National Waste Management Plan.

Ceisteanna (8)

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

137 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the national waste management plan will be published; and if he will make a statement on his plans to deal with toxic and nuclear waste. [2845/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Under the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2003, each local authority is required to make a waste management plan in respect of its functional area. All local authorities involved in the waste management planning process have made plans and are now actively engaged in the process of implementation.

My Department has been developing a national overview of waste management plans. This national overview will not take precedence over the current generation of waste management plans; rather it is designed to provide a composite national picture of the infrastructure and services which the plans provide for, to outline progress achieved and to address issues which have arisen in the implementation process to date. The national overview is at an advanced stage and I expect it will be concluded very shortly.

Responsibility for the preparation of a national hazardous waste management plan is assigned to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, under the Waste Management Act 1996. The agency published such a plan in 2001, setting out recommendations in respect of four main areas: implementation of a national hazardous waste prevention programme; improved measures for the collection of hazardous wastes from households, small and medium enterprises, agriculture and other sources of unreported hazardous wastes; provision of requisite infrastructure to attain national self-sufficiency in the recovery and disposal of hazardous wastes; and identification, risk assessment and, where necessary, remediation of sites where hazardous wastes were disposed of in the past.

A committee, chaired by the agency, has been established to oversee the implementation of the plan. In addition, under section 26 of the Waste Management Act 1996, relevant public authorities are required to have regard to the plan and, where they consider it appropriate to do so, to take measures to implement or otherwise give effect to recommendations contained in it.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It must also be borne in mind that activities involving hazardous waste are strictly regulated under the waste management licensing system.

In relation to the safe management of nuclear waste, it should be borne in mind that Ireland's radioactive waste is mainly low level and low volume and arises from hospital, educational and industrial applications. All users of radioactive materials in Ireland do so under licence from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. Radioactive waste is currently stored in hospitals, third level educational establishments and on industrial premises also under licence from the RPII. The RPII inspects storage premises regularly to ensure that licence conditions are being upheld.

While the RPII does not consider that radioactive waste is stored unsafely, storage in diverse locations is not an acceptable long-term solution and is inconsistent with Council Directive 2003/122/Euratom on the control of high-activity sealed radioactive sources and orphan sources which came into force on 31 December 2003. Both the RPII and my Department have been exploring possible locations for a storage facility. A suitable location has yet to identified.

I have heard enough to know the Minister is putting the cart before the horse. He is admitting in the Dáil that he expects local authorities to produce a waste management plan, yet no national waste management plan exists. Would the Minister agree that it is highly negligent to involve himself in very expensive advertising campaigns on television and radio, when people cannot implement the composting, recycling or minimisation of waste due to a lack of facilities? People are on a guilt trip over domestic waste and at the same time the Minister has no national waste management plan.

Has he a secret plan to introduce incineration rather than to reduce, recycle or compost waste? Is incineration at Ringaskiddy and in County Meath a fact now and is he proceeding to introduce incineration into Ringsend? Is the Minister implementing a secret plan by stealth? He continues to lecture local authorities about their lack of plans but will he come clean and inform the House of his national plan for waste management?

I am not surprised that the Deputy, a member of the Fine Gael Party who brought in the legislation, does not know what is in the legislation they introduced. It delegated specific authority. We agreed in Ireland to a regional approach to the implementation of the hierarchy of integrated waste management plans. I am glad to say that in spite of the bleating from the Fine Gael and Labour parties on this issue, these plans are being put in place and what is involved is quite clear in the public domain.

I said I would give a national overview of all the plan, so that we could have a clear picture nationally about what is happening. We will be able to identify how advanced each region is under the key headings of reducing, recycling facilities, composting facilities, major waste stations and all the issues involved. That will show the progressive regions. The proposals on thermal treatment, residual landfill and so on will be quite clear from the plan, which was agreed by the Oireachtas. The rainbow Government of which the Deputy's party was a member led the debate in 1996 on the waste management structure that we are implementing because we thought it a wise approach and supported what the rainbow Government did in 1996.

The plans are quite clear; there is nothing secretive about them. We know what is required in term of termal treatment, residual land fill and recycling facilities and these are going in at quite a pace, as the Deputy knows. I was in Cork last week and was delighted to see the 'pay for weight' system in operation. I would advise anybody in the media who is interested in seeing how these things work to look at the extraordinary technology involved. The back-up computerisation system in the lorry is such that each householder can be told what is happening.

The public knows about the plans and what is happening in their regional area. That is the basis of going forward. The Deputy and the Fine Gael Party, in spite of having introduced the legislation, seem to ignore the facts and pretend that nothing is in place, while the public is getting on with solving the crisis of waste.

The six minutes for this question are concluded.

The Minister spent most of the time speaking but I did not get an opportunity to ask supplementary questions.

Surely the Minister cannot waffle out of the situation. That is ridiculous. I have one supplementary question. Where is he proposing to store the nuclear waste? He said in committee that four sites were being considered. Where are they?

I regret I could not answer the question in full, but the remainder will be made available.

I ask Deputy Allen to resume his seat.

On a point of order, the Minister deliberately wasted time giving a history lecture to the Opposition Members. If that is the way it will proceed, we are wasting our time here

I am asking Deputy Durkan to resume his seat.

You can. The Chair could have interrupted the Minister when he was wasting time, but he did not.

The Chair has no control over the length of replies. If Deputies are not happy with the way questions are organised, I suggest they go to the Dáil reform committee.

The detail is in the question, as the Chair rightly said. I could not finish within the rules of the House. That is not my fault. The information will be made available to the Deputies. The final decisions——

The Minister initially had two minutes, which the Chair intervened to point out and the Minister resumed his seat. Deputy Allen then took two minutes to ask a question and the Minister took another two minutes. I intervened to tell the Minister the six minutes were up. I now call Question No. 139

I think it is Question No. 138.

Question No. 139 in the name of Deputy Joe Higgins as Deputy Gilmore is not here.

On a procedural matter, a Cheann Comhairle, can Deputy Gilmore's Question No. 138 not be taken when I am here?

A Priority Question is never taken unless the Deputy who submitted it is present.

Waste Management

Ceisteanna (9)

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

139 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason it is intended to spend a total of €1,539,348 on the production and airing of a television advertisement depicting householders as responsible for a waste crisis when, in fact, householders account for 15% of waste going to landfill.

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (28 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Excluding private/industrial landfills, which are largely dedicated facilities provided in conjunction with certain types of industrial installations, the report shows that a total of 3.1 million tonnes of waste was accepted at local authority landfills in 2001. Of this, 1.25 million tonnes, or 40%, was household waste, with a further 0.53 million tonnes, or 17%, being attributable to the commercial sector.

The extent of waste from these sectors which is consigned to landfill reflects low rates of waste recovery. The recovery rate for the municipal waste sector as a whole, although rising, is only 13.3%. Within that category, the recovery rate for the household sector is only 5.6%. These compare unfavourably with the recovery rates of other sectors. For example, the database shows over 25% recovery in surveyed industrial sectors, with some 65% recovery recorded in the construction and demolition sector.

Because of these low recovery rates, the correspondingly high volumes of waste landfilled, and the environmental difficulties associated with trying to manage mixed municipal waste, the Race Against Waste campaign focuses, in particular, on householders and small businesses. The campaign does not seek to apportion blame, rather it aims to heighten awareness in relation to the need to improve recycling rates and provide useful information on how to do this. The campaign is timed to coincide with a significant increase in the recycling infrastructure, which is now coming on stream, supported by significant resources which I have allocated from the environment fund.

The reaction to the campaign so far has been overwhelmingly positive. This is unsurprising given the findings of research carried out last year, which shows three out of four people in favour of the Government spending money on environmental campaigns. I look forward to the continued roll out of the campaign in the months ahead.

Would the Minister agree that spending €1.5 million on an advertisement showing ordinary households being responsible for a waste apocalypse is an outrageous misuse of taxpayers' funds because it is fraudulent advertising? Householders account for only15%, or one seventh, of what goes to landfill.

They do not.

I have studied this.

The figure is 40%.

Thanks to the Minister, I had four weeks of leisure to study it in the autumn.

I am glad the Deputy did so. There is always a silver lining somewhere.

According to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, one seventh, or 15%, of what goes to landfill comes from households. In view of that, would the Minister agree that the advertising is fraudulent? Would he agree it is incredible that 955,000 tonnes of paper and glass went to landfill in 2001 from households and commercials — some 78% of the total that went to waste — all of which is recyclable? Would the Minister agree that if the investment for recycling and composting was installed in all areas, and the infrastructure was put in by the local authority, then diverting all glass, paper, plastic, aluminium and organic material would reduce at a stroke the amount going from commercials and households to landfill by 70%? Would the Minister agree that local authorities now have the power to implement by-laws requiring that this takes place? The fact that it does not and has not taken place points to an abject failure by the Government over the last seven years.

Would the Minister agree therefore that the television advertisement, Race Against Waste, is a crude propaganda attempt to cover the Government's abject failure to divert significantly from landfill and secure that diversion? It is also a crude propaganda film to attempt to justify rapidly rising bin taxes on taxpaying households, which the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is trying disgustingly to force on households, while giving the real polluters — big business — massive tax breaks.

I am glad to see that, perhaps for the first time, the Deputy has informed himself about the facts and figures of recycling. I am glad also that he is so supportive in encouraging everybody to take the recycling route.

I have been doing so for 20 years.

I reject absolutely the Deputy's first point regarding the use of the environment fund. When he asked about 18 months ago why I was not conducting a national awareness campaign, I said it was a good idea and something the public wanted. Of course, when I embark on the campaign, the Deputy is dissatisfied.

Yes, because it is a fraud.

For the Deputy's information, what the campaign contains was not my decision. We went out and asked the public what they thought would get the message over. In various parts of Dublin and around the country, we did much research as to the type of campaign that should be run. I did not dream it up in my head. The public told me what they thought should be in the campaign, what they would respond to and what they thought would get people to change their ways. What is happening is a result. This is only a small part of the campaign, which also concerns what is going on in the commercial sector.

It may come as a surprise to the Deputy to know that 20,000 people have used the Department's website — I understand they are called hits — seeking hard information on how to recycle more waste. Some 11,000 of those hits were in January 2004. If the Deputy accessed the website he would see that people anywhere in the country can find where their local waste facilities are and how to use them. The public welcomes all of this and I am glad the Deputy supports it.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the problem is not the willingness of the vast majority of people to recycle, but the lack of an infrastructure being rolled out by local authorities? How does the Minister respond to the fact that local authorities can now implement by-laws so that not a single piece of glass or paper should go into general waste?

We must proceed to the next question.

Look at this polystyrene tray for some sausages. It is from a supermarket next door to Leinster House.

I am solving that one for the Deputy.

Why does the Minister allow this kind of carry on?

The Deputy knows well what I am doing about that.

This is the real problem — a lack of will on behalf of the Government.

Deputies cannot display items in the House.

I wish to respond briefly to the Deputy, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

We will proceed to the next question.

It is a polystyrene tray for a few sausages.

I know. There are health and food safety issues but the Deputy would ignore those directives. The problem is that people like Deputy Joe Higgins think Ireland is one big carpet and that we can lift the green fields and sweep all the rubbish underneath.

The Minister wants to make it one big car park.

That is his policy. It is not mine and neither is it that of the Government. It is not what the people of this country want.

We will proceed to Question No. 140. As Deputy Gilmore has come into the Chamber, his Question No. 138 will be taken as the last one during Priority Question time.

Electronic Voting.

Ceisteanna (10)

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

140 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the introduction of electronic voting for the European and local elections. [2846/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (79 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Detailed planning and preparations for the use of countrywide electronic voting and counting at the European and local elections are proceeding. To date, 4,840 voting machines and ancillary hardware have been delivered to returning officers; software testing will be completed shortly; training of returning officers and their staff is continuing and I will be launching a major public education and awareness campaign in relation to the new system tomorrow.

The delivery of electronic voting and counting presents many challenges for my Department and its partners, but I am determined to make the benefits of the electronic system available as early as possible. Electronic voting and counting will improve the efficiency, speed, accuracy and user friendliness of elections. It will also eliminate the democratic wastage associated with spoilt votes. It is a desirable modernisation of the electoral system and I look forward to its successful implementation at the June 2004 polls.

How can the Minister contemplate introducing this system without agreement from all parties in the House? How can he introduce a system that is changing fundamentally the way we run our democracy, by not introducing it through an electoral commission? How can the Minister contemplate introducing this system without key questions about the security of the system, including whether it is tamper-proof, having been answered? Why has his Department not answered the 40 major questions that have been raised regarding the system? Why has the Minister forced the motion to accept the electronic voting system through the Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, by weight of Fianna Fáil numbers? Will the Minister give details of the contract entered into by his Department with a firm involving buddies of Fianna Fáil?

I would ask the Deputy to withdraw any such implication.

I am asking the Minister——

It is an outrageous remark and impugns people who are not in the House to defend themselves.

If being called "buddies of Fianna Fáil" is accusing them, well and good.

I am asking Deputy Allen to withdraw the point he has made.

I am asking a question. Will the Minister make available——

It impugns people who are not in the House to answer for themselves. It is an outrageous allegation.

I will not withdraw it.

It is completely unfounded.

I am asking the Minister to make available the details of the contracts entered into between the PR company and his Department. Why has he not answered the questions regarding the verifiable paper audit trail and the source code of the system? Why are the questions unanswered and why is the Minister so headstrong in pushing forward this system? Will he suspend its introduction until there is all-party agreement as would happen in any decent democracy?

I regret the manner in which Fine Gael is behaving on this issue. The Deputy's party——

Are we to roll over under the jackboot tactics?

Allow the Minister to reply without interruption.

The position of the Fine Gael Party leader is that we should all vote on the Internet from our homes, but at the same time——

With proper safeguards. I am asking about safeguards.

——his Front Bench spokesperson is asking spurious questions which have been answeredad infinitum before committee.

They have not been answered. Fourteen questions remain unanswered on this.

Am I to be allowed reply to the question?

Order. Allow the Minister to reply. He is in possession.

He is telling lies.

The Deputy's bluster on this issue will not——

The Minister is not answering the question.

Order, please. This is a priority question.

We have already tested this system in a general election and a referendum. Fine Gael raised no questions after either occasion about the system, and neither did the Labour Party at the time.

We did. That is incorrect. That is not true.

Would the Deputy like to know what Fine Gael said about it?

I know what it said.

Would he like me to quote back to him what his party said at the time?

Another history lesson.

Deputy Hayes said that the current system was imperfect, Deputy Clune said that she welcomed the introduction of the new system——

What about today? What about the future?

Deputy Dukes said the electronic counting of votes would greatly facilitate——

The Minister should quit the waffle and answer the question.

The question has been more than answered. This system——

The Minister should answer it.

The Minister is not a fit person to answer the question. He has a vested interest.

In what? What is the Deputy's point now?

Order, please. Time is running out on this question.

The Minister asked what my point was. I will explain it to him.

The Deputy is full of it.

The Minister is the political head of the Department introducing the system, but it should have been introduced by an independent electoral commission established with the consent of all parties in the Dáil——

The Dáil and the Oireachtas decided on this, not I.

——as would happen in any democracy.

It was also fully supported by the Fine Gael Party.

That is not true. The Minister forced it through.

Order, the Minister is still in possession.

The Deputy knows well that these machines have been tested internationally in Germany——

In Florida.

——the Netherlands and other places by independent institutes of international renown——

That is not true.

The Deputy knows this. I am puzzled by Fine Gael's approach to this matter. Perhaps the Deputy will be interested to note that, in the previous local elections, 21,000 votes were declared spoiled. At the same time more than 40 seats——

What has that got to do with it?

——were decided by fewer than 50 votes. My point is that more than 90% of spoiled votes are inadvertently spoiled. We will be able to eliminate this from the new system, thereby giving a far more accurate result and providing what people want.

Will the Minister answer the question asked?

About what?

About a verifiable audit trail and the code source.

I assure the Deputy again that there is a full, verifiable audit trail.

There is not.

Will there be a paper audit trail?

There is none.

Does the Deputy want the information?

We should have had it by now.

Is he interested in listening to the sound of his own voice or does he want information? There is a full audit trail. In the event of any of these results being challenged in the High Court, a full ballot paper, vote by vote, can be produced. We are covered by all angles and possibilities. This is one of the best systems available. I can only go on the best national and international advice about the veracity of the system. It is time we put this argument behind us. I have listened to the criticism and have appeared before a committee of the Houses on a number of occasions and answered questions, as have the experts and my officials.

We have reached a point where we either question the credibility of the entire computer systems in use in the world or we put our confidence in them. It is ironic that we are proud to portray Ireland as a leading software exporter but Deputies demonstrate no faith in a system which is part and parcel of demonstrating to the world that e-commerce, e-Government and technology mean something here. Deputies cannot have it both ways.

Deputy Allen may ask a brief supplementary question.

Will the Minister introduce a verifiable paper audit trail so that a person who punches a preference on a machine can be satisfied that his or her express wish is translated into the registering of a vote within the machine? Also, has the Minister managed to negotiate the acquisition of the source code from the Dutch or Belgian company which produces the machines or does control of the system still rest in the foreign private sector?

Under the old system, a person put a paper vote in a box and did not get a receipt. A voter will not get a receipt this time either. That has never been part of our electoral system.

Nobody is asking for a receipt.

There is an audit trail. The Deputy knows the system has a paper audit trail. People can see on the machine that their vote is cast. The Deputy is well aware there are internal systems in the machine. The machine even has the capacity, if it is not working properly, to rectify itself.

Will there be a printout?

There will not be a printout. We will not put people walking out of a polling station under duress to produce to the Deputy, Sinn Féin or anybody else evidence of how they voted. Is the Deputy serious?

I am serious.

Order, please. The Chair calls the next question.

EURATOM Treaty.

Ceisteanna (11)

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

141 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the involvement the Government has with EURATOM; the contributions made by Irish taxpayers to EURATOM since Ireland joined the EU; the efforts made to internalise nuclear safety measures into the body of EU law and phase out EURATOM as an unaccountable pro-nuclear arm of the EU; and his plans to bring about real change in this regard during the Irish Presidency. [3167/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Ireland is a party to the EU treaty and, in accordance with this, pays its contribution to the EU budget. EURATOM is financed directly from the general EU budget, but there is no separate contribution from Ireland towards the budget of EURATOM.

This Government's policy is to steer EURATOM's activities towards nuclear safety and radiological protection. EURATOM has been active in both of these areas. For example, EURATOM Directive 96/29, which lays down basic safety standards for the protection of workers and members of the public from the dangers of ionising radiation, represents major EURATOM inspired legislation in the area of radiological protection. In addition, EURATOM has become a contracting party to the additional protocol to the 1977 agreement between EURATOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Proposals by the European Commission relating to the safety of nuclear installations and the safe management of radioactive waste, the so-called nuclear safety package, are also based on provisions of EURATOM. These are under consideration at the European Council's atomic questions working group.

The Government will continue to work through the various EURATOM groups to ensure, in as far as the treaty allows, that EURATOM's focus is on nuclear safety rather than nuclear promotion. There is no current review of EURATOM, but any such proposals will be considered on their merits, and Ireland will participate fully in such circumstances.

The Minister's reply on this matter is even more pessimistic than the reply I received from the Taoiseach. Does the Minister accept that EURATOM, which was established in 1957 and is very much pro-nuclear and the expansion of the nuclear industry, lacks democratic control? It was established before the European Parliament and yet it spends money that is not adequately accounted for — some of it in Ireland — on research projects which are not scrutinised. I know from people doing research that they feel their projects are unsupervised. Some projects, for example, have funding of €5 million.

Is it not time, especially during our EU Presidency, to push for a complete review of EURATOM so that the functions for nuclear safety will become part of the EU body of law and EURATOM, as a standalone company which will spend €2 billion over the next four years on nuclear research, is wound down and a sunset clause inserted? Does the Minister not support that approach along with Austria and Luxembourg? Is it not important that we use our opportunity during the Presidency to push for this so that it happens? There are vested interests that will resist it. However, most of the EU is non-nuclear in terms of not having nuclear power. Surely, we should use that majority position to push for the ending of EURATOM and the internalising of safety so that we can have a future that is not pro-nuclear but fair to renewable energy sources?

Ireland's position on nuclear power, the Government's opposition to it and my views are well documented in the public domain. There is not unanimity in Europe on this issue because some countries are nuclear and support the development of the industry. We do not.

What is important is the nuclear safety package which is currently under discussion and about which there are differing views. As President of the EU, Ireland is seeking to establish a sound consensus on the package to facilitate its adoption at the earliest possible opportunity. As Members know, there was little formal debate on the matter during the constitutional discussions. While Austria tabled a proposal which Ireland formally supported, the measure was not met with universal support. We will continue at all levels to use our influence as a sovereign state on these matters. During the Irish Presidency, we hope to move the agenda forward and to secure agreement on substantive issues such as the safety package.

I appreciate that there is a lack of consensus, as the Minister points out. We would not put this question down otherwise. If there were consensus, there would have been movement. Does the Minister agree that he is in a key and timely position as President of the Council of Environment Ministers to pursue a review of the EURATOM Treaty to end an obsolete feature of EU life? Austria, Luxembourg and many other member states would appreciate it. There is a separate organisation to promote one type of energy which most of us in the EU do not want to see continued and certainly not promoted. Does the Minister not think this is an opportunity to harness the majority position and as chair and President of the Council, to pursue a review? The time will not come around again.

I am not asking the Minister to accept there is a lack of consensus. We know that to be the case. I ask that he use the arguments that EURATOM is unaccountable, in receipt of disproportionate amounts of research money which other energy sources cannot draw down and endangering future generations through the legacy of nuclear energy production. Does the Minister not agree that he should make these arguments through the opportunities afforded to him over the next six months?

I do not agree with all the assertions the Deputy has made in the absolutist terms in which he has framed them with regard to EURATOM. While there are issues and questions which we should pursue, it is not open to me to turn round the agenda during the Irish Presidency. The agenda for the Presidency is well documented and publicised. The best thing the Irish Presidency can do is deal with what is on the agenda, not spend six months trying to get something else onto it. We would not be successful in that because it is not flagged that we should do so. It would be disingenuous and wrong of me to do that having had many discussions with many environment Ministers before the Presidency began to obtain clear agreement on the agenda of the Irish Presidency.

What is before us of unquestionable importance is the first step in a longer process in which some of the issues to which the Deputy alluded should be focused upon. We must start somewhere and before us is the important issue of the nuclear safety package. The lack of consensus means it will be very difficult to address the findings of the atomic questions working group which is where the matter is being considered at the moment. If we make progress on this issue during our Presidency, that is well and good. If we cannot make progress, we will continue to pursue the matter unilaterally as a sovereign Government in every possible national and international forum.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (12)

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

138 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reasons he did not act in almost one third of the cases in which he had been urged by his Department's heritage officials to appeal planning cases to An Bord Pleanála, the reason he has decided to deal with this matter personally rather than leave such issues to officials who have knowledge and experience in this area and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2992/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (37 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Final decisions on planning applications are a matter for the relevant local planning authority or, in the case of planning appeals, An Bord Pleanála. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is a statutory consultee in the case of any proposed development which may have an impact on built or natural heritage. The Minister is accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and the public in respect of the exercise of this function.

On receipt of planning applications from a planning authority, an assessment is first undertaken by the relevant archaeological, architectural or national parks and wildlife service personnel. The procedures in place to facilitate the consideration of applications include consideration of a recommended response by the relevant line management. Some recommendations may be submitted for consideration at a more senior management level. In the final decision, a recommendation may be adopted in full, amended or rejected. The procedures are designed to ensure that the full implications of all applications are considered and that applications of a similar type are treated in a similar manner.

Where consideration is being given to recommending that a planning authority should refuse permission, require the undertaking of an environmental impact assessment or lodge an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, a submission is made to the Minister under whose statutory authority the comments are being made. In deciding whether or not to recommend that a proposed development should not proceed, consideration is also given to the use of other methods to ensure the protection of natural and built heritage. It is my belief that such methods have been underutilised. This course could involve availing of powers under the National Monuments Acts.

While my input into planning cases is limited to considerations of habitat and built heritage protection, the responsible exercise of this role by a Minister involves taking a balanced view in the overall public interest of the merits of the various possible interventions. Since my appointment as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, my Department has appealed far more cases than previously. A total of 19 planning decisions have been appealed to An Bord Pleanála which constitutes a strong track record.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for agreeing to take this question. Of the 28 planning applications which his officials recommended should be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, the Minister decided not to appeal nine. Did the Minister receive any communication from the developers concerned in respect of the nine applications or from any person acting on their behalf? Did he receive representations of any kind on the proposed developments in those nine cases? Given his rejection of the professional advice of his officials, did the Minister seek or receive alternative professional opinion or advice on the basis of which he made his decision on the nine applications in question?

The Deputy is suggesting that I rejected——

I am only asking a question.

The Deputy's assertion is that I rejected professional advice.

I am not asserting anything.

I did not. I took all——

I ask that the Minister answer my two questions.

I would answer, if the Deputy allowed me. I took advice from various sections. The perception the Deputy is conveying externally is that I sit in some office locked away on my own and receive a series of files.

The Minister should answer my questions.

I want to make it clear that I do not do that. It is important to record the fact.

If the Minister does not answer, we will draw conclusions.

As the Deputy is well aware, I sit down with senior management to discuss all of these issues right across the system. Members from all sides of the House constantly come to me about all sorts of heritage issues in their local areas. Some even try to raise planning issues with me in which instances I inform them immediately that I have no function in the planning system. People raise issues arising in their constituencies in respect of a range of matters on a constant basis.

Did anyone raise the issues in question?

I do not have any notes in front of me. I will not stand here and say no one did. I will check the files and if someone did, I will confirm for the Deputy what the position was. I have no difficulty with that as I wish it to be clear that I looked at the implications and our vitally important heritage aims in each of the 28 cases, 19 of which were appealed. I considered how best we could observe our heritage functions and protect our heritage sites. That is the view I have taken.

The questions I asked the Minister were very specific. I will repeat the two to which he did not reply. The Minister said he will come back to me on the question of representations, which I appreciate. Did the Minister receive any communication from the developers involved in any of the nine cases?

Was there communication from anyone acting on behalf of developers?

Not to my knowledge.

In the nine cases in question, the Minister decided not to accept the professional advice available to him from his Department's heritage officials. Did the Minister obtain or seek any alternative professional advice on the basis of which he decided not to appeal?

The basis of the second part of the Deputy's questioning is inaccurate. I have answered the first part. He suggests I do not take professional advice from my Department.

In these nine cases.

There was differing professional advice available.

I have a copy of the recommendations.

If the Deputy is asking whether or not I went outside the Department to obtain further advice, the answer is "No".

The Minister was given specific advice concerning archaeological and architectural matters. If he did not receive alternative professional advice, on what basis did he decide not to appeal or accept the advice and recommendations of his officials?

That is very easy to answer — I made this point in my answer to the Deputy. There is a whole range of issues under the National Monuments Acts and the Heritage Act where I can ensure that the same objectives are achieved. I will answer the Deputy directly. I am not absolutely certain as I do not have the files in front of me. However, I recall that one of the objections, which was in north Dublin, involved the development of a great deal of housing.

There were 1,100 houses.

Yes, 1,100 houses. I answer questions in the House every day of the week about our efforts to build houses. I took the view that there should be a balance between protection of the heritage on one side and other Government policy issues on the other.

The decision was only toappeal.

The Deputy is not saying that, in several of the cases to which he refers, we sent the proposal back to the local authority concerned and said that we would not accept the scale of the facility in question but that if it were substantially scaled back, it would meet the requirements of heritage. That was what happened. Some officials met those requirements after doing that and taking account of the response from the local authority through their planning system in discussions with it. My officials said that they did not like it anyway. That is not how I operate. We operate on the basis of a wider-ranging discussion in the Department on all issues. The advice to me from around the table was that the scale was the problem. It was resolved.

That concludes Priority Questions.

I am not a rubber stamp and I will not be one for anyone.

The Minister is accountable. He should not get tetchy with me.

I am not doing so. However, the point was why I engaged in this. I discovered that objections were made in my name about which I knew nothing.

The time for Priority Questions has now expired.