection Agency given wider powers not simply to control pollution but to protect the environment in a much broader way. That applies to these interpretative centres all over Ireland. I know the Minister has her own views and that other people in the Government have different views on this, but unfortunately this agency will not be able to intervene in areas like that which are so important in terms of environmental protection.
I would like to say one or two things about the section on neighbourhood noise which the Minister introduced in amendments Nos. 11 and 12. It is most important that these amendments are passed quickly. In the limited time that I have been a member of a local authority, I have found that noise pollution is one of the most appalling inflictions on people. What has always amazed me is the difficulties local authorities have in bringing an end to noise pollution. I am pestered day after day by complaints from people about noise pollution in their area, particularly illegal quarrying, but unfortunately, the local authority seem incapable of doing anything about the problem. It takes a long time to investigate and examine the matter and to report on it. Quite often by the time the local authority have undertaken these procedures, the cause of the noise pollution has been removed because the job has been completed.
Under this amendment the agency will be able to prosecute summarily all offences under the Bill and to initiate, as of right, complaints in respect of neighbourhood noise. I hope the response to complaints of this sort will be speeded up and that people will be prevented from carrying on this sort of activity so that there will be an end to noise pollution. I welcome these amendments, but they are inadequate in that they do not protect the environment in the broadest sense. All they do is tighten up the laws relating to pollution.
I, too, welcome the amendments and congratulate the Minister on the way she has handled the passage of the Bill through both Houses. This is probably the most important legislation that has gone through the House. It is encouraging to see the interest outside the House in this issue. The environment is of growing importance to many people and many agencies are to be congratulated on highlighting the need to protect and improve the environment.
I welcome amendment No. 42. The Government should back up that amendment by ensuring that local authorities have the finance to provide proper sewerage facilities in our larger towns. Too many towns emit raw sewage into rivers. In my constituency, no proper sewerage facilities are provided for Limerick city. Plans are at an embryonic stage to provide these facilities, but the Government should provide the finance for this work as a matter of urgency. That would be a very practical way of improving the environment and ensuring that fish life in our rivers is maintained. Too often we hear fishermen bemoaning the fact that the level of life in our rivers has deteriorated in the past 20 or 30 years. A proper programme should be implemented to finance local authorities to ensure that they are not polluters of our rivers and lakes.
On a point of order, in the absence of contributions from the Government side I would like to call a quorum. Senators from that side should be in the House to hear the Minister's response.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
Senator Doyle forgot that I allowed her some latitude earlier.
There were no speakers from the Fianna Fáil side——
Senator Doyle must think she is still in the Cameroons.
On a point of clarification, it is up to each individual to decide whether to speak. It is not up to the Senator to decide whether a person from any side of the House speaks.
I accept that and I would not dream of indicating that Senators should speak, but they should listen to the Minister on such an important item as this.
We regret the absence of Fine Gael Senators and/or Opposition Senators in this debate.
The only people to speak were four Fine Gael Senators and one Labour Senator; no one else spoke.
There was only one Fine Gael Senator in the House when the quorum was called.
The Senators should be here for their own legislation.
Where are the remainder of the Senator's colleagues?
I am delighted; I think they protest too much.
This is important legislation.
The Senator had too much sun.
I call on the Minister to conclude.
The Senator enjoyed the Cameroons, too; he was there also.
Senator Doyle, you were allowed considerable latitude this morning and I expected you would respect that. I ask that the Minister be allowed to conclude, without interruption.
I thank the Chair for the latitude. My colleague was indisposed and you were very kind to me.
On a point of order, may I ask what is the point in calling a quorum at a time when it is perfectly clear that the Bill cannot be amended? Many of us took a serious interest during the real progress of the legislation. We were doing our work in our offices and watching the proceedings on the monitors. This is a rubber-stamping exercise, a waste of time. What is the point in calling a quorum except to bring the Seanad into disrepute?
For the information of the Senator, Senator Doyle was entitled to call a quorum but I did not think it was appropriate at the time. I call on the Minister to conclude, without interruption.
It shows a tremendous lack of interest in the Minister's response.
The Senator has to show now and again that she is back in Ireland. She is in Dublin today and she will be in Wexford tomorrow.
I was in Wexford yesterday.
In fairness to the Minister, I appeal to Senators to allow her to conclude without interruption.
And the Minister is worth listening to, although Government Senators may not realise it.
Senator Doyle, will you please desist.
I thank Senators who contributed to the debate. During the course of the earlier debate in this House and the debate in the Dáil the Bill received widespread support. The debate was conducted in a very businesslike fashion and I hope that we can continue in that spirit, which was started in this House last year, for the remaining ten or 15 minutes.
The contribution of the Seanad to the earlier debate was so enormous that this House made a major impact and I compliment the House on that. This House made 111 amendments to the Bill. It was certainly much better when it went to the Dáil having gone through such a thorough and excellent debate here. I thank all parties in the House for that. This Bill was the subject of one of the best and most wideranging debates on any legislation and Members of this House made more contributions on this Bill than on any other Bill in recent times.
Several interesting points were made during this morning's debate and I shall deal with them. At the outset, I should like to say it is my intention, and that of the Government, that the agency will be established as quickly as possible. It is urgent and important that the agency — which will, in the main, be an environmental police force, with enormous powers to deal with the environmental problems — be able to set codes of practice, give advice and play a supervisory role over local authorities. The agency will have a licensing function in relation to activities that can cause serious pollution if something goes wrong. All those functions are extremely important and it is appropriate that a body independent of local authorities and of the Government be charged with those responsibilities.
Senator Doyle sought clarification on several matters, and I shall be happy to do so. The Senator is right in saying that we have sought to further clarify the role of the planning authority vis-a-vis planning matters and the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in pollution control matters. That issue taxed the minds of Senators but, because I had not fully cleared my mind and there were still some differences in relation to the approach, I was not in a position to bring forward amendments before completion of the debate in this House. I introduced amendments in the Dáil to clarify further the need to separate the planning and licensing roles. Planning authorities will deal with planning matters and appeals will be decided by An Bord Pleanála. Planning authorities will not be able to deal with environmental pollution matters. The agency will be the body to set down in the licences they grant restrictions in regard to environmental pollution.
When an environmental impact study is prepared a copy of it will be sent to both the local authority and the agency if the activity is to be licensed by the agency. The local authority will deal with everything in the environmental impact study except environmental pollution and the agency in the licences will concentrate on matters that refer to environmental pollution. Both bodies will have possession of the full environmental impact study. It is not desirable, nor is it envisaged, that the environmental impact study will be in any way broken up or that there will be more than one environmental impact study prepared for one application. The agency will specify in the licence the conditions in relation to environmental pollution.
Senator Doyle asked questions about the potential for a poacher turned gamekeeper role. There may be some misunderstanding in that regard. The agency will grant a licence and will be the body that will ensure compliance with the terms of that licence. If a particular activity does not comply with the licence the agency will be the body to prosecute, if necessary, and to enforce the conditions attached to the licence.
All licences can be reviewed after three years but in special circumstances the agency can at any time review a licence. Section 88 (3) states that if the agency consider that any emission from the activity to which the licence or revised licence relates constitutes a significant risk of environmental pollution, or that there has been a material change in the nature or extent of an emission, or that there have been any other changes or any new standards set that the licence does not comply with, they may at any time review a licence. That provision deals with the scenario outlined by Senator Doyle where licensed activities might cause major pollution. In that instance the agency will have power to review a licence. The agency will also be the body, in the main, to ensure compliance with the terms of the licence and that the standards imposed in the granting of a licence are enforced.
Is there not a conflict?
I do not think so. We are establishing a new, expert, independent body which will be the licensing authority. I do not know of any other body that would have either the expertise or the resources to ensure compliance with a licence. At times the agency may decide that because a local authority have expertise in a particular area they will be able to monitor compliance with a licence. I do not envisage that in all instances the personnel from the agency will monitor compliance and do all the on-the-spot checks. That could be done on a consultancy basis in some instances by local authorities, but the agency will be the body with ultimate responsibility for activities they licence. They will have to ensure compliance with licence conditions and, when compliance is not forthcoming, they will have to enforce it right up to court proceedings if necessary.
In a country such as ours, with limited resources, it is necessary to bring together expertise in one national body. That is the main reason for giving the agency a licensing role. Many of the activities specified in the First Schedule concern very complex and technical processes, requiring ongoing change. It is not possible for our 33 different local authorities to have the expertise that would allow them to deal with all the changes occurring in those fields.
Senator Doyle asked why the IDA and not the Confederation of Irish Industry were included on the selection committee who will appoint the director general and directors. This issue was raised in this House and in the Dáil. In drafting the Bill, widespread consultation was had with many groups, including groups representing industry, workers, environmental organisations and other interested bodies. Many of those groups put forward different suggestions as to who should be included on the selection committee and many bodies lobbied for involvement in the selection process. We received representations from bodies representing farmers, such as the IFA, and different sectors of the industrial world, such as the Federation of Irish Chemical Industries, the Confederation of Irish Industry, the FIE and the ICMSA. Rather than choose one group I felt the IDA, the State body promoting industrial development in its broadest sense, covering agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry and industry generally, were the more appropriate body. I felt it was desirable to just have one representative from industry and I, therefore, came down in favour of the IDA. We could have chosen somebody else, but on balance we have probably got it right. It is important to have an umbrella body with an industrial development role, and the IDA have that role.
Senator Doyle also asked for clarification in relation to the advisory body, in the main in relation to section 27 (6) (a) and 27 (7). Section 27 (6) (a) refers to the different groups who can nominate persons to be appointed to the advisory committee. Five different categories of organisations can put forward nominations and section 27 (7) specifies that the Minister must choose one from each category to the advisory committee and seven from that group of organisations, in other words, seven from the five different categories must be chosen and each group must send forward at least four names. The reason provision was made for four names is that many groups will be made up of three or four organisations and rather than having the organisations arguing among themselves as to which person should go forward, perhaps each organisation in the group might like to put forward a name. From that group of organisations the Minister will choose at least one from five different groups, that is five and a further two from the five categories.
I made an amendment in relation to the advisory committee in the Dáil at the request of the Opposition. The advisory committee in the Bill as presented to the Dáil consisted of a minimum of five and a maximum of 12 and many Members of the Opposition felt that where there was no mandatory requirement to appoint the 12, an advisory committee might be as small as five or six, which was not desirable. Therefore the advisory committee will now consist of 12, 11 appointees and the director general who will be a member of the advisory committee.
Senator Doyle and Senator Upton raised the question of pesticides. In the First Schedule of activities to be licensed by the agency, section 5 (b) refers to the manufacture of pesticides, pharmaceutical or veterinary products and their intermediates. Apart from the controls that apply in general environmental legislation to pesticides, the Minister for Agriculture and Food is the Minister responsible for the enactment of European Community regulations in relation to the control of pesticides. The Bill, because it has a licensing role in relation to pesticides, covers the matters about which we are talking as adequately as is necessary.
Senator Doyle referred to a number of matters, particularly the question of local authorities not having resources. No change was made to that provision in the Dáil and I want to make it clear how this provision will apply. It will not be possible for local authorities to argue every time the Environmental Protection Agency give them a direction to do something that they do not have the resources. Obviously arguing that they do not have sufficient resources will only apply where particular capital works are involved and it is reasonable that that should be the case. For example, if a local authority do not have the resources to provide a sewage treatment plant, then it would be undesirable and very wrong if the agency could give a direction and the local authority were left to carry the can, even though they had not been provided with the resources. These are essentially political questions.
The provision of resources for environmental capital works of that kind are matters for the Minister and the Government of the day, but if it is the case that a local authority are not carrying out their general environmental control functions, the agency will be able to give a direction. If the direction is not followed, the agency can go in and have the job done and charge the local authority. In many local authorities it is a question of reallocating priorities.
Local authorities employ about 30,000 people, an enormous resource of manpower. In the Dublin area there are 10,000 employees between the existing local authorities, so it is not always a question of not having the people to do the job. Sometimes it is a question of reallocating resources given the different priorities that now apply in relation to the local authority's brief. In many cases local authorities need to re-examine their own sense of priorities given the changes in their role over the last number of years.
The question of genetically modified organisms was raised by Senator Doyle and Senator Upton. I must be honest, the reason this is here is to allow us to comply with the European Community Directives which should have been put into place in Ireland last autumn. I will not cite, as I did in the Dáil, for Senator Upton's benefit the fact that other countries have not done it either, but that is the case. They are difficult directives to put into force and we were not in a position to do it until we brought in the appropriate legislation. It could perhaps have been done under the existing European Communities Act but it was preferable that a framework provision should be made in this legislation to allow us to implement the directives to the fullest possible extent. It has not yet been decided which body will be responsible, the Environmental Protection Agency or some other body but I share Senator Doyle's concern that it needs to be a body with particular expertise.
It is a very challenging and difficult area where there will be many changes and possibilities for new developments which we will have to monitor extremely carefully. We must be cautious and perhaps there will be a need for separate legislation in the future, but for the moment the framework provisions under section 109 will allow this country to ratify the European Community Directives in this regard.
Senator Ross raised the question of the built environment; it is true that the Environmental Protection Agency do not have a role in this regard. This agency will not be a panacea for all our ills. They will not deal with every single environmental problem that might arise, nor could we possibly have an agency like that unless we intended to dismantle our whole local government system, which I certainly would not favour.
I favour devolving powers down to local government as much as possible because I believe local people making decisions about their own affairs make the best decisions. However, some things must be decided nationally in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in a country with limited resources.
However, I cannot share Senator Ross's view that this is merely an environmental pollution control agency. In many respects this agency goes way beyond what is commonplace in many other countries, for example, the operation of an integrated pollution control licence which may be the subject of European Community Directives in the future. We are giving an independent body power to set codes of practice, to make recommendations about effluent standards, to give advice, to hold inquiries and a host of matters of that kind. The agency is very much a hands-on agency and I hope, in time, they will win the widespread support and credibility of the public who want to see high environmental standards in force.
Senator Doyle raised the question about the relationship between this legislation and the Marine Institute legislation. She is right in saying that the agency and the local authorities will deal with marine pollution from land based sources and environmental controls up to the low water mark. Beyond that it is a matter for the legislation dealing with marine pollution and the demarcation is quite clear.
The same applies to the Radiological Protection Institute, the board for which has now been appointed. The Radiological Protection Institute will deal with radioactive waste and all matters of that kind. It is appropriate, if you have a national body, not to cause problems by giving two bodies functions in relation to particular matters. In my experience where there is a duplication of functions there tends to be confusion. People tend to opt out of their responsibilities; one tends to blame the other and it is better to keep functions as clear as possible.
BATNEEC was raised by Senator Doyle and I would like to make it clear that BATNEEC is only one of the conditions that must apply when the agency are deciding to license an activity. Section 81 states that when the agency decide to grant a licence they must use six different criteria. I think there is some misunderstanding about what exactly BATNEEC is. Generally BATNEEC will be applied; it is not a particular technology or technologies. It can be a variety of different technologies and the operator will decide in many cases which technology to put in place. BATNEEC will be approached by the agency setting emission limit values and then a technology will have to be found to comply with those values. The agency set the standard and the operator is free to decide which technologies to put in place to comply with the standards. Where the standards are high the best available technologies not entailing excessive costs will be equally extensive. It is not reasonable to say that we should be the leaders, because in the main we import technology. We are not innovators of technology and we do not produce technology in the environmental area, we are dependent on developments elsewhere.
There is much confusion about what is the best available technology. Is the new technology which has just been put on the market necessarily the best? We have to ensure that the technology has been tested over time and has a proven record. There is a great deal of argument and debate about what is the best technology in the environmental field. Because we are a net importer of technology, we are dependent on developments elsewhere. Rather than the agency specifying the technologies to be used in individual cases, that should be left to the discretion of the individual operator. The agency set the standard and it is a matter for the operator to decide which technologies best meet the standards.
I do not know if I have covered all the points raised, however, Senator Doyle raised the question of where the agency will be located, which I have not yet dealt with. I think she is aware that I am favourably disposed to the site at Johnstown Castle in Wexford because it is an outstanding site and a marvellous facility. Indeed, we are very lucky to have such a facility at the disposal of the State. It is a showpiece. However, a number of considerations have to be taken into account. This matter will be discussed by Cabinet in the next few weeks and the Cabinet will reach a decision in the light of the circumstances. They will have to take into account the redeployment of the existing staff in the public service. I am keen that the agency will be operational as quickly as possible but we have to take account of the difficulties that may arise in the redeployment of staff. Johnstown Castle will be among the sites considered by the Government. Therefore, I am not in a position to confirm where the agency will be located. However, as soon as a decision is made, an announcement will be made.
I share the Senator's concern that a useful purpose, an environmental purpose if possible, will be found for the facility at Johnstown Castle. It is important that we make the most comprehensive use of this facility. I have no doubt but that my views are shared by the Government at large, and we are anxious to use the facility as extensively as possible.
I thank the Seanad for the co-operative spirit in which this Bill was discussed. Despite the controversy we had earlier, may I wish all the Senators a very happy Easter. It is to the credit of this House that the Seanad met this week. I am not aware that the Dáil — at least since I was elected — ever sat during Holy Week; however, it is to the credit of all present that the Seanad met this week. This shows the level of concern and commitment of Members to ensuring that legislation is passed as quickly and as effectively as possible.
May I compliment the Minister on her competence and congratulate her on her input to the Bill? The Minister deserves great credit but she has lived up to what I expect from her.
May I put on record our thanks and appreciation of the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, and compliment my colleagues because we had an excellent debate. I compliment the Minister for accepting so many amendments. It is a compliment to our work that so many amendments from this House were taken on board. Perhaps this will pave the way for other legislation to be initiated in the Seanad. May I commend her on the way she championed this Bill. It is a watershed in environmental legislation.
May I concur with the sentiments expressed and thank the Minister for the way she steered this Bill through the Seanad and then the Dáil. Her willingness to listen and to take any amendments she could on board paves the way for future co-operation by all sides and for innovative legislation such as this being introduced in the Seanad. The Minister deserves to be well satisfied with her achievement.
I, too, join with Members in complimenting the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. She adopted an open-minded and flexible approach from the start. A number of amendments have been taken on board and the Bill has been much improved, and the Minister's attitude helped to make this a better Bill.
We have been discussing this Bill for he best part of a year and it is a tremendous achievement to have it enacted. On this note, may I wish the Minister a happy Easter; I suppose having an Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, is something of an Easter present.
May I also convey my congratulations to the Minister on this excellent Bill.
Before we proceed, can the Leader of the House say when it is proposed that the House will sit again?
It is proposed to adjourn sine die.